Ron Mardesen, of Iowa, is a hog farmer for Niman Ranch.
How many generations in your family are farmers?
Our main family farm has been in the family for five generations, and currently three generations still work the farm. There’s Denise and me, mom is still very active, and then there are our three children, Maddy, Michael and Anna.
How many hogs do you have?
It varies from as few as 450 up to 1300. In a normal year, somewhere between 600 and 700 hogs.
How long have you been with Niman Ranch?
I contacted Paul Willis in the fall of 2001. Our first pigs went out in April of 2002.
What crops are produced on your farm?
We mostly have corn, but we do raise soybeans, alfalfa and oats in rotation.
What’s the history of your family’s farming operation?
We’ve farmed since my great-great-grandparents came to Iowa from Denmark after the Civil War. The beautiful farmland we have now was originally broken sod. From the beginning, we had a diversified farm with livestock and crops. When I was a small child, my dad would buy feeder pigs and bring in calves out of Wyoming in the fall. Each year, we fed and finished cattle and always had at least 60 sows around that we’d farrow and sell.
The farm that we call A-Frame Acres was purchased in 1946 by my grandparents. Grandpa’s folks owned a farm a few miles south of A-Frame Acres and grandma’s folks farmed a few miles east of A-Framee Acres. It was a good fit and close to both families. When I say I am the fourth generation to farm A-Frame Acres, I can back that up with crystal clear memories of my great-grandpa helping on the farm. I always liked pigs when I was little and they were a fairly easy way for me to get started in livestock. My first litter was born at A-Frame Acres on April 6, 1987. That was when the whole thing started for me.
The last 30 years, the emphasis on the farm has shifted primarily to pigs. The next generations of farmers will carry A-Frame Acres into the future. Honestly, I can’t wait to see where we go from here.
What sustainable farming practices are a part of your farm?
My goal is to leave as small a carbon footprint as possible. We use corn stalks for bedding and then use that to compost, which we haul back out on the field. The livestock are outside as much as possible, so we have natural ventilation and natural disinfectants for the soil. We let the animals be animals the way Mother Nature intended. We use crop and livestock rotation to preserve the land and improve the soil health; it will be pigs or cows for three-to-four years, then it will be plowed up and turned to corn for a couple of years, then it will be seeded down to alfalfa for a couple of years, and then it will be pigs again.
"Niman Ranch does not realize what it does for communities. For every person we keep on the land, we have a reason to have another family going to school, another veterinarian in the business, another repair shop in town. You can’t put a measure on that."