America’s “amber waves of grain” have long been rooted in our history and culture. The fields of our heartland continue to supply sustenance, energy, and wealth to this country, and to the world, as they have for over a century.
The American Farm Bureau Federation reports that 15% of the U.S. workforce produces, processes, and sells the nation’s food, and in 2010 alone, these 21 million Americans exported $115 billion worth of agricultural products around the globe. This month, we embrace America’s food heritage with a trip to Iowa’s Silos and Smokestacks.
National heritage areas are sites that preserve and share the 200-year-long, 3,000-mile-wide story of who we are as Americans and how we got here. The country’s 49 national heritage areas are affiliated with the National Park Service but are not owned nor managed by NPS. Rather, private entities like local governments, businesses, and cultural sites join together to protect and promote the story.
The Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area spans 37 counties of Iowan farmland as well as the cities of Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and Waterloo. As summer wanes and fall approaches, visitors can celebrate the harvest season through special programs at many of the partner sites.
“Living History Farms has great events around harvest time,” commented Aaron Steinmann, marketing and communications manager for the heritage area. Living History Farms is an outdoor museum that provides live presentations about the development of farming practices and the growth of the Midwestern agricultural lifestyle.
Beyond educational sites like Living History Farms and the heritage area’s many other museums, Silos and Smokestacks offers a variety of options for dining that blend the fun of food and family with traditional Iowan rural culture. Visitors can stay at one of the heritage area’s four bed and breakfasts, enjoy drinks at the three wineries and vineyards, or tour one of the many local farms. Aaron identified a working farm, Hansen’s Farm Fresh Dairy, as one of his personal favorite sites in the heritage area. “It’s a great, family-owned, multigenerational farm. The best part is you get freshly made ice cream at the end of the tour.” The grandchildren of the current operators are the seventh generation of Hansens to grow up on the farm.
The stories of the men and women who have farmed the land, from the Iowa Indians to the modern farmers of today, are featured prominently in Silos and Smokestacks. Sites dedicated to farmers’ lives, their tractors, their practices, and their histories are sown throughout the heritage area, providing an excellent survey of Midwestern agricultural life. Whether you’re looking to visit a rural one-room schoolhouse, see barns painted with traditional quilt patterns, tour a factory that assembles tractors, explore the house Frank Lloyd Wright built for one of the area’s farm owners, or just take a scenic drive through a pastoral part of the country, this heritage area has something for everyone.
As you travel through the United States, Silos and Smokestacks is a stop that should not be missed. The story it tells and the life it describes has been, and will continue to be, one at the heart of the American heritage. For a complete list of sites and for more information, visit www.silosandsmokestacks.org.
About the author
Malcolm Fouhy is a former intern with NPCA's Government Affairs Department.