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“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.
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.”
The success of their farm, according to Darla and Michael, comes from four key components. “We’re a mom and pop organization. We do all the work ourselves,” Michael said, and this is certainly true in regards to their keys to success.
The first of these, the deer fence, works in conjunction with Hershey, the Eetens’ dog. While the fence protects their garden from larger animals, Hershey guards against smaller intruders.
The second, irrigation, is maintained through a water tower and drip tape. “Michael put up this water tower, and we have a whole system of drip irrigation,” Darla said. The tower provides water for all of the crops grown on the farm other than the flowers, and when excess runs off, there’s a tub below the tower for Hershey’s enjoyment.
The third component is the hoop houses. Crop production is cycled between the Eetens’ two hoop houses annually. “Onions and tomatoes are big money makers for this house – and next year, for the other one,” said Darla while showing their hoop house system.
The final component of the Eetens’ success is their walk-in cooler. Built in their garage, Michael refers to the cooler as “a lifesaver.” The cooler allows the Eetens to keep their produce fresh while waiting for market and helps facilitate their CSA; customers can stop by to pick up their boxes and know exactly where to find them.
Beyond these four components, the Eetens also raise a few pigs, chickens, a variety of vegetable crops, cut flowers and produce maple syrup. “[Pigs] were the best thing to fix my brome problem,” Michael said. The Eetens’ American Guinea Hogs were selected due to their breed’s propensity for digging up the entire plant body of weeds, from leaf to root.
The chickens, like the hogs, are also weed control. “The chickens clean up the weed seed for us,” Michael explained. Housed within the garden, the flock also helps minimize the labor required for removing cover crop by simply eating the seed before it roots.
Along with the chickens and hogs, the Eetens also host bee hives for a local apiarist, though they face the challenge of figuring out how to winter the hive. The Eetens benefit from the bees’ pollination services, and enjoy the humming of the bees in the buckwheat and among the sunflowers.
Beyond tomatoes and onions, the Eetens produce a wide variety of crops such as sweet corn, strawberries, raspberries, cabbage, and melons. “This is the worst soil in Clay County,” declared Michael, but the Eetens have found ways of making it productive. The sandiness, for instance, is beneficial for growing melons, and the greenhouses help permit production of crops that would struggle in the open, windy garden.
Darla is responsible for the maple syrup production on the farm, though she credits inspiration to her son Klaus; as a child, he asked her if they could make maple syrup and as a teen, he encouraged her to try again. Now, Darla taps approximately twelve silver maple trees every year to produce syrup to sell at farmer’s markets. The maples are split between the Eetens’ farm and some a neighbor lets her use. “It’s something I can do in the off-season,” Darla said.
The syrup, she explained, may appear light and golden in color or very dark depending on the time of the season. The earlier it is, the lighter it will appear, and this corresponds to a lighter flavor. As the syrup darkens later in the season, the flavor becomes richer and stronger. Each tree produces “anywhere from five gallons to forty gallons – or more” of sap, though five gallons boils down to approximately one pint of syrup.
The field day concluded with a light lunch and question and answer session.