When you arrive near the outskirts of the Des Moines metro, you see a stark contrast. The growing development from urban sprawl creates a juxtaposition next to the farms which are hanging on to their ground. This is where we are today, as we head just three-quarters of a mile to the North of 36th street outside Ankeny.
As we arrived at the Griffieon family farmyard, you had to really look around to see just how close the city is. The farm and its land are surrounded on three sides by the city of Ankeny. But a slight rise in the ground to the south and west, combined with the buildings and bins to the east made it almost impossible to realize just how close you were to the Des Moines area.
Nick Griffieon talked to us about their operation and the history of how they got to where they are today. The farm became a century farm back in 2002, and the whole family is still involved. Nick operates the farm with his father, Craig, and his brother Phil. Nick’s mother, LaVon, oversees the farm’s direct meat marketing portion of the operation. Not only do they run the land and sell their meat, but the Griffieons also sell seed corn for Wyffels Hybrids.
As many farmers in the Midwest are going through some hardships with weather-related setbacks, Nick counts his blessings they haven’t had it as hard as others.
Griffieon says “lucky” is a relative term. They haven’t been without their challenges this year as well.
Even though they have faced much less than ideal conditions, Griffieon says their Wyffels Hybrids’ corn is giving them some excellent results. Even better than they could have hoped for.
Nick said they were impressed with Wyffels Hybrids because of the quality of their seed offerings, but also for how they do business. The Griffieons grow both conventional and non-GMO corn. Wyffels provides them with the hybrids they need to be successful. To have a family owned seed company working with the family farmer was something Nick said the Griffieons wanted to be a part of.
Nick says the Wyffels name recognition is growing even in the short time he has been a dealer. He says more farmers are asking him about the hybrids. He attributes this to seeing the signs, but also to the quality standing in his fields.
The Griffieons are very diverse in their farming operation. They are not putting their eggs in one basket. However, they may be putting them in a few baskets. The family also has a sign on their driveway advertising the eggs they sell from their 75 laying hens.
That’s not where the diversity ends. Their direct sale meat business sells non-GMO, pasture raised, antibiotic-free meats for their customer base. Nick says they do this because they see the way the trends are going in their customers wants, and this puts them in a position to be successful. They sell many of their meat products at the Ankeny Farmers’ Market.
Of course, Griffieon realizes the “antibiotic-free” label carries a stigma with some people in agriculture. Nick says just because they sell to a particular market, doesn’t mean they don’t treat a sick animal. If an animal needs to be treated, they are separated from the rest, tagged, treated, and eventually sold into the mainstream meat market once they meet the standards.
Nick says he started his business with a friend, raising 100 chickens. They sold the dressed birds for five dollars apiece. However, a $485 feed bill quickly ate into their profits. It was then he learned about the additives put into the feed for the birds. The feed was consisting of corn, soymeal, vitamin packs, mineral packs, and antibiotics. The two young men decided to drop the antibiotics added to the feed and charge eight dollars a bird, then they saw a profit. Nick said it all just grew from there. The business grew to raise 800 broilers. They now use the same practices feeding their non-GMO crops to not only feed chickens, but turkeys, pork, beef, and lamb.
As we stood out in his field on the hill overlooking the family farm to the north and the city of Ankeny to the south, Nick told us some more stories of having a farming operation butted up against a metropolitan region. Nick told us of the adventures of having cattle grazing right alongside suburbia and the transformation they made on their line fence. Nick showed us a large garden that now borders a row of newer houses. The Griffieons rent out two and a half acres to a family who uses the food to not only feed their own family but sells the excess at the Ankeny Farmers’ market as well.
The perils of operating this close to a city are very real as well. Nick says there are times they have no choice but to drive their equipment through the suburbs to get to other parcels of land. He says when you are operating in a suburban area, there is a lack of understanding of how to drive around farm equipment. Nick says it worries him immensely when people pass them at 50+ miles per hour. He worries not only about their safety but of his own as well. Nick says as the city has grown they have had a couple of car-implement crashes which could have been avoided if others took a little more caution around machinery.
It is truly a diverse operation just outside of Ankeny. Farmers are finding new and innovative ways to stay operating in somewhat difficult times and keeping themselves relevant in the face of urban sprawl. Nick says the family has no intention of selling the farm to developers anytime soon, and with a host of quality food products being sold in the community, his neighbors may want to keep them around as long as possible.