Local Foods Connection Blog

Local foods, hunger relief, sustainable agriculture

Recap: Women Caring for the Land Field Trip March 26, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — caroline@LFC @ 6:36 pm
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Caroline here.  I posted a recap of yesterday’s Women Caring for the Land field trip over at Bleeding Heartland and La Vida Locavore.  Here’s my post, but you should check out Bleeding Heartland and La Vida Locavore anyway!


On Wednesday morning, I piled into the back of a white passenger van alongside seven other women.  Four more vehicles carrying ten more women lined up to form a caravan behind us.  “I apologize in advance, ladies,” explained our guide for the day, Laura Krouse, with a smile. “You’re never going to look at this farmland the same way again!”  With that disclaimer, we rolled north out of the church parking lot in Mount Vernon to tour almost 100 miles of farmland in Johnson, Jones, and Linn Counties.

Our field trip on Wednesday, March 25th was the second gathering of Women Caring for the Land, a free McKnight Foundation conservation program coordinated by the Women, Food & Agriculture Network.  Project coordinator Laura Krouse (of Abbe Hills Farm) held a series of introductory meetings in mid-February, gathering women landowners throughout the three counties to learn more about conservation practices in agriculture.  This field trip was our chance to reunite and take what we learned in the introductory meetings out into the field.  With Laura Krouse as our instructor, we toured the countryside, keeping an eye out for the upsides (wide waterways, impressive terraces, conservation reserve program prairies, and beautiful wetlands) and downsides (deep gullies, hog confinements, and non-existent waterways) of eastern Iowa agriculture.

Women Caring for the Land is designed to give women landowners information and confidence, helping women make informed decisions about their land.  The sessions, thus far, have certainly been both informative and confidence-building.  We learned more about farming and each other as we delighted in the warmth of Susan Jutz’s hoop house at ZJ Farm in Solon and bonded over a delicious lunch at Gwen’s in Lisbon.  By the end of our field trip, several of the women in our van were pointing out the windows and shouting, “Deep gully!”  or “Great waterway!”  Even more important, they (and I) were peppering Laura with all kinds of questions about waterways, drain tiles, and contouring, among other things.

When we parted for the day, we did so with the promise that we would see each other again at the concluding meeting on April 15th.  While I’m not a landowner or a native-born Iowan, I’ve been tagging along as a woman interested in farming and conservation, and I’m far from disappointed.  I’m grateful to the women of Women Caring for the Land for teaching me a great deal about farming, women, conservation, and Iowa.  And I look forward to seeing them again on April 15th!


Volunteer Opportunities with LFC March 23, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — caroline@LFC @ 11:30 am
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Volunteer for Local Foods Connection
to RSVP for any of these activities, email us!
1. Long Term Commitment Opportunities
A. Become a Family Friend
B. Food Delivery
C. Manage Local Foods Connection’s Calendar

2. Short Term Commitment Opportunities
A. Write For Our Education Program
B. Farm Work Days

3. Other Opportunities

**1. Long Term Commitments***

A. Become a Family Friend

6 month commitment – 2 hours/month
May to October
Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and Des Moines
Attend a training session; work from home

You will be assigned one of our clients to call every two weeks. During the phone conversation, you will:

-ask the client if she picked up her food the past two weeks
-if she has any questions about the produce in her share box
-remind her to visit a farm at least once during the season
-ask if she is participating in any of our educational activities and if she needs help completing a project.

Background Information:  Each client family is required to pickup their box of produce every week.  If they are unable to, they are asked to let us know and possibly to arrange to get their box at another time. If a client misses two pick-ups without calling us, her family might be removed from the program.

Each client family is strongly encouraged to participate in our education program. We give the families an activity book at the beginning of the season. Examples of activities available include visiting a farm, reading a book and writing a review, and sharing vegetables with a neighbor or friend. Books, DVDs, and cooking classes are made available at no cost to the client.  We can offer a client compensation for gas to travel to a farm.

More detailed instructions will be emailed to volunteers.

