More than 80 people gathered Friday to participate in the blessing of an experimental farm in Weldon.
Divine Word Farms is an initiative started by a Catholic missionary order that helps more than 67 countries around the world by working with the poor, neglected and disadvantaged.
According to their website, a plantation was established in the late 1800s, in order for the missionaries to support themselves in New Guinea. The plantation not only supported them, but produced enough income to help fund schools, churches and medical expenses.
The idea grew from there.
Dennis Newton, mission director, said the missionary order has been farming in Iowa since 2005 and has about 2,400 acres of farm land in the state with 10 or 12 different farms. The farms are located in Union, Decatur, Warren and Clarke County.
The produce is sold locally and the money is sent to specific orphanages around the world.
The 240-acre experimental farm in Weldon is a recent addition to Divine Word’s farms in Iowa and has been in operation for about eight months. The name comes from the experimental environmentally-friendly methods used in growing the produce.
“Everything we’ve done here is pretty green,” said John Bascom, general manager of the south central farms.
One method the farm is experimenting with is using three movable hoop houses as green houses.
Annette Krug, manager of the farm, said the houses are unique because of their venting systems. The houses either have passive, automatic, or manual venting. The sides of the green house roll up or down depending on the temperature outside.
“Each building has its own personality, kind of like children,” said Krug.
The hoop houses are convenient to move because they are on skids. Krug said it takes about five minutes to move the green house with a skid loader and one person.
Krug said she will follow a three year crop rotation, just like other farmers.
The production house also incorporates green initiatives. Radiant cement flooring is used for heating and has the capability of keeping the floors at 75 degrees.
Geothermal heat is used in the production house to air condition and heat the building. The heat is produced from 150-feet holes that are drilled to the east of building.
Bascom said this method is more efficient because it uses the temperature of ground.
The production building also has soy-based spray insulation, instead of petroleum-based, which Bascom said is more user and environmentally friendly.
Three wind turbins are used to produce energy for the farm. Bascom said depending on the weather, the turbins can produce most of the energy needed.
Todd Hammen, owner of Iowa Energy Alternative LLC, said wind energy is recently gaining popularity. Hammen said in the past 12 months his company has serviced, repaired, or upgraded over 70 turbins in a 10 state area. Hammens has also sold or installed over 50 new small turbines in four states.
Bascom said the idea to use environmentally-friendly methods throughout was not only to reduce and recycle, but to be a role model for others.
“I hope this gets contagious around here,” he said.
Krug said she and her husband, Steve, will live on site, and hope to start moving in the first part of August.
Krug said when she was asked by Bascom to be the on-site manager, she was a little hesitant. She said this has been a learning experience for her and is sometimes overwhelmed by what she has accomplished.
Krug said every single plant was started from a seed. In the beginning, the Krugs had over 100 neon lights in their basement for the plants to start growing.
“They also had plants in front of every south exposure window,” Bascom said.
Krug estimates she has 1,500 tomato plants in eight varieties and more than 1,000 other vegetable plants.
In order to increase production, Krug said they will plant every season. They are now putting in crops for the winter.
“We are always planting something,” Krug said.
Trees were also planted on not-so-good farmland “to put oxygen back into the world,” Bascom said.
Krug said the work might be hard and overwhelming, but she enjoys it and usually spends about 50 hours at the farm.
“They tell me to go home,” she said as she laughed.
Father Michael Hutchins, who performed the blessing, said the farms allow Iowans to help others and the environment.
“This whole concept is great,” said Father Michael Hutchins who blessed the farm. “We are making connections with people around the world and helping them in an environmentally respective way while caring for nature.”