In this issue
Value-added agriculture builds hope for rural Iowa
"Let's be blunt," said Wendy Wintersteen, director of Iowa State University Extension to Agriculture and Natural Resources, in a recent communication to staff. "We have a serious crisis in agriculture in this state. Commodity prices are low. Many farm families are showing the strain of financial losses and some are losing hope. I have hope in the ingenuity, resourcefulness and creativity of Iowa farmers. I see signs of hope."
Hope comes from people like Paul Tabor of Tabor Home Winery who returned to his home farm near Baldwin, started a winery and is exploring grape varieties to be successfully grown in his area. Hope also comes out of value-added ventures like free range hogs and consumer supported agriculture projects.
Paul Willis grew up raising hogs on open pasture and continues to raise hogs in the free range style. Six years ago, Willis met California rancher Bill Niman, who supplies meat to fine restaurants. Niman was interested in trying some of Willis' sustainably raised pork. This connection between Iowa free range pork and California fine restaurants has grown into Niman Ranch Pork Company of Iowa, which involves 36 hog producers selling specialty pork to fine restaurants in California, New York, Washington, D.C., and Wisconsin.
"Demand has increased; as it has, we have looked to Extension for producer contacts and help with quality control," said Willis. "There's room for more growth; Niman says this market will be huge."
Jan Libbey's four long rows of green beans supply vegetables for families in a three-county area near her rural Kanawha home. The beans, carrots, garlic and other vegetables are grown and pre-sold in early spring to shareholders of her "One Step at a Time" consumer supported agriculture (CSA) garden.
"We are about more than putting good, healthy food on people's tables," said Libbey. "CSAs are about building partnerships and an appreciation for one another as producers and consumers. Extension has helped us do that through field days, tours, supportive publications and winter conferences."
When Libbey and her husband, Tim Landgraf, bought their habitat-rich farm on the north shore of East Twin Lake, they asked themselves how they could sustain this rich area and at the same time have it help sustain them. They took a good long look at their resources. Evaluating resources -- land, buildings, personal skills, interests, knowledge, partnerships and contacts -- is a must, according to Willis and Libbey.
Around the state, ISU Extension staff and Extension 21 funding are providing personnel for feasibility studies for individuals and groups making that evaluation. Extension has also been able to bring producers, technology and markets together for people exploring ways to add value to their piece of agriculture and to remain on the farm.
"Rural Iowans need to know that there is a network of people out here, in rural Iowa, working to help them stay on the land," said Libbey.
Producers know that ISU Extension can provide information and specialists to help them as they venture into new agricultural arenas, but it is their fertile imaginations and dreams that will sustain livelihoods in Iowa.
"All of us can keep hope alive by focusing on solutions," said Wintersteen. "By using our creativity, thinking positively and believing in our ability to influence our future, we can make thoughtful choices in a constructive manner."
Learn more about ISU Extension, these niche producers and others in Iowa through the Internet:
Also contact any county extension office. ISU Extension
will listen, look for answers and respond to the needs of
Iowa producers who are exploring new marketing venues.