Wendy Johnson and her husband, Johnny Rafkin, own and operate Jóia Food Farm, located in Northeast Iowa. Together, they have a 5-year old daughter, Vivienne, who is currently planning her own garden for this coming spring. Wendy is originally from Iowa but moved to California after college to pursue her then love of fashion and marketing. In 2010, Wendy returned to Iowa with Johnny to live and work on the family farm. Wendy felt a strong connection to her family heritage and wanted to respect what her parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents worked so hard to create. When she returned to Iowa, she didn’t know much about agronomy, so she enrolled in a few classes at Iowa State University, took master gardener classes and found mentorship, peers, and resources through Practical Farmers of Iowa.
Jóia Food Farm raises pigs, sheep and lamb, chicken for eggs and meat, turkeys, and ducks. They also grow organic grains and pastures. The animals are grazed within the organic rotation, adding to the nutrients that the soils need to grow healthy plants. Jóia Food Farm believes in the principles of agro-ecology, with a focus on biodiversity, the sharing of animals and plants working together to create healthy soils, healthy animals, healthy plants, a healthy environment and most importantly, healthy food.
Wendy stresses their commitment to high-standard animal welfare. “If the animals are going to be eaten, then their life needs to be fully respected. We are believers in eating less meat, and when we do, eating responsible and ethically raised meat.” To show their commitment to humanely raised animals, Jóia Food Farm is Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) certified. Wendy says animals deserve to eat a diet they were born to eat. The animals on their farm are fed a diverse mix of more than ten organic and/or non-GMO grain and legume ingredients as well as grass and hay, food waste and seasonal nuts, apples, pumpkins, and squash. The sheep and lamb are AWA certified 100% grass-fed and can graze and browse from a diverse selection of grasses and legumes.
Wendy and Johnny support a “clean” Iowa by adding conservation practices on their farm. They also want to help grow and be a part of a rural revitalization to North Iowa. Wendy believes the Cedar Falls Food Co-op is the perfect model to support the natural resources (the people, the land, the environment, the community building) that will promote this revitalization. A food co-op connects the farmers to the consumers, saves people time by finding local food in one location, keeps local dollars within the community, educates, and grows community.
Wendy lived in Brazil for three years and during that time she learned how to eat fresh and what was in season. Fresh vegetables were a part of every meal and cooking was more about the process, ingredients and the flavor and less about efficiency. Out of this experience, Wendy’s love of food grew, and the importance of knowing where and how her food was raised and grown became a priority. Slow food became a motto. Wendy and Johnny today love to cook and invite people over to visit the farm and share a home-cooked, farm-raised/grown meal.
All of the seasons in Iowa have good attributes according to Wendy. Winter is for learning, spring makes all things new again, summer is busy with growing and harvesting, and fall is pure beauty and the realization of all of your hard work. Jóia (pronounced joy-a) means jewel in Portuguese, which Wendy feels represents the farm itself and the family heritage she so admires. There is a saying in Portuguese, “Tudo jóia!” that helps remind her that everything is like a jewel. When things don’t go as planned or when days get difficult, in the end, all is good.