The equipment used to harvest corn and soybeans has changed a lot since my childhood days of riding along in the combine with my Dad for hours on end. And I’m not only talking about the low-tech, 150-bushel, six-row combine compared to the eight-row, 320-bushel combine with mapping technology, a real-time yield monitor, and surround-sound stereo system that my brother runs today. How farmers haul grain in and from the the field has changed just as much and played a significant role in improving harvest speed.

Thirty years ago, three pieces of equipment were commonplace in fields during harvest. A combine, a gravity flow wagon or two, and a tractor to pull the wagons. When the combine hopper was full, the farmer would drive the combine to the end of the field, wait for the corn to unload, and then drive back across the field to continue picking corn. While this worked well, the combine operator could spend just as much time driving to and from the wagon and unloading as they did picking corn. If ground was dry, the wagons could be parked at the end field, relatively close to where the combine was working in the field at the time. But if the field was wet, they would have to be parked in a dry spot close to the field driveway or even on the road. Pulling a stuck wagon full of corn out of the mud never ends well, so it is best to play it safe.

Resized_20181113_135348While some grain farmers still use gravity flow wagons today, most do not usually unload the combine directly into wagons. Instead they use a grain cart, also called an augur cart, to bring the corn from the combine to the wagon or truck at the end of the field. Grain carts have large, flotation tires or tracks, which enable them to be easily pulled nearly anywhere in the field – even in muddy conditions. A grain cart can increase harvest efficiency by more than 25 percent because they enable the combine to keep picking corn almost non-stop.

The big benefit of using a grain cart is the ability to unload the corn from the combine’s hopper into the grain cart while the combine continues to pick corn. The person driving the tractor pulling the grain cart carefully pulls up next to the combine and drives the same speed as the combine. Once their speed is matched, the combine driver pushes a button to begin unloading corn. They both continue to drive and in about two minutes the combine hopper is empty. The grain cart operator pulls away from the combine and the combine continues to harvest corn solo until the hopper almost full again.  After a few loads the grain cart operator drives to the end of the field and unloads it into a semi-truck or wagons.

Efficiently running the tractor and grain cart takes skill and is a fast-paced job. The cart operator is always doing something –  getting grain, driving to and from the truck, or unloading grain. The operator needs to be able to think ahead and anticipate when and where they need to be. When heading across the field, they should drive to where the combine will be, not where it is now.  Their goal is to keep the combine running non-stop.

A 450-bushel grain cart was the first big purchase my brother when he began farming with my dad in 1994. Today he owns a 1,000-bushel grain cart that will fill my dad’s semi-truck trailer in one load. My brother runs the combine, his wife operates the tractor and grain cart, and my dad drives the truck to haul the grain from the field to where they are storing or selling the grain. While my brother technically harvests all of the family’s corn, it takes the whole team to keep the operation running.

 

 

-Cindy

 

Grain Cart: What is it and why do farmers use them?

Farming for Safety

The greatest delight of family farming is being able to have your family with you as you farm. Days spent together, working for a common goal. Nights coming in from a long day, and relishing a job well done. Together. It takes a team to move the herd, put up the hay, harvest the crops, or raise the barn. The school-age children, eager to get off the bus, change into chore clothes and hop on whatever tractor that is running at the time. But, in order to do that safely, certain practices must be observed.

To be safe around equipment:  Children and anyone approaching a moving vehicle should make eye contact with the driver who can then indicate if it’s okay to climb aboard or to wait until the driver is ready for passengers.‪tractor step Visibility from a tractor seat does not always allow the farmer a good view of what is on the ground. A piece of equipment that can weigh tens of thousands of pounds does not stop on a dime. Stay back and wait for the machine to come to a complete stop before climbing on. Never mount a stair step while the equipment is moving.

There should be no riders on the fender of the tractor. An open station tractor (versus one with an enclosed cab) should not be treated like a ride at an amusement park. Riding on one can have dire consequences if safety procedures aren’t followed. As a rule, there should be only one rider per seat.

momma cowTo be safe around livestock:  Many farms have various types of  livestock and even the most docile animals can be provoked or dangerous in the wrong situations. A mother cow with a new calf can be overly protective and not comfortable with people being near the newborn. When walking in a field with animals, take precautions and be aware of your surroundings.

