Fresh New Farm: Amanda Kanehl is changing agricultural practices and farming sustainably
by Ella Field
About 30 minutes outside of the city of Des Moines, lives a small plot of farmland. Large strips of prairie run throughout the acre, sectioning off each type of crop. The tall grasses and prairie plants contrast with the colorful crops and greenery from the farm. There is a large hoop-house, a type of greenhouse, used for some crops, like seedlings, herbs, and tomatoes. Insects fly around and get lost within the prairie. The neighborhood dog is running around, playfully chasing owner Amanda Kanehl. She has tattoos all over her body and piercings all over her face. Amanda speaks quickly, but for a long time about her farm passionately, and proudly speaks to how weird she is throughout the time on her farm.
Amanda Kanehl is the owner and founder of The Backyard’s Harvest, a small, local, farm in Iowa. It is a certified organic farm that sits on about one acre of land. The farm is all about sustainable agriculture, and only uses practices that not only keep the land stable but also improves the soil health and the environment. Amanda is the only farmer and tends the land all by herself. Amanda is also a mother, a recent graduate of Drake University, and holds a degree in horticulture from Des Moines Area Community College.
Kanehl’s first experience working on a farm came at a moment of urgency. She had just had her son and needed any job that she could get, and start fast, so she could support herself and raise her child. “I learned a lot from this farm, and then worked for two more farms, after this. I realized what was going on in the agricultural world, and I wanted to be able to do something that would help our future and the future of climate change in America,” Kanehl said.
Her son also inspired her to learn more about agriculture, food, and overall sustainability. “He was born with down syndrome, I was only 20, and there was no history of it in my family, that I know of. At that point, I got really caught up on what I was eating while I was pregnant, or what I was raised on as a little girl, and then what I was feeding my kid, I didn’t really trust much of it,” Kanehl said.
About 10 months later, Kanehl visited the Galapagos for a month-long study abroad class. After visiting a sustainable farm on this trip, Kanehl’s dream of having a farm expanded and started to become a reality.
“We visited an organic farm in the Galapagos, and she was writing everything down. Asking tons of questions,” Autumn Ellisor, a fellow Drake University classmate said. “She was very determined and wanted to know everything about the farm. Then, when we would get back to the hotel, she would be on the phone, ordering seeds, and planning. She had been planning this farm in her head, but she was also so interested in learning new things, and different methods that she could use.”
Kanehl would spend her last days in college running around, getting the farm started, going to class, marketing around campus, and trying to kickstart her own business.
This year, she was finally able to graduate and get her bachelor’s degree all while starting her own sustainable, organic farm. “This year was a failure. This whole year has just been completed and utter chaos. Nothing but fighting the entire year. It was a total failure, in terms of making a profit. I learned a lot, it was hard to keep myself motivated, but I face many challenges on the farm that I couldn’t control because of the weather,” Kanehl says. “Mama does what mama wants. A late frost, heavy rains, and a dry spell were not easy to work with. I was out there for hours and hours, doing all of the work by myself. My plants would get into a reproduction stage because of the heat, and this ruins them.”
However challenging this year might have been, Kanehl is continuing again next year. What is she doing differently? “Lots,” she said.
Kanehl is trying to partner with someone else to take some of the work off of her back, and she is going to plan less, because “sometimes things happen you can’t control, so I think planning less will benefit me,” she said. She is going to decrease her CSA, a community-supported agriculture program, where people “subscribe” to monthly bundles of food from farmers in their community. She will now sell smaller bundles through her CSA, and she just got a new part-time job, to help cover farm costs and make living, much easier.
In 10 years, Amanda hopes to have her own large plot of land, “I want to buy small plots of land and start to grow. I want to connect ecosystems and reshape the environment to how it was,” Kanehl said. “I want to continue farming, and be successful, while also working towards sustainability.”