Mary’s Farm and Garden:
By KRISS NELSON
GRAND JUNCTION There are several options in the Des Moines metro area to feast on chicken and fresh Iowa grown produce and if you’re fortunate to hit the right place, your meal could be a product of Mary’s Farm and Garden.
Mary Hillman, owner of Mary’s Farm and Garden, raises “poultry and produce on the prairie” and considers her farm “Iowa’s home of the cultured chicks.”
Hillman said she specializes in 400 laying hens and will raise between 1,000 to 1,200 broiler birds a year.
She is state licensed to sell eggs and her broilers are also state inspected. Hillman takes her birds to Bloomfield to be inspected and butchered.
When weather permits, her broiler chickens are put out on pasture; otherwise she is proud of the fact her birds are raised on an all-vegetable diet and not treated with antibiotics or growth hormones.
She raises her chickens to about three or three and half pounds in order to accommodate the restaurants she markets to.
“They like a smaller bird because that’s how they plate it,” she said. “Versus the old school way that I grew up with people wanting a big roaster size. I will raise them bigger, but restaurants like the smaller bird.”
In addition to her chicken business, Hillman also raises a wide variety of produce.
According to Hillman, her produce is raised naturally, using only composted chicken manure for fertilizer, and organic approved additives.
Her produce is raised in seven different garden spots that amass about two acres on her farm.
“It’s kind of grown a little bigger every year,” she said.
Hillman said she raises many varieties of greens including arugula, lettuce mix and kale; four varieties of beets, onions, shallots and more.
As with her chickens, Hillman also raises produce that appeals to chefs.
“They will let me know what they want,” she said. “I will post to chefs of what I have available this week or I will reach out to them and see what they could use, which is nice, when I am getting the order ready, I know exactly what I am delivering.”
Hillman said she also sells some of her goods at Farm to Folk in Ames.
“I sell eggs over there and people are guaranteed a dozen eggs from me for 10 weeks,” she said.
Hillman said she will also sell items a la carte, by posting what she has available for produce.
Hillman said, like other farmers, she has faced several challenges due to a lingering winter.
“The soil temperature has been too cold, it was froze, there was just an ice storm a few weeks ago,” she said. “It’s been trying to even get out and work the ground. I use all of my composted manure from the chickens and even trying to get to my compost pile was hard because it was frozen.”
Hillman estimates her produce is three weeks behind so far this growing season.
“They will catch up to a point,” she said. “How well will they produce? That will be interesting.”
Farmers Markets will be starting up soon, but Hillman said there should be produce available from those producers that grow their food in hoop houses, for example.
“I think there will be some produce available,” she said. “But maybe not in the amounts of what people are used to.”
Labor of love
Hillman said Mary’s Farm and Garden has developed from a life-long love of farming and a healthy lifestyle.
“I have been farming since I was a little girl,” she said. “I can picture myself, just old enough to literally drag, couldn’t lift it, but drag a five gallon bucket across the barnyard and doing chores. I lived the chickens.”
Hillman said her parents always had a huge garden.
“Back then, that’s how you fed your family,” she said. “I remember always working with mom and dad and mom canned everything. I still can and one of the things I make is kraut. That’s why I plant a lot of cabbage. I even make it in the stone crock that belonged to my mom.”
She brought that lifestyle into caring for her own family feeding them homegrown produce and meats.
On the business end of things, Hillman said she enjoys the networking with the community of other farmers.
“Anywhere I go, it’s not like an ugly competitive thing at all,” she said. “They are all just neat people, they’re real supportive. We respect each other’s price points. There is a nice group over at Farm to Folk and I fell like I have been given a real fair shake with all of the restaurants I deal with.
A day on the farm
Hillman opens up her farm each year, hosting youth from the PACES program in Perry. For the last 18 years, she has allowed 140 kids ages preschool through fifth grade.
“We always have sack races, campfires set up so they can make s’mores. A lot of kids have never got to do that,” she said. “Sidewalk chalk and soccer it’s just a nice day at the farm.”
Hillman said the children, who originate from Guatemala, El Salvador, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and other foreign countries will play a farm bingo game that allows them to explore all of the aspects of her farm.
“Many of them just have never been to farm,” she said. “They don’t even know what a green bean looks like growing. They just know it’s in a can. One year, I had a kid that thought a dog was a cow. They are just not familiar with livestock. It’s really good to get the kids out, get in the dirt and have fun,” she said. “I think it’s just my old farm. But is one of the favorite things for the kids to do is come out here.”
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