Greetings from central Kansas, where the wheat’s been cut, the corn is shoulder high, and the rain is a dim memory from spring.
I’ve just returned from a reporting trip that took me to Great Bend and McPherson, with a few whistlestops at farm and ranch outposts in between. In all, I rode in three pickup trucks, saw thousands of cattle, and covered nearly 600 miles.
My drive got gorgeous after I turned off I-70 Monday morning and headed south on Kansas Highway 156. I marveled at the enormous fields of blond wheat, freshly harvested, the stubbles as stick-straight as a boy’s buzzcut. Cattle were roaming in tall grass as I crossed the Smoky Hill River and I laughed as I saw the Midwest version of the Hollywood sign at Holyrood, Kan., population 447.
I was in Great Bend to talk to a feedlot operator for a story on the beef industry for NPR. Andrew Murphy is CEO at Innovative Livestock Services, and he was kind enough to show me around the feedlot his father founded in 1959.
Then I was off to a small farm near Moundridge, where Barbara Roux proudly showed me her 50-head herd of Shorthorn cattle, a business she’s been in, as she told me, for 70 years.
I spent a glamorous night (ahem) at the Best Western in McPherson, where my Volkswagon looked shrimpy next to the many big pickups parked near the attached steakhouse. But I appreciated twice being called “hon” by the desk clerk as I checked out.
The next morning I was at Ed Hodgson’s home about 20 miles west of town, getting a tour of his family’s homeplace, set on the original Homestead claim his great-grandfather made in 1871. There on the banks of the Little Arkansas River, the Hodgson family set down roots that grew to the many members of the family that stayed sprouted along 28th Road in Rice County to this day. Ed, who grows corn, soybeans and milo, even threw in a tour of the local markers of the Santa Fe Trail, which runs just three miles south of his home.
Writers are often taught that establishing a “sense of place” is important, that offering geography and color and local idiosyncrasies to their prose will give it more authenticity. What struck me in meeting Andrew, Barbara and Ed was their sense of never leaving their own place, settled in central Kansas and staying connected to their original farm roots.
So stick with us this summer, when Harvest will be exploring the idea of coming from a farm background – we’re going to want to hear from you.
Now excuse me while I go unpack my bags and listen to tape and download lots of pictures of cows.