At first, they didn’t have a market. But ‘now our products sell themselves’

Organic farming is growing in Iowa almost as fast as the bane of chemical-free farmers — weeds.

While pigweed and lambsquarter can double in size in a few sunny days, the number of organic producers and processors in Iowa has increased 31 percent in the past five years.

“We are not even close to meeting market demand, and we don’t have to spend much time marketing,” said Andrew Dunham, who with his wife Melissa operates Grinnell Heritage Farm, one of the state’s largest producers of organic vegetables and fruit.

When Francis Thicke of rural Fairfield converted to organic in 1975, he said he did so “out of principle,” in the belief that it was the right and responsible thing to do. “We didn’t even have a market. Now our products sell themselves,” said Thicke, who with his wife Susan operates the 730-acre Radiance Dairy Farm.

Iowa ranks sixth among the 50 states in the number of organic producers and processors with 939 this year, up from 717 in 2012, said Kate Mendenhall, executive director of the Iowa Organic Association(Scroll to the bottom of this story for a map of certified organic farms in Iowa from the Iowa Organic Association.) 

Much of the growth, she said, has been in organic grain, fueled by rapid increases in the production of organic dairy, eggs and poultry. And Amish farmers, finding a profitable niche in labor-intensive organic production, have been leading the way.