To be safe around grain:  Grain bins and wagons are never a good place for children to play. When grain is being moved by auger from one place to another (i.e. bin to truck) the grain can trap and suffocate a person in just a few minutes. Even grain in a bin that isn’t being moved isn’t stable underfoot.

unloading grain

The grain can act like quicksand. If you were to stand on it, the corn could shift and a person could sink into it. The danger is if a person would sink in up to their chest or over their head the weight and pressure of the grain would prevent them from being able to expand their chest and breathe appropriately. There is a danger the person would then suffocate. A farmer should always let someone know when they are checking a grain bin, how long they will be gone, and when they are safely clear of the grain bin. No one should ever enter a bin or wagon that is being unloaded.

chemicals

To be safe around chemicals:  Chemicals and dangerous liquids on the farm should be safely stored and not in a highly trafficked area where they could get knocked over and spilled. When handling chemicals on the farm, it is important to where personal protective equipment like gloves, goggles, and long sleeves and pants. Different chemicals have different recommended personal protective equipment so be sure to read the label.

‏iron pileTo be safe around debris:  Sharp metal scraps and nails in boards are commonplace around a farm. Work areas should be cleaned up regularly to minimize these sharp items. But it is also good to take the precaution to wear proper footwear with sturdy, thick soles.

Most family farms are passed on from generation to generation, each passing on lessons learned from their experience. We want to help ensure that those experiences are positive so it is never a bad idea to take a refresher course on farm safety. Even one accident is one too many. Be safe!

-Melanie

Scarecrows and Agriculture? Say What?

porch scarecrowFall is in the air. The farmers are out combining their crops in the fields, and fall decorations are set out. Mums, pumpkins, and scarecrows add a festive touch to porch stoops. Scarecrows are now often used as fun fall decorations, but did you know they once served an agricultural purpose?

Origin 

The origin of the scarecrow dates back to the time of the Egyptians. Farmers installed wooden frames in their fields and covered them with nets. As birds would enter the field, the farmer would scare them into the net and capture them.

Greek farmers also used scarecrows. In 2,500 B.C., Greek farmers carved wooden scarecrows to look like Priapus, the daughter of Greek goddess Aphrodite. She was believed to be ugly enough to scare birds away from the vineyards and ensure a good harvest. One hand held a club to scare the birds away, and the other hand held a sickle in hopes of a good harvest.

DCF 1.0Japan had their own version of scarecrows called a kakashis. This scarecrow closely resembled a person. It was dressed in a raincoat and a round straw hat. Farmers added bows and arrows to make the kakashis appear to be more threatening.

Scarecrows were also used in the Middle Ages in Europe. Their original purpose was to england scarecrowfrighten away birds from eating crops in the field. For thousands of years, farmers have tried to keep pests like crows from eating the seeds and plants in their fields. Before scarecrows were around, during the Middle Ages, in England, young boys would walk through the wheat fields making loud noises with wooden clappers to scare the birds away. This was the child’s main job on the farm. They were called bird scarers. When the fields got larger, they started to build wooden stands throughout the field for children to sit in during the day. While they sat in the stand, they would bang pots, make noise, and throw rocks at any animals or birds that attempted to eat their crops.

During the Great Plague, many children died and few were left to stay in the field as bird scarers. Farmers had to be creative and find something else that would deter the pests from the fields. Thus, the scarecrow was born in that region. England scarecrow bodies were made from stuffed sacks of straw and their faces made of gourds. Their bodies were leaned against a pole to scare away birds.

homemade scarecrowMake your own scarecrow

You can make your own scarecrow for your garden at home! It is a simple process. Garden scarecrows must stand tall in the wind, rain, or heat so they need to be made from sturdy materials. Start with a strong frame. A wooden poll, PVC pipe or metal fence post works well. Be creative and use recyclables to create your scarecrow! Old milk jugs work well to create a head for your scarecrow. You can even paint a face on it.

The next step is to to create a body for your scarecrow. Use old clothes to dress the scarecrow. Fill a shirt and old pants with straw, hay, or grass clippings. Tie the ends of the clothing items shut so the filling stays inside. Colorful duct tape can be used to secure the scarecrow to the frame. Attach an old straw hat or wig to make the scarecrow even more life-like.

Attach noise makers to frighten pesky birds away from your crops. Metal objects and reflective products work well to keep birds away.

