Suzi Howk

Finance and Benefits Manager

Suzi Howk is the Finance and Benefits Manager at Practical Farmers of Iowa. She joined PFI in 2007 as a part-time intern while attending Iowa State University. After graduating in 2008 with a Bachelors degree in Agricultural Business, Suzi joined PFI full-time as the Office Manager and Member Services Coordinator.
In her current position as Finance and Benefits Manager, Suzi handles the accounting and human resource functions of the organization.
Suzi grew up in Monona in northeast Iowa. She was raised in town, and her family had an acreage in the country where they raised livestock and vegetables for the local farmers market.  Suzi also enjoys spending time at her husband's family farm near Blakesburg, IA.  Away from the office, Suzi is active at her church. She also enjoys gardening, canning, learning about natural health remedies, reading, and crocheting.

Blog posts

Since the organization was founded, Practical Farmers of Iowa has had an unwavering commitment to farmers.  This commitment is seen in our focus on  networking, members setting our priorities, purchasing local food for our events, and paying farmers for participating!

Each time a farmer participates in a research trial, hosts a Field Day, participates in the Outreach Leaders training, mentors a Savings Incentive Program participant, presents at a Farminar, etc. they generally receive a payment from PFI.  We are very intentional about making sure that we pay our farmers for their time, and that is apparent in our budget.  In Fiscal Year 2013, PFI had $1.3 million dollars in expenses.  $139,797 or 10.5% of those expenses were paid directly to farmers in the form of payments.  And that amount dosen’t include the food that we purchased from members for events.  Wow!

I’m looking forward to another year and another chance to hear from you and support you as much as we can.

Happy Holidays, and Merry Farming!


Dan and Bonnie Beard and family hosted approximately 50 people on their farm on Saturday, July 16th.

The Beard family rotationally grazes their predominantly Jersey Dairy herd, a Red Devon Beef herd, and a half Katahdin sheep herd.

The beef herd grazes at a farm 16 miles from the home farm that recently came into the Beard’s management.  They are working on building a well, and fencing that property to make it handy for grazing cattle.  Currently they are watering the cattle in a stream, but Dan says that through Rotational Grazing and high management cattle can have access to streams without ruining them.

Also growing on that farm is approximately 40 acres in Sunflowers.  The Beards plan on using a cooperatively owned pressing machine to press the sunflowers and use the oil to power their tractor.  This is the first year trying Sunflowers, so check back to see how it has worked!

Tom, the Beard’s oldest son, is starting the family’s sheep herd as an additional operation.  He uses portable electric fence and a large water container on a hayrack and moves his sheep anywhere he wants them to go. Because of the flexibility of his fencing and watering system, this year Tom is grazing his sheep on a new neighbor’s pasture where normally nothing would have been able to graze because there is no permanent fencing.

For more permanent fencing, the Beards use Cedar posts with fiberglass posts in-between.  The cattle only require one strand worth of fencing, and therefore fencing costs are very low.  The Cedar posts they get from their farm, and the fiberglass posts are purchased very inexpensively from a local manufacturer where they are part of packaging received.

If you would like more information about this Field Day, or other upcoming Field Days, please call the PFI office at 515-232-5661.

Approximately 60 people spent Friday Afternoon at the farm of Robert and Luella Yoder outside Bloomfield, IA.  Robert and Luella have 159 acres near Drakesville where they raise broiler chickens, laying hens, beef cows, hogs, horses, dairy goats, and 7 children.  All of their different livestock species rotate through their 100 acres of pasture.

Robert markets his poultry to the Fairfield Farmers Market and a natural foods Co-op in Des Moines.  He is also interested in expanding his markets and says that he can produce as much as necessary but marketing is the biggest challenge.

The Yoders have experimented with 3 different pastured poultry pen designs, and are just starting to use a 4th type.  Robert says that they have not had any wind issues with a PVC pipe pen, but the Salatin Style pen (made popular by Joel Salatin http://managingwholes.com/poultry-pens.htm) works best for their farm.

Robert is also working towards selling beef, and increasing their beef herd in order to be able to direct market more types of livestock.

For more information about this field day, or for more information from Robert about his different pen design experiences, contact Suzi Bernhard at the PFI office at suzi@practicalfarmers.org or 515-232-5661.

When marketing their pastured poultry, many farmers make claims about their products.  These claims are anything from lower water percentage, to a higher Omega 3 level.

This year Practical Farmers of Iowa is working on a project to test out the reality of those claims!  Working with a lab at Iowa State University, we are testing 2 birds from 5 different PFI farms, and 2 birds purchased in the grocery store (in Ames).

