Seven in 2017

New Year's Eve is a natural time to look back at accomplishments from the previous year while looking forward to new opportunities. Below is a selection of my seven favorite photos from 2017. 

I have been fortunate to pursue a career in photography and writing that has led me around the world while meeting many people. I look forward to 2018 and all of the new opportunities it will bring.

Here’s to 2018.

Tradition and family values shine at Warren County Fair

By Joseph L. Murphy

Tucked away in several stalls in building number one of the Warren County Fair a family moved with determination to get their steers ready for a show. They moved from steer to steer with a precision that has been learned over the years.

People tour the livestock barns at the Warren County Fair in Indianola, Iowa. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

People tour the livestock barns at the Warren County Fair in Indianola, Iowa. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

The Moffitt family, Iowa Soybean Association members from Indianola, has a five-generation tradition of participating and attending the Warren County Fair. During that time, they and many other families that participate in fairs across Iowa have embodied the tradition, family values, and spirit of competition that can only be found at Iowa’s great county fairs.

Each year a thriving community forms in the barns and the grounds of county fairs across the state made up of 4-H and FFA youth and their families. The fairs offer them a place to compete against others with the livestock they’ve raised, and it also gives them the chance to visit with friends and neighbors.

Kurt Moffitt is proud that the experiences and competition he experienced showing at the Warren County Fair while growing up is already being passed to his three children.

“It’s a lot of hard work. Maybe even more hard work than when we were kids,” Moffitt said as he watched his sons and daughter work with a calf. “We have a lot of livestock here and I’m trying to let them do their thing and meet new people.”

He went on to say the routine of getting up every morning to do chores for the 22 animals they brought to the fair has made his kids more responsible.

“At the end of the week hopefully it will be a decent check for them and a good experience,” he said. “At the very least it is a way for them to meet new people and connect with others while staying off their electronics for a week.”

Maurice Moffitt, Kurt’s father, has seen many changes during his five-plus decades at the Warren County Fair. As the board president for 20 years he was a part of improving the buildings and grounds so the fair could offer participants great facilities to show off their projects.

“The fair was the highlight of the summer when it came around,” Maurice Moffitt said while remembering his years of showing at the fair in the early sixties. “It was hard work and you were busy. It was a competition, and I remember the hard work paid off.”

Cynthia Moffitt, Kurt’s wife, feels the fair offers a chance for people not directly involved in agriculture to experience it firsthand.

“Iowa is an agricultural state, but there’s a lot of people that aren’t directly connected to it, so county fairs provide an opportunity for those folks to learn and understand a big part of our economy,” she said. “If we as farming families can help connect those other families with agriculture, then we feel like we’ve done our job.”

Working at the fair is a year-round passion for Jo Reynolds, the Warren County Fair manager.

“People say ‘I’ll bet you’re glad fair week is over,’ and I always say no I work all year for this week. It’s a love, it’s a passion, it’s a sickness,” he said, smiling. “But it’s the people that make this.”

She went on to say the history and tradition of family farms are about families coming together. That’s why she believes it’s important for fairs to showcase their dedication and hard work.

“I’ve always said we are raising kids, not livestock,” she said. “The livestock have always been a vessel to help children or exhibitors learn responsibility and some of those things in life. I think it’s tradition, heritage and the history that makes these fairs special.”

Even with her hectic schedule during the fair you can see her visit with exhibitors and visitors she bumps into at the fair.

“I would hope people would come to (the fair) be educated. To learn that milk doesn’t come from the grocery store and pork comes from the pig itself,” she said. “I’m trying to provide more education so we can continue being the state that feeds the world, and with that we want to provide the entertainment to fairgoers because the entertainment brings the people. But education is our big goal.”

Originally published for the Iowa Soybean Association. Find more great stories at:

Iowa deer population at tragic numbers

One evening last month my parents set out from their home in Forest City to enjoy a motorcycle ride and a picnic in the park. My mother would have never imagined it would be the last time she enjoyed a smile and wave from my dad. The two enjoyed riding their Harley Davidson motorcycles around North Iowa and even across the country. As my dad turned onto the river road south of Forest City, a deer bolted from the ditch, striking him in the side and throwing him to the pavement as his bike slid off the road. My father was pronounced dead later that evening and he became another statistic in Iowa’s losing battle against the white tail deer. 

Sadly, my dad was not alone. Several days prior to his accident another North Iowa man was killed when his motorcycle collided with a deer near Lake Mills.

In the days following the accident I couldn’t help but think if my dad would have left home 30 seconds earlier or 30 seconds later he wouldn’t have been hit by that deer. I’m sure that 1.5 million other people in North America have shared those same thoughts. One and a half million people are estimated to be involved with deer/vehicle collisions annually in North America. That number along with 29,000 human injuries, $1 billion in insurance claims and tragically the loss of life is what makes the white tail deer the most dangerous mammal in North America ( ).

The loss of a loved one is always difficult. But what has made it especially tough for me, is the fact that my dads death easily could have been avoided. If state officials would examine their policies on the size of the deer herd a herd that has been estimated to have tripled in the past decade there would be fewer accidents and fewer deaths. Allen Farris, then the head of the fish and wildlife division for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, testified to lawmakers in 1997 that he thought the deer herd should be between 80,000 and 90,000 in the state. Today the herd is estimated at 475,000.

According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources website deer do well in Iowa. But the question the state should ask is what good do the nearly 500,000 deer do for Iowa? Outside of revenue from the sale of hunting permits, the white tail deer is more of a scourge to the environment. An MSNBC article clearly shows that the white tail deer has destroyed farmland and changed the ecology of forests nationwide, as well as causing increasing property damage and fatalities like my father’s. ( )

It’s easy for Iowan’s say that it’s someone else’s problem. But that’s no longer true. While covering stories for the Spokesman I’ve come across farmers dealing with severe deer destruction. Two come to mind as I write this. Steve Duke, a farmer near Keosaqua, has had to repair his fences constantly and has seen crops trampled and consumed by a herd of 60 deer that he watches from his kitchen window nightly. Stan Mattes, a Taylor county farmer warned me to be careful as I left his home one night, because of deer. I smiled back and said I would take caution if I spotted one. He replied “it’s not if you see one” and sure enough as I drove Highway 2 at dusk I counted five deer along the road in a 15 mile stretch. It’s everyone’s problem in Iowa.

It’s time that citizens of our state join with organizations like the Iowa Farm Bureau; ABATE of Iowa and other groups to loudly say “enough is enough.” Even hunters see the need to reduce the deer population. The National Rifle Association has weighed in on the issue offering the expertise of their membership to help cull the deer herd across this country.

As a matter of public safety it is irresponsible to allow a U.S. deer population that was estimated at just 500,000 deer in the early 19 th century to grow to a staggering 30 million deer nationwide today. Some estimates in Iowa place the ratio of deer to humans at one to six. In my mind that ratio has a direct link to why my father was killed on one of Iowa’s roadways.

The Governor, Iowa legislature and the DNR should make it a top priority to cull the herd just for the simple fact of public safety alone. I urge people reading this blog to contact their elected officials, write to the Iowa DNR and talk with law enforcement personal about ways that we can get this problem under control.

 Originally published for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation on June 22, 2009