August 27, 2010 – Ag Incubator Building Ribbon Cutting!

Today was a milestone for local foods, Marshalltown Community College, and Linda.

It was the ribbon cutting for the new ag incubator building adjacent to the college and serving the farmers renting some of the land on the adjacent 140 acres of certified organic land.  Participating in the ribbon cutting are Linda, Rep Latham, Sue Martin Executive Director of the Martha Ellen Tye Foundation, and Conrad DeJardin, Community College Board of directors.

Our congressman, Tom Latham spoke – he was able to help secure some funding for a portion of the building through the Small Business Administration.

Here’s a shot of the front of the building.

Inside is an office, place for vegetable washing, storage, and coolers.  This is just the first part of a vision put forth by Linda seven years ago to help small entrepreneurial farmers, learn, produce, and market foods.  Next?  An incubator kitchen so producers can legally process foods and test recipes before going to a larger food processing facility.

Dr Linda Barnes Speaks at Ribbon Cutting

Iowa Valley Board of Directors Vice President Yvonne Mallory Speaks at Ribbon Cutting

Congressional Representative Tom Latham Speaks at Ribbon Cutting

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #174″

October 11, 2009 – Front Page News, Part II

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


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.

Unique opportunity

“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.”

Incubator building

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

one year ago…”Homecoming 2008″

September 6, 2009 – Heirloom Tomato Tasting at Grinnell Heritage Farm

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.

andrew dunham

Here owner Andrew Dunham begins the farm tour.

heirloom tomato tasting

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

Bright Lights Chard makes for a beautiful landscape as well.

brassica field

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.

one year ago…”Plum Harvest”

May 2, 2009 – Field Trip to Farmer’s Market

Today Linda took some students to the Des Moines Farmer’s Market. A group of them are planning on marketing co-operatively through the market and thought it would be a good idea to see the market, look at the presentation, the audience, and the like  so they could be ready for success when they visit.

A few of the students looking over a market stand.

Of course, walking around the market, even though we have our own farm, is still cause for purchase of things we don’t make or don’t have at the moment.  So we picked up some nice bread, a bag of lettuce from Coyote Run Farm,  some Italian sausage and shaved ham from Audubon County Farms,  acouple varieties of  goat cheese from Prairie Chevre, a couple of greenhouse tomatoes, a bunch of radishes, some multi-colored popcorn from Emmack Farms, and some Maytag blue cheese.  Think there will be a good dinner tonight?

one year ago…”Up and Coming Materials Engineer?”

April 13, 2007 – New Committee Duties

I have a new committee committment.  I have been asked to be a member of the Advisory Committee for the Value Chain Partnerships for Sustainable Agriculture currently facilitated by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. 

There are currently a number of groups funded by the project, including the pork niche working group, regional food system working group, flax working group and bioeconomy working group.  As advisory board members, we will be asked to help evaluate the benefits/results of each group and help determine funding levels for each group going forward.  It’ll be a great way to keep connected to what’s going on in this neck of the woods.

one year ago…

September 9, 2006 – Market Goods

Here’s a sample of what we bring to market. This may be one of the last weeks as the garden winds down.

As Martin’s Kindergarten class was discussing colors this week, nobody believed that peppers were purple. (Doesn’t anybody teach “Peter Piper picked a peck of purple peppers anymore?) So, for share day, he brought in some Purple Beauty peppers to show.

Some of the fall bouquets are striking with the dark reds and browns.

Our fall raspberries are just going nuts this year – lots and lots of big berries.

August 12, 2006 – At the Market

Linda had a late morning wedding (one of her ag students) in Tama, so it was up the Martin, Emma and I to man the market booth (Claire went with Linda).

It was a pretty good market day as those things go. Emma alone sold $30 worth of dog treats and cookies.

We did have an abundance of plums this week and had made a bunch of plum jam and bought more than a few home unsold, which we are now canning in earnest.

I told Martin he would get a quarter for each jar of jam he sold. We had some samples on bread and his job was to ask people if they’d like to try a sample. He was very hesitant to start. But even I was a bit taken aback when he asked a young woman if she wanted to try a sample. She did and responded politely that it was good. Then, out of nowhere, he says – “Well, if you like it, then you should buy a jar.” She did.

November 19, 2005 – Last Class

Starting in about a year ago, we enrolled in a “growing your small market farm” class where, among other things we wrote a business plan for an “on-farm store.” The plan and research showed us that the store would probably not be successful, so we avoided a lot of pain! We did however incorporate into an LLC and helped focus on some other planning.

Today was the last meeting after a summer hiatus and during the meeting, our instructor, Penny Huber Brown won an award as the “Woman Entrepreneur Achievement Award” for her work in helping small farmers think like small business owners.

September 3, 2005 – Goat Update

Today was another market day in Grinnell. It was “Happy Days” in Grinnell, so the market location was replaced with a car show. There were many more people in town, but about the same number of market farmers. We had ramped up, expecting to sell more than usual, but it was an ordinary day. The lambskins are popular – we’re down to one left.

The baby goats are growing up.

Here’s a portrait of Thing 1.

August 27, 2005 – New Market and Tomato-RAMA

This spring we reserved a space at the farmer’s market section of the local energy cooperative’s annual meeting and fair. We were regretting it after the good market in Grinnell. The market was indeed rather lousy – it was twice as long and we sold a third as much.
The event was very nice though. I won a door prize of a $25.00 credit on my next electric bill. Martin got to ride up 55 feet to as high as the co-ops “lofty” could reach! Dad forgot his camera, so here’s a copy of a Polaroid they took before he went up. He’s got “hard hat” in hand and safety harness on.

We had lots of produce left over, so we went nuts canning – we canned over 30 quarts of tomatoes.
I also completed selling some things on e-bay – mainly things that were broken or in auction boxes I didn’t want – got nearly 100 dollars, led by a DeWalt drill, charger and battery that didn’t work for 34 dollars!