I am Betsy Boone my husband and our two small children have a small farm in Northeastern Iowa in the Driftless region of the Midwest. We raise 100% grass-fed sheep, rotationally-pastured heritage-breed pork, and rotationally-grazed, free-range chicken. We are working passionately everyday to raise the highest quality meat and live our ideals.
When we moved back to Iowa, my husband Andy’s state, we were filled with the hope and promise of finding good, affordable land that we could farm in order to raise the best possible food for our family and our community. We had big dreams of living a simple, nature-filled life, where we would find meaning by contributing well-raised, healthy meat to our community. Afterall, it was Iowa, right? It is where farming happens. Now, living here in the midst of big agriculture, it has been a struggle to learn farming and to figure out how to get a market share.
We have been faced by challenges that most small farmers struggle though or against. The first challenge was finding enough affordable land on which to grow an enterprise. We started out with five acres in southwest Iowa, which was hardly enough to have more than a homestead. In order to afford this, my husband had to work a full-time job while I stayed home with the kids, and we both did farming tasks as we could–often well into the night. It got even busier during the summer when we did the farmers market, and Andy continued working full-time as a manager of a vegetable CSA. By the second year, this so-called sustainable lifestyle we were trying to live was not feeling “sustainable” at all. We were tired and we were subsidising the business with off-farm income. We knew something had to change or we could no longer farm. In order to make enough money to support ourselves, we needed to grow, and in order to grow, we needed more land, something we could not afford.
About this time of worried and sometimes heated conversation about how to move forward with our farming venture, I came across a notice on the website of Practical Farmers of Iowa. There was a link about a farm that had been donated to the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT), and they were looking to find new farmers for a heritage farm in northeastern Iowa, about four hours away from us. Once again, hopes and dreams started to kindle in my heart as we considered the idea of moving our family and our farm to an established farm that offered more land, more home, and the equipment we would need to grow. Again, I took a chance and started the process of applying and rebuilding our business around the possibility of a new farm.
Last year, we were notified by SILT that we had been chosen by a committee to take over the Luzum Heritage Farm in Decorah, Iowa, and that we could move onto the farm later that November. Months after the move, as I reflect on our journey, I am so overwhelmed with gratitude for the families that can see a future in farming sustainably even when they no longer have someone take over the family farm. These families and organizations like SILT give individuals and families like mine the tremendous opportunity to pour our passion into farming and the environment, even when we were not passed on this wealth of opportunity from our own families.
Now that we are here on Driftless Hills Farm, the new adventure and challenge has begun, and it is as if we have started over. This time we are leasing much more land than we had been,which has already been certified organic. We have the tools which we need to farm and potentially even grow our own feed for the pigs and chickens. So with all those limitations behind us we can now just focus on finding our community and finding our customers. Oddly enough, this is not as easy as it sounds. People are used to paying low prices for low quality meat and the education of healthy fats and meats is slow to gain ground. It is becoming more and more important to know how your meat is raised and what you are putting into your bodies. One can only truly know these things by knowing who their farmer is and exactly what their farming practices are. This includes knowing what the animals are being fed and how they are raised.
We have chosen to set ourselves apart from Big Ag and even other small farmers that are using conventional and confinement style practices. Surprisingly, this is still what the majority of pork farms are doing. Driftless Hills Farm is focused on raising the most nutrient-dense food using regenerative agriculture practices such as rotational grazing, cover cropping, and crop rotation. We are pasturing our animals as much as possible to increase the nutrient density of our food, always working to increase our omega-3 fatty acids and reduce our omega-6 fatty acids. By giving our sheep a 100% grass-fed diet, we can increase the levels of Conjugated Linoleic Acids (CLA) in our lamb as well. The most nutritious food we can raise while still doing best farming practices is our highest goal.
You can purchase our meat online or see where to find us at regional farmers markets or by joining our regional buying clubs. Check out our website at driftlesshillsfarm.com for pick up locations and to get information about shipping possibilities in the Midwest and Eastern states, and to subscribe to our mailing list which will keep you informed about what we’re up to.