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Farmers Work the Land - and Write About It With PM-Writing Farmer-Excerpts

January 1, 1994

LANSING, Iowa (AP) _ Bill Welsh and his farmer friends have worked the land for years. Last year, they began cultivating something new.

A book.

″Voices From The Land″ is a collection of 19 essays and stories written by Welsh, his wife, Essie, their son Greg, six other farmers and the town dentist.

The book is the brainchild of Robert Wolf, a former newspaper columnist who moved to Lansing 18 months ago from Tennessee.

He organized the ″Lansing Rural Writing Workshop-Book Discussion Group,″ which meets weekly in the lull between the fall harvest and spring planting.

″My job was to convince them that if they can speak, they can write,″ Wolf said.

It wasn’t easy at first. Most started farming full time as soon as they finished high school, and aside from Richard Sandry, who penned love poetry to his wife, most hadn’t dabbled in writing.

″Sure we could write - checks, the bills,″ Mrs. Welsh joked.

Wolf said he encouraged the group to capture their stories on paper and to worry about punctuation and grammar later.

″We didn’t think we could write stories and such,″ said Clara Leppert, at 83 the oldest in the group. ″But after we got started, we thought we’d do the best we could.″

At one recent meeting, a dozen members of the group sat around a table in Richard and Dorothy Sandry’s kitchen, critiquing the latest work.

Sandry lives a quarter-mile from the farm where he grew up. Most of his writings are a look back to his grandfather’s time, when farming was harder but life simpler.

″I kind of like to relive the past, stories that have been retold to me from my parents,″ Sandry said. ″I get my thoughts together when I’m out working.″

The writing is simple and descriptive.

″I tried to let their voices come through,″ Wolf said. ″They wrote it as they spoke it.″

A typical story might read like Greg Welsh’s ″The Way Back.″

″I grew up on a farm in northeast Iowa, the eldest son of eight children, nurtured by my father’s pride and embraced by the land. But eventually everyone needs something of his own, a sense of who he is. Trying to find mine, I rejected a proud father and the vulnerable land and I learned a lot about selfishness, anger, loneliness, before my search brought me back to where I started.″

The 59-page paperback is divided into three sections: ″Before Diesel,″ ″Farming Today″ and ″Land Stewardship.″

The book, which sells for $5.25, had its first printing of 500 copies in October and is in a second run.

Wolf, 48, has done this sort of project before. He was a columnist for the Chicago Tribune before following his wife, a singer, to Nashville, where he worked at a homeless shelter.

He persuaded the homeless to write about their experiences, and started the Free River Press, a nonprofit organization that has published several books, including ″Voices From the Land.″

″We’ve had so many experiences in our lives farming. Unless you share these things, they just get put aside and we don’t learn,″ Mrs. Welsh said.

The book has brought the farmers nationwide publicity.

″I never dreamed of this,″ Bill Welsh said. ″I don’t feel like any kind of a big shot. I still wear my overalls.″

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