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One Man's Lifelong Quest for Northeast Iowa Soil Conservation
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One Man's Lifelong Quest for Northeast Iowa Soil Conservation

FAYETTE – A conversation with a chaplain as a soldier during the Korean conflict, left it's mark on Iowa farm boy Ken Friedly. Drafted into the U.S. Army in the 1950s, Friedly was trained to serve with the Military Police. He says his group of soldiers, in being called together by the chaplain, was asked, "Who in this group came from a farm?" Of a hundred men, there were just three, and the other two were from Kentucky and Kansas.

The chaplain went on to ask the soldiers how much they knew of their mission. Friedly recalls how the chaplain chose him as his example because Iowa grows more corn than either of the states the other two men represented. He said the minister advised, "You're going to have to feed the world, but you have to keep your soil to home." He also advised to all the soldiers like Friedly that when they find themselves at heaven's gate, St. Peter just might say, 'You had privileges and responsibilities. What did you do with them?'

The Army soldier says the chaplain's story has stayed with him all these years later. It's why he felt a responsibility to practice conservation of the soil on his own farm. "For a lot of years I drove to the John Deere dealership in Sumner for parts, and as I traveled Highway 93, there were numerous places with evidence of soil erosion and the scrub trees and brush were just allowed to grow up around there," he says.

There are also several places between Fayette and Wadena where you can see dirt washed away, and people didn't put it back," he adds. Having farmed in the Fayette area all his life after returning from military service, Friedly felt an obligation to keep Fayette County's rich soil in place, rather than allowing it to wash into streams and rivers.

A tool he used the last fifteen years he was actively farming, was a box scraper. "My brother, Wallace, had one for longer than that," he adds. Replacing topsoil and straightening and cleaning out waterways, are typical uses of a box scraper, he explains.

Although he no longer works full-time at farming, Friedly worked from 280 to 800 acres annually over the course of his career. He knows that for young families hoping to get started in farming, equipment to prevent soil loss isn't likely to be at the top of their list of inventory.

"I want to get young farmers started, if I can," he says. That's apparent as he works with a young man from his former farm neighborhood, helping him with spring planting and in cutting and putting up hay this summer while the young farmer works a day job in addition to getting his start farming.

Another idea, he says, was to purchase and donate a box scraper to the Fayette County Soil and Water Conservation District. Friedly and a younger brother, Robert, and Robert's wife, Trudie, purchased a new Buffalo feedyard scraper from Baumler Implement in West Union, then donated it to the SWCD for use by farmers.

"It's amazing what you can do with one of those things," Friedly says. "As long as the soil hasn't left your field, you can put it back," and that's just what he and his brother, Robert, hope they can encourage their fellow farmers to do.

SWCD commissioners will store the box scraper at their residences on a rotating basis. The fee for use is just $25 per day, although a $2,000 deposit (in the form of a check that won't be cashed unless the equipment is damaged) will be required.

Commissioner Bill Bennett, Elgin, said he has seen how the Friedlys used their scrapers to return topsoil to their fields, and was always impressed by their work. He encourages the county's land tenants to make use of the brand new implement that was a gift by the Friedly brothers.

Fees collected will be used for maintenance of the implement, including greasing and draining hydraulics and replacement of tires when necessary.


  1. Mamabear
    I love this story, and thank you Ken for preserving these precious resources wisely, and passing that on to others!

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