Mentors for Beginning Farmers

Beginning farmers may be at early stages of their working life, mid-career, or retired from another occupation. Farm start ups may involve working into an established family farm or renting a few acres and raising high value crops for direct marketing. No matter the path to a farming business or the type of farm enterprises involved, good information and is important for the success of these new start-ups. And, relationships with established farmers can be key to enterprise planning and problem solving.

Value Added Agriculture Program staff at Iowa State University Extension have brought together a group of established farmers with value-added aspects of their farm businesses who are interested in the next generation of farmers. These folks are willing to mentor beginning or aspiring farmers by telephone or email.Any farm visits or further mentoring are at the discretion of the volunteer mentor and the beginning farmer.

Farms and farmers are grouped below by either the agricultural enterprise, farm type or marketing method. Names of volunteer mentors, their contact information, general location, some detail about the farm, and marketing methods employed are provided in the database below.

Fruit Crops

Larry and Pam Thomsen
Planeview Farm
515-386-2235
lthomsen@netins.net

Central Iowa

Marketing Methods
Direct to restaurants, pick-your-own, farmers' markets

Larry and Pam Thomsen have been growing raspberries since the mid 1980s. They expanded raspberry production to 2.5 acres in 2002. Sales are made primarily to white tablecloth restaurants, a local farmers’ market, and pick your own.The Thomsens are interested in expanding their acreage if they find an interested partner. They are willing to mentor beginning farmers on all aspects of developing a raspberry business.


Angela Tedesco
Turtle Farm
515-278-4522
atedesco@turtle-farm.com

Central Iowa

Marketing Methods
CSA subscriptions, direct sales from farm stand, U-pick direct, some wholesale to restaurants

Angela has raised organic strawberries since 1996. Market avenues for her berries include: a farm stand, U-pick strawberries, and occasional restaurant sales. She is willing to mentor on CSA and about strawberry production.

Information Link: Turtle Farm

 

Goats

Eric Finch
641-493-2203
edfinch@fbx.com

Central Iowa

Marketing Methods
Direct sales at the farm of live goats

Eric is the sow manager in their family swine operation, has a sheep flock, and in 2001, started a meat goat flock. He raises the goat kids for marketing directly to consumers on their farm.

Information link: Niche Opportunity Gets Iowa Farmer’s Goat – In a Good Way

Connie Lawrance, Kathy Larson, and Wendy Mickle Northern Prairie Chevre, LLC and Nubian Bubbies
515-438-4022
goatmom@netins.net

Central Iowa

Marketing Methods
Direct to consumers at farmers’ markets, wholesale to specialty food stores

Nubian Bubbies is a dairy goat business that sells milk to its sister company, Northern Prairie Chevre, that produces hand-crafted cheeses. Each business is operated independently of the other. Kathy Larson and Wendy Mickle are equal partners in the dairy goat business, while Connie Lawrance and Kathy share in the cheese making. Wendy also helps with the cheese marketing. Together these entrepreneurs have developed successful businesses.

Information link: Northern Prairie Chevre

 

Grass-based Dairy

Nick and LuAnn Rolling
563-535-7160
nrolling@acegroup.cc

Northeast Iowa

Marketing Methods
Commodity milk---picked up at farm

Nick and LuAnn Rolling currently milk 65 Jersey and Jersey cross cows. They predominately seasonally calve in the fall and integrate both confinement and grazing management methods in the operation They started their operation by purchasing open yearling heifers the summer of 1995 while Nick continued to work full time off the farm. The heifers were bred to calve the fall of 1996, when Nick began farming full time. This allowed them to begin to milking with no debt against the cows. They started with very little equipment and designed the operation to be labor efficient, giving them time to enjoy their three children and maintain their quality of life. Strengths of their operation are labor efficiency and low fixed costs and investments.

Francis and Susan Thicke
Radiance Dairy
641-472-8554
fthicke@kdsi.net

Southeast Iowa

Marketing Methods
Wholesale to local grocery stores and restaurants

Francis and Susan began their grass-based dairy in 1992 and currently milk 65 Jersey cows. They use managed grazing and have recently switched from wintering their cows in a deep bedded system to outwintering their cows and and feeding them on pasture. They suggest reading the following article before calling for additional information.

Information link: Organic Grass Based Dairy Products for Local Markets

Hay Production and Marketing

Mike and Michele Kalsem
515-450-0763 (preferred), or
515-597-3142
mikek@huxcomm.net

Central Iowa

Marketing Methods
Direct sales to hose owners and cattle breeders

Mike and Michele grow and direct market alfalfa and grass hay to horse owners and a few purebred cattle breeders. They are also involved in a family-owned beef feedlot operation. Michele operates a horse training business and provides lessons to youth on their farm.

