Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
By Curt Swarm, Empty Nest
Jane and Mark McConeghey of Monroe, Iowa have always been innovative farmers, caring for their land like it was one of their children. A lot of it stems from education. Mark has a degree in marketing, and Jane in nursing - both from the University of Iowa. The McConegheys were one of the first, if not thee first, to implement no-till farming in Jasper County. Then, they had the audacity to switch to large round bales for their hay, straw and stover. Neighboring farmers just shook their heads, convinced that too much education can make you wacky. But, when Mark, a fourth generation McConeghey to till the same soil, received an award for having a 150-year old family farm, they admitted he had 'stick-to-intuitiveness.”
Convinced that farmers needed alternative crops to corn and soybeans, the McConegheys dedicated a number of acres to aronia berries, going so far as to purchase an aronia berry harvester. (Aronia berries, with high concentrations of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, have yet to prove themselves. Adequate markets are the problem.)
This year it's chestnut trees! Ginnie and I visited the McConegheys on a beautiful fall Saturday to watch them plant over 300 chestnut trees. It was also Ginnie's and my five-year wedding anniversary. What a wonderful way to celebrate! Chestnut trees were wiped out by blight in North America around the turn of the 20th Century. These are Chinese Chestnuts, and blight resistant. Per acre, chestnuts can bring in more income than corn and soybeans. The major drawback is that it can take 15 years before a sizable crop is achieved.
The McConegheys don't care, they're planting for the next generation. Both in their early seventies, they realize they may never see the trees produce. 'But someone will,” they happily point out.
Their next experiment will be with pawpaw trees, and maybe persimmons. Stewards of the land, the McConegheys are visionary and not shy of risk.
For our anniversary, they sent us home with two Chestnut tree starts. Perfect. We also may never see them produce. But someone will!
On another note, I will be 31 years clean and sober this November 3, which, of course, is also Election Day. To celebrate recovery and the election, Ginnie and I are hosting a half-marathon (13.1 miles) here at our house. The Empty Nest Farm has a circular driveway that is 1/8 mile around. To try it out, I jogged 10 miles on it - no, not counting laps - but using GPS. What a blast!
So, starting at 8 a.m., Tuesday, November 3, anyone who wants to help me run (or walk) the half-marathon is welcome to join. We have bathrooms and showers here at the house, and Ginnie will be serving brunch. The menu includes ham sliders (to die for), egg casserole, fruit, juice, coffee, an electrolyte drink and whatever anyone else wants to bring (like Lori's Scotcheroos!). Our address is 2471 Marsh Ave., Mt. Pleasant 52641. We're right on Hwy 34, two miles east of Mt. Pleasant. Look for the 'Empty Nest Art” sign and the blue metal roof on our house and barn. You can't miss us.
I'm having T-shirts printed: 'Vote for Health, Election Day Half Marathon, Help Curt celebrate 31 years of sobriety. Sobriety is healthy and so is voting!” I guarantee you these T-shirts will be collectors' items. For the health of it!
BTW: My jogging pace is akin to some peoples' walking pace. Just come out and have fun! A half-marathon right here. It's like, 'taking a trip and never leaving the farm!”