This year’s Grow Your Future Award finalists all share a passion for farming and are each exploring diversification as a path to long-term success.

Three finalists — H8R Acres of Warren County, Mud Ridge Ranch of Pottawattamie County and Reconnected Farms of Allamakee County — will compete later this month for cash prizes by pitching their businesses to judges at the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) Young Farmer Conference Jan. 27-28 in Des Moines.

“The quality of applicants we had was strong again this year,” said Amanda Van Steenwyk, IFBF farm business development manager. 

“Each of these finalists are deserving and hardworking young farmers, and I look forward to seeing where their business goes.”

Land management

When Matt and Jocelyn Vermeersch bought their acreage in Pottawattamie County — which they named Mud Ridge Ranch — maintaining the land turned into a chore very quickly.

“I mowed everything myself that first year,” Matt Vermeersch said. “After that, the idea of getting some goats to help maintain the land came up.”

From that first purchase of 10 goats in 2019, the Vermeerschs have grown their herd now to about 100 goats and added sheep and cattle.

Vermeersch said livestock can be part the solution to addressing concerns about climate change by caring for the land without using other machinery. And it's a solution that provides other income to a growing farming operation.

Mud Ridge Ranch is an affiliate of Goats on the Go, a full-service, targeted grazing business. Vermeersch noted his goats have been a popular addition to parks around Council Bluffs, where they are used to restore flood plains in city parks that were overrun by invasive weed species. 

In addition to land management, he raises Scottish Highland cattle for beef and plans to offer goat meat for sale in the future.

Filling a need

When Tanner Sanness started growing mushrooms as a hobby, he couldn't have imagined it becoming a successful business. But a few years into the venture, he now produces between 300 to 500 pounds of mushrooms a week, sold through his business, Reconnected Farms, in a dozen local grocery stores and served at about 20 area restaurants.

“I was in college when I heard a podcast about the health benefits of Lion’s Mane mushrooms. I wasn’t involved in farming at all at the time. When I couldn’t find them locally, I bought a grow kit,” he explained. 

Sanness is now the sixth generation of farmers in his family. In 2022, he added pasture-raised turkeys to his offerings, focusing on online sales. 

For the mushroom operation, he uses a machine shed on his father’s 500-acre organic grain farm, which he retrofitted into an 8-foot-by-30-foot vertical grow house.

A truck with a name

H8R Acres gets its name from an old farm truck Annie Palmer bought as she worked to expand her livestock herd.

“I was trying to decide on a name when I was forming my LLC. I bought a 1990s Chevy truck to use on the farm, and it had H8R painted on the back,” Palmer said last week. “I wanted a name I could use for everything I was doing. H8R Acres just rolled off the tongue and stuck.”

Palmer raises Berkshire hogs and Navajo Churro sheep on a small farm near Martensdale.

She grew up on a sheep farm and participated in FFA, which gave her a passion for animal agriculture. When she wanted to start her own farm, Palmer said, Berkshires offered an accessible way to start off as a breed with an established market.

The sheep herd came along a few years later and is a great investment, she said, because she is able to harvest fleeces as well as process the males of the herd for meat.

Pitch-off later this month

The three finalists will compete for cash prizes during a pitch-off at the 2023 Iowa Farm Bureau Young Farmer Conference at the Iowa Events Center. The winner will be determined by a combination of judges' scores and audience votes at the conference. First prize is $7,500, second place is $5,000 and third prize is $2,500.

Conference registration is open to Iowa Farm Bureau members ages 18-35 until Jan. 13. More information is available online at

“This year’s conference theme is ‘Our Roots Run Deep,’” said Megan Hansen, Young Farmer Advisory Committee chair and Pottawattamie County farmer. 

“As young farmers, we’re grateful for those who have paved the way before us — planting that seed. As the next generation, we are intent on solidifying those roots by learning from experts and each other at this popular event that typically attracts between 500 to 600 young farmers.”