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Frantzen custom farrows hogs, reaches out

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 01/17/2011 3:45 PM

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ELMA, Iowa —Within 48 hours of looking at his current home in May 2009, James Frantzen was a new homeowner.

The house was in good shape. There were several acres of pasture and outbuildings. He was able to obtain a private loan that made it possible to buy the property.

The acreage, east of Elma, is just 3.5 miles from his parents' farm, close enough to transport equipment or to get feed. For a beginning farmer, it's important to have family nearby who are willing to help, Frantzen said.

His job as pork pool coordinator with Organic Prairie was integral to buying the acreage. Frantzen is grateful that his employer allows him to work out of a home office. Weekends and evenings he works for his father.

He has started a side business, James Frantzen Farm Services, selling new and used livestock equipment to supply niche pork producers.

"It helps with cash flow," Frantzen said.

His acreage offers an opportunity for livestock production. One of the outbuildings is a 24-by-40-foot farrowing house. Over an eight-month period after buying the acreage, Frantzen insulated and sheeted the inside of the farrowing house with tin, put in farrowing pens, new electrical and watering lines, replaced the propane line and put in new doors. Renovation cost $8,000, but he was able to spread out the costs.

His father has state-of-the-art gestation facilities for sows as well as hoops for finishing, but needed more farrowing capacity and help, Frantzen decided to custom farrow his father's sows, group lactate and wean on his acreage and then bring the sows and feeder pigs back to the home farm for rebreeding and finishing.

Since October, he's farrowed 15 sows and that will grow.

For Practical Farmers of Iowa, he is keeping track of what it costs to get into niche pork production and taking photos of monthly changes on his farm.

Frantzen doesn't own agricultural equipment yet. He uses his father's equipment, and in return his father uses his shed to store machinery.

Hanging on his office wall is a photo of Frantzen as a 11-year-old driving a hog. Organic Valley's photographer took the photo when the co-op bought its first organic hogs from the Frantzens. While there taking photos, the marketing department asked Frantzen if he would write a blog about happenings on his family's farm. That was the start of "James' Journal," a weekly article and photo that ran on Organic Valley's website for five years. He "retired" at the end of his junior year but the journal entries are still on the website.

"It was a way to educate the consumer about what we did on an organic farm," he said.

Frantzen belongs to Generation Organic, Gen-O for short, the co-op's youth organization for members ages 18 to 35. Frantzen is part of the Gen O task force, which plans events for young members to get together.

A year ago the Gen-Os decided to organize a bus tour to network and connect with consumers.

After a year of planning, the young farmers left the co-op's Wisconsin headquarters in October on the Generation Organic "Who's Your Farmer?" Tour. The 2 1/2 week road trip on the Organic Valley marketing bus, which is powered by biodiesel and veggie oil, included visits to Harvard, Yale and Brown universities and Bennington, Barnard and Williams colleges as well as the State University of New York. They had a field day at Gen-O member Casey Knapp's farm in Preble, N.Y. They met with consumers in New York City and talked to policy makers in Washington, D.C.

Frantzen and other 16 other young farmers talked about the viability of a career in organic farming and educated people on the benefits of organic food. Frantzen spoke at Oberlin and SUNY and helped with grilled cheese socials and tabling events.

Frantzen loved the opportunities to visit with other Organic Valley farmers while they traveled, and he enjoyed meeting consumers and college students.

"In the Northeast they are very engaged with organic food," he said. "It was touching to meet consumers who told us that they had been buying Organic Prairie meat or Organic Valley dairy products. I thanked them for supporting my product. It inspired me. I also made connections that will last a long time with fellow Gen-Os."