SILT Development and Implementation of Iowa Landowners Guide to Sustainable Food Crops

Final report for ONC19-055

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2019: $33,365.00
Projected End Date: 04/01/2021
Grant Recipient: Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT)
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Suzan Erem, Ms.
Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT)
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Project Information

Summary:

Decades ago, Iowa farms produced an average of 35 crops. Today, our farms overwhelmingly produce an average of only two annual row crops – impacting our state’s natural resources and economic health. No resources currently exist that provide a comprehensive guide for landowners or farmers who seek to learn how to grow a diversified range of fruits, vegetables and meats that will succeed in Iowa.

With the support of SARE, Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT) will research and develop an Iowa Landowners Guide to Sustainable Food Crops to educate landowners and farm consultants on how to increase sustainable crops and diversify our agriculture.

The guide will advance SILT’s mission to protect land to grow healthy food by collating lessons and information from experienced growers including Red Fern, Rolling Acres and Alexander Farms, and from nonprofits and higher education institutions. The guide will align with an interactive website and be distributed to Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) offices and landowners statewide.

This project will generate interest, education, and action around developing markets for expanded crops and by offering access to critical local knowledge and resources that will build a more diverse agriculture and vibrant local food economy.

As of May 2021: Iowa landowners can now look to a single source for many of the table food crops their land can grow. In 2019-20, SILT collated, edited, designed and published 500 high-quality, full-color copies of our Iowa Landowners Guide to Sustainable Food Crops. We also built an interactive version of the book at silt.org/cropbook and provided the opportunity for readers to download the pdf.

Directed at rural Iowa landowners interested in diversifying the crops on their land in a sustainable way, this guide features more than 30 vegetables, fruits, nuts, livestock and niche crops appropriate for Iowa soils and climate. Each description comes with a simple icon that indicates how capital and labor intensive each crop is and another that illustrates where in the ecosystem each fits. A “cream of the crop” resource anchors each crop page and an extensive list of resources is located at the back of the guide. Additionally, 3 landowners/farmers tell their story of how they started and where they’ve ended up in their successful operations. 

The pandemic required implementing new ways to educate the public about this guide. Employing more social media and virtual meetings, we were able to introduce 13,000 people to the guide and double the effect of the print run through downloads, reaching more than 1,000 people with copies of the book itself. We also made virtual presentations to local elected officials and hosted virtual field days. An overwhelming majority of survey responses (88% and 72% respectively) indicated that participants learned something new and were interested in increasing the number of food crops they grow. A majority (52%) indicated they would plant at least 2 new crops as a result of the guide. 

Project Objectives:
  • Work with a minimum of five experienced Iowa growers, nonprofits, and higher education institutions to research, collect, and collate information critical to providing guidance to grow a diverse range of crops

    • We spent the first year of this project determining the scope and organization of the book so that it can adequately cover vegetables, meat, fruit and nuts that can grow in Iowa. We enlisted the support and collaboration of Denise O’Brien of Rolling Acres, David Cavagnaro of Pepperfield Project, Tom Wahl and Kathy Dice of Red Fern Farm, Jeff Jensen of Iowa Nutgrowers Association, Patrick O’Malley and Ajay Nair of Iowa State University and Kevin Wolz and Kaitie Adams of Savanna Institute among others. We have identified about 30 different crops and are going to offer relative capital and labor inputs and a basic synopsis of the crop with a photo.
    • All of our partners came through except two, plus we added new partners Alexander, Sundog and small frye farm. Many of them assisted in getting the necessary photos, editing the photos and print, hosting virtual field days and helping distribute the guide. We had a total of at least 7 partners assist in the collation of information for this book. 
  • Cultivate diverse project ownership and build upon a network of committed partners willing to support implementation and advocacy of sustainable food production in Iowa. 

