The final three farm businesses that will compete for the 2024 Grow Your Future Award have been identified, following a public vote earlier this month.

Pleasant Grove Homestead, Recipes from French Creek and Sweet Season Farm will take part in a live pitch-off in February during the Iowa Farm Bureau (IFBF) Young Farmer Conference in Altoona. The top prize is $7,500.

“The quality of applicants we had was strong again this year,” said Amanda Van Steenwyk, IFBF farm business development manager, who oversees the competition. “Each of these finalists are deserving and hardworking young farmers, and I look forward to seeing where their business goes.”

More information on the Young Farmer Conference is available online at Attendees must register through their county Farm Bureau.

Pleasant Grove Homestead

Ashley and Zachary Wenke started Pleasant Grove Homestead in Poweshiek County as a farm stand to sell their homegrown produce but quickly outgrew that roadside operation.

They now distribute their products via Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares, where they have about 40 monthly subscribers. During the summer, they also attend farmers markets, offer delivery to Montezuma and sell products at co-op grocers in Grinnell and Des Moines. 

“Our mission is to supply our community with fresh homegrown meat and fruit and vegetables. We were getting feedback from our community that there was a need to get a farm fresh produce and meat into the hands of people,” Zachary Wenke said. “There isn’t a large farmers market [near us], but there is a huge demand for homegrown produce and poultry sold directly to the customers.”

Ashley Wenke noted that cleaning and packaging produce for the CSA and farmers market is taking up a lot of time and they plan to use contest winnings to outfit a recently built processing shed with new tables and a larger salad spinner.

They also want to increase to shares, or subscriptions, available to their CSA from 40 to 75.

Recipes from French Creek

Bobbi Jo Berg started Recipes from French Creek in Allamakee County after the birth of her second child. 

“When I was preparing for her birth, I was making a lot of freezer meals to help ease that transition to two kids,” Berg said.

She realized that there was a market for homegrown, homemade frozen meals in her region. She now sells hundreds of meals per month and is looking to expand.

A major goal of the business is to start utilizing beef from their own cattle to include in meals. She noted that there is a need in her region for farm-fresh beef that is sold by the pound or by the steak, as opposed to buying a whole or half cow.

“Some community members maybe don’t have the money or the freezer space to buy that much beef in one sitting,” she said. “[This would be] a way to bring more local beef to local families’ tables.”

“I am at a point in my business where I need to expand, get my business out of my home kitchen and hire an employee,” Berg said. “I would use these funds to purchase commercial kitchen equipment for the kitchen space we plan to build on our own.”

Pictured above:  Bobbi Jo Berg, left, of Allamakee County is founder of Recipes from French Creek, a homegrown frozen meal service.  PHOTO CONTRIBUTED

Sweet Season Farm

Carley Zierke started Sweet Season Farm in Winneshiek County with an eye to community support and building.

“We’re really focused on collaboration with other farms, exploring models where we’re not in direct competition with our neighbors,” Zierke said. “Having the right infrastructure will help us meet community needs.”

She sells produce at farmers markets as well as local restaurants and schools. 

But Zierke sees real opportunities for expansion through collaboration, with multiple farms working together to create a robust and comprehensive CSA program.

“We see that in our rural community it’s important to provide customers with a way to purchase and support several different farms at once,” Zierke said.

She plans to use the funds for a wash/pack facility where produce can be brought for processing. 

Zierke also wants her farm to become Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certified through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, allowing them to sell directly to schools and other organizations that receive federal funding. 

Carley and Ethan Zierke of Winneshiek County are founders of Sweet Season Farm. They are vegetable and fruit growers who sell at farmer’s markets and through shares in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED

Pitch-off in February

The three finalists will compete for cash prizes during the pitch-off at the 2024 Iowa Farm Bureau Young Farmer Conference at Prairie Meadows Events and Conference Center in Altoona Feb. 2-3. 

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.

More information on the Grow Your Future contest is available online at