Rising tensions with North Korea and farm diplomacy

I recently received the following from Dan Jasper of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) about rising tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. The state of Iowa and my Quaker meeting, Bear Creek Friends, have a long history related to North Korea. Dan visited us in Iowa in March 2018.

Tensions between the U.S. and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or “North Korea”) are on the rise once again. In recent weeks, North Korea has conducted missile tests, and the U.S. and South Korea have responded with missile of tests of their own.

To make matters worse, a recent outbreak of COVID-19 in North Korea threatens a population that is already experiencing shortages of food and basic supplies.

A peace agreement would be a crucial step toward nuclear disarmament, and without it renewed military conflict could erupt at any moment. It would also help reunite thousands of families—including many Korean Americans—who have been separated for over 70 years.

As the pandemic further threatens lives and livelihoods in North Korea, the U.S. must also support private aid organizations providing critical humanitarian assistance in the country. 

Call on Congress today to take action. Urge them to pass legislation to end the Korean War, support nongovernmental aid missions, and reunite families.

Dan Jasper 

Asia Public Education and Advocacy Coordinator 
American Friends Service Committee

Farm Diplomacy

Sept. 1, 2017, Kenneth M Quinn, President of the World Food Prize suggested inviting a North Korean delegation to visit the United States as a way of easing tensions.  In 1959 the Des Moines Register invited Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to come to Iowa to discuss agricultural practices.  The Register’s Lauren Soth won a Pulitzer Prize in 1956 for that editorial, in part because Khrushchev accepted the offer. https://www.pulitzer.org/prize-winners-by-year/1956

In 1959, at what was the most dangerous moment of human history as Soviet and U.S. nuclear weapons were poised to be fired at each other, an event on a farm in Iowa contributed indirectly, but crucially, in keeping those missiles from ever being launched.

As the artwork that accompanies this essay and hangs in our World Food Prize Hall of Laureates in Des Moines shows, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev traveled to Coon Rapids on Sept. 23 of that year to visit the Roswell Garst Farm. Standing at the corn crib and holding an ear of hybrid corn, the Premier asked Garst why he couldn’t have corn like this in the Soviet Union.

Garst responded by sending his nephew John Chrystal on multiple trips to Russia over the next three-plus decades as an unofficial ambassador of agriculture, sharing aspects of Iowa technology.

Agriculture could be key to easing U.S.-North Korea tensions by Kenneth M. Quinn, Des Moines Register, Sept 1, 2017

After that article was published, Jon Krieg, of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Des Moines, shared the story below, Growing seeds of relationships with Des Moines Register editor, Lynn Hicks, about AFSC hosting a North Korean agricultural delegation’s visit to Iowa in 2001. October 5, 2017, the Register published the following editorial  Could North Korea’s Kim visit Iowa, as Khrushchev did? 

In 1955, this newspaper invited Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to send a delegation to Iowa “to get the lowdown on raising high quality cattle, hogs, sheep and chickens. We promise to hide none of our ‘secrets.’”

The Register’s Lauren Soth won a Pulitzer Prize in 1956 for that editorial, because the Kremlin took note. Exchanges of farmers followed, and hybrid seed-corn entrepreneur Roswell Garst met with Khrushchev in Moscow. And in 1959, Khrushchev shocked the world by accepting Garst’s invitation and visiting his Coon Rapids farm.

Ambassador Kenneth Quinn evoked the Khrushchev visit in a Register op-ed last month. Quinn, president of the World Food Prize, wrote: “With so few good options to defuse the current situation over North Korea’s enhanced strategic capabilities, including possible nuclear-weaponized long-range missiles, using agriculture as a vehicle to reduce tensions would seem worth a try.”  

Could North Korea’s Kim visit Iowa, as Khrushchev did?, the Register’s editorial, Oct 5, 2017

In response to that editorial, Eloise Cranke, the author of the story about the 2001 visit (below) published Farm Diplomacy is a Good Idea, October 6, 2017, in the Des Moines Register.

Thanks to the Register for its Oct. 5 editorial, “Let’s Invite North Korea’s Kim to Iowa.”