Information link: Feeding Cattle, Raising High-quality Hay Provide Opportunity to Farm

 

Craig Milligan
Milligan Hay Farms
515-961-7898
craig@baledhay.com

South Central Iowa

Marketing Methods
Direct sales largely to local horse owners

Craig has raised hay from the time he grew up on the farm, but started commercial production in 1980. By 1984, he had quite row cropping and now grows hay exclusively. Hay is marketed to horse owners and some cattle producers. Craig also markets firewood from the timber stands on their farm. He is involved in his county’s rural development efforts, including agritourism development. Craig is willing to mentor about hay production and economic development related to agriculture.

 

Jay VanWert. Jr.
Home: 641-456-4541
Cell: 641-425-1407
jsvw@willowtree.com

Central Iowa

Marketing Methods
Direct marketing

Jay began growing and marketing hay in 1989 along with corn and soybeans. He raises hay on both owned and rented land and also does custom hay harvesting and baling. Jay has built his hay business in an area dominated by row crop production. Jay and his family have a sheep flock, but direct market most of their hay to other livestock operations.

Integrated Crops and Livestock

Dave Lubben
Lubben White Oak Farms
319-465-4717
ldlubben@Eastern Iowa

Marketing Methods
Commodity grain and cattle sales

Dave began farming in 1979 and raises corn, soybeans, hay and pasture. He has a beef cow herd and also finishes his calves He uses management-intensive grazing with his cow herd. Dave’s focus with the beef herd is selection and management for desireable carcass quality. Dave is part of a management group of like-minded farmers that share information about both crop management and grain marketing.

Information link: NCBA's 1997 Stewards (Region III)

 

Dave Petty
Iowa River Ranch
641-939-2220
iowariverranch@netins.net

North Central Iowa

Marketing Methods
Commodity grain sales, fed cattle marketed on grid

Dave began his cattle and crop business by renting small pastures that weren’t being fully utilized. His farm business grew along the Iowa River and in 2001 he earned an Environmental Stewardship award from the National Cattlemens’ Beef Aassociation (NCBA). He is willing to mentor beginning farmers on whole farm planning, integrating livestock with crops, conservation practices and rotational/managed grazing.

Information link: NCBA Environmental Steward


On-farm Food Processing

Jill and Jeff Burkhart
Pickett Fence Creamery
515-438-2697
515-321-4702 (cell)
jbmilk@netins.net

Central Iowa

Marketing Methods
Direct sales at on-farm store, wholesale to local groceries, food cooperatives, restaurants, and convenience stores

Jill and Jeff began on-farm dairy processing in 2003. The milk from their Jersey cows raised on pasture is vat-pasteurized, but is not homogenized and is free from artificial hormones and antibiotics. The Burkharts market dairy items and locally produced foods and crafts through Jill's Country Store on their farm. They also wholesale milk, butter, ice-cream, and cheese at several locations.

Information link: From Udder to Customer.

 

Jay and Jeanne Hansen
Hudson’s Farm Fresh Dairy
319-988-4284 (preferred)
319-988-9828
freshmilk@forbin.net

Northeast Iowa

Marketing Methods
Direct sales at on-farm store, wholesale to local stores, home delivery

The Hansen family recently began on-farm processing to expand their operation and provide their children with an opportunity to farm together. They process and market milk, fresh cream, fresh mild cheddar cheese curds, homemade ice-cream, and ground beef. The dairy products are pasteurized, but not homogenized and are free from added growth hormones. Products are sold to local stores, directly to consumers via a home delivery service, at two local farmers' markets and in their on-farm store.

Information links: On-farm Bottling Pays Dividends for Farm Family Bottles Up.

 

Connie Lawrance, Kathy Larson, and Wendy Mickle Northern Prairie Chevre, LLC and Nubian Bubbies
515-438-4022
goatmom@netins.net

Central Iowa

Marketing Methods
Direct to consumers at farmers’ markets, wholesale to specialty food stores

Northern Prairie Chevre, LLC, is a small company that hand-crafts goat milk cheeses on the farm. Connie Lawrance and Kathy Larson are the cheese artisans, and Wendy Mickle helps with marketing. They market their cheeses wholesale to Midwestern specialty shops and at farmers’ markets. Nubian Bubbies is the goat business that produces the milk used in making the cheeses and is operated by Kathy Larson and Wendy Mickle. Together, these entrepreneurs have developed successful businesses.

