Eating yak meatballs, holding a week-old ostrich, seeing fish jump for scattered food, visiting a swine breed-to-wean operation and exploring a 1600s authentic German hausbarn were just a few unique highlights of a new agritourism event hosted Aug. 31 at the Manning Hausbarn Heritage Park in Carroll County.

The “Evolution of the Heartland” experience, co-sponsored by Audubon, Carroll and Shelby County Farm Bureaus, immersed attendees into Iowa’s rural communities and highlighted the evolution of agriculture and ag advancements.

“Farm Bureau was proud to support this event that showcased the amazing things that are happening in our rural communities, businesses and our local agriculture producers,” said Iowa Farm Bureau Regional Manager Beth Bornholdt.
“It was an amazing opportunity for all attendees to interact with farmers in the Manning and Audubon areas and learn about what is happening on their farms and what their day-to-day life entails.”

In total, 91 people from three states took part in the unique event sponsored also by Travel Iowa, the Iowa Food & Family Project and Iowa Corn Growers District 4, among others.

“Agriculture is the engine that drives our local rural and urban economies. We, as a grassroots Farm Bureau organization, saw this as a valuable opportunity for farmers to share their stories and educate consumers,” shared Iowa Farm Bureau Regional Manager Jim Heithoff.

Revitalizing Iowa
“Evolution” was the vision of Shelly Greving of Emerge Marketing Solutions, who, while sitting in an Iowa Tourism meeting last year, wondered how to best feature what rural Iowa has to offer.

Greving herself was drawn back to rural Iowa because that’s where she sees the pursuit of the American dream is still alive.
“I saw the need to inspire ag-tourism across the state, to encourage cross-community and cross-industry partnerships that would work together to showcase the innovation behind the cornfield happening in our rural communities and the entrepreneurs that make America, and especially rural Iowa, tick,” said Greving.

She pitched the idea to local Farm Bureau members, who fully supported a grassroots initiative to showcase the innovation happening in rural Iowa. “To educate others about where their food comes from, and for attendees to gain a respect and understanding for how agriculture has evolved,” said Greving.

Paige Hepp, event coordinator, said she sees Iowa’s small towns as some of the best places to live and raise a family. “This event is a great way to show young folks reasons to plant roots in a small town,” Hepp said. “Rural Iowa is a place where we hope more people will call home.

“We also wanted to use this event to show folks where their food comes from and to meet the farmers that grow our food.”
Tour options included a swine immersion tour, visiting an ostrich farm and yak ranch, popcorn production and a fish farm, to name a few.

Participants in the swine im­mersion tour learned about the entire lifecycle of swine production at AMVC Management Services, a local company that has grown from four veterinarians to 750 employees nationwide and is now ninth in U.S. pork production.

The niche farm tour participants learned about farm pond management, the importance of ag business diversity and the life cycles and market possibilities of ostriches and yaks. Participants even had the opportunity to taste ostrich and yak meat.

Positioned to grow
Planning for a second regional event already is in the works, said Greving, who added organizers would love to see the concept expand to other areas of the state.

“We are positioned to grow and have figured out a model that will be replicable not only for the annual event in Manning/Audubon, but for other private tours that will continue after the fact, as well as the ability to replicate the event in other parts of the state,” Greving said.

Heithoff said more events like this will become “a catalyst for farm families to share their message, progress in agriculture, strides in the production of wholesome, nutritious food and the pride that farm families experience when caring for their land and operations.”

Darcy Maulsby, a local farmer, author, photographer and entrepreneur who attended the event, said it renewed her spirit, reignited her creativity and confirmed her belief that Iowa’s farmers, entrepreneurs and community volunteers give hope for the future.

“If you eat, you have a connection to agriculture at least three times a day. So why not immerse yourself in all things rural by experiencing Evolution of the Heartland? If you’re from a city or a small town but don’t know much about the farm-to-fork connection, you’ll discover a whole new world,” said Maulsby.