Carrots. Crunchy, convenient
and nutritious, the carrot is a dietary staple in the United
States. According to the UDSA, carrots are the fifth most consumed
vegetable in the country; the average American consumed 9.5
pounds of carrots in 2003. Chances are, at least 7.2 pounds
of those carrots came from California, now home (or rather,
birthplace) to 76 percent of the country’s fresh market
Bred to be mechanically harvested, travel well, and store
for long periods, the average carrot travels 1774 miles to
the dinner plate. It’s no wonder that “flavorful”
is a word rarely associated with this woody root crop. “Average”
is more like it.
That’s why when I first heard about Gary Guthrie’s
“utterly delicious” carrots in Ames, Iowa, I wanted
to learn more. Through careful attention to variety selection
and taste, Guthrie has put the flavor back into carrots. He’s
also created a profitable niche that extends his growing season
and boosts farm revenue.
Growing Harmony Farm
Guthrie farms with his wife, Nancy, and son, Eric, on Growing
Harmony farm, five miles east of Ames in central Iowa. A native
of the state, Guthrie spent a number of years in community
development in both Central America (with MCC, the Mennonite
Central Committee) and Des Moines before returning to his
family’s farm in 1997.
Guthrie wanted to get back into agriculture, but didn’t
know how until he attended a winter workshop at Iowa State
University on a concept called Community Supported Agriculture
(CSA). The model, in which the community shares the rewards
and risks of a farm’s harvest, resonated with him. “It
seemed like an opportunity to integrate my interests in research,
community development, and my people skills.”
The following spring Guthrie launched his CSA with four members.
Today he raises organic vegetables for 44 CSA members on 2.5
acres of land. Looking for a way to supplement his CSA income
and distribute his labor in the slower months, Guthrie turned
to carrots, a fall crop with good storage capabilities. His
efforts have paid off.
Carrot flavor secrets
Guthrie was first turned on to flavorful carrots almost by
accident. One wintry day in December 1997, Guthrie pulled
some carrots out of a snow-covered bed he had planted earlier
in the season. The carrots, a variety called Bolero, were
exceptional. Says Guthrie, “It was my first realization
of how good winter carrots could be.”
The following summer, Guthrie read an article titled “Carrot
Flavor Secrets” in Organic Gardening magazine. The piece
explained the physiology of carrot flavor and shared the results
of a taste test comparing seven different carrot hybrids grown
in upper North America. Guthrie, who still considers it the
best article he’s seen on carrot production, said, “It
confirmed what I already knew.”
According to the article, “A flavorful carrot variety
will probably taste flavorful no matter where it is grown.”
In other words, variety selection, more than anything else,
is the key to tasty carrots. Guthrie, who was already growing
several of the recommended varieties, felt encouraged to grow
As the CSA grew, Guthrie continued to raise and experiment
with carrots. Soon, he realized he was starting to get a reputation.
“I’d go to these conferences and people would
say ‘Gary Guthrie’s carrots are the best I’ve
ever eaten.’ That’s when I decided to focus more
on carrot production.”
A recipe for carrot success
After years of research and experimentation, Guthrie’s
developed his own recipe for successful carrot production.
As already noted, variety selection is a crucial factor (see
caption below for Guthrie’s variety recommendations).
Others include soil management, bed preparation and weed control.
on variety selection
A customer favorite that “far surpasses
other carrots for fall/winter harvest.”
A late-season carrot with aggressive top-growth
for good weed control, they are smooth-skinned
and easy to wash. They also store well. (75 days
to maturity [DTM])
“By far the best for crispness,” yet
far milder in flavor than the Bolero. A shorter
season carrot that produces very nicely when grown
in the fall for winter harvest. (55 DTM)
“My best summer carrot.” An early
variety with a short growing season that produces
well. Smooth-skinned and easy to wash. (59 DTM)
“Another excellent fall carrot.” Smaller
and more slender than Bolero. (54 DTM)
“One of the sweetest summer varieties I’ve
ever grown,” but the longer length and irregular
undulations make them more difficult to dig and
wash. (65 DTM)
“A fairly sweet summer carrot, with disadvantages
similar to Ithaca.” (65 DTM)
“It starts with nice loose organic soils," says
Guthrie. Fortunate to farm on Iowa’s famously fertile,
black prairie soils, Guthrie still makes every effort to conserve
and enhance his soils with green manures, cover crops and
long rotations. As an organic farmer, he uses no synthetic
pesticides or fertilizers. Aside from the rototiller and propane
flamer, Guthrie farms entirely by hand—something he
considers better for the soil (and is committed to as an act
of solidarity with the majority of world’s farmers).