Testing general nutrient profile, minerals, fat profile, and water percentage will give our farmers the data to be able to back up their claims!  We will not have enough data to make an authoritative statement, but we are hoping that the data will be significant enough to warrant further study.

Look for the report on our website in the next few months!

Pasture Raised layers

Does pasture change a bird's nutritional profile?

WARNING! This blog contains pictures that are not friendly to squemish stomachs. This field day included poultry slaughter, and we will show pictures of the process.

Approximately 35 people gathered on a rainy Friday to get a tour of Barney Bahrenfuse and Suzanne Castello’s farm near Grinnell. They raise cattle, sheep, hogs and chickens on their predominantly pasture based farm. Per month, they direct market 2 cows and 2 hogs. They also sell calves and sheep to the commodity market. Their hogs are marketed through Eden Farms, and all of their approximately 600 chickens per year are processed on farm and sold directly to consumers.
Our day started with standing in their shed for approximately 2 hours hearing about the farm, the farm’s goals, and how they got started with rotational grazing.
After the rain cleared up a bit, we ventured outside to see their grazing setup. This year they started moving cattle every day to a new paddock. In the pasture we saw a cattle move, and were able to see what a few paddocks looked like after the cattle have been off the area for a few days. They discussed the desire to have all of their animals in one herd but struggle between direct marketing, the commodity market, and genetics in two different herds. Barney and Suzanne also mention how they really enjoy multiple species grazing (cattle and sheep), and that makes it difficult to have only one animal group.
Their poultry operation is based on the pen style popularized by Joel Salatin. The pen is low to the ground and has sheet metal on 3 sides and wire on three sides. These “Chicken tractors” are moved daily or twice daily to fresh pasture and can hold approximately 50-75 birds in a 10×12 area.
Often the complaint with these pens is the weight and difficulty when moving them daily. Barney and Suzanne seem to have solved this problem. They have welded what looks like a dolly with a wide base, and a wire (with a piece of hose over it for easy handling) is attached to both sides of the pen. When they are ready to move the pen they put the dolly under the pen then go on the other side and lift/pull on the wire a bit at a time to move the pen forwards.
The birds are a Cornish Cross purchased as day old chicks from a local hatchery. On pasture and continuous feed the grow to slaughter weight in approximately 8 weeks. The chickens then are caught and moved into the barn where processing takes place.
As far as processing facilities, Barney and Suzanne have a clean building for evisceration, and then the killing, scalding and plucking take place in the barn.
Buckets are placed under the killing cone, next to the plucker, and by the head and feet removal place. These buckets are regularly emptied to keep the whole process cleaner.
To start the process, the chicken is put head first in a cone that is attached to the wall. The feet are clamped together (to prevent the bird kicking out of the cone) and the head is pulled out the open bottom of the cone. Pull the head down, find the general wind pipe area, then insert a sharp knife into the windpipe and cut quickly to the right. Barney and Suzanne generally kill 2 at a time and let them bleed out to make the rest of the processing more efficient. There are four cones attached to the wall of the barn, allowing for four birds to be in cones at one time.
After the birds are allowed to fully bleed out, they are moved in pairs of two on to the scalder. The scalder is water kept at exactly 150 degrees, and the birds are dunked and moved around (being held by their legs) for one minute. Barney and Suzanne have a water pot that has a flame and temperature regulator on it, run by a propane tank. The propane can be either turned up or down depending on temperature needs.
The birds then go into the plucker. Barney and Suzanne purchased this plucker with a group of other farmers. The model they use is a Featherman Pro from Featherman Equipment Company (http://www.featherman.net/). Both birds go into the plucker, a flip is switched and water turned on, and the birds are very clean after only 30 seconds. This piece of equipment makes a job that could very easily be not fun quite enjoyable. The last few tail feathers are removed with a pliers, then the bird is moved onto the next stage.
Next the head is moved. Barney noted that he got this idea from a friend. They have a small welded triangle piece of metal that is attached to the wall. You place the chicken’s head on the inside of the triangle, then pull up quickly and the head comes off and drops into the gut bucket below the triangle. Kinda neat!
The legs are then cut off. The chicken is placed on it’s back in a small tub. Then the leg joint gets bent back slightly and you make a few cuts at the top of the joint and further down until the leg is free. It is important to have a sharp knife at this stage.
The chicken is then moved into the clean room for evisceration. This room is kept clean with bleach solution, and all surfaces are stainless steel. There are also hoses hooked up near the sinks in this room to have immediate access to water for cleanup and sanitation.
The first step in evisceration is to remove a small gland above the tail. Cut horizontally at approximately the second row of tail feathers (when the bird is sitting on their stomach) then cut upwards until the small piece is cut out.
Next, the bird is flipped onto it’s back and a small cut is made by the neck. Work your fingers into the bird and loosed up the windpipe. The pipe feels like it has little ribs on it. This part takes some practice, but isn’t that complicated.
From there, cut right underneath the ribs near the anus, and make small cuts until a small ways above the anus. Reach your hand into the cavity made, and remove first off a small chunk of fat. Take out the gizzard, liver, and heart (Barney and Suzanne keep these to feed to dogs, etc.). At this stage also take out all other entrails and put them in the gut buckets.
Next put your hand inside the bird’s cavity, cup your hand and scoop right next to the ribs on both sides of the bird. You are attempting to remove the lungs from both sides. It is difficult to explain, but very obvious to see once they are removed.
From here you will want to double check that you have removed everything that could possibly look like guts on the inside of the chicken. Check along the backbone, along the ribs, and get everything out of the cavity. Then rinse the bird out with water and make sure it is all cleaned out.
The bird then goes into a vat with ice water and there it stays until the customer comes to buy it. Barney and Suzanne have their customers come out directly to the farm on processing day. The customer gets their birds and puts them in their own bags and coolers and takes their chicken home. Barney and Suzanne do no freezing, all of the birds that are sold are sold that day off the farm. The birds are sold at a certain price per pound .