B. Food Delivery

6 month commitment – 4 to 8 hours/month
May to October
Iowa City, Cedar Rapids
Car required; gas reimbursement provided

Every week or every other week, depending upon your availability, pick up food from a farmer drop-off site in Iowa City and drive to smaller distribution sites around town.

C. Manage Local Foods Connection’s (LFC) Calendar

6 month commitment – 1 to 2 hours/week
Begin at any time
Work from home but reconnect with us for 2 hours a month in Iowa City office

Keep in contact with our administrative volunteers so you know what is happening in organization.  Enter all appointments, conferences, events, deadlines and other important dates in our calendars and ensure reminders go out to the right people in a timely manner.

***2. Short Term Commitments***

A. Write For Our Education Program

2 to 5 hours per project
Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines
Work from home

Are you a chef with a variety of cooking experiences? Are you a registered dietitian or a licensed nutritionist? Are you a farmer who practices alternative agriculture? If so, you can create an educational pamphlet for our clients. Our pamphlets are short, fact-filled and fun. They cover a variety of topics, such as: asparagus, how to read nutrition labels and frost on the farm. Examples and more detailed instructions will be given to volunteers.

B. Farm Work Days

Sat March 28: Solon
Sun March 29: West Branch
Sat April 11: Solon
Sat April 18: West Branch
Sun April 19: Solon
Sat April 25: Atalissa
Sun April 26: Solon, West Branch
Sat May 2: West Branch
Sun May 3: Solon

You will be doing farm work on a small, local farm that practices sustainable agriculture. In exchange for your volunteer labor, the farmer will give Local Foods Connection credit towards food purchases. No farm experience is required! The farmers will teach you what to do.

To Sign Up

-Give us your phone number and an email address that you check frequently. If the weather is very bad, the farmer might cancel, and we will need to call you.

-Send us a confirmation email saying you will attend the work session for which we’ve registered you.

Getting to the Farm

-Meet us at the farm at 10:30 a.m. LFC will help pay for gas.

-A limited number of carpooling rides are available. Let us know right away if you need a ride.

-If you have a car, please let us know if you can offer rides to other people.

Preparation for Farm Work

-Dress in layers. It might be colder or hotter on a farm than in town. The wind is stronger in some rural areas than in town. You might be working in a greenhouse or a barn and need to take off layers.

-Bring a hat. Bring suntan lotion.

-Be prepared to get dirty! Bring old towels, garbage bags or similar item to cover your car seats and floors to protect them from mud. You might want to bring a change of shoes, so dirty shoe souls don’t mess up your floors and pedals. You can even bring a change of clothes.

-Bring a bottle of water.

-Farmers will provide necessary tools for working.

-Please show up for the farm work day for which you’ve enrolled! The farmers will prepare for group projects, and if volunteers don’t show up, they will have lost valuable time.

***3. Other Opportunities***

If you have a skill or a talent you would like to share with Local Foods Connection, let us know! We will try to match your interests with our projects and needs.


Women Caring For the Land Field Day (3/25) March 22, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — caroline@LFC @ 10:45 am
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Calling all women interested in conservation!
You’re invited to attend the Women Caring for the Land field day on Wednesday, March 25th with facilitator Laura Krouse. This field day is a follow-up to the introductory meetings held throughout February in Linn, Jones, and Johnson Counties. (I wrote about the Johnson County meeting here.)
All are welcome, so even if you didn’t make it out to the introductory
meeting, join us for the field day. No RSVP necessary. Simply meet the group at 9.30am at St. John’s Catholic Church in Mt. Vernon, 1 block north and east of the intersection of Highways 1 and 30. (See Google map here.)
We will be touring unfenced cattle, terraces, nice and not so nice waterways, wetlands, confinement hog houses, restored prairie, and more!
The tour will return us, post-lunch, to the St. John’s parking lot around 2:30pm.  Be sure to bring lunch money. Hope to see you there!

