It’s invigorating to be able to get outside and work in the soil once again after a long winter, much of which was spent making plans for the growing season. During preparation there are so many things to consider, including possibly adding a new or different aspect to the farm. This could include increasing the diversity of our livestock operation by adding chickens, or adding cover crops to conserve our precious natural resources and stop soil erosion. Before we do anything new, we spend time thoroughly examining our options to figure out what’s the right fit.
Taylor, Missouri high school senior Ruthie Carpenter, who is also a Niman Ranch hog farmer and student vice president of her local FFA chapter, traveled with her mother Carolyn to speak at Wellesley College on April 15, at the request of their director of food service, Executive Chef Keith Tyger. He heard her speak at our annual Farmer Appreciation Dinner in 2015 and was greatly impacted by her words. He wanted the students at Wellesley to hear from her first hand about the humane practices she employs as a Niman Ranch hog farmer and the sustainable attributes of farming this way.
This time in Iowa is the beginning of farrowing season. For those of you unfamiliar with farm terminology, it’s the time of year when sows give birth. Many farmers have been working diligently in preparation for pasture farrowing. They’ve been busy moving hog houses from last year’s plot to the next field. It might seem like a lot of work, but pasture farrowing is not new. It’s a traditional farming practice that has been passed down for centuries.
My birthday is the day before Halloween and has always been recognized by my family as a blessing and a curse because it takes place at the peak of harvest. This means dad was always distracted and busy in the field, combining the crops and working against time and weather.
Here in the midst of the heat and humidity of July, the pale purple cone flowers have just finished blooming. The heat is oppressive during the daytime, but it’s a relief when the sun sets. At dusk the lightning bugs appear like magic, flickering like star dust above the grasses of the landscape. It’s a magical time on the prairie here at Willis Dream Farm. The land is alive with action and the air is filled with a symphony of insects.
We work so diligently during the summer months here in Iowa. There is only so much time for planting crops, farrowing, lambing, calving, construction and home improvement projects. But in the midst of all this work we still make time to gather together for weddings, ball games, soccer matches, family reunions, dance recitals and picnics.
After planting season is over here at the Willis Dream Farm, we hold a farmer picnic in our three-sided shed, which overlooks 140 acres of native tall grass prairie. The picnic is a get-together of Niman Ranch hog farmers, along with friends in our local community. Everyone brings a pot luck-style side dish, casserole or dessert. We always throw Niman Ranch Fearless Franks and sausages on the grill as the crowd gathers.
Earth Day is the time in April when we strengthen our practices of good stewardship by taking simple steps like growing our own food, planting a tree, decreasing our waste and supporting businesses whose values mirror our own. We focus on issues like sustaining our natural resources for future generations, on maintaining clean drinking water and clean air to breathe and creating healthy communities to live and thrive in.
We’d like to share the story of Jeannie McCormack, Niman Ranch’s first ever lamb producer. Her family ranch was originally founded in the hills of California in 1896 by Jeannie’s grandfather, Dan McCormack, and had been run by her father, Wallace, since 1934. This makes her the third generation to care for the land.
Jeannie and her husband, Al Medvitz, returned home to raise sheep after living for 15 years in Boston and Africa. When they arrived at the McCormack Family Cattle Ranch in October of 1987, Jeannie started working in the sheep barn learning about lambing from her father’s Peruvian sheepherder. Al started driving tractor under the tutelage of John Lopez, a man in his 70’s who had worked for her father since he was a boy.
On March 4, the high temperature in Iowa was 16 degrees with a low of -4, with snow along the roads and in the fields. Just two weeks later, we experienced some of the warmest weather this year with a high reaching 63 degrees. And technically it’s still winter.
As you can imagine the snow has been melting very quickly releasing moisture into the air in the form of fog. With most of the snow is gone as the sun shines brightly, nature is giving us a reminder of all of the work to be done in the coming weeks.
National Future Farmers of America week, observed from February 21 -28, celebrates our connection to agriculture and supports our next generation of farmers. Various local FFA chapters have different ways of engaging with their communities, but one of the simplest is encouraging folks to grow some of their own food.
Many farmers, along with passionate gardeners, begin planning their gardens now. Planting seeds indoors is a great way to get a head start. My father likes utilizing the simple seed-starter kits that you can find just about anywhere. These starter kits can last for years if you use and store them properly.