Day 15: Hands-On Farm Experience Leads to Understanding

Van Manen famBecause they believe “seeing is believing” the Van Manen family of Kellogg, Iowa, hosts several tours annually on their farm in Jasper County in Central Iowa.  Kevin and Julie’s children are the fifth generation to live and work on a farm where animal agriculture has always been an important way of life.

Their son, Jacob, is a senior at Central College in Pella where he’s majoring in Business and Accounting.  Jacob comes home to help on the farm whenever he can; he especially enjoys running the combine and other field work. Their daughter, Emily, is a freshman at the University of Northern Iowa.  She’s planning to transfer to Iowa State University next fall for Agricultural Education!  She especially enjoys feeding bucket calves.

Because Kevin grew up milking Holsteins and raising hogs, both continue to play a major role on their farm today.  They feed Holstein steers and purchase newborn bull calves directly from a dairy.  In 2006, the Van Manens constructed a modern hog barn.  They celebrated the completion of the new building with an open house, co-sponsored by the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers.  That event was attended by hundreds of family, friends, neighbors, church members and local residents.

Thanks to pre-construction PR and ongoing communications with neighbors and local residents, the Van Manen’s construction project went off without a hitch.  This experience also showed the Van Manens how much value there is in allowing visitors on their farm to ask questions that lead to better understanding.

“We love sharing the way we live by hosting local Scout troops, church groups, international visitors and our city cousins,” says Julie, who taught junior high math, but left her off-farm job two years ago to join the family’s farm on a full-time basis.  She returns to the classroom frequently to share ag-related lessons.  In addition to caring for livestock daily and helping with other seasonal chores, Julie has led on-farm tours for about 230 kindergartners plus others who are interested in experiencing the miracle of food.  “It’s fun to answer questions and visit with people about animal agriculture.”

Last August the Van Manens hosted “U on the Farm II” sponsored by the Iowa Food and Family Project that provided a first-hand farm experience to an Ottumwa family.  Following that tour, Soyna Davis posted this message on the Iowa Food & Family Project Facebook page:

“We had the greatest time yesterday on the Van Manen farm!! I want to THANK the Iowa Food and Family project for U on the farm and the Van Manen family for a fun, memorable and educational day on the farm!! The Van Manens are such a great and hardworking family.  It was so wonderful to see how well they take care of their animals and farm! We got to see pigs and cows.  The kids dug up potatoes, carrots and picked sweet corn and tomatoes.  We had a delicious dinner with foods from their farm and even got to help feed the baby calves! They gave us corn, tomatoes a bag full of goodies.  We made lots of fun memories, but best of all, now the kids know where their food really comes from and all the hard work it takes to produce it! The kids are already asking to go back to the farm today!!! Kind of makes me wish we lived on a farm!!” 

Helping families create positive memories that lead to a better understanding of how food is produced is why the Van Manens take the time to host guests.  In June, several Iowa business owners and health professionals toured the Van Manen farm to learn more about agriculture and farming.

J & E Sweet Corn 1“Dedicated” is a word that comes to mind when I think of the Van Manens.  It’s no wonder they were recognized in 2009 as one of the first recipients of “The Way We Live” award at the Iowa State Fair.  It’s awarded to Iowa families who “exemplify farm values derived from hard work and a love for the occupation of farming.”

Caring for and living off the land are a legacy passed down for five generations.  Jacob continues to enter his homegrown vegetables at the Iowa State Fair. He earned first place in all three divisions of sweet corn.  He earned 2nd place with potatoes and 3rd place with Jalapeño peppers at the 2013 Iowa State Fair. Emily was Reserve High Point Exhibitor for the FFA Horticulture show and was champion jumbo vegetable exhibitor at the Iowa State Fair.

The Van Manens enjoy making meals from the vegetables and meat they produce, so today they’re sharing one of their favorite recipes for Breakfast Omelets.

Oven Omelet



  • 1 to 1 ½ dozen eggs
  • ¼ cup green onions
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 medium zucchini, chopped
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped spinach
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ cup shredded carrots
  • 1 tsp. garlic salt
  • ½ cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • ¼ cup butter, melted
  • 2 Tbsp. green/red pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese
  • mushrooms
  • ham, bacon, or sausage(precooked)  (Sometimes I use all 3!)



  1. Cover a 9x13 pan with butter.
  2. Beat eggs, sour cream and milk until blended.
  3. Stir in the remainder of your choice of veggies and meat.
  4. Pour into dish.
  5. Sprinkle with shredded cheese.
  6. Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes or until eggs are set.  (Knife comes out clean when done. Time varies depending on amount of ingredients.)

Note: I like to serve this with fresh fruit or a frozen fruit cup


photo by Taste of Home