Grassway Farms Field Day

Grassway Farms Field Day

By Anna Lavender, Outreach & Communications Intern, IOA

In mid-July the Wedemeier family hosted a Field Day at their home, Grassway Farm, for the Iowa Organic Association and Practical Farmers of Iowa. Although the morning started out a little humid and rainy, the Field Day was a huge success. Almost 80 people braved the weather to attend this half-day event! The day kicked off with an introduction from Scott Wedemeier, a third-generation farmer. Scott and his father, Gary, own and operate the 1,100 acre family farm in Maynard, Iowa. The Wedemeiers recently transitioned their herd and their land to organic and are now part of the Organic Valley Cooperative. They also have a small number of sheep and pigs, maintain a natural wetland, and raise steers.

Scott kicked off the Field Day by introducing his farm and how they transitioned from a conventional system to an organic one. For example, one consequence of the transition to organic is that the Wedemeiers now keep their calves in communal enclosures rather than in lone hutches. This fosters a sense of belonging among the cows. I grew up in a community in Wisconsin that was surrounded by conventional farms. This field day made me feel hopeful for the future of farming and the quality of living for farm animals.

After hearing the story of the farm we left the barn and began to tour the pastures where Scott and Gary graze their herd. Scott moves the cows in a rotational system so that the grass paddocks have a chance to recover between rotations. Scott also talked through his best practices for building fences and maintaining pasture health.

We then learned about an on-farm trial that the Wedemeiers are working on with Practical Farmers of Iowa. Meghan Filbert, PFI’s Livestock Coordinator, explained that the Wedemeier farm is participating in a study to see what effect apple cider vinegar rations have on milk quality. The findings were fascinating: after being fed apple cider vinegar, the cows’ milk had a significant increase in milk fat content.

Then, the NRCS came out to the farm to walk us through their rainwater simulation machine. They took soil samples from around the Wedemeier farm (and one sample from a conventionally tilled corn and bean field down the road) and simulated a substantial rainfall event. Attendees were able to see water absorption rates and runoff differences among the soil samples.

We enjoyed an organic lunch provided by the Oneota Co-op before diving back into the tour with an introduction to the marketing streams that the Wedemeiers use.

After standing in the rain, watching a the rainfall simulator, it was time for lunch! There was a delicious spread of goodies from the Oneota Food Co-Op and Organic Valley. The thick cloud of flies didn’t stop anyone from enjoying the food and getting to know others that were attending the event. I even got to know an organic goat farmer and several other farmers just starting out in Iowa that came to learn about rotational grazing systems. It was a great time of connection and education during the meal.

Finally, we toured the milking parlours. The Wedemeiers talked about their transition to organic. Scott said that, although he was approached by naysayers, he was also surrounded with a network of support, particularly by organizations such as Iowa Organic Association and Practical Farmers of Iowa. I found this very inspirational. It is reassuring to know that although some folks may have doubts about transitioning to organic, the Wedemeiers were still able to seek assistance and successfully transition their farm.

At the end of the field day, I began to reflect on everything I had learned and experienced that day. It was fascinating to hear about the effects apple cider vinegar had on milk fat content, but it was even more enlightening to see how the Wedemeier managed the transition to organic.  It is no easy feat but Grassway Farm is excelling and they are helping others to maneuver the process.

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humble hands harvest

Humble Hands Harvest Field Day

By Toby Cain

On Thursday, July 26th, Hannah Breckbill and Emily Fagen hosted 37 women for an “In Her Boots” Workshop organized by MOSES and the Iowa Organic Association with help from the National Farm Medicine Center. The farmers in attendance were as diverse as the vegetables that grow at Humble Hands Harvest. Some folks had been farming for decades while others were just getting started. Attendees came from the middle of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa to spend the day learning from each other, from MOSES, and from IOA.

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Kalona Field Day

Good Eggs: Farmers Hen House

By Toby Cain, Iowa Organic Association 

Farmers Hen House began with one man: Eldon Miller. In the early 1990s, Eldon started bringing together Amish farmers for quarterly meetings in the Kalona area. The meetings started with just a half a dozen farmers who met up for casual conversation and to learn more about the emerging organic market. Over the course of a decade, Eldon’s small group ballooned to include over 100 farmers. In 1997, Farmers Hen House was founded.

