Joni Ernst visits Getting's Garden

U.S. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) speaks with Andrew Getting at Getting’s Garden in rural Sanborn on Wednesday. In addition to a tour of the family-owned strawberry farm, the lawmaker discussed the challenges of running an agribusiness during the pandemic and longer-term concerns such as climate change.

SANBORN—Fruit may not be the Hawkeye State’s top export, but Getting’s Garden is growing its niche in rural Sanborn as U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) observed during a stop on her annual 99-County Tour on Wednesday.

“When you think of Iowa, you don’t think ‘Wow, strawberries,’” the lawmaker said. “But we do want to see different opportunities succeed in Iowa.”

Started by the Getting family in 1983, the strawberry farm has a special place in the northwest corner of O’Brien County. It’s known for its berry-flavored doughnuts and shakes as well as the hands-on picking that attracts legions of guests each season, usually in the early summer.

“We aren’t as big as other agritourism places around,” mother Mary Jo Getting said. “But for us, it’s huge.”

Her son Andrew Getting coordinated most of the tour and discussion with the senator. He explained that most of business comes from young families, with the garden sitting at the crossroads between tactile learning and healthy living.

“It’s the mothers with kids that determine what I need to be growing,” Andrew said. “It’s not that we don’t care about anybody else, but it seems like money follows Mom. We got our own little niche here and we’re going to sell enough.”

For her part, Ernst inquired about how small farms such as Getting’s Garden can best benefit from her spot on the Senate Agriculture Committee, especially given economic uncertainty spurred by the coronavirus pandemic.

Andrew and his father, Don Getting, talked about bureaucratic hurdles their business faces, especially given its unique spot in the market. Wading through the swamp of applications is hard for any business, they said, especially with most of their farm’s revenue coming from business on their property.

The father and son credited the two major federal initiatives that aided small business bear the brunt of the recession: the Paycheck Protection Program and the COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan.

On a related note, Ernst said it was nice there are places such as Getting’s Garden where people could have an activity away from home as many other summer activities were shut down because of the pandemic.

“With COVID, it’s really nice to have something outdoors so people have something to do,” she said. “It’s been really hard on people.”

Don mentioned a second major concern to the legislator: climate change.

“June is a really hot month now,” the senior Getting said. “June used to be a nice conversion from spring to summer but now it just goes from winter to summer.”

He went on to describe how the heat shields used in the fields no longer protect the berries as much as previous years.

“It’s harder to grow strawberries than it used to,” Don said. “If gets above 90, berries start to fry. That never happened before.”

Ernst mentioned a bipartisan effort she supports with her committee’s chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), to ease the transition to more climate-friendly ag practices. Carbon sequestration — which draws greenhouse gases into ground using greenhouse gas-eating cover crops — was her top target.

The senator said the idea is in the early stages but that it’s “here to stay” as the industry adjusts to higher global temperatures and the knock-on effects of climate change.

“I really want to see some of these bills move forward,” Ernst said in an interview after the tour. “It’s in its infancy but we have a lot of farmers interested in the environmental benefits and new revenue streams, and it creates public trust in agriculture.”