Fixtures at Des Moines’ Downtown Farmers’ Market, Jill and Sean manage a limited-membership CSA featuring chemical-free produce and several optional add-ons, including raw and comb honey, pasture-raised eggs, preserves, herbs, and goat cheese from Reichert’s Dairy Air.
Jill advertises her Jammin’ Thursdays each week on the farm’s Facebook page, featuring flavors such as Golden Fire Pepper Jam and Cinnamon Purple Basil Jelly.
Their value-added products — jams, jellies, honey, and homespun yarn — have helped them withstand several near disasters, including tornado damage, flooding, and herbicide drift from a neighboring farm.
In the absence of state or federal support, relationships with like-minded farmers also help buttress their future.
Jill and Sean spent much of 2011 working with family and friends to build a two-story barn, which they constructed around an old packing shed that they continued to use while the new structure took shape overhead.
Once the new barn had a roof, they began the delicate and laborious process of disassembling the old shed from within.
The Gang of Four spent an afternoon prying the weathered boards from the old shed and handing them carefully, assembly-line style, out into the yard to avoid denting the metal siding of the new barn.
A lifetime in the arts has made the couple especially adept at building relationships.
Sean brings his leadership to the PFI Board of Directors, and Jill freelances as an American Sign Language interpreter during the winter.
Their interpersonal skill, explains ISU Extension’s Andrew Larson, makes Jill and Sean especially well suited to the farmers’ market clientele.
“Selling at the market takes an immense amount of time and preparation,” he says. “You’re harvesting like crazy the day before, then getting up super-duper early to get everything packed, then you’re shuttling it out there, and then you have to be on your game all the time, being that people person who is telling your story, being assertive and outgoing.”
The public face of farming wears on a lot of small growers, but when the weather turns cold and Jill dons a knit cap with chicken thighs for ear flaps and a red comb on the crown, it’s clear that she’s in her element.
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