Holiday Favorite Full of Rich, Creamy Flavor & Agriculture

I love this time of year. There’s a crispness in the air. People seem just a little bit lighter and joy-filled. We all seem to have traditions that we do every year. In my house, it’s the time spent laughing while decorating cookies or making personal gifts with the grand kids to give to family. We enjoy special kinds of foods like cranberries, pumpkins, and eggnog.

I only get to enjoy eggnog at Christmas time. It is a special treat that is sweet and reminds me of the holiday. My dad and I would drink eggnog every Christmas. It was the store-bought kind…but still very special because it was shared with dad. Now it’s my turn to share it with my children and grandchildren. This year I decided to make it at home. I liked the idea of being able to make it and share it with themeggnog.

Eggnog is not a difficult beverage to make and the ingredients are easy to find in the grocery store. Just a few items that when blended together make a rich and creamy treat. It contains the same ingredients as ice cream. Maybe that’s why I like it so much!

Before I share the recipe, I will share a little agricultural close-up-of-brown-eggs-in-crate-597185291-593ad8085f9b58d58a2d0ef2information about the ingredients.

The main ingredient in eggnog is the eggs. Iowa is the number one egg producing state. Eggs are full of vitamins, and protein.

Sugar comes from two agricultural crops, sugar beets and sugar cane. Masugar-cane-and-sugar-beet1ny people associate sugar cane with Hawaii. It is a tropical crop because it grows best with lots of sun and water. It is harvested by chopping down the cane, but leaving the roots for the next crop of sugar cane. Sugar can also be made from sugar beets. Grown in soils of the upper Midwest, the sugar beet plant’s root is harvested to produce the sugar.

Salt: Not really an agriculture product, but it is a product that people use every day. The great source of salt is in our seas and oceans, but salt can also be mined from underground beds.

Milk: Milk or heavy cream provides a perfect source of calcium and vitamins. Iowa ranks 12th in the United States in production of milk. What’s the difference between milk and heavy cream? Both are made from cow’s milk, consisting of water milk and butterfat.  Cream has a much higher butterfat content. Remove butterfat and you have lower fat milk products like low-fat milk and skim milk.

Vanilla extract is made from the seed pod, or bean, of the flat leaved vanilla orchid. They are picked unripe, submerged into hot water and then laid out to dry. Vanilla extract is made by macerating the vanilla beans and mixing them with water and alcohol.

Nutmeg: Nutmeg is the seed of a dark leaved evergreen tree – myristica fragrans. It is cultivated for the two spices made from its fruit  – nutmeg and mace. Nutmeg is made from the seed and mace is made from the dried shell of the seed. Nutmeg is a sweeter spice full of vitamins and essential oils.

Eggnog Recipe:

6 eggs

¾ cup sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

4 cups whole milk

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup heavy whipping cream


In a heavy saucepan, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and salt. Gradually add 2 cups of milk and cook over low heat until thermometer reads 160 degrees – 170 degrees. (This will take 30+ minutes. – Do not let the mixture boil.)

Transfer to a bowl when temperature is reached.

Stir in vanilla, nutmeg and remaining milk. Place bowl in shallow ice water bath and stir until the mixture is cool. If the mixture separates, it can be processed in a blender until mixture is smooth. Refrigerate 3 or more hours.

To serve the eggnog: Beat the heavy cream until peaks form and gently whisk into cooled mixture. Sprinkle with extra nutmeg just to make it look festive. Enjoy!



Family Farming: A Legacy to the Next Generation

It’s the time of year that people reflect on what’s important, and what tops the list is family. It is also a time to be reflective and thankful for the abundance that we have. Did you know that family farms are the pillar of the agriculture industry? What is a family farm?

A “family farm” by definition is any farm where the majority of the business is owned Edit -- Farmsteadby the operator and individuals related to the operator, including through blood, marriage, or adoption.

