November 14, 2016
I have admired FarmHer Cristen Clark from afar for a few years now. Though we live relatively close to each other and interact regularly on social media I hadn't yet had the chance to photograph her in action or really get to see what she is all about...until now. It turns out, she is exactly as I expected - smart, funny and full of love for her family, agriculture, and food!
Pulling up to the home that she shares with her husband and their two young children, set in the rolling hills of southern Iowa, I instantly felt welcome. She was waiting for me at the door, ushering me into her home so we could get started on job one for the day - making a pear pie.
Now, I love to bake, but already knew going in that I am a novice compared to Cristen. She has perfected recipes for her family and her blog, has won cooking contests around the country and even has her own cookbook. See, she rocks it! I have made a handful of pies but usually, stick to the more solid and easy to master chocolate chip cookies or the occasional banana bread. Pie and more specifically pie crust scares me a little. Or a lot.
I followed Cristen to her kitchen and watched as she lined up all of the ingredients to make her masterpiece. The first thing I learned - you need cold butter. Real butter. We talked and laughed our way through the crust, then the pears. She even bravely let me help a bit. I learned a new technique for fluting the crust (which I usually bomb and end up mashing it all up with a fork) and learned the power of keeping the crust cold while working with it. Cristen effortlessly worked her magic with the pie like the pro she is while explaining to me how she found her love of baking. It's a love that has been handed down through her family and something she finds soothing. I might add, something she is wonderful at as well! Once the pie was in the oven, she snagged a quick kiss from her son, who is in preschool and still gets to spend part of his days home with mom, before they headed out to feed pigs.
Click here for Cristen's Pear Pie recipe.
Cristen and her family raise a variety of pigs, from farrowing houses with pigs meant for commercial consumption to a growing group of hobby show pigs. She spent her time that day with the show pigs, cleaning pens and feeding the animals that she adores. She proudly showed off a beautiful red pig named Cherry that she purchased with the winnings from one of the cooking contests and explained how that pig has been instrumental in growing their show pig business.
Following their chores with the pigs, a quick downpour outside and a trip down the lane to greet her daughter as she got off the school bus, we popped back inside to pull the golden bubbling masterpiece from the oven so it could cool.
For the final part of our day, we hopped in the truck and drove just a few minutes down the road to Cristen's parent's house. There we met her parents, who are farmers themselves, and then ventured into the machine shed. Cristen and her sister Tanna work with their father throughout harvest each year. They run the tractors with the grain cart, shuttling the grain to the waiting semi's as their dad runs the combine. It's been a family tradition as long as the girls could help. Late season moisture had slowed down the drying of the grain so the family was ready and eagerly anticipating getting started with harvest. I photographed as Cristen worked, kids by her side, greasing the combine in preparation for harvest in the coming days. We then went out to the field and moisture tested the corn to give the family an idea of when it would be ready to harvest. While harvest is a busy time with a lot of moving parts and pieces, it is easy to see that these three love working together as a family, even weaving in time for a Halloween costume or two to lighten up the mood.
As the sun set on what was the last day before the family began harvesting we all headed back to Cristen's where her family enjoyed a meal together before the intensity of harvest hit. It warmed my heart to see the little cousins playing together, running around the house as the adults discussed their days and what was to come in the weeks ahead. The delicious dinner ended with the family around the table, enjoying Cristen's pie - it looked like a work of art and tasted even better. From the outside looking in Cristen's blog, Food and Swine, is only part of her story. Her story is written with a deep love of family, a desire to nurture and provide for them, a drive to succeed in farming and in life and to share that love with others through a sincere connection to her community...her story is one of a FarmHer.
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