Farm history • farmer stories • farming

Producer Spotlight: Maren Beard (Luna Valley Farm)

Written by Christian Ebersol
7 Minute Read
Published on Mar 28, 2024

Hi there - this is Wendy Johnson. Some of you may know me as the farm owner of Jóia Food & Fiber Farm where 99 Counties’ lamb comes from. I’m also collaborating this year with 99 Counties as a Farm Ambassador with the goal of sharing with you some of the stories of the unique producers behind your food. Several weeks ago I journeyed over to Luna Valley Farm to visit with Maren Beard. 

Tucked into a beautiful rolling valley in the Driftless Region of northeast Iowa in Winneshiek  County, sits Luna Valley Farm, one of the 99 Counties farms we work with to provide you with  insanely good grassfed beef. Instantly, when you enter the driveway at Luna Valley Farm, you feel a sense of  calm. It’s breathtaking. Not only are the owners, Maren and Tom Beard, incredibly  welcoming, but so are the sheep, the cattle, the herding dog Noche, and the valley itself.  It’s like they’ve all just given you a warm hug all at the same time.


Their organic, working farm grows organic grains and forages and grazes cattle and sheep to help regenerate the valley. Maren, the entrepreneur and mastermind behind the Luna Valley Pizza Farm enterprise, has created community and a connection to the land with people who will drive many miles to eat their delicious all-local ingredient pizza pies and drink locally made and brewed beverages amidst a tranquil view of their working farm. 

The pizza farm is entering its 7th season and tens of thousands of hand-made wood-fired pizzas sold. Beyond the amazing food and ambience, people come for that connection to the land for that connection to others, and for that warm hug. If you do visit one day, the energy reverberating during their pizza nights is addictive, so much in fact, that they have customers who come once a week every week from May to October who have purchased a pizza CSA. People “invest” in the farm by purchasing a certain number of pizzas each season and pay for it before the season begins. This helps farms tremendously with cash flow, as farms are usually expected to produce and get paid later. Having cash availability up front helps farms purchase goods and pay for labor and overhead ahead of when the farm season begins and helps reduce the financial pressure and stress farmers normally face.  

Maren’s other half, husband Tom, grew up in that very valley on his parents’ organic dairy farm. He is the day-to-day farmer caring compassionately for their grassfed cattle herd (which 99 Counties is proud to count as one of our beef suppliers) as well as tends to the wood-fired pizza oven and works his magic baking the pies. Tom and Maren are parents to two smiley,  happy little boys, Fritz (3) and Otto (6 months). Family, farm, food, community, health,  nutrition and sustainability are the essence of Luna Valley Farm.  

In the nearby town of Decorah, Iowa sits a liberal arts college where Maren majored in  Environmental Studies and Spanish. Raised vegetarian, quasi-vegan in the neighboring  state of Wisconsin, she came to her college career with a very open mind and a change maker attitude, maybe like many bright-eyed college students do. But Maren’s parents,  Lutheran pastors, brought their children to dinner tables around rural Wisconsin,  witnessed dairy farms closing one after another in the 1980s and 90s, and connected with  these hard-working families through food. They instilled in her a phrase she has not  forgotten, “support your local people”. It made perfect sense to Maren when she  discovered in her college’s cafeteria when they didn’t serve local food, to boycott the food  program. She started sourcing local food ingredients for herself and made every meal in her  tiny dorm room. 

Now, if you’ve ever been to Iowa, the state is dotted with farms everywhere. It is what  makes Iowa so unique. And food is abundant, specifically in the Driftless Region which  encompasses a pocket of northeast Iowa, northwest Illinois, southwest Wisconsin and  southeast Minnesota. The rolling hills and unglaciated bluffs are the perfect home for food  and beverage entrepreneurs, food growers and farmers, and agritourism. So, finding local food to fill her college cafeteria was not an issue. Her boycott worked and it got the attention of the college president, who invited her to meet with him. Maren feared that perhaps he wanted to meet to kick her out of college! Instead, to her great surprise he thanked her for  helping start the change from within. A powerful message that she carries with her to this  day. One person can make a difference. One person can make change. And it all can start  from within. Within oneself, within one organization, within a community, within anywhere.  

Ever since then, Maren helped build, with the help of others, the college’s sustainability  goals as a student and after graduation, as a staff member. Talk about creating your own path! She became the college’s Assistant Sustainability Coordinator and later their  Sustainable Food Educator and Assistant Director of Sustainable Communities. She  worked for the college for 10 years where she gained a wealth of experience collaborating with others while achieving the college’s goals of reduced energy usage and food waste and increased composting, on-campus farming and local food purchasing. During her  tenure, the college achieved their goal of sourcing 35% of the food served on campus from local food farmers.  

With this experience under her belt paired with marrying a farmer, she was ready to take her love and passion for local food to a different part of the supply chain, by raising and growing food themselves, preparing it and serving it to others. They bought the farm where Luna Valley Farm is today and have taken the community part of the farm to the next level by adding an agritourism component and inviting people to their farm every Friday and Saturday evenings from May  to October each year to celebrate all things local with pizza. They purchase food from a dozen or so local farms in their area and promote local food including the alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages served to the floral displays located on their outdoor tables. It is a rich, cultural experience to enjoy an all-local-ingredient pizza while watching the sheep and  cattle graze across the hillsides shaded under big oak trees.  

We at 99 Counties are deeply grateful and committed to partner with growers like Maren and Tom at Luna Valley Farm and to help share their story of building community around food, farm, and land regeneration. And we’re not the only ones who have noticed - Luna Valley Farm was recently  showcased in a gorgeous spread in Better Homes and Gardens June 2023 issue and mentioned as a go-to pizza farm locale in a New York Times piece in 2020.  

At their core, the motto “food-is-medicine” is central to their lifestyle and the food they  share with others. It is also core to the hundreds of pounds of food they purchase from other local farmers to make their more than 6,000 pizzas they sell each pizza season.  Maren calls their work and farm a labor of love and that love is shared through their food. 

In her words, “food impacts our health, impacts our communities and is central to living”.  We couldn’t have said it any better. 99 Counties is committed to building a better, healthier, more equitable and humane food system by creating connections between our customers and amazing farmers like Maren and Tom. It really does take a village and a sincere commitment to sourcing food that's good for people, animals and the planet. We depend on our awesome customers to make it happen so thank  you for supporting the 99 Counties mission!



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