By Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau: This young and enterprising retail farmer confesses she knows more about farm machinery than any girl should.
An interview with Janna Anderson of Pinnacle Farms.
The ongoing series of Arizona Agriculture's family farms ....
1. Tell us about your farm.
Pinnacle Farms started as a tiny little plot behind the Scottsdale Community College in 2000. I had been to the farmer's markets and saw that there was a large demand for growers on a small scale even before the locally grown movement became trendy. I decided to follow my heart and applied myself to filling this niche market for many years until I realized I had finally grown so much that I needed to look elsewhere to move my product and take full advantage of the ground I leased. I then ventured out into the grain market and with a leap of faith grew an heirloom variety of wheat that hadn't been popular until recently, with the new GMO debate raging. The last few years, I have enjoyed fulfilling a market for Ancient Grains and will continue to grow heritage varieties as the market evolves.
Janna Anderson in one of her fields.
I grow naturally at my west valley farm. I am not certified organic yet, but will be applying for certification at my fruit orchard farm in Laveen probably this summer. Paperwork isn't my favorite.
2. What changes have you seen in your lifetime as it relates to farming and/or ranching?
When I first started farming, Organic certification had just been created and the consumer demand for that product was naively pursued by people who thought they understood that the word organic meant no pesticides in their food. While in the background, commercial agriculture wanted in on the big money that Organics seemed to demand, and as it becomes more of a mainstream market.
Sadly, I have also seen the debate raging against GMOs and the fear mongering attacks from the organic side that leads people to believe that the conventional foods are not safe to raise their families on, and it is disturbing the amount of misinformation that people absorb from these sources.
3. Why did you choose to go into agriculture?
When I grew up, it was silly to think that a person would want to go into the Ag field and I remember taking one of those aptitude tests designed to help a person figure out what careers to pursue. I laughed at one of the choices and remember saying "Farmer?! Who wants to grow up to be a farmer? That shouldn't even be an option. I'm going into nursing where I can make a real living"
Quite a few years later, I was one semester short of becoming a registered nurse when I saw a need in the community farmers markets that I was able to fulfill and worked towards that goal until I realized this was something that could be a real career. It's a very funny story to me now when I look back and realize the aptitude test had it right all along. I sincerely enjoy learning to grow new things and it didn't hurt when I enjoyed a kind of rock star admiration from people who would buy my produce.
4. Will anyone in your family - younger generation - pursue farming and/or ranching?
People always ask about the family aspect of my farming operation and for many in agriculture it is what they do because their family did it before them. People generally raise their eyebrows when I say my husband has a real job and I am the farmer. I am lucky that he has been as supportive in reaching my goals as if they were his own. I know he still wishes I was a nurse though, especially when I want to buy some really expensive piece of equipment!
5. Would you ever consider growing an emerging crop or changing your farm or ranch model?
I have changed and adapted to the needs of my market base for years. I have always been willing to try new growing techniques and listen to how farmers of old do it too. As my farm grows, I am still a very small farm in terms of the typical farmer, but 46 acres requires a different type of technique than a farm of 5 or 5,000 acres will.
Some of Janna's Heritage wheat.
The needs of the consumer have changed too. When I first started growing for market, the customers were mostly older women, looking for pesticide-free produce for their vegan lifestyle and the occasional conspiracy theorist. Now, the word Organic has become a buzzword in what consumers are looking for, and markets are bustling with young women with babies and food connoisseurs searching for that farm-to-table connection
6. What are your community activities? Why are you involved?
I used to volunteer for AZ Beagle Rescue, but last year I gave up my title to let a new person carry the torch so I could focus more on the farming aspect. I grew up with beagles and truly did not know you could train a dog until I got a different breed of dog. But I still love them and they are a very special breed
7. What is one fact/experience/achievement no one knows about you?
I know more about farm machinery than any real girl should. I actually enjoy doing routine maintenance and working with tractors and implements and getting a little dirty. I figure if the Queen of England can repair trucks during the war, there's no reason I can't change my own oil and wrench a few nuts and bolts.
8. What do you think you do really well? Explain.
While I always say I am not too creative, I think my job does require a little creativity. Thinking outside the box to be able to fulfill the demand and make money doing it is not always easy, and doing it on a small scale is challenging too. I enjoy listening and learning from other farmers who have done this the same way with excellent results for years and I take that information and learn how to apply it to my operation.
Pinnacle Farms produce.
9. Why are you a farm bureau member?
Farm Bureau is truly “The Voice of Agriculture.” As GMO fear grows and water issues become increasingly difficult, the general consumer needs to know how we are adapting and becoming more sustainable to help protect the environment and the limited resources we have. I am especially grateful now to benefit from the water storage that Arizona has invested in many years ago, due to the efforts of the Farm Bureau lobbying to make sure our needs are known and met.
I see the foolish people in California complaining about farmers turning the desert into a water-hungry, wasteful eco-disaster and I know that there is a huge need to educate these people on where their food comes from and what we do to make sure everyone is benefiting from our efforts. It's disturbing to hear the hypocrites saying eat your Organic veggies and keep GMOs out of our food supply, but they have no idea of how much benefit the research has brought to reduce the use of airborne pesticides and creating varieties that are drought tolerant. Farm Bureau is absolutely essential to helping the customer base understand our industry and what we have done to create a safe, diverse, and sustainable food system.
10. How will the next generation of farmers have to operate?
The trend will continue as we have seen it, less land available, bigger farms, less water and more farmers will be driven out due to the changes. Farmers who will survive will be able to adapt and turn old land that has been farmed and given up on into new farms. Some will make it despite greater odds, and many will turn to technology to make them bigger and more efficient. Food safety issues will continue to be a huge issue for farmers working to protect their livelihoods from the random threat of bacteria in their dirt (gasp) and consumers will become more confused and concerned than ever that the food they are feeding their children won't be safe to eat unless it has some government program seal to back it up. Me, I am just going to brush off the dirt and keep eating my yard peaches and have fun doing what I do while I can find land to grow on!
Editor's Note: Find Janna and Pinnacle Farms on Facebook.