The Vote Is In! March 19, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — caroline@LFC @ 9:18 am
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“Actually, when I read that phrase, that ‘Susan believes that everything she does on her farm is ag-related,’ I thought about that for a minute and I was just thinking, well, that can’t possibly be true. But the more I thought about it, I think it really is true – that if any of the side effects of anything she does serves to get the word out and reach any of her customers or potential customers, that’s good enough for me. It’s ag-related.”
Dave Parsons, Johnson County Board of Adjustment

The vote is in!

We are thrilled to announce that on March 18, 2009, in front of a standing room only crowd, the Johnson County Board of Adjustment voted in favor of Susan Jutz, granting her appeal by a vote of five to none. We need to extend a hearty thank you to the overwhelming number of people who took the time to talk to colleagues, write letters, attend the public hearing, and share their heartfelt stories with the Board. We were overwhelmed by the turnout. We received more than 80 letters of support including letters from Bill Northey, Secretary of Ag, Ray Hansen, ISU Value Added Program Director, the Johnson County Farm Bureau Board, Chris Petersen, Iowa Farmers Union and Joel Morton, Farm Aid. Your voices matter, you helped tell our story and clearly had an impact on the Board of Adjustment.

This ruling overturns Johnson County Planning and Zoning’s determination that Susan would need to apply for a Conditional Use Permit “for any, and all farm tours, and your harvest activities party… It appears that you have moved beyond normal agricultural uses into providing some kind of education on site, tourist tours, […] and special events.” Susan appealed to the County Board of Adjustment on the grounds that Planning and Zoning’s decision was a misinterpretation of the code – that ZJ Farm’s field days, farm tours, and other activities, including the annual harvest event, are consistent with the agricultural uses and activities protected in the Johnson County Unified Development Ordinance. The County Board of Adjustment voted in favor of that appeal.

This ruling is a major victory for local foods in the County and the State and a validation of diverse forms of farming and agriculture, including small-scale, diversified farming. With this ruling, Johnson County has lifted a huge burden from the shoulders of farmers and made a public commitment to local food.

But while this decision is, indeed, a step in the right direction, let’s continue to work on steps to support local food and food security throughout the County.

Thank you for your continued support and enthusiasm. “Now let’s begin the new season!”

Thank you,
Susan Jutz
Local Harvest CSA/ZJ Farms

“We recognize that farmers like Susan take great risks to produce a marketable crop. It is their willingness to take on these risks and to work long hard hours that result in not only the production of food but in on-farm educational, recreational even celebratory opportunities for all of us. Their work provides value to their family, neighbors and land; strengthens our communities and contributes to economic development. It is these on-farm activities that showcase some of our state’s greatest treasures; the Iowa farm, productive land and hard working Iowans. Iowa farmers are our best ambassadors for making that link between the farm and the community… I would strongly encourage your office to work with Susan and other Iowa farmers by removing barriers such as the one that the Conditional Use Permit would impose upon her and the development of farm-to-community networks that state legislators, state agencies, universities and other organizations have been working to achieve.”
Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture

“We believe Susan Jutz is engaged in agriculture and should qualify for the same protection/preservation as traditional farms. In this instance, the farm tours and educational events including her fall harvest celebration should not require a special use permit because they are accessory uses of the land to ensure farm viability for the specialty crops raised on her farm.”
Russell Meade, President, Johnson County Farm Bureau

“It’s my understanding that Johnson County Planning and Zoning has made an initial determination that a local farmer, Susan Jutz, is engaged in doing something other than ‘normal’ agriculture when she seeks to court the market for her agricultural produce and to offer opportunities for other farmers to learn from her farming experiences… These events you’ve heard of that bring people to her farm are not profit making events in themselves but are entirely and only related to her agricultural enterprise which is the source of her livelihood.”
Larry Kallem, Co-founder, Practical Farmers of Iowa

“Farms and farm organizations throughout Iowa and the nation depend on offering farm tours, field days, and other related events to engage with the public, maintain business ties, and build popular support for investing in locally-based sustainable agriculture. The idea that ZJ Farm would need a ‘special use permit’ for its annual activities runs directly counter to good sense, good health, and good business for the county.”
Joel Morton, FARM AID

