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Field Day Recap: Production to Market at Pheasant Run Farm

It was a hot September day at Pheasant Run Farm, but that did not deter folks who came to the farm for a variety of reasons. Some were farmers themselves seeking knowledge on how to improve their own systems; some were beginning farmers seeking ideas for profitable enterprises; some were neighbors and friends seeking community; some were students seeking an introduction to sustainable agriculture; and one attendee simply said, “I am here to have fun!”

Eric and Ann Franzenburg have been farming since 1994. Over the last 10 years, they have added enterprises to create a more diverse farming system and have been farmer-leaders at Practical Farmers of Iowa by generously sharing what they have learned along the way. Recently, their son Calvin joined the farm full-time to run their cut flower business. All are quick to give credit to their mentors along the way, including Calvin who credits his mom and dad for passing along their expertise to the next generation.

This particular day focused on two of the enterprises at Pheasant Run Farm: cut flowers and produce.  Eric, Ann and Calvin all shared their triumphs and lessons learned as they continue to make adjustments. For example, Eric shared a desire to add more blueberries, but was careful to show the delicate balance that must be considered, “One thing at a time. We have a lot going on right now, enough moving parts.”

Eric shares lessons learned with his blueberry enterprise. He explains that irrigation is key.

Because growing the flowers and fruits and veggies is only part of the equation, this field day also highlighted tips for marketing from several of their local buyers. Teresa Hermsen, a florist from Timber Gate Gardens in Belle Plaine and Mike Krough a produce buyer from New Pioneer Food Co-op both shared tips for local growers on how best to market their products.

Eric gave an overview of their enterprises including medicinal herbs, which they sell to wholesalers in North Carolina, Oregon and California. They have eight greenhouses and one high tunnel and have incorporated low tunnels with hydronic tubes filled with warm water to help heat the soil allowing them to plant earlier in the spring.

Eric shows an example of the low tunnel system they use to help warm the soil the early spring months.

At Pheasant Run Farm, they grow many of their products in high tunnels to extend the growing season and to improve their quantity and quality of produce. Eric says, “We avoid growing as much as we can outside. For the grocery stores we supply, we want to have a reliable product every week.” Growing in a high tunnel gives added security for consistent growing conditions and products. Markets for their fruits and vegetables includes New Pioneer Food Co-op, Wholefoods, and local farmers markets.

Ann shared her experience with growing cut flowers in the greenhouse. Flowers she likes to grow include: lisianthus, specialty snapdragons, lilies and dahlias. Ann’s advice, “If you want to sell crops locally you need to grow and market crops that don’t ship well.”  Since it is hard to compete with wholesalers, you have to find flowers that you can provide that they don’t. Markets for their cut flowers include farmers markets, local florists, and special events (weddings/funerals).

Attendees look and listen as Ann shares tips on growing dahlias.

Calvin discussed some of the cut flowers they grow outdoors such as: cosmos, zinnias, gomphrena, celosia and amaranthus. He shared that in order to be successful in marketing to local florists, you have to show them your product, “You have to go in there, shake their hand and show them what you have.” He also advised not to get discouraged, “They don’t buy much at first, so I will give them something for free. We are having some success with that this year.”

Both Ann and Calvin say that it is important to stay up on the trends. Know what colors and flowers are popular and communicate with the florist on trends they see coming to help with planning for next year.

Mike Krough from New Pioneer Food Co-op shared his expertise as well. He meets with local growers in the winter months to discuss what products are needed and at what volume. They work with approximately 30 growers each season from all over Iowa. His tip for growers is to know what the quality expectations are for each product you sell. What should it look like? How should it be bunched or packaged? He adds, “Be consistent with the quality of produce you offer from week to week.”

All discussed the importance of branding. At Pheasant Run Farm, the Franzenburgs work hard every day to provide a high quality product that consumers know they can trust whenever they see their label.