Fort Riley, Kansas



BEYOND THE GATES - Cultivate memories

By Julie Fiedler | 1ST INF. DIV. POST | August 04, 2014

Editor’s note: This is a monthly commentary column by staff writer Julie Fiedler called Beyond the Gates. In Beyond the Gates, Julie helps Soldiers, family members, civilians and retirees discover Kansas by highlighting local destinations, fun and easy day trips, as well as quirky Kansas attractions. 

One of the joys of military life is having the opportunity to explore so many different parts of the globe as we move from post to post. Each place offers its own unique scenery, cuisine, industry and more.

In the spirit of the saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” I wanted to do as the Kansans do, or at least learn about what the Kansans do by exploring some of the rich agricultural offerings in the area.

Inspired by billboards along Interstate 70 reading, “One Kansas farmer feeds 155 people and you,” I set about exploring some Kansas farms.

My agri-tourism route took me to a variety of places, ranging from a lavender farm to an aquaponics research facility.

In addition to learning some fascinating bits of knowledge as I talked with the farmers, I was struck by each one’s passion for his or her field, pun intended.

From flowers to fish, all were fascinating in their own way and could make for great day trips for individuals or groups looking for a taste of something local beyond the gates.


Thanks to the Great Escapes Expo at Fort Riley earlier this year, I met Rosa Cavazos, tourism sales manager, Visit Topeka, Inc. Cavazos arranged my day of tours in the Topeka area, including an itinerary, maps with directions and contacts at each farm – all for free.

Cavazos can arrange a variety of custom tours and events, such as Farm to Fork, Girls Day Out and more.

Talking with Cavazos, I thought she could be a great resource for family readiness groups, coffee groups, Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts, home-school groups and, really, any kind of group wanting to experience something local and unusual.

For information on custom tours, visit or email 

Kansas Lavender Farm

Sitting on the back deck of Jim Ingwerson’s beautiful Kansas Lavender Farm, I felt incredibly relaxed. Perhaps that’s because lavender is a natural relaxant.

Lavender can also be used as a natural insect repellent, deer deterrent and herb.

“It’s a very distinctive taste,” Ingwerson said of his lavender-infused honey and jams. (I had a chance to sample his lavender honey, and it was divine.)

Ingwerson grows two types of lavender on his farm: Provence and Grosso. Provence is a flavorful variety used for culinary purposes. Grosso is a fragrant variety used for sachets, oils, pillows and more.

Lavender plants take about three years to reach maturity and can live up to 20 years. A single plant has anywhere from 800 to 1,400 blossoms. Harvest season runs from May to June and approximately 2,000 to 3,000 people come to the farm to help harvest the blooms. It might seem like an idyllic chore, cutting loads of dulcet-smelling stems, but the work is actually rather dirty, Ingwerson said.

“There’s a lot of dust,” he said. “You can’t believe how much dirt there is with it.”

From trimming to cutting to nursing young plants, Ingwerson has learned a lot about lavender since he and his wife began the operation after retiring in 2002. He said sharing his knowledge and passion with visitors is one of his favorite parts of running the farm.

“That’s the most enjoyable part,” he said. “We sit down and talk to anybody, tell them what we know.”

Ingwerson offers tours by appointment.

For more information about the farm, visit To schedule a visit, call 785-478-3246.

Iwig Family Dairy

The most traditional farm I visited was the Iwig Family Dairy, which is run by Tim Iwig, a third-generation dairy farmer.

The dairy produces skim, two-percent and whole milks, plus flavored whole milk, ice cream, butter and more.

At the core of its operation is a low-temperature vat pasteurizer. Unlike high-temperature and ultrahigh- temperature pasteurizers commonly used in large plants, the low-temperature vat pasteurizer doesn’t damage the milk’s enzymes. The process takes longer, Iwig said, but the difference is in the flavor.

“Ours is a fuller-bodied taste,” he said.

Visitors can taste for themselves, as samples of some products are available at the farm and two other retail locations.

The dairy produces 1,200 to 1,500 gallons of milk per week with approximately 90 cows.

The cows are a combination of Holstein and Jersey cattle. Jersey cows don’t produce as much milk as Holsteins, but they produce more butterfat.

