Mushrooms, Cranberries and More – Recap of YPiA East Coast Ag Tour

This fall, three Flynnies headed east with the Young Professionals in Agriculture group to learn more about agriculture across Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. From familiar row crop farms to urban food forests and Amish farms, the group experienced a variety of agricultural ventures and brought many takeaways back to the Midwest. The tour allowed members to see first-hand the similarities and differences between agriculture in the Northeast and Iowa.

Urban Food Forest

The Urban Food Forest, our first stop on the tour, is a unique concept we were all excited to see. Located in the middle of suburbia, two men have transformed a few acres into what appeared at first to be an overgrown garden. However, once entering the food forest, you quickly realized that it was created to be just that—a natural habitat to emulate a natural forest. Growing things like persimmons, kale, paw paw and shitake mushrooms, the owners have created a sustainable model for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project and are truly growing things from the land and letting nature take its course. It was an incredible model that is a new way of producing sustainable food directly from the land in a uncommon agricultural setting.

Lessing-Flynn YPiA 2017 East Coast Tour Urban Food Forest

Beam Farms

Bill Beam, owner-operator, welcomed us to Beam Farm located just west of Philadelphia. The 3,000-acre farm with an average field size of 16 acres operates more like a traditional Iowa corn and soybean farm but on a much smaller scale. In tandem with the farming operation, Beam uniquely integrates a profitable side business producing and packaging sawdust and wood shavings to the tune of $2 million in retail sales each year. Sawdust is purchased in bulk from furniture manufactures as a byproduct, then Beam packages and merchandises to customers for inexpensive animal bedding. A large percentage of his customer base includes local equestrian businesses operators and horse owners.

One of the interesting aspects of Beam Farms is the rich history of the area and how it impacts the farming operation. Some of the farmland now recognized as a historical site was once owned by William Penn. Benjamin Franklin cast his first iron wood stove, cannons and cannon balls for the Revolutionary War in the blast furnace still preserved on the farm.

We also learned Beam Farm is at the top of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, motivating Beam to incorporate sustainable row crop farming practices. This includes crop rotation, the use of cover crops for water management, reduced and no-till, as well as pest management and nutrient management. Protecting the rich, freshwater marsh on Beam’s farm is very important.

Lessing-Flynn YPiA 2017 East Coast Tour Beam Farms

Needham Mushroom Farms

The smell of (very) fresh compost greeted us upon arrival at the mushroom farm. This family business produces millions of mushrooms each year, selling both mushroom compost packs for others to finish growing their own mushrooms, and a full mushroom facility that grows mushrooms to harvest for restaurant customers. Our tour guide walked us through the entire mushroom growing process, from creating nutrient-rich compost (utilizing waste from nearby poultry and horse farms) to adding mushroom spores and creating the dark, humid environment that allows mushrooms to foster.

Lessing-Flynn YPiA 2017 East Coast Tour Mushroom Farm

Lessing-Flynn YPiA 2017 East Coast Tour Mushroom Farm

Cutts Cranberry Farm

We’ve all seen the Ocean Spray television commercials with the actors in waders harvesting cranberries, but it looks a lot different when you’re actually standing in a cranberry bog! We missed harvest by a week when we stopped by Cutts’ Cranberry Farm, but we were able to get a full tour of the farm’s cranberry bogs and learn how harvest happens. The New Jersey grower we visited sells many of his cranberries to Ocean Spray, which is a grower’s cooperative. The process of harvesting is absolutely fascinating and is a very small industry. It is a growing industry for agriculture, as cranberries have many health benefits. For the Iowans on the trip, it opened our eyes to a different type of agriculture.

Lessing-Flynn YPiA 2017 East Coast Tour Cutts Cranberry Farm

Harborview Farms

With 14 top-notch employees, the 13,000-acre row crop farm grows corn, soybeans and wheat in one of America’s most challenging geographies to operate a farm. Located just 40 feet from the Chesapeake Bay, Harborview Farms has taken the lead on innovation and being on the forefront of issues critical to the environment. Using unique farming practices and integrating the latest technology, Harborview Farms has become a leader in advancing agriculture.


Lessing-Flynn YPiA 2017 East Coast Tour Harbourview Farms

Reading Terminal Market

The tour ended with a stop at the Reading Terminal Market, one of America’s oldest and largest public markets. The market features a wide selection of fresh produce, locally sourced meats and cheeses, plus some traditional Philly favorites such as cheesesteak and butter cake. The market is a unique approach to a year-round farmers market located in the heart of Philadelphia.

Lessing-Flynn YPiA 2017 East Coast Tour Reading Market

Being exposed to a wide variety of operations on our trip expanded our view of American agriculture. We all had key learnings regarding growers and dealer relationships based on our conversations. We are grateful for those that work so hard while leading the agriculture industry through innovation and continually putting food on our tables.



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