A Day at Pin Oak Place
By Jessica Clem-McClaren
Photography by Kate White
The air conditioner blows dust into my Honda Civic as we drive toPin Oak Placeon a hot Saturday in July. Our host, Ellen Walsh-Rosmann, had invited us to spend time exploring a day in the life of a young farmer, which included plans for helping to prepare a farm-totable meal.
Pin Oak Place, an organic farm in westernIowa, is just two hours away fromOmaha. The five bedroom farmhouse is guarded by rows of graceful trees. The 10-acre farm is just a portion of the 800 acres and two farms that Daniel, Ellen’s husband’s family owns. “Pin Oak Placeis the original homestead of the Rosmann family farm, which is over 100 years old,” she said. “Pin Oak has the veggies and goats, while the home place, known as Rosmann Family Farms, has pork and beef.” The animals are raised organically with no antibiotics or hormones.
Daniel’s grandfather was born and raised on the farm. Ellen and Daniel bought it in 2010, deciding on the Pin Oak name to honor the trees that provide shade and respite for its residents, which include three barn cats and a litter of kittens. “Daniel’s family loved these trees and decided to keep them,” Ellen said. “These trees serve as a reminder that we don’t need to cut down and build new things. Instead, we work with the land and respect the natural flow of nature. The trees are a reminder to farm sustainably so future generations can enjoy the rewards.”
Our tour began outside at a shed that houses two curious Lamancha goats. “Mercury is the reddish one and Jupiter is tan,” said Ellen as she stopped to scratch the goats’ necks. Lamanchas are common dairy goats with friendly dispositions. They are milked twice daily to provide fresh milk for Daniel and Ellen. “We are looking into making and selling goat cheese,” said Ellen. “They are just so much fun, and we love having them around.”
The bright sun reflects off stalks of sweet corn in a small field next to the shed where the goats enjoy the breeze. “The corn is not quite ready,” Ellen said as we carefully step over the solar-powered electric fence—a sustainable tool to keep costs down and to prevent small critters from eating the corn.
When Ellen and Daniel started out, there was a small vegetable garden area and a few sheds. As the first farm inShelbyCountyto distribute through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model,Pin Oak Placeis now flourishing in both size and popularity.
“When we bought the farm, we knew we wanted to grow it into a business that could support our family as we grew,” she said, as she put her hand on her stomach and shared the news that she and Daniel are expecting their first child later this year.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” Ellen said, as she popped a cherry tomato into my palm from a bush beside the front door of the house. “I’ve wanted to be a farmer since the third grade, maybe even younger. Growing good food for the community, taking care of the land, farming for future generations and working with Daniel is ideal. I don’t think I would have it any other way.”
We explore the vegetable gardens, admiring green beans, chard, rhubarb and onion, where even the dirt smells delicious. We move on toward the fields to find Daniel in action. We visit him in a rolling sea of soybeans, and we watch him chop down invasive trees and weeds. Swaying with the wind, the movement of the soybeans emulates waves. I am amazed at the peacefulness. Cutting invasive trees by hand is hard work, but the Rosmanns wouldn’t have it any other way. “I wake up every morning excited,” said Ellen. “This is the way to live.”
The sun begins to dull in late afternoon, and my anticipation grows for what I know will be my favorite part of the day—the meal. We pick green beans in our aprons. Warm cherry tomatoes and fresh basil later glisten in a bowl, while sugar and vinegar coat sliced cucumbers. Beets roast in the oven, while pans sizzle and garlic pops in oil. Zucchini is sliced for chocolate chip bread. Beef tenderloin crackles in the skillet, browning with fresh butter. Plates are set on the small table. The steaming meat, fresh, crisp salads and roasted beets look like art against the green plates. Lemonade and homemade wine sparkle in the glassware. We each enjoyed second servings of everything on the table. The zucchini bread was a perfect ending to the wonderful meal.
“We love our land,” Ellen said. “We try to take care of it by farming in a way that is sustainable. If you think of sustainability as a three-legged stool, each leg being the environment, the community and the economy, we don’t harm one to benefit from the other. I hope that each item of produce that leaves my farm is respected and cared for as much as we did for it. I hope folks make healthy meals and share with those around them the bounty of our land.”
As we sit around the table, I have a chance to reflect on the meaning of this day. Rarely, if ever, do I have a chance to enjoy my food in this way. To see it being grown, picking it fresh from organic fields, preparing it simply and enjoying it with the farmers whose land is where their family roots are deeply planted is awe-inspiring. The simplicity of the food is at the same time complex in many ways.
I leave feeling inspired to ask more questions about my food, to buy more local products and to ensure that my dollars vote for a food system that respects the land and the animals. This farm truly embodies the way to appreciate food—making me a believer in the way life should be enjoyed.
Where to find them
Pin Oak products are primarily available through its CSA, which you can sign up for in the spring at PinOakPlace.com.
Other options include online ordering at www.LocalDirt.com/PinOakPlace , with a central delivery location inOmaha, or at the Farm Sweet Farm store located at1222 Ironwood Road inHarlan,Iowa.
Stay up-to-date with the farm and products available by becoming a fan at its Facebook page, or by visiting its website: www.PinOakPlace.com
Jessica Clem-McClaren is a writer who cultivated her love of good food while growing up on her family’s farm. A marathon runner, she enjoys supporting her local economy through her love of vegetables.