“(Holsteins are) the milk leaders,” Iwig said.

Cows are sorted by age on the farm and range from young heifers to mature cows. Several of the heifers seemed curious to meet visitors and one even gave my hand a chummy lick.

To learn more about Iwig’s tours, farm visits and retail stores, visit or search “Iwig Family Dairy” on Facebook. 


“Basically aquaponics is two forms of agriculture you put together: Aquaculture, where you’re raising fish for food, and hydroponics, where you’re raising plants in fluid,” explained Chris Mammoliti, Aquaponics director of operations, Trash Mountain Project. “You put the two together and you come up with this hybrid word: aquaponics.”

The Trash Mountain Project Aquaponics farm is a self-contained and mostly self-sustaining system in which water is the root of nature’s recycling.

Fish are raised in tanks and their waste water is put through a bio-filtration system with nitrifying bacteria that break the waste down into nitrites and nitrates. The nutrient-rich water is then funneled to water tanks, where plants such as lettuce, kale and herbs grow. The plants are fertilized by the nitrates and naturally clean the water, which is then pumped back into the fish tanks. The system uses a gravity siphon to move the water from one tank to the next, with the exception of the clean water, which is pumped from the plant tanks back into the fish tank.

The Aquaponics systems vary in size from a large-scale, multi-tank system fueled by 9,500 gallons of water with hundreds of fish to a small, single-family-sized system with four fish.

Mammoliti estimates the large-scale system can raise approximately 1,000 pounds of fish per year and 4,000 to 6,000 pounds of vegetation. That’s where the mission comes in.

Trash Mountain Project is a nonprofit, religious-focused organization that helps communities living off of trash dumps. Brett and Jaelle Durbin founded the organization after witnessing families scavenging enormous heaps of trash for food and materials during a missionary trip to Honduras. They wanted to provide a source of food and potential income for these families living in what they call dump communities; and they wanted to do so in conjunction with natives and other organizations already there.

“We want to create a system where we can develop the local leaders and get them (to be) sustainable, so at some point we can step back,” Mammoliti said. “We want to create sustainability so that they maintain their own services, schools, churches, kitchens, whatever they need… It’s spiritual, nutritional, physical and educational. We’re working for basically a holistic approach in trying to make a difference in these communities.”

Aquaponics is one of the key components.

As community members ask about the system and why the organization is helping them, Mammoliti said it presents an opportunity to do missionary work by sharing Christian beliefs.

“What’s really interesting is how we can tie faith and science together,” he said.

Trash Mountain Project is working on developing systems in Honduras, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines and Cambodia.

The local farm serves as a research facility to fine-tune the system and raise awareness of the cause.

For more information, visit  

Holy-Field Vineyard and Winery

What better way to top off a day than with a nice glass of wine?

The Holy-Field Vineyard and Winery is a small, family-owned winery started by Michelle Meyer and her father.

“We were just growing grapes to make wine for ourselves,” Meyer recalled, but they expanded their operation to offer limited production of wine for commercial retail.

The farm has grown to 16 acres, where Meyer grows approximately a dozen different French hybrid grapes. She selects varieties that strike her fancy, like a newly minted valvin muscat.

“I’m like a woman with shoes,” Meyer laughed. “If there’s a new grape, I want it.”

Meyer said tending to the vineyard requires lots of work and constant education.

“There’s always something to do here,” she said.

Much of the work is a delicate balancing act. For example, canopy management requires trimming so grapes are kept in the right amount of sunlight. Too much sun and they can burn. Not enough sun and they can rot.

All of the grapes are harvested by hand. During harvest season from mid-August through September, Meyer hosts Picking Sundays for the public to experience a harvest firsthand. Pickers can see the fruit on the vine, see the crushing process and sample the juice.

“That really helps people understand,” she said.

Reservations are required to help with harvesting and Meyer said slots fill up fast.

Meyer also hosts Friday night concerts during the summer. Upcoming performances include the Nace Brothers from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. July 25 and Jumpin’ James from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Aug. 1.

For more information about the winery and upcoming events, visit or call 913-724-WINE (9463).
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