Susan Frye grew up on a Scott County farm, helping her dad with farrowing hogs and other chores. After high school, she moved away, forging a 15-year career in nursing, then a 20-year career in law. She also met and married her husband, Michael Kienzle, a professor of medicine and consulting cardiologist at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. And together they raised two children.
All the while, though, she carried the farm with her.
The farm is where her great-grandparents homesteaded in 1881, where her grandfather built the brick house of her childhood and where her grandmother planted a flower garden along the driveway that still blooms with lilacs and iris.
In December 2008, Frye decided to retire from her Iowa City law firm to return to the farm. Agriculture had changed dramatically in the nearly 40 years since she'd been away, and the barns, hog house and chicken coop that were essential to her dad's livestock operation were no longer being used and had deteriorated.
But Frye had plans.
While many might view the six outbuildings as useless, Frye had a vision.
"My ancestors went to great lengths to design and build this magnificent farmstead," she said. "It was my goal to restore it, inside and out: soil, buildings and landscape."
She and Mike bought the farmstead and an adjoining acreage to the 400-acre family farm and set to work. Today, all the buildings are in good repair, with new roofs, windows and bright red paint. The three brick buildings have been tuck-pointed.
Frye has established a Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, business, growing and selling vegetables, herbs and flower arrangements every week to customers on a subscription basis. She has five customers from the Quad-Cities and 29 in Iowa City, where the couple still maintains a home. CSAs are a way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer.
Her business operates under the clever name of small frye farms, purposely written in lowercase letters, which speaks to the size of her operation and the nickname her dad used to call her.
And Kienzle, although still teaching three days a week in Iowa City, has created an art studio in addition to the chicken coop where Susan's dad had a machine shop. He has sold literally hundreds of pieces of his work, including paintings, photographs and sculptures.
The buildings meet the needs of the organic operation and the couple's personal interests. "There are new structural purposes, but also functions going back to the original," Frye said.
"I was very ready for that," she said of moving back to the farm. "I had done trial litigation for 20 years. I thought, I don't know if I'm going to live to be 90, but if I've got 30 years left, I want to spend it restoring this farm."
Both Frye and Kienzle are collectors, so the house and other buildings are filled with all kinds of interesting stuff — an old wood harrow used for preparing fields for planting, dozens of salt and pepper shakers and a setting of dentist waiting room furniture that belonged to Kienzle's dad, made by prison industries.
Also, there's artwork, miniatures, nearly the entire contents of Frye's dad's machine shop (his tools still on the bench) and a white Chambers stove.
"I love old stoves," Frye said. "Well, I love old everything."