Water Warriors: Ray and Sue are enthusiasts for clean water, healthy soil, and nutritious food

In this Iowa water quality blog series, we highlight Iowa farmers and water quality stakeholders to offer a variety of viewpoints and potential solutions. Previous blogs focus on Don and Bill Swanson, of Ottumwa, Iowa; Francis Thicke, of Fairfield, Iowa; and Aaron Lehman, of Polk County, Iowa.

Ray Meylor, prides himself on being an asset to his community, through teaching and practicing conservation to preserve water quality.

“I like being a resource to the community,” he said.

In the Polk City and Ankeny, Iowa, areas, he teaches about local foods and sustainability in local schools, hosts cooking classes featuring fresh vegetables, and mentors beginning farmers on soil and water quality.

Now, Ray, a U.S. veteran and retired chiropractor, and his wife, Sue, own Cherry Glen Learning Farm. They started the farm in hopes of teaching people about sustainability and a different way of growing food.

Cherry Glen is a 10-acre restoration farm, with a wide variety of table foods and a large focus on water mitigation. The couple grows berries, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, peas, beans, mushrooms, apples, chestnuts, onions, strawberries, and herbs.

According to Ray, Cherry Glen is the first water mitigation farm in Iowa.

The couple has installed two water retention basins on their farm to intercept runoff from not only their own soil, but from runoff of adjacent farms and housing developments. Water in the basins are then utilized for irrigation supply, and plants extract nitrates from the water for their growth, cleaning the water as it travels through. Water not used then flows back into the aquifer clean, or downstream through tiling to adjacent Saylorville Lake.

“You can manage a couple smaller ponds of the water, but it’s much harder to manage once it reaches Saylorville,” Ray said, “It’s better to keep the silt and sediment on your farm, because once it’s off your farm, it’s gone.”

By using water mitigation, they build organic matter in the clay soil to increase water holding capacity. They do this by using no-till methods, spreading homemade compost on the ground, and planting cover crops.

“An average farmer will lose a good amount of soil per acre, but we aren’t losing any soil,” said Ray. “The more food we grow, the more water we clean.”

And, the neighbors have seen how the conservation efforts work firsthand.

“Before Ray purchased the property Cherry Glen sits on, our lower yard would flood with a rush of water, bringing mud, cornstalks, and branches into our driveway,” Ray’s neighbor, Dan Stillmunkes said. “Since Ray’s conservation practices were put in place, we no longer get the rush of water from his property, even after a storm bringing eight inches of rain.”

Before establishing Cherry Glen, Ray and Sue purchased farms that had at-risk soil, and implemented conservation practices, such as riparian buffers, wetland restoration, tillable terraces, and water basin ponds. After three or four years, they put the land back on the market.

“After fixing the land, I have not sold a farm for less than twice what I paid for it,” said Ray.

He and Sue hope Cherry Glen and their work on other farms can be a model for others looking to practice this way of conservation. This way, they serve as a resource, demonstrating sustainability and a different way of growing food.

Ray and Sue Meylor sustainably grow vegetables on their farm, and aim to improve soil and water quality. | Photo by Lacie Dotterweich