About Us

aerial photo

About Us   |   2015 : The Year in Review    |   Climate Data

It is our sincere hope that each and every one of our customers takes the time to read this section of our catalog. The few minutes that it takes to read this will help provide you with a better understanding of our operation and will communicate to you how we operate. We are not a large operation and all of the work is done by Linda and me with occasional inputs from outside sources. The family consists of myself (Glenn) and my wife, Linda. Our two grown sons, Nick and Cory (married to Cheryl, a granddaughter Lilly, and a grandson Benjamin) are no longer living at home. We are not a wholesale seed company nor are we a large hatchery. We are genetic preservationists that are in this for the genetic diversity of this planet we all call home. We produce all of our own eggs for our hatches, tend all of our own flocks, weed and care for the seed crops and produce around 90% of the seed which we sell. We also work with several close friends to produce some rare and unusual items to help give you a better variety. We purchase a few common varieties of nontreated seed to expand our offerings. We use these common items in our growouts to run comparison tests against the heirlooms. We also raise and maintain a few common breeds of poultry. Mostly this is for comparison purposes with the heritage breeds of poultry. But, they are also maintained and sold here for the 4-H young people who need them for show in the meat and egg-laying classes at the fair. This way they can place one order and be able to obtain both common breeds and rare breeds in the same order. One of our main focuses in our business is education. Working closely with the young people in 4-H gives us an opportunity to encourage them to consider maintaining rare breeds. After all, the future of the poultry fancy is, indeed, our young people.

Our primary mission is the preservation of our genetic resources. It is difficult to find the time and resources to do that properly and we need to set limits on what we can do and then do it right. You will notice that periodically we have to change our plan and do things a little differently. For example, we will again be producing all of our sweet potato plants in the field. This means a stronger healthier plant for the customer and gives us greenhouse space to start other things. However, this means we will never have plants earlier than late May or early June if we have cool temperatures in May.

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2015 - The Year in Review

Many of our customers keep asking how things are going and what it takes to keep things running around here. For our continuing customers, the following summary will fill you in on the past year. For our new customers, it will, hopefully, give you a feel for what life is like here on the preservation center.

Sand Hill Preservation sign

Each and every year brings some new challenges and always brings new learning opportunities. 2015 was no exception. This whole operation started with the purchase of the farm on December 5, 1988 and the following weeks of excitement with the beginning of a new adventure. I had left my home state of Idaho in 1984 and, prior to that, I had developed lists of sources for rare poultry I hoped to obtain once I got re-established here in Iowa. The wait time was over and I began to search my lists of breeders and sources. My Christmas break was spent exploring the new farm and writing letters and making phone calls to try to track down some of the poultry I had long waited for. The excitement of all of the plans for the new farm was great, but the days that followed proved disappointing as my lists of poultry sources kept bringing a lot of dead ends. Many returned letters, many phone calls with the simple response, "We don't have them anymore". It seems the 1980's were really rough on rare breed poultry. All of the fast growing broilers and super sized turkeys put the "real" poultry on the verge of extinction. The turkey situation was nearly to the point of collapse as so few heritage birds remained. It seemd that I was being directed to other plans for this farm than just a vegetable seed preservation facility. I initally had just wanted to get some poultry for fun. It soon became obvious that my work was being redirected into yet another area. I started searching for what I thought was most crucial. The result was a collection of some very rare turkey genetics. This is how the logo for the farm was born. Many wonder why an operation with so many seeds has a bunch of turkeys for a logo. While the mid 1990's was a very low point for turkeys and many other breeds of poultry, it has been great to see that times have changed. We will continue to be dedicated to preserve as much as we can possibly do but will constantly have to readjust our workload and focus. This isn't an operation where what we offer is based on sales and profit but on the direction that God seems to lead us. Decisions are not made without prayerful consideration, thought and planning. We made some decisions this past year that will be addressed in the next few paragraphs.

We decided that 2015 will be our last bulk rate mailed catalog. We struggled with the USPS so many times in 2015 from all the changes they made and the lack of service we received. While I have long been a huge supporter of the USPS, the items we had to deal with last year increased as the season progressed. It started with having to redo our bulk mailing and implement changes for each of the subsequent mailings because of continued failure to supply the proper information. It finished with the complete misrepresentation of the Express Mail service for shipping poultry and the false representation of guaranteed delivery. We hope this makes things a bit more environmentally friendly. No one should be getting a catalog unless they specifically want one. It frustrates me to get the same catalog multiple times a year from some seed and nursery places. The amount of waste is horrible, let alone what it does to the price of the products. Prices would have to increase greatly in our catalog to compensate for the cost of printing and mailing all of the catalogs we have in the past.

