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.

Hannah Breckbill and Emily Fagan, second cousins from Nebraska and Iowa, work cooperatively at Humble Hands Harvest in Decorah, Iowa. Their farm, nestled at the end of a gravel road in the Driftless hills, is just two years old. But Hannah has been planting the seeds for this space since she finished college.

Hannah started her farming career by working on small-scale vegetable farms in Southern Minnesota and eventually moved farther south, to Northeast Iowa.  As our women in sustainable agriculture collaborative world comes full circle, Hannah was working at Barb Kraus’s Decorah farm, Canoe Creek Produce, in 2013 when Barb hosted an In Her Boots workshop – and now things come full circle to Hannah’s own operation.

Hannah started her own farm in Decorah but, after several years of working on rented land and suffering major flooding in 2016, she wanted to find a new home for her business. That summer, Emily Fagan moved to town to work at Patchwork Green Farm. Now, two years later, Hannah and Emily are two member-owners of the cooperative farm. They have a 40-family CSA and are trying their hand at small-scale livestock production.

Although the focus of the workshop was tractor maintenance and safely using tools, the day’s presenters covered a variety of topics. We started with an introduction to the farm by Hannah and Emily, transitioned into a farm tour, and gathered for lunch before an afternoon of round table sessions with local experts. The day ended with five demonstrations of tractor safety, equipment safety, using hand tools effectively, an introduction to microgreens production, and a summary of cottage food laws.

Even though I had been to Hannah and Emily’s farm before, I still learned an enormous amount from the event. I would like to summarize the five key takeaways that I gained at this In Her Boots Workshop at Humble Hands Harvest.

1. Change It Up

One of the most important tips that I learned during the field day was to change it up. Farming often requires repetitive movement. Over time, repetition can put major stress on your body. Emily walked us through a variety of solutions to combat repetitive stress injuries. To alleviate some of that stress, try mixing up your garden tasks. If you’re in a crouching position for twenty minutes and your back starts to ache, switch to a task that you can finish while standing up.

Thankfully, there’s always plenty of work to do on the farm, and many different tasks that require attention, so you can probably find a different task to temporarily work on to relieve some physical stress.

2. Cultivate Community

Humble Hands Harvest occupies a piece of land that was purchased cooperatively by a group of local folks who wanted to stop a hog confinement from moving into their valley. Hannah started Humble Hands Harvest’s current farm by buying out several other shareholders to stitch together the 8-acre parcel of land she now owns. Humble Hands Harvest is rooted in community and is often home to gatherings of star gazers, singers, or local folks who want to share a simple potluck meal.

3. Be Cooperative

Hannah and Emily have established their farm as a worker-owned cooperative. They have equal shares in the business and make collective decisions about the direction of the farm. This cooperation allows them to operate Humble Hands Harvest in a non-hierarchical structure. To learn more about cooperatives, check out this guide from the National Farmers Union.

4. Know Your Tools

Josie Rudolphi from the National Farm Medicine Center talked about Hannah and Emily’s farm implements, including their Kubota tractor. I learned a few key things about farm equipment during this Workshop. The most important thing I learned is that almost 99% of tractor-related injuries and deaths can be prevented by using a tractor that has a rollbar and a seat belt. Farming is one of the most hazardous professions in America. It’s essential to follow instructions, familiarize yourself with new equipment, and stay within your comfort zone while operating machinery.

5. Share Freely

Hannah and Emily have built a culture of sharing into their farm. Take today, for example! They gladly opened their farm to strangers  (and a few friends). They share their stories and their experiences with curious folks. They turn to their community for help when they need it. “We want to pass along the gifts that were given to us,” said Hannah, reminiscing about the generous donations that helped Humble Hands Harvest install water and electric infrastructure last year.

I hope that you, too, can learn from Hannah and Emily’s expertise! We hope to see you at a future Field Day!

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