Some see organic farming as a sure-fire way to improve struggling farm communities. Others say it will take a lot more than higher premiums to make a lasting economic difference.
As an organic farmer in Northeast Iowa, Wendy Johnson often feels like she and her family are living on an island. The small acreage she rents from her family’s farm to grow corn, soybeans, and small grains and raise chickens, hogs, and sheep, is surrounded by large swaths of conventional corn and soy.
“All winter long, I go to meetings set up for the conventional system of corn and [soy]beans,” Johnson, who runs Joia Food Farm, wrote in an email recently. “I spend a lot of time seeking out research and assistance from mentors or professionals who may be over 500 miles away—and what do they know about my soils?”
At Iowa State University, she adds, “there are only a few agriculture classes focused on organic production, versus a number of classes focused on working in chemical-dependent Big Ag.