Iowa Public Television


Iowa Native Restores Ancestral Farm For Others to Enjoy

posted on January 14, 2005

The posturing on a new farm bill already has begun in Washington. But it's clear the overriding factor in any future debate will be the federal budget deficit. The president's next budget arrives on Capitol Hill February 7th ... and the White House is promising it will contain no fat. That pledge has many in agriculture worried. Farm state interests already are trying to convince lawmakers that an adequately funded food and fiber policy benefits the entire nation.

To the uninitiated, the business of grinding out farm policy must seem fairly arcane. In fact, the whole rural lifestyle must seem foreign to long-time urbanites, in particular.

But there's one man who's out to change all that. Drawing on his memories of a rustic childhood spent on an Iowa farm, Paul Ramsey is sharing a slice of rural life with some urban youth. Laurel Bower Burgmaier explains.

Iowa Native Restores Ancestral Farm For Others to Enjoy As a young boy, Paul Ramsey spent his summers on his Aunt Jennie and Uncle George's farm nestled among the rolling hills of southern Iowa.

Paul Ramsey, Ramsey Farm Foundation: "I was born in Des Moines many years ago and I spent my summers here from the time I was about five or six years old to probably twelve or fifteen. It was a great part of my life."

Today, Ramsey lives in Newport Beach, California, where he has been a successful real estate developer for over 50 years. But, he's never forgotten his Iowa roots --especially those days in the 1930s when he worked and played on his relative's farm near Mount Ayr, Iowa.

Paul Ramsey, Ramsey Farm Foundation: "I really enjoyed the years I was here and I love this community...I don't know why I'm getting emotional. I can't help it."

Ramsey's strong ties to his ancestral farm influenced him to establish the Ramsey Farm Foundation. In 2001, he, along with members of the community, created the non-profit organization to rebuild the farm and the tiny town of Lesanville, which had disappeared from the map. Their efforts have led to a working 1930s farm and tourist attraction that includes a bed-and-breakfast. But more importantly, Ramsey says the foundation is a way for him to share with others his fond experiences of farm life.

In September, young men from the YMCA in Des Moines made a trip to the farm. While all have grown up in Iowa, a state synonymous with farm country, most of the boys never have set foot on rural ground. They spent the weekend riding horses, learning about farm life -- and stuffing their bellies with old-fashioned farm meals.

Dro Williams and De Ambre Zanders, YMCA: "The food is so good. I like the ice cream homemade icecream. Anything homemade, I'll eat. Yes ma'am."

Chris Daniels, Youth Counselor YMCA: "Being on a farm is one of those things I've never done before. You know, I've never been too close to a cow, over a weekend especially, or too close to a horse where he was in hands reach and chickens we're in hands reach. It was something new for me. Something everybody should experience at one point."

The foundation members want young people from cities across the country to visit Ramsey Farm every year. They say the farm also will be open to local schools and organizations for educational day tours and activities. But, Ramsey admits, it's especially exciting to see the reaction of those who never have been out of the city.

Bryce Hawkins and Daylan Wesley, YMCA: "Riding the horses. I really like the horses. It's fun and the horses are good with people. They don't kick and that's the funnest...I'd have to agree.

Terry Harrison and Justin Wesley, YMCA: "This is my first time on a farm, so it's alright. How do you like it? I couldn't get used to out here. There's way too much to do. All I do at home is take out the trash. Yeah, at home."

De Ambre Zanders, YMCA: "I like the quietness. It's noisy where I come from and sometimes, I just like it to be quiet."

Along with a $100,000 grant from the state-appropriated Vision Iowa fund, Ramsey has donated nearly $400,000 to the effort. And, all profits from crop and livestock sales and tour rentals on Ramsey Farm will be donated to Mount Ayr Community Schools. To compliment the farm, he is working to revitalize the town square of Mount Ayr, with the same 1930s theme. He remembers the days of the "mom and pop" stores and Saturday night socials. He wants downtown Mount Ayr to reflect these bygone traditions.

Ask any resident about Paul Ramsey and he or she will talk about how he has brought new pride and excitement to the community. Former superintendent of Mount Ayr Community Schools, Philip Burmeister is currently president of the Ramsey Farm Foundation.

Philip Burmeister, Ramsey Farm Foundation: "Paul told me about this idea of recreating Lesanville and I was really intrigued with the idea. I sort of fell into his trap. I think he had it all planned..."

But, with his usual modesty, Ramsey is quick to point out that many others deserve credit as well. He says the Mount Ayr community has embraced his vision and that numerous people have donated their money, time, and hard work to the cause.

Chris Daniels, Youth Counselor at YMCA: "This is the type of environment where you can actually just sit and, you know, concentrate or meditate. And, I know at first the kids we're like a farm, I don't know what's going on. But, when they got out here, I could tell all of them really loved it. They all love the experience."

Paul Ramsey, Ramsey Farm Foundation: "It's America like we knew it. Tom Brokaw says that we were the greatest generation. I don't know if that's true, but I think the younger generations need to know how it was like."

For Market to Market, I'm Laurel Bower Burgmaier.

Tags: agriculture education Iowa news rural teens urban