Hometown Harvest of Southeast Iowa

Face of a Food Champion: Barb Grijalva

When Barb Grijalva began selling vegetables from her garden at the farmers market 13 years ago, she could not have predicted what a productive livelihood it would become.

Barb Grijalva

Barb Grijalva at her stall at the Fairfield farmers market. She says, “We have [...] people coming through from all walks of life, including different countries.“ She expanded her farm to meet their food needs. Photo by Jan Swinton.

“I wasn’t thinking of local food,” she explains, “I began more out of need. I was getting divorced and I needed to support myself and my two kids. At the time, I just thought I could sell some things […]—I didn’t see the whole picture.”

Soon, people began requesting different produce. To keep up with demand, Grijalva and her fiancé Rick Sieren purchased and moved to a 10-acre farm. She ordered seeds of plants she’d never heard of, like collard greens and arugula. “Now [arugula’s] one of my best sellers,” she says.

The family operation has since grown to 20 acres, with additional organic acreage rented from neighbors. Grijalva farms full-time, with part-time help from Sieren and her children. Her daughter, a culinary school student, began cooking at the farmers market this year using produce from the family farm and other market vendors.

The Fairfield farmers market is certified local, and vendors are inspected yearly to ensure that they grow or make their own products. Currently the market’s president, Grijalva uses organic farming techniques but isn’t certified as organic. This way, she can keep prices down for her customers, which now include restaurants and institutions such as Noodle Restaurant, Garden Restaurant, Hy-Vee and the Mother Divine Program for women in Fairfield.

Garden Restaurant and the Mother Divine Program both found Grijalva through a “Buy Fresh Buy Local” directory published by Hometown Harvest of Southeast Iowa. The publication is available in print and web format. Says Grijalva, “If a restaurant is looking for a particular item they can look us up. If they want 10 pounds of arugula or Swiss chard they can call you.”

She points out that most vendors at the Fairfield farmers market are part of Hometown Harvest, participating in sponsored events like the Farm Crawl. On July 4, 2013, for example, Hometown Harvest organized a “Celebrate the American Farmer Farm Crawl,” with tour stops at seven farms, a park, and the Calico Press Design Company.

“It’s like an open house,” says Grijalva, “There’s a map and information about each farmer on [a printed] flier. People can go to any [of the stops] they want.”

Grijalva had a potato dig at her open house—almost a hundred visitors crawled through her field, digging potatoes, which they could then take home. She estimates that 80 percent of her guests would not have attended had Hometown Harvest not created a directory, fliers and the other advertisements. “[They] put our name out there,” she says.

Another Farm Crawl is planned for September 2013, though Grijalva does not expect her farm to be one of the stops this time. “I’m so busy—I wouldn’t put something like that together myself. It’s easier for us [farmers] to be a part of it, because Hometown Harvest puts it together.”

About this story

This story was produced to accompany a report documenting the impact of the local food industry on Iowa’s economy associated with the efforts of the Regional Food Systems Working Group. Consult the statewide report: 2012 Economic Impacts of Iowa’s Regional Food Systems Working Group.

For more information on the local foods work occurring in the southeastern region, visit the website: Hometown Harvest of Southeast Iowa.