It was a very wet day, but everyone was interesting in learning and those that wanted to slaughter got to learn hands on. What a great opportunity! If you have any questions or would like to learn hands on and didn’t get an opportunity to go to the field day, Barney and Suzanne often hire labor to help with their processing days. If you would like to get ahold of them please contact the PFI office (suzi@practicalfarmers.org, 515-232-5661 ask for Suzi) and we can pass on their contact info.

What a fun time! 25 kids from all across Iowa came to Scattergood Friends School for the 2010 PFI Camp from July 12-17th. We started with the Youth Leadership program doing teambuilding, leadership training, and of course learning about Scattergood’s farm. A highlight was the four YLP participants helping the farm staff trim sheep hooves. It was hot and sweaty work, but a really great challenge!

On Wednesday the rest of the kids came, and the party started! Alot of our time was spent out at the farm. Going through the gardens and sampling things as we went. Everyone got a chance to search out growing vegetables, harvesting, and of course eating the great stuff that we had picked earlier.
The kids also very much enjoyed moving cows and sheep to fresh pasture.
Also enjoyed by all were the pigs. There were small piglets running around in the paddocks. Who can resist piglets?
There was of course plenty of time spent at the farm pond. The sand beach made for great sand castles, and everyone enjoyed going out to the raft in the middle of the pond and jumping off. We were all glad that there was a place to cool off as the week was VERY hot!
As always there were plenty of field games, and everyone enjoyed playing them. This year the favorite seemed to be Capture the flag, and specifically sneaking through the grassy area on the outsides of the field in order to get their team’s flag across the line.
We also made homemade ice cream in ziploc baggies, throwing the bags back and forth. Very fun, but be careful for rock salt getting into itchy bug bites!
This year, again, Wheatsfield Co-op in Ames made a very generous donation to our camp program. They donated any food that we bought at their cost. Wow, THANK YOU Wheatsfield!
Make sure that your kids attend next year’s PFI Camp! We haven’t yet set the dates or figured out the theme, but no matter what it will be it will be lots of fun! See you next year!

Field day season has officially arrived! Saturday Sally and I (along with Amber from the Energy Group) took the trip over to northwest Iowa and visited the Wesselius’ farm. What a beautiful day! They are doing many neat things on their farm and they gave us a glimpse into what they do.

The Wesseliuses garden approximately 2 acres and market their produce through a small CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and farmers markets in Sioux Falls, Sioux City and Sioux Center. They also feed out a few Berkshire hogs and raise Cornish Cross chickens on pasture.

To start off the day, we were introduced to Amber from The Energy Group in Des Moines who did an energy audit on the farm’s walk-in coolers. She gave a presentation about what they did and how the Energy Group figured out how much insulation to add to the coolers and whether that investment would pay off in what period of time (If you are interested in this type of audit, contact your energy provider). She also brought along a thermography camera and showed the attendees places in the caulking and around the door where the cooler was leaking. She also talked about replacing seals, and other easy and inexpensive fixes that producers can do to increase their energy efficiency. Also, she briefly touched on rebate programs that MidAmerican Energy offers on energy saving steps people can take.

