Tracy Van Diepen grew up steeped in agriculture on her family's farm near Breda in Carroll County, Iowa, where she developed a passion for livestock early on in life.
"I grew up on a dairy farm, but we also had beef cattle, hogs, a horse and sheep," Van Diepen says. "The sheep were my hobby sheep, and our main livestock were dairy cows, beef cows and hogs as well. It was kind of typical for that era."
It's that passion that Tracy and her husband, John, have instilled in their children: Collin, 22, Lauren, 21, and Jillian, 16. This is just one reason Tracy has been named a 2021 Iowa Master Farm Homemaker.
Tracy and John both graduated from Iowa State University — Tracy in 1992 with a bachelor's degree in management of operations, and John in 1994 with a degree in ag business. Tracy met John on a chance meeting in Sibley while she was visiting a friend in 1996. They married in 1997, before moving to John's family farm in Osceola County in northwest Iowa in 1999, where John raises corn and soybeans, and custom-feeds hogs. They've also raised sheep and meat goats as 4-H projects.
"The sheep were my idea. I had sheep growing up, and our neighbor has dairy goats. I always get a kick out of them. A goat has a tremendous personality," she says. "Animals have always been my thing. I just love animals. Even now, we have two mama goats that were 4-H projects last year but never made it to the fair because they were not broke to lead — so I kept them."
They quit raising sheep in 2018, and while their goat numbers have changed over time, they currently have six goats. Both sheep and goats have been a learning experience, Van Diepen says.
"This is the second time we've had goats. The first time, we had four mama goats, and they had babies, and they would get out. Finally we got tired of it — and goat prices were good, so we sold them," she says. "So now we know we basically have to build a prison. That's why we've used cattle panels and gray steel fences. It might not be pretty, but it keeps them in, for the most part."
Van Diepen is also an avid horse rider. The family owns two horses: Francis, a bay quarter horse; and Harmony, a golden dun quarter horse. The horses were originally Lauren and Jillian's 4-H projects.
Off the farm, Van Diepen has been heavily involved in her community, and has been dedicated to her faith as well as education. She is a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Sibley, playing piano for the church's praise team, and filling in for the organist when needed. She also teaches Sunday school, serves as an elder, and serves on the Christian Education Committee. She has previously served as director of the church's Logos program on Wednesday nights, and as Bible School director.
She's volunteered her time in the community in several capacities — most recently, she began her first term on the Iowa State University Extension Council for Osceola County.
Van Diepen also has dedicated much of her time to education in the community, having served on the board for the Sibley-Ocheyedan School District from 2009 to 2017. For the last eight years, she's worked as a substitute paraprofessional at Sibley-Ocheyedan Elementary School.
"Last year, I got my teaching authorization, so now I can sub for teachers and paras," she adds. "COVID was a strange year. When people were out, they were out for many days, so they needed more substitutes at school. So I got to be there quite a bit, which has been enjoyable."
Nurturing youth for future
However, Tracy's commitment to education doesn't stop there. Through the years, she's stayed involved with her children's 4-H and FFA projects. Collin, Lauren and Jillian have all showed goats, sheep and horses throughout 4-H and FFA, and taken horse riding lessons. In addition, Collin and Jillian have also shown German shorthaired pointers in 4-H.
Van Diepen has grown a cornucopia of different produce and flowers in her garden, which has often contributed to her kids' 4-H projects.
"I love to grow pumpkins and gourds, so fall is extra-fun. We like making salsa, so we grow tomatoes, peppers and onions. We grow beets for pickled beets and cucumbers, because John likes pickle relish. We have some squash and cabbage, and we planted some asparagus," Van Diepen says. "We've done a lot of salsa recipes, especially with my two girls in 4-H. You have to make something different every year. So we might try different salsas, like pineapple or peach salsa. We never used to eat hot pepper jelly, but it's something we had the kids make for 4-H, and now we like it."
"There are a lot of things we give away. At church we have the Heavenly Harvest Table, and gardeners can bring extra produce," she says. "Anyone in the congregation is welcome to shop there all season long, and put in a freewill donation. The proceeds then go to our local food pantry. So sometimes, we just grow produce for church. We don't eat squash, but we take it to church."
Of course, there have been a number of other static projects throughout the years. For example, Jillian has been an avid crafter; Lauren enjoyed photography; and Collin repainted, lifted and modified a 1997 Ford F350 Power Stroke pickup.
"I am excited to see if our kids, when on their own, use the skills they learned in both 4-H and FFA," Van Diepen adds. "I hope someday they'll think, 'That really was beneficial for me.'"