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Making A Mark All His Own

Peggy Lowe
Harvest Public Media

When a guy is a mechanical engineer at a nuclear power plant, you figure he puts in a pretty good day of work.

Not so for Nolan Strawder, whose day job, as he calls it, is at the Wolf Creek Nuclear Power Plant in Burlington, Kan.

His nights – and mornings and weekends and any other free time – is putting his family’s farm back together and making it his own.

Strawder, 25, is living back on his family’s farm, 280 acres of land his mother, grandparents and great-grandparents established. The land is rented to other farmers and the old house sat empty for a few years, after his mom moved to town, so Strawder came home.

Here he can literally see his mother’s, grandparents’ and other relative’s marks on the place – their names were written into the concrete pads set generations ago to plant barns and feedlots and, well, a business operation. He grew up here, watching how earlier generations made the place their own and knowing he wanted to do that, too.

“I always envisioned fixing up the feedlot and changing the farm to where I can put my name on something, and putting my mark on it,” Strawder said. “I’m trying to make it unique to me because everybody that’s lived out there has done something different.”

You could say he’s doing the same thing with his lifelong membership in the National Grange, the oldest agricultural organization in the country. Formed after the Civil War to champion farmers rights, the Grange was once a political powerhouse and had 858,000 members in 1875. But other political and commodity groups were created and came to overshadow the Grange, which now has just 200,000 members.

I met Strawder at a Kansas State Grange meeting last fall and caught up again with him in June at the Great Plains Regional Grange Conference in Lawrence, Kan. Nearly his entire family was there – mother, brother, sister, aunts, cousins – which is how the Grange meetings always are for him. He grew up few dozen people in the Kansas Grange, so meetings are a kind of family reunion for him.

Strawder hopes to build the Grange back up, too, to put his mark there by increasing membership and getting back to the days when kids planned their summers around Grange camp. The Grange is home to him, too, a fix-up much like his family farm, a geography he loves and describes like this:

“It’s a comfortable place.”

This is the fifth installment of My Farm Roots, Harvest Public Media’s series chronicling Americans’ connection to the land. Click here to explore more My Farm Roots stories and to share your own.

Harvest Public Media, based at KCUR, is a collaborative public media project that reports on important agriculture issues in the Midwest. Funded by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Harvest Public Media has reporters at six NPR member stations in the region. To learn more, visit www.harvestpublicmedia.org, like Harvest Public Media on Facebook or follow @HarvestPM on Twitter.

I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
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