An interview with Ben Saunders, founder of Wabi Sabi Farm, Granger, IA.
WABI SABI FARM IS A UNIQUE NAME FOR A VEGETABLE FARM! WHAT IS THE STORY BEHIND THAT NAME?
A: I first learned of the Japanese philosophy of Wabi Sabi from an old Mother Earth News magazine nine or ten years ago. What really stuck with me was the emphasis it placed on the natural cycles of growth and decay and an appreciation for the “imperfect” beauty of nature.
These two ideas resonate with me when thinking about local and seasonal eating. When eating with the seasons, different fruits, veggies and herbs are available in cycles depending on the time of year. Heirloom tomatoes, for example, may appear “ugly” to some folks but they are beautiful to others.
WHAT WAS YOUR PATH TO BECOMING A FRUIT AND VEGETABLE FARMER?
A: When I was 16, I worked for a very innovative organic farm, before the National Organic Program was around, outside of Iowa City (my hometown). From that experience I felt like farming was always going to be part of my life!
Like many 18 year olds I wanted to leave my hometown, so I spent a lot of time traveling around the country, taking college classes every so often and working on farms along the way. The last place I lived was outside Asheville, North Carolina, working for a permaculture-ish/medicinal herb farm in the Sandy Mush Valley. My grandpa, a very influential person in my life, was getting ready to pass away so I came back to Iowa to spend time with him.
At 25, I decided to finally pursue a degree in Horticulture from Iowa State University. My advisor, Gail Nonnecke, knew my passion for organic farming and knew Angela of Turtle Farm was looking for someone to take over her farm. Gail introduced us, and a few months after I graduated from ISU with a Horticulture degree I began working for Angela. I just turned 41 last November and have been growing on this ground for a total of thirteen years.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE GROWTH OF WABI SABI OVER THE YEARS?
A: Wabi Sabi Farm began on the farm ground that was once known as Turtle Farm. I worked alongside Angela Tedesco (Turtle Farm owner) eventually running the day to day operations of her farm for three years. Angela wanted to retire from actively farming and gratiously offered to rent me the ground for the 2013 growing season. Thus Wabi Sabi Farm was born! My first season I increased transplant sales in the spring and added microgreens into the early spring offerings. Over the years transplant sales have steadily increased (both retail and wholesale), I’ve continued the CSA program and also added farmers’ markets. The last four years I’ve been slowly adding more wholesale sales to restaurants and grocers like Wheatsfield.
WHAT ARE YOUR GROWING PRACTICES? DO YOU GROW ORGANICALLY?
A: The Farm ground has been certified organic since 2002. Being certified organic is a value very important to me! So much so that I am serving my 2nd term on the Iowa Organic Advisory Council for the state.
HOW MANY FARM WORKERS DO YOU EMPLOY?
A: I’m the owner/operator of Wabi Sabi Farm. Kate Solko joined the farm in 2017. We usually hire 2-3 full-time seasonal workers. Then there are the countless other folks that help out each season in many different ways!
FAVORITE VEGETABLE TO GROW? MOST UNIQUE?
A: My favorite vegetable to grow, along with eat, is Brussels Sprouts. The plant, in my opinion, is absolutely beautiful looking like a miniature palm tree with tiny looking cabbages growing up the stalk.
The most unique thing I grow is probably different varieties of basil. Last year I grew seven different types of basil, with all different sorts of flavors from anise-like (Thai) to bubblegum-like (Sacred).
Join us from April 18 to April 24 for sales and samples on raw milk cheeses in honor of Raw Milk Cheese Appreciation Day on Saturday, April 20th.
Traditional raw milk cheese-making has existed for centuries and reflects characteristics of local environments, terroir, and ﬂavors. Cheese can be part of a healthy eating pattern, providing nutrients like protein and calcium, and raw milk cheese in particular has been associated with beneficial gut bacteria. If you want to purchase raw milk cheese in the United States, it must have been aged for a minimum of 60 days, whether it’s produced domestically or imported from another country. The “60 days rule,” which was designed to allow the acids and salt in cheese enough time to destroy harmful bacteria, was set back in 1949.
