Like a lot of Iowa farm kids who grow up playing with toy tractors and wobbling around in their parents’ oversized work boots, Ben Pullen always wanted to be a farmer.

But growing up in the shadow of the 1980s farm crisis, Pullen said he was discouraged from pursuing a risky future in farming. “You’d go up to the old-timers..., and it was always find something else. You don’t want to do this,” Pullen recalled.

Then Pullen’s dad, who raised sheep on the family farm, passed away while Pullen was in high school. The sheep were sold, and the land rented out.

So Pullen went to college, earned a degree in education and eventually landed a job as an elementary guidance counselor in Storm Lake. He and his wife, Bri,...