Couple awarded sustainable ag award

2011-03-22T10:15:00Z 2011-03-23T03:23:14Z Couple awarded sustainable ag awardBy MATTHEW WILDE, Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier

NEW HAMPTON, Iowa --- Lucky and Bucky rule the roost at the Frantzen farm.

The roosters strut around like they own the place. Tom and Irene Frantzen don't mind.

Their feathered friends are a reason why they love to farm. While agriculture is a business, the Frantzens say the animals and land they care for are more than just dollars to them. They're a way of life.

It's this philosophy, they believe, that will ensure the success of the farm and entire community for generations. Practical Farmers of Iowa like the Frantzens' way of thinking.

The farm organization presented the couple with its 2011 Sustainable Agriculture Achievement Award in January for "creating vibrant communities, healthful food and diverse farms." Based in Ames, Practical Farmers promotes profitable, ecologically sound and community-enhancing approaches to agriculture.

"We are not farming just for ourselves, but also for our neighbors and community. That's part of sustainability," Irene said. "We're humbled ... to be recognized by our peers."

The Frantzens --- with the help of their son, James, who intends to take over the farm --- run a organic grain and livestock operation about 13 miles northwest of New Hampton. They raise corn, soybeans, small grains, hay and pasture on 385 acres, using four- and seven-year crop rotations.

About 50 head of cattle and 400 to 500 hogs are sold annually. All crops and livestock are marketed through Organic Valley Cooperative based in La Farge, Wis., and its subsidiary, Organic Prairie.

Tom began farming conventionally in 1974, but decided to switch gears five years later after listening to Pope John Paul II speak on the radio. The pontiff, who was visiting Living History Farms in Des Moines, advised farmers to conserve the land so future generations will inherit it in better shape than when it was entrusted in them.

The Frantzens eventually phased out commercial fertilizer, insecticides and herbicides. The farm was certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Program by 2000. Conservation practices, like buffer strips and tree planting, became a priority.

In 2008, after 9 inches of rain fell on the farm, Tom knew they had done the right thing.

"We had a catastrophic rain, but we had shelter belts and a diverse rotation that slowed the water down. Our hay was holding water back," Tom said. "We know we're living in a watershed and what we do affects (other) people."

Many of the Frantzens' farming practices may take a little more time and effort to implement, but the couple said it's worth it. Other farmers may make more money, but maximum profitability isn't the goal, they said.

Teresa Opheim, Practical Farmers executive director, said it is an honor to give the couple the award.

"The Frantzens have participated in more than 50 research trials and helped forge a path for other farmers to follow in attaining sustainability," Opheim said in a statement.

James plans to follow in his parents' footsteps.

"This is my passion," he said. "I've seen other (agricultural) practices done. The way we're being stewards of the land and animals just makes sense."

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