Enjoy samples and sales on the following cheeses: Mt Sterling Co-op Creamery Raw Milk Goat Cheddar, Roth Buttermilk Blue Affinee, Grafton Village Raw Aged Cheddar, Vintage Cheese Company Chipotle Cheddar, Edelweiss Raw Milk Gouda, Organic Valley Grass Milk Sharp Cheddar and Medium Cheddar, El Trigal Raw Manchego, and Fayette Raw Horseradish Cheddar Spread.
Earth Week Events and Classes at the Co-op!
April 22-27, mark your calendars for a week of earth themed lovin’. RSVPs required for our FREE classes. End the week with a celebration of all things organic at our annual Organic Sale!
Monday, April 22, 6-7:30pm
Class: How to Grow Food in Iowa
Join Alice for this beginner’s class which will touch on what, when & how to plant a home food garden with tips on how to manage weeds & pests organically. Learn how to read a seed packet, look at Extension publications to figure out when to plant and when to harvest as well as how to prepare your garden plot.
Tuesday, April 23, 6:45-8:15pm or
Saturday, April 27, 9-10:30am
Class: Beginners Bike Repair
Want to learn how to fix a flat or to oil your chain? Some simple preventative maintenance can keep your bike working well and help you avoid costly future repairs. Join iconic Skunk River Cycles owner, Ronn Ritz, as he talks you through some of the basics of bike repair. Ronn will not have time to work on each bike in the class, but you can address specific questions if you bring your bike with you.
Wednesday, April 17, 3-6pm
Event: Start Some Seeds!
NO RSVP NEEDED! Big and small, come one, come all! Join Co-op staff and plant some seeds in the community room from 3-6pm. A selection of local Seed Savers Exchange seeds, reclaimed egg cartons, and soil provided! Come get your hands a little dirty and start some seeds for your garden!
Thursday, April 25, 6-7:30pm
Class: Zero Waste Living
A Zero Waste Lifestyle (ZWL) is rewarding and economical when done right. Reducing our trash and use of packaging can help us save money, conserve our natural resources, and much more! Join Elaine Axmear to learn helpful tips and tricks for a Zero Waste Lifestyle. She will provide simple, concise handouts for attendees with references, recipes and how-to guides.
Friday, April 26, 3-4pm
Event: Clean Up Around the Co-op
NO RSVP NEEDED! Join Co-op Staff to Stash the Trash around the Co-op in honor of Earth Day! Trash bags and a snack provided!
Saturday, April 27, ALL DAY
Event: Organic Sale
Member-Owners and Student Members save 20% on certified organic products around the Co-op! Non-members save 10%. Save off regular prices!
Did you know that 99% of our Produce Department is organic?!!!
PLUS: We’re giving away 400 LOCAL Seed Savers Exchange Seed Packets!
Starting at 10am, 1 Packet per Family
Stay tuned for fun activities and vendor sampling schedule for that day.
Egg dyeing is a fun way to celebrate this time of year—and it’s a tradition that goes way back—as much as 5,000 years when Persians celebrated springtime with eggs colored with plant-based dyes. Plant dyes can be just as useful today and they’re plentiful; in fact you very well might have dye-worthy ingredients in your kitchen already.
Here are some great plant-based dyes—fruits, vegetables, spices and flowers.
White eggs (or try brown, keeping in mind color results will vary), egg carton, stock pan(s), water, white vinegar, slotted spoon and natural materials for dyeing
Optional: Tape, string, rubber bands, cheese cloth squares, natural beeswax crayons to create designs on eggs, and vegetable oil for an extra sheen.
Hot Bath Method
1. Place uncooked eggs in a stainless steel stock pan. Add water 2-3 inches above eggs. (When using bottled juice, fill 2-3 inches above eggs. Do not add water.) Add natural dye ingredients and 1-2 tablespoons vinegar per quart of water.
2. Cover and bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
3. Carefully remove eggs with a slotted spoon and air dry.
Cold Bath Method
The process for cold dyeing is much the same as the hot method except the eggs and dyes are cooked separately.
