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

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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Since joining Practical Farmers of Iowa in 1999, Jan Libbey and Tim Landgraf have participated in 15 on-farm research trials. The importance of on-farm research for farm profitability was the center feature of their field day on August 14 in Kanahwa. Said Jan, “Partnerships we’ve found through PFI have a lot to do with the success we’ve found on this farm.” This year, Jan is participating in Year 2 of the Cucumber Enterprise Budget, while Tim is working on a variety trial of Determinate Tomatoes in the High Tunnel.

The Cooperators’ Program is a pillar of PFI’s mission. But for people who aren’t involved in the research, the process is somewhat invisible. Generally, here’s how it works: In December, growers interested in doing research (being part of the Cooperators’ Program) attend the Cooperators’ Meeting, which is held in Ames. Continue reading

Susan Jutz bought her farm, ZJ Farm, in the hills outside Solon on April Fools Day, 1994. She wanted to grow food for people, despite the skepticism of her neighbors. For the next 20 years, she proved them wrong, building a strong farm and community of workers, volunteers and CSA members who called Local Harvest CSA their farm. In 2016, Susan sold the farm and business to Carmen Black. Carmen grew up nearby, was friends with Susan’s children and had Susan as a 4-H leader. She worked on the farm during high school, and then again after moving back to Iowa after college and work with Food Corps.

A central discussion at each stop during the field day was the pest management routine for different crops. Carmen tries to walk the farm, alone and uninterrupted, once a week to scout for pest and disease issues. She also educates her workers about pests and talks with them about what they saw while working or harvesting. “It’s impossible for one person to see everything,” she said.  This handout summarizes Sundog Farm’s organic pest management practices.

Carmen and Susan led a field tour of various vegetable plots and high tunnels, answering questions and providing management and varietal tips – including best practices and things that didn’t work well.

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