Marshalltown Start-up Freeze Dries Local Produce - ABC5 News Des Moines, IA

Marshalltown Start-up Freeze Dries Local Produce

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By Ron Marasco


A Marshalltown start–up is putting the freeze on some Iowa fruits and vegetables, making the final product a hot commodity.

"It's been amazing, really it has," said Penn Huber-Brown, CEO of Iowa Choice Harvest.

Huber-Brown had an idea eight years ago.  The core concept, round up investors and open a freeze dried packaging operation.

"I think our members are thrilled," said Huber-Brown.

Twenty–five members signed on, and in August, they flipped the switch and packaged their first batch of frozen produce.

"I think that people, particularly the farmers, we've had lots of calls from them," said Huber-Brown.  "I think they've been waiting a long time for a plant like this to happen."

"So far, what I've heard back has been very positive," said General Manager Craig Schultz.

"I came up here when they first were remodeling this building, and even then it seemed like an impossible dream," said member Inger Lamb.

Iowa Choice Harvest certainly proved it possible.  The plant processes more than 3,000 lbs. of apples a day.  And since they've opened, about 110,000 lbs. of sweet corn has made its way through the freeze dryer.

"I probably wouldn't be raising sweet corn because there's no other processing facility in Central Iowa," said Ankeny farmer Craig Griffieon, whose also a member.  "The closest one is Minnesota."

Griffieon says Iowa Choice Harvest is the only operation in the country that can actually pick the corn in the morning and have it processed within eight hours.

"It's amazing," said Griffieon.  "It's just amazing!"

Opening new markets, especially during the winter time, has also proven fruitful for the new business.

"The chance really for us to have that all year long from our Iowa farmers, I think it could build a really dynamic local food system for Iowa," said Huber-Brown.

And off course, the buzzword lately in farming is local.

"We are trying to keep everything local," said Schultz.  "We're producing local.  We're buying local.  Our packaging that we obtained is local."

"There's such a connection between the grower and the food, and when you eat it, you have a real sense that you understand the pride of the farmer," said Huber-Brown.

"We can show you who your farmers are," said Schultz.  "We can show you where your product's coming from.  We can put a face to our produce."

Literally they can.  Their packaging has their member farmers' pictures and story on the back.

"We're connecting local producers with local people, and even to the extent that part of our mission is to educate," said Lamb.

They also emphasize their products are all natural.

"I do believe that we have some of the best fruits and vegetables maybe in the world that we can raise here in Iowa," said Huber-Brown.

And amazingly, you only see the actual fruit or vegetable next to ingredients on the package.  There are no chemicals or preservatives.

"I really believe that when people try (our products) they're going to love them," said Huber-Brown.

"This is Iowa," said Lamb.  "We grow stuff.  It's a good place to get your produce from."

You can find Iowa Choice Harvest products at Dahls, Hy–Vee and some other retailers.  Schultz says they hope to freeze and package asparagus and rhubarb in the spring.  His goal is to double production in three years.

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