Farmers Win Grow Your Future Awards

Three Young U.S. Farmers Awarded for Innovative Ag Ideas

Susan Payne
By  Susan Payne , DTN Social Media and Young Farmer Editor
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Tanner Sanness presents his mushroom farm business at the Iowa Farm Bureau Young Farmer Conference in January. (Photo Courtesy of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation)

It started with a lion's mane.

Three years ago, Tanner Sanness listened to a podcast about the health benefits of mushrooms and went to some of the local groceries stores in northwest Iowa to investigate.

He found a "general lack of mushroom diversity" in the area and decided to buy a grow kit. What started as a general interest hobby became a full-fledged business, profitable enough for Sanness to quit his day job, and successful enough to submit for awards.

Recently, Sanness won first place in the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation's "Grow Your Future Award," which promotes young agriculturists ages 18-35 with a niche market, unique agriculture service or specialty business. Sanness was awarded $7,500 to grow his mushroom farm.

"It was a hobby right away, but the more videos I watched on YouTube on how to make the grow kit work, I saw the potential," Sanness said.

Sanness, in partnership with his father, grows 300-500 pounds of mushrooms per week year-round and sells them to local Hy-Vees in northwestern Iowa, local food co-ops and several restaurants. He currently grows four different varieties on his father's Dorchester, Iowa, farm: chestnut, lion's mane, oyster and pioppino.

Lion's mane, the first among the varieties that piqued Sanness' interest, boasts health benefits such as improving focus, memory and clarity, supporting nerve health and recovery and reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression.

"Everything on our farm, we built ourselves or repurposed. My dad's been really helpful with sourcing ingredients, having local connections and having a different point of view," Sanness said.

With Grow Your Future award money, Sanness plans to purchase a delivery van and a walk-in cooler unit.

"My main goal is to keep growing. If you're not growing, you're stagnant. Another goal of ours is to fill our current space at max capacity," Sanness said. "We started doing e-commerce sales, too, but with a limited inventory and limited shipping to Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota."

Sanness competed in a live "pitch off" at the Iowa Farm Bureau Young Farmer Conference at the end of January, presenting his mushroom businesses in front of nearly 500 other young farmers.

Two other young farmers, who actively exemplify the opportunities agriculture has to offer those willing to think outside the box, took home second and third place at the conference.

Matt Vermeersch of Mud Ridge Ranch in Pottawattamie County, where he raises and sells Scottish Highland cattle, was awarded the $5,000 second-place prize. In third place, Annie Palmer of H8R Acres LLC in Warren County, where she raises purebred Berkshire hogs and Navajo Churro Sheep, received $2,500.

"From growing mushrooms to niche livestock opportunities, young farmers are finding ways to stay innovative and add value not just to their own farms, but to Iowa agriculture as a whole," said Amanda Van Steenwyk, Iowa Farm Bureau farm business development manager.

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Susan Payne

Susan Payne
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