Laura Cunningham will never forget the date.

It was April 19, 2020, and as she checked her voicemail that morning, she found it flooded with messages requesting their Skyview Farms premium all-natural Angus beef. And then came more phone calls.

“In a matter of three days, I had sold everything I had for inventory and bookings for the rest of 2020 and six months into 2021,” Laura said.

“Supply chain shortages had reached our local grocery stores.”

It was a familiar scene across Iowa as the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain disruptions across the United States sent consumers scrambling for other options to stock their freezers with meat.

In that short time, Cunningham and her husband, Aaron, made a mental note that there seemed to be increasing demand from consumers for locally sourced meat, so they set their sights on developing a network where they could connect customers with regional chicken, beef and pork producers.

As part of that networking campaign, they learned of a new program, Choose Iowa Marketing and Promotion Grants, that provided funding for Iowa projects looking to increase or diversify their agricultural product offerings. They applied and were one of 13 inaugural grant recipients who received funding last spring, which the Cunninghams are using to develop a food hub and storefront at their Nora Springs farm.

They’re re­novating the farm’s original two-story dairy barn, with a storefront soft opening scheduled for June 2023.

“It will give people one place they can go to find some of this great product that’s raised right here in Iowa,” Laura said.

Grants expanded
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig announced last week that the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship is again offering Choose Iowa grants for 2023.

The program matches up to $25,000 for projects such as Skyview’s food hub and storefront, while also allowing farmers to consider new processing, packaging and sales techniques that add value to the commodities they produce or provide employee training and continuing education.

The Iowa Legislature has authorized $460,000 for Choose Iowa, up from the first year’s $250,000. Naig said it was apparent that there’s a demand for the grants as the department received 113 applications totaling $2 million in requests the first go-around.

“That was obvious evidence that there’s a ton of interest here, and there were some great projects that we couldn’t fund,” Naig said.

“Choose Iowa grants will provide resources and support for farmers, small businesses and nonprofits to make investments that will assist them with diversifying product offerings, tapping into new markets and shortening supply chains.

“Choose Iowa is a win-win for both Iowa producers and consumers.”

Naig pointed to the Skyview Farms project as an initial success story. Speaking at the farm in Nora Springs last week, he said: “There’s a significant investment being made here on the part of the Cunninghams, and a vision that they’ve got to make this happen.

“We’re seeing that all across the state. We want the usage of more Iowa grown products. There’s demand for this program.”

How to apply
Individuals, businesses and nonprofit organizations living or operating in Iowa may apply for the grants. Preference will be given to small to medium-sized businesses.

Details, including matching funds requirements, eligibility and an application are available at

Applications are accepted through Dec. 15.

A second round of grants was good news to Jessica Baldus, a Mitchell County chef who owns and operates Taste Restaurant in Osage as well as Piggyback Smokeshack, a bakery and soon-to-be up-and-running speakeasy.

Baldus moved her restaurant from Des Moines to Osage 10 years ago and looks to utilize only locally sourced products, including the beef provided by Skyview Farms. To see Iowa continue to invest in local projects with the Choose Iowa grants is encouraging, she said.

“I’m on a mission to connect with farmers, growers and producers in hopes of sourcing and providing our rural community with superior ingredients that will yield growth in what I like to think of as our local food movement,” Baldus said.

“It’s exciting for me as a chef to be able to take advantage of direct sales (product), raised and grown from some of the richest soil in the world. It’s programs like this that will keep our rural communities thriving on many levels of our local food movement.”