At a media conference on February 27, 2018, Indian Creek Nature Center announced its strategic vision for the 190-acre Etzel Sugar Grove Farm as well as the lead gift of $150,000 from local organic products manufacturer, Frontier Co-op, to the project’s seed funding campaign. The farm, located about four miles northwest of the Tuma Soccer Complex in rural Marion, was donated to the Nature Center by George Etzel in 2016 and is one of the largest gifts in the Nature Center’s history.
The Nature Center unveiled a two-phase plan to establish environmentally sustainable permaculture farming practices at Etzel Sugar Grove Farm, and to achieve the organization’s vision to create champions of nature through education and replication of these practices. The Nature Center envisions people and organizations working together to restore the health and integrity of Iowa’s farms, watersheds, and environment.
Phase I of the Nature Center’s plan for the farm includes certifying an 8-acre field as USDA organic, hiring a farm manager, managing livestock including chickens and goats, and planting perennial crops using permaculture practices. The Nature Center will: educate the public on the benefits of permaculture farming, with a focus on the economic viability of these practices; provide gardening, farming, and other how-to programs for the public; and educate farmers and farm organizations on the organic certification process.
Permaculture is an agriculture system that creates efficient, self-sustaining ecosystems, effectively reusing energy and resources as much as possible before they leave the system – rather than solely pulling resources from the earth, as current agriculture does. The benefits of permaculture farming include improving water quality, producing valuable goods for market, providing habitat for wildlife and creating corridors for their travel, sequestering carbon and other greenhouse gases, and more.
At the media conference, Frontier Co-op CEO Tony Bedard announced the company’s partnership with the Nature Center, saying “It’s not often that you’re presented with an opportunity to transform the way our community views such important issues as organic agriculture and environmental sustainability. We’ve chosen to partner with ICNC in their efforts because we know they share our core principals.”
Etzel Sugar Grove Farm consists of 80 acres of agricultural land, 80 acres of timber, 20 acres of pasture, and 10 acres of farmstead. Phase I of the plan for the farm, as detailed above, will extend through 2020.