Soper Farms puts the local in food production

EMMETSBURG, Iowa -Harn Soper calls 2011 his tuition year.

Soper Farms puts the local in food production
Harn Soper

EMMETSBURG, Iowa -Harn Soper calls 2011 his tuition year.

He and his New Shoots Farm managers Jarret Herke, Tony Pille and Chuck and Kim Mammen will do a lot of observation to find out what people want from the new organic food venture at Emmetsburg.

Soper and his managers hosted a recent Practical Farmers of Iowa field day where they showed their progress in building New Shoots' livestock and vegetable operations and the remodeling under way at the bakery/cafe and store.

"We've been able to close a lot of loops, an energy loop, a nutrient loop, a commercial loop," Soper said. "We've integrated livestock, vegetables and an outlet with the bakery, farm store and restaurant. The three legs of the stool make a very nice platform to grow food and market and distribute it."

New Shoots will grass finish Black Angus feeder calves.


"We've targeted a quarter section to finish 160 cattle," Soper said. "We're starting in December with our first 100 head. When the pasture opens in the spring, not only are we going to rotate the cattle through our pasture, chickens will follow the cattle in rotation. We'll try to get up to 10,000 pasture-raised chickens."

The chickens will be processed on site in a new building that will also house a machinery maintenance area. A bedded hoop building will provide shelter for cattle during winter. Manure and bedding will be hauled to the nearby vegetable farm to produce energy for the greenhouses using aerobic and anaerobic digestion.

The vegetable farm consists of 100 acres. A 16,000 square foot facility is being built for washing, packing and chilling produce. Space will be available to ready seed trays for propagation, room for equipment storage and repair and the composting and energy recovery system. The system will direct energy into two greenhouses that will be attached to the building.

Vegetable farm manager Pille showed some of the specialized equipment that will be used for building beds, planting, transplanting, weeding and harvesting.

Standard vegetables for institutional customers and specialty gourmet items for chefs will be grown.

The cafe and bakery in Emmetsburg will have seating for 80 to 100. Convection ovens that allow for misting so that hard-crusted artisan breads can be produced have been purchased.

A goal for the bakery and cafe is to create products where the two work together, Soper said. Chicken and beef pot pies are one example. The bakery makes the crust and the restaurant makes the filling.

"We can serve pot pies to restaurant customers and wholesale them to other clients," Soper said.


The farm store will sell New Shoots' products as well as those of other area farmers.

"The focus is on fresh, healthy seasonal food," Soper said. "Because our greenhouses are just a few miles away, we'll be able to have fabulous salads in the winter."

New Shoots will market beef, chicken, vegetables and value-added products within a four-hour radius of Emmetsburg. Managers have been in contact with a central Iowa insurance company that serves 1,500 employees in its cafeteria and are talking to Iowa State University, other institutions, restaurants and to Hy-Vee and other grocers.

Soper said it takes quite an investment to recreate the whole value chain on the scale that New Shoots is doing it.

"I had to mortgage five of our six farms to do this," Soper said. "All those farms were paid for but our lender, Iowa Trust and Savings Bank, has been really helpful. We bet the farm that this will work, and I'm sure it will."

Soper said he can't say enough good things about Practical Farmers of Iowa.

"PFI is doing wonderful work, and it's an unbelievable group," he said.

The field day also functioned as a job fair. Soper Farms is hiring 10 seasonal field laborers, an assistant manager and a general ag support person for the vegetable farm; an assistant for the livestock farm; and a store manager, baker, chef and two line cooks for the bakery/cafe/store. People interested in jobs can contact Soper at or send their resumes to Soper Farms, P.O. Box 249, Emmetsburg, IA 50536.


"If we can hire locally, that is our first choice," Soper said. "This is about community development. We couldn't be happier to make this investment in Emmetsburg, and we hope others will follow. It's a wonderful community."

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