Hamilton County agriculture businesses highlight of Women in Ag bus tour
A series of women in ag bus tours are planned throughout the state of Iowa this summer, most recently taking a group of women through agricultural businesses in Hamilton County.
Sue Schmitz, program coordinator, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach for Hamilton County said she was contacted by Madeline Schultz, ISU Extension Women in Agriculture program manager to help coordinate the tour for central Iowa after she received a grant for the tours.
“There are a lot of women land owners and there are a lot of women who are actually doing things on the land and I wanted to offer an experience for both to help give them some information and empower them with skills and information that would help enhance their work,” she said.
Schmitz said she, along with a steering committee had to follow specific guidelines to plan the tours which included featuring topics that included financial, safety, regulation, marketing, water quality issues and hands on learning.
From there, Schmitz said they brainstormed, contacted people, worked on the logistics and came up with three stops for the bus tour throughout Hamilton County.
The first stop of the morning for the dozen women included a stop along the Boone River ox bows. There, the participants toured a row crop farm as wel as a first hand view of ox bows that have been installed near the Boone River watershed.
The next stop was to Lost Lake Farm LLC, a cheesery located near Jewell and Kamrar.
“I absolutely loved that we have this treasure in Hamilton County,” said Schmitz. “We already live in a wonderful county with so many great things, but I love that they are really true stewards of the land. They think about their animals and have really worked to create a real artisan cheese.”
During the tour, the group took a look at the dairy and cheesery as well as a tour of the family’s pasture and a lesson on their grazing practices.
Ranae Dietzel, whom along with her husband Kevin own and operated Lost Lake Farm.
“It was really great to see so many people interested and willing to hike around and have so many great questions about cheese,” said Dietzel.
Dietzel said they milk 16 cows daily on their farm and use the milk to make artisan cheese.
“It’s unique, one of a kind, hand crafted, homemade recipes,” she said. “The art really comes through the way that the cheese looks, in the way that the cheese is presented.”
At Lost Lake Farm, the couple makes what Dietzel described as a “very diverse set of cheeses,” which includes two fresh cheeses: fresh mozzarella that she said is hand stretched into eight-ounce balls and also fresh cheese curds.
They also make a semi-soft blooming rind cheese, Camembert and an ashed Camembert.
“The ashed Camembert is called Burnt Oak,” she said. “It has a layer of ash through the middle and the outside which changes some of the properties of the cheese and looks really nice if someone is putting it on a cheese plate.”
Dietzel said they also offer three hard aged cheeses which includes Ingrid’s Pride, which she said is in the same family as provolone and the aged version of that, Ingrid’s Reggiano which is aged for over 18 months and Iowa Alpine. Iowa Alpine she said is similar to gruyere.
Dietzel said their cheeses are available at Hy-Vee in Webster City, local meat lockers, farmers markets and more.
Farmg in Iowa was something Dietzel said they wanted to do and unfortunately, there are very few ways to start up your own farming operation in this day and age in Central Iowa.
“We thought it would be a good idea to make a value added product like cheese and sort of go to with this smaller business model between Jewell and Kamrar,” she said. “We’re trying to capture the essence of the farm. We want everything to move from the soil, through the grass to the cows to the cheese and capture all of that.”
After touring Lost Lake Farm LLC, the group traveled to Williams for a stop at Three Sisters Farm where they learned about the business’ organic sheep production along with predator and pasture management, lunch and informational speakers.
Speakers including Jamie Benning, ISU Extension water quality program manager; ISU Extension forester, Jesse Randall and ISU Extension farm management specialist, Kelvin Leibold rounded out the day speaking on water quality, chainsaw safety and the economics of using cover crops.
“The women saw a lot of great conservation practices that are being used already. They saw things being done and we discussed what else could be done and they were able to get hands on learning and seeing what people are doing helped them, I hope, to make plans for their own land and their own businesses,” said Schmitz.
Laurie Epps, retail banking officer and branch manager with Availa Bank in Webster City said not only was Availa Bank recently named as one of the top 100 farm lenders in the state of Iowa, but they are also interested in all things ag and used the opportunity for the women in ag bus tour to educate herself to better connect with her customers.
“I am a woman, and this was a day to get out of the office, a day for me to learn something new and I have learned so much,” said Epps.
Learning about an oxbow and getting a first hand look at the cheesery stood out for Epps.
“I had to Google what an oxbow was because I have never heard about it,” she said. “I have lived here more or less all of my life, but I had no idea the problems we have created for ourselves. And the cheese operation is also very interesting. It’s been very eye opening, you gain a whole new respect for all aspects. This is our community and you don’t have any clue that these things are going on.”
Another tour participate, Brittney Mortenson of Webster City said she enjoyed the day and the learning opportunities as well.
“I felt like it was something different you could do. I like that it was based for women,” she said. “As an adult, you don’t take field trips anymore, so how are you supposed to see this type of thing and these types of business? It is a good opportunity to do that.”