Food and Agriculture Organization

Iowa's Small Farms Are a Treasure. Why Won't Regulators Leave Them Alone?

"It seemed like every time we had a conversation with our county we had to spend thousands of more dollars to stay in compliance with their regulations."

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Dogpatch Urban Gardens

Earlier this week, members of the Polk County, Iowa, Board of Adjustments decided not to force the lone for-profit farm in Des Moines, the county's largest city, out of business.

While that sounds like the county played nice, the truth is that the small, beloved farm, Dogpatch Urban Gardens, faced this grave crisis for no legitimate reason whatsoever.

Farm owners Jenny and Eric Quiner launched Dogpatch "to promote health/nutrition, enhance community, environmental conservation, and instill family values for their children." Last year, Dogpatch's second in business, the farm "produced over 7,500 pounds of organically grown food," an impressive amount given its quarter acre of active farmland.

But regulators' growing demands on Dogpatch have proven costly and legion. According to The Des Moines Register, among the changes the county required or sought to require of Dogpatch were creation of a site plan; installation of restrooms, a septic system, a paved parking lot, and fencing; the planting of dozens of trees; and creation of "a berm in accordance with a flood plan for the area, a[l]though they'd already spent $7,500 adding drainage tile to mitigate the threat of their crops flooding."

This week's hearing was described as the thing that could "tip the scale on whether the couple's two-year-old business ultimately succeeds or fails."

The Quiners say they're happy with the outcome of this week's board meeting. But uncertainty over the future of their business has proven costly. The couple has spent about $10,000 so far, and anticipates even after the board's decision this week that their that the costs will rise.

"The added costs due to our county regulations have put some of our new business ideas on hold as we had to shift our focus to regulatory compliance rather than enhancing our business endeavors," Jenny Quiner told Reason.

But it's not just the money, Quiner says.

"Aside from the financial aspect, this past year has been very stressful," she says. "There were a lot of unknowns with the business and it seemed like every time we had a conversation with our county we had to spend thousands of more dollars to stay in compliance with their regulations."

One thing is certain about Dogpatch: locals have been quick to eat up Dogpatch's bounty.

"The local restaurants who utilize her organic produce are a who's who of the Des Moines culinary scene," the Register reported this January, before regulators came calling. The paper also included Jenny Quiner on its list of "People To Watch for 2018" and notes she's "a leader in the Des Moines food scene."

I traveled to Des Moines in fall 2016. On that, my second trip to Iowa, I served as a guest faculty member at a student food-law summit at Drake University Law School and also gave a book talk at the city's great Beaverdale Bookstore.

Des Moines is a foodie heaven. It boasts easily the best farmers market I've been to in the United States. Downtown's Iowa Taproom features 120 Iowa craft beers (not a typo) on tap.

But costly regulations like those that have threaten Dogpatch are frustratingly common in the area.

Polk County is also home to Clare Heinrich, a teen beekeeper. It was just before my 2016 visit to Iowa that I learned Heinrich's hometown, Urbandale, had ordered her to get rid of her bees, claiming the bees amounted to illegal livestock.

"It's hardly a stretch to suggest that we should be making it easier for local farmers to connect with eager consumers," I wrote in an op-ed that appeared in The Des Moines Register. "And yet rules so often do the opposite."

Small farms such as Dogpatch are becoming increasingly rare in Iowa. "Iowa farms are dwindling in number and growing in size," the Register reported in 2014. According to USDA data, Polk County lost more than 20 percent of its farmland between 2007 and 2012.

Dogpatch and other small farms in Iowa and across the country already face uphill battles as they fight for consumer dollars. The last thing they need is for regulators and regulations to simply pile up more existential obstacles.

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  1. “But costly regulations like those that have threaten Dogpatch are frustratingly common in the area.”

    In the area? “But costly regulations like those that have threaten Dogpatch are frustratingly common” would have worked just as well.

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  2. “Polk County is also home to Clare Heinrich, a teen beekeeper. It was just before my 2016 visit to Iowa that I learned Heinrich’s hometown, Urbandale, had ordered her to get rid of her bees, claiming the bees amounted to illegal livestock.”

