In the Bible, Canaan is the land of milk and honey. Canaan Township, which includes Mt. Union, used to be Mississippi River swamp ground. In the early 19th Century, the swamp was drained, exposing some of the most fertile, flat, black soil in Iowa. You can see for miles in any direction. Corn, soybeans and farmsteads now make up the landscape. And vegetables.
Grace Bennett, age 23, and her father and relatives took a month of Saturdays last fall to build a high-tunnel for Grace. Then a big wind came along this spring and blew a chunk of the high-tunnel down, proving that Nature is still boss. With time running short, Grace and her dad hired an Amish crew to come in and repair the high-tunnel. They did it in one day.
A high-tunnel is like a greenhouse, except produce in a high-tunnel grows in the earth instead of up on slats. A greenhouse is heated, whereas the temperature in a high-tunnel is whatever it is outside and inside in the insulated enclosure. The roof and upper portions of the walls of the high-tunnel are made of a double layer of plastic with air blowing between the layers for insulation. The lower portion of the walls are a single layer of plastic that can be rolled up and down for ventilation and protection.
Grace’s father, Brian Lane, owns a plumbing business. However, he has always been interested in hobby gardening and horticulture. When daughter Grace expressed an interest in starting a business that would supply produce to farmers markets and local restaurants, the two went into business and built the high-tunnel. Canaan Produce was born.
Between the high-tunnel and two outside garden plots that are laid out like a Grant Wood painting, Grace now raises most everything from sweetcorn, tomatoes, peppers, onions, carrots, green beans, lettuce, spinach, cucumbers, zucchini, and cauliflower to strawberries and herbs. Grace’s two little girls, Emma and Quinn help with their little buckets and shovels as Grace weeds and tends to her Garden of Eden.
“It’s nice this time of year,” Grace says with her eyes reflecting the earth’s bounty, “because all of your work is showing it’s not for nothing.”
It got too hot early this year for the lettuce. It turned bitter and Grace said, “Nope, I’m not selling that to my customers.” It was an all-star gourmet mix with five different lettuces—red and green Romaine, red and green oak leaf, and lolla rosa. It was really good until it turned hot. Grace replanted but the soil was too warm. Seed won’t germinate if the soil gets above 75 degrees.
“If you like snacking on cherry tomatoes,” Grace smiles and shows off her organic sun-sugar cherry tomatoes. “You can pop’m in your mouth like candy.” The yellow pear tomatoes are just starting to turn color. There are black krim tomatoes and jet star. The better boy are ideal high-tunnel tomatoes.
Canaan Produce isn’t organic per se. However, Grace and her father practice an organic procedure. They use organic seed, don’t spray chemicals and try to be as gentle with the plants as possible.
In their “wash-and-pack” building is an old honey extractor machine that was used to separate honey from the comb (land of milk and honey). They now use it to spin dry lettuce after it is double washed. Very ingenious.
They can be found on Facebook under Canaan Produce. Their email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings will find Grace at Mt. Pleasant’s Farmers Market, Tuesday evenings at the Mt. Pleasant Square and some Saturday mornings in the New London Park. Father Brian often helps out, proud as a farmer at harvest.
I don’t ever want to hear again that young people today lack ambition, and that America is no longer the land of opportunity. Grace Bennett and Canaan Township beg to differ.
Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at email@example.com or find him on Facebook. Curt’s stories are also read at 107.3 FM in Farmington.