A Farm With A Focus on Community
Natasha Hegmann and Pete Kerns on their farm
Natasha Hegmann and Pete Kerns on their farm. Photo courtesy Practical Farmers of Iowa

Tamsyn Jones for Practical Farmers of Iowa

Natasha Hegmann has found a happy balance with where the farmers market fits in her direct-marketing plan. As an introvert, she values the solitary time she spends working at Turkey River Farm, the diversified produce, hog and agroforestry farm she runs with her husband, Pete Kerns, near Elkport.

But as a beginning farmer passionate about serving her rural community, she also loves the weekly opportunity to meet and interact with her customers at the Guttenberg Farmers Market, about 18 miles away.

“I love it because it’s a small-town farmers market on the banks of the Mississippi River in a grassy park,” Natasha says. “And at this park, we know the names of most of our customers, and they have come to know us well, even though we’ve only been farming four years.” …

Natasha and Pete met in Montana while serving in FoodCorps. They knew early on that they wanted to start a farm together focused on their mutual interest in food and social justice – and the Midwest made sense. Natasha grew up in Iowa, while Pete, originally from the Chicago area, had potential access to family land in southern Illinois.

The couple started exploring land access options while still in Montana. They looked at farms in Wisconsin and considered Pete’s family land in Illinois. Ultimately, the opportunity to rent land from the Communia Corporation led them to choose Iowa. “We did not do a thorough investigation of the market for vegetables and pork in Clayton County before we moved here,” Natasha explains. …

For Natasha, seeing the unexpected role farmers markets would play in their fledgling CSA underscored a key lesson: establishing trust takes time. Being mindful of this is valuable for any relationship in life, Natasha says, but she notes it’s especially important for beginning farmers to bear in mind.

“It’s really important to have patience with relationships, if direct-marketing is what you’re trying to do,” Natasha says. “It takes people time to become comfortable with new people, ideas and products – and it takes multiple exposures. That’s one thing I learned in FoodCorps about kids. They need to see a new food or vegetable several times before they become comfortable with it.

“With vegetables and a CSA, you’re asking a customer to put a lot of trust in you – and money in your operation. You’re asking them to make a commitment, and also deal with weird vegetables sometimes. That’s kind of a big ask, and we really had to establish trust with customers that we knew what we were doing and could bring a consistent supply of beautiful, fresh vegetables to market every week.”