Cristen Clark: Not Afraid to Work
Cristen is the sixth generation of her family to farm in Runnells, Iowa, where her great-great-great-great-grandfather, J.C. French, settled in 1869. She and her sister, Tanna Weyers, farm corn and soybeans with their parents, Rodger and Ceil Slings. Cristen and her husband, Mike Clark, also finish feeder pigs and raise show hogs.
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“What would he think if he knew that seven generations later, some of his blood was standing right there and farming and doing what he was doing in 1869?” she asks.
Even Cristen’s recipes are rooted in family.
“Getting everyone around the dinner table is an important thing for me,” she told RFD-TV host Marji Guyler-Alaniz when the crew of FarmHer profiled her for its Thanksgiving 2016 episode. “That’s where I get the most comfort, I guess. Everyone is there, and we can break bread together and talk about our day.”
Cristen’s blog is loaded with recipes perfect for feeding a hungry family after the tractors are in the shed and the animals are fed. Each one is peppered with comments on food and farming, as well as explanations of the science behind cooking. For example, in one post, she includes a tip to mash potatoes before adding milk and sour cream, so the dairy products don’t bind with the spuds’ starch and make the dish gluey.
“Working hard pays off—maybe not in money because we’re never going to get rich doing this. But having a good, humble nature and not being afraid to work are important. Getting dirty never hurt anybody.”
Each recipe page features photos showing younger family members smiling, riding in the combine with Rodger or Tanna, leading show pigs around the farm, helping Mike in the finishing houses, and falling deeper in love with farming every day.
Cristen presents her recipes as only a farmer can. Admiring the contours of a misshapen potato, she zeros in on the rich, black smudge in a crevice and writes, “Gorgeous soil.”
“Working hard pays off—maybe not in money because we’re never going to get rich doing this,” she says. “But having a good, humble nature and not being afraid to work are important. Getting dirty never hurt anybody.”
Cristen says growing up on the farm instilled in her a strong work ethic that drove her as a student and athlete at Drake University and led her to perfect the recipes that won Sutter Home Vineyards’ Build a Better Burger and Iowa Egg Council’s Decadent Desserts contests. Today, she says it allows her to handle the challenges of her busy days as a farming, blogging mom.
“From an early age, I learned to prioritize and understood that the animals had to be cared for and other farm chores had to be tied up before I could enjoy myself,” she says. “The work always took precedent, but that was a good way to grow up for me.”
Share the Moments
Some lessons even take Cristen by surprise—like the reminder to savor the moments of family time. One of those lessons came the day she shot the photo of her son and father that won the #NotAfraidToWork photo contest. It had been a hot, dry fall with great weather for cutting corn and soybeans. In the middle of that harvest day, her dad stopped the combine.
“I’ll never forget it,” Cristen says. “Everything stopped. I thought, ‘Oh my God, he’s having chest pain or somehow he broke his leg up there.’ I was so perplexed. It was just so unusual.”
The tension broke when he announced that it was time to take a break and enjoy each other’s company with an impromptu harvest-time pizza party.
“I was ready to take his temperature,” Cristen laughs. “But it felt good to slow down and enjoy the little things that make family time so special. It was the first year he was ready to take a break and soak it all in. Taking the time to relish in the small moments is something we are all getting better at.”