Middle Way Farm is run by Jordan Scheibel, a beginning farmer just north of Grinnell. You can shop their products online here. Thanks Jordan for sharing your story with us!
What is the name of your farm and where are you located?
Middle Way Farm. We’re located just north of Grinnell, Iowa.
What does Middle Way Farm mean?
For the past decade I have practiced sitting meditation, which exposed me to Buddhism, where the concept of the Middle Way originated. The way I think of the Middle Way is not as the path of moderation, rejecting all extremes, as it is often described, but rather as the path that acknowledges, wrestles with, and draws wisdom from the two equally valid ends of the spectrum that exist in so many areas of life, and in farming. How do I balance taking care of the ecology of the farm while also making sure that I have an efficient system of production? How do I maintain quality of life while still keeping up the profitability of the farm? How do I produce enough to make a viable livelihood while not growing beyond my means? This principle applies to big and small issues on the farm, from day to day decisions to long-term vision. Its a guidepost for me as I make those decisions, and a reminder of what my original intention was when I started this operation with a lot of anticipation and hope not much experience and realism.
Tell us a little about the make-up of your farm.
I am the sole owner-operator of Middle Way Farm. I am a beginning farmer in my fourth growing season in operation. I actually grew up in rural northwest Connecticut before attending Grinnell College and graduating in December 2009 with a degree in history. I don’t think I could have imagined when I moved to Iowa in 2006 that I would end up settling and farming here! I stayed in Grinnell after graduation and worked for Grinnell Heritage Farm for three growing seasons and helped launch and manage a community garden in Grinnell before starting Middle Way Farm on leased land in the fall of 2012.
The Lacina family, who I lease from, has owned their farm for close to the 100 years and the fourth generation will soon be returning to live there. I live in town and commute the 2.5 miles to the farm each day. Aside from my operation, the rest of the 320 acres is in a conventional, non-GMO corn-soybean rotation. For most of the 1990’s and early 2000’s the land was certified organic, and the Lacina’s briefly ran an organic tofu making operation on the farm called Midwest Tofu. I started the farm on 1/3 of an acre working part-time in 2013 and now have 1.5-2 acres in production and work full-time on the farm with several seasonal employees.
What does your farm specialize in?
I specialize in seasonal, annual vegetables, herbs, and flowers, complimented by a small perennial orchard and other perennial plantings such as asparagus and rhubarb. All of the produce is currently direct marketed through a Community Supported Agriculture share (May – December) in Grinnell, Newton, Marshalltown and Ames, the Grinnell Farmers Market, IFC, Farm to Folk in Ames, Grinnell Local Food Source, and to Relish restaurant in Grinnell. I follow a market garden model and use organic, biological practices (transitioning to certified organic in 2017).
The 2 acre size of my farm is intentional, as I focus on increasing the intensity, profitability, and efficiency of my operation without bringing more land into production. For that reason, I use permanent raised beds without a tractor in the field and practice succession and relay planting to keep beds in continuous production during the growing season. In order to support this intensity, I rely on compost, worm castings, and mulches to increase organic matter and soil biological activity.
Can you tell us a few things that make your signature product(s) special?
As a CSA grower, I produce a little bit of everything, 40-50 different crops all told. For my non-CSA markets, I specialize in green, roots, green beans, and storage crops. My lettuce and mesclun mixes are one of my most popular and sought after items for my CSA, farmers market, and through IFC and other buying clubs. I also grow radishes, turnips, carrots, beets, parsnips, celeriac, and specialty potatoes. My motto is persuasion through flavor. I think what makes my produce special (and produce from other local farms) is that it fundamentally tastes better than mass produced vegetables, and that this is the most compelling reason (among all the other reasons) to buy and cook local. The combination of freshness, variety selection, excellent Iowa soil, and biologically active growing conditions gives my produce and other local vegetables a distinct advantage in flavor, quality, and storage life…I would venture to say nutrition to but I think that’s harder to substantiate 🙂
What is your farm’s biggest season?
Because of the diversity of my farm, my harvest and sales are spread out over the entire growing season. However early-mid summer is probably my biggest season for all markets, when I have the most number of crops coming in at once.
Are there any special processes involved with harvesting or handling your products?
I focus on proper post-harvest handling, which determines the ultimate quality of produce as much if not more than the initial quality in the field. We keep produce out of the sun after harvest and move them into the 35-40 degree walk-in cooler as soon as possible after harvest. Produce is washed when it is ready to market (not necessarily right after harvesting), which extends its storage life. We also make sure to sort and evaluate produce to discard anything that doesn’t meet our standards. When moving produce to market, we try to keep it as cool as possible to preserve quality when it reaches the customer.
What is the most important thing for consumers to know about your products?