Archive for the ‘Farm Business’ Category
Tonight we hosted the quarterly dinner from a new local foods group – Harvest from the Heart of Iowa. I’m working on the group’s web site and I hope to have it live in few weeks. I’ll post the URL when it debuts.
It was an all-local meal, with beef and pork burgers, bison hot dogs, eggplant/summer squash feta cheese casserole, sweet corn, of course, and raspberries and whipped cream over pound cake. About 60 people braved the hot and humid weather for the meal.
The speaker was Lois Reichert of “Dairy Air” (don’t think about that name too long!) She’s the owner of a goat cheese dairy with national honors for her cheeses.
Last Sunday the local paper had the first in a three-part series centered around the program Linda started at MCC. This Sunday was another above the fold front page story. There was also another article about a local food system meeting that builds on the work Linda has done.
Creating homegrown food
MCC runs crop trials, begins creating food processing facility
By LARRY KERSHNER, SPECIAL TO THE T-R
|Email: “Creating homegrown food”|
<–TO Email REQUIRED!
<–FROM Email REQUIRED!
Latino restaurants and grocery stores in this county seat community prefer to make their own tortillas. But when a local supplier in Tama went out of businesses two years ago, these tiendas started looking elsewhere for their white corn supplies.
Jesus Gaytan, who owns Gaytan Tortilleria, now travels to Chicago to get his white corn and other food supplies, but said that he would prefer to buy locally, if the food was available. He needs an estimated 600 to 1,200 bushels of white corn annually.
Enter Marshalltown Community College and several other organizations determined to help Gaytan and other local businesses with fulfilling their local food needs.
“If we can do this right,” said Norm McCoy, director of the Midwest Center for Entrepreneurial Agriculture at MCC, “Locally grown white corn would give him another marketing angle for his customers.”
Among a number of other efforts, the college, under the direction of McCoy, ran a series of white corn trials, trying to determine which corn variety works best in Iowa’s cooler soils. White corn is not only a staple for tortillas, but for other dishes, such as hominy used for menudo, a Latino soup.
McCoy also supervises the certified organic food plots the college rents to community people for growing their own produce and for selling at farmers markets. He has planted nut trees and other crops for a variety of different organizations that are involved in Marshalltown’s local foods initiative.
The college is also building a certified, organic-foods processing facility, where produce can be washed and bulk packaged according to end users’ needs, McCoy said. There are plans for greenhouses in the near future.
Although all this is happening on the college campus, no college funds are directly involved, McCoy said. The trials, the gardens, the processing facility, even McCoy’s salary, are paid through grants and other outside sources.
Trials of white corn
McCoy said he volunteered to run the white corn trials for Iowa State University, in partnership with Practical Farmers of Iowa, this year. He received 19 varieties to plant in a series of four replications. His site was a high ridge that overlooks U.S. Highway 30.
But things did not go as well as he had hoped.
Spring planting was delayed. The first varieties didn’t get planted until June, because those renting private plots needed to use the program’s manual planting equipment. Rains also kept planters out of the field and when fields were dry enough, tilling created large clods that interfered with uniformed spacing of the corn.
“Sometimes the wind blew so hard,” McCoy said, “it blew the seed away as it left the planter.” Conditions were so challenging, McCoy said, he reverted to planting many of the rows by hand in order to get the crop into the ground. The last of the eight-row trial plots were planted in mid-July.
“This was a real poor year to try this,” McCoy said, adding that he hopes to get a second chance in 2010. If so, he intends to plant the trial plots in a more sheltered area on the south edge of the campus. “But I learned a lot.”
The need to find the right kind of white corn variety for local food processors is still there, he insists.
Tortillas need a minimum-sized kernel, the bigger the better, with a waxy coating that is easily removed with a lye solution. His trials were to determine yield, by variety and soil type, at varying plant populations, and recording any stalk lodging.
McCoy expects to harvest, shell and weigh the corn by hand this fall.
“We (Marshalltown) are unique to have the Latino population here,” McCoy said. “It’s hard to get them tied into the local food movement, because of communications and because they are not fully integrated into the local culture yet.”
This local food initiative has had intensive Latino interest and involvement since the early efforts to now. John Paulis, director of the Prairie Rivers Resource Conservation and Development, based in Ames, which is assisting in the overall project, said many of the immigrant population has an agrarian background and prefer to move out of the factories and packing plants and make their living on the soil.
