I grew up in a small town — roughly 350 people — in northeastern Iowa: Fort Atkinson (see the map above).
There's a lot of history for me in that little town. My mom was born and raised there. It is also where my grandpa and grandma opened a bar after World War II, "Stan's Tavern," which remained open until the 1970s.
My dad was born on a farm about 20 miles north of my hometown. He later left agriculture to become a high school teacher, though you could say he never left agriculture entirely as he started a painting company back in the 1970s, and now he paints barns as opposed to working in them. I spent about 15 summers painting with dad. I think I learned to use a paintbrush before I could swing a baseball bat!
Author · Scholar · Public Speaker
"Were you born on a farm?"
I received my undergraduate degree from the University of Iowa and my Ph.D. from Iowa State University. I then spent time at Wageningen University (that's in The Netherlands) as a Post Doc.
Eventually, I found my way to Colorado State University (in Fort Collins, Colorado), where I happily remain. I’ve held a number of titles over the years while I have been here, some as an administrator. I’ve always, however, held fast to identities that include conducting research while engaging in teaching and learning.
I also find myself spending an increasing amount of time working with government agencies, both here and abroad.
Colorado, here I come
Iowa, born and raised
As you can see in the surrounding pictures, I continue to spend as much time as possible outside, and my parents still "farm."
I also take great joy in watching my two kids (and wife) as they have many of the same experiences I had as a child. We travel home to Iowa every summer. There, they get to play in the very same garden I did as a kid, visit the farms of my friends, and, when possible, attend the local county 4-H fair.
I'm the Co-Executive Director (and Co-Founder) of the Food Systems Institute for Research, Engagement, and Learning at Colorado State University. Other titles include Professor of Sociology (Colorado State University), Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development in the College of Liberal Arts (again, Colorado State University), and Visiting Professor at the Ruralis Research Institute (Trondheim, Norway). I'm also a son, brother, husband, and father as well as someone who's deeply concerned about the wellbeing of present and future generations.
I frequently get asked if I was raised on a farm — often by other farmers when attempting to assess, I've come to learn, my "street cred." In the conventional sense, I tell them, I was not, though all my friends growing up lived on a farm. Practically everyone I knew as a kid was a farmer.
But my mom and dad did grow food — a lot of it. We had (and my parents continue to "farm") one of the largest vegetable gardens in the county: almost an acre and a separate asparagus bed that measures out to roughly 600 square feet. Many of my earliest memories are of working the land with my sister, mom, and dad. (And cutting and hauling wood for our wood burning furnace, which I will be the first to tell you is a lot of work!)
It seemed there wasn't a vegetable that we didn't can, pickle, or freeze. We spent hours as a family every year around our kitchen table preparing items for long-term storage, from shucking peas to be frozen to cutting beans to be canned and cleaning pickles to be pickled. We did it all. My sister and I also spent most days outside, only coming home when we heard the church bells ring at 6 p.m. I mention all of this because these are experiences that I have taken with me, as an adult, as a father and husband, and as a scholar.