1. Simmer the dye ingredients (water, vinegar and dye matter) for 20-30 minutes or longer, until the dye reaches your desired shade.
2. Allow the liquid to cool and submerge hard-boiled eggs in the dye for at least 30 minutes.
3. Carefully remove eggs with a slotted spoon and air dry.
Notes, Tips & Techniques
Color variation: colors may vary depending on steeping time and foods used to dye eggs.
Deeper colors: the longer the eggs stay in the dye, the deeper the color will be; leaving the eggs in the dye for several hours or overnight (in the refrigerator) is recommended for achieving deep colors. Allow the liquid and eggs to cool before refrigerating and ensure that the eggs are completely submerged in the dye. Eggs will be speckled if the dye matter remains in the liquid. For more uniform colors, remove the dye matter from the liquid, by straining the liquid through a coffee filter, before refrigerating.
Egg flavor: the flavor of the egg may change based on the dye, so if you plan to eat your dyed eggs, a shorter dye bath and fresh ingredients may be preferable.
Drying: Make a drying rack by cutting the bottom off an egg carton and turning it upside down.
• Wrap onion skins around eggs, then wrap the entire egg with a cheese cloth square and secure it with string before placing the eggs in the dye.
• Wrap string or rubber bands around eggs before dyeing to create stripes (use rubber bands for cold dyeing only).
• Draw designs on hot, warm or cold hardboiled eggs with crayons. When using hot or warm eggs, the crayon may melt slightly on contact with the egg (if eggs are hot, hold eggs with a potholder or rag to prevent finger burns). Crayon covered eggs should only be dyed in cold dyes as the crayon wax will melt in hot liquids.
• Gently wipe dry dyed eggs with vegetable oil to give eggs an added sheen.
Quarter Two Board Report
Liz Kolbe, Board Member & Treasurer
I’ve never been one for New Year’s Resolutions. Birthday resolutions are slightly more my style (I did a few weeks of push-ups the summer I turned 30…). But that doesn’t mean I’ve never made a resolution that lasted. Just that the most successful resolutions I’ve made have occurred when the momentum arises naturally, and I find myself able to decide once, with conviction, and stick with it.
For example: Before living in Ames, I lived in Wooster, OH. When I first moved to Wooster, I didn’t know anyone, so I started volunteering at the local food co-op to fill my free time and hopefully, make some friends. Since college I’d been an eager cook, and had dabbled in the world of vegetable CSAs and grass-fed beef. I was knowledgeable about the food system and considered myself a “buy local” supporter, with the t-shirts, tote-bags, and a signed copy of The Omnivore’s Dilemma to prove it. Did I feel good about myself when I bought local? Yes. Did I do it all the time? No. Why? I could say convenience and access, which would be partially true. But also, I just hadn’t decided to yet.
While at that food co-op in Wooster (it’s called Local Roots), for the first time, I suddenly did have consistent access to locally-produced meat, dairy, eggs, fruits and vegetables, bread, preserves, and other goods. But grocery is a tough business, and so is farming, and so is opening a new business. The Co-op was in its early years and the future wasn’t all roses. The decision became apparent, and the choice was easy. “I will shop here first, always. Even if the same product is available at another store, I will buy it here.” No need for the graphic tees anymore, I had decided to live my message through my purchasing power. My farming friends and the fellow consumer-members of Local Roots Co-op had built a place that allowed me to make an easy decision, a one-time decision, to act on my belief in member-ownership, community and a local foods economy.
When I moved away from Wooster, to Ames, I was very sad to lose that place and community. But I found it here, too, at Wheatsfield Co-op. Over 100 local producers (Iowa) are featured in the store. I’ve never had easier and more consistent access to local foods – and other organic and sustainably-sourced products – than I do at Wheatsfield. Maybe other stores carry the same products, but it isn’t so central to their business. It is central to ours, and it’s imperative that we all support that shared mission. You have an easy choice to make. Decide once: shop at Wheatsfield.
We want to hear from you! How is YOUR Co-op doing? What is great? What can be improved?
Our 2019 Member-Owner and Shopper Survey will be open for responses April 1-30. It should take 15-20 minutes of your time, more if you would like to provide open-ended feedback.
