The dating app Tinder claims they’ve made 55 billion matches. One of these was Amy and Andrew Phelps, who met online in 2015 and never imagined they’d one day be farming together. Their mutual love of nature carried them from a first date at Breitbach’s Country Dining in Balltown into a full life together, complete with a small farm and two children.
“Andrew was always on the river,” said Amy, “and I love nature.” At the time, Andrew worked in IT for John Deere in Moline, but his family had a cabin on Guttenberg’s Abel Island. Amy grew up on her family farm, nine miles from the center of Guttenberg, across the street from the land the two farm together today. Andrew proposed on New Year’s Eve during a Florida vacation and, according to Amy, packed the ring in a sock, somehow successfully hiding it, even though she packed their suitcase. They used free hotel points for a place in Key West, and to their surprise, were upgraded to a four-bedroom oceanfront unit. She said yes, and they married in 2017 on Amy’s parents’ 45th wedding anniversary.
In 2019, Amy and Andrew purchased 73 acres of mostly forested land once owned by Amy’s parents, fencing five acres for farming. Amy’s parents had been sick, her father passing in 2016 and her mother in 2020. This called her attention to a more conscious way of living and farming. Amy was concerned about what she might expose them to and began leaning towards organic practices. With the birth of her own children, the choice became even more important. “I wanted them to be able to eat cherry tomatoes right from the plant,” said Amy, a nurse and the Director of MercyOne hospital in Dyersville.
Amy and Andrew enrolled in Jean-Martin Fortier’s Market Gardener Institute which offers online training and community, driven by the mission “to educate and empower growers who change the world through the simple act of growing healthy, nourishing food for their communities.” The Institute aspires to “create a future where humans live in harmony with nature and each other.”
According to the Phelps, they learned everything necessary from Fortier’s hindsight and continue to learn as he updates content regularly. Fortier, author of “The Market Gardener”, is considered a trailblazer in regenerative agriculture. Amy and Andrew agree they didn’t expect the initial investment to be so high and they’ve found the weeds and the wind to be their greatest challenges.
Andrew left John Deere for full-time farming, making the commitment to “go all in” during February of 2021. He feels the best thing about this way of life is making his own hours, even though he’s working much longer days. Amy orders seeds and uses the Tend app to map out their placement. Andrew does the planting after the two start seeds in their garage, a task which offers time together in the evenings once their young children fall asleep.
Andrew is the more than full time farmer, working from daily “to do” lists, adding whatever doesn’t get checked off to the next day’s list. Quoting Amy, he explains, “It’s a lot of hard work, but if it were easy, everyone would do it.”
The Phelps have no regrets because they see everything as a learning opportunity. They overplant to ensure a high survival rate, but feel there are no real losses because the plants that don’t make it are turned into nourishment for the soil. This growth-focused mindset of experimentation and acceptance seems to fuel both of them, who are natural problem solvers.
The Phelps practice permaculture, which Amy describes as “working with nature rather than against it.” According to the Permaculture Research Institute, “Permaculture integrates land, resources, people and the environment through mutually beneficial synergies – imitating the no waste, closed loop systems seen in diverse natural systems.”
Already using all organic practices, although not certified because of the complicated and costly process, the Phelps focus on crop rotation, cover crops which require less fertilizer and composting. They don’t want to get too big too fast, but they do want to push science.
Last year, they had 52 weeks of lettuce and by May, they had tomatoes and cucumbers. They’re putting in flowers for diversity and to attract beneficial insects and birds and they recently added ducks to the farm. As beekeepers, they designed a new hive and painted it bright blue with their two young children, who at two and three-years-old have their own beekeeping suits.
In 2021, The Phelps launched a Community Supported Agriculture program so successfully, it doubled in size in just one year. The CSA program now has 25 members which is considered capacity, although Amy said spaces may open for their fall CSA.
During the summer, members “subscribe” and receive 20 weeks of full or half share boxes delivered to their doorstep. The weekly shares of fresh farm vegetables are a combination of the familiar and the new, inviting members to try the recipes Amy provides. Most share boxes are delivered in the Guttenberg area, with five currently coming to Dyersville homes on Wednesdays. A Phelps Farm stand can be found at Guttenberg and Dubuque farmers markets on Saturdays and also at the once a month Millwork Night Market in Dubuque. Phelps Farm produce can also be found on the menu at Rausch’s Cafe in Guttenberg.
On their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy and Andrew harvested vegetables together, envisioning the future of this piece of land in Clayton County that was once stewarded by Amy’s parents, who would have been celebrating their 50th anniversary. Working the land and dreaming of the future seem a fitting way to honor two marriages that have nourished many and will continue to do so through Phelps Farm. A new well is at the top of the wish list, followed by fruit trees, sunflowers and a small house on the property providing respite from the summer crowds on Abel Island, the Phelps family home.
The Phelps share their unfolding story through Phelps Farm Facebook and Instagram accounts, which is the best place to watch them grow or to reach out for more information.