August 2021

Last time I joked about there being 18 months between posts. Ha. Now it’s been almost three years. Which means I have A LOT of “stuff” to share! Where to start and how to organize?

The impetus for needing to organize some thoughts… my friends Kathryn Dickel (see Pollinate Ritual) and Beau Fodor (see Panache)… are teaming up to present a series of the next evolution of Farm-to-Table dinners this fall out here at The Big Oak Barn. I need to distill 15 years of sustainability and (BROAD) agriculture thinking into 3 less than 15 minute segments, while keeping it light and fun. I got this.

Oh, and I need to start updating Prudent Produce‘s menu for next week.

What’s on my mind this week? Land access for new and beginning farmers, for one. We hear much discussion of the challenge of finding (affordable) land. It’s a loaded conversation that needs much perspective brought to it. That’s a whole series of posts in and of itself, and that’s without the criticism I’ve received for criticizing those who talk about it without perspective. All this to remind myself to try really hard not to be hypocritical here — acknowledge all of the unknowns; be certain of things you present as certainties and allow for evolution of thought in areas of uncertainty.

And certainly I am being challenged by uncertainty in this space of late. Since I started working in the local food / ag area in 2013 (though I did my master’s thesis on Community Food Systems in 2007, so was beginning to clue in even before jumping in to full time work)… I have done what is generally good: I’ve become confused at a higher level.

There are so many issues in the food and ag space. Those issues intersect with SO MANY other issues: health, diet, consumerism, capitalism, race, privilege, wealth, environment, justice, equality, equity, gender, innovation, sustainability, monopoly, monopsony… just to name a few.

Chris Newsome of Sylvanaqua Farms (thanks Kathryn!) has some interesting perspectives and experiences that are stretching my thinking… watching the 2020 Chris gave to the NYFC now!

October 14, 2018

A post every 18 months is better than no post at all, right? All right!!

Life has taken a series of twists and turns, as should be expected. The last post – from Feb 2017 – is from prior to when we bought Prudent Produce and moved it out to our farm. Now that we have many aspects of that operation running fairly smoothly (always some kinks!), it’s on to the next part of the endeavor: converting our 50-acre field that has been conventionally farmed for generations to organic production.

We have lots and lots and lots of questions about what this will look like in practice… what mix of livestock, grains / row crops, vegetables, and ?? should be included? A derivative question: who do we trust to help us arrive at answers to all of these questions? As a recovering academic, I know how able people are to be convinced that they are absolutely right about something, but the accuracy of their knowledge and expertise are limited by their own experiences. There is a great value in what experts can contribute, but their contributions alone are not sufficient to transcend broken systems.

This is very much on my mind as we consider pursuing organic certification — a marketing tool that in many ways is being / has been co-opted by the big boys. With Prudent Produce, we rely heavily on organic certification to know that the produce we deliver to our customers is free of synthetic chemicals, and therefore want to support that which we rely upon. At the same time, we do not want to support a process that is losing its focus and intent.

Engaging with government agencies and state universities — both of which are home to much knowledge, experience, and bureaucracy are also great limited by the status quo, and due to reliance on government funding and industry support, are largely unable to innovate at the speed required to achieve the types of systematic change in our agricultural systems that I want to see in my lifetime. Yet these institutions are critical in the pursuit of systematic change. How to partner in a way that is beneficial for all?

Other innovative farms provide much inspiration – including many members of Practical Farmers of Iowa – and the mentorship, inspiration, and lessons from these colleagues and friends is critical to success.

February 8, 2017

2016 was an interesting year for us. We did not do our CSA – rather, we grew potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, sweet corn, and a few other things… in addition to keeping our laying flock going, raising a few pigs, and preparing a few dozen turkeys for Thanksgiving tables.

It was also a time for brainstorming. And we believe that the concept we are working on – which takes the best of our locally-grown food, together with Prudent Produce‘s convenience and access to organic foods – will be a win-win-win-win. Yes – 4 wins!! You win because you get to support a local farm and a local business while accessing great, healthy food at fair prices. The environment wins because we are focused on consciously-raised food. New Family Farm wins because we have access to a stable market for the foods we raise. And Prudent Produce wins by providing you the ability to choose each week what you want and then delivering it to your door.

