Liz Kolbe

Horticulture Coordinator

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.


Blog posts

Terry first learned to save seeds from her mother. Her mother would remove the seeds from the pulp, put the seeds in a glass with some water, and see if they sank. The ones that didn’t sink, she would pour off. The good seeds she would dry on a paper bag on top of the refrigerator. When Terry started farming, that’s how she saved seeds. But when Terry attended a seed-saving workshop with Nathan and Beth Korymb through the NSAS, she decided to save seed commercially. Beth and Nathan visited and inspected Terry’s farm, and they recommended her to High Mowing Mix, making it possible for Terry to get a contract.

Tom Stearns, the founder of High Mowing,  gave her some additional advice that she passed along. “You want to make money. It’s easy to not make money at this. Do the minimum for these tomato plants. Do not trellis these. Do not weed them.” Taking this advice, Terry’s seed tomatoes are the last seeds she starts and the last tomatoes she harvests. She does use paper mulch on them to keep the weeds down, and “herds” the plants into the bed to keep the edges tidy.

“I had the most confidence in saving tomato seeds,” Terry says. “High Mowing buys seed by the pound; certified organic heirloom seed is bought for $350/lb, if you have an 80% germination rate. Every 5% of additional germination rate, I get another $50/lb. If you get germination into the high 90s, that can be $450/lb. It’s emotional to throw seed away, but like my Mom did – let the floaters go – they don’t have the germ in them.  With the yield I had, I made three times more selling tomatoes retail than I did saving and selling the seed… but – saving and selling seed is a very laid-back thing.”

“The tomatoes have got to be very ripe. The seed does not pulp up and create a germ until it’s ripe. The seed pockets are all there in the bottom of the tomato flower, and you’ll learn what the seed pockets look like in different kinds of tomatoes when you start doing this. You’ll develop strategies for what’s the quickest way to get the  seeds out of the tomato. A 5-gallon bucket of ripe tomatoes will yield 2 oz. of seed; it takes 8 5-gallon buckets of tomatoes to save 1 lb of seed. It takes about 120 plants for 1 lb of seed.” Continue reading

“I don’t think I can farm next year unless it’s on my own land, and unless I have someone to farm with me.” After spending two years fighting weeds and a crop-eliminating flood on rented ground, this was the ultimatum Hannah Breckbill offered herself in the fall of 2016. Luckily she found both. In 2017 she created a cooperative farm business with her cousin, Emily Fagan (their grandmas are sisters), and purchased ground from an LLC that had pooled their money to protect a 40-acre parcel of land in the rolling hills near Decorah. At their field day on June 21, 2018, Hannah and Emily showed attendees their farm and discussed their business structure, financial arrangements, and enterprise budgets they are using to create a sustainable farm and business.

Hannah bought into the LLC, and is now an owner of some of the land and rents some of the pasture from the other owners (shares came in $5,500/acre, and the LLC did not speculate on the land – keeping rates for her consistent at $5,500/acre). Hannah obtained ownership of some of the acres outright, and she and Emily, along with support from the community, family and friends, have invested in a deer fence, well, greenhouse, moveable high tunnel, cooler, delivery van, and soon will have a new pole building to serve as a pack house and storage area. They shared the financials from their farm, including revenue, expenses (sources and uses) and profit for each year Hannah has been farming. “Even if your farm’s financial numbers are never going to be the same as mine, I think it’s useful for people to have some numbers in front of you,” said Hannah. “To start this farm, I liquidated my savings of $12,000 – there isn’t a lot of saving in entreprenuership. There are a lot of places to use money and use it well.”

The certified organic vegetables, sold through CSAs in Decorah and Rochester, wholesale accounts, and the Decorah and Cedar Rapids farmers markets, are the revenue for Humble Hands Harvest, and are Emily and Hannah’s full-time jobs for the season (they have other employment in the winter). In 2018, they each received Continue reading

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.”

Vegetable Production

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.”

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“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.

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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.

Johnson cherry tomato

Key Findings

  • Both farms had profitable cherry tomato crops, netting $1.31/lb at Franzenburg and $1.54/lb at Johnson
cherry tomato fig 1

  • 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.
cherry tomato fig 4


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.

cherry tomato cover



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.

grazing 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.


Sheep graze the treatment plot at Quee’s.

Quee incorporates the cover crop during the trial.

Quee incorporates the cover crop during the trial.

black brussels

Brussels sprouts being measured at Black’s.


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.

grazing fig 4

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).

grazing fig 5
Broc harvest 2017

Broccoli harvest at Quee’s.

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.

grazing cover

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.

For more information about this study and other fruit and vegetable studies as part of PFI’s Cooperators’ Program, contact Liz Kolbe at [email protected]

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.         

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(written by Elaina Conrad)

“I can’t remember a time in my life when gardening wasn’t part of my life,” said Darla Eeten of Good Eetens Produce Farms.

Darla and her husband Michael run the all natural produce farm on 12 acres outside Everly. They aim to sustainably produce vegetables, fruit and cut flowers with little to no mechanization and no chemicals. On September 14th, they hosted a field day on their farm sharing some of what they’ve learned over the years.

Darla and Michael (center) with Darla’s daughter and son

Darla and Michael (center) with Darla’s daughter, Maria, and son, Klaus.

This farm, along with a secondary, smaller plot in Boyden, produces enough to support participation in farmer’s markets in Everly, Sheldon and Spencer as well as a small CSA during the summer. “The first year that we started, we had like two members – maybe three,” Darla said. “We had fourteen this year.” Continue reading