On completion of the survey you will receive a coupon for a free espresso bar drink purchase!
By Adam Calder, Produce Manager
This article was originally published in our April 2011 Field Journal
Seed Savers Exchange Seeds are available for sale at the Co-op!
Using a mixture of science, technology and thousands of hours of labor, the employees of Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, IA, provide Iowa and the nation with a source for heirloom gardening seeds and transplants.
A nonprofit and member supported organization, Seed Savers was founded in 1975 by Dianne Ott Whealy and Kent Whealy to support and build a network around collecting, conserving, and sharing heirloom seeds. The business has grown to include nearly 900 acres of certified organic farmland, a herd of rare ancient white cattle, an heirloom apple orchard, heirloom grape vines and a catalog of over 25,000 different plants.
According to Trisha Hageman, Seed Inventory Manager, Seed Savers Exchange is organized into two parts; the commercial part which includes selling seeds wholesale and direct to consumers and the preservation part which includes saving seeds of endangered plants for generations to come.
“The seed house itself is where more of the commercial end of Seed Savers happens,” Hageman said. “We have the commercial and the preservation side. The commercial side sells the seed packets whether it’s to your local grocery store, farmers’ market people or home gardeners. The seed house makes the money so we can do the preserving.”
The seed house is where the seeds are cleaned, dried, packed and gathered for distribution. All of the seed packets used to be hand packed. However, due to growing demand for the seeds, a seed packing machine recently became one of the many pieces of advanced technology used to increase efficiency.
“They used to be all done by hand, but we were fortunate enough in the last year to purchase this Seedpack 2000,” Hageman said. “By having this machine it allows us to continue to grow without growing out of our space. It’s calibrated by the weight of the seed, so you can speed it up and slow it down depending on how much seed you need in a packet. The packets are printed right here with the lot information, the amount of seeds in a packet and whether it’s organic or non organic. It also does the gluing, the folding and presses it together right here. Depending on the size and weight of the seed we can sometimes put out 1,500 packets in forty-five minutes.”
Near the room housing the Seedpack 2000 is a large climate controlled walk-in storage cooler where seeds are stored prior to packing and shipping.
“All 600 varieties of seeds that are in our catalog are stored in here.” Hageman said. “This cooler is jam packed. We might have a supply of a hard to grow variety of seeds for ten years. That’s why we want to make sure this storage facility is top notch for what it does.”
Seed Savers Exchange offers a mix of organic and conventional seeds as it is difficult to find organic options for all of the specimens in their collection.
“We do sell both organic and conventional seeds, but what’s grown at Seed Savers is all organic. We do still sometimes buy conventional seeds from a different seed company or some of our conventional growers. Not all of our growers are organic.”
Another factor that contributes to a lack of a 100% organic catalog is the spatial requirements and buffer zones needed for organic farming.
“Isolation of everything is not possible,” Hageman said. “We do have growers, some from in the United States and some from different countries. If something needs a longer growing season we’ll try to send it somewhere more south.”
Aaron Burmeister, who works in the collections department, explained further how the commercial aspect of Seed Savers Exchange fuels the preservation aspect of the group.
“Any profit they realize is called project related revenue. It goes to support the work of preservation that we do here. We’re trying to preserve, maintain, and distribute heirloom plants. Our focus really is vegetables. We do have flowers, herbs and other types of things. We have an orchard as well as grapes.”
Burmeister said they are quite serious about preserving their samples for as long as possible, and they have many avenues in which they pursue that goal. On site are several small climate controlled coolers and freezers that can keep a seed viable for decades.
“Here we’re actually storing things for 20 to 30 years before we grow them out again,” Burmeister said. “There are very specific requirements we need to meet in order for the seeds to respond well to that sort of long term storage.”
Seeds are also sent to and stored in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in northern Norway, near the Arctic Circle. This program is sponsored by the Norwegian government in conjunction with several international organizations that are also dedicated to biodiversity preservation.
“We are the largest American non-governmental depositor in that program. We send a large package once a year,” Burmeister said.