“Agritourism is defined as the act of visiting a working farm or any agricultural, horticultural or agribusiness operation to enjoy, be educated or be involved in activities… Based on USDA estimates, about 23,350 U.S. farms earned income from agritourism in 2007 and had $566 million in sales. This income and sales translates to jobs, dollars spent in rural communities and new economic development in Iowa’s rural areas… We believe this industry to be a vital new avenue to bring education on agriculture to Iowans and to have the potential to bring new revenue streams to Iowa farmers.”
Ray Hansen, Program Director, Value Added Agriculture Program, Iowa State University Extension


Please Join Us Tonight and/or Write a Letter March 18, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — caroline@LFC @ 10:25 am
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This is a reminder that the ZJ Farm appeal is tonight, Wednesday, March 18th at 5:30pm at the Johnson County Administration Building, 913 S. Dubuque St. in Iowa City in the 2nd floor boardroom.  Please join us in our support of Susan Jutz if you can make it.

If you can’t attend – please consider writing a letter of support.  Letters an be emailed to Johnson County Planning and Zoning and the Board of Supervisors – please cc Susan Jutz.  Email addresses follow at the bottom of this post.

At issue is whether or not public, community events can be held on Susan’s 90 acre farm without a special $250 conditional use permit issued by the County. Recently, the County determined that Susan would need to apply for the permit each time she invites groups of people out to her farm for farm tours and harvest events.  Susan is arguing that community events – field days, farm tours, harvest events – are an integral part of agriculture.  In essence, that they _are_ agriculture.

Contact emails:

Susan Jutz (ZJ Farm), localharvestcsa@southslope.net

Rick Dvorak (Planning and Zoning), rdvorak@co.johnson.ia.us

Terrence Neuzil (Supervisor), tneuzil@co.johnson.ia.us

Larry Meyers (Supervisor), lmeyers@co.johnson.ia.us

Sally Stutsman (Supervisor), sstutsma@co.johnson.ia.us

Rod Sullivan (Supervisor), rsullivan@co.johnson.ia.us

Pat Harney (Supervisor), pharney@co.johnson.ia.us


ZJ Farm Needs Your Help > March 18th March 16, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — caroline@LFC @ 5:31 pm
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Dear Friends of Local Foods Connection,

Below please find an important message from Farmer Susan Jutz of ZJ Farm in Solon. Susan Jutz and I, along with Simone Delaty of Simone’s Plain & Simple Farm in Wellman, brainstormed the idea of Local Foods Connection eleven years ago. Susan has been a staunch supporter of our work ever since, providing an abundance of food and education to the low-income of Eastern Iowa for years. Local Foods Connection supports Susan in her appeal process described below. We hope that friends she has made through our organization will speak out in support of her as well.

Laura Dowd, Executive Director


5:30 PM  Johnson County Administration Building   Iowa City

As many of you know, last fall I canceled my annual farm tour and harvest event activities at my farm because Johnson County Planning and Zoning decided my ‘harvest event’ was not an acceptable use of my land as a farmer and therefore required me to have a ‘special event’ permit.

Rick Dvorak, the Planning and Zoning administrator in a letter sent to me on September 15, 2008, said, “it is my opinion that you would need a Conditional Use Permit for any, and all farm tours, and your harvest activities party… It appears that you have moved beyond normal agricultural uses into providing some kind of education on site, tourist tours, […] and special events.”  (The cost: $250 per event, a lengthy and complicated application process and the possibility of being required to dust proof my gravel road at a possible cost of $2000.)

I am appealing Planning and Zoning’s decision. The Johnson County Farm Bureau in a letter of support said, “We believe Susan Jutz is engaged in agriculture and should qualify for the same protection/ preservation as traditional farms. In this instance, the farm tours and educational events including her fall harvest celebration should not require a special use permit because they are accessory uses of the land to ensure farm viability for the specialty crops raised on her farm.”

I decided NOT to apply for a permit, as I believe I would be setting a precedent that would put all farmers who wish to hold educational/ celebratory/ agritourism events on their farm in a difficult if not impossible situation. On farm events like this are essential to promoting, celebrating and educating farmers and consumers about agriculture. There are many similar on- farm events held on farms across the state and the nation. I have yet to speak with anyone who has been required to have a permit for one of these events. This issue has the potential to affect farmers and consumers all over Iowa.

