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Urban Farming

Posted May 06, 2015 in Urbandale

“The farmer in the dell
The farmer in the dell
Heigh ho the derry-o
The farmer in the dell…”

Well, who really knows about all that nonsense? However, back in the real world, I can tell you that there is a farmer in the “dale” — Urbandale, that is — and his name is Marty Lucas of Walnut Creek Farm in Urbandale.

Lucas has five acres of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified organic ground at 14824 Meredith Drive in Urbandale, where he currently grows green beans, bell peppers and winter squash. He also has 200 acres of fortified land in Sigourney where the bulk of his green bean crops are grown.

“We are, I believe, the largest green bean grower in the state of Iowa,” he says.

Lucas takes a farm

Seven years ago, Lucas and his dad decided to take over the family farm. However, neither one of them felt as though they fit into the status quo of conventional agriculture. Lucas, an IT recruiter, for Fulcrum Consulting in Des Moines, is used to the nine-to-five office environment.

Marty Lucas of Walnut Creek farm in Urbandale. Photo by Dan Hodges.

Marty Lucas of Walnut Creek farm in Urbandale. Photo by Dan Hodges.

He says he has experienced many learning curves along the way since he began growing his own produce. For instance, after a two-year stint with Community Supported Agriculture, Lucas found that he was better off working his own angle as a grower.

“I started out being involved with CSA, but decided to get away from the complexity of dealing with an abundance of different products. I decided to focus on just a few organically raised items that I could do really well with for the organic wholesale market,” he says.

According to the USDA, Community Supported Agriculture consists of individuals in a community who support a local farm establishment in effort that the farmland becomes the community’s farm. The growers and consumers provide mutual support and share the risks and benefits of food production. Members, also known as shareholders of the farm, are responsible for covering the anticipated costs of the farm operation and farmer’s salary. As a result, the members receive shares in the farm’s harvest throughout the growing season. Members also share in the many risks that come with farming, such as poor harvests due to intolerable weather, or the infestation of crop-killing pests. Selling directly to the community members helps growers receive better prices for their crops, and can relieve a lot of the stress of marketing.

Therefore, Lucas set out to blaze is own trail on his urban farm and has great success in doing so thus far. He has even stepped it up a big notch by incorporating automatic bean pickers into his workday regimen. This makes perfect sense when you own and farm the largest green bean field in Iowa.

“Would you want to pick all those beans by hand? I have picked green beans by hand in my day, and I hated every minute of it,” he says. “I wouldn’t do that to my staff or myself ever again. I don’t really even like green beans, but I am sure glad a lot of other people do.”

The Urbandale Hy-Vee and Fareway stores are just a couple of the many venues that Walnut Creek Farm supplies throughout the summer months. Jordan Eslick, perishable produce manager of the store says that buying from local growers is what the community wants.

“We have received many requests from our customers to check out area produce growers. They want what is being grown down the street. By doing business with local vendors, we feel at Hy-Vee, that we are helping to give back to the community by supporting them,” Eslick says.

The farmer takes a wife

Lucas says that he finds farming to be rewarding, and even magical at times. He enjoys all that the farm has to offer with his wife, Sarah, and two small children. Although his wife spends a great deal of time tending to the little ones, she is still very much a part of her husband’s land-born adventure.

“It is amazing to see something you plant grow. What it really comes down to is the fact that we are only on this earth a few years, so why not do what you truly enjoy doing?” Lucas says. “I also want my kids to be to be raised with an appreciation of a farm atmosphere, and not just by the influences of suburbia.”

Homegrown goodness

Getting in the dirt and creating homegrown goodness for his family is important to Matt Ferrier, 34, of Urbandale. He and his wife, Sybil, have planted a vegetable garden together every spring since they met in 2004.  The couple enjoys growing tomatoes, bell peppers, and a variety of hot peppers, cucumbers, onions and snap peas.  If that batch wasn’t enough, the Ferriers also keep a bed of asparagus, a raspberry patch and a crop of blackberries and grapes.

Marty Lucas works in the field on his tractor. Photo submiteed.

Marty Lucas works in the field on his tractor. Photo submiteed.

“My family has had a garden as long as I can remember,” Matt says.  “I used to help my parents plant a garden every spring as a child, and now I plant my own every spring. We like to can vegetables to use through the winter.  We typically can whole tomatoes, tomato juice, salsa and vegetable juice. We also freeze our bell peppers and a variety of hot peppers. If there are enough cucumbers left, we like to make sliced pickles as well.”

When the Ferriers moved to Urbandale in 2008, they knew a garden was definitely going to become a permanent part of their new homestead. The thought of being an “urban farmer” never really crossed their minds. Having a garden just came naturally to them and seemed to make sense since they had the room to make it happen. All that mattered to the couple was creating and gathering good food, while participating in an enjoyable hobby together.

“My wife helps with the garden a lot,” Matt says. “She loves cooking with the fresh vegetables through the summer and fall.  She plants a variety of herbs to use as well.”

Helping to add to the gardening experience for the Ferrier family is the friendly company of Emma, the family dog. A black Lab, with a slight greying around the schnoz, Emma sticks close to Ferrier while he tends to his garden.

Marty Lucas and Connie Maxwell show off some of their pepper harvest from a year ago. Photo submitted.

Marty Lucas and Connie Maxwell show off some of their pepper harvest from a year ago. Photo submitted.

The mental image is almost storybook-like. Visualize a picturesque scene on a bright, sunny day, as the human rakes up debris and waters his blooming plants in the midst of a lush backyard. All the while, the obedient, fun-loving black Lab he lovingly refers to as Emma romps around freely and blissfully in the distance. She is faithful and grateful, as she helps to promote the love needed to make a healthy garden grow. The wife looks on as she is calmed by the relaxing and rewarding time spent in the yard with her family.

“Yeah, she’s a good dog, and getting older now, but still runs the yard happily and loves to be outside. She’s a good girl and fun to have around,” Matt says.

Matt is lucky in the way that he doesn’t have to raise some of his own food because of bad economic times, or for any fanaticism for wanting organic produce. The choice to be his own backyard farmer is actually quite simple.

Digging in the dirt, planting tiny seeds and watching something so small grow into an amazing product of the earth is what it is all about. When a child is raised by parents who garden, and shows a true appreciation of the fruitfulness that the earth can offer, a part of nature becomes forever instilled in his or her life.

The smell of fresh dirt and the way the rain is perceived when it serves as an anointment to the ground you have tilled and poured your love into never leaves your memory. It only makes you forever hungry for more of that fresh, earthly goodness.

“When I was growing up, we would eat the vegetables from our garden through the winter,” Matt says. “While it wasn’t a necessity, fresh food is always better.  We do it now to have some fresh vegetables through the winter, but my wife and I enjoy it and look forward to planting every spring.  We really enjoy cooking with our vegetables all year round.”

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