March 1, 2021

Tell a Tale of Agriculture: Karen Schwaller Shares “The Dirt” on Farm Life

20140513_maxyield_037 (1024x681)“I would rather be on my farm than be the emperor of the world.” —George Washington

A farm is a great teacher of life. The lessons learned there cannot be found in any textbook—they can only be experienced. To Karen Schwaller, it’s all “the dirt” there is to know.

“I’m proud to write about those who dedicate their lives to agriculture,” said Schwaller, a writer, columnist, and speaker who farms with her family near Milford. “By writing about things that are uplifting, I want to help people enjoy life a little more.”

While Schwaller has shared her insights with readers of Farm News and other publications for years, she published her first book, “The Dirt,” in 2013. “My family members have been good sports, letting me write about our lives together on the farm and share these stories with the world,” said Schwaller, who spoke at a MaxYield meeting in Emmetsburg this summer.

Want to know what inspires a rural writer like Schwaller?
Here’s the dirt:

Q: What’s your ag background?
A: I grew up on a northwest Iowa grain and livestock farm about halfway between Kingsley and Remsen. I married a farmer, too. My husband, Dave, and I operate a grain and livestock farm near Milford. I’ve learned a lot about life by living on the farm and raising our three children (Emily, 24, and twins Dustin and Doug, 22) here.

Q: How did you become a writer?
A: I came upon it by accident. I wanted to go to college for photography and ended up taking a course that also included journalism. I always did better in English class in high school than just about any other class, so it was natural to try it out in college. It’s nice to be able to use both of those skills in work and in life. I’ve recorded a lot about our children’s lives as they were growing up, and I’m really glad I did now. I probably wouldn’t have done that if I didn’t enjoy writing so much.

Q: What motivated you to write a book?
A: Other people, actually. It’s not something I never considered doing, but many of my readers asked if I would ever consider putting some of my farm humor and inspirational/motivational columns into a book. I didn’t do it for a long time, because I didn’t think anyone would buy it. I finally decided to try it. It has been a very pleasantly surprising experience. I’ve sold more than 1,000 copies so far.

Q: What were the most fun—and challenging—parts of producing “The Dirt?”
A: Choosing the columns to be included was tough, because I’ve written so many in the last 20 years. The most fun part was getting to hold the first printed copy in my hands.

Q: How have readers responded to “The Dirt?”
A: It’s always gratifying to know that something I wrote made a difference to someone else, touched their heart, or made them laugh. One reader’s favorite story in “The Dirt” is “Grandpa’s
Tractor,” which involves my sons. Even men admit that it touches their heart. I enjoy meeting people who’ve read my columns or books or heard me speak. It’s always fun when people share their own farm stories with me.

Q: What new opportunities has your book created?
A: I’ve started speaking to various groups. Women enjoy hearing stories about the farm family and the ups and downs of farm family life, while the guy audience tends to enjoy stories of the farm itself, along with stories of some of the antics and lessons that happen on the farm. You can often mix the two and still be pretty successful with either audience.

Q: Why do you think it’s important to preserve the stories of rural life?
A: My book has been a labor of love, and I hope for it to be a legacy not only for our children, but for our community and our state. Years from now someone can pick that book up and read a humorous accounting of the way farm life was for families at this time in history. While farming will certainly be different by then, the heart of the farmer remains the same from generation to generation.

Editor’s note: “The Dirt” was published in 2013 by Shapato Publishing of Everly and is available in various stores throughout northwest Iowa. In 2014, Schwaller published her second book, “What Should I Be?,” a story about a little girl who doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up. To learn more about Schwaller, her books, and her speaking topics, visit

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