The Choose Iowa brand initiative continues to gain momentum as the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) this month awarded 26 cost-share grants to Iowa small businesses, nonprofits and farmers to assist in diversifying and growing their agricultural projects.

The grant program is gaining popularity in its third year with more than 60 applications for funding, and the department sees the program continuing to grow and thrive as additional funding becomes available.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig announced the awards, totaling $463,000, at an event March 20 at Cortum Farm and Co. northeast of Indianola, one of the grant awardees. Each project is awarded up to $25,000.

“Consumers are continually looking for more Iowa food, beverages and ag products to enjoy, and these Choose Iowa value-added grants will help Iowa farmers, small businesses and nonprofits build that supply,” Naig said.

“There is an incredible amount of momentum when it comes to local foods and the local foods movement right now,” Naig added. “Today’s producers and farmers are increasingly looking at how to reach broader audiences.

“I’m continually impressed, amazed and inspired by the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit I see, and we want to make sure there is a brand that can cover and accommodate all of that — one brand for all. We are so pleased to provide these Choose Iowa cost-share investments because they will enhance the availability of Iowa products while creating positive economic activity in communities, big and small, across our state.”

Choose Iowa is the state’s signature brand for Iowa-grown, Iowa-raised and Iowa-made products. The cost-share grants were created to assist the state’s ag industry in expanding markets, shortening supply chains and diversifying ag product offerings.

Choose Iowa Program Director Beth Romer said there were excellent project applications submitted this year and it was a competitive process narrowing them down for awards. 

“The decision making was really difficult,” she said.

“Of the projects that are being awarded, you’re going to see some amazing differences being made and some great impact in our communities. This year’s grants are going to support a wide variety of projects, including delivery and cold storage for direct-to-consumer meat sales, fruit production and processing, vegetable processing, packaging equipment, cider and wine canning and bottling, farm stores, food hub construction, honey production, culinary herb, lavender and cut flower production, warehouse capacity, cover crop seed distribution and agritourism.

“And that’s just scratching the surface.”

Grant recipients

Among the grant recipients is Cortum Farm and Co. of Indianola, awarded $25,000 to renovate its historic barn for an on-site farm store, farm market, farm-to-table dinners and diversified event space. 

Mekenze Cortum said she and her husband, Casey, are excited to also provide educational opportunities for youth at the farm.

“One of our favorite things to do here at Cortum Farm and Co. is to tell ag stories to our youth,” Mekenze said. “It’s so exciting to ponder and dream about what these grants will do for ag operations in the state of Iowa.

“We are extremely grateful and humbled to be amongst an impressive group of Choose Iowa grant recipients.”

The Cortums plan to renovate their historic barn by replacing floors and windows, upgrading the electrical system, covering a portion of the dirt floor, replacing doors, increasing usable space and adding railings and stairs.

“We’re a small, diversified family farm born with the hope to provide the next generation with all that ag life has to offer,” Mekenze said.

Naig said the Cortums are just the type of farm family fostering an exciting project that the Choose Iowa grants were designed to assist.

“No other state in our country has the reputation for ag that Iowa does. We have some very smart, innovative and creative people across the state doing some amazing things,” Naig said. “We’re 100% focused on Choose Iowa continuing to build a sustained effort at building this brand for Iowa beverage, food and ag products. It’s just getting started.”

For a list of all grant recipients, visit