“On-Farm: Conversations with Practical Farmers” is a new podcast from Practical Farmers of Iowa featuring members from around the state.
Each week, staff member Nick Ohde will interview a different Practical Farmers member about their farm. We’ll hear from new and experienced; young and old; small and large; horticulture, livestock and row-crop farmers. We’ll talk with farmers about the issues most relevant to the farming community: the nitty gritty of growing and raising all sorts of plants and animals; on-farm research; protecting and improving soil and water quality; farm profitability; the challenges facing beginning farmers; building community in rural areas; and of course, food.
Our first guest on the podcast is long-time Practical Farmers of Iowa member Jill Beebout. Jill owns and operates Blue Gate Farm near Chariton in south-central Iowa with her partner Sean Skeehan. They raise fruits and vegetables for a small CSA (community supported agriculture) and also sell their produce at the Downtown Des Moines Farmers’ Market. In addition, they produce free-range eggs, raw honey, alpaca fiber and handspun yarn. On this episode, Jill talks about her upcoming field day about two-wheeled tractors, the history of Blue Gate Farm, vegetable production, the roots of the Farm Crawl, being a female boss in farming, PFI’s Labor4Learning program and her alpacas.
On this episode, Jill talks about her upcoming field day about two-wheeled tractors (find out more about the field day here), the history of Blue Gate Farm, vegetable production, the roots of the Farm Crawl, being a female boss in farming, PFI’s Labor4Learning program, and her alpacas.
Conference Presentation: Lady Boss Panel
Deb Finch was our guest on this episode of On-Farm. Deb and her husband Eric farm near Marshalltown in east-central Iowa, where they raise meat goats. On the show, we discuss how she grew up around pigs, cattle and sheep, but happened into raising goats about 15 years ago. Now, she’s an expert in raising goats. Our conversation ranges on everything from feed to fencing to health to markets. We also discuss her upcoming field day, where attendees can take part in a FAMACHA training to monitor parasite loads through assessing goats’ eyelids.
Maggie McQuown and Steve Turman of Resilient Farms were our guests on the show this week. Maggie and Steve moved to the their farm near Red Oak in southwest Iowa where they “retired” about 5 years ago. Since then, they’ve been working to improve the resilience of the farm, which has been in Maggie’s family for more than a century. On the show, we talk about the different conservation practices they’re using to improve soil and water quality; working with farm operators on conservation efforts; farm transitions to future generations; and their newly built, ultra-efficient Passivhaus.
Maggie and Steve wrote a legacy letter published in the new book “The Future of Family Farms: Practical Farmers’ Legacy Letter Project” edited by Teresa Opheim. You can find that letter in Teresa’s blog From “Pleasant Prospects” to “Resilient Farms”: Maggie McQuown and Steve Turman on their farm legacy.
Phil Specht of Pearlmaker Holsteins was our guest this week on the show. Phil farms with his wife Sharon near MacGregor in northeast Iowa. He’s been running a grass-based, rotationally grazed dairy in the hills of Clayton County since the 1970s, and conservation has always been important to him. In 2013, his brother Dan passed away in a farm accident, and Dan’s friend Mary Damm purchased Dan’s farm. Since then, Phil and Mary have been conducting on-farm research on the links between pasture management, plant and soil diversity and grassland birds. On the show, we range from the practical to the esoteric – talking with Phil about the politics of conservation, grazing management, Facebook poetry, ways of knowing and much more.
On June 22, Phil Specht and Mary Damm will host a field day at Dan’s farm focused on grazing, grassland birds and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). You can RSVP for the field day, which will include dinner and camping for those interested, and learn more here.
Jon Yagla of The Millet Seed Farm in Iowa City was our guest this week on the show. Jon runs this urban farm with his partner Wren Almitra in the Longfellow Historic Neighborhood of Iowa City. The farm consists primarily of a series of vegetable beds in yards in the neighborhood making up about a fifth of an acre. On that ground, the farm produces food for a 20-person CSA. On the show, we talk about how Jon got started farming; how he manages to cram so many veggies in so little space; using yard waste, city compost and cover crops for fertility; no-till production; Practical Farmers’ Savings Incentive Program and his favorite type of family of veggies to grow, alliums (including the Egyptian walking onion).
On June 24, Jon and Wren will host a field day at their farm focused on urban vegetable production, reducing both living and production costs, no-till production, their CSA and much more. You can RSVP and learn more about their field day here.
