ACES grads making a difference
By Marise Robbins-Forbes
August 3, 2018

What makes my job so rewarding? It’s hard to summarize that with just one thing – but Monday’s visit to Momence, Illinois, to tour Van Drunen Farms (VDF) and its sister business, FutureCeuticals, is a wonderful example of why I enjoy working for the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES). Our graduates go on to make a difference in this world and the impact of their efforts are far-reaching. Stories like theirs fuel my passion for this college and the role I play within it.

Van Drunen Farms is an international company based in Illinois with a rich heritage of leaders educated right here in the College of ACES. The company’s president, Kevin Van Drunen is a 1987 ag economics alum, and co-founder, Edward Van Drunen received his bachelor’s degree in ornamental horticulture in 1958 and his master’s degree in 1959.

This family-owned company has its roots in agriculture and ingredient supply, dating back 130 years! They opened their first processing plant in 1980. And, today, they have five high-capacity facilities in the Midwest and one in Serbia. In addition, they have a 1,600 acre Illinois farm and are one of the largest suppliers of freeze-dried ingredients in the United States and one of the largest food ingredient suppliers in the world. Their focus is on culinary, all-natural and functional food ingredients, specializing in fruits, vegetables, and herbs. They work with 35 fruits, 50 vegetables, and 17 herbs and spices!

We also toured FutureCeuticals, Inc., a family-owned sister company to Van Drunen Farms. They provide cutting-edge product development for the dietary supplement, functional foods, and cosmetics industries. With VDF having operations in Illinois, Indiana, California, and Serbia, and FutureCeuticals’ Illinois and California presence, these two companies offer broad capabilities and a substantial portfolio of nutritional products, including probiotics, grains, and fruit and vegetable powders and extracts. 

As we were introduced to the brands and products using VDF and FutureCeuticals ingredients, I was intrigued to find out that my family uses at least a dozen of these products (including vitamins, salad dressing, cereal, dried fruits, protein powder for smoothies). Staff we met exuded pride of workmanship, a commitment to quality, and dedication to this company that clearly values its employees.

We were grateful to our hosts Christie Smit, Jason Paarlberg, Nathan DeBoer, Amanda Graf, and Ed Linquist of Van Drunen Farms for a lovely afternoon seeing their basil production from start to finish. Joining me from ACES were Dean Kim Kidwell, Interim Director of Extension Shelly Nickols-Richardson, crop sciences faculty member Sarah Taylor Lovell, Assistant Director of Food and Bioprocessing Pilot Plant Operations Brian Jacobson, and my colleagues in the Office of Advancement, Pedro Fernandes da Costa and Jennifer Smith. We also were joined by Randy Graham, president of Illinois Specialty Growers Association. 

It’s truly amazing where a degree from the College of ACES can take you.

A beautiful day for a tour at Van Drunen Farms.

Touring a basil field.