    • We have built upon our relationships with Practical Farmers of Iowa, the Savanna Institute and Iowa State University in enlisting their advice for this project. Our primary farming partners – Red Fern and Rolling Acres – have spent significant time on the project. We then wrote up the text and when we completed that we sent them a complete draft. They all understood their names would be on the book and they w0uld be recognized for their input. We believe this encouraged them to take a close look at the near-final product to be sure of its accuracy. We  scheduled a virtual field day with Carmen Black (instead of Carolyn Scherf as originally stated in the proposal – she has left farming) to demonstrate as many different kinds of crops as possible on her farm.
    • In addition to the partners already listed, we had more county supervisors than expected show interest in the book and in getting it distributed. We also presented and/or promoted the guide at the virtual Savanna Institute Annual Gathering and a virtual workshop for Practical Farmers of Iowa. We were interviewed by multiple radio and television news shows as well. We promoted the book to Women Food and Agriculture, MOSES and Iowa Farmers Union among others. 
  • Leverage current NRCS grant funding to provide education and outreach to landowners in more than 10 communities across Iowa.

    • We scheduled 3 field days and were in the process of scheduling at least 3 landowner workshops throughout Iowa in 2020. We planned to schedule at least 4 more in 2021. Due to the pandemic, we cancelled all in-person field days. Instead, our Farm Specialist Joe Klingelhutz, funded by NRCS, distributed the guide to 32 landowners in 21 counties when he provided his land consultation services. We also hosted two virtual field days – one at small frye farm in Walcott, IA and one at Sundog Farm in Solon. We decided to expand our outreach to 11 county boards of supervisors – assuming that as elected officials in their counties they would have some of the best networks with landowners. Of those, 5 requested additional print copies be sent to their offices for further distribution. This comes to outreach and education to a total of 35 communities. 

  • Identify 25 farmers/landowners committed to producing by at least two new crops within two years

    • We were able to garner 63 survey responses with more than half of them – 31 – committing to plant at least two new crops within 2 years. 
  • Conduct 10+ outreach and education activities to share project results. This is the work we accomplished, entirely during the pandemic:
  1. Distributed the guide to NRCS staff in all 99 counties,
  2. Promoted it through our social media so that 516 people downloaded the pdf, (more than double our print run),
  3. Distributed the guide to every Watershed Management Authority
  4. Distributed the guide to the top 10 ISU Extension offices in Iowa
  5. Fielded requests for 350 copies to be mailed to individuals.
  6. Organized the Sundog virtual field day
  7. Organized the small frye farm virtual field day
  8. Presented the book to 11 county boards of supervisors,
  9. Were interviewed by two television stations and two radio stations,
  10. Featured Red Fern on a livestream Friday chat
  11. Featured Buffalo Ridge on a livestream Friday chat
  12. Conducted a livestream Friday chat about beekeeping and honey production
  13. Highlighted the book in a Savanna Institute presentation 
  14. Highlighted the book in a Practical Farmers of Iowa presentation. 

This comes to a total of more than 40 outreach endeavors not including mailing individual copies of the book. 

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • David Cavagnaro (Educator)
  • Tom Wahl (Educator)
  • Denise O'Brien (Educator)
  • Carmen Black (Educator)
  • Dr. Patrick O'Malley (Educator)
  • Dr. Ajay Nair (Educator)
  • Kaitie Adams (Educator)
  • Susan Frye (Educator)
  • Kathy Dice (Educator)
  • Dayna Burtness (Educator)
  • Kathy Dice (Educator)

Research

Materials and methods:

Joseph Klingelhutz, SILT Farm Specialist, was enlisted to do the primary crop research for the guide. He worked with farmers and other ag professionals to decide which species of food crops were most suitable for the book. The objective was to showcase crops that 1) we know are currently being grown in Iowa 2)  are considered table foods 3) have known markets 4) have informative online resources to send readers to. 

Joseph reached out to farmers who have or are currently growing these crops to gain general info to relay to readers so that they may get a better understanding of what it takes to crop a certain food crop. After creating a list of vegetables, nuts, fruits, livestock, and other niche crops Joseph then researched which resources were available on the internet to send readers to so that they can learn more about each crop. 

The guide’s information and framework was not created to be a “how to” farm guide. But, more so, a “what is possible” book that can help start conversations related to growing food in Iowa. 

