John Deere combine unloading soybeans

ISA, in partnership with the Iowa Food and Family Project and the Iowa Wolves, the Des Moines-based NBA G League team, are making strides to shrink the "farm-to-table" divide among consumers and producers. (Photo: Iowa Soybean Association)

Agriculture is Iowa’s slam dunk, athletes and farmers agree

February 9, 2023 | Brock Johnston

Agriculture is one of the world’s largest industries—employing more than one billion people and producing trillions of dollars in food annually. Despite agriculture’s role providing the food, fuel and fiber used by a rapidly growing population, a stark “farm-to-table” knowledge gap continues to exist between many rural and urban communities.

The Iowa Soybean Association (ISA), in partnership with the Iowa Food and Family Project and the Iowa Wolves, the Des Moines-based NBA G League team, are making strides to shrink this divide by taking agriculture’s story to familiar settings right in the backyard of consumers—the sports arena. To launch the collaboration, Iowa soybean farmers joined players, coaches, and staff from the Wolves on Feb. 2 for a tour of John Deere Des Moines Works (JDDMW) in Ankeny.

Lisa Obrecht, an ISA farmer member and soybean grower from Zearing who participated in the tour alongside her father, David, and son Blake, says allowing consumers to connect directly with farmers and their families greatly impacts the public’s knowledge of where their food comes from.

“Whether it’s by participating in a factory tour, learning about the tools and machinery farmers use to produce and harvest food, or by simply looking into where your food is coming from, these small steps can be powerful ways to impact perceptions of agriculture,” Obrecht says.

Deere & Company, the world’s largest manufacturer of farm machinery, purchased the Des Moines Works facility in 1947 from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). Prior to its purchase, the DOD constructed and operated the site for use as an ammunition production facility during World War II. Today, the complex sprawls over 600 acres and is a world-class manufacturing site producing a wide range of farm machinery, including cotton harvesters, grain drills and 600-series self-propelled sprayers.

Along the tour, players and farmers were carried on a guided tram through many of the site’s large assembly line manufacturing buildings. Highlights included an up-close view of cotton harvester and sprayer assembly, robotic and human-powered welding, and the equipment painting process—where each part receives a coating of the company’s signature John Deere Green paint. Following the tour, attendees shared a meal at the Machine Shed Restaurant in Urbandale. Rochelle Gilman, director of nutrition and health promotions at the Iowa Beef Industry Council, also joined the group for a presentation on beef nutrition and cooking preparation.

“It was great to see professional basketball players, who are everyday consumers themselves, gathered alongside Iowa farmers and their families to celebrate innovations in agriculture and build relationships,” added Obrecht. “Knowledge is power and when we succeed in learning something new, we feel more confident in ourselves and decisions. That’s how we want consumers to feel when learning about the quality foods produced right here in Iowa and their many benefits.”