Published Apr 22, 2010

Beginning Farmers

By Luke Gran

Yesterday I took time off work at Practical Farmers of Iowa to help beginning farmer (and my girlfriend) Sally Hertz on her 1.2 acre vegetable farm. I learned a few things and wanted to put those thoughts on the blog for the week.

Hort is Work
Small (1-2 acres) of vegetables is tough work (duh). It seems that if you can scale up to 10 acres or so you can get a bunch of time-saving and back-saving improvements to your farm. It takes good business planning and a leap of faith to get the loans necessary to fund it.

Existing Farms may have great Infrastructure
Sally used the farm’s old field disk to work up the corn stubble in the one acre garden. That took about 2 hours to get the whole thing looking really good. There is a manure spreader and a tractor with a bucket which Sally will use to load and distribute her 5 tons of compost. There is water, electricity, and buildings which are invaluable. Without these tools, it would be impossible to farm.

Manure is Major
Chad Steenhoek from Ames gave Sally 5 tons of compost (that he sells but gave her a free trial) to add humus, and biological activity to the soil. I had the privilege of shoveling the compost in four wheelbarrow loads onto her smaller fenced in garden where she will grow lettuces and other high-value veggies.

Farmers deserve MORE
It occurred to me, that all this work, all this thinking, planning, purchasing, maintenance, soil building, rotations, timely applications…they add up to create a product sold for a few dollars a bunch, per pound. The real costs of producing healthy, diverse food, and mitigating pest pressure are vastly larger than the sale price at the store/farmers market/restaurant which most people are willing to pay. We must find a way to help consumers/eaters see “behind the scenes” to help them decide – this farmer, I want her around to feed me, take care of my soil, and for us all to be healthy – I’m going to pay EXTRA, or I’m going to pay MORE than the grocery store price.

Just some Spring observations from the Next Generation Coordinator.