Made in Tri-States: Duo creates innovative products at local ranch

Mark Harting, of H&H Ranch, builds a birdhouse on his farm in Zwingle, Iowa. He and his wife, Leslie Hagar, create products sold at farmers markets and on the internet. PHOTO CREDIT: EILEEN MESLAR

ZWINGLE, Iowa — Mark Harting and Leslie Hagar spent three decades living in Arizona before arriving in eastern Iowa.

The couple found their way to Zwingle about five years ago and established H&H Ranch on a 13-acre plot of land.

The operation’s initial and primary goal was to raise animals and give visitors a glimpse at agricultural life. But it wasn’t long before the couple’s unique creations became part of the ranch’s identity.

“We wanted it to be as self-sufficient as possible,” Hagar said. “We learned pretty quickly that if we could make some products and sell them, we could use that income to feed our livestock. It kind of exploded there.”

The products created by H&H Ranch are sold online and at various local farmers markets. Many of the creations were borne out of necessity and perfected through trial and error.

Soap, birdhouses, granola and hand-knit hats are all among the unique creations that spring to life at H&H Ranch.

‘A LEARNING PROCESS’

For Harting, a retired fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard, hand-crafting hats represents a significant change of pace and a new challenge.

“I used to fly fighters, and now I work with yarn,” he said with a chuckle. “It really has been a learning process.”

The hats are knit, using a pegged tool called a loom. Many are made with wool from sheep raised at H&H Ranch. Other hats are made with store-purchased yarn, giving consumers a more affordable option.

Harting said Hagar is the true visionary behind most of the products created at H&H Ranch.

There are plenty of examples: Hagar created linen coffee filters when she needed some around the house, and she makes handmade granola that has become a popular item at farmers markets.

“We try a lot of things out,” Hagar said. “Anything that works, we take it to market.”

Laundry soap is among the many things made and sold by H&H Ranch.

Hagar uses washing soda, borax and fels-naptha to make soap.

The ingredients are dissolved on a stove to form a concentrate. Hagar adds water, blends the concoction and places the soap in five-gallon buckets.

Through the years, Harting has demonstrated some innovation of his own.

Using timber from H&H Ranch, he began crafting birdhouses. Harting cuts the wood to the appropriate size before adding items like hinges and locks.

“Every birdhouse is different,” he said. “There are different houses catered to different species.”

High demand for birdhouses compelled Harting to explore other creations, including houses for butterflies and bats.

The bat houses are meant to lure bats away from attics and other places they are unwanted.

ENDEARING QUALITIES

H&H Ranch sells its products in-person at the ranch, as well as through its website. Items can be found at Millwork Night Market and Dubuque Farmers Market.

Taryn Kafer is an on-site manager at Dubuque Farmers Market, where H&H Ranch has been selling its wares since 2016.

Kafer said Hagar and Harting are well known for their conversational nature and are always willing to pass along information about their property and products. These outgoing qualities endear H&H Ranch to farmers market vendors and visitors alike.

“When they start talking about their products, I think it really brings people in,” Kafer said. “They want to educate anyone who comes to the farmers market about what their farm does. They could talk to you for days about it.”

Kafer is also impressed by the way H&H creates its products. Items are created using products from the land of Hagar and Harting, making sure that nothing goes to waste.

“They try to use everything on their farm that they can,” Kafer said. “They’re just a pair of farmers looking to make the Earth a better place.”

PRIDE AND JOY

Despite the breadth of supplies made there, the animals are the pride and joy of H&H Ranch.

The property is home to rare sheep, turkeys, a dairy goat, alpaca, chickens, peacocks and a geriatric Scottish Highland cow.

Hagar and Harting welcome people onto their property to see the animals.

“We are pretty busy out here, but we still want to take the time to have those families out here,” Hagar said. “It a place where people can get away from the city and learn about what we do.”

Harting said the operation has “snowballed” since it began. In addition to providing a livelihood, H&H Ranch has helped others form a connection to another way of life.

“People are pretty far removed from agriculture and where their food comes from,” Harting said. “This allows them to take a closer look at that. It has been very cool to see the response from the community.”