The next big decision was to begin to tackle all of the seeds from our friend Tom's collection and all the seeds that others have sent in. This is a monumental task as there are over 2,000 varieties. We have no idea how many are still alive, but something has to be done and each year of not growing them out put them more and more at risk of slipping away to extinction. The new policies of Seed Savers Exchange, with removing items and being more exclusive on additions, has caused increasing amounts of material to be sent to us by individuals to try to give it at least one more chance. We hope to use some of the funds we spent on bulk rate postage and extra printing to direct those funds into hiring more help to save more material.

We were fortunate this year to be blessed with a great growing season and, in many cases, an abundance of seeds of many varieties. We, of course, had our usual rabbit problems and other issues that picked off some varieties. I remember at one point in September coming in the house at the end of a long day and telling Linda that I was sure thankful for some crop failures. We could have never gotten it all done if everything had been successful. Each year, at season's end, it is always exciting to think of what the next year can bring and what we will tinker with to, hopefully, be more successful with the following year. Our season had some wet times and some dry spells and September was the perfect month to ask for to bring our late plantings to success. God really answered our prayers. The season came to a rapid end when our first frost was a crisp 20 deg. F and the next morning 24 deg. F. I learned that what could have been an abundant cotton seed crop fizzled fast as the bolls froze solid and the seed wasn't quite ripe.

We are excited to see what 2016 will bring. I know we will tackle many more of Tom Knoche's bean collection and will start with a token amount of squash and melons. Who knows how many new (old) heirlooms will appear in the 2017 edition?

The poultry held its own in 2015. We greatly appreciate all the prayers and notes of concern as Bird Flu spread across the Midwest and we were spared. Thank you to all for your support and desire to help us to continue to maintain a genetically diverse and healthy food supply.

Best wishes for a great 2016. - Glenn and Linda Drowns

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CLIMATE INFORMATION

Most of the seed varieties in the catalog have days to maturity listed beside them. That is based upon our data here at the farm. Glenn is an avid weather observer and offers the following climate information for the serious gardener trying to determine if a variety will grow for them in their locale. We have decided to add the data for the entire year as that is also an integral part of what the poultry can and do handle.

The year's first frost in the Fall was a real jolt to the system. We had no light frosts and then that morning it dropped to 20 deg. F. It took care of most everything above ground. Next morning it was 24 deg. F and finished it all off.

SAND HILL PRESERVATION CENTER CLIMATE DATA
Figures for 2015 are in parentheses "( )"

Month Ave. High Ave. Low Total Precip.
Jan. 28 (29) 14 (11) 1.43 (0.64)
Feb. 34 (21) 21 (1) 1.60 (1.10)
Mar. 48 (47) 29 (23) 2.80 (0.77)
Apr. 61 (64) 39 (39) 3.67 (2.70)
May 74 (73) 52 (53) 4.28 (6.22)
Jun. 83 (81) 61 (62) 4.89 (9.19)
Jul. 86 (83) 65 (64) 3.41 (2.82)
Aug. 84 (82) 63 (60) 5.48 (5.08)
Sep. 76 (81) 54 (58) 3.36 (4.71)
Oct. 64 (64) 42 (43) 2.67 (3.02)
Nov. 45 (51) 29 (32) 2.75 (5.65)
Dec. 31 17 1.78

We typically start planting Spring crops in early April and dig our last Fall root crops in mid-November. Winter's lowest temperature is generally in the range of -20 to -25F with the coldest being -38F. Summer time temperatures above 100F are rare, but it has reached 105F.


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PEOPLE WHO HAVE HAD AN IMPACT ON GENETIC DIVERSITY

In 2014 we featured 4 indiviuals (Dr. Art Boe, Carolyn Male, Tom Knoche and Ernest Strubbe) for all of their contributions to the genetic diversity of our food supply. We did not have room to have the series continue last year but wanted to return this year and, hopefully, continue each year. This year we decided to feature Kent Whealy.

