Named after the wild prairie potato that grows in the native grass prairies in the Midwest, Prairie Turnip Farm was founded in 2007 when Hank Will (Oscar H. Will III) moved his agricultural enterprises to rural Osage County, Kansas, to take an editorial leadership with Ogden Publications in Topeka. Ogden publishes Mother Earth News, GRIT, Heirloom Gardener, Motorcycle Classics, and other magazines.
Prairie Turnip Farm is a diversified food-farm that is home to our landrace sheep, Highland and Pineywoods cattle, heirloom chickens, ducks and geese, and has at times raised Mulefoot hogs and scores of varieties of Native American and historically important corns. Hank’s great-grandfather, Oscar H. Will, was gifted a number of Northern Plains Indian corns, and authored the book, Corn Among the Indians, an important historical account of the early inhabitants of the Dakotas. Oscar founded the Oscar H. Will Seed Company in 1882. He developed the Great Northern Bean, which can be bought at any grocery store today, from a gift of beans given by Son of Star, an Hidatsa man. He was also gifted Mandan squash and sweet corns from James Holding Eagle of the Mandan Tribe.
Hank’s love for growing plants started at an early age as he explored the family seed business, then being run by his grandfather George F. Will. Hank’s interest in plants and genetics was further peaked by a Burpee Seed Company citizen-science promotion offering $10,000 to anyone who found a rare white zinnia among the flowers grown from their seed pack. Alas, Hank did not find a white zinnia in any of the flowers that grew from the seeds he planted, but his love for growing things deepened and an interest in genetics was sparked.
Hank attended the University of Chicago to study plant biology, genetics, and ecology. In his spare time, Hank founded an alfalfa sprout company out of his apartment and was a partner in a food buying and trucking company that served area coffee shops and food buying clubs and coops. Hank forayed into urban agriculture long before it was cool. He knew he needed to have a garden, despite living in an urban apartment, and drew inspiration from Ken Dunn, who was gardening on a large scale on reclaimed vacant lots. Hank took to developing large vacant lots on the south side of Chicago, growing food for himself and his community. This resulted in a bringing together of the local community and the university community in a mutually nourishing way over food grown right in the heart of the city. One of Hank’s fondest memories is time spent learning about collard greens and other Southern delights from a retired United Airlines mechanic whose father had been a share-cropper.
After graduation from the University of Chicago, Hank took a job as a professor of genetics and molecular biology at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and soon bought his first farm just outside of town. While teaching classes such as ethnobotany, cell and molecular biology, and molecular genetics, Hank raised free-range poultry on a moderately large scale, native perennial plants and trees, and was co-director of the Sioux Falls Farmers Market.
Since then, life has taken Hank to Ohio, California, and Pennsylvania, and then finally here to Kansas where he is happy to spend this chapter of his life in the beautiful rolling hills that his wife, Joanna, has long called home. He has written a number of books on International Harvester equipment, Cub Cadet, and one on homesteading hacks.
Joanna Russell Will joined the Prairie Turnip Farm enterprise in 2016 and brought along her passion for bees and other pollinators, habitat conservation, the Kansas landscape, raising chickens and nurturing animals.
Joanna comes from a long line of Kansas ranchers and farmers, and has spent much of her adult life working in sustainable agriculture endeavors on the family farms, her local farmers markets and in her work at the Kansas Rural Center, a non-profit organization founded in 1979. Joanna studied civil and environmental engineering and English in college, before turning towards environmental sciences in her 30’s. A love of ecology, and the protection of natural habitats and all the critters that utilize and rely on them, drives her thinking and mode of moving through the world.
Joanna has been keeping bees for nearly 20 years, having been inspired by her father who kept bees when she was a child. This ignited per passion for bees and pollinators and she was fortunate to get to do work directly related to pollinator conservation during her time with the Kansas Rural Center.
In high school, Joanna helped her dad plant 700 pecan trees on his farm on the banks of the Kansas River. He hand-grafted fine nut varieties onto hardy root stock to produce beautiful, softer shelled pecans on trees that are able to withstand the Kansas winter. They opened a u-pick operation in 2004, and sold pecans at the Lawrence Farmers Market and the Community Mercantile in Lawrence.
Joanna’s grown children, Scott and Genevieve, are an enormous help on the farm, and bring a number of highly valuable skills to the endeavor. Her family is a tremendous source of joy and inspiration, and she feels incredibly fortunate to have such an incredible one. Joanna loves to take pictures and the farm is a perfect subject. She started making soap in 2017 and hasn’t used a store-bought bar since. The combination of a baking-like experience and the art of creating original soaps with beautiful natural colors and scents provides unending fascination.
Our Farming Philosophy
We believe in biodiversity and the wisdom of nature above all else, here on the farm. Our highest aim is to increase and preserve biodiversity at all levels, from the microbes deep in the soil to the variety of foods we grow and feed our bodies with to the breeds and varieties of animals we shepherd on the farm. We view the land and all the flora and fauna that call it home as tender and extraordinary living beings that we have a lot to learn from.