Archive for the ‘Media’ Category
On the heels of the successful opening of the Ag Incubator building at MCC, today Linda was recognized by the Iowa Farmer’s Union as the ag educator of the year!
Here she is giving some remarks to the conference attendees. Once again, congratulations to Linda!
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
Linda was invited to be part of a press conference/roundtable discussion of rural issues at the Iowa State fair with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack.
Like a “good” Secretary of Agriculture, Vilsack listens as Linda makes her points about the importance of local infrastructure, rural broadband issues, and local foods.
Like a “better” Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary Vilsack takes notes as she talks! It was a great opportunity for the voices of a female, small farmer, educator and small business owner to be heard along with the traditional commodity farm groups.
Today Linda traveled to Grinnell to be filmed as part of a roundtable discussion of the farm bill and its impact on farmers who might choose to grow something other than corn and soybeans. It’s an HBO documentary that is not scheduled to air for a couple of years, due to come out before the next farm bill is debated in congress.
The weather this summer seems to finally be taking its toll on me – it seems like it is literally raining, the ground and vegetation is wet, or the dew points are in the tropical range. We’re all ready for a break.
Last summer our farm was the location of a photo shoot for a feature in Midwest Living magazine. The cover of the August issue features our flowers!
You can check out the behind the scenes photos of a professional photo shoot on the July 31, 2009 blog entry and some more background on July 28. It just so happens one of the photos I took of people taking photos is a shot that made the magazine cover. The photos are in the August 2010 issue.
Most of the photos and sunflowers were from our farm, except for those that showed fields of sunflowers. Ora, our cat is in the background for the Table of Contents page and there are about 5 pages of mostly photos from our place. Martin is the only one in the family who made it through the cutting room floor and into the magazine.
Today we received a surprise in the mail – our own copy of an Ecoheartland DVD! Back in June, 2008, a couple of filmmakers stopped by – you can see the original blog post and a photo of the filmmaking brother duo on the June 23, 2008 blog entry. We’re in good company among Iowans in the film – Paul Willis from Niman Ranch, Mike Coon from PowerFilm, Inc. in Ames, and Fred Kirschenmann from the Leopold Center. A film trailer follows:
I’d like to thank Nick and Max for their project and for representing us accurately and professionally. They indeed did produce what they set out to do!
I get another day off and let someone else write the story today. Today’s photos and story is from Andrew Potter of the Times-Republican. Unfortunately, Claire will not be able to attend as she’ll be in India at the time of the competition.
MHS wins state event, heading to Fresno
A group of five Marshalltown High School students takes learning about the environment seriously throughout the year and not just on Earth Day.
The MHS team won the state title last weekend as part of the Iowa Envirothon.
The envirothon included the 14 Iowa teams which had advanced from regional competition in which students tested their knowledge on aquatic ecology, forestry, soils and wildlife at Springbrook State Park in Guthrie Center.
Team members are Alex Cope, Molly Finn, James Lindgren, Matt Paar and Claire Runquist. Susan Fritzell, an MHS teacher and advisor for the team, credited her students’ dedication the past few months to the team’s win.
“I think our team is very consistent,” Fritzell said. “I have five students who will always commit to being here.”
The MHS team won two of the five individual categories including forestry and wildlife.
Lindgren said it was an exciting moment for the team when it was announced they were state champions.
“We all jumped up when we heard it,” he said.
Finn said the team thought they did well but they weren’t sure if they won until the announcement.
“We felt confident that we did decent but we thought it would be close,” Finn said.
The Marshalltown team advances to the Canon Envirothon national competition held at California State University in Fresno in early August.
The trip is partially paid for by the envirothon so the team will do fundraising to make up the rest of the money. Winning the state envirothon title has become a tradition for MHS as the school has now won its fifth in the last eight years.
Claire has been selected as a Borlaug-Ruan Intern by the World Food Prize! As a result, she gets an all expenses paid internship at the World Vegetable Center near Hyderabad, India for eight weeks this summer.
Here’s a story from the Marshalltown newspaper:
MHS student lands internship to India
Runquist one of 16 in nation selected
By ANDREW POTTER, TIMES-REPUBLICAN
Marshalltown High School senior Claire Runquist will have plenty of learning to do before she heads off to college this fall – and she is ready for the challenge.
