Published Sep 6, 2013

Specialty Farm Collaboration in southeast Iowa

By Marc Strobbe

Morgan Hoenig is a beginning farmer in the Savings Incentive Program at Practical Farmers. The program combines work with a farm mentor, financial support, business planning, and exposure to the statewide PFI network. Go to or call 515.232.5661
to apply before October 4th.

Morgan has experienced a lot in the few years since she started Mogo Organic Farm just south of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. In her usual direct, chipper manner she covered many of the essential aspects of operating a small veggie farm. Production, management, marketing, farm infrastructure, and staying ahead of stress were highlighted. Her passion for bees, flowers and how to integrate them with production came up regularly.

The day started with a field tour. Highlights were two high-tunnels, a new drip irrigation system, and production beds. Each got an honest appraisal to explain what is being done and why. For example after last year’s drought, when she spent about 6 hours per day hauling water due to weak well performance, it was a “no-brainer” to put in the drip system. During this year’s drought she spends just a few minutes several times a day turning the lines on and off as needed.

Her decision to prevent weeds from impacting production was another example. Now her one paid employee is a dedicated weed fighter, working 4 hours each Monday and Tuesday on nothing but weeds.

Back at her newly renovated barn attendees saw her hand tools, on-farm retail area, and DIY walk-in cooler built for just $2000. The cooler uses an air conditioner governed by a CoolBot, painted plywood/insulation board sandwich walls, and a regular insulated exterior door.

As for marketing, Morgan and her partners thoroughly covered their first year’s experience of collaborating in GreenShare Organic CSA. The trio of Morgan, Laurie, and Lori gave a great in-depth review of what they did this year, how it worked, and what changes are likely next year. One takeaway is the need to thoroughly discuss and plan such an endeavor while being equally willing to change, adapt, and be flexible as the season throws its usual tricks in the mix. The diversity of personal skills and interests, farm production specifics, and marketing resources from three ladies made the experience a positive one.

An interesting tweak to the typical CSA structure is they pay themselves each week, based on what each farm contributed to the share. Before the season they determined a value for each crop and who would focus on it production. They banked ALL the money the CSA generated and track the value of each farm’s contribution every week. They all like the steady income the CSA generated with this method.

The final topic covered was specialty farm equipment sharing. Linda Naeve and Georgeanne Artz of Iowa State University discussed research underway across the state with collaborations like GreenShare CSA. The project is exploring the efficacy of multi-farm equipment sharing for specialty farms. These farms often struggle with the cost of going solo on their unique equipment needs, which then prevents them from scaling-up to meet market demand. The targeted output is a manual, like those common for row-crop and conventional farms, that can help farmers make these equipment decisions.

Afterward Morgan returned to the field to demonstrate what her, Laurie, and Lori chose to share. The multi-functional 3-point tool bar and undercutter from Woodward Crossing harvested a bed of beets despite the hard, dry soil.

…part two of this double-feature field day, “Dissecting the Specialty Farm Experience” from Harvestville Farm in Donnellson, is coming soon…