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
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.
PLAN A TRIP
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
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 www.visittopeka.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
“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 www.kansaslavender.com. 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
The dairy produces skim,
two-percent and whole milks, plus flavored whole milk, ice cream, butter and
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,”
Visitors can taste for
themselves, as samples of some products are available at the farm and two other
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,”
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 www.iloveiwig.com 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
Aquaponics is one of the key
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
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
“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,”
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 www.holyfieldwinery.com or call 913-724-WINE (9463).