When Aaron and Dana Thomas first moved to the country it was so they could have chickens. Then there were layers and eggs, broilers, a huge garden, pigs and a goose. The Thomas Farmstead was born.
The Thomas family of rural Kensett includes Aaron, 34, Dana, 32, Ali Kate, who will be 4 at the end of June, Ian James who will be one-year-old in July, their dog Ansel and cat Jimmy. In my interview with them, Aaron and Dana described the transition to the farm. “Going from living in town, not knowing where our food came from, to growing it ourselves--it was easy. We both wanted it,” Aaron said. It was the birth of their daughter Ali that changed it all for them. Aaron said they started watching food documentaries and realized “Oh, shoot. We need to change.” “We decided what we needed to feed Ali,” Dana said. “I would say the decision to learn more and eat better was a mutual decision. The farm hasn’t always been mutual.” “We both decided we should grow our own food,” Aaron added. “We both agreed on that. But we didn’t have farming in mind when we moved out here. Dana did not want to live in town and get chickens. (We thought) we should consider this because this is the life.”
When asked about how they ended up as the Thomas Farmstead after all, Dana and Aaron both agreed they found themselves sucked in, as egg laying chickens are often a ‘gateway drug’ (to farming). “We found that to be true," said Dana. “So we agreed we should grow our own food,” added Aaron. But as an entrepreneur, he wanted to take that next step and sell what they produced. “Dana said that would make us farmers, and ‘I don’t want to be a farmer’,” Aaron added. Yet, now they’re farmers.
“I think homesteading is growing your own food just for yourself,” Aaron said. With farming, “You’re making a little money off it.” “That’s why we’re ‘The Thomas Farmstead’ (instead of The Thomas Homestead),” Dana said.
Aaron has learned about farming through videos, reading and podcasts. “If I’m not learning something, I’m bored. That’s the favorite thing for me,” he said. He added that Steve Strasheim of Twisted River Farm in Mitchell has been a huge help as well. “I consider him to be a mentor. He’s helped me to get going. I don’t know too many other chicken producers.”
Although she's settling in now, Dana had been accustomed to city living, having grown up in Mason City. Aaron “grew up on a couple of acres,” spending his formative years in Ethiopia as the son of missionary parents. They met at Iowa State University. Dana is an interior designer at Bergland + Cram in Mason City. Aaron is also a professional photographer (Photos by Aaron Thomas), and has worked in landscape design with Blackmore Nursery in Mason City and Natural Plus in Clear Lake. “I like the space,” Dana said of country life. “All the farm stuff with it has been difficult, but the space has been easy to adjust to.” “But she’s changing,” Aaron said. Dana was willing to consider getting a sow and boar to breed their own pigs, and she has agreed to turkeys and the recently-added “guard goose.” However, she has "put her foot down at sheep or goats or cows,” Aaron said.
Their farm includes 50 layers and batches of 125 broilers. They had 10 pigs last year, and just a few weeks ago, they got 15 pigs. “They’re awesome,” Aaron said. “I love pigs.” This is the third year for their garden as well, which includes beans, peas, salad greens, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, onions, strawberries, squash, horseradish, garlic, corn, cucumber, watermelon, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and ‘volunteer’ dill. “This year we bought extra corn, sunflower seeds and pumpkins to feed to the animals,” Aaron said. A garden is an additional challenge. “You have to wait an entire year to see your mistakes, and it takes so long to build soil in a no-till,” Aaron said. “I’m super jazzed about our soil in our garden, but it grows weeds really well.” “We go through one kitchen (garbage) bag every 2-3 weeks because we compost so much,” Dana said. When asked about his farming philosophy, Aaron summed it up. "I don't just want to produce healthy delicious food for people,” he said. “I want to be sure the food I'm producing is benefiting our earth."
If you're interested in supporting the Thomas Farmstead and purchasing local food, broiler chickens are available through Simply Nourished. There are 15 still available for the June 13th batch. The birds are raised on pasture/grass and are fed only nonGMO feed (along with everything they peck from the ground of course). They are 100% hormone and antibiotic free as well. All chickens are pre-sold, so you must reserve in order to take advantage of this incredible local food option. Price is $4.50/lb and birds average 3.75-4.25 lbs. They arrive bagged individually and whole, ready to cook or freeze. There will be a batch available in June, July, August and September for sure. Possibly an October batch as well. To reserve yours, email email@example.com or stop in to Simply Nourished during business hours.