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

Toward our on-going effort to facilitate discussions about profitability of diversified fruit and vegetable farms, the Year 2 Report of the Whole Farm Financial Project is now available. Twelve farmers contributed their profit-loss statements and balance sheets to Practical Farmers of Iowa for this report, and work on the next edition of the report (FY2015 and 2016) is underway. Year 1 of the Whole Farm Financial Project is also available on the Practical Farmers website.

This report will be immediately useful to farmers with a few years of financial numbers of their own to compare. For beginning and aspiring farmers, this report can show them which ratios to begin tracking, and what level (and year-to-year variation) of revenue and costs may be reasonable to expect. At the end of the report, four participating farmers provide a more narrative evaluation of their financial numbers and the status of their farm.

Click here to see the full report


In 2015, Practical Farmers and Prairie Sky Farm hosted a workshop to build a Four Seasons Tools high tunnel. Two years later, Chris Deal, who attended the Prairie Sky high tunnel build workshop, was ready put up his own, and it was the right moment for a 2017 PFI build workshop! Much of the work was similar to the 2015 build, which we documented in a photo blog and video blog. In this workshop re-cap, I’ll highlight the differences between the two structures and the build process.

For the high tunnel build at Deal’s, the group was led by Jeff Mikesell, who installs FST high tunnels through a company called Ag Roofs. Thanks, Jeff!

Ground Posts

Chris’ site had a little slope to it, so he decided to run his high tunnel north-south to allow the slope to run the length of the tunnel. After he squared the site, the four corner posts were pounded in. We marked each post at the depth each needed to be pounded, and watched a post-level as we went. As done at Prairie Sky Farm, we used a skid loader to push the posts down, instead of a hammer. Be sure to use the ground post cap or you’ll ruin the ends! Once we had the corners in, we ran a string the length of the tunnel, tied to the ground posts at the bottom of the swage. By sinking each ground post to match the bottom of the swage to the string, we ensured the tunnel would run evenly down the slight grade.

We also used strings on each side of the ground post (top and bottom) to help keep the posts aligned. A tape measure was on the ground to ensure a post every 6 feet.

Across the tunnel (the 30 ft way) we used a string level at the bottom of the swage and adjusted the ground posts as needed (not pictured).


Building Bows

Because Chris had a 96 ft high tunnel, we used 2 stations to assemble the bows. The tunnel width is 30 ft, center-to-center on the bows. This means the outside-to-outside measure of the bows is 30′ 2 3/8″. We set up a rebar jig at 30′ 1 3/8″, which provides an inch of tension on the bow.

Use rebar to build a hoop jig.

Use rebar to build a hoop jig.

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You want a high tunnel. Maybe you already bought it. You thought you could put it up on your own. Then, like Jeremy (pictured below), you realize you had bit off more than you could chew. You thought, “It’d be great if I could talk to someone who’s done this…” or better yet, “I’d like get some hands-on experience building a tunnel before wrecking my own…” 

23 Hanson high tunnel 2015 (248) jeremey quigley

Lucky for you, it’s time for another PFI High Tunnel Build Workshop

ht build flyer

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Who are the decision-makers on your farm? How well do you communicate with them?

What is the biggest challenge you face on your farm? What is the root cause of that problem?

Is there an issue causing a “log jam” to your farm’s success?

How much profit are you planning to make on your farm? Is 40 percent net attainable? Why not?

Questions like these served as jumping off points for discussion during the two-day Advanced Financial Planning Workshop for fruit and vegetable farmers led by Cindy Dvergsten of Holistic Management International. The workshop left accounting and farm recordkeeping aside, instead focusing on giving farmers a holistic framework with which to evaluate farm decisions, form a financial plan to sustain their farm, and monitor the impact of their implementation over time.

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As fruit and vegetable farmers across the state embark on another growing season, they’ll again review their action plan for experiencing pesticide drift. Fruit and vegetable  farmers in our membership, along with livestock graziers and other specialty crop farmers have made it clear to us that pesticide drift is a serious financial and health risk to their farms. Practical Farmers of Iowa respects the individual farmer’s choice of growing practices, but we join these farmers in asking those of us who use pesticides to follow the label, communicate ahead of time with neighbors, and ask coop agronomists to be mindful of and communicative with sensitive crop growers in the area.

Please don’t let pesticides drift.



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Growing tomatoes in the high tunnel gives farmers an early jump on the tomato market, and can help protect the plants from some environmental stressors.  Two farmers (Tim Landgraf at One Step at a Time Gardens and Mark Quee at Scattergood Friends School) conducted replicated variety trials in high tunnels of two determinate tomato varieties, Mountain Fresh Plus and Rebelski.

“We have grown determinate tomatoes in our high tunnel for many years, and are always interested in finding a better fit as to quality and productivity,” said Landgraf. Quee, who regularly uses Rebelski for indoor production said, “I’m pretty happy with our indoor tomatoes, the seeds are expensive. Taking part in this trial might help me find a cheaper alternative or establish that the more expensive seeds are worth the added expense.”


