A crowd of 20 farmers from across Northeast Iowa gathered atop a 1200-foot high ridge near Garber in late August to learn about Jupiter Ridge Farm, where William Lorentzen and Adrian White produce ethically and sustainably grown gourmet shiitake mushrooms and vegetables. William and Adrian hosted the Northeast Iowa Food and Farm Network gathering and shared their farm history, production practices and marketing channels during a tour.
Will and Adrian farmed vegetables and mushrooms together as managers at Echollective farm near Iowa City. But when Steve Beaumont of Garber offered his beautiful hilltop farm through the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT) for farmers seeking land, they knew they had found a spot to put down roots with their existing farm business. They made the move to Garber in 2016 and had the farm up and running for the 2017 growing season.
Now, during their second season at Jupiter Ridge, Adrian and Will continue to develop systems and infrastructure to keep their farm growing including a pack-shed, caterpillar tunnel, deer fence, and a woodland shelter for their mushroom production.
The tour started with the shiitake mushrooms, a novel enterprise for many of the farm guests. Will and Adrian explained how they inoculate four-foot-long logs with the spawn of different fungal strains. First they use an angle grinder to create holes in the bark of the logs, then they put the mushroom spawn in the holes and seal them with food grade vegetable wax. They also cover the ends of the logs with the wax to prevent other fungal strains from entering the log and competing with the shiitakes.
Once the logs are inoculated, it takes six to twelve months before they can produce mushrooms, but then they continue to produce for five to six years. Adrian and Will manage mushroom production by emulating rain events, which force the mushrooms to fruit. They keep the logs dry and covered until they need a flush of shiitakes, then they soak the logs in a tank of water to stimulate fruiting. Each week Adrian and Will soak part of their inventory of logs and produce 10-15 pounds of shiitakes.
After learning about shiitakes, the group shifted gears to see three acres of vegetable production, which is surrounded by a beautiful tall grass prairie planting. This season, Will and Adrian added an electric deer fence around half of the vegetables, which they plan to extend next planting season.
Jupiter Ridge’s vegetable production enterprise is incredibly complex, with over 49 different varieties of vegetables grown annually. Will and Adrian manage multiple successions of each vegetable so they can maximize the variety available to their customers throughout the growing season. Their caterpillar tunnel extends the growing season by trapping solar heat and warming the soil and air. In the tunnel, they can start crops sooner in the spring and keep crops growing after the frost.
In the past year, the construction of a new packshed has facilitated efficiency on the farm as well. With sinks and a walk-in cooler, the space enables Will and Adrian to wash vegetables and remove the field heat from their crops immediately after harvest. This ensures the highest-quality products for their various customers.
As direct marketers, Will and Adrian work hard to build and serve their markets. In addition to selling directly to consumers at the Dubuque Farmers Market and the Downtown Cedar Rapids Farmers Market, they also sell to a variety of restaurants.
Despite all that they’ve accomplished in the past two years, Will and Adrian have ambitious goals for future developments. They’re planning to add a variety of fruit trees. They are even considering developing a stone fruit planting on the north slope, where cooler spring conditions would delay the trees from budding and protecting the buds from late spring frosts.
As the tour wrapped up, the group gathered for a potluck picnic at the northwest corner of the ridge, with an incredible view of the valley below and a late summer sunset. With a wide variety of home-grown, August bounty, the farmers enjoyed a delicious meal along with each other’s company.
If you’d like to learn more about Jupiter Ridge Farm and find their products, check out jupiterridgefarm.com/
The Northeast Iowa Food and Farm Network is a casual gathering of local food, beginning, and transitioning farmers making connections, finding common interests, collaborating, and learning together. Whether you’re a farmer or a curious eater, all are welcome. Contact Kayla Koether (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.