“For 30 to 40 years my dad [Harland Jr.] managed farms in Palo Alto County with his on-site manager, Craig Brownlee,” said Soper. “The time has come for me to take my turn managing.”
Soper Farms is a family-run enterprise, boasting 69 stockholders, ranging in age from 9 months to 90 years. They have served as absentee landlords of some 1,000 noncontiguous acres in Iowa.
Soper is in the process of converting 260 acres of Soper Farms, located in Emmetsburg and Walnut townships north and west of town, from conventional corn and soybean row crops to organic vegetables and livestock.
“We’re planning on 120 acres of pasture for the cow/calf operation with hopes of 160 head market-ready each year,” Soper shared. “We’ll also be raising 9,000 pasture-raised broiler chickens and 80 acres of fresh vegetables.”
One of the goals is for the farm to operate on wind and solar power, and possibly utilize energy generated from compost. The possibility of adding organic row crops also exists.
“The farm will be a place to experiment,” said Soper.
Soper has already brought on two area men to manage production on the farm. Jarret Herke is the facilities and livestock manager. Herke and his family had moved out of the area to Minneapolis, but relocated back to Palo Alto County to accept this new position. Barry Fehr brings his organic farming experience to the enterprise as the organic crops manager. Fehr, his father, and brothers farm 400 acres east of Emmetsburg.
While the organic farm is the centerpiece of the endeavor, there is another side to the operation—an outlet for the farm’s produce.
“We needed a farm store and the McNally’s Bake Shop building was a perfect fit,” Soper said.
Vic and Judy Johnson with Johnson Realty assisted Soper in locating the available space.
“With the knowledge that Iowa Trust & Savings Bank was interested in selling the building, I brought up the idea of incorporating the current bake shop operation with an organic foods outlet,” Vic Johnson explained. “After negotiating with Rick Brennan at the bank, an agreed upon price was reached and the wheels set in motion.”
While the bakery will continue to be run by Chuck and Kim Mammen, lots of changes are anticipated for the building.
Architects have been busy working to draw up a remodeling plan. The bakery will expand and space will be created for the sale of fresh produce, beef, and chicken. A deli, featuring organic foods, is also proposed.
In the space above the bakery, the current three apartments will be converted into CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) offices for sales and marketing and the development of value-added products like baked goods, cheese, and meat. Soper Farms intends to provide organic products for food stores and restaurants in the immediate area as well as food markets within a four-hour radius.
“I’m having so much fun doing this,” said Soper with a smile. “My favorite place on earth is here in Emmetsburg. Everyone has been so helpful—the folks at Iowa Trust, Johnson Realty, and the Mammen, Fehr, and Herke families.”
Farm Tour & Dinner
On Monday, Nov. 1, from 3 to 5 p.m., a pasture walk at Soper Farms will be sponsored by Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI). PFI will hold a field day with speakers presenting information on the cow/calf operation, pasture development, and Soper Farms’ plan.
Beginning at 5:30 p.m., 200 guests will be treated to a dinner at McNally Bake Shop. The all-organic menu of pork, vegetables, cornbread, and pies will be prepared by California Chef Donna Prizgintas. Prizgintas has cooked for such celebrity clients as Norman Lear, Sally Fields, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Warren Beatty. She was also executive chef for Paul Newman’s “Hole In The Wall” camps.
More information about the event will be forthcoming.
TAKING AN ORGANIC DIRECTION - Harn Soper from Palo Alto, California, has purchased the building that has served as the home of McNally’s Bake Shop for many years. Soper, who has family ties to Emmetsburg, is converting the building to an organic foods outlet. Chuck and Kim Mammen will continue to operate the bakery, but many changes are in store. Pictured (from left) are Iowa Trust & Savings Bank President Kris Ausborn, Soper Farms President Harn Soper, Chef Donna Prizgintas, Vic and Judy Johnson with Johnson Realty, Organic Crops Manager Barry Fehr, and Facilities and Livestock Manager Jarret Herke. – Lori Hall photo