Just in time for fall celebrations, your new scarecrow can serve two purposes! First it can add to your fall décor, and secondly it can help keep birds from disrupting your crops.

Happy fall!

~Laura

What’s Cookin’?: State Fair Sweet Edition

The average American consumes approximately 222 pounds of meat per year – more than 46 pounds of which is pork. Pork is something Iowans know a lot about. We raise 22.8 million pigs each year. If each of those pigs was raised to a market weight of 300 pounds, we could expect approximately 144 pounds of meat from each pig. That means each pig could provide meat for three people over the course of a year. There are only 3.1 million people in Iowa so to feed Iowans we only need to raise one million pigs. What do we do with the other 21.8 million pigs? They get sold to other states and other countries around the world. Iowa truly does have a role in feeding the world!

This is why we celebrate the productivity of the state. Iowa is a major producer of several agricultural commodities. Corn, soybeans, pork, and eggs are what I call the ‘big four’. Each year we host a cooking contest at the Iowa State Fair. Aspiring chefs and cooks can enter dishes – sweet and savory. Each dish has to include one or more of the big four ingredients in the recipe. Kudos to those cooks who are able to include all four! The entries are judged by a panel of experts representing each of the commodity organizations that are responsible for helping farmers (Iowa Pork Producers Association, the Iowa Corn Growers Association, the Iowa Soybean Association and the Soyfoods Council, and the Iowa Egg Council).

This year’s winning recipe in the sweet category was Butterscotch Cream Pie submitted by Jamie Buelt from Polk City, Iowa. This recipe uses lard from pork and four eggs as well as Iowa cream.

Entry15.jpgCrust
1 Cup Flour
1/4 Cup Cake Flour
1/3 Cup Lard
2 Tablespoons Butter
1 Tablespoon Baker’s Sugar
3 Tablespoons Very Cold Water

Filling
1/4 Cup Real Butter
1 Cup Light Brown Sugar, firmly packed
4 Tablespoons Wondra Flour
1/2 Cup Milk
11/2 Cup Heavy Cream
4 Large Egg Yolks, separate eggs
1/2 Teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
1 Pinch Salt
3 Drops of Butterscotch Oil

Whipped Cream
1 Cup AE Whipping Cream
1/4 plus 1 Tablespoon Confectioner’s Sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla

Preparation
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift dry ingredients and then cut butter until mixture has the consistency of cornmeal. Then cut the cold lard and butter into pea-sized pieces and cut in with pastry cutter. Move mixture to one side of the bowl and using a fork, rake about one-sixth of the dry-butter lard mixture into the other half. Add one tablespoon of cold water and combine. Repeat with each tablespoon of cold water. Bake for 30 minutes until crust is brown.

Stir brown sugar and butter in a saucepan until butter melts and sugar dissolves. Cook 2-3 minutes longer on low-medium heat, and then remove from fire. Beat egg yolks. In separate large bowl, mix flour with 1/2 of milk, until smooth. Then add beaten egg yolks and salt and mix well. Blend remaining milk with this mixture. Add milk-flour mixture to saucepan with sugar/butter mixture and cook on low/medium heat until thickened (anywhere from 30-45 minutes), stirring constantly. Remove from heat and blend in vanilla extract and butterscotch oil. Stir constantly until well-blended and slightly warm and then pour into a prepared piecrust and chill.

With a mixer, cream with sugar. When cream has thickened, add vanilla and beat until soft peaks form. Top chilled butterscotch filling with whipped cream. A flourish is nice.

2nd and 3rd

Second place was submitted by Sharon Gates of Des Moines, Iowa and was a Corn Custard Brulee with Candied Bacon Crumbles.

