Digging Deep: A Hands-on Path to Leadership

Jacob Handsaker’s earliest memories include carpet farming on the living room floor of his childhood home near Radcliffe, Iowa. As co-owner of Hands On Excavating and a family farm operation, Handsaker (’04 agricultural studies) has significantly scaled up the size of his toys.

“Farming with my family was my goal all along,” says Handsaker. “The excavation company was created because we saw a need in the community and had the motivation to meet it.”

Since the company was founded in 2010, it has grown to specialize in conservation infrastructure that helps protect Iowa’s land and water like bioreactors, wetlands and saturated buffers. Together with his father and two brothers, he and his wife Mindy, a fellow Iowa Stater, raise corn, soybeans, peas and pigs in north central Iowa.

Handsaker, a regular attendee of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach field days and education programs, is driven to innovate by improving conservation efforts on his own farm and for the benefit of his Hands-On Excavating clients.

“We need to implement a system where we are able to use technology and adaptive systems to improve our operations. Iowa State’s research focuses on cutting edge technology that not only benefits farmers, but also protects our natural resources. I’ve found that science with practice is a real thing at Iowa State,” says Handsaker. His expertise, collaborative nature and willingness to adopt new technologies has led to a partnership with College of Agriculture and Life Sciences researchers.

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Jacob on a number of occasions in the design and installation of a bioreactor. He is the type of forward-looking leader we need to make progress on water quality. He has a passion for agriculture and is continuously looking for ways to incorporate conservation practices within the drainage systems,” says Matt Helmers, Dean’s Professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and director of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center.

Handsaker’s commitment to agriculture and community is demonstrated through involvement at the local, state and national levels. He serves as an emergency medical technician and member of the Radcliffe Fire Department. He is a past board member of the Hardin County Farm Bureau and former chair of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation’s Young Farmer Advisory Council. In 2019, Handsaker was appointed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Advisory Committee on Beginning Farmers and Ranchers. And, he serves the college as member of the young alumni initiative, Curtiss League.

For this record of engaged service to agriculture and Iowa State University, Handsaker was honored with the college’s Emerging Iowa Leader Award in 2020. Handsaker’s four children now operate an expansive carpet farming operation of their own, with a few notable additions like miniature bulldozers, dump trucks and excavators.

“All that we do is a step toward the goal of protecting our water for generations to come. I hope our work will inspire my children to be the sixth generation to farm and protect the legacy of this land,” says Handsaker.