    My heiny hurts when I think about Clare Heinrich and her illegal livestock! I wonder if maybe my heiny hurts because my shit bacteria are rioting, and whether my shit bacteria might also constitute (and/or constipate?) “illegal livestock”. I will be sure to keep my asshole (and my shit bacteria) “on guard” against Government Almighty over-regulators!!!

    1. Whiny teen blames Polk County for her problems. It’s not their fault she didn’t brand her bees.

    2. “ordered her to get rid of her bees, claiming the bees amounted to illegal livestock.”

      Please. *Undocumented* livestock.

      Hmm. “Get rid of your landscapers, who amount to illegal livestock.”

    1. Her male student lover is a “teacher’s pet”, and will be admired and envied (by young men especially) everywhere, except in the courtroom.

      Were the sex roles reversed, the male teacher’s friends and relatives would attempt to engage in “slut shaming”, blaming the female student for being a “teacher’s slut”, not a “teacher’s pet”, and the “teacher’s slut” will not be admired or envied by ANYONE ANYWHERE!

      WHY the big sex differences, especially when it comes to sexual behavior and attitudes? WHEN will the proggies admit that males and females are… DIFFERENT!?!?! Duh?!?!?!

      1. There will be a loud shout, and trumpets – – – – – – –

    2. In Libertiopia, there wouldn’t be “schools.”

      1. And they wouldn’t be able to do it in the road, because there would be no roads.

        1. Roads, where we’re going we don’t need roads

      2. We’ll have to put the heroin vending machines on the playgrounds.

        1. A voucher for one ride down a slide with every purchase.

      3. Yup, just like most of the USA they no longer have schools instead opting for Public Indoctrination Centers.

  3. I wonder what local elected officials see when they look at small business owners: top-hatted bemonocled plutocrats that threaten to destroy everything in their paths without heavy-handed controls, or fattened cattle to be herded, milked, shorn, and occasionally slaughtered for the good of their masters.

    1. Laws from people who have mostly never run a business. Their only product is their arrogance and greed for authority.

  4. it seemed like every time we had a conversation with our county we had to spend thousands of more dollars to stay in compliance with their regulations.

    I don’t think she took the hint. For a few thousand she could have “hired” one of the board members as a “consultant” and he could have made sure her compliance paperwork was “all in order”.

  5. OT:

    “EU complains of Trump’s ‘gun to our head’ over tariffs”
    […]
    “European Union leaders called on U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday to make permanent an EU exemption from U.S. metal import duties, saying they reserved the right to respond “in a proportionate manner” to protect the bloc’s interests.”
    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade
    -eu-reax/eu-complains-of-trumps-gun-to-
    our-head-over-tariffs-idUSKBN1GZ14K

    Ha and ha!
    My company sells very high-end goods. As such, we compete with Euro boutique operations, who seem to have quite a bit of power in the EU commerce committees; if we sell to EU individuals, we occasionally get requests for ‘fake’ invoices, since the import duties can amount to 30% or more of the cost.
    I hate tariffs and see this as Trump’s worst decision (so far), but for the EU to claim sainthood is a bit rich.

    1. “EU complains of Trump’s ‘gun to our head’ over tariffs”

      Fake news.
      Everybody knows that the EU is a gun free zone.

  6. Advice to all small business owners.
    Buy the politician first, then go do what the business needs.

  7. features 120 Iowa craft beers (not a typo) on tap.

    What’s the implied typo here?

    1. Who needs 120 kinds of beers?

  8. What’s the story here? Could the same be written about any other biz in Des Moines?

    1. Well, the topic makes sense since food is this authors beat.

      1. Of course, but there seems to be too much implied specificity here. Is it something special about a farm? If not, he could’ve written the piece in a way that made that clear. On 1 hand, “foodie heaven”, “120 Iowa craft beers”, “a leader in the Des Moines food scene”; OTOH, dealing w shit. Doesn’t compute.

        1. First, Des Moines is far from a “foodie heaven” (if only). Second, you are correct, this could be written about any other biz is DSM. Third, this is not a “small farm” – they started the business in an urban area relatively recently.

  9. “The couple has spent about $10,000 so far,”

    That seems like a tiny amount for zoning and code compliance compared to what homeowners often have to spend. That doesn’t make it right but there are millions of home owners that would deserve more attention from Reason than they. And their problem is easily solvable: move the farm to a more hospitable town.

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