IMG_4413.JPG1/2 Cup Bacon Crumbles
2 T Brown Sugar
1 T Light Corn Syrup
1 Cup Fresh Sweet Corn (removed from cob)
3/4 Cup Heavy Cream
1/4 Cup Whole Milk
3 T White Sugar
3 Egg Yolks
1 Egg
1/2 T Salt
1/4 T Freshly Ground (fine) Black Pepper
1/8 T (scant) Chipotle Chile Morita Powder
Sugar for Bruleeing

Preparation
Preheat oven to 350°F. Stir together bacon, brown sugar and corn syrup. Spread onto a rimmed baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven. Set aside to cool. Put remaining ingredients except heavy cream and brulee sugar into blender and liquefy all. Add heavy cream pulse blender to incorporate. Pour through a fine mesh strainer into a ramekin sprayed with non-stick spray. Place ramekin in a baking dish on the middle rack of oven. Carefully pour boiling water into the baking dish to halfway up the outside of ramekin. Bake 45 minutes or until the center of the custard registers an internal temperature of 170°F. Remove from oven and let cool. Just before serving sprinkle a layer of sugar over the top of each custard and brulee with a torch. Serve candied bacon on the side.

Third place was also a Corn Creme Brulee submitted by Diane Rauh of Des Moines, Iowa. Considering these two winners – clearly these are recipes we should try.

IMG_4441.JPG1 Can (15 oz) Whole Kernel Corn, drained
4 Teaspoons Butter
3 Cups Whipping Cream
1 Cup 2% Milk
8 Large Egg Yolks
1¼  Cups Sugar plus 4 Tablespoons for topping
2 Tablespoons Vanilla Bean Paste

Preparation
Heat oven to 325°F. In large saucepan, cook corn and butter over medium-high heat until all liquid is evaporated. Spoon out and set aside 1/4 cup of the corn. Reduce heat to medium. Stir in cream and milk; cook until bubbles form around sides of pan. Remove from heat and let stand 15 minutes. Pour in blender container. Cover and blend at high speed until smooth. Strain through wire mesh strainer and discard corn pulp. Return cream mixture to pan. In medium bowl, whisk egg yolks and 1¼ cups sugar with wire whisk until blended. Whisk in a small amount of the hot cream mixture. Return egg mixture to pan, whisking constantly. Stir in vanilla. Sprinkle reserved corn in bottom of 8 (6-8 oz) ramekins or custard cups. Place in baking pan. Add 1 inch of hot water around the ramekins. Bake uncovered 40 to 50 minutes or until centers are set but still jiggle slightly. Remove from water bath. Cool 10 minutes. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours or until well chilled. Sprinkle 1.5 teaspoons sugar over each ramekin. Using brulee torch, caramelize the sugar. Serve immediately.

Enjoy the recipes!

-Will

IMG_4442.JPG

What’s Cookin’?: State Fair Savory Edition

The average American consumes just under two bushels of corn per year (including corn used to make other products). Americans eat approximately 222 lbs. of meat per year and those animals were largely feed with corn and soybeans. Let’s assume that it takes six lbs of feed to produce each pound of meat. This is an over estimate because beef, pork, and chicken all require different amounts – beef is the highest at 6.7. So let’s assume the 222 pounds of meat consumed required 1,300 pounds (or 23 bushels) of corn to be produced. Again this is an over estimation because it doesn’t account for the soybeans, forage, or other additives mixed into the feed ration. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume each person uses 25 bushels of corn every year. Approximately 2.6 billion bushels of corn is produced in Iowa each year. There are only 3.1 million people in Iowa.

Iowa is a major producer of several agricultural commodities. Corn, soybeans, pork, and eggs are what I call the ‘big four’. The 3.1 million people living in Iowa eat/use roughly 77.5 million bushels of corn. Where do the other 2.5 billion bushels of corn go? It is sold to other states and other countries. Iowans truly do help feed the world. Iowa raises more pork, more eggs, and more soybeans than the people living here could ever use. So it is all sold and traded domestically and internationally.

That’s why we celebrate the productivity of the state. Each year we host a cooking contest at the Iowa State Fair. Aspiring chefs and cooks can enter dishes – sweet and savory. Each dish has to include one or more of the big four ingredients in the recipe. Kudos to those cooks who are able to include all four! The entries are judged by a panel of experts representing each of the the commodity organizations that are responsible for helping farmers (Iowa Pork Producers Association, the Iowa Corn Growers Association, the Iowa Soybean Association and the Soyfoods Council, and the Iowa Egg Council).

The winning recipe in the savory category – Bacon and Corn Custard – was submitted by Diane Rauh of Des Moines, Iowa.

