Moving Out of the Comfort Zone

Maren Beard takes a cut with a chainsaw during a workshop at Hawkeye Buffalo Ranch.

Farming requires a diverse set of skills. Farmers need to know about agronomy, food safety, business management, animal husbandry, conservation and more. What do they do when they want to learn a new set of skills? They attend a field day or visit another farm for new ideas.


The Northeast Iowa Food and Farm Network was created to help local food, beginning, and transitioning farmers learn new skills. They gather roughly every month to make connections, find common interests, and see how other farms work.


The topics are often suggested by group members and ISU Extension local food specialist, Kayla Koether does her best to accommodate those requests.


One request that took a little bit longer to arrange was a workshop on basic chainsaw safety and operation.


The workshop was held on a beautiful fall day at the Hawkeye Buffalo Ranch near Fredericksburg. Maren Beard and her husband Tom made the hour-long drive from their farm near Decorah to attend.


“It was intimidating,” said Maren. “Growing up, we had someone mow our lawn. On our farm, Tom has always done the weed whacking, lawn mowing, leaf blowing and chainsawing while I have chosen other tasks.


“He’s fast and seems to enjoy those jobs. It’s amazing how so often we get stuck doing what makes us comfortable rather than challenging ourselves. On Sunday, I challenged myself,” said Maren.


When it got to the hands-on portion of the workshop, I volunteered to go first,” said Maren. “Everyone else in my group had at least some experience operating a chainsaw and I knew that I’d grow more nervous if I watched them before taking my turn.”


Maren shared that she struggled to get the chainsaw to start. After a dozen pulls, she secretly hoped the instructor, or her husband, would come over and assist.


“Instead, I did it on my own and proceeded to saw off several pieces of a branch, all the while learning safety tips from Ben,” said Maren. “He said that the difference in my face from the time that I first started the chainsaw to when I made my last cut was remarkable. I could literally feel myself gaining confidence as I worked.”


Maren is not sure how often she’ll choose to operate the chainsaw on their farm but she likes knowing that she can if it’s something she wants to do.


One of the goals of the network is to provide a safe environment for farmers to learn new skills – even if those skills include chainsaws. Mission accomplished.

Workshop attendees look on as presenter DeWitt Boyd demonstrates a tree-felling technique.

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