If there is a need in Dennis Gienger’s central Iowa community, residents can count on him to step up and become involved. In his hometown of Gladbrook — with a population of less than 800 people — Gienger, who makes his living as a corn and soybean farmer as well as a pork and beef producer, has owned the town’s bowling alley, facilitated housing projects and led the town’s annual Corn Festival. Most recently, you can add grocery store owner to his list of accomplishments.
In 2019, when the owners of Hometown Foods announced they were selling the store, Gienger knew someone had to rally to keep it in town. With the nearest grocery store 20 miles away, he set his sights on keeping this vital asset in Gladbrook. And, when Gienger puts his mind to something, it gets done.
A can-do, solution-seeking mindset focused on having strong relationships with people has made Gienger successful. Many years ago, those same attributes attracted him to involvement with Stine® Seed Company. He was introduced to the company while Stine was sponsoring car races, and Gienger, along with his fellow county pork producers, grilled fresh pork in conjunction with the races.
“I got to know the company, and I liked Harry Stine’s philosophy,” explains Gienger, who has been growing Stine seed for 15 years. “Harry runs his operation a lot like I run mine. If a change needs to be made, it gets made, and the outcome turns out to be even better. When I call Stine to sponsor or help with an event, they come forward and do it. I appreciate their commitment to producers and communities.”
When Gienger needs seed in the spring, he calls his Stine representative, and “Boom, it’s here,” he says. Over 3,000 acres, much of Gienger’s corn and soybeans are converted to high-quality feed for 8,000 pigs and approximately 100 cows.
For Gienger, Stine’s genetics and yield drew him to the company. “The other thing I like about Stine is the people. Whether it’s Harry, Kirk Kintz, Dustin Ellis, David Thompson or a long list of others, every single person is outstanding,” he adds, noting the longevity of much of the staff speaks volumes about the company
Exceptional service is a fundamental cornerstone of why Stine is successful, and it’s an approach Gienger also embodies to help his community.
Acres and Aisles of Support
Farmers are used to helping fuel communities by producing food sold at grocery stores and restaurants. But actually owning a grocery store is not the typical way a farmer connects with consumers. Farmers work in acres but not necessarily aisles.
Rural counties, such as Tama County in Iowa, can easily become food deserts with low access to food, which leads to significant economic and health challenges. A survey of rural Iowa counties meeting the “food desert” criteria found that large segments of the population lacked adequate consumption of fruits, vegetables, dairy and protein. Keeping grocery stores in small communities is essential. In rural Iowa, 43% of grocery stores in towns with less than 1,000 people closed from 1995 to 2005.
As a pork producer, Gienger was also motivated to keep Hometown Foods in business for another aspect of his commitment to community. Along with other county pork producers, Gienger regularly grills pork for fundraising and educational events.
Gienger relied on being able to store pork for these large events in a freezer at the grocery store. He didn’t know what the Tama County Pork Producers and the community would do if the grocery store closed. So, he put together a program to buy it and partnered with Tandi Davis, who became the store’s general manager.
Aside from local and state events, every February, Gienger spends 11 days grilling pork at the Florida State Fair, helping FFA kids raise money while also building consumer confidence in modern agriculture among fairgoers. Gienger then invites the Florida FFA kids to visit Iowa to gain firsthand agriculture experiences in the heartland. They’ve toured Stine’s headquarters and local farms and businesses.
“Today, most people are several generations removed from the farm,” says Gienger, who is a third-generation farmer. “It’s important that farmers speak up and help consumers understand where their food comes from and the lengths farmers go to ensure a safe, healthy food supply. A huge part of this effort starts with young people.”
From offering high-quality produce to delectable deli-fresh items, serving the community with fun (and delicious!) perks always tops the “grocery list of must-have items” for Gienger and Davis. From free ice cream Fridays to pork cookouts in the store’s parking lot, serving up value to loyal patrons keeps customers excited about shopping local.
“The support we get from businesses is incredible,” Gienger says, noting that Stine has sponsored and volunteered with many events. “To be successful, you must have good relationships and put a face with who you are and what you’re doing. It’s important for me to do this, and Stine is always stepping up to do the same.”