By William Smith
Tom and Linda Jones are big fans of “Our Iowa” magazine.
But they never expected to be featured in it.
Tom and Linda live on an acreage north of Burlington off Highway 99 and were honored in the June/July edition of the magazine as having one of the “prettiest farms in Iowa.”
“We just never thought our farm was good enough to be in the magazine,” Tom said.
Friends had been telling them they should nominate themselves, but the Jones’ never did. Instead, “Our Iowa” magazine came to them – by accident.
“It’s the funniest story,” Linda said.
One of the Jones’ neighbors had been nominated, and an employee of the magazine drove out there to check it out. The farm didn’t fit the criteria for the magazine.
When the topic of flowers came up during the assessment, the neighbor told the magazine they should check out the flowers down the road at the Jones farm.
Flowers festoon the Jones’ property – including 200 unique varieties of daylilies created through cross-breeding. Linda is a certified Master Gardener through Iowa State University, and Tom might as well be.
“I’ve registered about 180 (of the unique varieties of daylilies),” Tom said. “There are about 90,000 varieties registered on the database.”
The Jones understand the nature of balance, which is reflected in their farmstead. The flowers are beautiful, but not overpopulated. The grass is natural, full of dandelions. Potatoes and other vegetables grow in raised vegetable beds, which possess a beauty of their own.
Tom, a Cedar Falls native, met Linda while they were attending college at the University of Northern Iowa. He was a business major while she was studying education.
They married in 1974 and decided to return to Linda’s family farm on the outskirts of Burlington. That’s the farm they live on today.
“Our home sits on the land that was purchased in 1947 when my dad, Wayne Kester, came home from the service and married my mother, Pauline,” Linda said in the “Our Iowa” article. “The 80-acre farm had a three-room house with no plumbing and a few outbuildings.”
Linda attended a one-room schoolhouse. As her family grew, her parents purchased another farm about a mile away.
“My grandparents’ farm, which lies across the road from us, was homesteaded by my family in 1848. It was one of the first-century farms to be recognized by the state of Iowa in 1977,” Linda said.
Tom and Linda have carved out about four acres of that for their home.
All the farms Linda mentioned are held in a family trust and farmed by her brother Gary.
Updating the farm
The family farm didn’t have plumbing when Linda lived there as a child, and it still didn’t when she returned with her husband.
Starting in 1978, the couple began the monumental task of making the farm their new home.
Tom found a good job at Case (now CNH), which he retired from after 31 years. Linda became a teacher in the Burlington School District, mostly teaching ninth-grade math.
When they weren’t working, they were still working. Tom built their house — made entirely of red cedar — from the ground up.
They lived in the furnished basement as Tom built the house above them, sealing the unfinished structure in the winter. The outhouses were replaced with modern plumbing.
Tom was into green energy before green energy was popular. He had solar panels on the roof in the late 1970s.
“It was a lot of work,” he said.
Care is the key
In the summer, Tom and Linda limit their gardening hours to the morning. Their alarm is set for 5:30 a.m. every day, which gives them time to exercise at the YMCA before getting in the dirt.
But when spring rolls around, both are in the garden from sun-up to sundown.
“There’s a lot to do in the spring,” Tom said.
Linda likes to follow the Master Gardener motto of trying something new in the garden every season, which leads to a lot of trial-and-error innovations. Ways to kill the gnats and white flies on fruit without harming the helpful pollinator insects (yellow plastic drink cups covered in Vaseline).
Buckets of molasses in apple trees kill more harmful insects. But Mother Nature can be a feisty, random foe.
“The raccoons ate all the grapes last year,” Tom said.
Linda is coming up with new ways to foil the local wildlife. But she hasn’t always accounted for the risk imposed by loyal domestic beasts.
“We found out our dogs love tomatoes,” Linda said with a laugh.
Farm Is nothing without family
Tom and Linda will be the first to tell you that they don’t like to sit still for long.
Until they do, of course, sitting on one of the benches Tom hand-carved and guarded by the shade of the pine trees they planted together.
They also long for the not-so-quiet moments when their two adult children return home with their three grandchildren. The laughter when a grandchild picks up one of the tamer barn cats for unexpected pets.
Tom isn’t shy about showing their hard work to friends and strangers. Their two dogs — Adelaide and Sydney — are used to visitors but never tire of greeting them.
“We like to have open houses, where we invite friends and other people over. If you’re going to go to all this work…” he said.
The real highlight of their year, aside from the blooming flowers, arrives in the summer.
“A highlight of each summer is when our three grandchildren stay together at our home,” Linda said.
Their 50th wedding anniversary will be the highlight of 2024. And they won’t be anywhere near the family farm.
They’ll be in Jamaica for two weeks.
“Just the two of us,” Linda said.