More than Fresh Produce

Trellis Café’s Lisa LaValle insists on local, organic ingredients whenever possible. That’s why she purchases farm-fresh brown eggs from Raccoon Forks Farms near Redfield, Iowa.

Raccoon Forks Farms started raising pastured, cage-free chickens and growing chemical-free produce for community-supported agriculture (CSA) in 2009. In the decade since, environmentally friendly practices have remained at the core of the farm’s philosophy.

But what truly sets Raccoon Forks Farms apart is their business model. The farms operate as a “microbusiness” of Optimae LifeServices, Inc., an organization that provides human services and healthcare to Iowans from nearly 40 counties who are living with disabilities or mental illness.

Below, hear from Raccoon Forks Farms Business Manager Jenny McMillen about how this partnership operates and how they work with Lisa at Trellis Café.

Botanical Garden: How does the partnership between Raccon Forks Farms and Optimae LifeServices work?

Jenny McMillen: Optimae provides health care and human services to residents of more than 40 Iowa counties who have lived experience with disabilities or mental illness. Optimae offers a wide range of community-based, behavioral health, home health, rehabilitation, and residential services, and we’re dedicated to providing our customers supports and services that encourage choice, empowerment, and community integration.

In 2008, Optimae began to establish “microbusinesses” in order to provide jobs and supported employment services to people whose levels of disability made employment in more generic community businesses inappropriate. At the microbusinesses, Optimae customers who wish to work, earn some money, and develop their job skills receive one-on-one job coaching and the support they need to be successful on the job. The microbusinesses include several food service establishments, bookstores, an antique store–and Raccoon Forks Farms.

The Farms were founded in 2009, one of Optimae’s first microbusinesses. We have always had two missions: providing great services to our Optimae customers and raising fresh, healthy, chemical-free local food. We began by raising eggs and produce for community-supported agriculture (CSA) shares. In the years since, we’ve expanded the number of CSA shares we offer and we’ve expanded our egg production tremendously–at any given time, we have over 900 hens. We’ve also added lamb, mutton, goat meat and chicken as well as handmade soap and other craft items.

BG: What is your sustainability philosophy for farming practices?

JM: We raise food sustainably and humanely, without chemicals or hormones. We believe that sunshine, grass beneath their feet, and the ability to forage keep our animals happy and healthy. In return, they give us the best meat and rich, delicious brown eggs. During the day, our chickens roam at will in large pastures. At night, they choose their own roosting spots inside barns and sheds, where they’re safe from predators. They are always cage-free. Our sheep and goats have shelters in their pastures and go in and out as they wish. All of our animals are protected by our Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dogs.

We grow a wide variety of vegetables and herbs–starting all of our plants (except potatoes) from seed at the farms–and we grow them without chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. We are committed to improving the health and fertility of our soil. We use our own compost, and reuse and recycle just about everything.

BG: How and when did you start working with Lisa at Trellis Café?

JM: We reached out to Chef Lisa in 2017. We knew she liked to source locally for Trellis, and we hoped she’d be interested in our eggs. We’ve been delighted to work with her ever since.

BG: Where can people purchase your goods?

JM: Raccoon Forks Farms’ products are available a number of ways. The simplest is to call us at 515.729.8664 or email and let us know what you’d like. We also encourage folks to check out our website and to use our order form.

Our eggs are available at the Iowa Food Coop in Des Moines; Wheatsfield Coop in Ames; and at the Fourth and Court, Johnston, West Lakes, and Windsor Heights Hy-Vee stores.

We offer CSA vegetable shares in the summer and fall and CSA egg and chicken shares all year.