“We want to tap into their knowledge and expertise,” McCoy said, in creating a series of local truck farms to bring human-food grade farming to the local populace.
“They have no pre-conceived ideas about farming,” McCoy said. “This is a local foods system waiting to happen.”
An organic foods processing facility, which is touted as a business incubator, is being built with assistance from a federal small business development grant of $250,000, and a matching grant from the Martha Ellen Tye Foundation, based in Marshall County. Of this second grant, $100,000 can be used for equipment purchases.
One limiting factor to developing a functional local foods system, McCoy said, is the lack of a “community kitchen,” where fresh produce can be washed and packaged, or be subject to value-added processes for specific end users.
Ground was broken for the facility on the campus in September. The building is expected to be available for use by late October, McCoy said.
Contact Larry Kershner at (515) 732-2141or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We took some time away from our farm and visited an heirloom tomato tasting event and farm tour at Grinnell Heritage Farm. It’s a 5th generation, yet new farm reinvented as a diversified organic farm with vegetables, animals, hay, and hoophouses.
Here owner Andrew Dunham begins the farm tour.
They planted 30 varieties of heirloom tomatoes to try to decide which ones they might like to grow and eat the best and shared the varieties with the public during a tomato tasting/potluck/string band event at their farm. I’d say there was an overwhelming turnout.
I, of course, was struck with the beauty of all the vegetable beds. If I remember correctly, there are about seven acres in vegetable production. These organic varietal lettuces in front of the old barn are noteworthy for their beauty and being relatively weed-free.
Bright Lights Chard makes for a beautiful landscape as well.
These bug-free cauliflower rows were a wonder to see. Andrew and Melissa have much to be proud of as they convert this farm to organic, local food production.
The last eight Sunday afternoons Linda’s been part of a team that is teaching a class for aspiring new farmers. It is designed as a quick start/introduction as opposed to a two-year degree program.
After completing this class, the graduates will be able to rent a portion of the college farm to start their farming enterprise.
The class attracted a wide range of people, including Anglo, Hispanic, Sudanese, and Meskwaki members. The class has already started planning some cooperative marketing and looks forward to the planting season to put into practice some things they’ve learned.
For many years, many small farmers have championed the benefits of local food production based on claims of supporting the local economy, freshness, and quality. Recent books by Michael Pollan and others have given the concept a wider audience. Now, I believe the biggest producers have noticed and will soon be marketing their products as such. Following are excerpts from a speech that Bryan Silbermann, President of the Produce Marketing Association gave at his “State of the Industry” address.
After years of becoming more corporate-like and delivering fresh produce to consumers cheaply and abundantly, the produce industry is heading in the opposite direction – meeting its customers face to face. People are moving back to basics, away from industrial agriculture and back to smaller stores and local foods and trying to find the face behind their fresh produce.
“Cheap and plentiful eventually has a price,” he said, noting that consumers are more fearful of their food – and producers haven’t benefited all that much either. Producers now get about 17 cents of the consumer dollar, down from 41 cents in 1940.
At the same time, consumers are realizing they want the freshness and taste of local foods, the open space farms provide and the other benefits local foods contribute to the community – including a greater sense of security. “It’s become a social movement as people are pushing back against industrial agriculture and the over-reliance on excessively processed foods. The next big thing is not more microwavable pizza.” Silbermann said that a “perfect storm” has engulfed the produce industry, combining elements from rising input prices, a shortage of labor, concerns about food safety and a growing interest in local, sustainable food systems.
I think that Mr. Silbermann is a very astute man, and his talk reveals just the extent and possibilities of a new type of food system based on local production – coming from the leader of an industrial food organization, it is particularly informing and encouraging to those in the trenches.
As many of you know, Linda met a long-awaited goal a few weeks ago. While teaching full-time, she managed to create a new academic program and get it certified by the State, converted 140 acres of cash-rent land to certified organic production at the college farm, and raised around $600,000 for some infrastructure (including some Leed-certified buildings), planning, and three year’s salary for a farm manager in her “spare” time. Since projects like these are ongoing and never seem to end, I thought that this would be a good time to stop and recognize the work she’s done.
