Lyle Ditmars, along with two of his sons, his daughter-in-law, and a crew of hard-working, dedicated employees run Ditmars Orchard & Vineyard, a quaint fruit orchard complete with a cidery, restaurant and sweet shop. Lyle began planting his orchard in fall of 1994, after purchasing the land the previous year. Today he has full grown apple trees, teaming with vibrant fruit, planted in neat rows which are each labeled with the variety of apple that occupies the row. Lyle has many apple varieties growing in his orchard, some we commonly see in commerce, like Red and Yellow Delicious. However, Lyle’s apples are grown right here, in southwest Iowa soil. They are fresh and have not been stored in a warehouse for months. You can see the vibrance in the apples, as they weigh down the loaded branches. You can taste the freshness. In addition to some of the common varieties, he has some tasty lesser-known varieties too, like Bella and Liberty.
Ditmars Orchard is known for their apples, but before the apples are ripe for the season, you can find other delicious fruits there too. From late May through early July, you can pick your own strawberries, which are sold by the pound. Pie cherries are sold by the pound, too, and are usually ready to pick right around mid-June. And, assuming we avoid a late spring frost that compromises the blossoms, apricots and peaches can be purchased in-store from late July through August. And of course, there is a pumpkin patch and pumpkins for sale in the fall.
The apples are not the only eye-catching crop that grows at Ditmars Orchard. Rows of vivid zinnias, popular with the people and pollinators, are bursting with vibrant color and can be purchased by the stem, or the bouquet. Zinnias begin to show color in July and bloom until we get a hard frost, sometime in fall.
In addition to being an orchard, Ditmars is a gathering place for fun family activities. While children can run around outside enjoying the fresh air and playground, adults can spend time in the tasting room, or in the outside seating area, sampling local Iowa beer, wine or hard cider. Ditmars Orchard has created several different blends of wine, some of which highlight apples grown in their orchard. Wine is available by the glass or bottle, purchased in their Orchard Store. Hard cider can be sampled by purchasing a flight, containing six flavors, by the glass or even the growler.
Matt Johnson grew up familiar with agriculture in small-town Nebraska and knew he was interested in farming, but spent years living in the city and working in IT before a too-good-to-pass-up opportunity opened up with a few acres just east of Council Bluffs. In the middle of the pandemic in 2020, Matt Johnson and partner Tiffiny Clifton bought a small farm and started to bring their dreams to fruition.
While they don’t have formal training or education in food production, they have learned a lot from reading, watching videos, attending conferences, networking with other farmers, and a few years of experience.
In just 3 years, they have scaled up to having an additional full-time employee, 3 part-timers, and a few more during the peak summer season. Matt and Tiffiny also both have off-farm jobs.
They are currently building a new wash/pack space and commercial kitchen that will help the farm scale up and make more value-added products like jar salads, herb salts, pesto, pickles, and more.
Long Walk Farm grows more than 20 different crops (and even more varieties within that). Their garlic is especially popular at the farmers market, and restaurants love their greens and seasonal vegetables.
They have numerous high tunnels and caterpillar tunnels to help with season extension. Most recently, they added a 120’x30’ high tunnel with assistance from the EQIP program.
They have several La Mancha goats and hope to have a small dairy in the future. They also have several Kunekune and American Mulefoot pigs.
Their biggest sales channel is metro-area restaurants, including Lemon Tree, Au Courant, Boiler Room, Le Bouillon, V Mertz, Omaha Country Club, and more.
Some of their produce is also sold to Mealbox in Omaha.
You can also find Long Walk Farm at the Aksarben Farmers Market in Omaha on Sundays.
Find Long Walk Farm on Facebook and Instagram.
If you've ever hiked at Preparation Canyon in Monona County, you may have come across some metal pipes sticking out of the ground and wondered, "What in the world is that?!"
It's actually an art installation that was part of the Land of the Fragile Giants: Landscapes, Environments, and Peoples of the Loess Hills project 30 years ago!
For this project, "twenty-seven professional artists from Iowa and the Midwest visited the Loess Hills at various times throughout 1993 to gather insight for their projects. The result: a dramatic exhibition of paintings, sculpture, prints, and photographs that beautifully complement this volume's literary works. The twelve essayists also have strong ties to the Loess Hills. Each author has spent a significant portion of her or his life in the Hills. The scientists reinterpret their research within the framework of their experience; the humanists provide background and context for the scientists; the artists illuminate the whole." The art was commissioned by the Brunnier Art Museum at Iowa State University in Ames.
You can learn more here and buy the Land of the Fragile Giants book, edited by Cornelia Mutel and Mary Swander, at the University of Iowa Press website.
According to artist Gina Crandell, "On the third plateau of this ridge is a field of recycled well pipes which, like the legs of an invisible table top, extend the ground level. This environmental art project is designed to allow the steep slopes and unique qualities of the soil of the Loess Hills to be viscerally felt."
While there is currently no signage or information at the sculpture site, you can find it along Sarah's Trail, which runs through the Preparation Canyon Unit of Loess Hills State Forest and through Preparation Canyon State Park. The art piece is on the ridge to the southwest of the shelter.
Find maps of hiking trails at Loess Hills State Forest and Preparation Canyon State Park here.
Regenerative agriculture is a buzzword you might have heard lately. But what does it mean?
Check out this video from Regenerative Farmers of America to learn more:
Regenerative agriculture aims to improve sustainability for land, water, wildlife, people, and rural communities & economies. While there are certainly challenges to implementing regenerative practices within current systems on a global scale, many farmers across America and beyond have begun to see the benefits of these practices.
In a nutshell, regenerative practices include:
Additionally, the principle of knowing your farm's context is often included, as each piece of land is different based on things like soils, topography, and climate. Practices that work well on one farm wont' always be best on another farm.
Golden Hills will be working with local farmers in the coming years to incorporate practices that build soil health and provide environmental benefits, as well as more nutritious food and help rural communities.
Stay tuned and learn more at goldenhillsrcd.org/regenag