Flavors of Northwest Iowa

Face of a Food Champion: Clint Brown

Clint Brown is only 23, but he is already an experienced farmer. He first planted green beans and tomatoes when he was four. By the time he was about 12, he was giving so many green beans away, he asked his mom, Audrey Brown, if he could take them to the farmers market. Audrey remembers, “He picked green beans, and we washed and bagged them, and the next day he sold them for two dollars a bag and sold out in the first half hour. I asked, ‘Now what do we do?’ And he said, ‘We’ve got to do more.’”

C. Brown Gardens
C. Brown Gardens sells the majority of their products at the Sioux City Farmers Market, as shown in this collage of photos from their stand. Photo contributed by Woodbury County Extension and Outreach.

He has been doing more ever since. Today C. Brown Gardens produces vegetables, mostly heirloom tomatoes and peppers, in four high tunnels. Clint estimates he sold five tons of tomatoes in 2013, the majority of which at the Sioux City Farmers Market.

His first high tunnel was constructed at a time when high tunnels were uncommon. Audrey tells the story, “He started looking into greenhouses at age 12 or 13. His father and I said, ‘Those buildings cost thousands of dollars, so no.’ Someone gave him an article from the Des Moines Register about a gentleman […] who had a high tunnel, which we’d never heard of. Clint went online, and he thought with the money he’d saved he might be able to put up a small one.” He built his first high tunnel when he was 14.

To determine which crop to plant first, Clint used the Leopold Center’s Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Market Planner, an online marketing tool that shows local supply and demand of different produce crops. Audrey recalls, “Clint looked at Plymouth and Woodbury Counties and thought he should grow tomatoes because consumption was high and the number of growers was low.” He chose heirloom varieties, rather than common commercial varieties, because he wanted to produce something customers couldn’t find at the grocery store.

Clint’s goal has always been to produce the best quality product possible, rather than to maximize yield.  “People know that what they buy from Clint was picked within the last 24 hours. It hasn’t sat on a truck for 1,000 miles or gone through three processing units […]. People know it’s fresh. With local foods, that’s the key thing.” 

Although high yield is not his goal, Clint has surprised his family by being able to support himself on a very small amount of land. “If you add it together, it’s about a tenth of an acre. In a corn or bean field, a tenth of an acre won’t bring much in.”

Today, the whole family contributes something to their farmers market stand. Audrey makes jellies and baked goods to sell alongside Clint’s vegetables. Clint’s dad, Steve, recently joined in with natural beef. Audrey reflects on how much the family enterprise has grown, “We started out with green beans, and now we have a full line of vegetables, natural beef, and my jellies and preserves.”

About this story

This story was produced to accompany a report documenting the impact of the local food industry on Iowa’s economy associated with the efforts of the Regional Food Systems Working Group. Consult the statewide report: 2013 Economic Impacts of Iowa’s Regional Food Systems Working Group.

For more information on the local foods work occurring in the northwest region, visit the Flavors of Northwest Iowa website.