I traveled to Sarasota, Florida a couple of months ago to assist in promoting the Niman Ranch Next Generation Scholarship Fund at Mattison’s Scholarship Dinner. During this visit, I enjoyed speaking to all those that attended the wonderful dinner held at Mattison’s. I enjoyed entertaining questions about Niman Ranch and my family’s seventh-generation farm during the social hour. Questions ranged from why my family supports Niman Ranch to how the scholarship fund has impacted my life to the process of raising our pigs.
Spring has finally sprung, which is great because this year we weren’t sure spring would ever arrive. What a crazy month April was – from thunderstorms to thundersnow to blizzards. Our children are always happy to have a few days off from school due to snow, but farmers never get a day off.
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.
Family farmer John Gilbert started selling pigs to Niman Ranch 20 years ago when he and his wife were young parents to three small children. Their oldest son John joined the family farm and today the father-son duo are still raising hogs for Niman Ranch.
Last year we gathered some information on the scope and sentiment of our hog farmer network. Our non-scientific Farmer Survey consisted of three open-ended questions; more than 97 farmers responded and the survey results were inspiring.
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.
The Sibbel farm has been in the family since 1919 so it was no surprise that Niman Ranch farmer, Scott Sibbel, inspired by his dad and two grandfathers, was eager to start farming at a young age. Today, Scott raises hogs and cattle for Niman Ranch on the family farm in Iowa in the traditional and sustainable way his grandfathers did. Scott says they taught him to farm so that “hogs are able to act like hogs” and the “cattle able to act like cattle”. That sounds like good advice!
Scott and his wife Martha have two children, Anthony and Ellie.
Scott took some time to come in from the field and answer a few questions in today’s Q&A with a Niman Ranch Farmer.
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.
John Gilbert named 2017 Farmer of the Year
Each year, one farmer is honored as Niman Ranch’s Farmer of the Year. This exclusive recognition goes to a person who has stood out over the year for both the excellence with which they raise their hogs or manage their farm and the contributions they have made to Niman Ranch’s success. John Gilbert of Gibralter Farms was honored as the 2017 Farmer of the Year. The Gilberts, recipients of numerous awards and honors, operate a 770-acre diversified farm raising traditional pasture-farrowed pigs. John has served on the Niman Ranch Pork Company Advisory Board and is active with other groups such as Practical Farmers of Iowa. Gibralter Farms is a family operation with John and Beverly’s son and daughter-in-law and one of John’s five brothers and his wife working on the farm.