Young farmers find ag opportunities a perfect fit

Ethan and Carly Zierke are beginning to settle in on the Luzum Heritage Farm off highway 52 after being selected as the new SILT farm occupants just this spring. The 170-acre farm has 100 acres in CRP, which leaves plenty of room for these young farmers currently making the most of one acre of farm land from Canoe Creek produce. (Driftless Multimedia photo by Kate Klimesh)

By Kate Klimesh,

Ethan and Carly Zierke are beginning to settle in on the Luzum Heritage Farm off highway 52 after being selected as the new SILT farm occupants just this spring. The 170-acre farm has 100 acres in CRP, which leaves plenty of room for these young farmers currently making the most of one acre of farm land from Canoe Creek produce. (Driftless Multimedia photo by Kate Klimesh)

A lot of folks say it’s very hard to break into farming these days due to land prices, equipment prices and the volatile markets. However, there are two opportunities right in Winneshiek County to support and encourage young farmers: The Luzum Heritage Farm and Canoe Creek Produce Incubator Farm.

And there’s a pair of young farmers who have been able to utilize both opportunities to break into their dream careers as organic farmers – Ethan and Carly Zierke. For this pair, farming the land sustainably was their way to affect the change in the world they wanted to see. It just so happened they connected with all the right people, at all the right times, to pursue their passion for agriculture.

The Canoe Creek Produce Incubator Farm is where the pair are currently raising their fresh produce. They have access to an acre of land, along with the major resources they need to plant, harvest and wash their produce for sale at the local farmer’s market, the co-op, restaurants and through their farm’s CSA – Community Supported Agriculture – where members subscribe to receive an assortment of seasonal vegetables each week.

The Zierkes were looking to move to the Decorah area in the fall of 2021 and were considering making the move to farming. The couple found their passion for making the world a better place while teaching English in Vietnam for a year, then working at Iowa farms during COVID. A friend told them about an organic farming course she had taken, and they attended the six-month Organic Farm School program in Washington State. After the course, they called the Iowa Food Hub just to inquire what the possibilities might be for them; if land was available, what the markets would be like.  

“We called to figure out what organic farming was like in the area, and ended the call with a real land opportunity,” Ethan stated. They called Peter Kraus, General Manager of the Iowa Food Hub, and learned that his mother, Barb Kraus, was starting an incubator program on her farm – Canoe Creek Produce. Ethan and Carly were eager to accept the opportunity.

In addition to the acre of land, they had access to hoophouses for starting seeds and tender crops, cooler space, a washing area and always solid, experienced advice. Coming to the land in the fall of 2021, they planted garlic, and spent the winter planning out their next spring’s crops. Favoring fully diversified seasonal plantings, they made maps and many plans for the spring of 2022.  

“Crop planning is Carly’s forte,” noted Ethan, “She would plan plantings with the temperature of the soil, and plan out dates of harvest even.” That first year, they planted 30 different crops on one acre of Barb’s land and began to learn that with diversity, there was always something that thrived, even when weather was unpredictable. 

“We spend our winter planning it all out,” added Carly. “We enjoy the benefits of a fully diversified farm. The best thing is putting together the boxes for customers who appreciate them so much.” 

“Their faces light up and it’s like Christmas, seeing what new vegetable they may be getting to try, or looking forward to old favorites coming into season,” Ethan explained.

In their search for long-term land access and housing, they found the Luzum Heritage Farm, donated to the SILT – Sustainable Iowa Land Trust – for use by farmers following sustainable land practices in 2017. The farm had been home to Andy and Betsy Boone and their children since 2018,
raising pigs, sheep and chickens. The Boones moved out in 2022, and Trowel & Error Farm in Iowa City had been selected last fall to take over the farm, but decided it was not right for them after spending the winter there, and returned to Iowa City. Now, the farm was awarded to Sweet Season Farms’ Ethan and Carly Zierke as the latest stewards of the land.

“The application process was actually quite extensive, with quite a lot of financial planning and analysis, business planning and deep reflection on our own goals and expectations. It took us about three weeks to do it, but it was so worthwhile,” Ethan reported. “It made us reexamine what we want to do and why we want to do it.  We’re stronger and more confident in what we were doing as well.”

The couple still farms on the one acre at Canoe Creek Produce but have also been tackling tasks at the new farm little by little– beautifying the grounds and getting settled in. Besides the two hoophouses on the Luzum Farm, they’ve disced up two acres. Their plan is to plant cover crop to reduce future weed pressure and increase soil health. Carly noted, “That will be good for the soil and give us a running start next year.”

Ethan confirmed, “Coming into this property so late in the season, we already had plants in on our acre, and didn’t have time to utilize the new farm.  But now we have time to get familiar with the land, the equipment, make any repairs as needed and plan for mindful growth over the next year, making sure we scale up slowly and set realistic expectations. Our experience is with a smaller scale so far.”

They renew a yearly lease for three years. After that, they have the option to sign a 20-year lease on the land, and as move from renting to building equity in the home

Ethan concluded, “I feel like there’s a gap in the knowledge from us to our grandparents. We brought them out here to see the farm, and our grandparents completely understand. They know exactly what we’re doing. It’s an emotional bond with the land for them. We just can’t wait next year to go full veg.”

Carly chimed in, “We’re really excited to live on-farm, grow perennials, add livestock over time, and sink our roots deeper into our community.”

For more information, follow @sweetseasonfarmon social media or visit or

Young farmer resources

Organic Farm School:

Located in Clinton, Washington. Teaching Diversified Vegetable Planning, Tractor Operation, Business planning, How to Secure Loans/financial planning, Market research for best crops for a community and much more. Month blocks or full year courses.

Canoe Creek Produce:

On the property, there are opportunities in several aspects of farming: horticulture, floriculture, livestock and permaculture. Each beginning farmer’s experience and goals are unique. Form a custom fit agreement that allows the most advancement to reaching those goals. Those interested can contact Barb at 563-382-4899.

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