Stay tuned as we work out the details of this emerging partnership!

August update

It’s the middle of Week 11 of our 16-week summer CSA season. Things have been going really well! There are a few pictures here on the website, and even more on our facebook page – check it out and give us a “like”.

This summer, we are packing 25 CSA shares each week. This year is largely about building capacity and laying the groundwork to grow (only partly a pun) in the years ahead. We know that to be a viable CSA farm, we’ll need to be around 100 members, with some variation depending upon how long our season is. Plus we want to help as many people as possible to connect with good, healthy, locally-grown food!

It is easy to become discouraged – thinking about many of the big issues that face small family farms today. Yet, when I think about how good it feels to share the story of what we want to do, all discouragement is replaced with determination to succeed. The joy that our customers have when sticking their teeth into a fresh tomato bursting with flavor, or sharing a perfectly-sweetened melon straight from the vine, or marveling at the color of eggs from chickens that have space to run around – this joy is what makes what we do worthwhile each day.

Thanks for your support – in all forms. The “likes” on facebook, the new email sign-ups for our newsletter, the words of encouragement, and the CSA member referrals – all of these things are important to us and help keep us going.

A quick reminder: we’re now signing people up for our fall CSA share. It will begin Sept 29, include 5 deliveries (every-other-week), and end the week leading up to Thanksgiving. This can be a great way to try out the CSA concept – and with the “Select Share” priced at $185, it’s only $18.50 per week.

Here’s a picture of last week’s share – just to get your mouth watering:


Mid-July update

Well, it’s been quite a challenge to keep things updated on the site during the season. Facebook tends to be a much better outlet for that – including frequent pictures from the farm. However, it is worth taking a moment to update here and provide a couple of quick reflections!

The summer share is off to a really great start. For all of the uncertainties that go along with any new venture, starting a CSA has got to be among the things with the most uncertainty. Weather, finding customers, weather, pests, delivery timing, crop timeliness, and did I mention weather? It has been a truly fun, challenging, exhausting, and enjoyable experience – especially when people rave about how great things taste and how good they look.

I’ve just put information on the website for a fall share. This will extend our season into October and November. Given the weirdness of the weather, this will surely be an interesting adventure, and one that we’d love to have you along for!

Here are few recent photos. First, the field as it looks in early July. I’ve tilled up the first spinach crop, and have seeded some turnips there. Beets and kale are doing well to the right. Eggplants, peppers, tomatoes are toward the left, with potatoes behind them and sweet corn in the background.



Here’s a picture of last week’s share (week 5 of the summer). On the right side you see a mix of carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, peas, and a garlic scape… the next picture was sent in by one of our members showing it cooked.




The stir-fry mix ready to eat:




And finally – a picture of a special “produce bowl” that was put together as a 4th of July gift (note the red, white and blue (purple) potatoes).


Where has March gone?

“March madness” is in full swing. I used to think that only meant basketball. Now I understand that it means both basketball and other things: like starting plants, building greenhouses, waiting for frost to leave the soil so that fence can be built, getting ready to plant potatoes, intended-for-winter tractor repairs that were put off a little too long… and probably quite a few other things. But with March going out like a lamb – despite Iowa State’s loss yesterday – and providing us with some wonderful weather, it’s easy to feel good about getting the season started.

When good weather happens and people work together, lots can be accomplished! We had nearly the whole crew working at various times to help put up a “small” greenhouse. I have to be careful with “small” because we’ve got one that’s 5′ x 6′ — really small! Today we added 10′ x 20′ — still on the small side for what we’re doing, but should be sufficient to get us through this year.

greenhouseconstI have to admit… it was a bit of a surprise that it went up today. Well, it wasn’t because I glued the PVC components together yesterday. But still – that it’s up and looks more or less like I’d thought it would look – well, it feels good. Another surprise today – there’s 100 baby chicks in the back room of the house. We’d been talking about getting more chickens around here for the last several weeks, but never really made plans for how many. Half of them are layers – which means we’ll definitely be able to offer eggs to CSA members as an add-on option for their share. More on that later, because I forgot to even take a picture…


Is CSA right for me?

