Nestled in the northeast corner of Boone County is Red Granite Farms, a charming family farm with more to offer its customers than just its produce.
Steve and Nicole Jonas own and operate the farm with their three children Claire, Gabriel and Nolan. The farm got its name from the huge “truck-sized” red granite rock on the property.
“My husband and I both grew-up on traditional, conventional ag farms with crops, cattle and hogs,” Nicole said. “We met at Iowa State in the Department of Horticulture, after we graduated and got married, weren’t going to work to go back to those family farms and lived in town for a few years then really had the itch to be back out in the country.
“Decided this is how we would give our kids a farm life.”
The farm has three acres of vegetables in the summer months that are raised and then sold at farmers markets or at the farm.
“We also have a full service garden center, which actually is what my passion is — ornamental horticulture,” Nicole said. “Once the garden center slows down in the summer, then the vegetable garden is in need of all the harvesting. In the fall we kind of do both, we sell some plants and grow an acre of pumpkins that do a lot of fall events with, we also have laying hens.
“They provide year-round income.”
Ames’ Stomping Grounds purchases eggs from the farm and Burgies Coffee and Tea does as well, but customers can also purchase the eggs at the location by the Gateway Hotel. The Story City Locker in Story City sells the farm’s eggs as well. Other smaller bakers also purchase eggs in bulk.
The mix of eggs, vegetables and the garden center has allowed Nicole to stay home and run the farm, while Steve works full-time as well.
Red Granite Farms has the unique aspect of allowing individuals to come to the farm to tour the gardens and purchase goods.
“There are a lot of vegetable growers who don’t always want that, but we are welcome to people visiting and seeing how we do what we do,” Nicole said, adding that the garden center is one of the more popular draws to the farm. “We have about an acre of display gardens, so most things that we sell in the garden center we have growing here. So people can see them in the landscape in their semi-mature to mature state.
“I do landscape consulting for people. A lot of them really appreciate being able to come to the farm and see the plants growing in conditions that will be similar to theirs.”
The tomatoes and colored peppers are grown in a high tunnel greenhouse.
“But, there’s no floor in it,” Nicole said. “It’s the soil that we grow in — basically we are protecting our crop with a cover, allowing us to start earlier and extend the season a little bit.
“Growing tomatoes undercover is a huge benefit, you get a lot nicer fruit, a lot easier picking conditions, a lot more pounds per square-foot.”
Nicole said farm life is also providing lessons for her children.
“They can see that the reason we do this is to allow me to stay home,” Nicole said, of her children helping out around the farm. “If I had to go work a job somewhere, I wouldn’t be as available for basketball runs, piano lessons — so they can see the benefit of having mom work from the farm.
“But also see that because we are a seasonal business, it’s pretty intense for 6 to 8 months out of the year and they can understand that we need some help every once in awhile.”
They help pick the produce and help out at farmers markets.
“We try to let them have a payback, a benefit to it also, they can see the value in a dollar,” Nicole said. “If they come to work with me at the farmers market, I’ll give them a little stipend.
“We try to use it as a learning tool for them, but also not pay them for everything that they do, because they have to realize that part of it is just farm life.”
Red Granite Farms sells goods mainly at the Ames Main Street Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings. However, with a lot more customers purchasing more and more goods online, Nicole said the farm plans on dabbling a little bit in online ordering.
“The online ordering, we are hoping, will allow people to order when it’s convenient for them, exactly what they want,” Nicole said. “Rather than just delivering them a box of produce that maybe isn’t exactly what their family would eat or not sure of what to do with (the produce).
“People will be able to order locally grown produce, either have it delivered to their home or picked up here - just like they order their groceries from Hy-Vee and pick them up at the door.”
The biggest challenge, Nicole said, is convincing people of the value of local produce.
“There’s a freshness component there,” she said. “It’s going to be picked on Monday and delivered to you on Tuesday, whereas, if you by a cucumber on Tuesday at a grocery store it was likely picked the Tuesday before that or even two Tuesdays before that.”
Red Granite Farms will not be selling plants online for the time being, however.
“We want their visit to be something that makes them want to come back or to bring their grandkids,” Nicole said of the farms family friendly atmosphere.
Roland-Story City Community School has toured the farm.
“We helped build the pollinator garden at their school last year, so we helped them with the layout, a plan with how big they wanted to build it and how we should arrange the plants,” Nicole said. “Most of them are native plants, but there is a few non-natives, a lot of things the bees and the butterflies need to do their jobs.
“That was really fun, because they got to come to the farm and see what I do, but then I got to go to their school and help them … it will be fun to see it this spring when it all comes to life.”
Nicole said the farm also allows a beekeeper to keep her hives, which helps out the plants and someday they may be able to sell some honey.
Some events citizens may see at the farm include junk jaunts, potting parties and classes.
Opening weekend for the season at Red Granite Farm will be May 3-6.
The farm’s hours May through June will be: Thursday and Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The hours in July through October will be: Fridays at 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Red Granite Farms is located at 2013 130th St., Boone, and can be reached at by phone at 515-432-5966 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gena Johnson is the editor of the Boone News Republican.