Tomoko Ogawa

There is always something special about sharing a meal together. At Practical Farmer events, we consider food to be an important part of the broader conversations that happen during a meeting or event, whether it’s the annual conference, Cooperators’ Meeting or field days. This past fiscal year (October 1, 2013 to September 30, 2014), Practical Farmers spent $8,229.47 to purchase food from 40 PFI farms to serve at our events. Since I started to keep track of our food purchases a few years ago, we’ve been intentionally increasing the amount of money spent on food from our members, as well as a number of farms we purchase from (Last fiscal year, we spent $6095.61 on food from 39 farms).

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*Read more about John Whitson’s project with growing Dan’s blue-blond sweet corn in the fall issue of The Practical Farmer, which should be in your mailbox soon! 

Breeding corn for seed has become a fun pastime for me, maybe because the plants are big and results are apparent soon. However, it’s a pastime that requires either a totally closed environment for breeding or labor-intensive hand-pollination, to ensure that pollen from other corn breeds in an area doesn’t mix with the pollen of the corn you’re trying to develop. This year I planted, hand pollinated, harvested and saved seeds for Dan Specht’s blue blond sweet corn with the seeds that I received from Jack Knight in spring.

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“Going to a different butcher is like going to a different barber – you’ll end up with a haircut but it may look different.” –Ty Gustafson, owner of Story City Locker

Story City Locker, the host of the field day last month, has only been open for 11 months, but it has already connected well with many PFI farmers and constantly gaining more fans – farmers and friends of farmers alike. I can see how it’s starting to become “the butcher (locker)” to go to for many, just as Ty described.

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Around 40 people gathered together on a cold September morning for the “Breeding Conventional & Specialty Corn Hybrids for Iowa” field day in Luther.

Our field day hosts Alix and Mary Jane Paez started Genetic Enterprises International (GEI), a family business of developing non-GMO hybrid corns 23 years ago. GEI develops corn hybrids for temperate, subtropical and tropical zones.

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It was a hot and vibrant day packed with information at the Rolling Acres Farm field day on Sunday, Aug. 3. Close to 80 people gathered at the beautiful farm of Denise O’Brien and Larry Harris in Atlantic, Iowa – including nearly 35 cross-country climate campaigners who made an overnight stop at the farm for some relaxation (and an unexpected learning opportunity!) as part of their eight-month-long trek from California to Washington D.C.

Denise and Larry have owned and operated Rolling Acres Farm – a 17-acre farm with 5 acres in production – since 1976, growing food organically. Standing by the farm’s new movable high tunnel, guests were so eager to ask questions and learn that they didn’t even seem to notice the hot sun. Along with Denise and Larry, 2014 farm crew members Jordan Foster, Amber Mohr and Annie Glawe also spoke to the crowd and answered questions on topics ranging from pest control to soil amendments. Here are some of the topics covered during the field day:

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Among questions related to cover crops for vegetable production, we receive many inquiries about the best cover crop options for asparagus patch. I interviewed several PFI farmers who are currently using soybeans in their asparagus patch about their experiences.


Soybeans in asparagus patch at Grinnell Heritage Farm — August 2013

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More than 80 people gathered together on a beautiful July afternoon to learn about Lutheran Services of Iowa (LSI)’s Global Greens agricultural program in West Des Moines last week. The field day took place in Valley Community Center where the farm is located. The presentations by LSI staff members, Minah Yang (Farm Marketing Specialist) and Zac Couture (Farm Associate) included the photovoice video in which refugee farmers share their stories of moving to Iowa, as well as their connections to food and farming through photographs.

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My name is Tim Youngquist and I am an agricultural specialist with the STRIPS program at Iowa State University.  My function is to work closely with the landowners and help guide implementation of strips on each demonstration site.  I grew up on a century farm near Kiron that has been farmed by my family since 1871.  Growing up in rural Iowa has given me a deep-seated passion for preserving and restoring the natural beauty of my home state.  I have had extensive experience with conventional farming. From a young age I was taught to safely operate equipment and farm the land in a respectful way.


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The use of roller crimper as a cover crop termination method has been attracting increasing interests among those who are interested in conservation tillage practices. The demonstration of roller crimper in action was the center of the field day titled  “Roller Crimper and Strip Tillage Field Day” hosted by Iowa State University (ISU) Department of Horticulture  in Ames on June 5th.

Field day started with the presentation of the ongoing trial – pepper and broccoli production following rye cover crop terminated by roller crimper. Rye was drilled at 100 lbs/acre in September 2013 at ISU Horticulture Research Station. A month later in October 2013, they strip tilled the plot. In May 2014, rye was mowed and tilled in mow/till plots, and in June, rolled and crimped, followed by rototill, strip till, or no-till at each treatment plot respectively. They will transplant pepper and broccoli plants in June and the plots will be fertigated every 7 to 10 days from June to August.  Continue reading

Many ideas and knowledge are generated and exchanged among Practical Farmers members and beyond. They might be about production methods, conservation practices or new research projects. Or, as in this case, the knowledge shared might be a new open-pollinated sweet corn variety developed by a late member of Practical Farmers.

Dan Specht, a beloved farmer-leader who had been pioneering in innovative farming and conservation practices, died last July while moving hay bales. He had been developing open-pollinated blue and yellow sweet corn for the last 10 years and had been especially keen on selecting the corn for its beautiful colors. I remember him showing me his beautiful corn at the pork tasting field day at the Gilberts’ farm in Iowa Falls in summer 2012. He examined and explained the details of each color and shade of corn as if we were peering a fine piece of jewelry.

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