Harvesting Her Reward – Iowa State University Graduate Begins to Farm with Help of Mentors

Women in Agriculture October 22, 2014 Print Friendly and PDF

 

 

By: Morgan Ball, mlball@iastate.edu                                                         

Kate Edwards, Wild Woods Farm owner, operates a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) vegetable farm on land leased from Schwab.  She began farming four years ago when she made a big career shift. Edwards attended Iowa State University and received her B.S. and M.S. degrees in Agriculture and Bio-Systems Engineering. “After graduating I was walking into an office each day and was wishing I was walking out into a field. That is when I decided to quit my job,” said Edwards. She remembers her grandparent’s concerns at the time, “we farmed so our grandchildren did not have to,” they told her. 

On August 20th a group of colleagues met in Solon, Iowa for the Iowa Farm Transition and Beginning Farmer Working Group meeting. Farmer Kate Edwards and her mentors, Dick Schwab, owner of the Celebration Barn where the event was held and Susan Jutz, owner of nearby Local Harvest CSA, hosted the meeting. Kate had the opportunity to share with the group how career got started.

 “At first I believed that I did not have what it took to be a farmer; I was a woman and I did not grow up on a farm,” said Edwards. The USDA 2012 Census of Agriculture estimated that 25% of farmers are women. In addition, 47% of Iowa farmland is owned by women. “The ‘female factor’ is extremely influential in determining who will be farming in the future as more beginning farmers are women,” said Margaret Smith, Co-leader of the Iowa Farm Transition and Beginning Farmer Working Group and ISU Extension and Outreach Value Added Agriculture Specialist.

Friends encouraged Edwards to pursue her farming dreams and her parents connected her to long-time family friend, Dick Schwab. Edwards was somewhat intimidated by this successful businessman, but she proceeded to call him to ask for advice and inquire about renting land.

“Show me a business plan and then we can talk,” Schwab told her. Edwards struggled with this, then finally asked her dad to help her write the first of many business plans.  She also sought advice from experienced vegetable grower Susan Jutz who taught her about seasonal timing, working collaboratively with others, marketing produce and more. “It has been very helpful to have coaches and mentors, but it is nice to know that ultimately the farm was my own business,” said Edwards. She works hard to grow 30 different vegetables and many varieties of those, and has 150 share customers through the CSA. Each week Edwards delivers a variety of fresh, healthy vegetables to families and businesses in the Iowa City area.

“I knew that I wanted to be involved in agriculture not only as a farmer, but as an educator,” said Edwards. So she, Jutz and Schwab began The Farming Institute, a training program for aspiring vegetable farmers. The nine-week summer course includes classes, homework, hands on experience, and field trips to teach aspiring farmers all aspects of a vegetable production business.  Last summer Edwards, Schwab and Jutz had five students; this summer three participated. The well- rounded experiences helps test the passion and fortitude of potential vegetable farmers and helps them make decisions about their future. 

 

Dick Schwab grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota. “My parents insisted on all of their children attending college,” said Schwab, “I received an accounting degree and worked in the Twin Cities for a while.” Schwab later wanted a change and he mentioned to his wife that they should move to Iowa. His wife said the only way she was moving to Iowa was if they lived in the country.

Over the years, Schwab has built several round barns with local timber, one being the Celebration Barn. Schwab supports Practical Farmers of Iowa, an organization which encourages more diverse farms. “If 59 percent of land in Iowa was made to grow vegetables and fruit then we could feed the entire population of Iowa, so when Kate came to me, I immediately thought it was a good idea to encourage and mentor her as a beginner farmer,” said Schwab.

Susan Jutz, Local Harvest CSA, also mentors Edwards. Jutz grew up on a dairy farm that her parents purchased after World War II. She graduated with a master’s degree in Social Work. In 1994, Jutz purchased her 80 acre farm on contract from a neighbor via IADA Beginning Farmer Loan Program. Shortly after buying the farm, she learned about community supported agriculture and felt it was a way to accomplish her mission of being at home with four children and earning a living on the farm. Jutz started Local Harvest CSA in 1996. At one time Local Harvest grew vegetables for 300 families. Currently Jutz sells vegetables to 180 families and also owns a small flock of sheep.

Jutz has a busy operation and with help from ATTRA the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, she has hired student interns from throughout the United States. More recently Jutz has hired local neighborhood kids because of the growing popularity of farming in Iowa. “I have also hosted over 1000 volunteers on the farm through the years,” said Jutz, “My goal is to convince young people that we need CSA farms, and that there is a lot of variety in agriculture.”

The on-farm meeting included a tour of Kate Edward’s vegetable field. The guests were given the opportunity to ask questions and learn more about Kate and her mentorsHaving Kate and her mentors, Dick and Susan, share their experiences to get Kate’s new farm operation up and running has been inspiring. Their mentoring process and serious focus on business development seems to be critical to Kate’s success. This looks like a successful model we should work to replicate for other beginning farmers in Iowa,” said Smith. Throughout the meeting, individuals discussed the important role of communicating and mentoring beginning farmers. Young adults interested in farming are inexperienced and need someone they can talk to and gain advice from.

Want to hear more of the story? Watch an interview with Susan Jutz.

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach provides practical information to help beginning and established farmers solve problems, develop skills and build a better future. The Iowa Farm Transition and Beginning Farmer Working Group started through a partnership between ISU’s Annie’s Project Risk Management Education for Farm Women and the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, Grant # 2011-49400-30584.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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