Liz Kolbe joined Practical Farmers of Iowa staff in the summer of 2013. Liz works primarily in horticulture, focusing on cooperators' program research, pesticide drift issues, and field day and event planning.
A native of Grinnell, IA, Liz received her B.A. in Environmental Science at The Colorado College, focusing on renewable energy in the West and the impacts of ethanol production. Following graduation she worked as the Program Coordinator for the State of the Rockies Project, eventually shifting her academic focus to agriculture and landscape. Liz moved eastward for graduate school, earning her M.S. in Environmental Science with a specialization in Agroecosystem Science at The Ohio State University. While at OSU and based at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster, OH, Liz worked with the Agroecosystems Management Program and was a “super-volunteer” at Local Roots Market.
In addition to exploring farm and food scenes around the country, Liz enjoys playing sports, scouring garage sales, and reading short stories on the front porch. She also serves on the board of directors for Wheatsfield Coop.
The Farm-to-School Program at the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, in partnership with USDA-AMS, routinely publishes data from farm-to-school purchases of fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat in Iowa. The latest report is available here.
The data, gathered from schools, includes products procured from growers and producers in the state of Iowa and within 30 miles of the border. By item, the data include: total volume purchased, price range from all purchases, weighted average price/unit, and the weighted average price/unit from the prior year.
Below is a snapshot image of the latest report. Additional resources about farm-to-school for school administrators, farmers, and value-added producers are available at the Farm-to-School Program website and the Iowa Department of Education website.
The last day of May was hot and sunny for Grade A Garden’s first PFI field day, but a delicious lunch in the shade and the openness of the hosts kept the 50 attendees energized and engaged throughout the day. Jordan Clasen and Whitney Brewer discussed vegetable crop production, use of the layers as fertility in their field rotation, garlic production, and after a break for lunch, showed how they set up their farmers market booth and shared tips on marketing. Photos, quotes, and a summary of the field day are provided, below.
Jordan Clasen began growing garlic in 2010, at the urging of long-time farmers Larry Cleverly and John Whitson. By 2012 he quit his job and planted almost 20,000 garlic plants. In 2013 the farm started a vegetable CSA, added chickens, and increased the garlic field to 25,000 plants. Now with Whitney Brewer on the farm, the pair have 60,000 garlic plants, several acres of diversified produce and 285 laying hens. They maintain a 120-member CSA, and sell at the Des Moines Downtown farmers market and a few restaurants. “We’re at a scale that small enough that we can manage it without going crazy.”
Jordan and Whitney installed a high tunnel in December 2017, which they purchased through a kickstarter campaign. They love it, they only thing they would change is to get a bigger one. Jordan got the low tunnels, from Johnny’s, early on in the farm. Right now they are still picking some greens out of them, but next week will rip them out and re-plant. Are the low tunnels worth it? Jordan says, “Heavens, yes. They cost about $1,000 bucks of materials, but they come with the bender and directions from Johnny’s. We plant in there early and harvest a lot of lettuce out of there. Occasionally you fight the wind, which can blow the plastic off, and it’s frustrating but you deal with it.”
“What is entrusted to us, we should care for.”
This stewardship ethic seeped into each unit of Shane LaBrake’s 2-day tractor workshops. Being good stewards of the land, our bodies, our workers’ health, and yes, the machines themselves, he argued, builds an environment where fewer resources and time are needlessly wasted. He also reminded workshop attendees of Neil Young’s prophetic album title: “Rust Never Sleeps.”
The largest takeaway for the attendees at the workshop were:
1. Tractors are powerful tools – use them professionally. Use ROPS, wear a seat belt, tell someone where you are, wear protective equipment, follow safe operating practices.
2. RTFM – Read The “Freaking” Manual. There are over 240 makes of tractor and over 9,000 models; knowing yours is what matters.
3. Routine maintenance and daily pre- and post-use maintenance checks save time and money. (Shane provided a list of these checks, which he encourages farmers to keep visible on the tractor).
4. Each attendee felt more confident in their ability to continue learning how safety and effective operate and maintain a tractor. And they felt empowered by their new knowledge to be more discerning and confident when shopping for tractors and implements.
Workshop attendees learning about tire types and safety features on a New Holland TN65.
Carmen Black and Mark Quee raise sheep on their diversified vegetable farms. They were curious if grazing a cover crop prior to a fall crop, rather than simply terminating the cover crop by mowing and tillage, would have an impact on the yield of the next crop. For this trial each farmer measured the yield of a fall brassica crop following grazed and un-grazed cover crops. Said Black, “I’m interested in finding ways to incorporate my sheep into my vegetable operation more holistically, but also in compliance with food safety regulations. This trial will allow me to see if there’s any measurable difference right away.”
The full Practical Farmers’ Research Report is now available.