We heard Eldon’s story on a sunny day in early June. Eldon spoke with a group of farmers, consumers, and interested Iowans who attended the Iowa Organic Association’s Field Day: Organic Egg Production with Farmers Hen House. We gathered in Kalona to learn more about this innovative business. The Field Day provided a program for folks to learn more about the organic egg production and distribution process, tour the Farmers Hen House organic egg packing facility, and visit a local poultry farm that produces organic eggs.

Demand for organic products continues to grow at a rapid pace of over 10% annually. Eggs have the highest total value of sales of organically produced commodities in Iowa – supplying $32.5 million of a $2.2 billion market in 2016. Farmers Hen House sources eggs from 48 certified organic farms in the Kalona area and distributes 15 million eggs per year. With only 67 certified organic egg producers in Iowa, there is great interest and potential to expand organic egg production in the state. Organic egg production offers farmers the opportunity to earn higher premiums (compared to conventional production) than any other organic product, it helps meets consumer demand, and diversifies Iowa’s agriculture operations. 

Eldon’s introduction to the Field Day helped attendees learn more about the rise of organic eggs in Iowa. After learning about the origins of Farmers Hen House we toured the cleaning, grading, and packing facility. First, we walked through an enormous building stacked to the rafters with pallets of eggs. All of the pallets were labeled with the information of the farm where they were laid. Since Farmers Hen House works with nearly 50 farmers, the packaging facility works hard to maintain an organized and traceable supply chain. Farmers are supplied with color-coded plastic egg pallets. Many facilities use one-time use pallets but Farmers Hen House, committed to sustainability, chose to pay a little extra for supplies that can be used again and again. In addition to incorporating sustainability into the supply chain, Farmers Hen House’s facility is 100% solar powered.

After walking through the chilled room of the storage facility, we emerged into a large warehouse floor that housed several enormous pieces of equipment. We watched as a washing machine carefully carried eggs along a conveyor belt. The eggs then made their way onto another conveyor belt that measures the size of the eggs. Smaller eggs rolled down one shoot while larger and larger eggs fell into their own shoots. After the eggs were washed and sorted, another machine carefully placed eggs into cartons and applied a label. The labeled eggs were then ready to move to another storage room to await delivery to one of the scores of locations that sells Farmers Hen House eggs.

After we toured the Farmers Hen House facility we were ready to see where the eggs were laid. We traveled a half mile to the home of Chester Yoder. Chester has been raising eggs for Farmers Hen House for many years. He raises organic pullets on his farm and has a large laying barn for his mature chickens. When we pulled up to the farm, the first thing we noticed was a large fenced pasture next to the laying barn. The grass was tall and lush and chickens scratched around in the dirt, digging for bugs. Organic chickens must have access to the outdoors, and Chester’s chickens seemed to love being outside. We stepped inside the sorting room of the barn and made our way into the laying area. Chickens had free range to wander around the large, airy space. They rested on perches and walked around, pecking at the ground and preening themselves. Hens sat in nesting boxes on one side of the barn. The Yoders have built a conveyor system to bring eggs into the foyer of the barn where they can sort the eggs and put them onto pallets. They collect eggs every day and send over several pallets a week.

Farmers Hen House sources only certified organic eggs. Organic eggs come from hens that are fed 100% organic, non-GMO diet. Hens have access to the outdoors so they have interesting bugs to forage. They must have access to natural light and freedom of movement. Hormones and antibiotics are not allowed in organic egg production facilities. Even their bedding is certified organic. For a full list of the standards that Farmers Hen House uses for their organic eggs, visit their website.

After seeing hearing Farmers Hen House’s story, seeing their state-of-the-art packing facility, and touring an organic laying barn, I can confidently say that the folks at Farmers Hen House are helping to foster ecologically, socially, and economically sustainable farming systems. Their story is an inspiring example of the power of community and cooperation.

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Dicamba Alert

Last year Dicamba damage wreaked havoc across America’s agriculture heartland after only one season of widespread use of EPA-approved dicamba herbicides. The sheer numbers affected by unintended dicamba exposure led to immediate 2018 label changes – primarily training for strict adherence to label instructions. Those changes cannot methodically prevent or limit the effects of drift.