Runquist was recently selected for a prestigious internship with the World Food Prize Foundation and will be spending eight weeks in India this summer beginning in mid-June.
She will work at AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center in Patancheru, Hyderabad, India.
Runquist said her internship will involve work in nutrition and family gardens. She said she was overwhelmed when she found out she was selected.
“I think it’s the most excited I’ve ever been in my life,” Runquist said. “I started screaming and crying.”
Runquist is one of just 16 students who were selected to receive the Borlaug Ruan International Internship this summer. To be eligible, she submitted her school transcripts and essays on ways to stop world hunger. She then participated in an interview after she was named a finalist.
All of her expenses will be paid for by the World Food Prize Foundation. For someone who has never even been out of the country before, Runquist is expecting to learn a great deal during the trip.
“I’m pretty sure it’s going to be completely life-changing,” she said. “It’s going to be terrifying and thrilling at the same time.”
Her parents, Mark Runquist and Linda Barnes, have a farm in rural Melbourne where they grow their own food, so it appears their interests have rubbed off on their daughter.
“It’s a great opportunity for her,” Mark Runquist said.
After the trip, she has plans to attend Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn.
Claire has been very focused and deliberate to be in this position. It has been a long process and we are all thrilled for her. Following are some former blog posts showing part of the journey to today:
Last week Linda was the featured program for Women’s History month at the Ames USDA facility and was simulcast to a facility in New York as well.
She spoke a bit about the generational changes that have been exhibited by the women in her family. Perhaps if we get a video or soundtrack of it, we’ll post it for mass consumption. Not surprisingly, there were some familiar faces in the audience, including folks from church, past colleagues, including an old office-mate from graduate school days.
The headline of this article in the Marshalltown Times-Republican is “Area Family Works to Rely on Renewable Resources.” Here’s a link to the story, and in case that ever goes stale, the story is reproduced below.
That is the lifestyle Dr. Linda Barnes and her husband, Mark Runquist, have aggressively been working toward the last 13 years since they bought a seven acre farm east of Melbourne.
Their children, Claire, Emma and Martin are part of their efforts as well.
“Everybody works on the farm,” Barnes said.
The family raises organic fruits and vegetables. Behind the house, shiitake mushrooms are being grown. Additionally, they raise broiler chickens, lamb and turkey. All are used to provide the family’s food needs.
“We buy our other meat, beef and pork locally,” Barnes said. “The only meat we don’t buy locally is pepperoni.”
“We eat well,” she said. “We have fabulous meals.”
Barnes, a Twin-Cities native, said she cans the fruit and vegetables.
They took another significant step towards self-reliance and addressing environmental concerns when they installed a 70-foot tower hosting a wind turbine. It required a significant investment of the family’s time and money.
The turbine supplies some of the farm’s electricity. What isn’t used is sold back to Consumers Energy, a Rural Electric Cooperative located west of Marshalltown.
They aren’t stopping there.
According to a press release, it was in early November the Iowa Farm Energy Working Group announced they had awarded the family a $5,000 grant to demonstrate how energy needs can be met through renewable resources. Wind is the renewable resource here.
Specifically, Linda and Mark will purchase a vertical axis wind turbine and conduct research to compare it to their existing traditional 3-blade wind turbine.
Their efforts to become self-reliant included dramatically remodeling the farmhouse and repairing the barns and other buildings.
“We put roofs on the out-buildings, planted trees and gardens,” Runquist said. “So, after 13 years, finally, we almost have all of the buildings were we want them to be.”
Runquist, a Duluth, Minn. native, said they did all the work. “Incredible” is the word Runquist used in describing the changes to the property.
With the award of the grant, the family will be increasing their commitment to generating electricity from the wind.
The decision to become more self-reliant by creating their own power was not done quickly.
“We waited a long time,” Runquist said. “So, it was about five to six years ago that we wanted to put up a wind turbine.”
However, the wind-generation equipment then was expensive – about $60,000 according to Runquist – and and only carried a one-year warranty.
“It seemed like a lot of money to sink into something that risky.”
The family re-opened the wind-generation idea about two to three years ago when the equipment became less expensive and provided a five-year warranty.
Much time was spent on the Internet researching companies and equipment. Eventually they decided to purchase the equipment from a Flagstaff, Ariz. based company and it was installed by a company-certified contractor, Todd Hammen of Barnes City.
