FFED teacher extern visits Prudent Produce, Cherry Glen
by Jarret Horn, FFED food systems teacher extern
Hey, all! I am the 2020 STEM teacher extern with the FFED Food Systems Team this summer. The Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council created a teacher externship program to place teachers with businesses, government agencies and other organizations for the summer. We learn about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) opportunities for students after graduation.
I recently visited a couple of local food sites with FFED food systems program coordinator Courtney long, intern Sydney Peterson, and STEM extern mentor Ryan Lensing.
Prudent Produce, Elkhart
First stop: Prudent Produce, a local foods purchasing and distribution business near Elkhart. Owner and manager Tony Thompson told us about buying and moving the business to his family’s century farm. He described its growth during the temporary food shortage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
We toured the Prudent Produce warehousing and packaging facility. This is where organic and local foods are received and repacked per individual orders for weekly delivery.
Throughout the tour it was clear that while organic produce makes up a large share of the business, Tony’s real passion is for local products. The lack of membership fees, weekly delivery and customization of orders creates easy access to local foods for consumers and steady markets for producers.
Tony also operates New Family Farm at the same location. There he raises eggs, vegetables and small grains. Some of the farm products are sold to Prudent Produce in season.
Our tour included the many sustainable farming practices Tony uses. These include rotational grazing, the use of cover crops, and extended crop rotations. Tony and his family envision adding cows and event hosting to the farm’s portfolio.
Cherry Glen Learning Farm, Polk City
Second stop: Cherry Glen Learning Farm near Polk City. Dr. Ray and Susan Meylor own and operate the farm. They teach youth, veterans, beginning farmers and others about regenerative farming practices. They focus particularly on water quality restoration.
Dr. Meylor met us in the farm’s specially designed learning facility. He showed us a short presentation on the history and design of the farm. Cherry Glen comprises 10 acres of formerly abused crop ground. The Meylors turned the land into a watershed mitigation area, with retention basins that collect both surface water runoff and tile line runoff. The water irrigates vegetables and agroforestry crops.
The farm utilizes a number of sustainable practices including solar energy panels for electricity, building rainwater catch facilities, and carbon recycling through composting. Chestnut trees, apple trees, vegetable gardens and honeybees are the farm products. The Meylors plan to add blackberries and mushrooms.
The learning farm includes outdoor living spaces, native prairie strips and a teaching kitchen.
More land for food production
Dr. Meylor is passionate about educating folks about the opportunities to start farming and still take care of the natural resources available on their farms. He spends a lot of time volunteering to help create school and community gardens. His help ranges from expertise and education to tilling the gardens with his tractor.
Dr. Meylor stressed that he hopes more people will convert unimproved land to local food production. He intends for his farm to be an inspiration for future operations.
Our site visits looked a bit different this summer, with mask wearing and social distancing. But it was refreshing to see that our essential local food producers are still working hard to bring education and fresh, wholesome foods to tables in Iowa communities.
Jarret Horn is the career and industrial technology teacher at Berg Middle School in Newton. He received his BS in agricultural education from College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri. He formerly served as a high school ag science teacher and FFA advisor at Bevier C-4 Schools in Bevier, Missouri.