Doing whatever needs to be done

MOORLAND – In 2013, Shirley Webb earned her third master’s title.

Already a certified Master Gardener and a Master Conservationist, she was named a 2013 Master Farm Homemaker by Wallace’s Farmer, a publication she’s read most of her life.

Now in her 59th year as a homemaker, Webb said she was shocked to learn she was one of the five winners last year. She was nominated by her physician, Dr. Janet Secor, of Fort Dodge.

Webb’s husband, Ron Webb, and her four children all knew of the nomination, she said, and kept the news from her for almost a full year.

“I found it unbelievable,” Webb said. “Living in such a small place, how could anyone find me? I’m not a very public person.”

Well, sort of. She’s not as reclusive as she may sound. She:

– Is a volunteer reader for the blind and print-handicapped, reading the The Messenger over the radio.

“It’s a rewarding thing, because people call and tell you they appreciate hearing the news.”

– Annually coordinates the 4-H bake sale at the Webster County Fair.

– Along with her husband, was inducted into the Webster County 4-H Hall of Fame in 2010.

– Is a former president of the Fort Dodge Area Garden Club.

– Is an active member of Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church, in Moorland, where she is a Eucharist minister and coordinates funeral dinners at the church.

And all this, she said, coming after she made the decision years ago to be a stay-at-home mother once the children started coming.

“I felt so blessed to be at home and be a mom,” Webb said. “How can you be awarded for doing something you enjoy? I guess I just bloom where I’m planted.”

The Webbs once managed a flock of registered Suffolk sheep and kept chickens. They also grew grain and some pasture hay, and she kept a large garden which fed her family for most of the year.

But health problems have brought the couple to partial retirement, she said. The sheep are gone, but they have a few chickens for their own eggs.

“I’ve never bought eggs in my life,” Webb said.

When the layers no longer produce, she processes them and cans the meat.

Her garden starts anywhere between January and March, starting all her plants from seeds in the basement until, she said, “I can’t stand it anymore and have to plant something.”

Describing herself and Ron as “kind of organic people,” Webb said she’ll put up as many as 75 quarts of tomato juice each year.

“I practice conservation in my own little ways in the garden,” she said, “I don’t want to be spraying chemicals on our food.”

2014 is the third year they’ve rented their crop acres.

“We’re very small farmers here,” Webb said. “That’s why I found it so hard to believe I’d been chosen.”

The garden keeps her and Ron busy, Webb said. They also maintain 40 acres of wetland in a set-aside program through the Natural Resources and Conservation Service, plus another 28 acres in the Conservation Reserve Program.

During her child-rearing years, Webb said she didn’t do much farm work, except when absolutely needed, but minded the children, the big garden and kept the household going.

The children attended St. Edmond High School in Fort Dodge.

“Some days I’d make as many as seven trips a day to town for various activities,” she said.

She described her homemaking role as “anything it took to keep the house clean.”

However, she admitted, “I’d rather do 10 hours work in the barn, than one hour of house work.”

Her primary function for the farm operation was keeping the books, Webb said. It still is.

“Although it’s not nearly as big a chore as it once was,” she said. “It’s my least favorite thing.”

Webb said she grew up on a farm just north of Moorland. That spot is now covered over the U.S. Highway 20 interchange for Fort Dodge and Sioux City.

“One day they just came out and buried the whole farm in a single day,” she said.

Earning the 2013 award brought Webb a certain amount of notoriety.

She said shortly after the official announcement in September 2013, she started getting cards from around the state from former Master Farm Homemakers.

“It was better than Christmas,” Webb said, adding she’s preparing to send out a batch of cards to the 2014 recipients, whoever they will be.

She said that in the past she didn’t closely read about the lives of other Master Farm Homemakers when the awards were announced each year, but vowed that from now on, she would.

Being a farmer, Webb said, “is such a good life to be able to be home and get what needs to be done.”