“Farming sustainably is necessary to ensure that the farm will be here for our children and their children,” say Niman Ranch family farmers Paul and Andrea Brown of New Providence, IA. “We’ve been entrusted with this land, and we feel an obligation to preserve it for future generations.”
Paul and Andrea started Alderland Farm in 1991, inspired by their own upbringings on farms, the opportunity for self-employment, and the chance “to raise their children with opportunities to learn responsibility and a good work ethic—both easy to teach on a family farm.” Today, their children Derek, Allison, and Landon help run the farm as the family’s fourth generation of farmers raising hogs in the New Providence area.
The family also raises chickens and cattle and grows corn and soybeans. Alderland Farm uses farming practices such as crop rotation and rotational grazing. “We try to make management decisions with regard for their effects on our family and community,” say Paul and Andrea.
The Browns began selling hogs to Niman Ranch in 2000. They say they were drawn to its price guarantee after experiencing the low hog prices of 1998. Years later, they note that being a part of the Niman Ranch network has allowed them to keep their family close: “The premium guarantee has allowed us to bring our oldest son back to the farm full time. Bringing Derek back to the farm would not have been possible without the premium we receive for our production practices.” Derek is a two-time recipient of the Niman Ranch Next Generation Scholarship Award, a fund to help young farmers return to the their families’ farms by helping cover education costs.
As Niman Ranch farmers, the Browns say “it is encouraging to know that there are still farmers like us who want to raise hogs outside. Networking with like-minded producers has been helpful when problem solving and at times when we have added or changed farrowing huts or buildings.” They also see themselves as educators, sharing “what makes our products and our method of production unique.” They offer farm tours to visitors in their community and spend time volunteering. In 2014, Niman Ranch recognized Paul’s passion for his community by awarding him the Farmer of the Year Award.
During their years of farming, the Brown’s community has changed from many neighbors with small, diversified family farms to fewer and much larger farms. “Some of these have been primarily confinement, finishing buildings, while others have left livestock production completely or raise only cattle,” explain Paul and Andrea. “We are the last pasture farrow operation in our area, and we live in a county which ranks at the top of hog production in Iowa.” They also add, “that change has resulted in fewer young people returning to family farms, fewer kids in our schools, churches, and 4-H programs, and fewer community businesses.”
However, Paul and Andrea believe educators and investors beyond the farming community will help young people return to farms with innovative hog production models. For example, they suggest that “an introduction to alternative methods of production at the junior college university level could help young people seek out more information and ways to get involved.” And “scholarship programs and loan programs can be a big help financially” to support younger farmers who enter hog production on a smaller scale.
Farmer Friday is a bi-weekly series featuring livestock farmers selected by Niman Ranch, a network of more than 700 family farmers raising livestock in a traditional, humane, and sustainable way. With more than 40 years as an industry leader, Niman Ranch works with small, independent family farmers and ranchers across the United States to encourage better food system practices. All Niman Ranch pork, beef, lamb, and prepared products are certified under the Certified Humane® program and available nationwide at both food service and retail locations.