Not only are seeds stored for decades, but living tissue cultures are also kept alive year after year to preserve things like potatoes. Patty Storlie, who also works in collections, said the tissue cultures are nurtured and cared for to ensure the survivability of plants that don’t readily produce seeds.
“We grow our potatoes and sweet potatoes in test tubes here,” Storlie said. “We grow them in a defined medium, a semi solid agar developed in the fifties. As the plant grows it will exhaust the nutrients in this medium. We take a branch point, make a cutting, put that into a fresh tube and then it will propagate itself from the apical node. It’s less labor intensive and less costly than growing them out in the field every year because potatoes don’t replicate from seed reliably. They are one of the plant species like garlic that need to be maintained [by propagating the current plant]. Each individual tube is sub cultured every six months to a year. This collection has been maintained this way for about 15 years and there are about 600 different potato varieties, out of thousands. I think maybe twenty are grown commercially.”
All of these aspects of Seed Savers Exchange combine to form an organization that is working toward maintaining and revitalizing a bio-diverse world for generations to come. When you buy a packet of their seeds, you are holding onto a piece of a unique genetic heritage. You are helping to ensure a tomorrow that is not void of all of the color, beauty and splendor that comes from a backyard garden.
Primary Health Care, Inc (PHC) is a federally funded health clinic in Ames dedicated to serving the medically insured, uninsured and underinsured with their health care needs.
This farm season (May-October), in cooperation with Mustard Seed Farm, PHC is offering Farm to Clinic. Clinic families receive shares of farm produce, including vegetables and fruit. Pregnant and nursing women as well as individuals with diabetes and other chronic health conditions are encouraged to enroll. Participating families, at no cost, pick up their farm share at the clinic and at the same time receive recipe ideas, nutrition information and can engage in live waiting room demonstrations on how to use the food provided in their box that week.
PHC is grateful to Mustard Seed Farm and to Wheatsfield Co-op for their support and enthusiasm for this project. If you have questions or would like to help, please contact Miguel Biott at [email protected] or Leysan Mubarakshina at [email protected]
Wine and Cheese Tasting with Art Opening: Friday, March 1, 5-7pm
A Mississippi native, Jennifer Drinkwater is an assistant professor with a joint appointment between the department of art and visual culture and Iowa State University extension and outreach. She has a B.A. in both studio art and anthropology from Tulane University and earned an M.F.A in painting from East Carolina University. Her work has been featured in exhibitions and publications all over the United States. Collaborating with others to find and archive what’s good in their lives, Drinkwater transforms evidence for hope into drawings and paintings.
View more of Jennifer’s work on her website.
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Central Iowa supports, educates and advocates for individuals living with mental illness and their family members at no charge to the participants. The organization mainly serves Ames, ISU students and Story County residents through their educational classes, support groups and their Mental Health Wellness Center.
NAMI offers support groups for those living with mental illness and for family members, individual support, emergency financial loan assistance and other programs. Educational meetings for community members and educational classes specifically designed for family members and individuals living with mental illness are regularly offered. There are no eligibility requirements, other than being affected by mental illness in some way. All age groups and individuals are welcome.
Panels of NAMI members help to train police and first responders on how to respond to a person displaying symptoms of mental illness. We advocate by contacting legislators on behalf of those affected by mental illness, and by being a part of the Story County Mental Health/Criminal Justice Task Force. Our goal is to erase the stigma and raise awareness that these biological illnesses can be effectively treated.
International Women’s Day, March 8, 2019
We work with many woman-owned and woman-friendly businesses at the Co-op! This International Women’s Day, we wanted to highlight some of our local women-owned or led businesses. Please join us in supporting them!
The theme for International Women’s Day 2019 is Balance for Better. Balance drives a better working world. We notice its absence and celebrate its presence. Use the hashtags #Balanceforbetter and #IWD2019 for sharing your International Women’s Day stories on social media.
We apologize for those local women-owned or led businesses we missed! There are quite a few!
Event in Ames
Ames Public Library
Friday, March 8, 6:30-8:30pm
Join as we celebrate the empowerment of women across our community. The Ames High Step Team will kick off the evening with a lively performance. Then Dr. Karen Kedrowski, Director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, will facilitate a panel discussion on increasing representation of women in politics. Come hear how women can support women!
