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Kara Grupp's journey from doing research at a state university to living on her family's farm was as unexpected as it has been fulfilling.

While working at Iowa State University, Grupp's husband, Forrest Stowe, was offered a job opportunity in Cedar Falls. When discussing the proposal with her father, he mentioned Three Pines Farm, established by her great-great grandparents in 1856, would be available because the couple who had worked the farm for decades had decided it was time to give it up and move to town.

"I had always wanted to live on a farm and have that lifestyle," Grupp said. "But it would be a big responsibility. All that history. Something I understand the value of is a family farm, wanting to maintain that integrity and keep it going for the subsequent generation."

Grupp also had to grapple with what her vocation would be.

"There are not a whole lot of opportunities to work in the sciences around here," she said. "If I was going to move to the farm, I knew there was something more I would need to tap into."

And then she had a revelation.

"I remember it so clearly," she said. "I was measuring DNA concentration one day -- it was a Thursday -- and I realized I knew so many wonderful people doing wonderful things but lacked a vehicle to share their passions. Chefs, artists, plasterers -- the whole spectrum — experts in their fields.

"If they could share that with others, bring it to the community, connect with each other. If we could teach them slower ways, creative ways, and they would leave with a deeper understanding of what these artisans are doing."

Thus, the idea of Grupp's folk school was born.

But there was some apprehension involved.

"It is a very different direction for a very traditional family farm," Grupp said. "To go from strictly ag to the educational realm, I was a little worried what my family would think."

But her family whole-heartedly supported her vision.

"That was a sign I was heading in the right direction," Grupp said.

A visit to the farm at 9611 Wagner Road, Cedar Falls, solidified things.

"I hadn't seen it since I was 12 or so," she said. "It felt like home. That's what sealed it for me and my husband.

"And then we saw the little barn and said 'This is the space.'"

Following a compete renovation of what was once a pig barn, Grupp started her enterprise, opening in 2014.

"I call it a folk school, a creative studio, a community hub," she said. "It encompasses all those things."

Grupp's first event was a series of cooking classes highlighting community supported agriculture in conjunction with Kaiser Farm in Waverly.

"A chef came in and we did ... sessions, learning kitchen skills and preparing dishes using really wonderful ingredients."

Whatever the focus of Grupp's sessions, food seems to be a connection theme, she said.

"I want this to feel like their home away from home," she said. "For every class we have homemade treats, coffee, tea and, on occasion, wine. Food is a big deal. I want them to feel taken care of."

Grupp will be able to expand on that as the kitchen in the studio space is now fully licensed.

"We will do full dinners with wonderful local food," she said. "It will be a special dining experience."

Grupp has been busily filling the schedule for the coming months.

"We'll be bringing back some favorite regulars like Lois Reichert from Knoxville, an award-winning cheese maker, and I am working on getting an artist from Australia," she said.

The realization of her vision means as much to her as it does to the participants in her workshops, classes and events.

"I am so very grateful to the students, in addition to the artisan-educators, who share their time here," Grupp said. "People often comment when they visit, 'Oh, what a beautiful space.' And I tell them, each and every time, 'The space is a reflection of those in it.'

"We've had a lot of people visit since we opened a year and a half ago -- a therapist who came to learn a 15th Century Japanese ceramic repair technique that he creatively incorporated into his therapy, a poet who came to transform her poem into a weaving, a college wrestler who came to write a legacy letter to his mother , a cancer survivor who found her 'zen' with pine needle basket making. ... They are all so special. ... They make the space."

For more information, visit www.threepinesfarm.org; (319) 404-2942

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Copy Editor/Staff Writer

General assignment reporter and columnist at The Courier

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