“I would be willing to bet that we are one of the only Iowa State University Extension offices in Iowa that is going to have a new hitching post,” said Clete Swackhamer, ISU Extension education director for Appanoose and Davis counties. The hitching post will serve one of ISU Extension’s new client groups — roughly 50 Amish and Mennonite families in the area.
“They’re trying to make a living with some of the same problems that everyone else faces. They are looking for ways to increase their earning potential while preserving their way of life,” Swackhamer said.
Helping solve modern problems using old world farming practices has been both demanding and refreshing, Swackhamer said. “When a greenhouse is heated with a wood burning heater, it poses a new set of challenges. You have to think about how the smoke is affecting the plants and the dryness of the wood that’s being burned.”
Amish and Mennonite farmers were running into horticultural problems with disease, pest management and marketing of their high value crops like vegetables, fruits and greenhouse plants.
Field staff saw the need for education and assistance, called campus and formed a team to help provide solutions and information to the Amish and Mennonite farmers living in this region and other regions in Iowa.
Extension’s one-on-one style of field visit proved highly effective with this segment of Iowa agricultural growers, said Mark Carlton, an ISU Extension crops field specialist. “With the growers’ limited access to modern communication technology, it was necessary to adapt our teaching methods and deliver a more ‘hands on’ approach.
“We took a tour of their fields and facilities, identified problems and offered suggestions. They found solutions that adapted modern technology to their Old Order style of living.”
Funded by a grant from the North Central Risk Management Education Center, the project team held field days for these growers in summer 2005 on farms in northeast, east-central and southeast Iowa. The field days were followed by two sets of workshops in each locality in November 2005. ISU Extension specialists provided advice on vegetable production, pest management, greenhouse environmental control, greenhouse crop management and pesticide safety. Attendance at the field days and workshops has averaged more than 25 participants per session.
The project team also has placed commercial horticulture reference books in nine ISU Extension county offices and three Amish/Mennonite produce auction sites.