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Why I Farm

Beck's Why I Farm Roadtrip: Iowa Farmer, Erin Brenneman

Published on Tuesday, May 24, 2016

College is a time of exploration. It’s a time to try new things, experience different lifestyles, and make connections that will shape your life forever. Erin Brenneman had no idea her Iowa State adventure would transform her from a Chicago city girl to a sow momma in southeast Iowa.

After working with horses and talking to her high school counselor about her love for animals, Erin decided to major in Animal Science at Iowa State University. That’s where she met Tim. He lived a floor above her in the dorms. At the beginning of the school year, Erin couldn’t understand why Tim went home every weekend. After all, weekends are when college gets fun!

Finally, curiosity got the best of her. She spent more and more of her weekends back at Tim’s family farm. “I’ll never forget the first day I worked with pigs, ever.” She says. After weaning pigs with Tim and his uncle, they went up to the house and had lunch together. She was in awe. Everyone stopped what they were doing to have a meal together. “I’d never done that before, eaten with family like that. We never just all got together at a certain time and ate lunch, no matter what.”

The more time she spent on the farm, the more she fell in love with it – and Tim. After graduation, Tim and Erin got married, and started their life together in Southeast Iowa.

“I went all over the place on the farm when I first got here,” Erin explained. “I was raised in the city, so when I got to the farm I wanted to do everything. I drove tractors, loaded hogs, power-washed, and drove the feed truck. The farrowing house was probably the last place I went. But immediately, I just fell in love.”

As she adjusted to life on the farm, Tim’s mother mentored her. With her mother-in-law’s guidance, Erin learned to manage what she calls the “maternity ward for pigs.” In the farrowing barn, she hand dries each baby pig and keeps an eye out for sows that need help giving birth. It’s important to keep each piglet warm, dry and full of milk.

While Erin’s responsibilities have grown on the farm, her in-laws encourage the next generation to keep looking forward. “Sustainability is constant improvement. You can’t ever just be like, ‘Okay, we got this!’ You always have to be forward thinking, and that’s something my in-laws are amazing with and made sure to instill in us. We did this well today, but how are we going to do it great tomorrow? I feel like we do a really good job at it, but it’s by no means perfect, so we’re always thinking – what can we do better?”

Erin and Tim have been calling the farm home for 12 years now. Today, she not only cares for the baby pigs in the farrowing barn, but their two sons as well – which she feels has connected her even more to the pigs she cares for. “Being a mom, I think that you can relate, and kind of feel, more of what the sows need.”

Like their parents, her sons love life on the farm. The boys look forward to coming to the farm when they have a day off of school. As a family, they cherish the time they can spend working side by side with the pigs. “I didn’t grow up this way, but now it’s really important to me that my kids get to grow up this way. I think that’s some of what keeps me going. They understand what I do and why I do it.”

After trading the city lifestyle and urban experience for scrubs and country landscapes Erin says, “I’ve never felt more surrounded by people than on the farm. Ever. It’s crazy. You know everyone that drives by. Everyone’s aunt, cousin, uncle, brother lives within two miles of your house.”

Before college, Erin never would have imagined this life for herself. Now, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

That’s why Erin Brenneman farms.


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Natalina Sents

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