Too much nitrogen will cause a carrot to develop forks, so
Guthrie typically plants carrots as the last crop in his rotation.
One to two weeks prior to planting he creates raised beds
3 ft wide by 20 ft long. He direct-seeds the carrots, four
or five rows per bed, using a thin carrot plate on his Earthway
seeder so the plants won’t have to be thinned later.
After seeding, he covers the beds with 40-inch wide untreated
burlap to maintain moisture for better germination. During
hotter months, Guthrie sometimes uses two layers of burlap
to keep the beds from drying out.
A hand-held propane flamer is Guthrie's main method of weed
control. One or two days prior to carrot emergence he scorches
the bed completely. “You need to see the weeds dry up
and blow away for the most effective weed control,”
he declares. Once the carrots emerge, he does some light weeding
as necessary. Guthrie has found that flaming for weed control,
along with increasing the number of rows per bed, has almost
doubled his carrot yields.
Carrots that sell themselves
In 2003 Guthrie raised 3,400 pounds of carrots on 22 beds.
Even though he stepped up production considerably, from 2,400
pounds in 2002, he still sold out by the end of November.
At $1.00 per pound retail or $0.70 wholesale, the carrots
have added nicely to the farm’s revenue.
Guthrie’s farm is close to a college town, which makes
it ideally situated for direct marketing. Besides his CSA
members, Gary sells carrots straight off the farm, to the
nearby food cooperative, and to several restaurants in Ames
and in Grinnell (another college town about 90 minutes away).
When available, his carrots are also a regular feature at
the growing number of conferences serving “All-Iowa”
Kamal Hammouda, owner and chef of the Phoenix Café
in Grinnell, has served Growing Harmony Farm’s carrots
for years. “Their very distinct sweetness makes them
different from your run-of-the-mill carrots,” Hammouda
says. Though Hammouda could buy carrots from farmers closer
to his restaurant, he finds the extra effort is worth it.
“I serve them fresh, in soups, and in cakes," he
explains. "When I find something good I keep bringing
Turns out, Hammouda’s customers expect that of him
too. “This year I was a little late picking up Gary’s
carrots and soon some of my regular customers started to ask
Guthrie’s emphasis on flavor also helps keep his CSA
members coming back. Corry Bregendahl and her husband, Kristjan,
have been members of Growing Harmony Farm since 1999. “Gary’s
produce is fantastic,” raves Bregendahl. And the carrots?
“Sweet, crunchy, and delicious—I practically lived
on them one winter.”
crunchy, and delicious—I practically lived on
them one winter.”
at a Glance
Gary and Nancy Guthrie
Growing Harmony Farm
Location: 5 miles east of Ames,
Carrot operation: 3,400 pounds
on 22 beds in 2003
• up from 2,400 pounds in 2002
• $1.00 per pound retail or $0.70 wholesale
CSA operation: organic vegetables
for 44 CSA members on 2.5 acres
As for next season, Guthrie says he plans to maintain current
production levels, since “thirty-four hundred pounds
is plenty to market.” He will, however, continue to
try to improve his germination and production rates per bed-foot.
He also likes to educate customers about carrot taste.
At his annual apple pie CSA-member appreciation night this
year, Guthrie started off the evening with a tasting of Napoli
and Bolero carrots. Says Guthrie, “One doesn’t
normally think of carrots as having distinguishing tastes,
like apples. Yet, my members, without knowing which was which,
could highlight the differences.” (Almost all said they
Does Guthrie recommend that other farmers consider carrots
to extend their growing seasons? Yes. He’s heard plenty
of comments from other farmers that carrots are “too
much work,” and that's why he has such a market. Still,
he sees great potential. “I agree they're a lot of work,
but there's tremendous opportunity and plenty of market for
these types of carrots in the northern United States.”
Having tasted Growing Harmony Farm carrots, we can only hope
more farmers follow Guthrie’s lead.