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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

November 19, 2004

Growing products -- and markets

by Laura Miller, Leopold Center

Mark and Connie Tjelmeland, McCallsburg, have a marketing plan and valuable contacts for their new prairie nursery business, thanks to an Iowa State marketing class.

ISU business professor Kay Palan used a grant from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture to offer a pilot class last spring that paired student teams with central Iowa producers who want to enter a niche market. Each team worked on a specific marketing problem and presented results to the farmers at the end of the semester.

"This has really been a boost for us," said Connie Tjelmeland, who hopes to sell potted prairie plants to local nurseries in the spring. "Our background is in production, and it was just so daunting to think about doing the marketing that we knew we needed for our nursery business."

The four business and agriculture students assigned to the Tjelmelands conducted nearly 80 telephone and in-person interviews with nursery businesses, retail store owners, landscaping companies and consumers to evaluate the potential market. They found that educating potential customers about local eco-type seed, which the Tjelmelands have on their 17-acre prairie, is important.

Other student teams worked with a new organic dairy in southwest Iowa, a family-owned apple orchard near Cambridge, a Jasper County winery, an herb farm near Van Horne, and a Brooklyn company that creates biocomposites from locally grown kenaf.

"When you think about being a land-grant university, it seems like this is something we should be about, helping small Iowa farm businesses succeed," Palan said. "It really is a win-win situation for the students, as well as the businesses, because our students need the practical experience."

The Leopold Center grant has been renewed and the experimental course will be offered again in Spring 2005. Marketing professor John Wong will handle course responsibilities.