When the future president of China pays a visit, he brings a crowd. Natalie Hansen Kimberley ’00 learned that when her family farm near Maxwell hosted Vice President Xi Jinping in February. During Xi’s visit to Iowa, which focused prominently on agriculture, the Kimberley family welcomed the vice president, U.S. and Iowa politicians, their staffs and 50 media personnel into the living room.
The visit would earn them stories in The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post and China Daily, among other national and world newspapers. Natalie found out it’s hot in the spotlight, literally. “I remember sitting there on the chair and just sweating from all the camera lights,” she says with a laugh.
Although she was a communications major at Central, farming has always been part of Natalie’s life. She grew up in western Iowa, where her parents still farm along with her brother Nathan Hansen ’02 and his wife Terri Paustian Hansen ‘02. Although Natalie works as a realtor in Ankeny, she has been involved with the Kimberley farm—which is run in partnership with Natalie’s husband Grant and her in-laws Rick and Martha—since her marriage in 2003.
“I’m a farm wife,” she says. While her in-laws currently live in the farmhouse—and she and her family live in nearby Ankeny—Natalie and her husband plan to move out to the farm in the coming years.
Despite the brevity of Xi’s hour-long visit, the preparations began more than a month before when the Chinese Embassy toured ten Iowa farms, searching for the ideal site. “The way our farm is set up is a good representative of Iowa farms,” Natalie says. “It’s generational, and we farm soybeans and corn. It uses Iowa products, and the operation has grown through the years.”
Grant’s marketing job with the Iowa Soybean Association made the family an even stronger candidate. His work, which focuses heavily on encouraging trade with China, makes the family particularly aware of the importance of Iowa’s relationship with that nation.
“They’re a growing country, and they’re looking for food because it’s an important part of security for any country,” says Natalie. “Vice President Xi realizes that, so he’s doing what he can to secure adequate food. In our changing world, we’re really going to need them, and they’re really going to need us.”
Just a week before the visit, the family learned they had been selected to host Xi. Chinese Embassy officials and staff from the Governor’s office and the USDA began preparing their home. They rearranged furniture, completed exhaustive security sweeps, provided talking points and set a schedule that planned the visit in five-minute increments.
The schedule included a brief greeting in the backyard by Rick, Grant and Gov. Brandstad before Martha, Natalie and her son Austin met him in the kitchen. This was followed by a conversation, facilitated by a translator, between Xi and the family in the living room. Topics focused mainly on Iowa farm life, with Xi inquiring about the business side of the farm and the importance of it staying within the family. He also asked Natalie about the logistics of getting her son to school.
After exchanging gifts, a Chinese tradition, Rick led a tour of the farm equipment and facilities, showcasing the products from Iowa companies and even convincing the vice president to join him in the cab of a tractor. “He really enjoyed it; he had fun,” Natalie says of Xi. “He was very friendly, conscientious and aware of his surroundings. He seemed to be a very sharp man, very polite.”
Though the next president’s visit to their home lasted little more than an hour, the relationship between Xi and the Kimberley family has continued to grow. Weeks after the visit, a work assignment took Grant to China with Lt. Governor Reynolds, where he had the opportunity to meet with Xi in the Chinese Great Hall of the People next to Tiananmen Square.
“He talked about how much he enjoyed the trip and said that he would follow the growth of our son,” says Natalie. The whole family was invited to visit China after Xi takes the president’s office next year.
Despite the continuing connection, Natatlie says the visit still seems surreal. “For all of us, it was just kind of a whirlwind and a shock. Are we really sitting here with this man who is going to be the president of China?”