Beth Romer’s passion for agriculture was instilled from her earliest days growing up on her family’s Century Farm in Wayne, Nebraska. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Wayne State College before graduating from Iowa State University with a master’s degree in business administration.
She began a career in marketing and communications with roles in healthcare, higher education, agribusiness and production agriculture, before joining the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services as their first social media coordinator and at N.C. Forest Service focusing on forestry information, communications and conservation education. She returned to her marketing background by joining the “Got to Be NC” team to promote local food, North Carolina farmers and food companies.
When she and her husband, James, returned to Iowa for his career in 2022, she joined the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) as the program director for Choose Iowa, the program that connects consumers to Iowa produce and food products and expands markets for Iowa farmers.
She shared insights on the program’s growth and innovations and why she was excited to return to Iowa.
1. What is the Choose Iowa program and how has it evolved?
The Choose Iowa program started back in 2005 adding an early trademark in 2007 but didn’t have dedicated staff and funding was cut for the program following the 2008 Recession. In 2019, efforts were underway to revitalize the program and update the brand, then the pandemic in 2020 sparked an increase in local food demand as well as the recognition of the need to shorten food supply chains.
Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig recognized the need to encourage consumers to choose Iowa food when possible to grow markets, keep dollars local, support local farmers and communities. The Iowa state legislature supported the program with funding for marketing as well as Choose Iowa value-added grants.
During the 2023 Iowa State Fair, we introduced the program to the public with events and outreach activities and are finishing a new website that will connect consumers to Choose Iowa member farmers, companies and organizations. We will increase outreach efforts in coming months. Now is a great time for anyone who produces and sells Iowa-based food products to become a Choose Iowa member. I am excited about the opportunity to support a program that benefits farm families like my own.
2. How does Choose Iowa support Iowa farmers and communities?
Farmers, food companies and organizations can be a Choose Iowa member if they produce, process, prepare or sell foods in Iowa that meet or exceed the minimum criteria or are an organization that supports the Choose Iowa program and its goals.
Members can use the Choose Iowa logo on food labels, packaging and marketing. They also can participate in cooperative advertising opportunities, digital and social media promotions.
While many states have developed a state brand, Choose Iowa is unique in that it also seeks to provide value-added grants to support farmers and businesses in their efforts to increase the quantity of Iowa products. In the first two years, over 40 grants have been awarded in support of projects totaling more than $2.2 million.
3. How does the program encourage and support innovation across the state?
Seeing the innovation that local producers, processors and food companies are putting to work in every corner of Iowa is impressive.
The Choose Iowa grants are a great way to recognize and support the work Iowans are investing in to build solid value-added businesses and organizations and help them grow. A few examples include:
- Central Iowa Shelter & Services in Des Moines received a Choose Iowa grant to support their new indoor aquaponics system which grows lettuce and tilapia.
- Ditmars Orchard & Vineyard near Council Bluffs received a Choose Iowa grant for new equipment including a picking platform which reduces labor, streamlines efficiency and improves safety while picking apples.
- Picket Fence Creamery, LLC near Woodward utilized a Choose Iowa grant to increase their production capacity and add new value-added dairy products.
- Twisted River Farm in Mitchell is building an on-farm store with space to enhance their vegetable processing and increase their cold storage capacity with their Choose Iowa grant.
- Mossycup Farms in Clear Lake received Choose Iowa grant funding to upgrade their on-farm commercial kitchen processing capacity from small batch to larger scale production and increase their farm store capacity to offer additional value-added products.
- Kerns Farms/Mangalista Estates near Clearfield received a Choose Iowa grant to purchase stationary and mobile cold storage to expand their mobile meat delivery service.
- SkyView Farms near Nora Springs is expanding their current direct sale beef business to a beef, pork, poultry and egg food hub serving local Iowans with their Choose Iowa grant funding.
4. What advice do you have for someone considering a move or return to Iowa?
Ask questions and get to know your neighbors and community groups. Iowans truly want to help their neighbors and communities, so don’t hesitate to reach out. That was something I didn’t truly appreciate until we lived somewhere else. We moved away from Iowa for my husband’s career advancement opportunity and were excited when another role brought us back seven years later. While southern hospitality is a reality and I enjoyed our time in North Carolina, there is nothing like Iowa Nice.
5. Please share three recommendations of things to do or places to go in Iowa.
There are so many Choose Iowa members who host events, activities and more on their farms and in their communities, but here are a few:
Whitetail Valley Farm is a founding member of Choose Iowa and a 2022 Choose Iowa grant recipient in Stanton, Iowa. It offers orchards, Whitetail Valley Cellars Winery and Grampaw’s Punkin Patch. Visits to the farm, orchards and pumpkin patch are best made by appointment.
Jasper Winery, a Choose Iowa grant recipient located in Des Moines, is celebrating National Cider Month in October with a cider and donut pairing. Tastings are available with reservations.
Walker Homestead, a Choose Iowa grant recipient located near Iowa City, is beginning Sunset on the Farm hours where they offer small plates, salads, appetizers and wood fire pizzas.