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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 25, 2018

Mogo Organic featured in book spotlighting female farmers

Oct 11, 2017
Photo by: Grace King Morgan Hoenig is featured as a woman farmer shaping Iowa’s farmland in the new book “Women and the Land,” which was released in September. Here, she stands in the middle of her two acres of crops she planted this year.

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News


As Morgan Hoenig looked over the excerpt from “Women and the Land,” a new book that features her organic vegetable farm, she reminisced about her interview with the authors two years ago, a time when she was at the height of her farming career.

“When I see this picture (from the book), I think ‘oh my god, I’m so skinny,’” Hoenig said, whose farm Mogo Organic is in Mt. Pleasant. “All I did (at the time) was work and eat handfuls of cashews.”

“Women and the Land” is a book that was released in September featuring 25 women who are impacting Iowa’s farmland. Hoenig is highlighted as a woman who started Mogo Organic from the dirt up. The book was written by Barb Hall and Kathryn Gamble in recognition of the agricultural work women in Iowa are doing.

With women owning more than half of the farmland in Iowa either because it was passed down in their family or their husband passed away, leaving them with the farm, they have a huge influence on agriculture, Hoenig said.

“When you think of a farmer, you think of a dude on a tractor,” she said. “Women don’t get as much recognition. I think (this book) is a beautiful thing.”

Hoenig agreed to be interviewed for the book in hopes that she can inspire other women to branch out and be leaders in agriculture. She said that a lot of the inspiration to start Mogo Organic was from reading other people’s organic farming stories.

Hoenig sat down with the authors twice so they could gather information for her chapter. Once when Hoenig was selling produce at a farmers market in Iowa City, and then again to visit the farm a few weeks later. Hoenig said that she didn’t feel like she was put on the spot at all while being interviewed for the book, but that it was a lot of fun to just be engaged in conversation with other women who are passionate about agriculture.

“I don’t even remember them taking notes,” Hoenig said. “(Hall and Gamble) were very comfortable to be around.”

At the time she was interviewed, Hoenig supplied vegetables to over 100 families in Iowa City, Mt. Pleasant and Burlington, and was selling produce at farmers markets in Mt. Pleasant and Iowa City.

As an organic farmer, Hoenig said she really has to know her enemy because she can’t use the usual round of pesticides to rid her crops of bugs. So she learns something new every day, discovers a new bug, knows the seasons like she can tell time on the clock.

“I know when the orioles across the street are mating,” Hoenig said. “There are geese that fly overhead that I can set my watch by.”

Some of her chapter revolves around the media attention she received when then-President Barack Obama visited her farm in 2010. Hoenig said that because he visited in April, there wasn’t any produce growing yet and there was just a lot of bare earth.

“I didn’t have much to show,” Hoenig said, adding that she had a one-week notice to get ready for the President’s visit, which was filled taking “weed whackers and mowers” to the property.

In the Obama administration at the time of his visit, Obama was trying to push initiatives that made technology, energy and agriculture “greener,” Hoenig said. When he visited, Hoenig said she wasn’t yet making a living from the farm, but she was more focused on trying to promote local eating.

“You work your butt off and don’t make much money,” Hoenig said. “When the president takes interest, it makes you feel like you’re doing something right. It was an ego boost.”

The president’s visit also clued her into U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) cost-share programs, which helped her pay for her two high-tunnel greenhouses. These greenhouses give her an extra month at the beginning and end of the growing season, which means extra money, Hoenig said.

Hoenig remembers approving the write up for the book a couple years ago, and almost forgot about the experience until she got an email from Hall inviting her to come to the book signings around Iowa. Hoenig hopes to attend one of the signings at the Iowa City Public Library on Saturday, Oct. 14, at 10 a.m. This event is part of the Iowa City Books Festival.

Two years after she was interviewed for the book, Hoenig doesn’t work on her farm full-time anymore. However, her new role as local foods coordinator at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach gives her the opportunity to offer a lot of support to local farmers like her.

“If I can help promote local food systems (in Henry County) in the long run, I’m creating a better market here,” Hoenig said.

Her goal in the next five to 10 years is to go back to farming full-time. Right now, she’s working to have enough money to buy the land Mogo farms is sitting on, which is currently owned by her family. It sat unused for 20 years after her grandfather passed away in 1985. While Hoenig is ready for it to be her land, she is hesitant to put too much money into it in case her family decides to sell it, she said.

She said that as much food as she was growing a couple years ago, the farm wasn’t making a profit. All of it was going right back into the land, buying seed, purchasing equipment and paying her employees. Right now, it is self-sustaining, but still is not making a profit. Hoenig has one full-time employee, Jaxon Penfield, and then she herself works during the evenings and weekends.

“I always tell (Penfield) she’s my biggest asset,” Hoenig said, adding that she could not keep the farm running without her.

For this growing season, Hoenig is glad it’s almost over, she said as she picked a couple tomatoes from her two acres of crops. Not only has her stamina been reduced with a baby on the way, but she had two cats die this summer and the lack of rain has made it difficult on Mogo Farms.

“Let’s just try again next year,” Hoenig said.

Although it’s been tough, farming is Hoenig’s “mental health.”

“I’m stimulated out here,” Hoenig said. “I want it to be mine so I can pass it off to future generations. It’s my heart and soul.”

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