Esther Arkfeld: the 5am Warrior

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It had been a long driving day from Colorado.  I was headed to Iowa for the night.  My travel plans had changed at the last minute.  I was supposed to be in Utah checking off more National Parks from my list, but alas, my 9th grandchild was making movements like he was ready to enter the world. My good friend, Esther Arkfeld, had a homestead not too far off the highway.  This wasn’t my first time visiting on my way from Montana to Pennsylvania.

Thankful our friendship was such, I could call at the last minute to see if she had any vacancy at the homestead.

I remember the first time I drove across Iowa back in May of 2020 on my way to Montana.  I kept thinking to myself, “Man, Iowa gets a bad rap!  I think this state is beautiful!”  Gentle rolling hills, some plateaus, not many trees, but lots of farmland! 

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This particular evening, as I turned onto the dirt road and climbed the road before me, I began to reflect on how much had changed with in the last 3 years.  Not the scenery so much, but within me.  The healing over the last 3.5 years had given me a new focus on life.  A major burden had been lifted and taken away.  I was now capable of fully investing in the lives of others and it felt very, very good.

The tall silo at the edge of field.  My clue the driveway was soon approaching.

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Turn to the left and there it was.  Yes, a beautiful home but instead, what my heart was drawn to most, the magnificent old red barn.

I was greeted in front of the house by wonderful children, an exuberant LGD and my friend, Esther.

Homestead chores were finished for the evening so we had time to get caught up and plan for the next day. I was so excited to have one whole day with Esther and her family before my travels spurred me on.

Though the visit was short, there were definitely treasured moments I tucked away in my heart.

Saturday morning, I heard the footsteps early.  And then the silence of a sleeping house.  I threw back the covers, much to Piper’s chagrin.  I quickly slipped into my clothes, sweatshirt and jacket.

I quietly made my way upstairs and out the side door.  The burst of cold air felt good on my face as it washed away all traces of sleepiness.

The crunch on the driveway, illuminated by a full moon, led me to the glowing parlor window of the old barn.

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Esther was inside preparing for the morning milking.  I did what I was told, hoping to help, but mostly I stayed out of the way.  Esther runs a very efficient milk parlor and I didn’t want to mess up the systems.

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She and I talked while she went through the milking process, the cows munched grain.  She had learned so much in the last 7 years here in Iowa.  To think she had been a beekeeping student of mine in GA years ago and now the roles had reversed.  I was most definitely the student! Such a beautiful picture of what true friendship with a homesteader looks like, sharing lives and sharing knowledge.

Once all the milk had been collected and the cows were let back out of the barn, Esther and I entered the parlor with all the stainless steel and cleaning supplies.  The air was warm and I was grateful.

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In between the washing of buckets and milking equipment, we shared our hearts.  We opened up about our struggles, our fears, our hopes and dreams.  Tears rolled down our cheeks, an assurance of the deep understanding of what we were each feeling and going through.  And in spite of the bumps of life, all in all, we were each very blessed.

As the dawn of day filtered through the barn windows, I stood and watched Esther as she finished up her chores with the cows.  Here was a woman with a dream to provide raw milk for her family, for her friends and customers.  She believed in the immutable right to be able to consume raw milk.  So she fought the political beast who had kept the Raw Milk from passing in Iowa for 17 years.  Esther jumped into the fight in spite of fears and fought with her head and her heart for 3 years.

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In May of 2023, with Esther and her family standing with her, the Governor of Iowa signed the Raw Milk Bill allowing small dairies to sell milk to the public.  And guess who was the first to start selling milk?!

Esther’s battle victory was also celebrated by Weston A. Price when she was named Farmer of the Year for 2023.

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My dear friend, fellow homesteader – thank you!

My last morning with my friend and her family.  Once again,  I awoke to the 5am footsteps upstairs and the quiet closing of the outside door. 

I thought to myself, there is a warrior upstairs donned in coveralls, a barn jacket and muck boots. Her hair is pulled back in a pony tail and her ears are protected by an alpaca headband. She is making her way to the milk parlor in the barn, guided by the light of the moon.  She enters her battle field, to start the milking ritual as she does every day, to ensure all Iowans have the right to raw milk.


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