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The Family Farm: Jason and Yvonne Kimm grow seed potatoes with a difference

By Sally Jongsma

When Jason Kimm (’98) came to Dordt College in 1994, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to be a pilot, a doctor, or a farmer. He had already earned his pilot’s license in high school, and in college he worked as an EMT. He also took agriculture courses. Eventually, the fourth- generation Montana potato farmer opted to go into his family’s farming business.

“It was the lifestyle I wanted for my family,” he says. He couldn’t shake memories and images of going out with his father and grandfather on the tractor, spending long hours together. “I wanted to spend that kind of time with my kids,” he says. Today his two-year-old son, Willem, rides the tractor with him, and even eight- month-old Benjamin has been in the field with his parents

Yvonne (Vaags, ’98) Kimm also grew up on a farm. Her family ran a 1200-head feedlot in Manitoba, and she used to joke that she came to Dordt for her Mrs. Degree. She got it, but also much more. After teaching high school English for five years at Manhattan Christian School, she now works with Jason on the family farm in Manhattan, Montana.

They both say that the emphasis on caring for God’s good creation and their professors’ challenge to let their faith shape their actions made a big difference in who they are and what they do today.

Jason and Yvonne Kimm and their boys all ride the roguing cart in a potato field in the summer.  Benjamin, nestled asleep in the snugli, and Willem, perched in front of Jason, join three family members who ride the rows looking for any sign of diseased plants.  If they find any, they dig the plant, potatoes and all.

Jason and Yvonne Kimm and their boys all ride the roguing cart in a potato field in the summer. Benjamin, nestled asleep in the snugli, and Willem, perched in front of Jason, join three family members who ride the rows looking for any sign of diseased plants. If they find any, they dig the plant, potatoes and all.

Something else shaped Jason and Yvonne. In 1997, while country swing dancing during college, they performed a move that landed Yvonne on the floor and in the hospital for a month. Jason believes that the sense of responsibility and stress he felt triggered several years of health problems. Doctors diagnosed him with ulcerative colitis. Sick all the time and having exhausted his medical options, he eventually changed his diet to more “whole foods” and focused on the nutritional therapy he believes his body needed to heal itself. Within one month he was feeling better, and within six months he was a new person.

Jason and Yvonne’s switch to eating mostly local, organically grown food also affected how they wanted to farm. They saw a connection between their health and what they’ve come to see as healthier food. They believed they could help make that same connection for people who buy their food.

My grandfather often said, “Take care of the soil and the soil will take care of you,” Jason says. He believes that adage passionately.

The Kimm family farm has grown potatoes for four generations, and in the 1960s, they turned to seed potatoes. “This part of creation is exceptionally well suited for growing potatoes,” Jason says. Disease is relatively low because of the cooler temperatures, and there are opportunities to collaborate with the Montana State University in developing new and better ways to farm.

But even in good conditions, potatoes are more susceptible than many plants to disease—and seed potatoes, especially, cannot carry traces of disease with them. Jason’s commitment to what he calls whole food led him to study how to grow seed potatoes without relying so heavily on chemical inputs.

“The creation is such an amazing thing,” he says. “Different parts are so interconnected; we need to continually be learning how they connect and balance.”

And that’s what he does. Jason regularly attends conferences and workshops, reads and studies, collaborates with Montana State, and conducts his own research and testing on his farm. His Dordt education has served him well, he says.

He began with compost tea. Although skeptical at first, he says he’s had fantastic results in disease suppression and overall plant health. One of his neighbors, who had his crop heavily damaged by hail, applied compost tea to half of his field and conventional fertilizers to the other half. “He saw a difference in three days and went to compost tea for his whole field for the rest of the year. In addition, he harvested around a thousand pounds more on the half-field that was treated originally.”

By using compost tea, Jason has decreased significantly his use of NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) fertilizers and increased amounts of trace minerals like selenium and manganese. These he obtains through dehydrated ocean water, which has a balanced mineral content and living organisms that seem to make the soil more fertile and plants more disease resistant. To supply his farm and others who are interested, he’s begun his own business, Kimm TEA (Total Environmental Application).

The results have been fantastic, he says. “We had to put out some extra money to convert to ecological agriculture, but the cost is not so much greater that you can’t do it if you are committed to the process. You can see benefits economically in about three to five years.”

“It comes down to choices,” Jason and Yvonne say. They don’t value expensive electronics and furniture as much as they value good food and healthy eating. “Everybody likes coming to our home for a meal,” they say with a chuckle. Their choices include having a huge garden that feeds them summer and winter, with Yvonne balancing gardening, caring for the children, and preserving food for the year.

Jason and Yvonne laud the growing awareness of the effects of food choices on health, although they are concerned about our culture’s disconnectedness with where their food comes from.

“If you have to face the people you feed, you’re likely to be very careful,” says Jason. Although his family farm originally worked with Monsanto, he’s come to believe that genetically modifying plants and using high inputs of pesticide is not the way he wants to feed people. He attributes that conviction to what he learned at Dordt College, even though as a student he was favorably inclined to using chemicals and genetically modified crops.

“I learned that this is God’s creation, and we have responsibility for treating it well,” he says.

Today he is testing his crops and doing genetic selecting. He has a microscope in his office and tests his potatoes and wheat for antioxidant levels—for lutein (beneficial for the eyes), for heavy metals, and for the increasingly prevalent microtoxins that research has shown thrive in conventionally-treated crops. He’s learned that the pH and brix (sugar levels) of his potatoes, as well as in such things as oranges and other fruits, have a lot to do with insect and disease resistance. Getting the right biology and chemistry in his soil has made a huge difference.

Jason is the first to admit that he doesn’t have the answers to a lot of things connected to farming, but he’s learned enough to be committed to learning more. He is working together with his family: father, Bill; uncle, Scott; brother, Mark; and brother-in-law, Alan Venema—Scott, Mark, and Alan also attended Dordt.

“We love life,” says Yvonne. “It’s a privilege to work as an extended family each day, doing something you love.”

“I get very passionate about this,” Jason adds. “What could be more fulfilling than taking care of the land and the bodies God has given us?"