It is difficult to know what Iowa agriculture will look like in the future, but almost certainly it will not look like today’s agriculture. It cannot. There are too many things about current farming and food production methods that increasing numbers of people are questioning and that more and more observers consider unsustainable. We need an agriculture that regenerates and restores — the land, community, and human welfare — while providing us with healthy food.
How do we attract young people into agriculture? How can young farmers gain access to land? What role can and will women farmers play in the agriculture of the future?
Denise O’Brien is uniquely positioned to address these and other questions based on her long career as a farmer and farm activist and will do so in two events on Tuesday, Sept. 15.
- 4 p.m. Panel Discussion: Wisdom of the Elders: Mentoring Beginning Farmers
- 7:30 p.m. Public Talk: A Long Time Farm Activist Looks to the Future
Both events will be held in Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center, Room 101. Refreshments will be served at these free public events.
In the afternoon panel O’Brien will be joined by Susan Jutz, another long-time Iowa farmer, and two young women who are learning the ropes from them, Ash Bruxvoort and Carmen Black.
In the evening presentation O’Brien will provide a retrospective on changes in agriculture and offer her thoughts on the direction agriculture needs to move in the future.
About the Participants
O'Brien is a farmer and community organizer from Atlantic, Iowa. She has farmed with her husband, Larry Harris, for 39 years. She maintains sixteen acres of organic fruit and vegetable production incorporating high tunnel production. O’Brien also raises turkeys and chickens for meat and egg production.
O’Brien has worked within the agricultural community on policy development at the state, national, and international levels and is involved in the community of women in agriculture, organic production, local food systems, and conservation issues.
O’Brien founded the Women Food and Agriculture Network, and has organized the Women's Task Force of the Iowa Farm Unity Coalition, directed the Rural Women's Leadership Development Project of PrairieFire Rural Action, Inc. and served as president of the National Family Farm Coalition. She was a Food and Society Fellow for a W.K. Kellogg-funded program 2001–03. She currently serves on the board of the Pest Action Network and the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust. In 2012, O’Brien completed a year assignment with the United States Department of Agriculture as an agriculture adviser in Afghanistan.
O’Brien has received many awards including the Practical Farmers of Iowa Sustainable Agriculture Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Iowa Farmer's Union. O'Brien was inducted into Iowa's Women's Hall of Fame in 2000. In January, O’Brien was named one of 45 inspiring women by Country Woman Magazine.
Over the years O'Brien has written and spoken across the United States and the world on women in agriculture, organic and sustainable farming and local food systems. O'Brien has been quoted in national publications from the Nation to Ms. Magazine.
Black grew up outside of Solon, Iowa, participating in 4H with many agricultural projects, but adamantly didn't want to be a farmer until moving away to attend Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. It was there while studying peace and global studies that she realized that many of the difficult issues facing her communities were directly related to industrial agriculture, and also recognized how much she loved growing food.
For the past four years, she has been a regional organizer with Real Food Challenge, a national student organization working to shift college and university dining purchasing to more just and sustainable sources. This is her first season as a full-time farmer back in Solon.
Bruxvoort is a freelance writer, marketer, and beginning farmer in Mitchellville, Iowa. She blogs about marketing for small farms and nonprofits. She’s worked with many nonprofit organizations, including WFAN, the Iowa Food Coop, and The Nature Conservancy in Iowa.
Her work has appeared in Edible Omaha, Modern Farmer, Seedstock, and Precision Ag Magazine.
Jutz owns and operates ZJ Farm, an 80-acre diversified vegetable and sheep farm located between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. Before moving to Iowa in 1994 she earned a Masters of Social Work degree from the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
In 1996, she co-founded Local Harvest CSA, a three-season community-supported agriculture program. It was one of the first CSAs in Iowa and helped pave the way for this model of community-centered farming to take root and flourish in the state.
Jutz has been a principal partner and vegetable grower for the CSA, which now supplies more than 200 families with a wide variety of fresh vegetables and herbs grown using organic and sustainable practices.
Her commitment to sustainable agriculture and healthy food dates back to her childhood growing up on her family’s dairy farm near Gibbon, Minnesota. Her parents cared deeply about the land and their animals, limited their use of chemicals, and always talked about the family’s responsibility to those who came after and to the land, animals and community. In 2014, Jutz was awarded the Sustainable Agriculture Achievement Award by the organization Practical Farmers of Iowa.