A few more miles: Seed development
I should have expected it, having grown up in an Iowa farming community. Nonetheless, I was disappointed gazing out my Iowa State dorm window and seeing nothing but cornfields, from street to distant horizon.
I knew little about architecture. I knew it was different from my dad’s job at the local plant of a major seed corn company. That was the point. My childhood seemed to revolve around the annual farming cycle: spring planting, summer detasseling, fall harvest, repeat ad infinitum.
Detasseling is the act of removing the pollen-producing flower, the tassel, from the tops of corn plants. It is a form of pollination control: removing tassels from the female plants of one variety allows the grain growing on those plants to be fertilized by the remaining tassels of the male plants, resulting in a hybrid and higher yields. Yes, there really are male and female corn plants.
Detasseling is labor intensive. In the Gaard household, joining the crew was simply expected. Dad may even have pulled strings to allow my sister and me to start before reaching minimum age. (Um… thanks Dad.) So, for several weeks in July, we boarded the bus early every morning and spent our days walking the rows, braving heat and humidity and occasional rainy days and mud. Cancellations were cheered, though rare; Corwin’s definition of “rain” was far different than mine!
As a young boy, I sometimes tagged along with Dad to work. At the plant, he would chat with supervisors, warehouse workers, and office colleagues. In the fields, he assessed crop status with respect to weather and time of year: Ahead or behind schedule? Which fields need attention? Destinations of the detasseling bus were sometimes revised; woe to the crew that missed too many tassels!
Later, I worked college breaks in the plant warehouse. I could see Dad was adept at corporate management, dealing with schedule and budget issues daily. During breaks, though, he would join the blue-collar staff: warehouse and seasonal workers like myself. The guys liked Dad. After all, they knew if they worked hard Virg would watch their backs.
I recall Sunday afternoon phone calls alerting Dad to a farmer with a stuck tractor. Off he went, certain to miss Sunday supper again (we ate dinner at noon in those days), sometimes muttering “I told him that field was still too wet!” but no time for second guessing. Daylight hours are precious, a larger tractor would be found, work would get done — Dad took care of his farmers.
Through it all, Dad demonstrated a commitment to fairness and getting things done, treating everyone the same, whether wearing muddy boots and overalls or a business suit.
Recently, I recognized Dad’s influence on my career. When I pointed out the similarities of our respective jobs, Dad found it more than a little amusing. The management processes to transform a kernel of corn into a mature corn plant, I reasoned, are analogous to those I use every day as architect and project manager. There are calls to make; workload/personnel issues to address; and financial reporting to the team. Equipment breakdowns — like unexpected construction issues — demand immediate attention. All the while, an eye must be kept on the weather, to nurture the crop to a successful harvest.
Without either of us realizing it, Dad showed me how to be a project manager.
One of today’s joys are regular trips to The Eastern Iowa Airport. As I pass the rolling farmland, seeing farmers hard at work, I am reminded of my own relationship to the land and its influence on me today. There is a striking beauty to the landscape, in ways I never appreciated as a child. From winter dormancy, followed by spring planting, the rolling green waves of mid-summer, and the late afternoon golden glow of harvest season, it never disappoints.
Just don’t make me pull another tassel.
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