The Turkey River Farm is a dream come true for Pete Kerns and Natasha Hegmann. The couple rent land in Clayton County, growing and producing a variety of products from vegetables and hogs, to fruits, maple syrup and mushrooms.
“This is the life we dreamed about back when we got married. This is the life we talked about having for ourselves,” Hegmann said.
Kerns and Hegmann, Clayton County Farm Bureau members, hosted a field day on their four-year-old farm recently. In just a few years on the land, they have grown a variety of vegetable crops which are now sold at farmers markets in Guttenberg and Elkader, and through a 40-member Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.
“It’s amazing to look back at the last four years and see how much we’ve transformed the land, how much we’ve produced and how that has allowed us to serve our community,” Hegmann said during a recent field day sponsored by Practical Famers of Iowa (PFI). “It feels like I’m having an impact.”
A non-traditional path
The couple followed a non-traditional path to each other and ultimately to Turkey River Farm. As described on the farm’s Facebook page: “Natasha grew up in rural Iowa and is thrilled to support education, conservation and healthy families in her hometown through her farm business. Pete’s passion for food and cooking led him to serve two years with FoodCorps in Montana, where he and Natasha met.”
Hegmann gained on-the-farm experience in high school when, as a sophomore, she worked at Abbe Hills Farm CSA and Open Pollinated Seed Corn near Mount Vernon.
“Working on the farm challenged me, it allowed me to create something with my hands,” she said. “Also, I was not a vegetable eater up to this point. The farm would prepare vegetables straight from the field and we’d eat what we grew.”
Kerns is equally passionate about farming. He started learning more about food and farming in college after growing up in the Chicago suburbs. Both Hegmann and Kerns joined the FoodCorps, an AmeriCorps service program, moving to Montana, where they met.
They had the chance to move back to the Midwest and pursue their farming dreams, thanks to an Iowa City-based non-profit called Communia. This organization was seeking caretakers for its land near Elkader.
The couple worked with Communia and PFI, developing a business plan, and through a lot of hard work, started growing vegetables their very first year on the land, working with an eighth of an acre initially.
Fast forward four seasons, they now produce a wide assortment of vegetables such as squash, cucumbers, zucchini, green beans, peas, carrots, beets, tomatoes, peppers and herbs, just to list a few.
They tap about 100 maple trees each spring, producing about 25 gallons of syrup. They utilize wooded areas on the property to grow shiitake and oyster mushrooms. And, they run about 30 hogs from feeder to finish each season.
The hogs Kerns and Hegmann raise are rotationally grazed on pasture. They finish Idaho Pasture Pig (a cross between Duroc, Old Berkshire and Kunekune), Tamworth-Berkshire and Hereford. Spring pigs graze all summer and then are processed in the fall and early winter. Hogs finish between 225 to 275 pounds each. Kerns supplements the pasture with a mix of non-GMO corn, soybean and oats and a vitamin premix.
“The pork works well for us from a cashflow standpoint,” Hegmann said. “But we’re also working to close the loop on our resources. With vegetables, there are necessary losses, extras or uglies; it’s really cool that our pigs can utilize those as a source of food.”
And as if Turkey River Farm was not already lively enough, the couple will welcome their first child later this year, adding to their very own little slice of paradise.