Danelle Myer grows food. Cabbages, beets, sweet peppers, heirloom tomatoes, onions and herbs. About 100 specific varieties in all, all grown according to organic principles. Her farm, One Farm, in the small western Iowa city of Logan, sits on a small piece of land her family has been farming for more than 100 years.
Myer grew up here, where her family has long managed approximately 1,000 acres, alternating corn and soybeans, and raising cattle, too. But the story is not contiguous. Just months out of high school, Myer took off, pursuing a degree in public relations and work in nearby Omaha.
But after 17 years away from Logan, Myer began to feel her own call to farm—and to do so on family land. “As I was looking for the meaning of life in my 30s,” says Myer, “I concluded that growing good food could be a really meaningful way to use my life.” For Myer, this is about whole ingredients and a “trickle-down effect,” in which access to diverse and flavorful food brings people together. “I just think there’s a lot of community that can be built around good food when people are connected to their food,” she says. “And hopefully it makes them feel something positive.”
Myer manages only a few acres, with shy of two presently in production. It’s a small farm with unprecedented diversity in a midwestern sea of corn and soy monocropping—a two-tone, chemically dependent, genetically modified tapestry measured by the hundreds of square miles. A tapestry that is not, for the most part, food. Though corn and soy cover most of the nation’s farmland, humans directly consume very little of it. Some becomes the fuel ethanol, and most of the rest makes it to people in the indirect and incomplete form of animal feed or fry oil.
So, while stating that a farmer grows food might appear no more surprising than noting that a painter paints, the correlation is not so straightforward. Myer is one of only two farmers she’s aware of in Harrison County—where there are more than 800 farms on roughly 400,000 acres—who’s doing this. In fact, this spring Myer hosted yoga on her farm as a way to build community and help those around her see what she’s up to—a scene suggesting that in rural southwestern Iowa, vegetable farming is weirder than yoga.
But this is not an Iowan story—it’s a story about food and farming in America. It’s about what we grow and what we eat. Through this lens, Myer is a collection of farm-girl statistics and stereotypes—those she represents, and those she breaks. Firstly, there’s the farm; then there’s the “girl” who, like so many (especially women), leaves the farm. There’s also the good food and the organic methodology—with the promise of cooperating with the land and ecosystem, using fewer chemicals and managing water more efficiently.
“Being a good steward of the land is important to me, too,” says Myer. But it is indeed the food that’s most important. Her motivation is to be part of an emerging healthy and diverse food culture in a nation whose food culture remains disturbingly impoverished.
Myer’s part starts with growing it.