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Mechanical Weed Management

Spring has finally arrived in Iowa! The warmer weather has folks thinking about summer and, unfortunately, thinking about weeds. Thankfully, we recently archived our winter webinar on mechanical weed management techniques.

With support from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency, IOA was able to invite longtime organic farmers Paul Mugge and David Nees to speak about their experiences with managing weeds in organic row crop systems. Over forty folks from Michigan to Montana tuned in to listen to Paul and David discuss their strategies when we hosted the webinar in February. Now, their conversation is available for you to listen to at your leisure! We hope that you will learn a lot from Paul and David. David has been farming organically near Storm Lake for more than thirty years. He now shares the farm with his son, Andrew. Paul Mugge is an organic farmer and Iowa Organic Association board member from Sutherland, Iowa. He is a life-long environmentalist and his farm management has been a progression from conventional, to sustainable, to completely organic since 2001.

Are you curious about crop rotations, cultural and biological weed management strategies, and equipment recommendations? Paul and David discuss all of these topics and more during in their webinar. Read on and tune in.

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Work With IOA!

Iowa Organic Association
Outreach and Communications Intern
May - August 2018

The Iowa Organic Association (IOA) is a non-profit, statewide leader in organic education, advocacy and cooperation. Our membership is comprised of farmers, handlers, processors, consumers and agriculture service providers who are committed to organic standards that ensure product integrity and label authenticity.


IOA is seeking a summer intern who is passionate about organic agriculture in Iowa and motivated to contribute to a growing non-profit organization. The candidate will gain fundamental, first-hand experience working with a non-profit organization on behalf of advancing organics in Iowa, and provide key support for education and outreach projects. Responsibilities will include:

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Crop Insurance for Organic Producers


In late January, the Iowa Organic Association hosted its first webinar. Thanks to support from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency, IOA was able to invite crop insurance specialist Monica Nedved and organic farmer Matthew Miller to speak about the crop insurance options available to organic farmers. Monica joined us at the Buena Vista Extension office in Storm Lake, Iowa for a forty-minute presentation and Matthew called in from his farm. Listeners joined in from around the state, asking questions about compliance, organic transition, and finding the right plans for their farms.

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2017 Annual Report

Thanks to all of our members, sponsors, donors, and supporters who helped make 2017 a huge success. We've summarized our program accomplishments in this Annual Report. Last year we continued to advocate for the needs of organic farmers in Iowa. We connected family farmers to educational events and resources about organic transition. And we expanded a supportive organic community through friendship, networking, and shared knowledge. Learn more about our year by reading on!

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Call Senators Grassley & Ernst to Stop Organic Import Fraud

Iowa Organic Association and Organic Farmers Association (OFA) are working together to promote more organic support in the 2018 farm bill and we need your help.  

Fraudulent organic grain imports have been flooding the US market, reducing the price of grain for Iowa farmers.  Senator Grassley and Senator Ernst's office are potential candidates to Co-Sponsor the companion bill to the House’s Organic Consumer Protection Act in the Senate, which would put in measures to increase enforcement and level the playing field for Iowa farmers.  WE NEED YOUR HELP TODAY!

The House Organic Consumer Protection Act (H.R.3871) has 35 co-sponsors and includes a number of measures to stop the import of fraudulent organic grain. Senator Baldwin (D-WI) is working on a bi-partisan Senate companion bill and she needs a republican co-sponsor--we think Senator Grassley and Ernst are a great fit--especially if they sign on together.

Today, could you please call Senator Grassley and Senator Ernst's offices and ask that they Co-Sponsor the senate Organic Research Act with Senator Baldwin?
Call:  Senator Grassley's office and ask to speak with Andrew Brandt (Agricultural Legislative Aide): (202)224-3744
Call:  Senator Ernst's office and ask to speak with Michael Doelch (Agricultural Legislative Aide):  (202)224-3254
1.     Introduce yourself, where you are from, a little bit about your farm, and how fraudulent organic imports impact you.  

