DES MOINES — Jill Duncan wants to be a farmer, but she is under no illusion that she knows exactly how to run a farm. That’s where Jenny Quiner comes in.
Quiner, who operates Dogpatch Urban Gardens in Des Moines, took Duncan on as an employee and student. Her hope was to not only hire good help, but also to teach another person some of the lessons of operating a farm, especially an urban farm.
The arrangement is part of Practical Farmers of Iowa’s Labor4Learning program.
The idea is simple, according to Greg Padget, who works with farmers through the PFI program. The goal is to help beginning or prospective farmers get paid for on-the-job training with experienced farmers. The organization supports the veteran farmers who are willing to take on farming trainees and makes connections between the two groups.
So far it has worked well for Quiner and Duncan.
Dogpatch Urban Garden is now in its fourth year, and Quiner has an acre of land in the city where she grows vegetables on about a quarter acre, has a farm stand, and operates a CSA and a bed and breakfast. She and her husband and three children are still learning as they go, but they see their farm as filling a niche, providing fresh produce to an urban market.
”I didn’t have the classic farm background,” says Quiner, who was a teacher before starting Dogpatch. “But it was something I wanted to try. … I think what Jill is doing is great.”
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Duncan, for her part, has run a business in St. Louis, but she is interested in starting an urban garden business there and decided it would be best to connect with an existing urban farm to help her learn more about agriculture.
“I had this idea for an urban farm in the central corridor of St. Louis,” she says. “It’s going to happen … but I wanted to take a year to work full-time for another farmer.”
So far, that has proven a wise choice, she adds. She says she is learning basic lessons in business and horticulture. For example, Duncan says, she is constantly amazed by the resiliency of the plants, and she has learned that bigger is not necessarily better for a business as long as you maximize the available space.
There are also numerous lessons regarding the business side of farming.
“That’s still something that I’m working on,” she says.
Quiner, for example, does not just depend on one crop or even one revenue stream.
And both women say that agriculture, in any form or size, requires versatility.
“It’s not just one job,” Duncan says. “It’s many, many, many different jobs.”