Entry8.jpg1 can (15 oz) whole kernel corn, drained
6-8 strips of smoked bacon (fried and then diced)
4 teaspoons butter
3 cups whipping cream
1 cup 2% milk
8 large egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar

Preparation:
Heat oven to 325°F. In large saucepan, cook corn and butter over medium-high heat until all liquid is evaporated. Spoon out and set aside 1/4 cup of the corn. Reduce heat to medium. Stir in cream and milk; cook until bubbles form around sides of pan. Remove from heat and let stand 15 minutes. Pour in blender container. Cover and blend at high speed until smooth. Strain through wire mesh strainer and discard corn pulp. Return cream mixture to pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks and sugar with wire whisk until blended. Whisk in a small amount of the hot cream mixture. Return egg mixture to pan, whisking constantly.

Sprinkle reserved corn in bottom of 8 (6-8 oz) ramekins or custard cups, then top with diced bacon. Place in baking pan. Add 1 inch of hot water around the ramekins. Bake uncovered 40 to 50 minutes or until centers are set but still jiggle slightly. Remove from water bath. Cool 10 minutes. Serve warm.

2nd and 3rd

Second place was a Celebrate Iowa Summer Salad recipe submitted by Marta Burkgren of Ames, Iowa. All of Iowa’s big four commodities were represented in this refreshing summer salad. Fresh sweet corn and corn chips (corn), edamame (soybeans), hard-boiled eggs, mayonnaise (soybeans, cornstarch and egg yolks), and bacon (pork).

Entry9.jpg2 cups cooked Iowa sweet corn kernels (you can substitute one can of yellow kernel corn, drained or frozen corn)
1 cup edamame, (fresh frozen)
1/2 cup cooked, crumbled bacon
2 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
3 ounces corn craps

Preparation
Mix all ingredients except the chips. Arrange the eggs on top. Add the chips just before serving so they do not get soggy. Serves 6 to 8.

And third place was awarded to Kris Johnson of Altoona, Iowa with a Summer Succotash Saute.

Entry7.jpg3 Slices Bacon
1 Cup Sweet Red Pepper, chopped
1 Cup Onion, chopped
1 Cup Tomato, seeded/chopped
1-2 Jalapeno Peppers, sliced into rings, seeds optional
1T Ground Cumin
1t Salt
2t Ground Smoked Paprika
8 oz pkg Shelled Edamame, frozen
14 oz pkg Roasted Sweet Corn, Frozen
2 oz Cream Cheese

Preparation
Cut bacon into ¼ inch pieces, cook until brown. Drain, set aside. Discard all but 2T bacon drippings. In the drippings, saute the red pepper and onion until softened over medium-high heat. Add Jalepeno slices and cook 1-2 minutes more. Next add corn and edamame. Mix well. Continue to saute 8-10 minutes, stirring often. Add tomatoes and cream cheese, melting and mixing well. Stir in bacon pieces, saving some for garnish. Serves six.

Hope you enjoy these recipes!

-Will

IMG_4480.JPG

How Do They Work? Seed Vaults

When I was working at a seed company several years ago, the company agreed to support the new Svalbard Global Seed Vault, located in Norway. Maybe it was because I had never heard about seed vaults before or because it was in Norway where my ancestors used to farm but I was immediately fascinated with it. It could have also been that it was one more Norwegian item to lord over my husband (he has Swedish ancestors — don’t get him started about the lack of Swedish representation at DisneyWorld, even pre-Elsa).

If you’re like me, you might be curious how seed vaults work but first why do we need seed vaults?

Seed Vaults Help Protect the Crops – Today and into Tomorrow
The world population is projected to reach 9.7 billion people by 2050. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations by that point, agriculture will need to produce almost 50 percent more food, feed and biofuel than it did in 2012 to meet demand. Today, more than 108 million people in the world suffer from severe food insecurity (hunger). If we have that much hunger today, what will happen when climate change and other disasters continue to affect food supplies?

If you eat food, seeds are important to you. Seed vaults are one way the agriculture community can protect crop diversity for future use. It’s easiest to compare them to a bank deposit box. Like you would with other valuables in your bank deposit box, seeds are deposited into a secure storage vault by seed companies, governments and other organizations. These organizations can withdraw them at a future date when they’re needed. The variety of a food that goes extinct today may contain the genetic link to secure that crop in the future. According to The Crop Trust, since the 1900s more than 90 percent of fruit and vegetable varieties have been lost. Today’s U.S. apple farmers know all too well the downsides of not protecting their varieties. In the 1800s, U.S. apple farmers were growing 7,100 named varieties of apples. Today, 6,800 of those are extinct.

