Just last year, Jenny saw her first seeds on her urban farm. This proved to be both exciting and terrifying.
Take us back to you as a kid. I'm a Des Moines native. I was born and raised in Urbandale. I went to Urbandale Middle School and then Dowling for high school. I'm a middle child, and have an older brother, Jon Harle and a younger brother, Ben Harle. I come from a very tight knit and supportive family. Most of my memories from being a kid revolve around sports. I was a total jock and tomboy. I played many sports but really found my love for basketball and soccer. Athletics really helped to shape the person I am today.
Walk us through the days leading up to starting your own thing. It's hard to totally pin point the days leading up to the beginning of the business, because there were many stepping stones to getting the business running.
For example I started the Dogpatch Urban Gardens LLC in October of 2015, but didn't get any seeds in the ground until March of 2016. That said, I began building my customer relationships during the winter before last season by growing and selling microgreens in my basement grow nursery. I used the microgreens as a way for me to meet with chefs and deliver them samples (who doesn't love free stuff!?!?)
Thinking back to March of 2016, the days of getting my first seeds into the ground for Dogpatch Urban Gardens was both exciting and terrifying. I don't have a background in farming (prior to this career I was a science teacher at Dowling Catholic High School), so I'll be the first to admit that I have a lot to learn! The first things I planted last March were kale and lettuce transplants. It took me so damn long to get those beds planted! Looking back, I just wasn't efficient and didn't have the best systems in place. Now, after having a season of farming under my belt, I'm so much more confident and efficient with my operation!
What have been the challenges? Who and what has helped? I would say my biggest challenge has been finding a balance between running the new business and spending time with my family. Anytime you start a new business there are going to be a lot of time demands, and I feel like that is multiplied as a beginning farmer. Summers are crazy on the farm and there just never seems to be enough hours in the day to get through the to-do list. Looking back on my first season growing, I know I could have been better at just taking time away from the farm to be a better mom and wife to my family.
Another element that is challenging is the fact that market gardeners are not just farmers; we wear so many hats. On any given day I can be a farmer, salesperson, delivery person, accountant, marketing director, social media specialist, soil scientist, entomologist, and so much more! This style of farming is dynamic, which I absolutely love, but it that also brings challenges.
"Anytime you start a new business there are going to be a lot of time demands."
Finding a balance is difficult. How do you attempt to balance things out? I'm definitely still in the process of balancing things out between work and family, but this winter I have devoted a lot of time to setting up systems to make my farm more efficient thus giving me more time with my family.
I have streamlined my basement nursery to make soil sifting, watering, planting, and harvesting go as quickly as possible. I'm using Excell to set up better ways to collect data while in the field. I'm also in the process of hiring people to help with my farming operation. I took on too much last year, and realize for my life to be more sustainable I need help. I will be hiring someone to help me work in the field and I also have some people lined up to help fun the FarmStand. I'm really trying to allocate my time better and allow for other people to help my business be successful.
What are you most proud of and why? My family. They mean the world to me and motivate me to be the person I am. My husband, Eric Quiner, is an amazing person and does so much to support our family, my business, and the community. We have three young boys (Oliver is 5 1/2, Walter is 3 1/2, and Lewis is 1 1/2) who make our lives crazy, chaotic, and full of love.
Talk to us about one of your good days this week. It's that time of the year where farmers are starting seeds for the spring plantings! Earlier this week I spent a few hours in my basement grow nursery planting kale, lettuce, swiss chard, and some edible flowers. I did this while listening to the Farmer to Farmer Podcast, sipping on some coffee for the Twisted Bean, and just enjoying some quite time (my kids were at school or daycare). It was very relaxing and exciting to get seeds started.
I also grow microgreens in that same area and make weekly deliveries to some local restaurants. I recently picked up a new account with a local restaurant and am increasing the amount of microgreens I grow. I was able to rearrange some my set up in the basement to facilitate the new clients. Working in my nursery is my "happy place" this time of year, because it's peaceful and full of new life.
That night I was also to sneak away for a "date night" with my oldest son, Oliver. He is 5 1/2 and has a slight obsession with basketball. I took him to an Iowa Energy game at the Wells Fargo Arena. We had a fun get-a-away and I'm honestly not sure if he enjoyed the game more or the nachos/cotton candy, but who cares!
Someone is starting a project for the first time, what would you want to say to them? Find mentors, invest in the right infrastructure, and be diligent about record keeping!
Recent thing you learned that ended up being very helpful was __________. I'll be the first to admit that I love to geek out on books, podcasts, and youtube channels that apply to market gardening. I recently read the book, The Lean Farm by Ben Hartman. The book explains the 6 lean principles (adapted from the Japanese auto industry) and discusses how it can be applied to farming to eliminate waste and increase efficiency to make a farm more profitable.
Something from the book that really struck me is the concept of asking why five times. The author encourages us to revert back to our toddler years. If you know a toddler, they are continually asking why (which as a mother of 3 young boys, I know it can drive you absolutely nuts)! As annoying as it may be, they are really trying to gain deeper knowledge to better understand something. As adults we need to do this more. If something isn't going as planned, breaks down, fails, etc. we need to ask why multiple times in order to get to the deep rooted cause of the issue. According to the book, "By repeating why five times, the nature of the problem as well as the solution becomes clear." I'm attempting to use this method more in my business, but it's also helpful with daily things as well.
"Supporting our local growers strengthens Des Moines in so many positive ways."
Why Des Moines? Des Moines is home. This is where my family is, so there really is no other option. After college, my husband and I spent a few years in Fort Collins, Colorado. Coincidentally, some of the best connections we made in Colorado were with Iowans! We absolutely loved it there, but we knew we would eventually move back in Des Moines. He's also a Des Moines native, so it just made sense. We love Des Moines and it's such a great place to raise our family.
Convince someone new to DSM your favorite place to go on your day off. I'm a huge fan of Jasper Wineries Summer Concert Series. Obviously this is a seasonal gig, but it's something I look forward to attending! Beautiful landscape, drinks, food, music, and it's family friendly. Can you ask for anything more?
"Working in my nursery is my "happy place".
The most underrated thing in DSM is ________. Why? The Dogpatch Urban Gardens FarmStand! Our FarmStand is a great destination to purchase all locally sourced goods. It is located just north of Beaverdale (on our farm plot) and the address is 5085 Meredith Drive in Des Moines. We sell items grown at DUG (which is harvested just feet from the store) and we also connect with other local producers to sell their goods.
Along with fresh produce, we sell pork products, ground beef, honey, maple syrup, spices, mustard, jams, salsa, soaps, lotions, butter, cheese, eggs, and even ice cream! All the producers we work with are from Iowa and align with our growing philosophies. (Dogpatch Urban Gardens is not certified organic, yet we grow using natural methods and do not use any synthetic products/sprays)
The FarmStand is open seasonally, and will open this year on Mother's Day weekend (May 14th-15th). We will be open on Thursday evenings from 3:30-6:30 and Saturday and Sunday from 9-1. Our season will end in early November.
What’s one thing people need to know you really care about? Our local food system. So much of our produce is shipped from California, Arizona, Mexico, etc. Purchasing those foods have negative environmental impacts, nutritional impacts, and economical impacts. Not to mention the fact that locally grown food is so much more fresh and has much better flavor!
Supporting our local growers strengthens Des Moines in so many positive ways. I realize there can be challenges to buying locally grown food, but I find learning to eat/cook using seasonal produce to be very gratifying. Try to make a point to buy from grocers that support local producers, eat at restaurants that buy ingredients from local farmers, support the Iowa Food Coop, and attend Farmer's Markets.