Growing a new kind of farm
Since George Etzel donated his family farm to Indian Creek Nature Center back in 2016, Frontier Co-op has been fully committed to realizing the potential of Etzel Sugar Grove Farm to become an alternative to agriculture practices that strip the land of its resources.
Frontier Co-op and Indian Creek Nature Center share the belief that Etzel Sugar Grove Farm can be a powerful tool for educating the public on regenerative agriculture practices that can improve the health of Iowa’s farmland, watersheds and environment.
Regenerative agriculture prioritizes farming practices that utilize the natural ecosystems surrounding the farm to create a field that can produce a variety of healthy foods indefinitely. This means the crops do not rely on chemical-based herbicides, pesticides or artificial nutrients and fertilizer to produce profitable yields for generations to come.
In order to transition Sugar Grove from a conventional row-crop system to an organic permaculture system, we had to rethink how this piece of land interacts with humans, with tools, and the very crops that are grown.
The hard work was recognized by the Midwest Organic Services Association when Etzel Sugar Grove Farm became certified organic in 2021. The farm produces organic vegetables, fruits, herbs and eggs that are sold locally or used in Indian Creek Nature Center programs, but the farm is not yet economically self-sufficient. Reaching its full potential is critical to the farm becoming the powerful tool it needs to be to help transform the future of agriculture.
More of a good thing
The farm’s growth to this point is possible in large part to an investment of $150,000 from Frontier Co-op in 2018. Frontier Co-op employees have even volunteered 482 hours working on the farm since the partnership began.
This support not only helped get organic production started at the farm, but also inspired others to invest in regenerative agriculture. After Frontier’s initial gift, six corporations and 25 private donors have collectively contributed more than $1.7 million to expand operations at Etzel Sugar Grove Farm.
Today, Etzel Sugar Grove Farm has a 6-acre permaculture field growing organic produce, a flock of more than 100 pasture-raised chickens, 14 acres of woodlands, an apiary, and a 500-tree orchard. The farm also includes an irrigation well and partial drip line, prairie buffer strips, and baseline soil testing — much of which has been possible thanks to community support.
Investments from Frontier Co-op and others have moved the farm closer to self-sufficiency, but there is still room to grow. While we are able to sell some produce locally, and we get excited to see our produce finding its way to plates across eastern Iowa, we have higher aspirations for our regenerative farm.
Frontier Co-op’s continued support will help to make Etzel Sugar Grove Farm economically viable, based solely on the sale of organic produce. This will serve as a model to farmers across Iowa and the country who want to make a living while caring for our land, water, wildlife and fellow humans.
New investment in regenerative farming
Indian Creek Nature Center is pleased to announce Frontier Co-op is investing $210,000 to advance regenerative agriculture at Etzel Sugar Grove Farm over the next three years, beginning in 2024. Frontier Co-op’s support will transform the organic farming operations at Etzel Sugar Grove Farm by improving the land, helping to construct a workshop, and expanding crop production.
The permaculture field is currently at 25% of its capacity. Increasing utilization of the field to 100% will create an economically self-sufficient farm model that can be replicated by farmers across the state and country.
Investment from community partners like Frontier Co-op allows Indian Creek Nature Center to put the currently unused 2.8 acres in the permaculture field to better use. By 2026, the permaculture field will have …
- Triple the space dedicated to fruit trees and bushes
- Double the space planted with fruits, vegetables and herbs
- A new kiwi vineyard
- Another half acre of protected green space with apiary and shrub buffers
- A new 6,000-square-foot shed with space for equipment storage, produce processing, restrooms and workspace.
The future of agriculture is coming … and Frontier Co-op and Indian Creek Nature Center are proud to lead the way.