The Pepperfield Project was conceived in 2008 as an educational program, and a place, where people could experience good food and how to grow it, and where they could expand themselves personally among gardens surrounded by Iowa’s beautiful natural wilds. Once Pepperfield was awarded official nonprofit status in 2010, co-founder David Cavagnaro was able to donate his home, gardens, a restored 1851 pioneer log cabin, and 55 acres of his farm as an education and retreat center. In 2012, by means of a very generous grant from the Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust, the Pepperfield facilities were enhanced, rendering the farm more suitable as a teaching center. In addition to offering a wide range of classes, workshops, retreats, and events on the farm, Pepperfield also collaborates with other educational organizations, serves the community through outreach programs, and makes available its commercial kitchen for use by others working to enhance local food security. We also provide a space for small intimate weddings and concerts.

Who We Are

David Cavagnaro


Before moving to Iowa, David Cavagnaro, Pepperfield founder and President, had 30 years of gardening experience in California and became widely known as a teacher, author, and photographer in fields of natural history. Moving to Iowa with his family in 1987, David became the first manager of the preservation gardens at the Seed Savers Exchange, renewing seeds during the next eight years of Heritage Farm’s 15,000 heirloom vegetable varieties. Photographing that wealth of genetic diversity as well as his own extensive gardens and those of others in the region resulted in David’s photos appearing widely in horticultural books, calendars, and magazines. A life-long interest in food, gardening, and teaching led to the establishment of the Pepperfield Project and the donation of David’s home, gardens, and 55 acres of the farm as an education center.

David Cavagnaro

Nathan Buckley

Pepperfield has enjoyed several chefts of the years who have staged our many food events. One example is Nathan Buckley, who also spent the summer with us as an intern.

Nathan is a passionate and intense chef who was born in Seoul, South Korea. At four months old, he was adopted by a couple in America. He spent two years of his youth in Reading, Massachusetts and then moved to Punta Gorda, a quiet coastal town in south west Florida.

Nathan always had an interest in food, delighting in visits to a local French inspired restaurant, but his passion for food didn’t surface until about age 13. He spent his teenage years gaining informal experiences with food preparation during employment with local caterers, at which point he began learning the steps of service as well as basic kitchen techniques. In 2009, he began training began at the very same restaurant he frequented as a child. After some years, in 2013, he chose to pursue an Associates of Occupation Studies at Culinary Institute of America in Poughkeepsie, NY.

As a graduation prerequisite at CIA, Nathan was required to spend a 4 month externship working on the opening team of the kitchen at the Marriott Marquis Hotel, currently the largest hotel in Washington D.C. Together with a team of 10 people they created all the food for banquets and catering for the hotel, numbers were in the tens of thousands. Shortly after in May of 2015 Nathan graduated from the CIA with his associate degree in culinary arts. Immediately following he received employment as executive sous chef at Ella’s Fine and Drink. This moderate 200 seat restaurant located in Westerly, Rhode Island. Nathan has also completed a 6 month internship at the Shelbourne Hotel, located in Dublin Ireland. His spare time is spent exploring food through composition, literature and other media.

His blog can be read at https://pansandperspective.wordpress.com

Nathan Buckley


The former home of founder David Cavagnaro serves as Pepperfield’s education and retreat center, including meeting space, ample indoor and outdoor dining areas, work space in support of the farm, and limited overnight accommodations. Food is prepared in a certified kitchen which also may be rented for community needs. An historically accurate restored pioneer log cabin, built by the Busness family in 1851, serves as staff housing. The first Lutheran congregation in the area, Washington Prairie, was founded in this cabin on Christmas day, 1853, by Reverend Vilhelm Koren who later served as a founder of Luther College. The cabin is available by appointment for public visits.


The center is nestled among extensive ornamental and food-producing gardens used for education and widely published horticultural photography. The gardens provide beauty, solitude, and inspiration for all programs and activities at the center and demonstrate an ecological interface with surrounding nature. Food served at Pepperfield comes largely from these organic gardens and other organic growers in the immediate neighborhood.


Pepperfield Farm consists of 50 acres of donated land adjoining an additional 100 acres of wooded hills, former farm fields, and a half mile of Canoe Creek, the region’s second largest stream. Site-diverse eastern hardwood forest, streamside vegetation, a rare skunk cabbage bog, and 30 acres of planted prairie and native meadow wildflowers are connected by miles of trails ideal for summer walking and horseback riding or winter cross-country skiing.


Pepperfield Farm is situated in the heart of the scenic Driftless region, a rugged section of northeast Iowa, southeast Minnesota, and adjoining Wisconsin little eroded during the last glacial epoch. Only an hour west of the Upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge, Winneshiek County embraces rolling hills, forests, bluffs of ancient limestone, the scenic Upper Iowa River, and many still-small farms. Its county seat, Decorah, is a lively, eclectic town noted for talent and creativity, augmented by Luther College, world renowned especially for its music program and lately awarded as one of the most environmentally sustainable campuses in the nation. Decorah is also home to Vesterheim Museum, featuring Norwegian immigration to America, and the Seed Savers Exchange, an internationally recognized grassroots genetic preservation organization. The region’s best trout streams, canoeing on the river, and miles of cycling and hiking trails offer abundant recreational opportunities.


In addition to meals and classes on the farm, Pepperfield maintains off-site projects in the community.

Hospital Garden

Pepperfield installs, maintains, and harvests a substantial food garden at Decorah’s Winneshiek Medical Center which yields cut flowers and some 3,000 pounds of food each year for the hospital cafeteria and food service. Widely visited by hospital staff, patients, and the public, the garden also serves as a demonstration of an edible landscape that is both attractive and productive.


Pepperfield initiated two on-campus demonstration edible landscapes at Luther College and serves as an advisor to Luther’s food gardening program. An extensive production garden adds to Luther’s goal of purchasing 35% of served food from local sources.

School Gardens

Working with Americorps and Food Corps volunteers under the auspices of Luther College, Pepperfield servs as school garden consultant to the Farm to School program, overseeing 24 gardens in nine northeast Iowa counties. Pepperfield also donates over 300 seed packets each year to these gardens.

Disability Garden

Each year, Pepperfield assists in the design and planting of a garden for the clients of Spectrum Network which serves adults with a broad range of barriers, including mental illness; physical, developmental or intellectual disabilities, and chemical dependencies. Extra produce is sold at the Decorah Farmers Market.