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Sparking Iowa's rural economy

Milkhouse Creamery
We focus a lot on our Farm Fresh blog about all the work that Iowa farmers do to fill our plates and conserve the water and land.

What we probably don’t discuss enough is how Iowa farmers, and Farm Bureau members, give back to their communities and benefit the rural economy each and every day.

County Farm Bureau boards volunteer at local community events and donate to help support hospitals, schools and fire and emergency crews in rural Iowa towns.

In turn, farmers also depend on Main Street businesses, such as when they need to make a quick run to the hardware store for parts, to swing by the grocery store for a gallon of milk or to gather at the local café to grumble about the weather and politics.

Plus, many farmers, their spouses or family members rely on off-farm jobs at rural companies and businesses to earn a steady income in the ever-volatile farm economy.

Iowa Farm Bureau’s Renew Rural Iowa program recognizes the importance of supporting rural entrepreneurs who help create jobs and make small Iowa towns vibrant, future-thinking places to call home.

Recently, Renew Rural Iowa presented Milkhouse Candle Co. in Osage with its Rural Entrepreneur Leader Award. Owners Eric and Janet Sparrow took a chance and decided to grow their Midwest-grown soy candle company by purchasing and renovating a shuttered soy wax candle manufacturing facility in New Hampton. In doing so, the company now employs more than 30 people – that’s 30 jobs that would have never materialized without the Sparrows' vision.

Hoover’s Hatchery, a family-owned business located in nearby Rudd, was a finalist in the Dream Big Grow Here contest, sponsored in part by Renew Rural Iowa.

The Halsted family has grown their hatchery business by launching a website to sell and mail chickens to urban backyard farmers across the country. Because of the shift to online sales, Hoover’s Hatchery has doubled its workforce to 75 employees, with plans to continue expansions.

Renew Rural Iowa supports new and existing businesses through education, mentoring and financial resources. Throughout the year, Renew Rural Iowa hosts workshops for rural entrepreneurs. At a recent workshop, I met attendees who were launching Main Street retail shops, renewable energy companies and farms to supply locally grown meat and produce to grocery stores, to name a few.

Renew Rural Iowa program hit a milestone in 2015, with a total economic impact surpassing $125 million for our state's rural communities, and it is looking to add to that this year. Learn more about the Renew Rural Iowa program, including upcoming workshops for rural entrepreneurs, at www.renewruraliowa.com.

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is Iowa Farm Bureau's Senior Features Writer.