On the way to Sid’s farm near Leon, Ginnie and I saw lots of turkeys, deer and one coyote. Sid calls’m “yotes.” South Central Iowa is mostly rolling hills and timber, ideal for pasture and cattle, hay and hunting. Which is why Sid bought this pristine little farm. He calls it “Hen Field Farm” because of the abundance of hen turkeys.
Sid Vander Ploeg (pronounced “Vander Plew”) is an old high school buddy from Monroe. I ran across him on Facebook, his typos and misspellings requiring extra deciphering. (He says he has fat fingers.) After graduation Sid spent most of his life in Ankeny, but did a lot of hunting in Southern Iowa, like he did as a kid. This spring he bought a 60 acre farm outside of Leon, replete with a two-story farm house, two ponds, two creeks (Vander Ploeg slough), a pole barn, and lots of hay. When I heard his plan was to turn the farm into a hunting and wildlife preserve, I knew I had to pay him a visit.
I picked a rainy Sunday because I knew Sid would not be turkey hunting or planting food plots. Holed up in his farm house, over coffee, Sid explained the purchase. He almost died three years ago from complications of heart, respiratory and circulation problems. He spent three months in the hospital and 11 days on a respirator. On the 12th day, they took him off the respirator. He continued to breathe on his own.
Almost dying changes a person’s perspective. What legacy did he want to leave his twin grandsons? What could he do for God, nature and future generations? He talked it over with his wife, Diane. His plans were to buy some land in southern Iowa, build a pole barn with living quarters, and start with that. It would be a weekend retreat and hunting lodge, something to do with his grandsons. But then he drove by this little farmstead that was for sale and things fell into place.
Now the work begins. Sid’s plans are to convert the hay ground into soybeans for one year, to fixate nitrogen. Then, with advice from the DNR, he will sow hay, native grass and food plots. This will preserve the ground and provide wildlife habitat. Hopefully, an arrangement can be struck with a farmer to exchange hay for planting the native grass and food plots so he won’t have to buy equipment.
Sid sips his coffee and looks out the window at rolling hills dotted with timber. “Isn’t that a beautiful sight,” he says. Ginnie and I agree.
Because of disability Sid hunts with a crossbow. He spends hours in a heated and insulated blind, often with his two grandkids. To pass the time, he takes pictures from the windows of his blind, and puts them on Facebook. When he wonders why turkeys aren’t flocking around, I tell him that they can hear him punching the keys on his smartphone. He keeps pecking away anyway, like the birds he can’t see.
It’s been a cold, wet spring. Many of the turkey nests have been abandoned, which means the hens are renesting — good news for Sid.
He drives his four-wheeler to the blind before sunrise. He can see a rural cemetery nearby. He wonders if ghosts come out and shoo the “turks” away. Sid vows to move the blind. But then a white-tail buck wanders within spitting distance, looking bewildered in its denuded head. Sid reconsiders the positioning of the blind. Maybe it’s in a pretty good spot after all. But will that buck be this close during deer season? Sid doubts it.
In the distance, Sid hears a gobble echoing across the valley. He puts down his smartphone and chirps coyly on his turkey call. Maybe he can entice the tom to visit his hen decoys. Sid has placed one jake decoy with three hens to make the tom jealous. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Sid Vander Ploeg, living the dream.
Contact Curt Swarm at 319-217-0526or firstname.lastname@example.org