“Taste the waste” is the motto Vince Waters has adopted for his new business.
No, Waters is not suggesting that his customers dine on refuse. Iowa Grown LLC has a focus on using wasted farmland that is not amenable to conventional farming methods to produce local food for human consumption.
The Iowa native recently returned to his home state after spending 10 years in Alaska, where he earned a degree in natural resources management from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Waters is applying the conservation principles he learned to his family’s farm outside of West Branch.
Waters grows perennial crops like berries, asparagus and mushrooms using sustainable methods to minimize the impact to the natural environment.
Waters used a cost-sharing grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to establish a wetlands along a creek. The wetlands serves as a year-round water source that allows him to grow asparagus on land that otherwise would not be suitable for farming.
“This is a great application for wetlands in Iowa,” Waters said. “It’s an excellent conservation practice to prevent soil erosion, keep soil in Iowa and grow local food for local people.”
Waters grows shitake and oyster mushrooms by inoculating oak logs cut from dead trees on the farm. He also uses the dead trees for firewood and to make mulch for his raspberry plants.
“I don’t waste any part of the tree,” he said.
Another aspect of Waters’ business is providing a means for local farmers and gardeners to bring their surplus produce to market – produce that otherwise would go to waste.
“One of the biggest issues local growers have is getting rid of bulk produce when it is ready to be eaten,” Waters said. “I’m focused on moving local produce out of gardens into the hands of consumers.”
This fall, Waters harvested and sold 2,300 pounds of chestnuts for a friend who has 12 acres of chestnut trees at a farm in Eastern Iowa, but lives out of state. Waters sold the bulk of the chestnuts to an Iowa-based nut growers’ cooperative that markets them as a nutritious, versatile foodstuff.
If not for his efforts, the chestnuts would have been left on the ground for wildlife to forage.
Next spring, Waters will open a produce stand on Highway 1 north of Iowa City. His offerings will include a wide variety of vegetables grown by local farmers, who will receive 75 percent of the proceeds.
Waters will focus on producers within a 50-mile radius of Iowa City.
“I want to benefit the local community as much as possible,” Waters explained. “I’m not interested in bringing in produce from too far away.”
Waters will maintain an up-to-date list of the items available for sale on his Facebook page.
AT A GLANCE