2.     Talk about your concern about fraudulent organic grain affecting Iowa farmers' ability to compete on level-playing field.  This is an integrity issue where we need Iowa Senator support to put America First.  (see talking points below if you want more info)

3.      Ask that Senator Grassley & Ernst work with Senator Baldwin (D-WI) to introduce and co-sponsor the Senate companion bill to Organic Consumer Protection Act (H.R.3871).   This is a bill that will affect thousands of Midwest farmers and it will be a strong statement of support for American farmers coming from Midwest Senators. 

U.S. organic production lags far behind U.S. organic demand.  Currently we import 70% of the organic soybeans and 40% of the organic corn used here in the US.   If anyone can close this market gap on corn and soybeans, its Iowa farmers.  However, we cannot increase Iowa organic production without assurances that our competition is being held to the same standards as US organic farmers.   

Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing Inc. (OFARM) represents the interests of five organic marketing cooperatives, including grain producers in Iowa and has been working diligently on the organic import fraud issue. OFARM thinks 60 to 70% of organic imports may be fraudulent. Some come through Turkey, where fraud is rampant, and some from India, where standards are not checked thoroughly for sanitation issues. OFARM suspects Turkish organized crime is involved, with colleagues in Russia and Ukraine.

Currently, the U.S. produces only about 60% of the required organic corn and 10-30% of the organic soybeans the market requires.  Yet the organic trends show the demand increasing at about 14% a year.  This seems like a great opportunity for Iowa farmers (especially beginning farmers) as organic commodity prices are typically 2-3 times greater than conventional prices; however, for over two years organic grain producers have seen their prices, market opportunities and bottom-lines on their farms decline due to fraudulent imports.  This HURTS IOWA FARMERS.

The financial losses to the twelve Midwestern state organic grain producers (ND, SD, NE, KS, MO, IL, IA, WI, IN, MI, MN, OH) totals over $150 million in lost income for the crop years 2015 and 2016.  The income loss of all 48 continental states and 2017 income losses is over $250 million, due to an influx of fraudulent "organic" grain.  This situation is unsustainable and directly hurts Iowa farmers who want to contribute to the US domestic supply of organic grain.

As documented by the Washington Post investigative reporter, Peter Whoriskey, (May 12, 2017) “The label said ‘organic’ but these massive imports of corn and soybeans weren’t” the profits on one shipload of imported fraudulent grain was over $4 million.

The USDA must STOP organic fraud and this bill will provide the National Organic Program with the tools and resources to do so.  The Organic Farmer and Consumer Protection Act includes new Farm Bill requirements for USDA, in coordination with Customs and Border Protection, to implement enhanced procedures to track organic imports and ensure that imported products fully comply with U.S. organic standards.  

Conventional and organic farmers are watching the organic market and ready to transition acres, but they need assurance from Congress that if they transition, the crops will be competing in a fair marketplace, where America is First.   Iowa Senators must stand up to fraudulent imports and protect Iowa farmers.
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IOA Hires New Executive Director

February 7, 2018

Ames, Iowa.  The Iowa Organic Association’s (IOA) Board of Directors recently hired a new Executive Director to help lead the organization to advocate for policies and support for organic food production and to expand opportunities and resources for organic farmers in Iowa. 

Rosalyn (Roz) Lehman will begin as the new Executive Director for the Iowa Organic Association this week.  Roz comes to IOA with a wealth of experience managing small non-profit, advocacy and education organizations.  Most recently, she served as the founding Executive Director for Iowa Rivers Revival (IRR) from 2007-2016, and she was part of the team that passed the “Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy” ballot measure in 2010.  In her role at IRR, she helped develop advocacy and education programs, cultivate a statewide network of river leaders and supporters, and advance local and state efforts to restore, enhance and protect Iowa’s rivers and streams.  Roz has a background in community and policy organizing, and graduated from Drake University with a BA in sociology. IOA President, Scott Ausborn, commented, “the Board and I felt strongly that Roz’s experience and passion for sustainable land management and organic food was the perfect fit for IOA’s future.”  

Former Director, Kate Mendenhall, will continue to remain active as a member of IOA and will serve as a management consultant during the executive transition.  She said, “I am thrilled Roz will be joining the Iowa Organic Association team --- she’ll be leading IOA at an important time for Iowa organic growers and she is perfect for the job!”

Roz is based in Des Moines and will look forward to meeting Iowa’s organic farmers over the coming months.  Look for her at the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) Conference later this month. 

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