Immersive Experience: Evolution of the Heartland

Article and Photos by Lydia Zerby

Take a virtual trip through western Iowa as our team shares experiences from the Evolution of the Heartland event in August.

Just a few weeks ago, our Iowa Food & Family Project (Iowa FFP) team and two Iowa FFP Champions group members participated in an immersive experience held in western Iowa. This event allowed participants to see firsthand how agriculture has evolved from its early roots in Germany to 1900s farming and now to advanced technology in many Iowa agricultural businesses and Main Street communities.

Part of the group joined a swine immersion tour, making stops at PigEasy, Templeton Family Farms and AMVC Management Services. Another group was on a niche farm immersion tour visiting Aquatic Resource Management, Brinkman Ag Solutions, Irlmeier Ostrich Farm and Iowa Yak Ranch. The group enjoyed a farm-to-table meal and community tailgate with local vendors in the evening.

Iowa FFP believes that valuable in-person experiences and opportunities to interact with and learn about Iowa agriculture help to strengthen the connection between consumers and farming. In support of this first-year event, Iowa FFP provided sponsorship funds to the event organizers to further Iowa FFP’s mission of building consumer trust in modern agriculture.

You’re invited to take a virtual photo trip with us, looking back at our team’s experiences from this event. Follow along with the group that took the niche farm immersion tour!


Our group gathered at Valley West Mall in West Des Moines to catch the charter bus to Manning. From left to right, Lydia Zerby (Iowa FFP Consumer Insights & Engagement Manager), Jenny Felt (Iowa FFP Champion from Adel), Kari Holloway (Iowa FFP Champion from Adel) and Brianna Schechinger (Iowa FFP Creative Design Coordinator).


Upon arriving at the Manning Hausbarn-Heritage Park, participants were greeted by the event team and given an amazing swag bag. Included was an event T-shirt, promotional materials about the surrounding community and coupons/swag from sponsors and partners.


Participants were welcomed into the Konferenz Centre. The events center feels like a homey log cabin. Built less than a decade ago, the Konferenz Centre was designed to complement the Manning Hausbarn-Heritage Park by providing amenities for large and small gatherings.


We saw several familiar names within the attendee booklet, including Iowa FFP partners – the Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Pork Producers Association and Iowa Turkey Federation.


We saw several familiar names within the attendee booklet, including Iowa FFP partners – the Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Pork Producers Association and Iowa Turkey Federation.


The first stop on the niche ag tour was Aquatic Resource Management. Jim Blankman and his son Trevor own and manage the business. Aquatic Resource Management provides management services to pond owners, lake associations, sportsmen clubs, housing development corporations and recreational fisheries. Their services include growing and stocking native fish, aquatic vegetation management and control, fishery sampling services, population analysis and maintenance, as well as youth and adult education seminars.


Aquatic Resource Management raises fish on 5 acres in Manning in 11 small ponds and other off-site locations. Most of the fish are raised outside, with a few tanks located in a nearby building. They raise 11 different species of fish, including these most popular Iowa species: crappie, walleye, bluegill (500,000 a year!), large-mouth bass and catfish.


Jim and Trevor started the business intending to raise fish for consumers to purchase and eat but have since transitioned the business model to what it is today, stocking private and public ponds along with other aquatic management services.


The next stop on the tour was Brinkman Ag Solutions. The husband and wife team of Steve Christensen and Ann Brinkman own a diversified operation that includes selling feed and seed, raising cattle using artificial insemination to breed for the best traits, and growing row crops mostly for feeding their cattle (about 450 acres) and cover crops. They also manage an award-winning Arabian Horse Breeding program, Henriksen Arabians, which produces national quality prospects.


Steve discussed with attendees the emphasis he has on quality over quantity in every aspect of the farm.


He also talked about the small grain cleaning he does for farmers who grow rye, oats and wheat.


After lunch, attendees heard from Shayne and Chance with Wiese & Sons. For more than a century, the Wiese family from Manning has raised Hereford cattle.


The Wiese brothers talked about their love of Herefords as hardy, docile, adaptable and easy-keeping cattle. They are meticulous with evaluating genetics and developing breeding plans to raise the best cattle that produce exceptional beef. For more on the Wiese family, check out this Wiese & Sons feature from the Spring 2022 issue of Fresh Pickings magazine.


Back on the bus, we’re headed for afternoon adventures!


Irlmeier Ostrich Farm near Manning was the first stop of the afternoon. They raise ostriches for eggs, meat and enjoyment.


Ostriches can lay an egg every few days, and they’ll hatch about 45 days later. One ostrich egg is equivalent to about two dozen chicken eggs.


Irlmeier Ostrich Farm has several breeds of ostriches, including the world’s largest breed. The two pictured are Tess (female, lighter in color) and Drumstick (male, black feathers). Weighing in at around 400 pounds, the ostriches are 10 feet tall, have 4-inch talons and, on average, live to be about 50 years old. When born, ostriches are about 10 inches tall and weigh about 3 pounds.


The next stop was Iowa Yak Ranch in Exira. Neal Meseck and his wife Lisa raise Tibetan Yaks for food, fiber and fun.


Yaks provide lean meat that is similar to beef. Their hair can be made into yarn and then woven to make various items like scarves and gloves.


Neal says working with his yaks have made them very tame. He brought a yak cow/calf pair to the Iowa State Fair this year so that fairgoers could see the unusual breed up close.


Yaks do not “moo” like cows but rather “grunt,” similar to a pig, but even deeper. They don’t mind the Iowa winters, which makes them a good fit for the Meseck’s farm.


A trip to western Iowa wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Albert the Bull in Audubon. Albert is 28 feet tall and has a 15-foot span between his horns. Albert was named for Albert Kruse, a past president of a local bank responsible for launching an annual local beef promotion called Operation T-Bone.


Back at the Manning-Hausbarn Heritage Park, the group was guided on a tour of the German Hausbarn.


Pictured above and below: This typical 1660s German dwelling is an incredible piece of history. The Hausbarn, which is 360 years old, housed people and their farm animals in rural Germany. It was disassembled and rebuilt along Highway 141 on the east edge of Manning in 1999.


The last stop of our tour was the historic Trinity Church. How the church came to be at this location is a complicated story of dedication and commitment to historic preservation.

The economic hardship of the family farm and the decline of the rural population caused the congregation of Trinity Lutheran to dwindle. In 2004, the congregation decided it would close the church after marking its 125th anniversary in 2006. Rather than see the rural church sold or dismantled, an agreement was reached with the Manning Community Foundation to move the church to the Hausbarn-Heritage Park, where it would complement the other cultural landmarks and allow visitors to tour the church.

On June 6, 2006, after raising $100,000 for the relocation, the church was transported over 11 miles of rolling Iowa hills to its new location. On June 9, 2006, the church was lowered onto its’ new foundation, which included a basement to accommodate a variety of future special events.