Jóia Food Farm provides certified organic farm produce and livestock. It is a diverse farming business located near Charles City in Northeast Iowa. It is owned and operated by farmers Wendy Johnson and Johnny Rafkin. They run a regenerative organic farm that provides humanely-raised meats and eggs to their local community. But they weren’t always farmers in the traditional sense.
We left the bright lights and big city of Los Angeles in 2010. For us it was important to connect with our food and to live a life filled with intention and genuine purpose. And we believe in a life that integrates the land, family, community, the work we do, and the food we raise.
Originally from the state of Iowa, Wendy left the farm she grew up on to go to college and eventually move to Los Angeles to fulfill a career in the fashion industry. After 18 years, she returned with an entirely new appreciation for the family farm and a vision for its future.
A city kid from Southern California, Johnny spent his days working as a bartender and surfing up and down the coastline. When he met Wendy, he had no idea he would end up living in Iowa. He has made himself into a fine herdsman and cares for each and every animal with TLC. For someone who is not familiar being around farm animals, he has learned their language and speaks to them like a true animal whisperer.
The literal meaning of jóia (pronounced joy-ah) is “jewel’ in Portuguese. Wendy explained that it’s a feeling that represents the farm itself. An homage to her family heritage of hard work, laboring on the land, food production, and caring for the natural resources it provides. A jewel is precious, and this is exactly what the farm is to us.
We began Jóia Food Farm out of a desire to connect with our food, be an active participant in the food process, and to live a life filled with intention and genuine purpose. A life that integrates the land, family, community, the work we do, and the food we raise.
We live and work on my grandparent’s farm. Every day we can honor all of their hard work and dedication to the farm, family, and community that they grew together.
Starting at the beginning, Jóia Food Farm has always prioritized animal welfare. From the food that their animals eat, to caring for the soil that they grow that food in, the focus is on working with nature, as it should be.
All of the animals on our farm have diversity in their diet. They are able to do what they were born to do, which is to graze, range freely, dust bathe, wallow, eat bugs, root, and fly. We simply act as facilitators on our farm, letting the synergies between soil, plant, animal, sun and rain create a resilient system.
Staunch advocates of nutrient dense slow food, Jóia Food Farm embodies that ideology. From raising it to preparing it, they believe slower food simply tastes better. We can’t argue with that!
They raise heritage pigs, sheep, turkeys, ducks and chickens. Growing certified organic grains, providing lush pastures and the usage of regenerative methods, Wendy and Johnny grow their livestock in rich soils.
We plant trees, including fruit and nut trees and bushes annually to increase the diversity on our food farm. Every animal has a very diverse diet, from the different pasture mixes we seed to their feed choices.
Jóia Food Farm
Certified Organic Farm
All of Jóia Food Farm’s animals are certified Animal Welfare Approved. This provides proof to their pledge in terms of offering high animal welfare standards.
By using Regenerative Agricultural methods, they are able to produce healthy food while also caring for the planet’s health. But what is Regenerative Agriculture? It means improved carbon cycling. In other words, plants cover more area more times of the year in order to take in carbon from the atmosphere and bring it back underground into the soil.
We use farming and grazing practices that help reverse climate change. By rebuilding the organic matter in the soil, we can restore degraded soil biodiversity. This results in both the reduction of carbon entering the atmosphere and improved water cycling.
Because having living roots in the ground for longer periods of time throughout the year helps the organisms thrive. Research shows that extended rotations, minimal tillage, a diversified landscape, cover crops, and grazing all help provide the soil with living organisms that need to stay busy and hungry.
The business of healthy farming
Through these practices, it can be shown that a healthy and thriving biome doesn’t need the use of pharmaceuticals and chemicals. Instead, it’s land stewardship, high animal welfare standards, in addition to biodiversity, that help make farms more resilient.
The good news is that consumer demand for organic food is growing steadily. The U.S. organic food market surpassed $45 billion in sales in 2017, according to the Organic Trade Association. Unfortunately, the percentage of organic farmland in the U.S. is only inching up slowly. While organic acreage in the U.S. has increased and now totals over 5 million acres, it amounts to less than one percent of the country’s total farmland.
This country’s agricultural infrastructure is designed for conventional crops. As organic farmers, we need to tap into a different market structure. While we are not in the business of educating consumers, we are here for those educated consumers who appreciate and understand.
Transitioning a traditional farmstead into organic is an uphill climb, but perhaps not for the reasons you may think. Despite the growing demand, funding for organic research is limited. There is minimal financial support for improved crop varieties and strategies for combating weeds or disease. Furthermore, most university extension offices in agricultural regions are understaffed to support organic agriculture.
Organic farmers are required to keep their land free of most chemicals for a full three years before they can be certified as organic. That is an extremely long time for land to stay idle. It becomes expensive, because returns on yields are close to zero during that time. With labor shortages, an aging population in the industry, competing real estate purposes, and policies favoring industrial agriculture, there are serious headwinds.
Going organic can seem like a grueling venture into futility.
So, how do we keep a certified organic farm farming?
Support your local CSA
Jóia Food Farm provides families with assorted meats and eggs every month through their Farmer’s Share meat + egg CSA.
Each share might include:
100% grass-fed lamb
It may also include meat from neighboring farmers, with whom Jóia Food Farm partners. Examples include 100% certified organic farm grass-fed bison from Hawkeye Buffalo Ranch and 100% certified organic farm grass-fed beef from Wallace Farms.
We were some of the first farmers to collaborate with other regional farmers to get good food to the people who want it, since we feel that collaboration is a key to success. Most farmers want to view their farm business competitively.
A farm is a place to grow roots figuratively and literally, and Wendy is making every effort to do so. She is actively managing the family farm, by implementing strategies and new ideas and continually finding better ways to manage the soil, grow food, and raise awareness.