 

 

Research results and discussion:

The results of our research were used to create an informative and aesthetic book that is tailored to landowners and those interested in learning more about growing food in Iowa. Measurements of the results of our research can be found within the guide’s 56 pages. Results from impact of the book on the public can be found under “Project Outcomes.”

Participation Summary
11 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

4 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
2 Online trainings
4 Published press articles, newsletters
14 Webinars / talks / presentations
2 Workshop field days
16 Addressed boards of supervisors, spoke at two virtual conferences, created and published two Facebook videos, promoted the book through our e-blast multiple times, opened by more than 1,000 people per month, featured particular crops on Facebook and Instagram, highlighted select crops for our Friday Chat series in March, April and May online.

Participation Summary

63 Farmers
2 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Due to the pandemic, we cancelled all in-person field days. Instead, our Farm Specialist, funded by NRCS, distributed the guide to 32 landowners in 21 counties when he provided his land consultation services. We also hosted two virtual field days – one at small frye farm in Walcott, IA and one at Sundog Farm in Solon. We decided to expand our outreach to 11 county boards of supervisors (totaling 47 elected officials) – assuming that as elected officials in their counties they would have some of the best networks with landowners. Of those, 5 requested additional print copies be sent to their offices. This comes to outreach and education to a total of 35 communities. 

We were able to garner 63 survey responses with more than half of them – 31 – committing to plant at least two new crops within 2 years. 

Two showcase recordings:

Sundog Farm: https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/mtLLAJ5A6tm6DoLgddTyBFwfCfTYWDfH33NpvQRypmT_k8CKIlJpe9poDrPwUFHb.ayog8aE5fe5hbJnt?startTime=1615316536000

Buffalo Ridge Orchard: https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/4W0ifJ2VlxzLdsVrVWbVljw9KfUNIaUH7pt6usIp8j49TnlU-2aiBY-Med2LAtrm.P1c3g9kYLBTVXPb_?startTime=1615316536000

Learning Outcomes

63 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation

Project Outcomes

31 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
7 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

As of May 2021, we reached hundreds of thousands of viewers and listeners through television and radio, more than 13,000 people online plus 47 local elected leaders in 11 counties, NRCS and Watershed Management Authority employees across the state and guests who attended our virtual field days. 

At a time when we have no functioning Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, this kind of outreach for a group our size is unprecedented, and to do it successfully during a pandemic even more surprising. 

This guide helps illustrate in one place that sustainable table food production can be economically, environmentally and socially beneficial for farmers. We highlighted for example Red Fern Farm, which nets about $7,000/acre from their orchard, which includes no spray and no tillage. We featured Sundog farm, which is not only a diversified operation with sheep and vegetables, but is active in rebuilding its rural community. And we featured Buffalo Ridge Farm which transitioned from concentrated livestock to perennial fruit crops, and their ability to make a living while saving soil. 

All of this was done on a backdrop of 99 percent of Iowa’s agricultural landscape in commodity crops. It is one more bit of proof that table food has a place in our economy and on our land here in the Midwest. 

Success stories:

Survey Responses:

This is an excellent, well-organized reference. It’s succinct but thorough with great referrals for further information. It is produced with professional quality and beautiful photography. I especially like the “Landowner Lessons.”

Keep expanding the content. Hope many people use this valuable resource. Make this book available to schools with community garden/FFA programs.

I really appreciate the capital/labor considerations and the written tips regarding market and disease/pests. These are very helpful to me.

It’s perfectly done! I love the size, nice pictures with descriptions, and well-organized.

I work for a land trust in Illinois and do advocacy work with food farmers. This guide will be an excellent tool as I meet with farmers and landowners. Most of the material in the guide will apply to our area, but I will probably tailor it a bit to include local resources too. Thank you so much for putting together this excellent guide, and for being so generous in sharing it!

Recommendations:

We hope surrounding states will use this template to develop sustainable food crop guides more specifically for their eco-systems. We would like the opportunity to reach more non-operator landowners with this guide. Assistance from SARE in determining how best to do that would be extremely helpful. 

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.