Farmer stories • farming • health

Lamb Producer Spotlight: Wendy Johnson (Joia Food Farm)

Written by Christian Ebersol
4 Minute Read
Published on Feb 09, 2024

We are so excited to share that we have lamb back in stock from the one and only Wendy Johnson. Wendy epitomizes what we are all about here at 99 Counties: raising animals in harmony with nature in a way that is restorative not only to the health of the animals and the consumers that eat the meat but also to the land and the natural ecosystem. I also love the name of her farm: “Jóia” which means “joy” in Italian and “jewel” in Portuguese. Both Wendy and I share a special connection to the word “Jóia”: I spent time living in Italy during high-school and Wendy lived in Brazil for three years where her love for food and regenerative agriculture was born.

I vividly recall visiting Wendy’s farm in Charles City, Iowa for the first time in the summer of 2022. We waded through shoulder high grass to find her lamb and cattle which were nestled amongst the pasture and guarded by a beautiful Maremma Sheepdog. 

Wendy and Christian at Joia Food Farm

It was during this visit to Wendy’s farm that I witnessed first hand the obstacles we in the regenerative movement face. As we left the pasture and returned to the dirt road we passed a local farmer who helps Wendy with the planting and harvesting of the crops on her diversified farm. A kindly, older man, he leaned across the window of his pickup truck and shared with Wendy that he and the folks at the local coffee shop have been wondering how she feeds her sheep and lambs in the winter since she doesn’t feed grain. Wendy explained to him that she stockpiles her forage so that her sheep can graze on pasture late into the fall even after a freeze and then on baled hay throughout the deep winter. This is tough and unconventional, but it’s also better for the land and the soil. For me this interaction was straight out of the many books I’ve read about regenerative agriculture and the social pressure that exists in rural communities and makes it that much harder for folks like Wendy to buck the trend of growing GMO corn and soy sprayed with chemicals.

As Wendy recently wrote so eloquently in an article published by Civil Eats:

“Iowa is one of the most altered ecosystems in the world. Once a rich and diverse landscape filled with prairie grasslands and oak savannas, today it is a grid of corn and soybean fields. The state is home to some of the richest soils in the world, a natural resource that took millennia to form, but those soils are being quickly washed and blown away through stronger and stronger wind and rain events due to climate change; we’re currently losing soil faster than at the height of the 1930s dust bowl.
In the last 75 years, Iowa has essentially become a mining state, a place from which profit is being extracted while people are left behind to clean up the mess. Nitrate pollution is filling our natural and abundant underground aquifers, algae blooms proliferate our freshwater lakes, and pesticides fill the air we breathe.”


Well, Wendy, like all our producers here at 99 Counties, is on a mission to buck that trend. No matter how much gossip it causes at the local coffee shop, Wendy will continue to raise regenerative lamb, cattle, and so much more. We are so fortunate to count Wendy as a part of our community and excited to share with you some of her lamb including new specials like Frenched Rack of Lamb and Lamb Leg Roast. Not only is Jóia Food Farm certified Animal Welfare Approved and Certified Grassfed and Finished but Wendy is also currently applying for a Certified Regenerative label through A Greener World. In layman's terms that means that this lamb is raised with no growth hormones, no antibiotics, no GMOs, is humanely raised, and is regenerating soil in the process! 

To hear more about Wendy's vision for turning Iowa back to an Oak-filled savanna watch this short video clip! 


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