Runquist said this was one project they didn’t do themselves, due to the complexity of installing a 70-foot tower and the equipment warranty would be voided, he said.
However, before the project started they worked to reduce their household need of electricity. This involved purchasing different energy-saving appliances.
Once the project was complete, Runquist said a party was held to celebrate.
Joining them was Consumer Energy’s Chairman of the Board.
The family and CE have a strong relationship.
“I applaud Linda and Mark for their considerable efforts to become energy efficient and to secure it from renewable resources,” CE CEO Brian Heitoff said.
“We have had a great working relationship for a number of years. Our cooperative is membership owned and it is our duty to work with our customers if they wish to explore these options. Mark and Linda are very knowledgeable customers – they had an idea and we worked with them.”
Heitoff said other CE customers have installed wind-generation equipment and that the company is “right up there” nationally for wind-generated electricity.
Additionally, the company has installed several huge wind-generating devices near their office.
Runquist said the family will explore installing solar energy equipment in the next few years when the price for equipment goes down.
He said solar power will compliment their wind power.
“The peak months for solar power are when wind generation is down,” he said. “Three days of strong winds in April equal what we receive in the month of August.”
The family earned some notoriety recently. when Oprah Winfrey’s Web site (Oprah.com) publicized their efforts. It was entitled “Unexpected Ways to go Green.”
“They must have picked it up from our farm’s Web site www.highhopesgardens.com Runquist said.
Barnes and Runquist were graduate students at Iowa State University when they decided to purchase their farm property.
“It was not our plan to remain in Iowa,” she said. But in looking back, she is impressed with how far the family has come.
When not working on the farm, Barnes is an Associate Professor of Biology at Iowa Valley Community College’s Marshalltown campus. “I love to teach,” she said of her work.
Runquist is also busy with a non-farm job. He works for Wells-Fargo in Des Moines several days a week and also from the home.
When asked why the family has elected to become self-reliant, Barnes replied quickly.
“It is fundamental to our values,” she said. “It is important to us, it is who we are.”
Here we are this week as part of a slide show on Oprah.com entitled “Unexpected Ways to go Green.” If you scroll through the show, I can probably about guarantee you this will most likely be the first and last time we’re included in the same slide show as “adult” toys!
I’m not sure how long the show links will stay active, but for now, here’s the link.
The third of three front-page Sunday newspaper articles related to the program Linda started completed Sunday – this time about local foods in restaurants.
By ABIGAIL McWILLIAM, TIMES-REPUBLICAN
Presenting a roast butternut squash soup, Chef Christopher Curtis is ready to serve the culinary delight at Marshalltown’s Tremont On Main.
When J.P. Howard sits down to a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup he thinks about his Aunt Liz.
“She always made the best soups,” he said. “This is nature’s elixir for what ails you.”
Growing up in Cresco, in northeast Iowa, J.P. was accustomed to locally grown foods, in part thanks to his aunt who created meals with ingredients from her own gardens and livestock.
Now he and his wife, Jennifer, are serving up locally produced food at their trio of restaurants on Main Street.
The Howards have been featuring seasonal local dishes on their white-cloth menu at the Tremont on Main, while incorporating other local ingredients and dishes at the Tremont Grille and Tremont Sports Cafe.
The regularly featured chicken noodle soup is made with the freshest and the highest quality local chicken purchased from a Mexican market in Marshalltown, J.P. said.
While the couple has found great success in some local dishes, and are ready to step up a local foods menu, they need better supply and constant comparable and dependable products.
Part of this effort to meet the needs of area business owners has spun into the creation of COMIDA – an acronym for County of Marshall Investing in Diversified Agriculture – that formed with the goal of building a local foods system in the county.
Just one-tenth of a percent of Marshall County residents get their food directly from farmers – about one fourth of the national average.
A study of the potential impact of a local food system showed that if consumers bought only 15 percent of their food directly from local farms it would mean $8 million of new farm income each year, according to Ken Meter of the Crossroads Resource Center of Minneapolis.
Another survey, this one conducted by the North Central Regional Center of Rural Development and the Marshalltown Area Chamber of Commerce, showed that 73 percent of Marshalltown businesses would like to have more opportunities to establish stronger links with local producers.
The lack of supply has consistently been targeted as the reason local markets and restaurants don’t currently sell more locally grown food.
“We, as a county, are just getting started,” J.P. said.
