Austin Palmquist acquired his first sow shortly after his 12th birthday fourteen years ago. The young Iowan farmer recounted with slight embarrassment that he did not inform his grandfather of his purchase until arriving home, pig in tow. Palmquist’s passion for raising livestock is evident as he talks with Food Tank. Today, Palmquist is carrying on his grandfather’s legacy at Palmquist Farms, raising hogs and cattle while forging a sustainable relationship with Niman Ranch.
The Palmquist family has been farming in the United States for six generations, dating back to 1870. Prior to immigrating to the U.S., the family were farmers in Sweden. Upon arrival, the Palmquists purchased their heritage location from the historical Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad and were the first to farm the prairie. The parcel of farmland where Palmquist currently resides was later acquired by his grandfather James Elder Palmquist in 1952.
Palmquist cites his “grandpa” as an important figure in his life and the principal inspiration for him to get involved in farming. Growing up, Austin worked alongside James Elder and eventually assumed the responsibility of the farming operation after he passed away. Palmquist Farms sells “close to 400 hogs” to Niman Ranch annually. Partnering with Niman Ranch for the past two years, Palmquist considers this relationship to be the key to the success and stability of his blossoming business.
Niman Ranch started with a single farm in Northern California. Today, they inclusively support a large network of over 740 farmers and ranchers by investing in long-standing partnerships. As the farming landscape in Iowa shifts and changes around his farm, Palmquist has observed a proliferation of estate sales, older farmers renting their land, and farm consolidation. Niman Ranch’s support of farmers to produce high-quality meat that is farmed traditionally, humanely, and sustainably is critical for an emerging generation, especially given that “there isn’t a great deal of certainty in raising hogs independently,” explains Palmquist.
Palmquist inherited his commitment to sustainability from his grandfather, who modeled environmentally informed practices and championed stewardship of the local prairie land. James Elder was a self-proclaimed conservationist and advocated for leaving portions of land undeveloped. As a result, the Palmquist Farms continues to have minimally developed pasture, utilizes waterways, rotates crops such as soybeans, alfalfa, and corn, and raises its livestock in deeply bedded pens with access to grazing pasture.
When asked what is the most important reason to farm sustainability, Palmquist says “to leave things better than you found them and greater for the next generation.” He cites Teddy Roosevelt as the inspiration for this sentiment, with the famous quote, “There is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.” Prioritizing sustainability and being responsible for a healthy future is important for Palmquist, who sees his role as a Niman Ranch farmer to “play your role, do your part.”
With vision, drive, and support, young farmers like Austin Palmquist continue carrying on their family’s legacy while discovering their own innovative approaches. Palmquist recommends that young or aspiring farmers “think sustainably and think about what you already have, you don’t have to build lots of new infrastructure in order to be successful.” Furthermore, “look into companies like Niman Ranch, diversify, think creatively,” urges Palmquist.
Going forward, Niman Ranch wants to partner with farmers like Palmquist. That is why they recently established a grant program for young farmers. Just this past fall, The Niman Ranch Next Generation Scholarship awarded US$140,000 in scholarships to 39 students, helping to support the next generation of farmers and leaders in sustainable agriculture.
Farmer Friday is a monthly series featuring Niman Ranch family farmers and ranchers raising livestock in a traditional, humane, and sustainable way. With more than 40 years as an industry leader, Niman Ranch works with more than 740 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 foodservice and retail locations.