Key Findings:

• Yield at both farms was lower than yields reported in other published high tunnel variety trials.
• Rebelski yield was higher at Landgraf’s, with 1.4 lb/plant difference.
• Rebelski yield was also higher at Quee’s, with 2.1 lb/plant difference.

For more detailed results and discussion, view or  download the full research report on the PFI website.


Report Cover

Practical Farmers of Iowa is pleased to bring Holistic Management International to Iowa for two-day workshop: Advanced Financial Planning for Fruit and Vegetable Farms. The workshop will be held February 10-11, 2017.


DESCRIPTION: This two-day, Holistic Management International (HMI) workshop will focus on whole farm financial planning for experienced fruit and vegetable farmers. This course provides key financial principles that help you learn how to work on your business, not just in your business. You will develop a financial plan and identify ways to implement and monitor that plan. You’ll learn the key economic analysis tools for improved financial decisions for both annual budgets and for long term investment. You will learn how to make financial decisions and plans toward the mission and values of your farm to create a sustainable business.

Cindy Dvergsten has been practicing Holistic Management since 1993 and teaching Holistic Management since 1995, reaching over 1,500 people. A life-long farmer, she has raised sheep, beef, poultry, and fruits and vegetables. She has a degree in Natural Resource Management and Soil Conservation from the University of WisconsinStevens Point. Cindy is based in the four corners region of Colorado, where she raises Navajo-Churro sheep.

This workshop will be held in conjunction with the PFI Beginning Farmer Retreat. The two groups will share meals and free time, but will have separate programming.

REGISTRATION REQUIRED: Register online, or call Lauren Zastrow at Practical Farmers of Iowa, (515) 232-5661 by Friday, Feb. 3. Workshop space is limited to 40 attendees.

COST: $50 for PFI Members; $110 for Non-Members

FOOD AND LODGING: All meals and overnight lodging are included in the registration fee.

QUESTIONS? Call the Practical Farmers office, (515) 232-5661

LOCATION: Ewalu Camp and Retreat Center 37776 Alpha Ave Strawberry Point, IA 52076 Camp Ewalu (main site) is three miles west of Strawberry Point on Highway 3. Take Alpha Avenue (a straight gravel road) south from Highway 3. It is one mile to the main entrance.


Way up in the corner of the state, and way, way up on the top of a hill, you’ll find Erik Sessions’ Patchwork Green Farm. On a soggy, September Sunday when parts of eastern Iowa were dealing with rising flood waters, sixty people sought higher ground by joining Erik and his wife, Sara Peterson, to see their new packing house, underground root cellar, and learn a few tricks for harvest efficiency.

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PFI joined the Tallgrass Prairie Center (TPC) and Luze Family Farm, near Dysart, for a field day focused on establishing and evaluating prairie strips on farms.  Randy Luze first encountered the Tallgrass Prairie Center in 2011. Randy had experience with cover crops and terraces, but knew more could be done on the farm for conservation. In 2013, when the Nutrient Reduction Strategy came out, Randy began thinking more seriously about what his farm could do. Said Randy, “It will take a number of different farming practices on each individual farm to reach our goals for nutrient reduction.”

Randy has conducted side-by-side trials of tillage/non-tillage, cover crops/non-cover crops in nine different combinations. “None of the data really surprised me,” he said. He lamented the loss of fence rows, which had acted as terraces, “now this section (640 acres) only has about six miles of fence.” Though Randy had read about Iowa State University’s STRIPS project, it was after he saw a presentation about the reduction in soil and nitrogen loss that he became interested in trying something similar. STRIPS research has shown that strategically placing 10% of farmland into prairie strips can reduce soil loss from surface runoff by 90% and nitrogen loss by 85%.   “I thought, I better go talk to those prairie people,” Randy reflected.

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A group of farmers and landowners gathered in Tripoli’s Bremer County Extension office to join PFI and the Xerces Society for a full day of pollinators and on-farm habitat. Sarah Foltz Jordan, a pollinator conservation specialist with Xerces, gave a presentation in the morning, discussing pollinator diversity, strategies for attracting different species, and examples of on-farm habitat installations Xerces has helped with. After lunch, the group visited two nearby farms that are implementing different strategies to support pollinator health. At Genuine Faux Farm, Rob and Tammy Faux showed their annual flower strips, re-established prairie, shrub corridors, and un-mowed clover areas, in addition to the fruit and vegetable crops. The group practiced a habitat assessment created by the Xerces Society to look for seasonal or structural gaps in the farm’s habitat. After Faux Farm, the group went to Steve Schmidt’s farm, where Justin Meissen from the Tallgrass Prairie Center joined the group to assess Steve’s CRP pollinator plantings that were seeded in December 2015.

Thanks to the attendees, farmer hosts, speakers, and Bremer County Extension for the use of their building!

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