Our state representative arranged a visit to the state prison in Rockwell City to see their (our) wildflower growing operation there. As we went through the heavy gates the buzzers and clanking had a bit of a foreboding feel. I kept in mind that they would let us out, but still…
The men in that prison grew food for the rest of the state’s prisons. They mostly averted their eyes as we toured the facility. The neat rows of staked tomatoes contrasted with the wildflower seed operation. There didn’t seem to be a lot of interest there. Harvest was accomplished by chopping off all the plants of a variety and then removing the seeds. This seemed odd to us as we knew most varieties ripen over a period of time. The early ripened seeds fall to the ground if not caught at the right time. The later ripening seeds would not be viable if picked too early. Their harvesting method wasted about 90% of the seeds. But then, what did they care?
It was hard to properly harvest our own seeds. We made several calls to the high school looking for help offering way more than a burger flipper wage. The only taker was the son of a friend who found his back couldn’t take it.
We called a guy who we had sold hay to looking for help because he would stand and watch as his Hispanic helpers loaded the hay. I swear unless we could call useful work “sports”, this country would come to a standstill without these people who slip past the guards at the southern border. Larry brought three ladies out to help. One was very pregnant. They plugged away, doing a perfect job of picking the right seeds. Dawn tried to get them to take a break to no avail. Their appreciation for the opportunity shone brightly. And we appreciated them.
The professor at UNI apparently had a mental block regarding a logical solution to the crabgrass contamination of the sideoats grama. Keeping it mowed was like a naughty older brother telling a sibling to go play in the street. Lucky for us preemergence herbicides have been a mainstay in production agriculture for years. They prevent germination of annuals. With timely cultivation, the sideoats survived the competition from the weeds and an early spraying stopped the crabgrass the next year.
With society’s focus on recreation as such an important part of our happiness I feel like an outlier enjoying work so much. Looking at a small field of rough blazing star (native form of liatris) in bloom after such intense care is more than just rewarding. After the seeds develop they are attached to feathery little umbrellas like dandelions. Any breeze can cause them to blow away. To harvest them we used a Shop Vac. We gently threaded the long wand down over the stalk and any seeds that were mature would be sucked off.
Once harvest was through, we took the seeds to Walnut on our way to Thanksgiving at my dad’s place. We would be paid according to the amount after cleaning. It was still a question how well we would be compensated for all the hand weeding and careful harvesting.
After repeated attempts at collecting payment, Dawn was on the phone with the buyer and mentioned that she had to hang up to call a lawyer. Even though that call was about some unrelated family matter, we soon received a check. The guy didn’t really mean to stiff us. He simply liked production and not office work, like me. How fortunate I am that Dawn doesn’t mind book work.
– A note on a previous column: Sophie Scholl was an anti-war protester in Nazi Germany. A German movie with English subtitles is available on YouTube for free that tells of her trial and activities (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrbBlXqc1Is&t=460s). It shows how ruthless the Nazis were, and today we can be thankful for what rights are still protected by the Constitution here. Brittney Griner woke up to that fact after her stay in Russia. Julian Assange still waits and I wonder how sophisticated the suppression of natural rights is regarding self-censorship.