Healthy Harvest of North Iowa - Leroy Zimmerman

Face of a Food Champion: Leroy Zimmerman

Leroy Zimmerman, owner and operator of Log Cabin Produce, thinks farming is a great way to raise a family. He has four children, ranging from 4 to 14 years old. “It’s supporting the family, but it also teaches a good work ethic for the kids,” he says. “A lot of work has to be done every day. From a family standpoint, it’s an excellent way to make a living. It’s not just about making money, but about raising kids on the farm.”

Zimmerman and crew
Zimmerman and his crew harvest and load pumpkins, sold the next day at the Cedar Valley Produce Auction. [Photo contributed by Arlene Enderton.]

Zimmerman moved to Iowa from Pennsylvania nearly 10 years ago. He was attracted to Iowa because farmland was affordable, compared to land prices in Pennsylvania. He chose to grow vegetables because of the low start-up costs, even though he was a pork producer in Pennsylvania. “We are a young family,” Zimmerman says. “Our oldest was four years old at that time, so we weren’t looking to spend a lot of money. We bought a 40-acre farm.”

Today the farm, located near Orchard, has about ten crops—including strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, sweet corn, watermelon, cantaloupe and pumpkins—and has expanded to 54 acres with the addition of rented land. 

Zimmerman sells most of his produce directly from the farm, allowing customers to pick their own or purchase pre-picked items. The rest is sold at the Cedar Valley Produce Auction near Elma. The auction is in its 11th season and is open every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from mid-April to the end of October. The auction sells a mix of produce and other farm products, such as flowers, bedding plants and pumpkins.

Zimmerman explains that the auction is geared toward wholesale buyers, but small buyers also can participate. “You can take as little as one or two boxes to as much as a semi-load, if there is enough product.”

The local food movement has grown in the ten years Zimmerman has been in Iowa. He recalls that when he first began, many of his customers were senior citizens. In the last few years, however, he is seeing more young families. “It’s exciting that the younger generation with small kids are coming out and picking their own or buying pre-packed items,” he says. “They’re asking how to make preserves or freeze strawberries.”

The produce auction also benefits from the demand for local products. “Even the local [food] movement has driven the auction,” Zimmerman says. “The wholesale end […] is growing. I personally think the growth has to do with the local [food] movement. Some buyers are distributors who see a demand for local produce.”

These days, Zimmerman sells his entire crop within a few miles of the farm, whereas in the past he traveled to farmers markets. “I go with the auction, because it allows me time to be home with the family and do the farming,” Zimmerman explains. “I like to be at home, farming with the kids.”

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 northern region, visit the Healthy Harvest of North Iowa website or contact Jan Libbey (email or call 515-851-1690).