116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
As a youngster, Zachary Brown had visions for what he might do with his own farm.
“I grew up in Des Moines, and so when I would visit my grandparents’ farm, it was a retreat away from the city,” he recalled.
“Later in my life, I began traveling with my artwork and going to festivals and getting introduced to regenerative agriculture and land-based practices. I had this vision to bring that back to Iowa in some way.”
Brown has done that very thing with Rainbow Lake Farm, a two-acre, regenerative market farm in Chelsea.
Brown farms entirely with all-organic seeds and practices, including compost teas, mulch, wood chips, cover crops and other no-till methods.
“I had some experience with this type of work, but I also had a lot of naivete starting a project like this,” he said.
“The amount of hard work involved in starting a farm from the ground up — the support for farmers markets is greater than it’s ever been, but even so I don’t know if the general public realizes just how hard it is to run a farm.
“I was unaware of the level of dedication it takes to really work off the land.”
It's been a challenging but successful effort so far. In Rainbow Lake’s first growing season, the farm grew more than 50 varieties of crops and started selling produce to multiple restaurants and grocery stores.
Today, Rainbow Lake regularly offers products at farmers markets all around the state, and Brown hopes to expand into smaller communities and locations where fresh-from-the-farm, organic produce is hard to find.
A key aspect of Rainbow Lake Farm is protecting the soil. To that end, no tractors are used on the farm and all work is done with hand tools.
“I love being in nature all day, every day,” Brown said.
“Starting this, I knew a little bit about farming, but I’ve had to learn so much more. It’s constant learning, but it’s rewarding, and I feel like I’m getting to provide something that’s really meaningful.
“It’s a process of working with the earth that is benefiting me physically and emotionally every day that I’m out there.”
This year Brown plans to install four acres of native prairie, as well as build a high tunnel greenhouse, create more no-till garden beds and build the soil with compost tea and organic matter.
Brown knew a loan would make those projects possible, so he began looking into Kiva Iowa.
“I’d heard about Kiva a few years ago from a family member who came across it online,” he explained. “I knew that Kiva was interested in funding projects that had a social impact, and that it provides a low barrier of entry to people.
“It gets the community to become more aware of our project. And the fact that it’s crowd-funded and there’s no fees, which is pretty amazing.”
Rainbow Lake Farm began seeking a $13,500 loan through Kiva in early July. By the end of the month, the loan was fully funded.
“This loan will give us the tools and infrastructure to be profitable this year so we can keep reinvesting in this project,” Brown said.
“The farm tools will make the operation more time-efficient, keep the weeds manageable, and allow us to grow more food and take more to market, and we will be able to start hosting people on the land and sharing our practices and space with our community.”
More about Kiva Iowa at newbo.co/kiva. More on Rainbow Lake Farm can be found on Facebook.