As I’ve been talking more and more with people about New Family Farm and what we hope to do this year — and for many more years to come — one of the things I notice is that some people just are not right for the CSA model. So I’ve been doing some thinking about who IS right for the CSA model – what kinds of people will be great partners for us in this farming endeavor. Here are some of those thoughts.

  • You like to cook OR want to cook more. The real treat of having fresh, organic food is the flavor, color, texture and freshness. Taking the time to prepare and eat it (or save it for winter) – especially with family and friends – is important to you.
  • You are open to seasonal and local eating. Spring is different than summer is different than fall, and every year is different. We’re in the middle of Iowa – which is different than California. This has big implications for what can be grown (reasonably) in our locale. As the season progresses, one crop comes into being, while another fades away. Some crops just do better (or worse) depending on temperatures, rainfall, and natural insect and disease populations. Each year is different. The important thing to keep in mind is your willingness to eat what naturally does well according to the environment and time of the year.
  • You are open to new foods. You will undoubtedly receive vegetables that are unfamiliar to you. If you are open to this, to take the opportunity to ask other members how they prepare unfamiliar foods or discover new recipes, you will do fine.
  • You want more than food for your money. Although you may save 10-30% on average buying food through the CSA when compared to ‘similar food’ available at retail prices, our members receive additional value. Part of the share cost goes toward maintaining and improving biological diversity (prairie reconstruction, tree and shrub planting, building bird and bat houses, and so on). We expect you to expect us to leave this farm in better shape than we found it.
  • You want to be a part of and support a different kind of food system. The dominant food system today provides cheap calories, concentrates wealth in the hands of corporations, depends heavily on food traveling many food-miles, and emphasizes low-cost and high profits over environmental and social well-being. We want to to be part of changing that, and by supporting us, you show that you want to change it, too. We’re tiny in the big scheme of things, but we believe that many small actions repeated by many people can lead to big change: healthier, happy families and communities.
  • Local is important to you. While population demographics are shifting in Iowa, small town values are not changing, and you want to support local businesses and the relationships that come from knowing the people around you. This extends to doing business with people you know and trust – your banker, insurance agent, grocer, doctor, vet, heating and cooling repairman, and farmer.

Thanks to Small Potatoes Farm for inspiring many items on this list!


Reasons to be a member of New Family Farm

Sometimes I get so focused on the financial reasons to be a member of our farm that I forgot to talk about some of the many other reasons. To me – the financial reasons alone are enough: receiving a great product at below market rates while supporting local business.

  • The freshest, best produce you can get. We aim to harvest within 24 hours of delivery so that items are at peak maturity for flavor and quality. Unless you have a home garden, you can’t get it any fresher than this!
  • A diverse, healthy diet based on in-season produce. We raise over 40 different varieties of vegetables.
  • Our farm’s commitment to sustainable agriculture and community. I have a Ph.D. in sustainability, and want to use the farm to help “connect people with food” while helping people see the broader implications for the choices we make in our lives. I could go on and on – please ask me if you’d like to talk more about this.
  •  Iowa’s growing local food system. Iowa continues to grow its capacity to connect food grown by agricultural entrepreneurs with people who care about the food they eat and the community those systems support. Connecting people with food – through farm memberships, farmers markets, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), are among the leading models of Iowa’s local food system.

Check out our member options for 2014!

Des Moines pick-up site confirmed!

Today we confirmed that we’ll be using Mercy Home Medical Supply as a pick-up site this summer – located at 601 SW 9th Street in Des Moines. The day of the week and specific time are not yet confirmed (though the time will likely be somewhere between 3 and 6PM, in order that it is convenient for people to stop by on their way home from work).

We’re also working toward a pick-up site in Ankeny, and hope to confirm that over the next couple of weeks.

601SW9thGoogle street view of 601 SW 9th Street in Des Moines