Growing up on his family’s Pennsylvania hog and row crop farm, Benjamin Harner had always admired Iowa and its prestigious pork industry. He dreamed of one day moving to the Midwest to pursue the agriculture opportunities Iowa boasts. Little did he know that years down the road, all the pieces would fall into place and he and his wife Bryanna would have their very own Iowa hog farm.
It all started when the Harners visited Iowa in 2016 to attend the World Pork Expo and fell in love with the state’s agriculture industry, people and landscapes. They visited again in 2017, then two more times in 2018 as they scoped out farming opportunities through Iowa State’s Young and Beginning Farmer program and properties for sale. Along the way, the couple met a West Liberty farmer who offered Ben a job on his farm. It was time to make an official decision, and the sign to take the opportunity came when the couple saw that farmer on the cover of Successful Farming magazine.
“We were both hesitant and neither of us really wanted to move that far away from our families,” Bry said. “Then Ben sent me that photo of the magazine cover, and that was the turning point. We both had a change of heart and knew we would regret it if we didn’t do it.”
So the Harners packed up their lives in Pennsylvania and drove to Iowa at the end of 2018. While Ben worked full-time at a West Liberty farm, Bry used her agricultural and extension education degree to land a job with Kent Corporation. Then, in the spring of 2020, the couple’s dreams came true when they purchased their own farm and Ben transitioned to being his own full-time employee.
Their new home came with several hoop buildings as well as another unique sign that they had made the right decision. The previous owners, whose last name also started with “H,” had left them a metal farm sign with the letter painted in the outline of a cow.
Throughout the process of searching for property and closing on their Columbus Junction farm, Ben suggested the couple start raising their own hogs. As their new property’s hoop buildings are built for cattle, Ben and Bry had to be creative in converting them for pigs and lowering the gates and water bowls.
“Growing up, I was always involved with the confinement of hogs and the main focus of moving here was hog production,” Ben said. “When we looked at how to make the hoop buildings work, we had to be very open minded and consider all our options. And since we jumped on it, we’ve never looked back.”
Today, the Harners have five hoop buildings on their farm, where they raise antibiotic-free, vegetarian-fed hogs for Niman Ranch, a California/Iowa company that works with a network of over 750 small, independent farms across the country to raise livestock humanely and sustainably. For the Harners, this means their pigs live in outdoor/indoor pens with bedding, providing them the necessary shelter to enjoy all of Iowa’s seasons.
Though the couple has already experienced significant growth as Iowa farmers, they continue to learn as they go, accepting advice from Niman Ranch representatives and local farmers along the way. Both Ben and Bry now admit that, despite their initial doubts, they have found their new home.
“A lot of it is attributed to our faith,” Ben said. “We’re really enjoying our time here and these opportunities that we wouldn’t have had in Pennsylvania. It’s by the grace of God that we’ve been as successful as we’ve been.”