Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The air at Dairy Air

 We had two more stops after leaving Coyote Run on Sunday's Farm Crawl, but I ran out of camera memory before we got to Blue Gate Farm, on the county line west of Columbia --- a factor of my own carelessness, wasn't paying attention when I left the house that morning. That was too bad because Blue Gate is the home of Jill Beebout and Sean Skeehan and Jill came up with the Farm Crawl idea in the first place. And its market garden setup --- which supplies weekly sales at the Des Moines Farmers Market as well as a limited-membership CSA --- is spectacular.

So the last recorded stop was at Reichert's Dairy Air (Lois and Jack Reichert), home to an artisan cheese operation supplied by a goat herd and micro-dairy. I call the photo at the top here "Mary Ellen Considers Cheese." She also brought home wine from the Great Escape Winery stand at Dairy Air and I bought some great Italian sausage from Chariton's own Chad and Danelle Stamps, who were operating a Stamps Family Farm stand there, too.

The approach to Dairy Air --- down a twisting lane to a site well off the main road --- was fairly typical Sunday --- as were the pasture/hayfield parking arrangements.

The custom-built dairy building was spotless --- and the goats friendly and anxious to engage with all those new fans. Although I prefer cheese to goats (nothing personal).

It was fun to visit with the Stamps, who purchased the old Jerry Wells farmstead (and famous Wells pond) just southwest of Chariton three years ago (it had been sold off separately --- about 40 acres --- with the bulk of the farmland going to a large-scale crops farmer), moved down from Des Moines and, with no farming experience, began farming. What they did have was extensive experience rehabbing vintage houses, one in Des Moines' historic Sherman Hill and the other in the Riverbend neighborhood. That experience came in handy, Chad said. Now they're marketing pork, eggs and chickens, planting an orchard and starting a honey operation. You can buy their pork at Piper's in Chariton.

So that was the tour. We passed --- just because there wasn't time --- on Crooked Gap Farm, Dan-D Farms and Pierce's Pumpkin Patch (the latter because its own fall festival is this weekend and, besides, it will be open regular hours until Halloween).

I'm told this year's Farm Crawl crowd was a record-breaker --- and that's a positive thing. The vistors were overwhelmingly younger --- and urban (I started counting Polk County --- Des Moines --- license plates). So these small farming operations are probably doing a better job of engaging their customer base than larger more traditional farms --- and that's a good thing because family farming needs all the positive attention it can get.

Nearly all of the operations are small-scale and very labor-intensive --- just like most farming used to be. And like nearly all farm families, most of those involved supplement their income with off-the-farm jobs involving one or more of the partners. The operations are environmentally (and human) friendly. And best of all, those involved certainly seem to love what they're doing --- no matter how hard the work.

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