Even with poor weather conditions taking a hit on local farmers markets, J.P. has poured his efforts into a local menu by attending area markets on a weekly basis.
“I bought everything I could, that I could use,” J.P. said. “Anywhere I can find it that is close and quality, I buy it.”
Meanwhile, a rooftop garden outside of the couple’s condo at the Tremont Inn boasts fresh herbs that are incorporated into local dishes – including thyme, sage, rosemary and oregano.
A butternut squash soup with local appeal was prepared last week by utilizing another garden on 12th Street.
However, planning a consistent menu with local products necessitates high value and quality, J.P. said.
“Value and quality are No. 1 and they go hand in hand,” he said. “So the products have to be the same, because the consumer demands it.”
Another struggle is price comparability, he said.
“We want to have it, but not pay five times more for it,” he said.
At the same time, they are seeing consumer demand for fresh local foods, he said.
“Food safety and food knowledge is driving this whole issue,” Howard explained. “It’s starting to mean something to people, and we listen to what they want.”
Parts of the local food system are already underway with the Entrepreneurial and Diversified Agriculture Program at Marshalltown Community College, which trains students how to develop a local food system.
The first graduates of a course for beginning farmers called “Start Your Own Diversified Farm” received their certificates in March. Ten graduates of this training course are currently renting plots and growing vegetables at the MCC farm. They have been selling their produce at farmers markets in Des Moines, but are anxious to sell directly to Marshalltown grocery stores and restaurants.
Another addition to the program is a food processing facility currently under construction on the MCC campus. The building will provide a place for farmers to prepare their produce for market.
J.P. has high expectations for the MCC training course that develops new farmers and is particularly attractive to the Latino population.
“You can take that spirit and that willingness to take risk and we can find a way to help minimize their risk to get them started … That’s a huge business with the ultimate goal being to provide healthy food to our community.”
By demanding local foods, J.P. sees a stronger movement toward getting nutritious foods into nursing homes, hospitals and restaurants.
“What we’re trying to get to eventually is getting better nutrition to the lower income people – that’s our task as people in the food business,” he said. “We’re supposed to feed people wonderfully and we should be passionate about it.”
Contact Abigail McWilliam at 641-753-6611 or email@example.com
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
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.”
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
Applied systems thinking
Farmstead planning and technology
Fundamentals of soil science
Intro to entrepreneurship
Organic crop production
Contact Larry Kershner at (515)573-2141 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m not too sure how long the Des Moines Register links are live, so I copied the story below, without the photographs. This story appeared on the cover of the Iowa Life section of today’s Sunday Register. It’s about “Comida – County of Marshall Investing in Diversified Agriculture” one of the offshoots of the college farm and program Linda spearheaded.
Latino Farmers Remember Their Roots
By MIKE KILEN
Benigno Lopez smoothly swings the machete and, whoosh, tall grasses are laid flat on the garden’s border. He takes another fluid swing and another, until his wife grows impatient.
Ramona Lopez yells and whoops in the distance to summon visitors to her side.
“Come look at my peppers!”
“And look at these!”
“Most of the time, I’m not as happy as my husband. But this year, when I come and see my peppers …,” she calls out, finishing the sentence with a look of adoration.
Benigno, who people call Bernie, and Ramona grew up in Jalisco, Mexico, but left behind farm life 13 years ago to move to the United States.
They worked in the meat-packing plant in Marshalltown, became citizens and hoped to one day grow food again.
Now they have a plot of land and are harvesting, thanks to a continuing education program to develop new farmers that heavily taps into Marshalltown’s Latino population.
“Take it,” Ramona says, shoving a green tube of something-or-another at the visitor. “Take it!”
OK, but what is it?
A Mexican yellow squash called a calabacita. Slice it, put it on the grill with a little seasoned salt, she said. Oh, the taste!
Just the day before, as August waned and the vegetables hung ripe with promise, she had a party and served them. It was a special evening in a season of growth.
Years ago, the couple planted a peach tree in their yard and others said it wouldn’t grow. But fruit appeared, not every year, but enough to maintain hope that new ideas, new people, could prosper here.
Bernie’s father and grandfather grew peaches, mangos, oranges and avocados on their farm.
“Bernie is very happy to work outside. Works 10, 12 hours a day,” Ramona said.
Ramona works at Iowa Home Care, visiting the sick and elderly in their homes, then comes out to see her peppers, which grow on plots at Marshalltown Community College.
