The Practical Blog

Practical Farmers' blog is a place where staff share news, updates, photos, reflections and other musings on our work and members in a more informal setting.

Canfield family working

This week on the show, we have Earl Canfield of Dunkerton in northeast Iowa. Earl farms with his wife Jane and their four children. Their children represent the sixth generation of the Canfield family to be on the land since the mid-1860s, for which they received a Heritage Farm Award at the Iowa State Fair in 2016. The Canfields are making a transition from growing strictly corn and soybeans for commodity markets to growing and direct marketing a diverse mixture of value-added products, including whole grains, mixed feeds, produce and eggs.

On September 7th, they’ll be hosting a field day on their farm focused on all the things that it takes to grow and market oats and hay in Iowa. In addition, the Canfield Family has spent the last two years relearning how to grow small grains in Iowa. They have researched machinery, production strategies and varieties, in addition to seeking potential market streams. One opportunity is to direct-market small grains to small-scale livestock owners as either whole grains or as part of complete mixed feeds. We’ll talk about that and more on this week’s show.

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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.

Darrell Duncan, columbus junction, 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

How wonderful that the PFI Board has chosen Angela and John Tedesco to be the 2017 recipients of the Farmland Owner Award!

I admire the Tedescos because, as they thought about their farm legacy, they first decided on a clear goal: To keep their land “as a farm for someone to continue using it in a sustainable manner.”

An ambitious and admirable undertaking for any farmland owners; even more so for this couple who watched the unending urban sprawl around Granger swallow up farmland around them. In the end, they realized their goal of keeping their land a farm with a donation of 13 acres of farmland to Practical Farmers of Iowa in 2016.

“Because it’s right on Highway 17 in Granger, I knew if we sold the land to another farmer, eventually it could get sold for development prices,” Angela says. “It’s important to us that it remain a farm for someone to continue using it in a sustainable manner.” Continue reading

Throughout Practical Farmers’ 2017 field day season, we are spotlighting many of the PFI farmers who are graciously giving their time to share their knowledge at these events, as well as members who make the journey to attend them.

Watch and “Practical News,” our weekly email newsletter, for details and updates!

Teresa and Rodne Wendt
Members since 2012
Stanwood, IA

Teresa and Rodne own 120 acres of farmland near Stanwood, where they raise corn, soybeans and cover crops, primarily rye, as well as custom-grazed sheep – and they hope to add cattle within the next year.

“We’re replacing fences right now with the plan to get cattle of our own in 2018. We plan to start with feeders and then develop a breeding herd,” Teresa says. “We’ll do managed grazing and limited grain feeding on pasture, with an eye for the total system.”

Rodne farmed conventionally with his dad for many years, and Teresa grew up on a farm, but she says “this is my first foray into farming for myself. We married in 2013 and have two boys, ages 1 and 3.

“2016 was our first year farming together, and we are starting out with no-till and cover crops. Last year was our first year of covers and 2017 was the first time for no-till, so this is brand new.”

Planning a resilient farm

When they got married, Teresa says Rodney was not farming, “for reasons beyond his control. This meant I had several years to take him to field days and watch videos about soil health and biology before we did start farming together.”

One field day the Wendts attended was the PFI trip to North Dakota in 2015, where guests visited the farms of Gabe Brown and Jay Fuhrer. Teresa says she and Rodne “learned a lot” on that trip and they hope to implement a similar farming system based on extended rotations.

“We had lots of in-depth conversations about how we could implement the principles of soil health on our farm, so we had a great plan in place before we even started. We’re very interested in the Dave Brandt / Gabe Brown system of long-term rotations for weed suppression and to limit applied fertilizers.

“We intend to do a four-year rotation in a few years, with corn-beans-rye grain-pasture, and to rotationally graze the crop fields two out of those four years. All years would have cover crops, the last two with really diverse mixes for grazing.” Continue reading

Two styles of grass-fed beef short ribs.

Two styles of grass-fed beef short ribs.

If you haven’t gotten your Summer 2017 issue of the Practical Farmer, our quarterly newsletter, it should be arriving in the mail soon. In it, you’ll find a couple articles about food. One is authored by former PFI staffer and chef Tomoko Ogawa (it’s a fascinating update on her culinary adventures in Japan and Spain since leaving PFI 3 years ago). The other is an article I wrote “Cooking Adventurously to Support Local Food and Farmers” after talking to members Jamie Hostetler (cattle farmer), Jordan Clasen (veggie grower) and Bobby and Ty Gustafson (meat locker owners).

I wanted to know how friends of farmers could support farmers with their purchasing power. As a friend of farmer myself, what do farmers want me to eat? I get into some of their responses in my article, but a lot of it comes down to what’s good for the soil. The one caveat is that sometimes the vegetables and cuts of meat that farmers need to sell are ones that are a bit trickier to cook.

So I bought some grass-fed beef (helps support farmers who put more perennials on the landscape) and chose a cut of meat that usually just gets ground – beef short ribs (which I had never cooked before). Then, I chose a vegetable – fava beans – that Jordan told me is good for the soil due to its ability to fix nitrogen, and its root system. But, again, how do you cook a fava bean? You can read the results in my newsletter article, but I relied on my favorite food blog Serious Eats for guidance. I adapted these recipes to my own taste, and you can too.

