Siblings Jacob Van Manen, back right, and Emily Larson, front left, along with their spouses Kate and Braden, are second-generation owners of Van Manen Sweet Corn and Fresh Produce. The family-run business received a $25,000 grant, which will assist in construction of a processing facility.
Van Manen Sweet Corn and Fresh Produce has been offering fresh, local produce to central Iowans for many years. Thanks to a matching grant from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the service provided by the Van Manen family business will only improve.
In March, Van Manen Sweet Corn and Fresh Produce was announced as a recipient of one of 28 Choose Iowa cost-share grants. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig made the announcement at an event at Jasper Winery, which was another grant awardee.
The Kellogg-based, family-run Van Manen Sweet Corn was awarded $25,000, which will assist in constructing a processing facility, provide a temperature-controlled environment, and serve customers with a pick-up location at the farm. The total project budget is $65,441.
“Van Manen Sweet Corn and Fresh Produce has been successfully selling local produce for over 25 years. With the assistance of this grant, we can continue to grow and increase quality Iowa products to our local central Iowa region throughout the year,” said Kate Van Manen, who accepted the award at the Mar. 7 ceremony.
The processing facility will be a 32’x40’ structure with a 32’x10’ insulated cooler using Coolbot technology to store produce. There will also be a 15’x15’ area for customers to pick up their produce, which Van Manens believe will provide their customers with a better experience when visiting the farm. Along with the cold storage area, storage will also exist to stack and sort produce, as well as a more efficient drain system to wash pumpkins, squash, and tomatoes.
“We want our customers to have a better, more professional experience if they choose to pick up produce at the farm,” said Kate. “This processing facility will help the whole process become more efficient so we can keep access to high-quality produce for our local communities.”
Of course, Van Manen Sweet Corn and Fresh Produce will continue to serve customers at their four roadside stands in Sully, Newton, Grinnell, and Marshalltown – and there are plans to open a fifth. Van Manens’ produce can also be found in six grocery stores in the area.
“We enjoy growing things,” said Kate. “For instance, our fall produce line of pumpkins, squash, and Indian corn sort of happened by accident. An agreement with some distributors fell through, so we ended up selling them at self-serve stands, and it has really taken off!” There is a pumpkin stand in Sully across from Casey’s, as well as near Iowa’s Best Burger Café at the Kellogg/Killduff interstate exit.
Van Manen Sweet Corn and Fresh Produce has also been expanding its business-to-business connections, working with area businesses like Co-Line Welding and Grinnell College to offer their employees produce.
“Providing the highest quality produce at an affordable price to our local communities is what motivates us. It’s a family business, and we are excited for our children to grow up learning how to work hard and maybe one day, we can pass it on to them,” said Jacob Van Manen.
Jacob’s parents Kevin and Julie Van Manen began selling sweet corn in the late 1990s for $1.50 per dozen. What began with half an acre and a single roadside stand has now been passed along to Kevin and Julie’s children, Jacob (Kate) Van Manen and Emily (Braden) Larson. The operation now hires 10 seasonal employees, encompasses 20 acres of sweet corn, two acres of fall produce, a high tunnel, and the soon-to-be processing facility.
The 28 Choose Iowa grants totaled $463,000 this year, as part of nearly $1.5 million in budget totals of the funded products. The grants were created in 2022 to assist Iowa farmers, small businesses, and non-profits to expand and diversify the availability of Iowa grown, raised, and processed products.
“Choose Iowa is about connecting consumers to the great products Iowans are growing, raising, and processing in communities of all sizes across our state,” said Secretary Naig.
For 25 years, Van Manen Sweet Corn and Fresh Produce has aimed for such a connection with its consumers. Thanks to the Choose Iowa Grant, customers will have better access to Van Manens’ products, ensuring the family-run operation continues to grow.
After all, planting of this year’s Van Manen Sweet Corn crop has already begun and will hit the stands, stores, and newly-constructed customer pick-up area in early July.
Check out their Facebook page to learn more: Van Manen Sweet Corn & Fresh Produce.