Well-respected agriculture groups in the state, like the Iowa Department of Agriculture, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Iowa State University Extension, the Iowa Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association, the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and Practical Farmers of Iowa all rely on farm tours and field days as part of the ‘accepted agricultural practices” that build and sustain agriculture in the state. I believe these activities should be considered “accepted agricultural practices,” rather than, as Planning and Zoning decided, practices that are somehow “beyond normal agricultural uses.”

Our Johnson County officials need to stand behind their expressed commitment to “preserve agricultural resources” and “protect agricultural land from encroachment of urban land uses” (as established in Chapter 8:2 of the Johnson County Unified Development Ordinance, “Protecting Agricultural Operations”). Field days, farm tours, volunteer workdays and other on-farm events invite farmers to share agricultural knowledge with each other and invite urban residents to learn more about farming in their extended communities, thereby encouraging their desire to support, value, and protect agricultural land.

I will be defending my appeal on Wed, March 18 at 5:30 pm in Iowa City at the Johnson County Administration Bldg in the boardroom on the 2nd floor. All of the documents that led up to this appeal are available on my website at www.zjfarms.com. Follow the “Zoning Appeal Information” link to access all 6 documents including letters from Rick Dvorak and the Johnson County Farm Bureau letter of support.

I need your help!  Please attend this meeting AND send letters of support!

Please send letters to: (Email me a copy as well, localharvestcsa@southslope.net in case Planning and Zoning forgets to bring your letters/emails to the hearing.  Thanks)

1) Rick Dvorak rdvorak@co.johnson.ia.us

Planning & Zoning, 913 S. Dubuque St. Suite 204, Iowa City 52240

2)Johnson County Board of Supervisors

Terrence Neuzil     tneuzil@co.johnson.ia.us
Larry Meyers          lmeyers@co.johnson.ia.us
Sally Stutsman         sstutsma@co.johnson.ia.us
Rod Sullivan            rsullivan@co.johnson.ia.us
Pat Harney              pharney@co.johnson.ia.us

Please share this information with your colleagues, family and friends.  Call me if you have questions 319 929-5032.

Thank you,
Susan Jutz
Local Harvest CSA
ZJ Farm www.zjfarms.com


Goings on… March 2, 2009

This is Caroline here, and it’s been a busy week.  Now that March is here, I can almost feel the sun grow stronger by the day.  The warm days last week made half of my garlic spring to life, and I’m not sure how it will survive the deep freeze of the last few days.  Even if it doesn’t make it, I’m grateful that it provided a bright spot of green at the end of this cold winter, and I’m grateful also to have briefly known the man who gave us the garlic, Mike Stutsman.  Thank you, Mike.

Spring is coming this month, and we’re eager to gather with local farmers at our fifth annual CSA Fair this Saturday at the Robert A. Lee Recreation Center.  It will be a pleasure to get back together with the extended LFC family and we hope that many of you can join us there.  For details, check out this post.

Thank you to Laura Krouse of Abbe Hills Farm for her incredible Women Caring for the Land meetings throughout eastern Iowa last week.  I had the pleasure of attending the Iowa City meeting and learned more in three hours than I have in a long time!  Laura explained the ins and outs of sheet and rill erosion and talked with us about conservation practices.  It was a great event, and I’m looking forward to the next one.  We’ll keep you posted on that.  In the meantime, you can read the Christian Science Monitor’s coverage of the meetings here.

I also read this week that the folks from Food Democracy Now! met with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and presented him with their 87,000 (!!!) signature petition in support of sustainable choices for undersecretary positions.  You can read more about the meeting here.

In related news, President Obama appointed Kathleen Merrigan Deputy Secretary of Agriculture this week.  Merrigan is Director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment Program at Tufts University.  To read more about the appointment, check the USDA press release or the Grist feature story.

Enjoy the cold while it lasts – spring is almost here!