My father, Paul Willis, was invited by Iowa State Representative Todd Prichard to talk to the Agricultural Committee in Des Moines at the state capitol on February 15th. Dad discussed sustainable, humane and traditional farming opportunities created by Niman Ranch for farmers in the state of Iowa, along with the rural economic development created through this niche market.
Sarah Willis is the daughter of Niman Ranch’s founding hog farmer Paul Willis. Sarah works for Niman Ranch as a Sustainable Agriculture and Family Farming Advocate. Having grown up on the original Niman Ranch free-range pig farm in Thornton, Iowa, she has been passionately devoted to raising awareness about the dramatic changes that have impacted agriculture over the past 25 years. Today, she continues the tradition of farming with her father and her daughter, Sophia. Through daily hands on experiences Sarah is instilling in her daughter to maintain these farming traditions, that the land and their livestock deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
In January, we joined PFI at the Scheman Building in Ames, Iowa for their annual conference.
Practical Farmers of Iowa’s mission is to strengthen farms and communities, which is right up our alley at Niman Ranch. This nonprofit group was founded in 1985 as an organization for farmers. They use farmer-led investigation and information sharing to help farmers practice an agriculture that benefits both the land and people. As a matter of fact, many Niman Ranch farmers are members and even deeply involved hosting on-farm educational tours for the new and seasoned farmer interested in learning more.
I kicked off the new year participating in a panel discussion for a recently released book, Women and the Land, written by Barbara Hall and featuring photographs by Kathryn Gamble. I like it because it challenges the visual stereotype that all farmers are men. This book showcases a variety of women here in Iowa working and tending to their land and animals.
This book includes photographs of my daughter and my father along with the many other women here in Iowa. Jan Libbey, another farmer, and local and sustainable food advocate working with Healthy Harvest of North Iowa & North Iowa Fresh, a local wholesale food hub, participated in the discussion last Saturday along with Charles City, IA farmer, Wendy Johnson, who is featured on the cover of the book.
Kennley and Melissa Wright are family farmers who live and work on their farm outside of Colman, South Dakota (population 400) with their four young children.
Kennley Wright is a fifth generation family farmer. His family emigrated here from Scotland and laid claim to the family farm in 1877. Recently an elderly family member pointed out a section on their property as the site of their original farm settlement. Out of curiosity, Kennley explored the area using a metal detector and discovered remnants from that first settlement.
It’s the start of the 2017 fall harvest. For most people, the month of October consists of picking pumpkins, drinking hot apple cider, and trick-or-treating. However, for those of us on the farm, it’s the peak of harvest and a constant struggle between finishing the fall harvest, predicting what the weather will do along with other daily challenges.
Since I was a little girl our family has hosted a Summer Solstice Picnic at the Farm. A celebratory picnic featuring friends, family, Niman Ranch farmers and field agents is a special way to honor our livelihood and rural community. Wishing all of you a wonderful summer!
Recently, I met a retired math teacher from Osage, Iowa. He said that he was so fortunate to have a majority of rural children in his classes. He told me farm kids were great at learning new concepts and applying them because of their daily experience with this type of thinking on the farm. Farming is all about problem solving, so if you didn’t know how to do something, you have to figure it out. That’s not much different than math. This gets at the heart of what I loved about farm life. There was always something to figure out.
As the snow falls in the country, it tucks us in for winter as it blankets the fields. It’s beautiful and peaceful, but as soon as the temperatures plunge our thoughts immediately turn toward our pigs. Time to bundle up, put on those insulated coveralls, hats, scarves, gloves and rubber boots and head outside to make sure the livestock are doing well and our hog waters are working properly.read more
Recently, while I was representing our farmers at Chipotle Mexican Grill’s Cultivate Festival in Miami, I was asked why it matters how we treat our livestock on the farm if we plan to eat them in the end anyway. I have thought a lot about this subject over the years, ever since I was a little girl on our farm tending the animals that I loved so dearly. Most farmers take pride in their care of for the livestock. Here are a few of the reasons why I believe farm animal welfare matters.
We have an old apple tree that grows right next to our gas barrel here on the farm. Admittedly this is not an ideal location, but these are the very best apples for making apple pie. My grandmother planted a crabapple tree (the only native apple tree to North America) there many years ago. In the wild, apples are highly heterozygous and don’t grow true to the subspecies of seed. Apples of all varieties are created by grafting trees onto a hardier apple root stock. This is how our favorite apple originated: from the root stock of the original crabapple, a separate seedling grew into another tree. We are not sure what kind it is but believe it to be a Mackintosh.