April Wilson and her family have been raising hogs for Niman Ranch for more than 20 years on their diversified farm in Iowa. Established in 1959 by her grandfather, Ernest Wilson, Seven W Farm is a model for regenerative, earth-friendly farming practices. April works alongside her mother and father, Lorna and Dan, two brothers and their wives, together growing corn, soybeans, small grains and hay and raising chickens, sheep, cattle and an organic dairy herd.
April is deeply connected to her family farm. After graduating, she briefly moved off the farm and spent a short stint living in the city. But that didn’t last too long, feeling a call to return to her roots. “Farming is a part of who I am and I missed it,” April recalled, and she was eager to get back on the land and continue as the next generation. “It means the world to me to know that I can carry on my family’s legacy working the land and taking care of the animals, something that my grandfather did his entire life.”
April takes immense satisfaction in sowing seeds, watching them grow and having her community enjoy the results. She takes pride in knowing that not only does she support her neighbors but also offers a choice for people across the country who want meat from animals raised humanely to create the best flavor and quality.
The Niman Ranch Community
The Wilson family have been raising hogs for Niman Ranch since the fall of 1998. They identified with Niman Ranch’s unwavering commitments to animal welfare, family farming and sustainability, all important values to the Wilsons. She credits Niman Ranch with understanding the hard work and creative thinking that goes into raising their hogs to the highest standards and how that directly impacts the quality of meat produced.
Over the past 20 years, April and her family have found camaraderie and community from the Niman Ranch network of other like-minded hog farmers, providing her with a sense of commonality. “These farmers know how hard we have to work to raise our livestock in a pasture-based system,” she explains, and this community has helped share knowledge, new innovations, and traditional farming practices that otherwise might have been lost with time.
In fact, April believes that the best way to get started farming is to look to your elders and get to know the older farmers. “Build relationships with farmers who are getting ready to pass on the farm and traditions,” she recommends. Farming is an extremely challenging way of life, especially when starting out, and identifying a support network is essential. Niman Ranch can help provide that support, community and guidance.
Preserving the Land
As a third-generation farmer, April is keenly aware of the importance of protecting farmland so it can be enjoyed by those who follow in her footsteps. The Wilson family incorporates countless practices on their farm to preserve their lands and waterways. They plant cover crops to build soil health, practice rotational grazing for their livestock, have tree buffer strips to reduce runoff, and use organic practices to reduce the use of synthetic chemicals and fertilizers.
A core pillar to their sustainability commitment is diversifying what they grow and raise on the farm. This tenet supports biodiversity, soil health and farm resiliency. April notes that the industrialization of agriculture is the biggest change she has encountered in her years of farming. “Independent family farms are rare,” she observers. “There are fewer farmers and the farms are bigger.” This hollowing out of rural America is a troubling trend, with fewer farm families resulting in fewer schools, grocery stores, shops and doctors. In fact, Iowa lost 24,600 farms from 1982 to 1997 and, since then, the state has lost another 8,000 farms.
With an eye towards the future, the Wilsons want to help more farmers stay independent, support their local communities and preserve the environment. April feels that her role in the community is to encourage others to farm sustainably using traditional methods. She wants to help them follow their dreams, as she has been able to do and what she hopes for future generations.
To support small and mid-size farms like Seven W Farm, people need to learn more about where their food comes from and vote with their dollars. April appreciates that Niman Ranch focuses on educating consumers about the food system and regularly brings people out to farms to see first-hand how the animals are raised. April believes that when people can touch, feel and truly experience the farm, they will develop a connection to their food and will make educated choices at grocery stores and restaurants.
April recommends that all eaters “take the extra time to learn where your food comes from and put their money toward good, quality, healthy food sourced from farmers who take extra care in raising their livestock humanely and sustainably.”