October 5, 2009 – More Front Page News

The Entrepreneurial and Diversified Agriculture program and MCC go more front page love, this time the front page of the Marshalltown Sunday paper.  It is the first of a three-part series.

In case the link expires, the text of the article is reproduced below.

MCC trains farmers to provide a growing demand for local foods

By LARRY KERSHNER, SPECIAL TO THE T-R

POSTED: October 4, 2009

Iowa farmers are often said to be feeding the world, but a cadre of would-be commercial farmers in Marshall County have a desire to feed people in their own community.

Four students from Marshalltown Community College have four different paths they are taking to reach a common goal – to earn a living by growing food and by raising meat and dairy animals for consumers who live in nearby communities.

Their path to the goal leads through a two-year degree program called Entrepreneurial and Diversified Agriculture.

“We’re helping to train farmers to provide the growing demand for local foods,” said Linda Barnes, who created the Marshalltown Community College course in 2003.

Caite Grieshop, of Ames, grew up on a hobby farm near Ames. As an adult and in her second year of the program, she hopes to create a way to provide food to local families. Currently, she has Katahdin hair sheep on her six and a half acre farm and wants to expand into dairy goats and laying hens.

Garret Caryl, 20, of Colo, is a certified welder and helped to erect the wind turbines around his hometown. He is in his second year in the course. His plans are to expand his direct marketing business he has with Birkshire hogs and poultry, plus add a welding business as an additional income source.

Jacque Rhodes, of Marshalltown, said she has no background in farming, except that she worked for three years for a nearby pork producer. She is hoping to eventually start a fish farm, possibly raising organic catfish.

“You never hear of organic fish,” she said. “I hope there’s a market.”

Mary O’Dell, of Kellogg, lost her job, along with her husband, when the Maytag plant shut down in 2007. Although she owns no farm land, this city girl wants to raise pigs, goats, cattle and poultry “in a sustainable way,” she said. She hopes to sell her meat products locally. Her husband is taking courses in ag machinery repair and maintenance.

All have different backgrounds, but they share a common belief that sustainable agriculture is the farming method of the future. They believe in it and want to participate in it.

Sustainable agriculture is sometimes confused with natural farming or organic farming. Although it can include those, sustainable ag simply refers to the ability of a farm to produce farm products without causing severe or irreversible damage to ecosystem health.

The MCC course they are studying is part of a widespread local food initiative in Marshall County that includes encouraging people with a passion for producing nutritious food for local markets. Barnes’ course attempts to move them from desire to empowerment to pursue their food-producing goals.

Barnes said there are three key components to the 10-subject curriculum. These include Issues of sustainable agriculture, applied systems thinking and internships.

“This helps them to see the whole as a working system.” Barnes said. On her own farm, every asset has to serve three purposes “or else you aren’t integrated enough,” she said. “Our sheep fertilize the gardens, keep the grass down between the buildings and provide revenue from meat and tanned hides.”

Meanwhile, internships mean students have a chance to work in an ag industry in which they are interested and see how different operations work in the field.

Caite Grieshop, who is an Iowa volunteer coordinator for Heifer International, has a culinary arts background and said she wants to help people connect with the foods they eat. She hopes to eventually create a year-round farmers market with an online format.

She said MCC’s course has helped her to see that successful food growing systems start from the ground up. This includes learning that she can find soil profiles on her farm ground and understand why some crops grow better in some areas. “This will help me improve my production without trial and error,” Grieshop said. “I get my money’s worth here.”

The course includes visits from farmers who have switched to sustainable programs in some or all of their operations. Garrett Caryl said the guest presenters helped him understand how to raise his livestock without antibiotics, unless his animals are ill.

“I don’t have organic livestock,” Caryl noted, “but I hope to work in some organic stock, too.”

Unafraid of voicing his convictions, Caryl said he has considered raising livestock for natural food processors like Niman Ranch, based in San Francisco. “But I don’t think food should have to travel over 60 miles.” Selling locally, he added, “Burns fewer fossil fuels from producer to the plate.”

Mary O’Dell graduates from the two-year course in December and hopes to embark on her new career after losing her 14-year job at Maytag. “I want to grow sustainably and to sell (food) locally.”

O’Dell said that since she was a child she wanted to work with animals.

Her inlaws, she added, are in their 70s and 80s and still farm. She sees agriculture as her new direction that will sustain her and her husband for years to come.

“I like the idea of raising animals in a better way,” she said noting she would like to produce meat animals, most likely swine, not in confinement buildings.

The students say they understand there is resistance in the Iowa farming culture for what they want to do.

“It’s just a different way of doing things,” O’Dell said.

The best revenge against detractors, added Grieshop, “is to do it and make money at it.”

Fact Box

The two-year Entrepreneurial and Sustainable Agriculture course at Marshalltown Community College was created in 2003. It has become a part of a local foods initiative in Marshall County designed to help people who want to produce food for local markets. The course curriculum includes:

Issues in sustainable agriculture
Ecological concepts
Applied systems thinking
Farmstead planning and technology
Fundamentals of soil science
Accounting
Intro to entrepreneurship
Marketing
Organic crop production
Livestock management
Apprenticeships

Contact Larry Kershner at (515)573-2141 or at kersh@farm-news.com.

one year ago…”Morning Sun Party”