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.
We always look forward to seeing some new faces, and we especially like to see participants in the mentor program for new and beginning farmers. Last year, several picnic attendees brought their children, who immediately went about exploring and checking out the farm, collecting eggs from our chickens and investigating nests in the rafters. Winston, our dog, busied himself running after the children and digging holes in search of the ever elusive gopher.
We recently began collaborating with like-minded groups such as Practical Farmers of Iowa, our local Slow Food chapter and our friends at Healthy Harvest of North Iowa. A panel of speakers at this year’s event provided a wealth of information about food, farming and the important role of our native pollinators on our environment. Laura Jackson, director of the Iowa Tallgrass Prairie Center at the University of Northern Iowa, discussed different aspects of the prairie and provided a list of resources available to farmers.
STRIPS is a project at Iowa State University that studied the impact of implementing prairie strips into row crop operations. They found a significant reduction in soil erosion, improvement in ground water quality and an increase in diversity of plants and animal species. Food Corps provided information about their work to reconnect kids in Iowa to their farming roots and inspire the next generation to eat whole healthy foods.
We welcomed everyone to our farm for the picnic in celebration of longest day of the year. It was a great opportunity for folks to learn more about Niman Ranch hog farming methods while enjoying some great food and conversation.
Thank you to all of those who joined us. Already looking forward to next year.