Its Entrepreneurial and Diversified Agriculture Program (EDA) led an adult education class last winter, “Start Your Own Diversified Farm,” whose goal is to help people learn to farm and contribute to the local food economy.
In looking for farmers in Marshalltown, a town long populated with Latino immigrants, it made sense to tap into their willingness and expertise.
A survey of 111 Mexican and Central American immigrants in Marshalltown and Denison by Iowa State’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, which paid tuition for the class, discovered that 83 percent grew up on farms and 93 percent wanted to farm, although buying or leasing land was an obstacle.
A third of the 18 students in the eight-week bilingual class were Latino, joining Anglos, American Indians and Sudanese.
“We always ate. It seemed important that we eat together to help us integrate,” said Linda Barnes, the EDA program coordinator. “The thing we learned is so much of it is about relationships. The reason that is true is we are talking about food.”
Bernie and Ramona helped recruit Latinos, earned certificates from the class in March and joined a dozen who planted plots in the spring.
Some grew excited on the first warm April day and made the mistake of planting early.
Bernie waited until May 5. He had experience, working on a ranch in Mexico. “Never with a tractor but with an ox,” he says. “Old fashioned.”
“He use a tiller here,” his wife adds. “I’m happy for Bernie to use a tiller.”
Just then Norm McCoy, the farm manager of the college’s 80 acres, suggests Bernie may benefit from a weed eater to tackle his chore.
He smiles. New Iowans with unusual ideas like peach trees wisely take some advice from the natives.
It’s a longtime dream. While working at the packing plant, a job she didn’t like, Ramona began attending farmer’s meetings.
“I would go home and look in dictionary what they say. I realized the problems same for farmers everywhere,” she said.
The main challenge for new farmers is money to buy land. But students can establish three years of growing history here, which most lenders require to buy land.
All they want is a few acres, just enough to grow fruits and vegetables and raise a few cows, chickens and sheep to sell to local customers and restaurants.
Claudia Prado-Meza saw the same hunger while talking to traditional Iowa farmers.
“They miss growing food that they know where it goes,” said the Iowa State graduate student in sustainable agriculture, who helps the Marshalltown farmers. “But they are trapped inside subsidized systems.”
Latino farmers remember their farming roots.
“To hear (Ramona) gush about the potential for growing vegetables is like the embodiment of the American dream,” said John Paulin of Prairie Rivers Resource Conservation and Development.
“But the institutional knowledge of growing truck crops has disappeared.”
Paulin hopes the college program, which became part of an effort carrying the acronym for food in Spanish – COMIDA (County Of Marshall Investing in Diversified Agriculture) – helps connect local farmers and buyers.
Only one-tenth of a percent of Marshall County residents get food directly from farmers, a fourth of the national average. If consumers bought 15 percent, according to a study by Ken Meter of the Crossroads Resource Center in Minnesota, $8 million of new farm income would be generated in the county.
So they are trying to grow farmers in Marshall County, dreamers like Ramona and Bernie.
Ramona steers her truck past the rows of white corn for tortillas, tomato plants and twisting vines of melons.
It hasn’t been an easy growing summer with early cool weather and college land that hasn’t built up enough organic materials yet. Still, the group gathers enough produce to sell at the Downtown Farmers Market in Des Moines, in McCoy’s Pine Crest Farm stand.
She is chomping on a just-picked cucumber and had few complaints.
“This place is the future for new people,” she says. “We raise seven kids here, three still at home. Marshalltown open the doors to us. We need to do something to give back to the community.”
Adept at translating, Ramona helps recruit immigrants interested in farming while working to save money to buy land.
Her husband, she says, is never so happy as when he can stop to donate garden items at Helping Hands Temporary Services for the less privileged.
She pulls her truck up to the plot of Jorge Ibarra, a 35-year-old construction worker and father of five who learned to farm from his grandfather in Mexico.
“I like to be farmer,” he says. “I lived on a farm. I like the life.”
He begins filling up boxes of his sweet corn to give away.
Like Ramona, he wants to return something.
As the Iowa sun sets over the standing corn, visitors take home the corn and calabacita to put on the grill, as Ramona instructed.
She also cooked the squash the day before at a party for her daughter Jacqeline, the first in her family to ever leave for college. They ate it near the peach tree in Iowa.