Woman Vegetable Farmer, Jessica Krupicka, Navigates Climate Change with a Diverse Operation, Heritage Hill Farm in Iowa - American Farmland Trust

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September 13th, 2023

Woman Vegetable Farmer, Jessica Krupicka, Navigates Climate Change with a Diverse Operation, Heritage Hill Farm in Iowa

A love for the smells, sounds, and tastes of the garden was part of Jessica Krupicka’s life long before she started Heritage Hill Farm, a 10-acre diversified veggie farm just outside of Ames, Iowa. She grew up gardening with her grandma and observing all the canned foods she put up and the long rows of bright-colored zinnias. The scent of dill running through her little fingers while helping her grandma in the garden especially takes her back to that time and makes her feel connected to her family.

“My aha moment happened in sixth grade when I realized that I wanted to go to school to learn how to grow plants. I went through 4-H and FFA with those interest areas, expanding my skills and knowledge and eventually went onto Iowa State University to study Horticulture. It was probably a bit of a calling.”

That multigenerational connection is a through-line in her work and the network she’s built. In 2012, Jessica purchased her land from a fifth-generation farmer who lives down the road, and the ongoing perspective she gained from these experienced farmers shaped a lot about her approach.

“We’ve worked with a lot of farmers that were retiring from farming. They taught us so much about the seasons, how they weathered tough ones and provided insight on varieties to grow. I was able to purchase equipment from them as well”

Now, she grows flowers, veggies, and fruits, all using organic practices. Jessica gives special care to heirloom plant varieties, which help set her produce apart and catch the eye of central Iowa restaurants. She puts her Iowa State University horticulture degree to use by trialing new varieties of flowers, veggies, and tomatoes each year.

At its core, Jessica’s farm exists to meet community needs and connect her neighbors across Ames to their food system. For example, Jessica facilitates The Farm to Folk Food Hub, which is an aggregation service for produce, eggs, and honey from small farms in central Iowa. Farm to Folk’s community model provides diversity to Jessica’s market and also helped Heritage Hill weather unexpected market changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. At a time when in-person sales couldn’t happen, Farm to Folk needed to pivot to an online store model, which made it possible for Jessica and other farmers to get local food into the community and keep food on their own tables.

Running a diversified farming operation has been important to Heritage Hill’s bottom line and has also made it easier for Jessica and her family to navigate the unpredictability of climatic changes and extreme weather events in central Iowa.

“Weather is different every year. The 2020 derecho damaged our high tunnel and our biggest cash crop – tomatoes. . . The weather’s always changing and in the back of our minds we’re always wondering how this compares to last year and feeling some anxiety about our timing year to year. We are still getting to know our land through trial and error and rotating crops. Some years might be wetter or drier. But we have agricultural practices that we’re thinking about to help us weather those changes.”

Jessica is constantly tweaking her agricultural practices to make her operation more resilient, especially by protecting her most valuable crops. This year, Jessica is trying out growing tomatoes inside and outside the hoop house as a safety net in case an early season heat wave causes the hoop house tomatoes to drop their blossoms or crack their fruit. She is also looking at natural solutions to tackle erosion caused by heavy rains.

“Yes, climate events have affected our approach. For example, we had to plant this year’s potatoes early because last year it got too hot too early for them to thrive. Too much rain last season led to runoff on our farm. We’re going to be installing cover crops and raspberries this year to help.”

Jessica leans on her community to learn more about the land and build resilience. People lean on her, too. She’s helped neighboring farms recover from destructive hailstorms and created relationships that make it possible for the local food system to function, even when intense weather strikes. Farmers in her immediate community and beyond are thinking about how they might weather the changes they are seeing. Jessica is doing on-farm research with a Women Landowner group through the Women Food & Agriculture Network to help answer her own questions about climate resilience, while contributing to solutions that other farmers might replicate.

“We work closely with this landowner group to conduct member driven research. They have a really large scope and we’re bound to connect with people that way.”

Jessica has big dreams for the future of Heritage Hill Farm, which include an on-farm market, and deeper collaborations with other farms in her community. To make these dreams happen, Jessica sees a need for more resources that are targeted to specialty crop producers, on topics ranging from marketing assistance to climate forecasting.

“We worked with our local NRCS office, but we are looking for additional resources on climate forecasting information or more information about what people are anticipating. I grew up watching the farm report with my dad. It usually only relates to corn and soy farmers, so it would be interesting to have more of that information from a diversified farming perspective.”

She’s started to develop the relationships that could lead to these collaborations by connecting to her neighbors and to other farmers through organizations like PFI and the Women, Food, and Agriculture Network (WFAN). As she looks to the growing seasons ahead, Jessica notes a need for dedicated relationship-building spaces among farmers. These farmer-to-farmer learning spaces would allow people like Jessica to exchange information and share resources to build climate resilience and prepare for weather events on her farmland that are more tailored to her farming model. Greater access to support networks could make it easier for Jessica to visualize the next few years at Heritage Hill for herself, her family, and her community.

 “We are hungry for information about climate change, erosion, and weather patterns that can help us anticipate a little bit more and be able to plan better instead of just dealing with things on the farm each year as they arise. Last September, I was honored to meet with our legislators in Washington regarding the upcoming Farm Bill. I was able to provide them a perspective from a small specialty grower who has seen challenges and offer input on beneficial programs related to climate and marketing of our crops.”

Such peer-to-peer spaces are not only critical for production system-specific information that can be hard to come by from traditional agricultural support systems, but they also provide invaluable support among farmers with shared vision and values. That’s the kind of learning environment that Jessica wants: something that can help her farm and those around her not just get through the next crisis but truly thrive in abundance for the long term.

WFAN and AFT’s Women for the Land program are jointly organizing women-centered events for Iowa producers in the Fall of 2023. If you are interested in participating in these events contact amie@wfan.org.

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