Beef Short Ribs with Chimichurri (make sure you read the whole story on this here, it’s really interesting)

Fava Beans (I really just took the fava bean part of this recipe and added lots of slow cooked garlic, a little honey, a little soy sauce, a little salt, and a little red wine vinegar).

Support your local farmer and have some fun in the kitchen!

Chris Teachout (left)

Chris Teachout (left)

This week on the show, we had Chris Teachout, who farms near Shenandoah in southwest Iowa with his wife Janenne. Chris is a fifth-generation farmer, and he and his family have been using conservation practices on their farm since the mid-80s. He raises corn, soybeans and small grains, and has been using no-till practices for over 20 years. Ultimately, his goal is to regenerate his soil with cover crops and biology. On this show, we talk with Chris about how he got started with cover crops, what soil health is, and what he hopes people will learn at his field day.

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On August 29th, Chris will host a field day on his farm, where the soil scientist Jill Clapperton will speak about soil regeneration and soil health.  The event is free for members of Practical Farmers of Iowa – you can find more information and RSVP at this link.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Practical Farmers’ Cooperators’ Program. Since 1987, members have been conducting on-farm research to answer questions they have about their farming operations. It’s one of the ways we accomplish our mission: Strengthening farms and communities through farmer-led investigation and information sharing.

The Research Protocols forms outlining research projects for the 2017 season are now posted on our website. They are identified by program area (Livestock, Horticulture, Field Crops) and you can view them here:


These projects were designed by farmer-members and are currently being conducted on our members’ farms by the members themselves. The protocol forms are designed to give a snapshot of the methods and experimental designs our farmers are using to conduct research to answer their most challenging questions on their farms. Eventually, these projects are completed and documented in freely available research reports.

On-farm research through our Cooperators’ Program has long been a fundamental piece of the Practical Farmers of Iowa fabric: It is one of the primary ways members share their knowledge and experiences with one another. This year, topics range from rolling cover crops ahead of soybeans to feeding pelleted small grains to hogs to lettuce variety trials for summer production. The range of topics is a testament to our “big tent” and represents the ever-present curiosity that makes a Practical Farmer.

Dietzel Family

This week, On-Farm traveled to Lost Lake Farm, the farm of Kevin and Ranae Dietzel, to talk to Kevin while he made mozzarella cheese and cheese curds. Lost Lake Farm is a small, grass-fed cow dairy that produces artisanal cheese in an on-farm cheesery. The Dietzels operate the farm with low capital and a small herd. They focus on what they’re good at: grazing cattle and turning milk into a high-value product. Their cows are a mix of breeds, but are bred to Normande, a French breed known to produce milk for great cheese. The farm includes 80 acres of pasture and hay. Cattle are rotated through the pastures twice daily. On today’s show, we talk with Kevin about how they got started, the challenges of working long hours to make artisan cheese, how mozzarella is made, on-farm research, biodynamics, markets, and how the process of delicious cheese starts with healthy soil.

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On August 14th, the Dietzels will lead a tour of their cheesery and milking facilities, which were constructed in 2016. Kevin and Ranae will discuss the challenges of starting a new business – from desiging and building facilities, to navigating regulations, to developing marketing and growth strategies, to managing scarce time and resources. During a pasture walk, Kevin will discuss his cattle genetics and breeding philosophy. We’ll also learn about stocking density, pasture residue and rest periods, see the Dietzels’ water and fence set-up, and talk about nutritional management for a grass-fed system. Kevin and Ranae will also discuss how biodynamic production practices influence the flavor of their cheeses.

You can watch this short video for a sneak peak of the field day or check out this news release.

Craig Fleishman fields a question from beginning row crop farmer Sally Gran.

Craig Fleishman fields a question from beginning row crop farmer Sally Gran.

“You’ve heard the song ‘Stuck in the Middle with You,’ that’s basically what I am,” says Craig Fleishman of Minburn. He hosted a field day on June 28 on his farm, Cardinal Farm. “I’m halfway between organic and industrial ag,” he says, “What I’m trying to do here is reach a balance between steel and herbicide. I’m trying to borrow a little bit from both sides. With this climate and these soils, I find it’s the best for what I’m trying to do. There’s enough tillage in the system to battle against resistant weeds and reduce the herbicide usage but there’s enough herbicide, so when we have rainy periods in June, we still have weed control – it bridges that gap.”

Craig uses a ridge-tillage system, and has been using it since 1981 after he read Ernie Behn’s book “More Profit with Less Tillage” and visited with Ernie. For more information on ridge-till, check out the “Ridge-Till Roundtable” session from the 2017 PFI conference.

Continue reading

Tyson Allchin of Allchin Acres (photo courtesy of Muscatine Area Farmers Market)

Tyson Allchin of Allchin Acres (photo courtesy of Muscatine Area Farmers Market)

This week on the show, we have Tyson Allchin of Allchin Acres near Columbus Junction. Tyson has spent much of the last 10 years of his life learning everything he can about mushroom cultivation. He’s grown a variety of different species of mushrooms, from oysters – which he says are the easiest to cultivate – to shiitake, to lion’s mane and many others. He says that mushrooms are relatively easy to grow if you learn a few basic things, and we discuss all of it – from preparing a substrate, to inoculation, to harvest, to eating – on this week’s show.

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On August 8th, Tyson will be hosting a field day at his farm. In addition to touring his mushroom production building, he’ll show people where he grows microgreens and tour some of the land he rents to Chin refugees, who moved to Columbus Junction from their native country of Myanmar (also known as Burma).