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Frantzen takes steps to start farming

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

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

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ELMA, Iowa — James Frantzen wants to farm. He knows it won't be easy, but he and his parents are doing what it takes to make it happen.

On a recent morning Frantzen was in his home office near Elma fielding telephone calls and e-mails in between questions from a reporter.

Frantzen, 22, is the Organic Prairie pork pool coordinator with CROPP Cooperative, and he knows how to multi-task.

He combines a request for pictures with sow feeding chores and continues his interview in the pickup as he hauls a wagon to Riceville.

His parents are Tom and Irene Frantzen, who farm north of New Hampton. The Frantzens, who had always farmed their 380 acres sustainably, transitioned to organic production in the late 1990s. They produced their first organic hogs in 1999.

"You can't just jump into organics 100 percent overnight," Frantzen said. "You have to do it step by step."

The Frantzens finish hogs and cattle and sell them to Organic Prairie, CROPP Cooperative's meat brand. CROPP was founded by 7 southwest Wisconsin dairy farmers in 1988.

Today, Organic Valley/CROPP is the country's largest cooperative of organic farmers. It represents 1,630 farmers in 33 states and four Canadian provinces.

Frantzen graduated from New Hampton High School in 2006. He was in 4-H and FFA while in school.

"I was deeply involved with FFA, and I felt it was very valuable," he said.

Frantzen considered college, but decided it wasn't for him.

"I'm not a fan of textbooks," he said. "I learn by doing. I support Iowa State University and other colleges, it just wasn't for me."

After high school, Frantzen worked full-time for Harmony Valley, an organic vegetable operation in southwest Wisconsin. He also worked part-time for Roger Peters, one of the original Organic Valley founders.

At Harmony Valley he realized how much he missed livestock.

"I really enjoyed working for Roger Peters because he had cows, chickens, hogs and field crops," Frantzen said. "I knew I wanted to be in livestock production."

The Organic Prairie job opened up in 2007. One of the job requirements was a college degree, so Frantzen didn't think he would qualify. After being asked to apply, he did and got the job.

"My boss saw that I grew up on one of the co-op's original organic hog farms, and I had experience with organic swine production," Frantzen said. "I coordinate everything from procuring new producers all the way to getting hogs unloaded at the kill plant."

Organic Prairie has 24 organic hog producers throughout the Midwest and Great Lakes region. Frantzen enjoyed his job, but found that he missed the farm.

"My parents wanted me to come back, but were not of the age where they're ready to retire," Frantzen said. "One possibility we considered was finding a nearby acreage where I could work into organic hog production."