This grand adventure that Paul and I have embarked upon has strong ties to my interest for and passion about sustainable agriculture. Just last month, I received my M.S. in sustainable agriculture and horticulture from Iowa State University. On our bike tour, I wanted to continue the journey of learning about alternatives to the currently accepted industrial model of agriculture that is so prevalent in Iowa and the rest of the country.
To do this, I am helping to set up shows at various community- and sustainability-focused farms around the US. Paul is able to share his music with people who care about the choices we can make as individuals. The farms can build a member/community event around this show, drawing people to their farm to take a look at their food-in-progress. And I get to talk to people who are making healthy choices for their land and meanwhile providing healthy food for their community. I hope to share many of these experiences on this blog to show that there is no cookie-cutter approach to how we can positively shape the world in which we live.
To kick things off, I'll give you a short profile of Clarion Sage Farm, located in Waukee, IA.
Clarion Sage Farm is a beautiful haven of horticulture surrounded by the traditional row crops that overwhelm the Iowa landscape. Small beds of an assortment of vegetables, arranged in a grid, make for a tidy-looking farm. But the rationale behind the use of these beds is not strictly aesthetic.
Jenn and Cody are committed to practices that are healthy for the soil and for the environment. To this end, they strive to minimize tillage passes, and opt to leave pathways between beds as clover and grass sod. This allows the healthy microbes in the soil to thrive, and helps maintain soil structure, a critical part of reducing erosion. This allows topsoil to remain where it should be- in the field.
Cody, on the other hand, came to Clarion Sage after working over-nights in the land of corporate America. He looks back on those days saying that he often existed in a sleepy haze, not really living. You'd be hard-pressed to tell it now; after months of living on the farm, he looks right at home tending to his plants in a relaxed and peaceful state of mind. He even started a pet project of growing white pine seedlings from cones on a neighbor's property. After some tweaking of his system, he's able to achieve 100% successful germination!
This is their second year running a CSA (community supported agriculture), and it is evident that they take pride in what they're doing. They are committed to providing their Waukee CSA members with fresh, delicious produce that was raised using organic practices, and their members are committed to them. I spoke with many pleased CSA members who are happy to be in their second year with Clarion Sage Farm. They had come to the farm to listen to Paul's music, and happily wandered the farm after the show, asking Jenn about the varieties she had chosen and when they could expect their favorite veggies.
So how did Jenn and Cody come to run a CSA in Waukee? Jenn grew up outside of Chicago, and her first look into agriculture came when her family purchased a farm in Missouri. She loved spending time there, and visited for extended periods of time when she could throughout her childhood. Later, after moving to Iowa, she worked on a farm where she became connected to the Iowa Food Cooperative, a non-profit committed to connecting local producers to local consumers. Jenn began working for the Iowa Food Co-op, where she met Lisa, her now land-owner. Lisa is committed to to transitioning her land to natural and organic practices, so it was a perfect match for Jenn to start renting land from Lisa to launch a CSA.
Jenn and Cody both appreciate the pace, challenges, and rewards of running a farm. They tend toward a French biointensive method of growing (which involves companion planting and close spacing), though they are also realists who know that when something is ready to go in the ground, it just has to go in. This is their first year working in a high tunnel, and they're taking the approach of trying a variety of plants in the tunnel this year, to see what they think will work best for them in future years.
After spending a couple days getting to know Jenn, Cody, Tucker (their adorable, energetic pup), and the Farm, Paul and I felt right at home. They've done an amazing job with their CSA in just two years, and we wish them a successful and happy growing season. If you live in the area and are looking for a CSA to join, definitely consider theirs!
I'll leave you with a few photos from around their farm. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to sharing more farm profiles with you along our journey!