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October 2009 Guest Article - Grower's Story PDF Print E-mail
Howard Blume

Grower's Story

By Howard Blume

For 7 years Howard and his wife Kay produced award winning hand-ladled goat cheese on their farm in Interlaken NY, located in the fingerlakes. They called themselves Goat Folks Farm selling Goat Folks Chèvre to specialty food stores, supermarkets and restaurants in Manhattan and though out the north and mid-eastern states. They also brought their cheeses and organic vegetables Howard grew to the Ithaca Farmers Market every Saturday of the month. They developed close relationships with customers and fellow vendors while selling from the same market booth for those 7 years. Today Howard lives in Chicago, Illinois offering his services as a personal gardener.

Bill Ellison and Lois Pavelka, farm-mates of Pavelka's Point Farm Iowa City and Mount Vernon Farmers' Markets — Mt. Vernon, Iowa

"No one warned us back then," mused Bill Ellison. Apparently the manufacturers and the Department of Agriculture never gave it a thought back then —†back when Bill Ellison, in his late teens, shirtless, gradually emptied four fifty-pound tanks secured to the tractor he drove, showering the soil, his bare skin, and lungs with Atrazine, among other herbicides and insecticides.

"I'm still here," Bill says. In spite of the aforementioned toxic exposure, all sixty some-odd years of him still farms without the use of herbicides and insecticides. Lois Pavelka, a retired nurse and a farmer's wife who lost her husband to a heart attack has partnered with Bill for the last seven years. Farm-mates.

Bill Ellison and Lois Pavelka knew each other for some 35 years — neighbors — lived across from each other all that time. Now they live and work together. They have teamed-up to be known as Pavelka's Point Farm at the Iowa City and Mount Vernon (Iowa) Farmers' Markets where they are coveted by market shoppers and local chefs for their unsurpassed quality lamb, beef and pork.

"Our life is the best," Lois answers when asked about Bill and her. The Farmers' Market is one factor that contributes to the best. Before they moved in together, they've independently lived out their own life story over decades, working out the kinks, going through their own hell and high-water. They aged but did not tire. The convergence of a well-seasoned Bill Elliot and an equally well-seasoned Lois Pavelka and their Farmers' Markets, make for a satisfying, pleasurable life. Make for the best. To belabor a point: Farmers' Markets are an important part of the mix.

Bill Ellison never gave farmers' markets a thought for the greater part of his life as a farmer. He is a complex conglomerate of interrelated skills, handed down to him from his grandfather and his father. "I learn from the ground up," Bills tells.

Today his seven year old grandson can run a skid loader and four wheeler, can do most things adults can't, he brags. He's grooming him for the future — he's a constant companion throughout Bill's workday.

The makings of a farmer: Bill Ellison walked a mile to a one-room schoolhouse with no plumbing and outside toilets. Along with his school books, he had to carry enough water for the school day. His grandfather worked the land and hauled what needed hauling using draft horses. His father used both tractor and horse. At seven, Bill was in the field on the tractor and worked with the horses. As a teenager, employed by an ambitious entrepreneurial farmer, he drove one of the first International Harvester 101 combines introduced in the country. It was the first used in his farming community where people who came by wondered if they were looking at a space ship. His employer and Bill went from four-row cultivator/planter to a six-row. These first combines had no cabins; exposed to the weather Bill drove them in summer heat and freezing winds. "If you fell asleep on a six-row cultivator, you'd take a gash out of the soil pretty fast. I don't think I'd drive one today."

Life whizzes by: Four years in the Air Force; Bill marries; his house burns to the ground; he buys a semi-truck, becomes a trucker trucking to every state in the US; has 2 sons and a daughter. In 1974 with savings, Bill buys a farm; he raises sheep and hogs; the value of his property goes up —†$500 an acre to $2000; the bank/government encourages him to borrow on the property; a sudden drop in property values, the bank/government want its money; he faces bankruptcy. The year — 1983.

The unmaking of a farmer: Bill manages to salvage 40 acres, his homestead, some hogs, sheep and some equipment. It wasn't easy to hold on to any of the assets, he tells; dressed in suit and tie, Bill represented himself in court. Bankruptcy and divorce seem to go hand in hand, he reflects. There was no salvaging his marriage. To make a living, he was on the truck once more. He did marry again, lost her to lung cancer.

A skill Bill acquired in high school was auctioneering. He supplemented his income by running auctions — after the bankruptcy no one would hire him as an auctioneer...

Except one person — his neighbor Lois Pavelka.

After Lois's husband died of a heart attack, she was left with the farm, a stock cow herd, and three generations of farm equipment. She hired Bill Ellison to sort out the equipment and three generations of odds and ends, prepare it all for auction and subsequently run the auction. A big complex job which took a farmer's acumen, deft mind, organizational skills and several months of Lois and Bill working together. During that time they realized they shared common interest and values. As Lois cited, "We found we had the same work ethic."

Born again farmer: Lois was the inspiration, the nudge, the poke, the reason Bill began to farm again he admits. He got off the truck and back again on the tractor. Bill and Lois merged land and homestead, about 400 acres between them both. Without using chemicals, Bill grows corn, oats and hay that are fed to their cows, hogs and sheep. The animals, including the pigs, have run of the pasture. Bill's love of horses is fulfilled — 18 horses, some Belgiums, quarter horse and ponies for the grandchildren. He still will use a horse for hauling. On occasion he'll take groups on hayrides. Lois sells at the markets and loves it — and customers love her. The Iowa City and Mount Vernon Farmers' Markets play an important role in their lives; it makes for this love affair, this healthy, immediate connection between farmer and customer. Bill enjoys raising livestock. Always has. Knowing that fellow Iowans partake of his product with the great satisfaction they passionately express to Lois at the market, adds to his enjoyment — a kudo he never had before. Often when nearing day's end the two of them take the dogs and drive to the river edge. While the dogs romp they share their day, Bill talks livestock. Lois talks customers. Together — farm-mates — they talk satisfaction.

 
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