posted by Spencer Parkinson on Monday, November 17, 2014
Agriculture is in my blood. Always has been, always will be. Why? Because it's a way of life I have experienced firsthand and have learned to cherish, respect, and appreciate the lessons it teaches.
A little about me - I was born to a farm family in southeastern Idaho in a little town near the Teton River - lots of Parkinson's there. Some of my farming roots can be traced to ancestors who emigrated from England in the 1840s. While they originally landed in St. Louis, MO, these ancestors eventually made it to the area where I was born. Like many of my Midwestern friends, I grew up playing in the dirt, feeding animals, growing a garden, and if I was feeling especially useful, handing tools to my Dad. I spent a lot of time with my four siblings (a huge family these days, I know) and cousins - they were (and are) my friends.
Then, my world changed - we packed up and moved to northern Utah when I was almost eight so my dad could go back to school and my brothers could be upset they had to wait until they turned 16, not 14, to start driving. We went from a modest home with a huge yard to a 3 bedroom apartment and no yard. Boredom, and perhaps a little mischief, was what led my parents to talking the doctor behind us into paying us to clean his office. My Mom and Dad did NOT want us to miss out on the privilege of taking on some personal responsibility and reaping the reward from doing so. My first "big" purchase with my OWN money? A camo remote-controlled dune buggy - still have it, hot glue repairs and all.
Eventually I "graduated" from cleaning the office and took a job bagging feed at a local feed mill. I say feed, but it was really just dirt that had some special minerals for cattle. Either that guy had some really good dirt or he was a phenomenal salesman - maybe both, I don't know. Wonder what bagged Iowa dirt would bring?
After two years of bagging feed and I moved onto working at a great family friend's dairy in Smithfield, UT. Man, that was fun - okay MOST of the time it was fun. I got to drive tractors, haul manure (which happened to be my first date with my wife), pull calves, change pipe (more on this later), feed cows, stack hay (by hand, I might add), drink A&W root beer, and on and on and on and on and on - and they paid me to do it!
Fast forward a few years and I found myself in Florida. I was working as an accounting intern on one of the nation's largest cow/calf ranches counting tractors. Talk about an experience! I'd lived in Florida a few years in the late 90s and had heard of this place but wasn't able to work there at that time. I knew one day I'd be back and so, nearing completion of my accounting/economics degree at Utah State University, I called the management and let them know I was coming down to do whatever they needed me to. Just between you and me, I may have worked for free, but I didn't tell them that. I loved that place and could have worked there after my internship was up, but I decided to head off to school at the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester, England.
Pursuing more school was a hard decision, but I figured if I was going to do more school I should tackle it while I was "in the mode" or I may never go back. Turned out to be one of the best decisions my wife and I ever made. We made many friends "across the pond", had great experiences, learned about agriculture in another part of the world, and got my first taste of the kind of work I do today - crunch numbers for people so they can make better decisions!
You're probably wondering if I'm ever going to get to the part about Iowa, huh? Well, after I finished school in England I went back to Utah State University to write my thesis and lo and behold, a phone call came from someone with a 515 area code. Where in the world is area code 515? I knew 208 was Idaho, 801 and 435 were Utah, and 307 was Wyoming, but 515?! So I answered it and discovered a friend recommended me for a job opportunity working as a research analyst for the Iowa Farm Bureau. Dave Miller wanted to meet with me - in Iowa.
So my interview went well - Dave nodded off when I was answering his questions. I found out later he'd been working long hours harvesting his crops that week, but putting the guy to sleep didn't seem like a good thing to me. I even tried to impress him by commenting on how I didn't see any green circles from the air when I was flying in. Puzzled, he said "our rain comes from the sky, not the ground". He had me there - I'd spent the last 12 years moving 40 foot aluminum pipe back and forth and back and forth across hundreds of acres. At any rate, I thought by putting him to sleep I'd lost all chances of getting the job. Imagine my surprise when I got offered a job. Two months later my wife, 7-week old son, and I moved to the great State of Iowa thinking we were on some sort of 3-5 year rotation. Well, now it's been nine years (almost to the day), which doing the math is three times as long as we thought we might be here - funny how fast the time goes! I'm now working in a business a friend and I started in 2007 as a "hobby" business that turned into a "better make it work because you just got laid off" business. Now, thanks to many great friends and mentors in Iowa and beyond, we have enough work for five of us and we get to do some pretty cool stuff with data research and analysis. Some work in many varied industries, but the majority in agriculture because it's in my blood!
So, ironically, I'm back in an office now. Not cleaning it (I'm passing that lesson from my parents to my kids), but thinking about a camo dune buggy and how all this applies to what is supposed to be a business blog. Great question! Well, here's how it applies. You see, I just started one of the neatest leadership training programs I've ever heard of. It's known as Leadership Iowa and is put together by the Iowa Association of Business and Industry and sponsored by many outstanding businesses and organizations around the state. Each year, forty Iowan's get to spend 2-3 days in each of eight different locations around the state learning about many different industries and the challenges and opportunities facing this great state. Not only do I get to learn these things, but I get to meet and learn from thirty-nine remarkable Iowan's. Just like I briefly mentioned how I made it to Iowa, these other people have their stories, stories which demonstrate how they have overcome many challenges and shown true leadership in their unique way. Iowa is full of leaders - I'll just bet a Mountain West farm kid can learn a thing or two.