From there we went out to see their poultry operation. The Wesseliuses use a model called the Chicken Tractor, popularized by Joel Salatin. The chickens live in a pen that is moved twice daily to fresh pasture. At  approximately 7 weeks the chickens are processed and then sold at the 3 farmers markets that they vend at weekly.
On the farm they also have a few laying hens which also live in a moveable cage. The cage is moved once or twice daily to fresh pasture, and provide fresh eggs for the family.
We then chatted about their two and a half hoophouses. Two are already built and are being used, and a third hoophouse is being measured out and the beginning stages of construction are already started.

John had many thoughts about how to effectively use a hoophouse, but Janna’s #1 suggestion was to make sure that crop rotation is used. She also cautioned that there is only a few degrees of protection in a hoophouse, so make sure to grow cold hardy crops in them.
John and Janna also led us through their gardens, and there were many questions from those in attendance. I was quite impressed at how clean their fields were with so many different crops.

John prides himself in his earliness with potatoes to the market, and has about 1/2 an acre in different potato varieties! That is alot of storable starch!
As always, the field day provided many great opportunities for networking and learning from each other. We hope that you will be able to join PFI for a few field days during the summer! Check out our field day guide at https://www.practicalfarmers.org/events/field-days.html or give the office a call at 515-232-5661 and we will mail one out to you!

Yes, thats right! Its the time of the year to gear up for PFI Camp 2010! July 14-17th will be here sooner than you think. And don’t forget the Youth Leadership Program July 12-14th!
This year is going to be lots of fun. We will be at Scattergood Friends School near West Branch. They are a boarding school outside of Iowa City, and an active PFI member. They also have game fields, a great art room, lots of places to play and learn, and a farm with lots of opportunity to learn about vegetables, fruit, and all sorts of livestock.
PFI Members, be looking for a camp brochure with more information in your mailboxes by the end of April. If you are not a PFI member, and would like a brochure sent to you please email me at suzi@practicalfarmers.org or call the office at 515-232-5661.
Looking forward to fun times at another year of PFI Camp!

It is starting to get warmer! I don’t know if it actually did hit 50 degrees today, but it was supposed to! I’m starting to get fed up with all the snow on the ground, but I guess it is only the middle of March after all.

I, however, am not the only person getting antsy about warmer weather. Today the staff got into a discussion about the Iowa State Fair, and our favorite parts. Sally was talking about how the best part of the fair was looking at the vegetables, big pumpkins, heirloom tomatoes, and cabbages the size of people’s heads. I guess it is appropriate that she is the Horticulture programming person!

Renee was telling us all about when she was showing her pigs at the fair, and one hit her behind her legs and made her fall over, and Sarah was remarking about how watching the hogs being shown are so cute, because they go everywhere.

Aah, how fun.

The State Fair was something that I had never experienced until this year. Being from a far corner of the state, we never came down to Des Moines for this great Iowa Event. This year I was able to take part, and now I know I need to make a point to go more often! Great music, deep fried candy bars, blue ribbon livestock, lots of people and things to see, it’s pretty overwhelming!

I guess it is still a long ways off, but it’s coming soon! In Ames we are starting to see grass, and the ice is melting off the streets. The office is buzzing with field day planning, and thoughts of the 2010 growing season. Here we go!

Two of my friends (Peter & Katrina Goehring) recently were appointed to be missionaries in Cote d’Ivoire Africa, also known as the Ivory Coast. They are now traveling around the Midwest raising support, and sharing their story. This past Monday they were in Ames staying at my house. Originally we were to have a “Dessert party” with friends from town to hear about their story, but the weather made sure that wasn’t possible. Instead we ended up sitting around chatting and playing games. As is usual with me, our conversation turned to Agriculture.

I of course was curious about the type of agriculture that they have in the Ivory Coast, and what the questions and issues their farmers have. Based on what Peter was saying, a majority of the agriculture in the country is coffee and cocoa, with a small percentage of subsistence farmers. One large issue is that because of the nature of coffee plants, there are large fields of coffee and generally no crop rotation. Because of the lack of crop rotation, there are higher insect pressure and other problems.

I just got to thinking that agriculture in Iowa and Africa are quite different, but the questions seem to be the same. How do we use our farms to make money, yet include enough crop rotation and diversity to keep the landscape productive?

I don’t have any answers, i’m just attempting to inspire thought.
Ivory Coast, Africa

For more information on the program they are working with go to: http://www.myjourneycorps.com/page/what-is-journey-corps
For more information on Peter and Katrina and what they are up to go to: