Matt Kroul had little doubt about where life after football would take him.
After three seasons in New York as a member of the Jets, he returned to Mount Vernon, Iowa to continue a family legacy that’s more than a century old.
The 28-year-old former Hawkeye runs the day-to-day operations of the farm that bears his family’s name.
Nestled along the Cedar River about 17 miles north of Iowa City, Kroul Farms is a testament to the Hawkeye State’s rich agricultural history. The 1,100-acre spread offers produce in the summer, pumpkins in the fall, firewood in the winter, and flowers in the spring.
Kroul’s daily tasks include checking and filling orders, calling on customers and managing the team that works on the farm. While it can sometimes be a thankless job, the former Hawkeye wouldn’t have it any other way. For Kroul, farming feels less like work and more like an addiction — driven by an internal competition to see how much can be accomplished in a given day.
“What draws me to farming is you’re working for yourself,” he said. “It’s not the most glamorous job, but it’s definitely fulfilling. You get out of it what you put into it.”
Nearly 20 acres of produce is picked each summer, ranging from sweet corn and tomatoes to melons and raspberries. As fall approaches, the focus shifts to pumpkins. About eight to 10 thousand are sold by the farm each year.
Firewood is the emphasis in wintertime. Timber is split on the property and available for purchase year-round. In spring, three of the farm’s five greenhouses are dedicated to sheltering different varieties of annual and perennial flowers. The farm also boasts around 140 head of beef cows, and has chickens laying eggs year-round.
“We try not to let anything go to waste,” Kroul said. “Our mindset is to get the most we can out of the land we have.”
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Kroul Farms’ mantra of maximizing its resources is exactly how the former Hawkeye approached his football career.
He started a school-record 50 consecutive games at defensive tackle. Every Iowa game from 2005-2008, Kroul was there, pressuring opposing quarterbacks and shutting down Big Ten rushing attacks.
He earned second team All-Big Ten honors as a senior, and his 234 career tackles ranks 41st all-time in school history.
While Kroul’s on-field stats were impressive, it was the defensive lineman’s leadership on and off the field that stood out to Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz.
The Hawkeyes failed to reach a bowl game in 2007 and opened the 2008 campaign with a 3-3 record. With Kroul anchoring the defense as a team captain, Iowa capped off the season winning six of seven contests — including a 31-10 victory over South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.
“That ’08 team was a huge step for our program,” Ferentz said back in 2012. “That is one of the most rewarding seasons any of us have gone through. It was a heck of a football team, and it’s no coincidence Matt was a captain on that football team.”
Kroul brings that same leadership to the farm.
He and his wife — married two and a half years and expecting their first child any day now — developed the Kroul Farms website, Facebook page, and Twitter account to better communicate with their customer base. He’s also a certified seed dealer for Beck’s Hybrids, helping other farmers enhance their operation by selling seed corn and soybeans.
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“It’s exciting to have some young blood and energy around here,” Matt’s father John Kroul said. “He brings a lot to the farm in terms of his technology knowledge and communication skills with our clients and customers.”
This year, the former Hawkeye spearheaded Kroul Farms’ first-ever Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. CSA’s allow customers to buy local, seasonal food directly from the farmer. Customers pay a flat fee for a 17-week membership. In return, they receive five to 15 pounds of farm-fresh produce each week from June-September.
Year one of the CSA has gone smoothly. About 40 families signed up for the program and all seem satisfied.
Moving forward, the former Hawkeye plans to continue fine-tuning day-to-day operations on the farm. They sell produce to a few local restaurants and grocery stores, but the possibility of expanding to more businesses could be on the horizon. He also expects the CSA to continue growing in popularity.
Above all else, Kroul wants the farm to remain transparent. His family takes great pride in practicing sustainable farming techniques. As society becomes increasingly health-conscious, he hopes more people will be encouraged to buy fresh, buy local, and support a farm that strives to serve the community for generations to come.
“We really want our farm be an educational tool for people, because there aren’t many family farms left,” Kroul said. “Our goal is to teach people about where food comes from and how it’s grown.”