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The Scarlet & Black

Grinnell Heritage Farm plants roots in community

Melissa Dunham holds a tray of basil. Photo by Andrew Tucker.
Andy Dunham places a pizza in the wood-fired oven. Contributed photo.


Nestled at the corner of Penrose Street and 16th Avenue stands Grinnell Heritage Farm, a 74-acre, diversified fruit and vegetable farm that grows about 15 varieties of organic produce. Although above average rains and an early frost made 2018 a difficult year for Melissa Dunham and her husband Andy— the owner-operators of the farm — the two are ready to put their best foot forward in 2019.

Keeping with their commitment to sustainable farming practices, the farm is certified organic by the Midwest Organic Services Association (MOSA) and has developed a wide customer base. Apart from sending their products to grocery stores and food distribution hubs throughout the Midwest, Grinnell Heritage Farm also distributes its product through community supported agriculture shares (CSA’s). “People [can] buy a season’s share of the farm… and we distribute those shares [across the entire state]” said Dunham.

The mission of Grinnell Heritage Farm, however, goes beyond the actual farming. “[We want to be] positive community collaborators who are working with grassroots measures to have a hand in solving climate change,” said Dunham. The farm regularly partners with nonprofits to help share their commitment to community building and sustainable farming.

In previous years the farm has worked with the Xerces Society — an international non-profit focusing on invertebrate conservation — to host a field day for children. They have also done work with Practical Farmers of Iowa and the Pesticide Action Network. This year, the farm is hosting a meeting for the Bee Better Certification Program, a subset of the Xerces Society that works to protect bees and other pollinators in agricultural settings.

In addition to their national partnerships, the Dunhams have also made efforts to engage with the local Grinnell community. In 2017, the Dunhams began hosting “HaPIZZAness,” an outdoor pizza dinner on the second and fourth Friday of each month between May and September. “It’s a little cheesy,” Dunham said, referencing the name, “[but] the whole idea was to create connections through every cross section of our community, and I believe that food can be something that can bring people together.”

With warm summer nights drawing crowds of about 300, the Dunhams’ mission seems to be a success. Those attending “HaPIZZAness” can also enjoy live music from local bands and wagon rides around the farm with Eric Morrison, a Grinnell native that has worked on the farm for eight years.

The first “HaPIZZAness” of the year will occur on May 10, and feature music from “Calle Sur,” a local, Latin-American group that includes Karin Stein, the wife of Grinnell College anthropology professor Jonathan Andelson.

“We’re also doing a new thing called environmental readers where we ring the bell for children and then we’ve got community members who are coming in to read environmental stories – think of The Lorax or Bee and Me,” Dunham said. The first environmental reader is Doug Cameron, a retired principal from the Grinnell-Newburg school district. Looking ahead, Grinnell Heritage Farm will be partnering with the faculty and students of Grinnell College’s Peace and Conflict Studies concentration to host “Peace and HaPIZZAness” on September 27th, the last pizza night of the year.

With new, diverse groups of visitors each week, “HaPIZZAness” has become a great way for community members of all ages to get away from the stresses of daily life. “One of my favorite things to see is actually the kids on the landscape,” said Dunham. “‘HaPIZZAness’ is a great way for families to come to a place [where] the adults can relax in an open-air atmosphere… listen to good music, have great conversations [and] meet new people [while] their kids are running around on the farm.”

Fostering this direct interaction between community members and the landscape is another important goal for the Dunhams: one that led them to develop an experiential volunteer program at their farm. The farm’s “Volunteer, Experience and Learn Program” is active on “HaPIZZAness” nights and on Friday mornings.

“Andy and I are consistently looking at our space and our activities from morning to night to see what it is we could do to make a positive impact, and we think that one of the things we need to do is get people out here,” Mrs Dunham said. As an added perk, volunteers enjoy free food and are always sent home with plenty of fresh vegetables.

Volunteers work alongside the Dunhams and their crew, making it a great, hands-on opportunity to learn about gardening techniques and organic practices. “[The crew’s] knowledge base is pretty deep. If you’ve got questions about climate change and how that relates to the food system, I would encourage you to come…ask us those hard questions [or] share your ideas” said Dunham. In building this program, the Dunhams have sown new seeds for experiential learning and grassroots community building, both of which have help firmly root Grinnell Heritage Farm in the local community.

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