About Abbe Hills Farm
Laura Krouse purchased the 72-acre farm near Mt. Vernon, Iowa, in 1988 from Jeri and Barb Neal. The first improvements were a driveway, then the big shed. The big pond near Laura's house was also built in 1988 during the major drought of that year. The smaller shed, the wetland near the road, and Laura's house have all been built since 1996. Laura grows corn, hay, oats, and the garden on the 54 acres of the farm that are crop ground. The rest of the land is buildings and driveways, natural area, pond, wetland, and restored prairie.
Laura started Abbe Hills Farm CSA in 1996 with the encouragement of 10 enthusiastic families. As it has grown, the CSA has become the critical component in the profitability and sustainability of the farm. In 2008, after 20 years at Cornell College, Laura quit her full-time job as a biology teacher towork full-time on the farm, and now depends on the farm for nearly all of her yearly income.
In 2013, about 10 acres of the 72-acre farm will be garden crops, and the harvest of those crops will be divided into shares for about 200 area families. Laura and her team of college and high school students will grow over 100 varieties of crops, and have vegetables for shareholder families for 20 weeks from early June until the end of October.
To produce the vegetables, field crops, and poultry grown on Abbe Hills Farm, Laura employs mostly practices that are used on organic farms, although her farm is not certified organic. To claim to be organic, farms must be inspected and certified by outside, third-party organizations, and will have a certificate that allows them to use the “organic” label legally. It’s a lot of work and expense to be certified organic, and it’s only fair that we respect the work of truly organic farmers and use the word carefully. So, you won’t hear Laura say that Abbe Hills is an “organic” farm; she’ll say that she uses mostly organic practices.
Organic practices and products are generally those that build soil health, improve biodiversity, and avoid the use of synthetic products. At Abbe Hills, we use only organic approved insecticides on vegetable crops, infrequently and carefully, and never on the parts of the plants that we eat. We fertilize with cover crops, compost, organic and (a small amount) synthetic fertilizers. While some crops are grown on thin, black plastic mulch, mostly we kill weeds with cultivators and hoes. We rotate crops over the entire farm to take advantage of the ecosystem services provided by the biodiversity of the rotation. With peas and sweet corn, crops that are planted very early into cold, wet soil, we sometimes use seed coated with a synthetic fungicide to insure that the seeds survive long enough to grow. We hope to find a way to avoid the use of this product sometime soon.
Biodiversity and Fancy Tools
Ebert Honey, from Lynville, Iowa, keeps more than 20 beehives on the farm to help us with pollination, and we manage the gardens, fields, and natural areas to provide plenty of food and habitat for the honeybees and our many native pollinators and birds. We also manage the landscape to promote the welfare of the beneficial insects who are the natural enemies to many of our insect pests.
We have a trickle irrigation system fed from the pond to help out when the weather turns dry. There is a hoophouse for early season production of our bedding plants, and late season growing for market. We use a walk-in cooler to keep things fresh from harvest until you arrive to pick them up.
Over 100 Golden Comet hens live in a mobile henhouse that rotates around their pasture. They produce tasty, healthy brown eggs to sell year round, plus wonderful chicken manure for the compost pile.
Of course, there are almost always kittens.