KENT WHEALY

Anyone who spends at least a few minutes searching the positive changes in the genetic diversity of our food supply would most assuredly encounter the name Kent Whealy. Over the last century one would undoubtedly have to conclude that Kent Whealy has had the greatest impact of anyone in changing the course of our dwindling genetic resources of the world's food supply. In 1970 when I was about to turn 9, I started getting as many seed catalogs as I could and was constantly searching for anything unique that I might have a chance of growing in my short season mountain climate of Idaho. Each year as I saved up money from my lawn care jobs to order some different seeds, I was constantly disappointed when the catalogs would come and every year they would contain less and less. I always seemed to just be a year behind something disappearing from the catalog pages. I could see the problem but had no idea why it was occurring. A few years later, as a senior in high school in the Fall of 1978, I was doing research for a government class project and got sidetracked and found a tiny blurb for the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE). I sent the $3.00 for the publication and WOW! a whole new world was opened. In that 8 year span a great number of varieties had already disappeared. It seemed each year the rate of disappearance was greater and more and more material was gone. I soon joined the SSE and many conversations and correspondences soon started. The closer I got to finishing college the more the conversations increased. In the Spring of 1984 the SSE had moved to Iowa and Kent convinced me to start my post college life in Iowa. I made the move and started the job search for a full time teaching job here in Iowa. The Summer of 1984 to this point has been the only Summer since I was 5 that I did not have some sort of a garden. I spent that Summer mainly in two basements - - - the first one at 203 Rural Avenue in Decorah, IA where I was crammed in a small room next to Kent who was typing on a computer. While Kent typed and worked on publications, I sorted through boxes and trunks of seeds people had sent in. If I wasn't there I was in the basement of Diane's sister where the large bean cases were stored, sorting and inventorying beans. No garden that year but I looked at a mountain of different seeds and my desire to try to save things grew out of proportion. Kent had really started a new and fantastic thing. I read letter after letter from the folks that sent in the seed they didn't want to disappear. Many were elderly people who had seed passed down for generations and were fearful it would disappear. Kent had truly changed the course of the gardeners of the world. He united a group of individuals that otherwise were all in their own worlds. Had he not started SSE when he did, and it had been delayed by even as little as ten years, the amount of material lost would have been phenomenal. I can look at my own collection and see all of the material that I obtained at that time from folks who are no longer with us 10 years later.

Kent and I gardened together in 1985. It was the first garden for the SSE and my first in Iowa. Wow, did we all learn a lot. It was 5 acres along the banks of the Upper Iowa River. I had had big gardens before, but not 5 acres and not in Iowa where weeds grow everywhere in all the great soil and rainfall. I rapidly became overextended with weeds and bugs I had never seen while Kent fell victim to the need to keep up with the business of the evergrowing SSE and had minimal time to garden. Funds for help were low and when I had to go back in August to my teaching job 3 hours to the south, the week-end gardening from a distance put a strain on things. There is no doubt about it that I am strong willed and stubborn and I was frustrated not being there daily to harvest all the seed that I did not want to lose. My frustration strained our relationship some. It is also obvious I tend to set unrealistic goals. I decided I could not continue with this type of garden relationship. I needed day to day contact with the garden. The 3 hour distance between the SSE and myself seemed to get larger each year. Hindsight is a great thing and a lack of constant communication doesn't strengthen relationships. I became frustrated with what I assumed the policies of SSE had become and continued to distance myself from the group. I always thought every spare dollar should be spent to increase and perpetuate as many varieties as could be grown. Kent always looked at a balance of aesthetics and perpetuation. Kent was always looking at a way to attract more donors and publicity for the group and I was just concerned about the perpetuation of the material. I became too critical, something I now regret. That summer of 1984 when we were in such a small area working daily, Kent talked about many hopes and dreams he had for the group and he was constantly working towards them. I can never in my heart believe he ever had anything but the best intentions for the group and the cause. I am sure he probably made some bad decisions and had errors in judgement, both with people and projects, but everyone makes those and, as I stated before, hindsight is a great thing. It is my sincerest hope that Kent is not remembered for being removed from the Seed Savers Exchange but for starting a revolution that changed our world and did more to save the security of our food supply than any other event to date. He most certainly deserves every gardener's appreciation for all the diversity we have today. Thanks, Kent, you did a great thing!


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