Farmers set up plots in a randomized, replicated pattern. During the spring, a cover crop of oats and peas was seeded to all plots. Farmers used moveable electric fence to exclude the sheep from control (cover-only) plots, while the treatment plots were grazed. Quee grazed sheep in the plots on May 30; Black grazed sheep in her plots on June 5. Biomass samples were taken from all plots by clipping aboveground foliage at ground-level (four 1-ft2 quadrats per plot), air-dried and weighed at the Practical Farmers of Iowa office. Biomass results are reported on a dry matter (DM) basis. Production practices, grazing, planting and harvest information for each farm is available in Table 1.
After termination of the spring cover crop by grazing or mowing and tilling, Black and Quee seeded fall brassica crops. The rows ran the length of the plots. Quee measured broccoli (cv. Gypsy) yield; Black measured Brussels sprouts (cv. Diablo) yield. Planting, management and harvest practices were consistent across treated (grazed) and control (un-grazed) plots. For broccoli, Quee counted, weighed and measured the width of heads in each plot. For Brussels sprouts, Black harvested entire stalks, then counted and measured sprouts, and graded sprouts based on USDA criteria for color and firmness, by plot.
Brussels sprout yield at Black were not statistically different in grazed and un-grazed plots; only color ranking was statistically different, with the grazed plots tending lighter green than un-grazed
plots. Average number of sprouts per plant was 76.6 in the grazed plots, and 64.9 sprouts/plant in the un-grazed plots. Sprouts in grazed plots, on average were slightly larger and more firm than in un-grazed plots, but the means were not statistically different. “Sometimes you imagine you see a difference in the treatment plots,” said Black. “Just looking at the plants I didn’t think there was a difference. And even though the means are not statistically different, 12 sprouts per plant is a big difference. It shows the importance of actually counting,” she said.
Quee had nice sized broccoli crowns, though the average weights were not statistically different by treatment. Crowns averaged 1.44 lb/crown and 1.35 lb/crown for the grazed and un-grazed plots, respectively. There was not a statistically significant difference between plant yield (lb/ft2) or crown yield (crown/ft2).
Black is interested in grazing more spring-seeded cover crops based on trial results; Quee plans to stay with his current system of grazing in fallow years and in the early spring and late fall.
Click here or on the image below to view the .pdf of the full research report.
After completing two years of cucumber enterprise budgets, Ann Franzenburg and Emma Johnson looked at their farms and decided: “Let’s do cherry tomatoes.” For this enterprise budget, both farmers did a careful accounting of the revenue, costs, and labor for their 2017 cherry tomato crops. The analysis of their data, and their comments on varieties, harvesting, and marketing, is available in a new Practical Farmers’ Research Report: Enterprise Budget for Cherry Tomatoes.
- Both farms had profitable cherry tomato crops, netting $1.31/lb at Franzenburg and $1.54/lb at Johnson
- Labor was the largest expense for both Franzenburg and Johnson, accounting for 62% and 68% of their total expenses, respectively.
- Harvesting and packing was the most time-consuming task on both farms, accounting for 74% of labor-hours at Franzenburg and 62% of labor-hours at Johnson.
Franzenburg and Johnson both plan to repeat the cherry tomato enterprise budget for 2018 to provide a two-year look at the crop’s production and profitability.
Click here, or on the image below to download the full report.
Following a 2016 tomato trial on Rebelski and Mountain Fresh Plus, three farms conducted replicated variety trials in their high tunnels on Big Beef, Rebelski, and Big Dena. Key findings are in the post below, and the full report is available here: Tomato in High Tunnel, Variety Trial.
How was the trial conducted?
Each farmer planted two tomato varieties inside a high tunnel in a randomized, paired trial. Farmer-researchers for this trial were: Tim Landgraf (One Step at a Time Gardens in Kanawha), Lee Matteson and Rose Schick (Lee’s Greens in Nevada), and Mark Quee (Scattergood Farm at Scattergood Friends School in West Branch). Spacing, mulch, trellis style, and planting date were determined by farm, and described in Table 2. Plants for the trial were started indoors and transplanted to the high tunnel (in-ground). Matteson and Schick planted into a heated high tunnel.
Figure 1 shows cumulative yields through the season at each farm. Bold lines represent the varietal average and lighter lines show the individual plot yields. Using repeated measures analysis, average yields for Big Beef were statistically higher during August at Landgraf and Quee, but by the end of the summer, there were no statistical differences in overall yield. At both farms, the earlier-maturing Big Beef showed higher yields early on, with Rebelski catching up toward the end of the season. Statistical analysis was not performed at Matteson/Schick, but total yield for both varieties (Big Beef and Big Dena) at the end of harvest were within two pounds of one another. Similar to the pattern at Landgraf and Quee, Big Beef got off to a faster start, and fruit production from Big Dena eventually caught up in September.
For more details on this trial, read the full report: Tomato in High Tunnel, Variety Trial. This project was supported by the USDA Risk Management Agency and the Ceres Foundation.
Color and fashion were the first topics of the day at Fred Howell’s field day. Surprising? Not if you want flowers to be a successful part of your business. “New color trends starts in home fashion magazines… it the color is accepted there, then it goes into women’s fashion, which is fairly disposable. Then it starts creeping into your home – on the wastebasket, the napkin holder, the tissue box… it’s full-circle when it’s in an automobile. That’s where a color ends.” Fred has seen many colors cycle through, in addition to varieties of flowers, ornamental grasses, and berries.