Family farms produce food and fiber for people all over the world. There are five facts to know about U.S. family farms:

  1. Food equals family – 97% of the 2.1 million farms in the United States are family owned.
  2. Eighty-eight percent of all U.S. farms are small family farms.
  3. Fifty-eight percent of all direct farm sales to consumers come from small family farms.
  4. Sixty-four percent of all vegetable sales and 66% of all dairy sales come from the three percent of farms that are large or very large family farms.
  5. Eighteen percent of the principal operators on family farms in the U.S. started within the last 10 years.

I was surprised to learn that 97% of all U.S. farms are family farms. The size of the farm is not classified the physical size, but is classified by the annual sales. The reasoning behind this calculation is that not all acreage is fertile, well-watered land. In Iowa, we iowafarmare fortunate to have very fertile soil.

According to the USDA Census of Agriculture, the following states have the highest concentration of family farms are West Virginia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Alabama. Approximately 95% of the farms in Iowa are family farms.

There may be larger farms and fewer of them than 50 or 100 years ago, but this information tells us that most farms are still family owned. With so much change in technology, it becomes even more important to be educated in all aspects of farming. Machinery on the farm is changing and becoming better every year. Because farmers can do so much more with better machinery, their yields are higher too. This knowledge of the land also allows farmers to spraying corntake better care of the soil and water sources on their land. The average size of an Iowa farm is about 345 acres. Family farms need to be larger to generate income to support the number of families present at a farm. If there are four families in the business, there needs to profit enough to support four households. Farm work is really demanding work. There is no such thing as weekends off or sleeping in or taking time off to travel with friends. Farmers need to be present to take care of the animals and crops. Because the work on a farm is hard – there are a lot of young people deciding not to work on the farm. Those that do work on the farm have their heart in the business. With fewer people interested in farming – the work needs to be streamlined and efficient so that it can be completed by fewer hands. Lastly, farming is expensive. The farmland and machinery alone are costly, farmers must be totally invested physically and financially.

Farmers pay close attention to their land and often see it as a legacy to the next FullSizeRendergeneration. The movie FARMLAND shared such insights and stated that family succession planning is vital to be able to transition farmland to the next generation. We are fortunate to have many Iowan farmers that see this legacy of farming and desire to share it with generations to come.

It’s amazing to think that Iowa ranks first in the United States in production of soybeans, corn, pork, and eggs. With the average 345 acre Iowa farm, this means that farmers care about the land and work hard to keep the land healthy and the legacy farming going. When you are out driving around, take time to see and enjoy the beautiful fields that Iowa has, as well as the family farms that care for farm animals across Iowa. In a time of Thanksgiving…it’s important for us to remember that Iowa is blessed and we are thankful!

– Sheri

Christmas Tree Farming

When we think of the word ‘agriculture’ what usually pops into mind are rows of corn and soybeans or maybe a barnyard of cattle and pigs. But by definition, agriculture is the science or practice of farming, including cultivation of the soil for the growing of crops and the rearing of animals to provide food, fiber, and other products. This time of year the growing crop soon to be harvested to produce other products is Christmas trees!

2a.jpgYes, real Christmas trees (not the plastic, store-bought ones) are an agricultural crop! Christmas trees have been commercially sold in the United States since about 1850, when most were cut from forests. Midway through the last century, tree farms began to appear, and now most Christmas trees are grown on farms.

Nearly 2,700 operations sold 12.9 million Christmas trees valued at $249.8 million in 2009. That is a decrease from 2007 when the Census of Agriculture reported 13,374 farms growing cut Christmas trees and short-rotation woody crops with sales of $384 million.

Iowa Christmas tree farms devote over 1,500 acres to Christmas tree production in Iowa and as a result harvest approximately 39,500 Christmas trees each year. The result is a $1 million dollar industry contributing to Iowa’s economy.

3a.jpgIt takes 6 to 12 years to grow a Christmas tree before it is ready to be sold. Most tree farms in Iowa are 3 to 8 acres in size and sell trees by the choose-and-harvest method, where customers come to the farm and cut their own trees.

