Steph Larsen

Steph Larsen lives in Lyons, Nebraska, where she and her partner are "part-time farmers," growing food for themselves and their community. Steph holds a master's degree in geography from her home state of Wisconsin and serves on the board of the Women, Food and Agriculture Network.

Thinking outside the phlox

I eat weeds

Flowers or weeds? Depends on what you’re in the mood for.(Steph Larsen photos) The first edible plant to poke its head out of the ground at my farm early this spring wasn’t lettuce, arugula, broccoli, or any other hardy plant widely seen at early farmers markets. It was stinging nettles. As a child, I nicknamed Urtica dioica “itch weed” because of the blistering rash that appears if you brush against it. It wasn’t until graduate school that I found out nettles are edible once dried or sautéed, which neutralizes the tiny stinging hairs they have. After this past long Nebraska …

On the lamb

Feeling sheepish: An exercise in small-town networking

Sheep ready to be unloaded into their new pen from the borrowed livestock rack.(Steph Larsen photos)My first experience working directly with cows on a daily basis was not a particularly good one. It was 7 years ago on an organic dairy farm in England, and while most of the 99 Ayrshires were docile, the well-placed kicks I got from the mean ones were enough to convince me of two things — that I’d rather not milk animals, period, and that cows are not my first choice for livestock. After the dairy experience, I worked on a different farm with sheep. …

Green Acreage

Farmers don’t get vacation

The old granary on our Nebraska property (Steph Larsen)Farmers know that their chosen profession is not an occupation, but a lifestyle. If you believe the Hollywood version, farming is all about waking up at sunrise, frolicking with cute lambs and chicks, and driving a tractor through a field of waving golden grain. And when the credits roll on that movie, you go back to your day job with its sick days and paid vacations. But real farming doesn’t have those kinds of perks. For real farmers, there are certain times of year where you best not plan to be away, …

Green acreage

A farm by any other name

Our new farmhouse and outbuildings.Photos: Steph Larsen In Green Acreage, Steph Larsen chronicles the sprouting of a small but sustainable Nebraska property. ——————————— Last December, I bought the farm. Clearly I mean this in the literal, not euphemistic, sense. (Although I’ve spent some time pondering why the phrase “bought the farm” means “to die,” but I digress.) The back of the farmhouse According to the legal survey, my farm is “12 acres, more or less,” meaning the surveyor measured off 12.006 acres and called it good. It has a cute farmhouse, six strong outbuildings, a grove of trees on the north …

Farm team

It takes a community to sustain a small farm

A local grocery store in Pleasantville, Iowa.Wikimedia Commons These days it seems the most popular person to be in the food system is the “local farmer.” Farmers markets are popping up everywhere, and their size and popularity grow all the time. Local food is trendy–even the First Family is in on it. But as anyone who has ever raised grain or livestock can tell you, the farmer is not the only person in the chain of players from her farm to your fork. In addition to producers, your food chain includes processors, distributors or transporters, and retailers. In other words, …

A renewed call for food reform

Updates on secretary of agriculture appointment

In the five weeks since the election and almost a month since my first post about the secretary of agriculture, a lot has changed. But one thing has become increasingly clear: The people who voted for Barack Obama expect change at the head of USDA. The next person to head the Department of Agriculture needs to be someone willing to step outside the status quo. The idea is gaining traction, with nods from Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times, Chuck Hassebrook in the Des Moines Register, and over 35,000 grassroots individuals at fooddemocracynow.org. The call for change is growing. …

Beyond secretary of agriculture

How to change USDA with sustainable agriculture allies

In a recent post, I discussed likely candidates for secretary of agriculture in the Obama administration and encouraged you to voice your support or dislike of the names being floated to Obama’s transition team. You can have an impact: in large numbers, voices of the people are very powerful. Please continue to make your opinions known on the candidates for secretary of agriculture under consideration. (Note: Since the original post, Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register reported yesterday that Tom Vilsack is no longer in the running; in addition to the candidates listed, Lancaster Farming has said that Dennis …

More than one way to raise a hog

Hog farms can benefit rural agriculture and community

I spent last Thanksgiving on a 320-acre farm in Pocahontas County, Iowa where Jerry Depew grows corn and soybeans, and for more than 10 years, has also raised hogs. Jerry never has more than several hundred hogs at a time, and while this used to be commonplace on Iowa farms, most small and mid-sized hog operations in the state were lost during massive industry consolidation over the last 15 years. Jerry’s hogs remained because he raises them differently. The hogs I saw on Jerry’s farm lived in hoop houses. These pole-supported buildings have a partial concrete floor (the rest is …

Tour de pig

If you can’t stand the smell, tough luck

Duplin County, N.C. stinks. And no wonder. Its human population is just under 50,000 people, but it is also home to 2.2 million [PDF] of North Carolina’s 10 million hogs [PDF]. Last week, I went on a bus tour of Duplin County as a part of the Politics of Food Conference to see how confined animal feeding operations impact rural communities. It was not pretty. Our guides on this tour were Dr. Sacoby Wilson, an assistant research professor at the University of South Carolina, and Devon Hall, a community activist for Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help. Each was quite …