From the G to the R to the Attitude



November reminds us to be grateful for our farm, its bounty, and everyone who has helped us live our dream.

Hello, November! October frosts failed to kill off our pepper plants, so we’re thankful for some of the sweetest fruits of the season. In my humble opinion, the plants that survive the first frost are doubly fortunate, because they’re still alive, and they no longer have to struggle with high daytime temperatures, weed pressure, or lack of soil moisture.

About drought, every crisis is an opportunity. Earlier this year I lamented our lack of irrigation and how it negatively affected our vegetable production in a drought year. But now, I’m finding myself grateful that our ground is dry enough to be driven upon, allowing us to clear fence lines and complete other projects which would have been a lot more difficult on soft, wet ground.

A few things have happened in the last month which changed my view of our farm’s future and have, quite frankly, been emotionally overwhelming. 

First and foremost, we didn’t have a solid plan for our vegetables when it came time for harvesting, packing, and selling. If we had invested in irrigation piping and drip tape, we’d be up to our ears in produce and would have had to turn the entire poultry flock loose in the garden to keep veggies from rotting in the field. Thanks to our ‘failure,’ we now know what we are going to do next year to make the most of our situation. We’re planting less and going to a U-Pick model complete with a cut flower garden and sunflower field. From the beginning, we wanted to be a destination where families could have a personal farm experience, harvesting their own produce and cutting flowers for home bouquets. Our crisis became an opportunity.

The next shoe to drop (or tree to fall) was a local arborist who offered to pay us every time they dump logs and wood chips on our property. This is a source of passive income, mulch for our gardens, and firewood to split. Mulching with wood chips gives the soil a source of carbon to feed biota and encourages mycorrhizae (beneficial fungi) to colonize. We inoculate our chip piles with any mushrooms we find by crushing them up and mixing them in. Soon, we will begin receiving mushroom compost from our new friends at More Spores Farm in West Des Moines, IA, which we’ll incorporate into our compost piles and soil mixes. 

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If you recall last month’s Iowa Farm Companion, I mentioned selling our tractor because it needed costly repairs, wasn’t useful, and would help avoid the urge to go back to tillage. I still have no regrets. We’re able to use our 1960’s era Troy-Bilt tiller for the very few occasions requiring ground to be broken for new plantings, and I’ve only had it out once this fall to prepare ground for a 200-foot elderberry shrub row. We’re serious about not disrupting soil biology and prefer not to whenever possible. This decision has forced us to be intentional about how we’re using and preparing our land, which has us replacing the fast satisfaction of tillage with better land management. Still, we needed help.

It came from our good friend Mike, who insisted on bringing his tractor down for us to use. He was once a farmer, too, and was tired of seeing his beautiful Kubota tractor languishing in the backyard of his suburban home. He said we’d be doing him a favor by using it and keeping all of the mechanicals on it freely moving. I relented and accepted what has become a wonderful addition to our farm. Now we’re able to move in one hour what would have taken me a solid week with a wheelbarrow. Thank you, Mike, for all of your help and for pushing me out of my comfort zone a little. You’re the kind of friend everybody needs.

We’re grateful for the friends we have made. One of the most exciting farms I visited this year is Keeney Acre, the smallest farm in Polk County, IA. This family is living their dream, blooming where they are planted, and I see endless possibilities for their urban farm because they have the right attitude and are great at showing everyone what they’re up to through videos. When I arrived to buy several pounds of apples from Jacob and Lily Keeney, they gave me a tour and showed me what they’re growing, what is and isn’t working, and everything they are trying to complete. On their acre they have chickens, pigs, fruits and vegetables tucked into a narrow lot with a gorgeous hill. It’s so easy for a farmer to just see all of the work that needs doing, while your farm visitors see all the progress and potential. I know I’m guilty of pointing out everything we need to do, rather than just enjoying giving tours of our farm. I needed that reminder. My advice is to tour every farm you can and buy their products, follow them on social media, and make new friends. 

I’d be doing a huge disservice not to pour praise and gratitude upon Lydia. She is my partner, my best friend, and my wife. We’re running this farm together, thinking through every problem, and celebrating every victory. My city girl has become my farm girl, which nobody in her family saw coming. My gal has the biggest heart, and she’s smoothing my rough edges while I rough hers up a bit. Last month, she caught a possum in the chicken pen and trapped it in a bucket. I know we’re going to have a lot more adventures together, and I’m forever grateful she said “I do” live via the Internet in front of our friends, family, and Elvis (who performed at the service).

My teenage son, Joseph Jr., understands more about life than he realizes and is quite a responsible young man. He knew from an early age what homesteading was all about when we harvested our own eggs and vegetables from our backyard. It’s a joy when we have visitors to the farm with small children, and Junior takes them on a guided tour, showing them how to handle the animals and do daily chores. He just does what needs doing, and we’re so proud of the man he’s becoming. 

Thanksgiving is this month and there is a lot for which to be thankful. We didn’t get to this point alone and have family and friends to thank for their support, both material and moral. This life is tough, and I’ve heard more than once, “Don’t complain, you’re living your dream!” Dear friends, I am not complaining, I’m just talking about my day at work, which happens to be our life. There are so many people to thank, but there are also buildings to be fixed, coops to be finished, and brush to be cleared. Just know that we love and appreciate all of you.

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Joe Villines
Joe Villines
Joe Villines is a father, husband, US Army veteran and co-owner of Halfacre Farms at Armadillo Acres with his partner Lydia in Indianola, IA. He attended college for commercial horticulture to further a lifelong interest in growing food. Villines was a photojournalist and broadcaster in the Army Reserve where he served tours in Bosnia, Iraq, Kuwait and other assignments all over the world. Exposure to world strife and world agriculture informed his resolve to raising animals and crops using holistic methods for sale locally.
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