Panelists will include:
Niki Conrad, 4th District County Supervisor
Monic Behnken, Ames School Board Member
Bronwyn Beatty-Hansen, Ames City Council
Kelly Winfrey, Assistant Professor at ISU whose research focuses on political campaign communication and gender
LonnaCards + Onion Creek Seedlings
Cute and whimsical LonnaCards have been featured at the Co-op for many, many, many years. Lonna hand makes every card with illustrations inspired by life on the farm. Look for Onion Creek heirloom tomato, pepper and herb seedlings in the spring at the Co-op. Lonna plants and cares for them in her greenhouses before they arrive at the Co-op.
Dallas Center, Iowa
Sarah Underberg and her husband Eric started making fermented foods to address health problems like joint pain. Today they make raw sauerkrauts, pickles, kimchi, and kombucha – on tap at your Co-op! “We’re changing lives one gut at a time,” Sarah says.
Olympia, Washington – working with producers in West Africa
Every Alaffia purchase empowers mothers and West African communities. They’re committed to fostering gender equality, and measure their success not simply by profit, but by empowerment. That’s not lip service – their empowerment projects include maternal health services, FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) eradication, eyeglass donation, education projects, and reforestation. Since 2003 they’ve opened 10 schools, planted 57,575 trees, provided school supplies to 32,842 children, and maternal healthcare to 4,432 women
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Julie Parisi handcrafts her flavorful pastas (delicious simply with butter or good olive oil) in small batches, cutting her ravioli by hand. “I started making pasta when I was young next to my grandmother – we made pasta every Sunday for our family.” You won’t find pasta made with better ingredients, including local, organic flour from Early Morning Harvest, grown and milled here in Iowa, giving even her dried pastas the flavor and texture of fresh pasta.
CADO Ice Cream
Deb Dowd is passionate about good health. She and her family created Shaktea Kombucha before moving onto their next (and very successful food adventure) CADO Ice Cream. The brand is really making a name for itself nationwide – winning accolades on many blogs’ and magazines’ “top 10” dairy-free ice cream lists. Their avocado base provides a rich, creamy canvas for classic ice cream favorites like mint chocolate chip, dark chocolate & lemon sorbet. Enjoy a whole avocado in every pint!
Jennifer Knox, a poet, a cook, and a “devoted friend to parrots everywhere” makes unique herb and spice blends with her husband Collin. What started as holiday gifts in 2011 have gradually taken over their lives. They grow some of the herbs and spices and dehydrate them and also source ingredients in bulk, but all are grown in America and are preservative free.
Siberian Soap Company
Ann Staudt is the founder, chief soap formulator, kitchen chemist, graphic designer, sales manager, packaging extraordinaire, and overall operations manager behind Siberian Soap Co. She holds degrees in both chemical and environmental engineering. Soapmaking provides a wonderfully creative outlet that combines her interests in science, art, and living a simple, eco-friendly lifestyle.
Maytag Dairy Farm
Myrna Ver Ploeg joined Maytag in 2003 and is currently the CEO of this premier cheese making company. She herself grew up on a dairy farm in Marshall County. Myrna says the business has always operated under three basic principles: be good stewards of whatever resources they are given, be independent thinkers and follow their hearts.
Deb Zisko Cards
Deborah spends her precious spare time creating watercolor collages of the much loved Iowa landscape. A self-taught watercolor painter, she often works on smaller size paintings. The intimacy of space affords her the opportunity to explore layers of color.
Iowa Choice Harvest
Penny Brown Huber, CEO, leads Iowa Choice Harvest in connecting customers to earth-conscious Iowa farmers who grow high-quality fruits and vegetables. Iowa Choice Harvest acts as a food hub for Iowa based farmers to wholesale their sweet corn, apple and sweet potato harvest. The company then flash freezes the product and sells the product under one brand.
Iowa Choice Harvest is currently being forced to move due to the tornado that devastated Marshalltown last summer. Visit their crowd-funding campaign to support this local business.