Why is it such a bad thing to lose varieties? Did you know today more than 60 percent of the world’s calories come from only three crops: wheat, rice and maize (corn)?

 

What happens if we lose one of those crops to extinction? What happens to our food supply? Food insecurity around the world would likely increase significantly. We need to protect all our food sources, not just the best ones. If we only try to protect the best ones, we may lose the varieties that save us from devastation from bugs, diseases or climate change further down the road. Loss of biodiversity is considered one of today’s most serious environmental concerns by the Food and Agriculture Organization. If current trends continue, as many as half of all plant species could face extinction. Preserving crop diversity remains the best way to help agriculture adapt to the demands we face. How can we preserve the technology? Every growing season, farmers maintain our current varieties in their fields, while scientists use seed banks to help protect them for future needs.

Among the more than 1,700 seed vaults across the globe, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is the most well-known. Its mission is to operate as a backup for all the other seed banks.

Inside the Svalbard Global Seed Vault
Cary Fowler, U.S. agriculturist and former executive director of The Crop Trust is credited with the vision for the seed vault. Opened in 2008, the Svalbard Global Seed Trust is located on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen in the remote Arctic Svalbard archipelago about 800 miles from the North Pole.

The actual vault is at the site of an old coal mine and is located nearly 400 feet inside the mountain.

svalbard-seed-vault-diagram1 from crop trust

Due to its remote location, lack of tectonic activity and availability of permafrost, the Svalbard site was considered an ideal spot. The site is also far enough above sea level that even if all the world’s ice caps melt the bank will remain secure.

The Svalbard Seed Vault is essentially a backup for world agriculture. It maintains protection for other seed vaults in case of equipment or financial failures or even destruction due to war. The seed vaults in Iraq and Afghanistan were lost due to war. Those crops are gone and will never be seen again.

The Svalbard Seed Vault is a unique partnership between Norway and other organizations around the world. The Norwegian government agreed to construct the vault and maintain it. Norway owns the vault but the storage of seeds is free to users thanks to the Global Crop Diversity Trust, Norwegian government and other financial supporters. Seed companies and organizations deposit seeds into the vault and maintain ownership of the seeds. When seeds are deposited, the seed vault operators don’t even open the seed packages. Only the depositor can open the packages.

Interesting Facts about the Svalbard Seed Vault (Source: Crop Trust)

  • The vault cost $9 million U.S. dollars to construct.
  • 13,000 years of agriculture history are contained in the vault.
  • The vault opens twice a year for deposits.
  • There are currently more than 960,000 different varieties housed within the vault and storage room for 4.5 million samples.
  • Each seed sample has 500 seeds in the package.
  • Seeds are stored at -18ºC.
  • No genetically modified organisms (GMO) seeds can be contained in the Svalbard Seed Vault. The vault is owned and operated by the Norwegian government, which does not allow GMO seeds in the country.
  • There are no drug-related crops stored in the vault. The vault also does not contain crops such as bananas as they have no viable seeds.
  • Only the seed depositor can open their seed packages.
  • Syrians were the first to withdraw from the seed vault due to military action that damaged its seed repository. Seeds harvested from the withdrawn deposit were grown then sent back to Svalbard to replenish the supply withdrawn.

Seed Vaults in Iowa
Many of Iowa’s seed companies maintain their own storage of the seeds they’ve developed over time. But, Iowa is also known for the Seed Savers Exchange organization located in Decorah, Iowa. Diane Ott Whealy co-founded Seed Savers Exchange as a way to honor her Bavarian great-grandparents and ensure the varieties they brought with them when they immigrated to America were available to her children in the future.

The non-profit organization began in 1975 by people saving seeds from their gardens and sharing them locally with each other. The efforts further expanded across the country and the world as the organization grew. One of the reasons it’s been so successful is that families who have raised crops over generations want to know their heritage would be cared for as well as their seeds.

Today, the Seed Savers Exchange organization is the nation’s largest nongovernmental seed bank of its kind. It protects more than 20,000 different varieties of heirloom and open-pollinated plants. The seeds are available to members through its catalog and website to grow and regenerate each year. The organization also grows the varieties on its Heritage Farm each year to ensure they’re healthy for future generations.

