Farmer Profile: Jenny Quiner of Dogpatch Urban Gardens
Jenny Quiner is a beginning woman urban farmer in Des Moines, Iowa. We recently asked her how community involvement has helped her market and grow her farming operation and how her farm is changing in year two. Thanks for sharing your experience with us Jenny!
Tell us about your farm operation.
Dogpatch Urban Gardens (DUG) is an urban farm located in Des Moines, IA. 2016 was the first grow season for DUG. I grow annual vegetable crops, intensively, on less than 1/4 of an acre. My main crops are greens, roots (radish, turnip, beets, & carrots), tomatoes, peppers, summer squash, and herbs.
I sell through multiple avenues in the Des Moines metro. Our main focus is the DUG FarmStand. The FarmStand is located at the farm site. It's not your typical road side stand, instead, we built a 900 square foot pole barn. The front half of the pole barn is the FarmStand and the back half is my wash/pack/storage area. At the stand we sell items grown from our plot, but we also work with other local growers/producers to retail their items.
We also sell through our modified CSA called a "Salad Subscription." The backbone of the Salad Subscription is the same as a CSA where customers buy their shares at the beginning of the season and pick up their weekly goodies from the FarmStand. I heard about this through a farm in North Carolina called, Fair Share Farms and it caught my interest right away.
How did you go from being a teacher to starting a farm?
Less than two years ago the idea of farming wasn't even a thought in my brain. I was a high school science teacher for the past six years and happy with my job. My main focus was biology, but a few years back I was asked to teach Environmental Science, and teaching this course is what motivated me to become a farmer.
Long story short, I told my husband I wanted to be a homesteader and convert our yard into food. We have three young boys (Oliver is 5, Walter is 3, and Lewis is 1) and I wanted them to have a better understanding of where their food comes from so I thought the homesteader approach was perfect! My husband wasn't as inspired by that idea as I was, but coincidentally there was a home for sale in our neighborhood that had the ideal place for us to begin this farm operation. My husband sells real estate so he likes to say we bought the house that had some land, but I say we bought land that happened to have a house. We flipped the home and it is a rental property for us, so we are able to make income from the rental property as well as the farm. The evolutionary process of Dogpatch Urban Gardens is serendipitous for many reasons, and it has all worked out in a manner where I know I am doing what is meant to be!
What do you love most about the farm operation and what are your biggest challenges?
There are so many things about the farming gig that I love. First off, I really enjoy being an entrepreneur. I like being my own boss and knowing the decisions I make will directly impact the success of my company. I find that to make the job both exciting and challenging at the same time.
I also like the challenge farming brings me both mentally and physically. We all know how physically demanding farming can be, but what many people don't consider is how mentally dynamic farmers are. A farmer wears so many hats. Farmers are so much more than people who plant seeds and then harvest crops. We are scientists, agronomist, nutritionist, meteorologists, mathematicians, mechanics, spokesperson, chefs, accountants, sales people, and so much more!
My biggest challenge after my first year of farming is finding a balance with my farming and family life. That said, I am really enjoying this winter because it has allowed me to reconnect and be a better mom and wife to my loving and supportive family. This winter I have focused on how I can make this coming farm season less hectic/stressful for me, and my family. I am working on creating better systems at the farm, including using tools like Google calendar to schedule important dates throughout the season, printing data recording sheets, and Quickbooks.
It seems like you're very active in your community and have developed a lot of partnerships with other businesses and organizations. How have you gone about doing that?
My husband and I joke that I'm in the, "yes phase" of the business. Like any new business, I am working to become more established and well known in the community. Basically when someone approaches me about an event, farm tour, presentation, etc. I do my best to say "yes" and be a more established/active community member. It also helps that my husband and I were both born and raised here in Des Moines, so we have a good solid network already established.
I think it is so important to get involved as much as you can to meet and network with as many people you can. Farming is a community job and so many community members want to help farmers. They may not be able to help by working in your soil, but maybe they can offer marketing advice, volunteer to wash greens, tell their friend about your products, the list is endless! Make a conscious effort to connect with your community and great things will come from it!
I actively seek out local organizations that fit into my model of farming and align with my philosophies. For example, I connected with the Urban Ambassadors (a group that aims to make Des Moines a more sustainable community), Eat Greater Des Moines, local bloggers, churches, community gardens, and other people that I know will support what I'm doing and help to make me more successful. When I reach out to other people/organizations it creates symbiotic relationships where were are both able to make each other better. I want to see other groups, businesses, and organizations succeed as well so finding ways we can all benefit is key!
You didn't come from a farm background and didn't plan on being a farmer. How do you think your background has helped and/or hindered you in starting a farm?
Knowing I don't have a farming background has motivated me to learn. I feel like I have a lot of catching up to do so I'm motivated to educate myself on multiple aspects of farming. My newbie perspective to farming has allowed me to keep a very open mind and be willing to listen to a wide variety of farming philosophies. If I grew up as a farmers daughter, I guarantee I would already have some preconceived notions of how farming should be done (both good and bad.) I feel like I am shaping my farming mind through direct experience and it is working out well for me!
Anything else you'd like to add?
I can't stress enough the importance of keeping good data throughout the farming season. Finishing just one year of farming, I know I could have done better with my data collection during the heart of the season. This winter I am making steps to be sure that data collection is not an afterthought but rather an incorporated piece of my day to day tasks. As a business person, you have to be able to analyze your numbers to know what your profit margins are. I have a "good" idea of this after one season, but it's not perfect, and I know I can improve upon this. I highly recommend the book, The Organic Farmer's Business Handbook by Richard Wiswall. The book is an easy read, and can really facilitate running a better farming business.