3 Generations Lend Helping Hand to Harvest Fresh Ears Daily

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Photo Credit: Joseph L. Murphey, Iowa Soybean Association

As the old adage goes, “If you love something let it go. If it comes back to you, was meant to be.” For Jacob Van Manen and others who were raised on farms, sometimes you must leave the country to realize just how much you love farming.

“I always enjoyed helping on the farm, but it wasn’t until I went off to college and received a couple of job offers to work in an office that I realized I couldn’t stand working inside all day,” says Jacob Van Manen of Kellogg, Iowa.

Jacob and his sister, Emily, were raised on their family’s farm in East Central Iowa. This dynamic duo has been selling Van Manen Sweet Corn for virtually their entire lives. They officially took over the business about seven years after their father, Kevin, said he was ready to retire from raising produce. As is the case with most farmers, they never really retire.

Today three generations of the Van Manen family come together to pick produce. Kevin’s dad, Ron, shows up faithfully every morning to help pick sweet corn just as he as for decades. Kevin and his wife, Julie, began growing sweet corn in the 1980s and have sold sweet corn for at roadside stands for 30 years. As their family has grown, their roles have changed and the farm has evolved.

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Photo Credit: Joseph L. Murphey, Iowa Soybean Association

Kevin and Jacob both farm full time. In addition to raising produce, they raise field corn and soybeans. They also raise Holstein feeder calves and pigs. Emily works full-time on the farm during the sweet corn season, but she’s a full-time teacher during the school year. She’s getting ready to begin her second year of teaching Biology and Agriculture plus serving as FFA adviser for Dowling Catholic in West Des Moines. Their mom, Julie, works part-time for Polk County Farm Bureau Ag in the Classroom, and she also serves as the Children’s Ministry Director at Sully First Reformed Church. Jacob’s wife, Kate, is a marketing content coordinator at the Iowa State Fair.

Everyone plays a role in bringing in the ripe sweet corn and Muscatine melons. Sweet corn is picked fresh every morning on the farm and then transported to town before the roadside stand opens. The Van Manen family sells their produce Monday through Saturday10 AM to 6 PM, at the Classic Car Wash in Newton. They also sell in Sully on Tuesdays and Fridays from 10 AM to 5 PM. In addition,  Van Manen Sweet Corn is sold through Fareway in Newton and Grinnell, as well as at Hy Vee in Grinnell.

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Photo Credit: Joseph L. Murphey, Iowa Soybean Association

“I just love growing things,” says Jacob, who enjoyed exhibiting horticultural products through 4-H and FFA. He still enjoys entering his produce in the open class competition at the county and state fairs. “We’re just a hardworking family that loves what we do.”

Jacob looks forward to passing along his love of agriculture. He and his wife, Kate, are the proud parents of a seven-month-old daughter, Kennedy.

“It’s really cool that Kennedy will have an opportunity to grow up on a farm like I did. Not many kids today get to do that. Not many people realize sometimes we work 80+ hours a week to bring in a crop,” says Jacob, who is a fifth generation Iowa farmer. “Not many people today know where their food comes from. We want consumers to understand the care we take to produce safe, healthy and nutritious foods for their table.”

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Photo Credit: Joseph L. Murphey, Iowa Soybean Association

The Van Manen family opens their farm to tours and advocate online. They’re also a giving family. In 2015, Jacob and Emily started raising sweet corn for the Iowa Food Bank Association. This annual sweet corn harvest event has become a partnership between Van Manen Sweet Corn and the Iowa Food & Family ProjectLatham Hi-Tech Seeds also is a proud partner of the Iowa Food & Family Project.

Volunteers begin picking about 6 AM, and 20 to 30 watermelon bins full of sweet corn are harvested within six hours. About 1,500 dozen – or 18,000 ears – of sweet corn gets harvested for those who are food insecure in Central Iowa. If you’re interested in helping with the 2018 harvest, contact Michaela Devaney at the Food Bank of Iowa.

Today Jacob is sharing with us one of his family’s favorite recipes for Sweet Corn Dip. If you enjoy cooking or want to try some traditional Iowa recipes, follow the “Farm Life in Black and White” blog that’s authored by Julie Van Manen. Below are links to a few of my favorite “Farm Life” posts:


Sweet Corn Dip

  • 6 ears of corn (about 6 cups)
  • ½ cup mayo
  • 2 cups cheese
  • ½ red onion
  • 2 tsps. cilantro

Mix ingredients and serve with taco chips. For more color, add red pepper for more color. You can also add fresh chives instead of the cilantro.