It was my distinct pleasure and honor to accompany the five North Koreans who visited an Iowa farm in 2001. What a warm and friendly evening it was, as we gathered for a delicious potluck with friends at the Bear Creek Meeting House.

That kind of one-on-one conversation and exchange of ideas is sorely needed today.

Why not invite Kim Jong Un to Iowa? “Farm diplomacy” helped ease tensions in the 1950s. Why not now? It could be a powerful way to move the conversation with North Korea from bombs and missiles to food and feeding hungry people.

Herb Standing’s words still ring true today, “We must tell people that it is not through missiles and bombs that we find security and peace, but rather through the one-on-one sharing with persons of different countries, cultures and experiences.”

Let’s give it a try.

— Eloise M. Cranke, Des Moines

Growing seeds of relationships, Eloise Cranke, Regional Director, American Friends Service Committee, Spring, 2001

I am fascinated by the story of the 2001 visit to my Quaker meeting, Bear Creek, because I wasn’t living in Iowa at the time.  In the photo above, Burt Kisling is my father, Russ Leckband continues to attend Bear Creek, Herbert Standing was a cousin, and Arnold Hoge was the father of Win Standing, whose husband Ellis, is my mother’s brother.  The delegation visited the farm of Ellis and Win.  Then, after the potluck meal at the meetinghouse, I can easily imagine them gathered around the wood burning stove as described above, “…the conversation ranged from farming to families to religion, touching on many topics of curiosity and interest”.

Several of the people who had participated in that visit in 2001, were at Bear Creek meeting the morning of 10/8/2017.  They shared their memories of that time.  Winifred Standing shared what she had written in her journal that day:

Wednesday, February 28, 2001
2 degrees above zero this morn.  Sunny
I made an Economical Sponge Cake and a soybean casserole.  Browned roast.  Lots of phone calls  this morn about wood and about tonight.  I went to meetinghouse–cleaned a bit, set dishes out, got coffee pot ready, etc.   I started cooking roasts at 2:00.  Peeled potatoes.   Eloise Cranke arrived just  before 4.  We visited with her until Randy Iverson and 5 North Koreans arrived.  They looked at our heifers and quizzed Ellis.  Eloise took me to meetinghouse about 5:15 to get supper started.  Ellis brought Dads and Dorothy later.  A good crowd gathered.  A good supper and questions and answers around fireplace after–Home about 9.  We visited and rested.  Seemed a good evening.

We discussed how this might relate to our current political situation.  I said I had shared a recent blog post about this with Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)’s Peace and Social Concerns Committee, Scattergood Friends School, and several people at the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL).  If another North Korean delegation did come, I thought a visit to Scattergood Friends School’s Farm at West Branch would be very beneficial.

The meeting wanted to support the idea of the Des Moines Register inviting another delegation from North Korea to visit us and approved the following letter, which was published by the Register.


When we looked into what was being done regarding North Korea at this time (2018) we were surprised to learn that the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) had been involved in bringing agricultural practices to North Korea for many years. We contacted the people who had been doing this work, Linda Lewis and Daniel Jasper, and they agreed to visit us in Iowa to share what they had been doing in North Korea.

Jon Krieg, AFSC, recorded the following video of the presentation about work Linda and Daniel have been doing in North Korea that was held at Des Moines Valley Friends Meeting on March 18, 2018. Both have been to North Korea and described how the AFSC has used efforts to improve agricultural practices in North Korea to facilitate understanding and build peace between North Korea and the United States since 1980.

Following is an excellent video by Rodger Routh interviewing Linda and Daniel on March 20, 2018, about their work for peace in North Korea. Linda and Daniel were in Iowa to discuss their work with agricultural projects in North Korea and to talk with us about how we might arrange for another North Korean agricultural delegation to Iowa, as happened in 2001, to try to reduce tensions between North Korea and the United States. Unfortunately, another visit has not occurred, so far.

Returning to Dan Jasper’s email about present day tensions with North Korea, Call on Congress today to take action. Urge them to pass legislation to end the Korean War, support nongovernmental aid missions, and reunite families.

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