Information link: Northern Prairie Chevre

 

Susan and Francis Thicke
Radiance Dairy
641-472-8554
fthicke@kdsi.net

Southeast, Iowa

Marketing Methods
Wholesale to local grocery stores and restaurants

Susan and Francis bottle cream-line (non-homogenized) milk from their Jersey herd and also make yogurt, soft-serve ice-cream mix and cheese. All products from the organic 65-cow herd are marketed wholesale in the local community. They suggest reading the following article before calling for additional information.

Information link: Organic Grass Based Dairy Products for Local Markets

 

Connie and Mark Tjelmeland
TJ Family Farm
515-434-2440
tjfarm@iowatelecom.net

Central Iowa

Marketing Methods
Wholesale eggs to local grocery stores, contract seed sales to neighboring farmer/marketer

Connie and Mark Tjelmeland specialize in fresh eggs from a free-range flock of laying hens. They also raise conventional row crops, and have a prairie seeding established from a local native prairie. They wholesale eggs into a neighboring small city, and are working on developing markets for prairie seed and plants. They also are beginning, on a small scale, hay production and direct marketing. Connie and Mark consider a new alternative value-added venture carefully-----how it fits into the farm business and how it impacts their desired family and community activities.

Information link: Farmers Learn How to Grow Markets as Well as Products


Organic Grains

 

Dennis Abbas
641-579-6421
North Central Iowa

Marketing Methods
Contracts and spot markets

Dennis and his wife, Eve, work with three landowners as well as on owned land to produce both conventional and organic grain crops. Operations and crops are tailored to fit both owner and operator needs, including some custom-farmed organic acreage. He began transition to organic production` in 1995. Dennis raises corn, soybeans, oats and some hay.

 

Doug Alert
Ash Grove Farm
641-456-4328
ashgrove@iowaconnect.com

North Central Iowa

Marketing Methods
Contracts, spot markets, contract seed production

Doug began transition to organic grain production in 1994 and has worked with several landlords on organic conversion using both crop-share and cash-rental arrangements. Doug raises corn, soybeans, oats, barley, flax, hay, and pasture. Doug uses ridge tillage and cover crops as part of his weed management strategy. He uses managed grazing with his cow-calf herd that is not certified organic.

 

Paul Mugge
712-446-2414
mugge@midlands.net

Northwest Iowa

Marketing Methods
Contracts, spot markets, contract seed production

Paul and Karen Mugge began transition to organic grain production in 1998. All of their acreage will be certified organic in 2005. They raise corn, soybeans, triticale, oats, barley and flax. Paul utilizes ridge tillage as part of his weed and labor management strategies and has experience with a number of cover crop species and planting windows. Paul also uses hoop buildings for finishing hogs to be sold into conventional markets.

Information link: Fields of Change: Iowa Corn and Soybeans


Replacement Dairy Heifers

 

Cory and Shannon Eldridge
641-493-2037 (home)
641-751-1942 (cell)
diamondbare@iowatelecom.net

Central Iowa

Marketing Methods
Contract production

Cory and Shannon are a young couple who started in farming by raising replacement dairy heifers for a large dairy. Cory’s livestock management skills and Shannon’s banking experience helped them overcome many start-up challenges.

Information link: Professional Dairy Heifer Growers


Specialty Crops

 

Eric Franzenburg
319-228-8758
eafran@netins.net

Central Iowa

Marketing Methods
Specialty crops via a broker. Commodity sales of grains and market hogs.

Eric, his wife and parents operate a diversified farm that includes alternative crops, conventional corn and soybeans, and a traditional farrow-to-finish swine operation. Eric markets alternative crops through a local broker. He is willing to mentor about diversification synergies and labor distribution.

Information link: Specialty Crops are Explored

 

Chris Henning
Greene Bean Project
515-370-3737
gbeanp@netins.net

throughout Iowa

Marketing Methods
Joint contracts and pooling product for spot market sales

Chris is the coordinator of the Greene Bean Project, a farm marketing LLC that market edible beans both domestically and internationally. The group of grain growers formed in 2000 to explore alternative crops and marketing methods. They currently specialize in adzuki beans and specialty soybeans. Most of their adzuki production is contracted to various buyers in Japan.

Information link: Greene Bean Project: Iowa Farmers Bringing the Best Edible Beans to Your Table

 

Jeff and Gayle Olson
J & G Olson Farms
319-257-6967
olson@farmtel.net

Southeast Iowa

Marketing Methods
Contract sales of crops, food brokers for oil sales

Jeff and Gayle Olson have been raising identity preserved grains since the 1980s beginning with grain for different crop-share landlords and seed soybeans. They also raised high oil, waxy, and non-GM corn. Jeff became ISO 9000 certified in 2001. Jeff is a founding member of the Iowa Quality Agriculture Guild, a group of farmers that organized to find ways to increase the value of their products. In addition, Jeff is a member of Asoyia, an LLC (Limited Liability Corporation) formed to produce low linolenic acid soybeans and market the oil.

