Entering Iowa from the south on Highway 81 out of Missouri, the first road sign you see is not “Welcome to Iowa,” but “Welcome to Van Buren County.” How fitting. Of the many treasures, secrets and beauties of Van Buren County, west on County Road J-40 out of Keosauqua, is the farm and artisan retreat of Tim and Kim Blair, also known as The Bloom and Bark Farm—bloom for the blooms of their flowers and trees and bark for the bark on the trees or the friendly bark of their three welcoming rescue dogs. The locals know, but visitors to Van Buren County, like Ginnie and me, have no idea that the mild mannered, pony-tailed glass blower, Tim Blair, was once a well-known medical doctor. Ask any of the neighbors or the many Amish and they will tell you, “Oh, yes. He delivered a lot of babies.”
Born in the first year of the Van Buren County Hospital in 1954, Tim Blair loved the family farm at Mt. Sterling. His Grandfather told him, “Son, you can plant more corn in a crooked row than a straight”–which became a mantra for Tim’s life. After graduation from high school he was off to Iowa State University to study animal science and vet medicine. After graduation he went back to the farm. His brother started Circle B Enterprises and Convenience Store in Keosauqua and Tim helped out. He also started working for the Van Buren County Ambulance Service where he developed a love for science. He went back to college, this time to the University of Iowa and eventually medical school. During an Obstetrics Fellowship at Broadlawns Hospital in Des Moines, he met Kim, who worked in administration for the psychiatric department. Tim was smitten, but Kim would not go out with doctors. However, farm boy Tim was persistent. She finally said yes to coffee and the rest is history.
Tim took his new wife to Van Buren County where he practiced medicine and delivered babies for 18-20 years. He also had a free-standing clinic for people without health insurance. At the end of his medical career, he was Director of the Emergency Room and Ambulance Service for Van Buren County. He is now Team Physician for Every Step Hospice that covers SE Iowa. The people in hospice are like his second family and he jokes that he will leave hospice when he is in hospice.
Tim always liked glass blowing. Sort of on a whim, he and a friend took some glass-blowing classes. Once again he was smitten. “Ah, ha!” he told Kim. “I can do this in retirement.”
Nothing out of Tim surprises Kim.
Tim loves the colors in blown glass. It reminds him of fall in Van Buren County—all the colors mixed together—reds, golds, greens and blues—blue for the Van Buren County sky.
On their Bloom and Bark Farm, Tim and Kim were once really big into Community Service Agriculture (CSA), where there is a 1:1 relationship between farmer and community (no middleman). They had 30 families for which they were helping supply food and produce.
They even made their own clay brick ovens from clay on their own farm. They teach classes on how to make clay brick ovens and bake bread in these ovens.
The main attraction now is glass blowing. Tim teaches classes on glass blowing, and they have a gallery/showroom of beautiful glass-blown products. Their gallery/showroom also allows room for other artists to display their art. (The Blairs have space for a couple more artists.)
Life is slow and easy on the Bloom and Bark Farm west of Keosauqua on J40. Visitors are welcome and Tim will give a glass blowing demonstration at the drop of a hat. They also have chickens. One of their favorite things to to do at the end of a busy day is sit outside in lawn chairs and “watch the chicken channel.” Tim reflects, “Like the crooked corn row, it took all that to get where we are now.”
Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at email@example.com or find him on Facebook. Curt’s stories are also read at 106.3 FM in Farmington.