The recently hired farm manager is a graduate of the Master’s Program in Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State and also holds an MBA. He will be a great person to lead the charge full-time to train young and old, new residents and old-timers in theory, field production, marketing, and business management for entrepreneurial farmers.
The program aims to be an “incubator farm” that people who want to start farming can access land, take classes as necessary, and a be part of a network of like-minded people who see opportunity in value-added, niche, and organic products. A planned second phase will include an incubator kitchen where packaged food can be produced and sold. It’s been a long and eventful four years from idea to where the program is today.
Today we ventured to Cedar Rapids for the 13th annual Iowa Network for Community Agriculture annual meeting. The morning’s speaker was tangerine farmer and film-maker Lisa Brenneis from Ojai, California. You may ask, what is a California farmer doing in Iowa talking at a local food conference?Â Quite simply, if you followed yesterday’s blog entry – she was taking us down a different road.
Her film “Eat at Bills”Â profiles the wildly successful Montery Produce Market – a kind of market that currently does not exist in Iowa. It was her job to stretch our understanding how local foods could be offered to eaters.
Here’s Lisa showing off some of the just-picked Mandarin Oranges from her orchard. We got to take some home to share with the kids! What a treat in February.
The deep mid-winter is time to catch up on the pile-o-receipts from the past tax year. It’s not really too bad – I do a fairly good job of saving all pertinent materials in three-ring binders and entering sales as they happen, but the bill receipts get stuffed in a plastic pouch in the binder and finally get entered this time of year.
The scene is not especially inviting – a pile of receipts, last year and this year’s record books, and Quicken on the PC. It’s only a week or so until sales tax deadline, so that moves this up on the list of things to do. After the high hopes books get in shape, it’s time to move onto the personal taxes and accounting. Better in January than July.
Today, I attended two meetings in Ames. One with Practical Farmers of Iowa to talk to them about the system design of their new food cooperative. It is one of the missing links in a local food system. The press release about the project follows:
Practical Farmers of Iowa to launch Iowa Food Cooperative
AMES, Iowaâ€”Iowa consumers soon will find it easier to have their pick of a wide variety of Iowa products, under a project starting through Practical Farmers of Iowa. Practical Farmers of Iowa has received a grant from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture to launch an Iowa Food Cooperative.
The Cooperative, when launched early next year, will be similar to ones now operating in Oklahoma and Nebraska. The effort will sell only food and non-food products that are produced by members of the cooperative directly to consumers.
The benefits of a direct-to-consumer distribution system like this are many. Consumers know more about the products they’re buying and they are supporting our Iowa economy, while farmers are getting the best price they can. Customers will know exactly who produced the food, where it was grown or raised, and what production practices the farmer or rancher used. â€œYou don’t just order five pounds of generic hamburger, you order it from a specific producer. Our food has a story, and customers of locally raised foods are part of that story,â€ according to Eric Franzenburg, president of Practical Farmers of Iowa.
The Iowa Food Co-op will be modeled on the successful Oklahoma and Nebraska Food Cooperatives. The older of these two, the Oklahoma Food Co-op, has nearly 1500 different items available each month. As of February 2007, the coop has 1000 members, 101 of them are producers. Total sales average $25,000 – $35,000 each month. The advantage for consumers? â€œWe are discovering the unique and authentic regional tastes of this area and rediscovering the importance of local food production to healthy, local communities,” said Eric. The project also recognizes that Iowa is unique with various local and regional farmer-led food distribution efforts. The project will work with these efforts to help deepen and broaden the base of consumers who buy products directly from farmers.
PFI is a non-profit sustainable agriculture group dedicated to farming that is profitable, environmentally sound, and healthy for consumers and communities. Founded in 1985, PFI has over 700 farmer and non-farmer members throughout Iowa.
The second meeting was at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. There was a meeting to discuss mechanisms for small niche agricultural producers to have access to capital. It was a brainstorming session for another Leopold project.
one year ago…
It’s now time for the shameless commerce portion of the blog. This year we’ve decided to offer gift boxes of products from our farm – various combinations of pure beeswax candles, hand made soap, and jams.
This is the big sampler box.
This is the medium sampler box.
You can look at all the boxes at the high hopes gardens web site.
For those wishing to order not in the local area, we’ll add actual shipping costs to the order and ship them where/when you want them to go. Just send us the shipping zip code and we’ll estimate shipping and let you know. The shipping should be between three and seven dollars, depending on location and shipping method.