Information link:Asoyia

 

Tom Wahl and Kathy Dice
Red Fern Farm
319-729-5905
redfernfarm@lisco.com

Southeast Iowa

Marketing Methods
Direct sales from farm, internet sales, wholesale chestnuts to processors

Tom Wahl and his wife, Kathy Dice, began their agroforestry enterprises in 1992.Chestnuts are their main agroforestry crop, but they also incorporate many other tree crop species, including persimmon, pawpaw, pecan, hazel, heartnut, black walnut, and several others in their operation.Chestnuts are marketed through the Southeast Iowa Nut Growers marketing cooperative.Other crops and markets are still in the development stage.In addition, Tom and Kathy operate a small tree nursery.

Information link: Red Fern Farm, The Chestnut Growers Primer


Specialty Meat Production and Marketing

 

Barney Bahrenfuse
641-236-4566
Central Iowa

Marketing Methods
Direct sales at the farm, wholesale to restaurants

Barney operates a diversified farm where he raises corn, oats, clover hay, soybeans, cattle, hogs, beef, and chickens. He began direct marketing red meats to local consumers in 1990, and added whole broiler chickens in 2001. Broilers are processed on the farm. Barney has also marketed to a local restaurant. He is raising his first goats in 2005 and will add goat meat to his product list. Barney is willing to mentor about direct marketing, labeling, and communicating with urban customers.

 

Kathy Dice and Tom Wahl
Red Fern Farm
319-729-5905
redfernfarm@lisco.com

Southeast Iowa

Marketing Methods
Meat sales directly to consumers.

Kathy and Tom, in addition to their agroforestry crops raise broiler chickens, heritage turkeys, and meat goats----all on pasture. Broilers are processed on the farm and all meats direct market at their farm.

Information link: Red Fern Farm

 

Kristi and Tom German
Thankful HarvestTMFarm
712-365-4433
tagerman@netllc.net

Northwest Iowa

Marketing Methods
Through food cooperatives, food buying club, local specialty food store and directly from the farm

Tom and Kristi began farming in 1990 and operate a grass-based, organic operation focused on direct sales of food to consumers. They have a cow herd and finish their calves, raise broilers and laying hens. They are transitioning their cattle operation to grass-finished (pasture and hay). They market beef, eggs and broilers directly to consumers on the farm, via food buying clubs, and wholesale some products into food cooperatives. Tom worked full-time off the farm for the first 12 years they were developing their business and began farming full-time with Kristi in 2003.

Information link: Practical Farmers of Iowa 2005 Field Days: Grass-fed Beef Production and Marketing

Information link: http://www.eatwild.com/products/iowa.html

 

Susan Jutz
ZJ Farm
319-624-3052
zjfarm@ia.net

East Central Iowa

Marketing Methods
Meat sales directly to consumers

Susan and her family raise keep a ewe flock and purchase feeder pigs. The animals are raised using organic production methods, processed at a local locker and the meat marketed directly to consumers. Susan is willing to mentor about alternative livestock production.

 

Cindy Madsen

712-787-2300
vcmadsen@metc.net

SouthwestIowa

Marketing Methods
Direct at farmers’ markets, business-place deliveries, and to institutions

Cindy has been raising and direct marketing broiler chickens since 1991 and began direct marketing pork in 2001. Marketing avenues include at farmers’ markets, directly to local institutions (restaurants and nursing homes) and some sales at the farm where customers pick up product.

Information link: Audubon County Family Farms


Specialty Pork

 

Keithand Barbara Bolin
815-445 5491
ahogfarmer@hotmail.com

Northwest Illinois

Marketing Methods
85% of finished hogs via Niman Ranch Pork Company

Keith and Barbara began farming in 1978 with Keith's dad. Within 15 years, they completed buying the farrow-to-finish hog operation. In 1999, they began marketing the hogs through the Niman Ranch Pork Company. In addition to pigs, Keith and Barbara raise corn, oats and alfalfa. They have recently cut back on egg production and sales into Chicago and are now starting a cow/calf herd. They also do custom mowing and baling hay. Keith is currently president of the American Corn Growers' Association.

