Meet the Modern Farmer: Wendy Johnson

Wendy Johnson of Jóia Food Farm in Charles City, Iowa.

Kathryn Gamble

Jóia Food Farm
Charles City, Iowa

Why would a fashion blogger consider relocating from Los Angeles to Iowa? “My grandmother died in 2009,” explains Wendy Johnson. “It made me think about the future of our family farm.”

A year later, Johnson convinced her surfer boyfriend (now husband) to trade the California coast for a landlocked sea of commodity crops. Soon thereafter, she talked her dad into letting her rent 42 of the operation’s 1,200 acres, where Johnson began raising soy and corn—plus alfalfa, oats, barley, and grass-fed livestock—following organic standards.

So far, so good: Already her father’s taken note of the price she commands for certified organic corn.

Johnson also appears on the cover of Women and the Land (Ice Cube Press, $25), a new book profiling 26 agricultural innovators—including several fellow members of the Practical Farmers of Iowa, a network of 3,000 Hawkeye State residents who “use practices that work with nature, not against it,” according to the 42-year-old. “We’re the minority. But it’s a growing sector—I like to be optimistic.”

Meanwhile, her dad remains skeptical. “I get it,” she says. “I’m a newbie. I’m a woman. I’m his daughter.” But surely a 70-something man is eager to hand over the reins. “Nope,” Johnson replies. “He doesn’t have any hobbies. Farming is his everything. He’ll be doing this forever.”

Meet the Modern Farmer: Wendy Johnson