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

Project Overview

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)


Not commodity specific


  • Animal Production: free-range, grazing - multispecies, grazing - rotational
  • Crop Production: agroforestry, alley cropping, forest farming, multiple cropping, organic fertilizers, silvopasture
  • Education and Training: Booklet
  • Farm Business Management: value added, whole farm planning
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, carbon sequestration, habitat enhancement, soil stabilization
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, integrated crop and livestock systems, organic agriculture, permaculture
  • Soil Management: organic matter
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems


    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 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. 

    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.