by Ash Bruxvoort
“For me, being part of Golden Hills Resource Conservation and Development and Southwest Iowa has been letting go of a lens of scarcity,” Tina Bakehouse told me after I met her at a Beginning and Aspiring Women Farmer Learning Circle in Hancock, Iowa, during the fall of 2017. Her passion for Southwest Iowa was obvious over the phone, as well as her desire to enhance the quality of life for the people in her community.
Tina grew up on a farm, but she says she was always attracted to an urban lifestyle. With a strong imagination and a knack for writing and communications, her 4-H projects were more focused on radio and writing than poultry and gardening. She went to college at the University of Northern Iowa, earned a Masters and a professional writing certificate from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and spent ten years living primarily in cities around the United States. Then she met a farmer at salsa dance lessons in Omaha, fell in love and moved to Maple Edge Farm in Hastings, Iowa, in 2004.
Building an art career in a rural community
For some, it might seem like moving to a rural community would mean the end of a career in arts and teaching, but that has not been the case for Tina. In fact, the farm has opened up many opportunities to create and expand her skills. After teaching high school and college for almost twenty years, she started a new career in the fall of 2017 at Golden Hills Resource Conservation and Development as an Outreach and Communication Coordinator. The position was developed for her to work on storytelling, communications, and local foods.
After commuting to Creighton University in Omaha, she says the 16-mile commute isn’t bad and she feels like all of Southwest Iowa is her classroom. Inspired by her husband’s work with cover crops and corn-soybean-small grain rotation, Tina is always trying to learn more about agriculture and connect to new resources. She is a storyteller and a teacher.
“Some people hunt,” she said. “My hobby is going to school, going to workshops, reading books. Learning is part of who I am.” She recommends any woman trying to find her way in food, agriculture, and community-building to make learning and attending workshops a priority.
Art education on the farm
Tina brought her passion for art and education to the farm by starting agriculture art camps, which brought urban kids to Maple Edge Farm to touch soil, meet animals, and express themselves through art and storytelling. Students have created character masks, acted out scenes, taken hayrack rides to pond, and picked veggies from the garden. In 2018, Tina will expand the camps to include six farms in four counties and add intergenerational opportunities. Local artists Mary Swander and Chad Elliott will participate in the camps this summer.
Preserving rural communities through storytelling
“Storytelling connects people,” Tina said. “You can babble tons of facts and those are interesting, but when you share sensory details of how something looks, sounds, smells and feels, it takes people to a place in time. Studies show that the listener’s serotonin levels actually change. People have more empathy. We’re all born natural storytellers.”
Tina’s job has often been pulling those stories out of people, and part of her work in Southwest Iowa is to create a quilt of beautiful stories about the people who make her community. Through these stories, she is able to remove the lens of scarcity from her rural community.
“We’re kind of a forgotten space. We’re close enough to Omaha that we sometimes get mentioned in the Omaha World-Herald. The Des Moines Register is more focused on the north and east parts of the state. Malvern, Iowa, has 1,100 people and 3 art galleries; there is a wonderful German bakery; bike trails; and all kinds of inventive people bringing our community together.” She cites The Longest Table, a farm-to-table community dinner in Avoca, Iowa, as an example of how the community is coming together in brilliant and beautiful ways.