Simple life contrasts with technology powerhouse

Farm Forum

Our Farm Forum 50th Bus Tour took our group to a place where simplicity in farming is the norm and then to the advanced technology used to build today’s modern tractors.

We, meaning 30 people on the tour and our staff, visited some families in Amish and Mennonite colonies in Kalona, Iowa, last week. From there, we went to Waterloo, Iowa, where we saw the powerful green John Deere tractors rolling off the assembly line.

In Kalona, we had a great guide named Dan who grew up in the community and left the colony a number of years ago. He is related to many of the people we saw driving down the roads in their horse-drawn carts. While the brochures show horses in the fields, we saw tractors with steel wheels out in the hay fields. Dan told us that the Amish farms average about 80 acres. The Amish church started as a breakaway from the Annabaptists (adult baptizers) in Switzerland in 1693, led by Jakob Ammann. They have a simple lifestyle and shun modern technology. They are a people of faith, and their practices reflect their beliefs.

Dan told us that the Amish communities are not centrally governed so each group comes up with their own version of the rules. That is why tractors are allowed, as long as the tires are steel rather than rubber. Along the side of the road, little buildings with that look like outhouses are cell phone booths, charged with solar collectors. And if an Amish person wants to go a distance, a van from the community will pick them up to provide transportation.

At a dairy farm, Ila and four of her eight children showed us their milking barn where generators provide power for the milking machines and the cooler for the milk that is sold to a cheese plant. Battery-powered lanterns shone in the barn and on the back of the buggies. A shed housed fairly modern equipment on steel wheels: a tractor, baler, haybine, corn picker and wagon. Warren explained that a small diesel engine connects to a 1,000-gallon air tank, which pneumatically ran the numerous power tools.

Down the road a bit, we were treated to a wonderful lunch. In a modern home specially set up to serve bus tours, a Mennonite woman greeted us. Salina, 84, her daughter and granddaughter prepared a country feast for us. Most Mennonites, while practicing traditional religious beliefs, enjoy the modern ways. As this was a Mennonite home, the kitchen was equipped with electricity. Salina’s house is meant for entertaining visitors on bus tours. She is able to seat 40 people on each of two levels.

As our group entered the dining area, we were greeted with enticing smells from the kitchen and a beautiful table set with blue and white dishes. Tapioca mixed with sweet goodness started as an appetizer. Fresh bread with Salina’s special blend of peanut butter or her apple butter was a taste treat. Melt-in-your-mouth roast beef, tasty noodles, fresh salad and garden green beans rounded out the meal, finishing up with fresh baked fruit pies. We certainly couldn’t go away hungry. We left with a great appreciation for her hospitality!

The next day, we took a leap forward in technology. We traveled 100 miles north to Waterloo, Iowa. This was the other end of the spectrum of farming as we toured the John Deere Tractor Assembly plant.

While no photos were allowed on the 47-acre production floor, we saw the process from beginning to end, starting with the frame, to the tractor being assembled and moved into the test cell where it is run for 40 minutes, and then taken outside for another trial run. Trollies pulled us around the plant, which is larger than many towns in South Dakota. About 1,300 people work there. The facility has its own medical staff and cafeteria as well as many other amenities. The guides, who used to work at the plant, were great at pointing out the different parts and stages. Different models of tractors were made. And we learned the differences between those made for the North American and European market. Roads in Europe aren’t wide enough for the dual wheels used in the United States, so they have single fat tires.

Unmanned “frogs” and “mice,” which were guided by magnets in the factory floor, moved around parts and pieces of equipment.

In the paint booth, industrial robots dipped their snouts in green paint, applied with an electromagnetic process. The paint is charged and the iron surface where it will be applied had the opposite charge so the paint is attracted for minimal waste and no overspray. The robot changed colors to paint the yellow on the wheels and left behind no drips. Our group thought that was pretty fascinating.

The company was certainly welcoming with headsets used to share the information. Some of our group were excited to see the process and showed their green. As one of the staff along for the ride, it was a delight to learn from farmers and spouses along the way as well as see the reaction to the sites.

While seeing the different cultures was great, it was wonderful to be able to visit with those on the trip to learn their thoughts about farming in the last 50 years. In our Harvest Edition that comes out next week, watch for photos and more on the trip!

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