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On a beautiful late-summer morning in September, about 45 people made their way to Wendy Johnson’s farm near Charles City, Iowa to hear about her experience returning to the family farm and trying new enterprises and production practices. After leaving the farm to study clothing design and pursue a career on the west coast (with a couple years in Brazil sandwiched in between her years in California), Wendy decided five years ago to come back to Iowa and follow her agricultural roots with her husband Johnny Rafkin.
Wendy’s been working full-time for her father Erwin since their return, and has also been experimenting with a variety of enterprises on their own. They currently rent 27 acres from Erwin, trying poultry, pigs, and sheep, sharing their experiences with each of these enterprises throughout the day.
Wendy started the day by talking about the 27 acres they currently have, which is in organic transition and set to be finished with the three year process this coming June. In order to qualify for financial assistance through the NRCS-run Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Wendy was required to produce a Conservation Activity Plan (CAP) that outlines the specific resource needs for her operation to go organic. Wendy hired Joe Lally to help produce the enormous document (it cost about $2,000 to produce, covered by EQIP funds), who was on hand to discuss the process. Joe has written plans in nine different states, and is currently the only technical service provider in Iowa to work on organic transition plans. Wendy hopes to acquire and transition another 80 acres within the next 5 years and intends to feed their livestock much of what they grow on-farm.
The livestock on the farm are not a part of her organic transition plan, but she is pursuing other niche markets for them. Her poultry and swine are fed non-GMO grain, with eventual plans to be corn and soy-free, while her sheep are 100% grass-fed.
Before setting out on the farm tour, Wendy prefaced: “I am no expert in any of these things. I’m a beginning farmer and I’m always learning,” adding “but I think I’ll always be learning!” She gave credit to her parents, saying she has the opportunity to try these new enterprises because of them. She also gave credit to the Practical Farmers of Iowa community, which she’s drawn a lot from. Her farming mentors, Tom and Irene Frantzen as well as Margaret Smith and Doug Alert, were all in attendance and offered their insight throughout the day.
As the name of this field day indicates (“Trying New Things”), Wendy and Johnny are trying a lot of new things this year. Wendy is looking forward to the end of the year when she can sit down and evaluate the various enterprises to decide what they continue with in the future. You can read updates from Wendy on her farming experiences here: http://www.thefarmagain.com/