Deep Roots – New Shoots
Harn Soper, president of Soper Farms, describes his family’s project as a three-legged stool. Organic, locally raised vegetables are one leg. Grass-fed livestock are another leg. The bakery, caf, and farm store supply the third leg.
“It’s a challenge to get all three legs integrated and working together as a team,” said Soper during a tour of the bakery building on Friday, Oct. 21.
The field day, coordinated by Practical Farmers of Iowa, began at Soper Farms’ 160-acre livestock farm located six miles north of Emmetsburg. Last year, winter rye was planted on the pasture as a cover crop. Now, round bales have been harvested from that. The pasture was replanted in August.
Livestock Manager Jarrett Herke shared that the hoop building, which will shelter between 100 and 160 head of grass-fed Angus cattle, is under construction. Another building, designed by EPS from Graettinger, is waiting to be “buttoned-up.” That structure will serve a dual purpose as a shop for tractor and wagon storage and as a processing center for the 1,500 chickens that will be raised on the farm.
“We’re planning on a round, intensive pasture grazing system with 32 paddocks,” explained Herke. “It looks like a wheel-the cattle will start in one paddock and move to a new paddock each day or so, coming back to the original paddock 32 days later.”
Soper Farms is purchasing feeder calves from Alliance, Nebraska that have been bred to consume grass. Genetics and forage are the keys to the cattle’s success.
“The chickens will follow after the cattle in the grazing system, fertilizing the pasture and picking at the bugs, acting as a cleansing agent,” Herke said. “They’ll also be fed a ration of organic grain. It’ll take eight weeks from hatching to slaughter and we’ll do the processing on the premises. The chickens will only be raised from about April through October-when the pasture is growing.”
A new well has been dug and there is plenty of good-quality water underground.
Soper added, “Nothing will be imported. It’s a self-sustained operation. No growth hormone or antibiotics will be used with the livestock. Of course, if an animal gets sick, we’ll treat them, but we’re trying to emulate the ‘back to the future’ approach by limiting human intervention.”
As part of that self-sustenance, the cattle bedding will be used on the organic vegetable farm a couple miles south of the livestock operation. Vegetable Manager Tony Pille, a horticulturist and former chef, provided a tour of the 16,000 square feet cement pad-the “head house”–which will be home to vegetable processing and the composting and energy recovery system.
The site will contain a greenhouse with washroom and a walk-in cooler for harvested produce. There will be a set room for garlic and onion sets as well as potatoes.
“The idea is to have year-round production of things like garlic, tomatoes, mixed greens, and herbs,” Pille explained. “We’ll use drip irrigation from the well to directly water the root system.”
The vegetable farm will also be the site of an integrated compost-management system, designed to capture heat from aerobic compost and biogas from anaerobic compost. Essentially, it will become a closed loop energy system to supply all of the farm’s energy needs.
Bakery, Farm Store & Cafe
The bakery building in Emmetsburg was the final stop on the tour. The bakery has been closed since mid-September so that BT Buhrow Construction can renovate the space to become the New Shoots Bakery, Farm Store & Cafe. There are three phases to the project.
Phase 1 involves building a bakery kitchen and savory kitchen for the caf, a farm store for the sale of bakery goods and Soper Farms’ vegetables and meats, and seating space for between 80 and 100. A stage, which can be utilized by musicians or serve as a private meeting space, is planned. The basement will be used as offices of Soper Farms. The renovation project is using recycled materials as much as possible. For instance, ceiling rafters are being built into tables and benches for use in the cafe.
Phase 2 involves opening up the second floor to serve as a catering/banquet hall for weddings and other gatherings. A deck will be built off the back of the building and awnings hung in the front. During Phase 3, an elevator will be installed.
“The focal point is the bakery, it’s the backbone of the operation. We’ll be adding the services of the savory kitchen,” said Soper. “The baking team will produce goods-like focaccia bread, croissants, and Texas toast-for the caf side. You can eat meals here or as take-away.”
The bakery will have new ovens with a moist heat convection system to allow bakers Chuck and Kim Mammen to produce artisan breads. Gluten-free baked goods will be available, and the much-loved donuts and nutty fries, made popular by McNally’s Bake Shop, will still be a staple.
Soper is looking at major markets within Iowa and a four-hour radius. Some of those clients include an insurance company in Des Moines, Iowa State University, Hy-Vee, and restaurants throughout the region. The farmer’s market in Emmetsburg will also be an outlet.
“The scale and integration of the project is attracting attention,” Soper said. “The goal is to have fresh, healthy, organic, and seasonal food.”