While I’m no gardener or scientist creating new varieties, I appreciate the efforts of these individuals and organizations to protect our crop diversity for future generations. If we don’t have crop diversity, nothing else matters.

~Melissa

Additional Resources
Seed Banks Around the World
FAQ About the Svalbard Global Seed Trust Vault
Rare Look Inside the Doomsday Seed Vault video
Inside the Vault video
A Trip to the Svalbard Seed Vault with Cary Fowler
TEDTalk: One Seed at a Time, Protecting the Future of Food
The Crop Trust – Securing Our Food, Forever

Pumpkins: Carving, Processing, Pie, Giant, Mini – What’s the difference?

It’s October, which means you can’t go far without seeing or hearing about pumpkins.  Most doorsteps are decorated with them, paper versions adorn school hallways, and you’ll find pumpkin pancakes, bread, muffins, lattes, and even ice cream on menus everywhere.  Just like the culinary creations made from them, pumpkins are diverse and there’s one for everyone’s taste!  Some are big. Some are small. Some are best for cooking, while others are best for carving. Why?  What makes them different?  Let’s dive-in and explore the world of pumpkins!

All pumpkins are members of the Curcurbitaceae family.  It includes nearly 1,000 species and is the plant family with the most species used as human food.  A few popular, but more distant, pumpkin relatives include melons, cucumbers, and even luffahs.  Squash, zucchini and gourds are pumpkins’ closets relatives because they all belong to the same genus, Cucurbita.

So what’s the difference between a gourd, a squash, and a pumpkin?  In simplified terms, squash are edible, gourds are not, and pumpkins are a type of squash.  Gourds are usually smaller, have tougher skin, and their flesh is more bitter than squash.  Botanically speaking, “pumpkin” holds no meaning.  It is a type of squash – the round, orange, kind that we are obsessed with in the fall.

So back to pumpkins. There are three Cucurbita species that have significant use as pumpkins.  I will highlight the pumpkins included in each species, but it’s important to note that each species includes a wide variety of subspecies, varieties and cultivars of other squash and gourds too.

Carving Pumpkins

The species Cucurbita pepo includes nearly all of the types of pumpkins we think of as pumpkins.  It includes most small-to-medium bright orange pumpkins that the average consumer would grow or purchase for decorative or cooking use.  The larger varieties of this species are preferred for carving.

Pie Pumpkins

“Pie pumpkins” or “sugar pumpkins” are typically preferred for baking and cooking.  They are usually 4-8 pounds, smooth and more spherical in shape than other pumpkins.  Their flesh is sweet and smooth, not bland and stringy like carving pumpkins.

Miniature Pumpkins

This species also includes miniature pumpkins used for decorating, like Jack-Be-Little.  While they are also edible, their small size and thin flesh make them best suited for decorating instead of cooking.

Giant Pumpkins

Species and varieties of Cucurbita maxima include all of the big-boys of the pumpkin world.  If you’ve ever seen a giant pumpkin contest at a county or state fair, then you’ve seen examples of this pumpkin.  Atlantic Giant is a popular variety in the giant pumpkin growing world.  This colossal pumpkin can reach over 1000 pounds when pampered with an ideal watering, fertilizing and pruning regime.

Commercial Processing Pumpkins - Illinois Farm Bureau file photo

Dickinson Pumpkins

You may not have seen a whole pumpkin in the Cucurbita moschata species, but I guarantee you’ve eaten some!  This species includes the Dickinson squash or Dickinson pumpkin.  It is the pumpkin preferred by canning companies like Libby’s. Dickinson pumpkins are large, misshapen, and have a much lighter colored exterior than traditional pumpkins. Don’t let their appearance fool you though. The inside of a Dickinson pumpkin is where the real beauty lies.  Its flesh is sweet, creamy, and deep orange in color.  Check out this video for a virtual tour of a pumpkin field and see how Libby’s can process 100 semi truck loads of pumpkins a day during peak season.

Now that you are equipped with the knowledge to pick a pumpkin to suit your needs, go get one and have some fun!  Need some inspiration?  Check out these clever ideas for carving, cooking, decorating and learning with pumpkins.

– Cindy

The Hall Family’s Pumpkin Creations – Halloween 2016