He built his farm from the ground up. Literally.

When Ray Meylor first purchased his 10-acre plot just a decade ago, it was filled with ravines and untillable soil.

“We had four-foot gullies coming through here,” he said. “The soil was down to pretty much hard pan clay.”

Since then, he’s employed dozens of practices to make the land workable. His primary goal was to filter fertilizer-laden water coming from nearby fields.

This water eventually flows into streams, rivers, and lakes. Agricultural runoff has caused disruptions from local algal blooms to massive ecological hypoxic zones.

Meylor’s farm captures water runoff from the neighboring fields in basins. He uses the water for his own crops.

The water works its way through his farm. Roots and soil filter out the extra fertilizer. Plants use it for their own growth. By the time it reaches a body of water, it’s cleaner.

A bonus? He doesn’t have to pay for fertilizer. He works toward “almost eliminating input costs for production.”

But he doesn’t grow the typical corn and soybeans. From chestnuts to sweet potatoes to mushrooms, he focuses on diversifying organisms. It creates stronger soil. A larger variety also improves manageability. Different crops mean different harvesting times. He doesn’t overextend himself in just one season.

But Meylor’s farm is more than just harvesting food. He has dozens of other complicated practices.

He has bees pollinating his prairie plants. He uses solar panels for electricity. He places fish in the water mitigation basin. He has a greenhouse. His apple trees are grown from seeds his grandfather had in Ireland.

It’s overwhelming. How can anyone else ever achieve this?

For Meylor, it starts with learning.

“I think the best thing you can do is develop your skills and bring in skilled partners,” he said.

He’s been consumed with learning his entire life. When he was a teen, he worked for tradespeople in a nearby town. At 14, he rode his bike from his family’s farm to work. two years later, he bought a car.

Eventually, cutting a deal with a plumber for supplies and a workshop, he built his own airplane.

At 16.

“I put a lot of rungs on my ladder,” Meylor said.

Alright. So, it may be difficult to live up to his legacy, but new paths can be explored.

Now, for Meylor, it’s more than just improving his own knowledge and land – it’s about educating others.

“Out here at a farm, you’ve got wiring, you’ve got plumbing. We look at soil health, soil erosion, water quality,” he said. “The key is to implement it through the educational component.”

And he’s doing just that. Meylor works with the Ankeny school district on different programs focused on kindergarteners all the way through high school. He develops food programs and high school students even visit his farm.

Meylor’s work is on a smaller scale than many other farmers in Iowa. An average farm has 360 acres. He has just ten.

Don’t let that fool you. His impact can still be massive.

“If we keep the water clean in the river, we can restore the aquatic food production system and the Gulf Coast,” he said. “That’s worth trillions of dollars a year.”

His farm has been successful. He cleans the water and educates others, all while turning a profit.

And thinks it can be repeated.

“These kids can … look for these low cost, low valued properties, and lease with an option to buy. They pick up these grounds at a marginal cost,” he said. “They can look at local opportunities to replicate this model.”

It’s a different way of farming. There’s no massive equipment or mile-long rows. It establishes respect for the land. It fights to conserve waterways. It teaches balance.

It’s hard work, but the Watershed Mitigation Farm is an excellent solution for a growing problem.