Unfortunately, Fred is finding that dried flowers themselves are a little out of vogue right now with modern designs, and increased shipping costs are also a factor in limited sales. But adapting the business to stay relevant is nothing new to Fred and his family. In 1963 the Howells began growing Christmas trees as a college fund for their seven kids, including Fred. The Christmas tree business saved their farm in the farm crisis of the 1980s, and they’ve continued to diversify. While Fred’s brother runs the tree farm, Fred and his wife, Cindy, have a diverse agritourism farm that includes a floral greenhouse, dried flowers, gift barn, pumpkin patch, corn maze, and an ever-growing list of Fred’s inventions for family fun. Three of their children – Jennifer, Josh and Erin – work with them.
Let’s start with the last thing first – everyone who attended the field day got to make and take home a mushroom production block. Field day host Tyson Allchin is so energized to get others growing mushrooms that he donated all the blocks, not blinking when 70+ people showed up. Mushroom production – especially indoor production – happens in relatively small spaces. The large group patiently took turns looking at the grow room, the batch mixer where Tyson prepares his substrate, and the inoculation room where they prepared their blocks in groups of 12.
Indoor oyster mushrooms are extremely productive. The biological efficiency (lb produced per lb of dry substrate) is typically at least 100%. Oyster mushrooms retail for ~$7-13/lb, depending on the market. For the low input cost of the substrate, growers can make an excellent profit. If you missed the field day, check out the photos below, listen to Tyson Allchin on PFI’s On-Farm podcast, and if you want to grow mushrooms, get in touch with Tyson. He affordably sells inoculated blocks, making it easy for growers to add mushroom production to their other enterprises.
Darrell Duncan, below, took home a block of Lion’s Mane.
Tyson first demonstrated outdoor production with wood chips in a trench. He used a small tiller to make a trench about 3-4 inches deep. He filled the trench with soaked hardwood chips. In the photo below you can see the tiller, and the wood chips soaking in the wagon behind the four-wheeler. Continue reading
On a sweltering afternoon in mid-July, Marty and Mary Schnicker invited PFI and the public to their farm for a tour of their “giant” produce they grow for competition, and the regular produce they grow for farmers market. Attendees braved the heat in the high tunnel to see the impressive pumpkin plants, and were repeatedly amazed by the gargantuan pumkins, melons, cabbage, kohlrabi and onions. Growing giant produce takes a lot of planning, space, and time. With few plants and few very large fruits, mistakes and bad weather can be devastating. “We only have one shot during the year; if anything goes wrong, it’s time to think about next year.” says Marty Schnicker. At competition there can be a good prize, but the work is mostly a labor of love – Marty does have a full-time job off the farm, and spends his evenings working with the plants.
Like many PFI members, Marty and Mary view their farm as a great place to raise their six children, providing endless opportunities for inquiry, experimentation, and self-reliance. Those opportunities exist for Marty, too. “I’m learning. I’m still learning. I’m going to learn every year.”
Pumpkins and the High Tunnel
Plants are started the last week of March to be ready for the State Fair. To have the high tunnel ready early enough, Marty raises a mustard cover crop in the fall, mows in down, wets the soil and lays plastic over it. “If you don’t put the plastic down, it will be like a desert in there in March, and even if you try to wet it the water will just sit on top of the soil. When I’m ready to grow I pull the plastic back and start planting for farmers market. But where the [giant] plant is going to go, I lay a soil cable in that warms the soil to 78-82 degrees, only for that plant. We put a hoop inside the hoophouse, sometimes with a little heat lamp on a timer. The little hoop comes off during the last week of April or first week of May.” Continue reading
The Millet Seed Farm is located in Iowa City, on six plots that total about 1/5 of an acre. Jon runs a 30-week, 20-member CSA, most of whom live in the neighborhood. “The mission of Millet Seed Farm is to grow healthy food for ourselves and our local community using sustainable farming practices, and to provide a model for small-scale farms to pop up in cities that are primarily human powered,” says Jon.
“I had been saving money to buy land just outside of Iowa City, and it just became clear after awhile that it would hard to find people – including myself – that wanted to commit to that type of investment. We were also struggling with the zoning issues. I was already gardening the corner lot by my parents when this house came up for sale. We decided to get the house, even if only temporary, and used some of the money saved for farmland as a down-payment. Since then Wren and I have been developing the gardens in the front and backyards. Early on we grew only food for ourselves. In 2012 I took a break from farming at Echollective Farm to work on homesteading skills, especially building.”
Farm Financials and Budgeting
“Our goal on our farm is that the farm allows me to earn a modest income so I don’t need to get an off-farm job.”
Keys that make our farm possible:
1. Low living expenses
2. Low farm expenses
3. Available markets
4. Past farming experience growing food for a market Continue reading