You can pay us instantly via paypal or send a check in snail mail. Send us an e-mail to email@example.com for more info or if you have questions.
I’m not sure what the political climate is around where you live, but in Missouri it was a whole ‘nother level. I realized certain things are taboo around here. One is political signs/advertising by businesses. It seems that putting up a political signs would offend about half your customers. In Missouri, lots of businesses had signs up in front of their establishment. At the gas station, the little computerized message screen that tells you “Begin Fueling Now” told me how to vote in the election!
Today, Linda saw Joel Salatin speak and I went to some shorter sessions and we are full of great ideas for our farm. We ended with an evening reviewing this year’s financials and setting some priorities for next year.
Today, we drove down to Columbia, Missouri to attend the National Small Farm Conference and Tradeshow. We’ll also use it as our “annual meeting” of high hopes LLC. The conference is a real interesting mix of people, some so far around each end of the political spectrum that they meet up here.
It was a nice drive down, we took some county roads (T61 from Eddyville to hwy 2 was a great drive and we avoided driving through Ottumwa).
I was able to listen to Joel Salatin talk about pasture-based farming. Joel is the poster child of ecological, community based farming. He was the hero of the best seller “Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan.
Perhaps some other day, I’ll summarize his presentation, but I do want to share one story.
I asked him if had any corrections or comments regarding his portrayal in the “Omnivore’s Dilemma.” He gushed a bit about Michael Pollan and then came with one little thing that raised his hackles. Pollan notes the lack of coffee at Polyface Farm, and seemingly begrudges, or at least can’t understand why there is not any coffee. Salatin says that is not true – there is indeed coffee on the farm, and if a guest asks, they are happy to brew a pot! Had only he asked, there would have been coffee.
O.K., the biggest thing that is missing from a local food system is a distributor. Someone to gather the product from farmers who don’t have time/inclination to market and ramp up quantities and sell to local outlets, like grocers, hospitals, etc.
We got to thinking about the 2,000 people or so who work in my building – wouldn’t it be great for them to have a stand of locally grown stuff waiting for them outside the door at 5:00 on their way home? Wouldn’t it be even better if you had a small truck – like a bread truck or so and filled it with veggies/frozen/ and refrigerated stuff and were mobile so you could be in a different location each day?
I did a quick search for “mobile grocer” on google and the only thing I came up with was an organic store in Oakland that had a mobile grocer that sold organic produce at wholesale cost in low-income sections of Oakland as part of their mission to make good food more widely available.
Last week Linda went to Athens, Ohio to tour ACEnet, one of the nation’s most successful incubator kitchens. An incubator kitchen is a place where a person or aspiring company can process food for retail sale, or ramp up a recipe in a batch food environment before building or taking it to a food manufacturer. So, you may be a sweet corn farmer who sells frozen cobettes (corn on the cob broken in half) to a rib restaurant – you could rent the kitchen for a week to legally process all your corn. You may have a great family dressing or salsa recipe you’d like to try to sell – this is the place to produce test batches and do some test marketing.
This is a picture of Bill, the food scientist/chef at ACEnet. He helps people with ideas batch up their recipes, among other things.
An incubator kitchen is one part of the dream for the entrepreneurial farm Linda is planning at the community college. They hope to use the 140 acres adjacent to the farm to rent out small plots – 1/2 to many acres for someone wanting to start an agricultural enterprise. Along with the classes, incubator kitchen, and farm – it could be a great way to recapture lost food dollars, begin a local food economy and provide meaningful employment. Linda has spent her “work” summer researching other entrepreneurial farms in planning the use of the land at MCC.
It is frustrating that this type of community-based agricultural venture does not gain traction. Especially in light of the farm subsidies paid to commodity farmers to produce crops that result in overproduction. The Environmental Working Group has published all the taxpayer money that goes to commodity subsidies. In Marshall County Iowa alone, the data is from 1995-2004 and the largest farmer received $1,302,739 in taxpayer money (or national debt as the case may be). It’s not an isolated case. There were 44 farmers who recieved over $750,000 and 164 farmers who received $250,000 or more. Just the payments from one of those farmers would go a long way to helping many more entrepreneurial farmers create community wealth.