UPDATE, Feb. 4, 2020: Andy Dunham added the following comments regarding the decision by Grinnell Heritage Farm to scale back its operations.
“We stopped doing farmers markets last season because, after looking at the numbers, we found that we were not gaining ground by going to markets, even in IC or especially DM. We could have good market days in all locations, but we could also have terrible market days that would negate three or four good days so that over the course of a season it usually was a wash. In all honesty I would make an educated guess that only about 1 in 100 vegetable vendors at farmers markets in Iowa are making any money at all by attending the markets and the 99 vendors not making money would be far better off financially if they simply took a minimum wage job for the equivalent time.
Our CSA numbers actually were holding up, which was bucking the national trend. The reason for scaling back is primarily due to the lack of any larger retail and wholesale outlets. We have tried for years to get into Hy-Vee stores with very limited success. When individual stores do buy they usually only take $30-50 in product, which doesn’t even cover delivery costs in most circumstances. We have had more than one instance in which the store would buy a case of kale, put our name on the produce case, and then stock conventional kale out of California under our name. Whole Foods is still buying, but at lower prices than five years ago. New Pi is shrinking. Food hubs are folding or not scaling up fast enough. We were in the strange position of being able to grow more than the market seemed able to bear; a position that I would have laughed at as being impossible five years ago.
I would not encourage anyone to get into this business right now if their motivation is to make money or a living. If they are independently wealthy, want to lose money, and work their butts off doing it, then it may be a good fit. The challenges facing food producers in this region are large. I believe we will struggle to come to terms with these challenges without addressing pollution, especially fossil carbon, throughout the whole food supply chain and system. We are moving forward with our vision, The Grinnell Heritage Center, of what the farm can look like within the greater Grinnell community to do our part.”
ORIGINAL POST: Sad news out of central Iowa. Grinnell Heritage Farm, in business for 14 years, is discontinuing its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and sales to grocery stores, including New Pioneer Food Co-op, where the farm’s carrots are a popular item.
Owners Melissa and Andy Dunham, who operate the farm in rural Grinnell, made the announcement on Facebook on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. The farm has been in Andy’s family for more than 150 years.
“With heavy hearts we write to inform you that Team Carrot is scaling back operations and will not be offering a 2020 CSA or selling to our grocery accounts,” they wrote. “Thank you for your support and kindness over the past 14 years, this decision was not anticipated but due to severe changes in the market place we felt this was the best decision for the farm.”
Dozens of customers and friends weighed in on the decision, with many wishing the couple well in the future.
“We’re crushed to lose you as the source of our CSA. We loved the produce that you provided us week after week. Thank you. Farming is hard and, yes, Iowa and climate change aren’t helping. I’m deeply disappointed that Hy-Vee did not step up to become one of your better sources of revenue. Shame on them. Good luck to everyone at Grinnell Heritage Farm!” one customer wrote.
“This is such a loss for the entire Iowa food and farm community. I wish I could say that this was the first time my heart was breaking for an Iowa food grower forced to make huge changes to their business, but it is not. I’m looking forward to supporting you all as you make your transition. Sending lots of love,” another said.
Related: “Missing link” at farmers markets
Following is more about the decision from the Dunhams:
“Dear friends of the farm,
With heavy hearts we write to inform you that we have decided to scale back Grinnell Heritage Farm operations. This includes discontinuing 2020 CSA shares and grocery accounts. This was an incredibly difficult decision but because of the two reasons outlined below, we feel it’s in the best interest of the farm as a whole.
This article Has the Local Food Movement Killed Local Food Farmers? articulates well what’s happening to farmers across the nation.
TWO PRIMARY REASONS FOR THIS DECISION
Over the past few years we’ve been significantly impacted by the increased volatility in weather events. We have experienced severe drought and flooding, sometimes in the same season for the past three seasons. We’ve also seen a less predictable fall with increasing rainfall and bitterly cold temperatures way before the historical average making fall harvest challenging to impossible. Some of you may recall slogging through the carrot field with us this fall, which had to be done by hand instead of mechanically. This makes it incredibly risky to grow food, even without considering the broken food system.
Broken Local Foods System
In recent years we’ve seen a steep decline in sales with two of our major buyers, New Pioneer Food Co-op and Farm Table Procurement, in part because of increased competition from chains like Aldi and Trader Joes who do not prioritize local farmers. That, combined with Iowa’s largest grocer not committing to local food and farmers, makes growing food in Iowa challenging. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again, food-dollars matter and unfortunately the combination of the severe weather events and the reduced demand for local food have led us to this decision.
What happens to Team Carrot?
Some of the crew have been with us for over 8 years, which makes this decision that much harder. They will remain on the farm through February.
Sale of farm equipment
We are selling a good portion of our equipment and inventory and do not anticipate resuming a large-scale fruit and vegetable farm in the future.
I have already registered for the 2020 CSA, can I get a refund?
Yes. If you are registered you’ll have received a separate email with a link to a Google Form to request a refund.
I want to support a local farmer, now what?
We have several farming friends who would love your support. In the Knoxville & Des Moines area you’ll find Jill Beebout who owns and operates Blue Gate Farm. Also serving the Des Moines area is our friend Ben Saunders of Wabi Sabi Farm and for Grinnellians you’ll find local farmer Jordan Scheibel of Middle Way Farm. You can find additional farms on the Local Harvest website. Shopping at grocery stores that do support the local farming community, such as New Pioneer Food Co-op, is another good avenue.
What about HaPIZZAness?
We recognize this is a popular Grinnell attraction and are working on solutions to keep it that way, so stay tuned.
The Grinnell Heritage Center project
While scaling back the farm operations will change the landscape, we are hopeful we will find a way forward that will still serve the goals and vision of the Center.
Thanks you for supporting our farm; the incredible run we experienced was made possible by the support of folks like you.”
Andy & Mel Dunham
Support your local farmers. Find a list of farmers markets here.