Life of an Iowa Farm Mom
By Lindsey Foss, Iowa Food & Family Project
Jenni Peters’ job duties vary on any given day, and often, several times within the day. One moment she may be found out in the elements feeding cows and hauling manure, and the next, balancing the books while popping a pot roast in the oven.
No matter what Jenni is doing, one thing’s for certain: She is valued.
Jenni proudly wears the many hats of “farmer,” “wife,” “mother,” “accountant” and “head chef,” not because she has to, but because she feels honored to play a role in producing quality beef for her family and families just like hers.
“Sometimes we in agriculture don’t realize just how much people look up to us for producing safe and healthy food because we don’t feel like we’re doing anything special, other than caring for our animals and land the way we think it’s intended to be cared for,” said Jenni. “But it’s such an opportunity! I consider what I do as trying to pull it together for everyone else so they have a chance to succeed. And when I mean everybody, I mean my kids, my family, our farm and our community — everybody.”
Jenni works alongside her husband Charlie at their Bellevue-area farm where they run a cow-calf operation, meaning they raise cows to produce calves, which are later sold. In addition to their cattle, the Peters grow corn, soybeans and hay, which then goes back to feed their cows. With so many moving parts, the couple’s four children, Mathias, Michael, Sam and Miranda, also play a role in their family farm operation.
“Each and every day, I’m outside, I’m with the cattle and I get to work with my husband. To have those opportunities — that we’re able to share with our kids and family — there’s nothing better,” Jenni added.
Despite just wrapping up a busy spring calving season and now entering planting, Jenni took time to sit down with us and share a taste of life on the farm: the good, the bad and the life lessons learned along the way.
What was it like raising your kids on the farm?
I grew up on a farm, as did my husband, and we knew that’s the way we wanted to raise our family. Although wonderful, one of the hardest things when the kids were growing up — especially when they were really young — was that they’d ask, ‘Mom, can we do this? Can we do that?’ and I’d tell them we’d have to wait and see. If it was raining, maybe we could, but there are chores that need to get done first because you have a domino-effect if you don’t take care of things when you have the chance. One of the most challenging aspects about agriculture is that we don’t have a lot of control over certain things; and that’s where faith comes in. Everything is given to us by God.
Through that, I hope our children have learned to be caregivers. Whether its budding plants or piglets, a new calf or a new lamb, there is always new life popping up on the farm and in agriculture; you’re consistently caring for and nurturing life.
What does ‘sustainability’ look like on your farm?
The land we have has never really been ‘ours’ to begin with. We’ve been given an opportunity to take care of it for the next generation. The things that we’re doing now — sure, they help us — but it’s going to be the next generation — our kids, our grandkids — that we need to keep in mind. We give thanks for how fortunate we are to have what we have, live where we live, and have ancestors who worked and struggled to give us the opportunity we have today.
With that mindset, we rotate our row crops to give the ground a chance to restore its nutrients, plus rotationally graze our cattle to eliminate soil erosion and continually improve water quality.
Considering the large number of cattle we care for, producing quality hay is also important and I can tell you, the old saying, ‘make hay while the sun shines,’ is quite true. We need to capitalize on good conditions because if our hay gets rained on, or if it’s not of good quality, then that affects the quality of the feed we give our cattle.
You recently traveled internationally representing Iowa beef producers. What were your takeaways?
In November, I was blessed with the opportunity to go on a meat trade mission to China and Japan. One of the biggest takeaways I had was that all of us — women all over the world — are just trying to feed our families a good tasting, quality protein.
We all have so many similarities; as parents in the foods we serve our families, and as the beef industry as a whole in the values we share to raise healthy animals and produce safe beef. I think we all need to focus more on our similarities than our differences.
How do you define success for your farm?
There’s always so much to do on a farm. I think our kids have learned that we’re all in this together; everybody’s on our team and everybody has an important role on that team. Just as in life, we all have our own gifts and while we don’t all need to be good at everything, we do have to find what we are good at and enjoy. Just as your kids are each different — not everybody is good at cross-country, or not everybody excels at math, I feel a challenge in life is finding what your gift is, and once it’s found, using it to your fullest potential. We’re all blessed with talents and thankfully they’re not all the same, because it’s each individual’s contribution to our family’s operation that makes our farm successful.