This week on the show, On-Farm was on the road – I traveled to Frantzen Farm in northern Chickasaw County to talk to Tom Frantzen. He and his wife Irene run a diversified organic farm where they raise organic hogs, cattle, corn, soybeans, hay and small grains. They have been members of Practical Farmers of Iowa since the beginning, and some of our most enthusiastic supporters. In the interview, Tom says he and Irene can’t imagine a world without PFI. I think most PFI members would agree, and would also agree that the reverse is true: we can’t imagine a PFI without the Frantzens.
The Frantzens will be hosting a field day on their farm on June 29 from 2-5 p.m. and they will be talking about hybrid rye and hogs, and also about the perennial grain crop Kernza – developed by the Land Institute in Kansas – which Tom has a one acre test plot of on his farm. For more information, check out this news release on their field day or see this sneak peek video of Tom talking about the field day and showing his hybrid rye.
On this show, we talk a little about the history of PFI, the future of Frantzen Farm and farm transitions in general, but mainly about what is happening on the farm now. Tom says that giant ragweed has been a bigger problem on his organic farm than all the other weeds put together and has been searching for a solution for years. He thinks he has found one in hybrid rye, a recently developed variety of cereal rye, which yields better and is less susceptible to disease – particularly to ergot, which is a toxin when feeding the grain. One of the big issues with raising rye or other small grains is markets. Tom hopes to get around that by feeding the rye grain to his organic hogs – because the hybrid rye shouldn’t have issues with ergot toxins, and is currently conducting on-farm research on that subject. We also talk about the many additional benefits of the hybrid rye from soil to water to wildlife habitat.
This week on the show, Scott Ausborn stopped by the KHOI studios. Scott farms with his parents, Jack and Linda, where they raise corn, soybeans, hay and pasture as well as sheep and cattle. He also works for Blue River Hybrids, an organic seed company based in Ames, and he serves as board president for the Iowa Organic Association. Scott and his family are currently transitioning some of their farm to organic, and on the show we talk about that, from why they decided to transition to how the process works.
On July 11th, Scott and his parents will host a field day on their farm near Ida Grove in north central Iowa. The field day, a partnership between Practical Farmers of Iowa and Iowa Organic Association, will focus on transitioning a row crop farm to organic production. To RSVP or learn more information about the field day, check out the press release.
Have you ever wondered how they grow those giant veggies at the state fair? This week on the show, we have Marty Schnicker of Schnicker Specialities, who has your answers. Marty, who farms with his wife Mary near Mt. Pleasant in southeast Iowa, knows how to grow really big vegetables. He holds the Iowa State Record for heaviest watermelon grown, tipping the scales at 209 lbs. But watermelons aren’t the only thing – they grow big everythings from cabbage to cantaloupe.
On July 15, they’ll be hosting a field day on their farm, where they will lead a tour of their giant high tunnel, offer production and management tips and answer questions. On the show, we’ll find out how these giant vegetables are grown and how big, but maybe not state record big, vegetables sell well at the farmers’s market.
This week on the show, On-Farm was back on the road, this time stopping at Joia Food Farm near Charles City to talk to PFI Board Vice President Wendy Johnson. Wendy and her husband Johnny own and operate the farm, where they raise a little of everything, from chickens and turkeys to pigs and sheep to organic row crops, and diversity is a tenet of their farm operation. They not only have a diversity of crops and livestock, but they feed their animals diverse feeds.
On August 3rd, Wendy and Johnny will be hosting a field day on their farm focused on conservation – addressing both in-field issues like cover crops and “farmed potholes” (low lying wet areas) – and edge-of-field conservation practices, like grassed waterways and riparian buffers. With all of these topics, they we will discuss how farmers can find a balance between environmental and economic goals.
This week, On-Farm is back on the road and we visited the farm of Russ Wischover – Windswept Acres – right on the Missouri border in south west Iowa. Several years ago, Russ retired from his job as a herdsman at the University of Illinois’s swine research farm and bought a farm near Bedford. Since then, he’s converted the ground to multi-species perennial pasture and prairie for his St. Croix sheep, Murray Gray cattle and draft horses to graze. Although he’s spent a lifetime planning his farm and learning about animals, he’s always thinking about how what he’s learned starting this farm could be helpful to beginning farmers.
On the show we talk about that, and also about his August 21st field day focused on multi-species grazing, prairie and pasture establishment, fencing and watering systems, livestock breeds for grass-finishing cattle and sheep, and much, much more. Russ says that one of the most important influences of his life has been hearing Fred Provenza talk – you can find all kinds of material from a three-day workshop Dr. Provenza led last year that PFI hosted on our livestock page.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
You can subscribe to “On-Farm” on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play Music or check out this page for a new episode each week. A special thanks to KHOI Radio in Ames for allowing us to record the podcast in their studios and to PFI member and fantastic blues musician Matt Woods for recording the soundtrack.