Information link: Niman Ranch Pork Company

 

Tom Frantzen
641-354-2108
tfrantzen@iowatelecom.net

Northeast Iowa

Marketing Methods
As a member of and via Organic Valley Cooperative

Tom has raised pigs since he began farming in 1974 and over his career has used almost every production method. He, his wife Irene, and their son, James currently use a suite of practices including pasture farrowing in the spring, summer, and fall; farrowing in huts brought indoors during the winter; and finishing in bedded hoop houses, He has also recently begun gestating sowing in a bedded hoop structure. Tom also raises row crops, small grains, hay and beef cattle. A feed mill on the farm complements the other farm enterprises and helps supply other growers that are part of Organic Valley cooperative's pork marketing pool. All enterprises are certified organic.

Information link: Organic Valley Family of Farms, James’ Journal

 

Randy Hilleman
641-483-2469
hilleman@iowatelecom.net

Central Iowa

Marketing Methods

Co-owner and markets via Eden Natural Berkshire Pork

Randy is a producer of Eden Natural Certified Berkshire pork.Eden Natural, which began in 1998, is finding success by rewarding farmers who provide a premium product produced under exacting standards. Much of the pork is marketed to upscale restaurants on the east and west coasts. Randy, in partnership with two brothers,raises hogs in hoop houses with reduced levels of antibiotics.

Information link: Eden Natural Certified Berkshire Pork

 

Vic Madsen
712-787-2300
vcmadsen@metc.net

Southwest Iowa

Marketing Methods
via Niman Ranch Pork Company

A long-time hog producer, Vic began farrow-to-finish in a bedded production system in 2000. He markets his finished animals through a specialty meat company (Niman Ranch Pork Company) that is focused on both the taste of their pork and on the production method that is certified by the Animal Welfare Institute. Vic’s wife, Cindy, also markets some of their pork directly to consumers. The cropping portion of the farm is in transition to organic certification.

Information link: Niman Ranch

 

Larry and Pam Thomsen
Planeview Farm
515-386-2235
lthomsen@netins.net

Central Iowa

Marketing Methods
Overseas sales via a farmer alliance.

Larry and Pam raise purebred Berkshire swine and market all hogs to Japan and other Asian countries though a farmer alliance. The herd is process-verified through USDA. The alliance members pool their pigs to SIG, Int. and have a two-year production contract with them. The Thomsens are willing to mentor beginning farmers on production and marketing methods for specialty pork.

Vegetables

 

Gary Guthrie
Growing Harmony Farm
515-382-3117
ghfguthrie@hotmail.com

Central Iowa

Marketing Methods
CSA based on individual product prices (rather than flat subscription rate), wholesale to restaurants

Gary, Nancy and their son, Eric Guthrie started Growing Harmony Farm in 1997 as a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm and has 52 members for the 2005 season. They cultivate 30 different vegetables and a few fruits using intensive planting on raised beds. Quality and variety of vegetable are emphasized in the operation. They specialize in garlic and carrots, especially fall carrots. Gary is open to mentoring about all areas of production but especially the carrots, garlic and mulching. The Guthrie’s also emphasize their balance of garden work, family activities and spiritual life.

Information link: Carrots to the Core

 

Susan Jutz
ZJ Farm
319-624-3052
zjfarm@ia.net

East Central Iowa

Marketing Methods
CSA subscriptions

In addition to raising livestock, Susan and her family have been growing vegetables for Local Harvest CSA since it began in 1997. In Susan is willing to mentor about both alternative livestock production and multi-grower CSAs.

 

Tim Landgraf and Jan Libbey
One Step at a Time Gardens
641-495-6367
libland@frontiernet.net

Northcentral Iowa

Marketing Methods
CSA subscriptions, farmers' markets, wholesale to groceries, direct to consumers

Tim and Jan began farming in 1996 focusing on vegetable production with broiler chickens as a secondary enterprise. They raise 30 + varieties of vegetables and market them via a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) business. They also sell at farmers' markets and wholesale excess produce to grocery stores and local institutions. In addition, they market their broilers directly to consumers. Tim takes the lead for production issues and Jan for marketing, although both share these responsibilites. Tim worked full-time off the farm until 2002, when he joined Jan to farm full-time. They are willing to mentor about both production and marketing and about systems development for multiple crops and enterprises. They prefer to be contacted in the late fall and winter between October and March.

 

Angela Tedesco
Turtle Farm
515-278-4522
atedesco@turtle-farm.com

Central Iowa

Marketing Methods
CSA subscriptions, direct sales from farm stand, U-pick direct, some wholesale to restaurants

In addition to strawberries, Angela has raised organic vegetables since 1996. A wide variety of crops are grown for marketing through a 120-member CSA, a farm stand with U-pick strawberries, and occasional restaurant sales. She is willing to mentor on CSA and about strawberry production.

Information link: Turtle Farm

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