There isn’t just one type of Christmas tree grown. Tree species commonly available at tree farms and commercial lots in Iowa include Scotch pine, white pine, red pine, Fraser fir, balsam fir, Canaan fir, Douglas fir, white spruce and Colorado spruce.  Which tree is right for your home depends on a lot of factors. Be sure to consider look, shape, needle length, smell, number of branches for hanging ornaments, and stiffness of branches for hanging heavier ornaments. Here are a couple of the Christmas trees we found at Walnut Ridge Farm and the differences between them.

15a.jpgBlue spruce have needles that are 3/4 to 1 inch long. The needles are stiff and sharp tipped. Branches are dense and strong to hold ornaments well. The color ranges is from green to blue/green depending on the seed origin.

14a.jpgWhite pine have needles that are 2 to 3 inches long and very soft. The branches are not as strong as some other species. White pine is the only conifer species native to Iowa.

13a.jpgScotch pine have needles that are 1 to 3 inches long and semi-soft. Branches are strong and hold ornaments well. Because Scotch pine grow in many parts of the world there is a wide variance in appearance and needle length.

12a.jpgConcolor fir have needles that are 2 inches long and softer than other fir species. The color is light green to blue/green and has a unique citrus fragrance. Branches are strong and hold ornaments well.

11a.jpgFraser fir and Canaan fir have needles that are 1 inch long and a silver/blue on the underneath side. They have a pleasant fir fragrance. Branches are strong and hold ornaments well. They are native in the mountains from West Virginia to North Carolina.

23915910_10155686669991125_7350921809862992924_n.jpgMy favorite trees are the Douglas fir for their rich smell. But, we ended up selecting a Fraser fir (a close second) because it was the right size and shape that we were looking for. It has a lot of branches – and good sturdy branches – for all of our heavy ornaments. We cut the tree as close to the ground as possible and then shaved off a few of the bottom branches to ensure it would fit in the stand at home. We loaded it onto the wagon and hauled it up to the headhouse. The folks at Walnut Ridge shook the tree for us to get all of the dead needles off (and any spiders that may have been lurking) and then wrapped it in netting for easy transport. We set it up at home and then spent a couple of hours stringing lights and hanging ornaments…and voila!

If kept in water, trees will stay fresh and hold its needles well for 4 to 6 weeks. Visit the Iowa Christmas Tree Growers Association to find a Christmas tree farm near you and take advantage of this unique agricultural crop!


What’s Cookin’: Fresh Cranberry Sauce


I often take advantage of shortcuts when cooking during the holidays.  I think a pumpkin pie made with canned pumpkin puree, is just as good if not better than starting with a whole fresh pumpkin.  Cranberry sauce, on the other hand, is worth the extra effort to start with fresh cranberries.  Cranberry sauce is simple to make, you can adjust the amount of sugar to your tartness to your family’s liking, and the flavor and texture far exceeds that of any canned sauce.  With just a few ingredients and 15 minutes, it is guaranteed to be a hit on your holiday table!

Before I share the recipe, here’s the agriculture story behind the ingredients.

cranberreis2CranberriesCranberries are one of only a few fruits in the grocery store that are native to North America. Native Americans used wild cranberries long before Europeans arrived and the first thanksgiving was celebrated. They ate them fresh, dried the fruit for longer storage, and made tea out of cranberry leaves. The also used the versatile fruit to cure meats, dye fabric, and treat wounds.

You probably think of water when you picture where cranberries grow. Cranberries naturally grow in bogs and wetlands, water-soaked areas that create a transition from dry land to open water.  But cranberries do not grow directly in water. Wild cranberries naturally grow right at the edge of the water, taking advantage of the rich and acidic soil there.

Cranberries grown for juice, dried fruit, and other processed foods are wet harvested. This technique takes advantage of the fruit’s natural ability to float.  Farmers flood the bogs with water and use machines to shake the berries loose form the plants.  The floating berries are then corralled together and loaded into trucks.  Fresh cranberries, like the ones used in this recipe, are dry harvested using a mechanical picker.

sugarSugar:  Sugar you buy for baking and other sweet treats can come from two agricultural crops,  sugar cane and sugar beets. Sugar beets are a root crop grown in the upper Midwest.  Sugar cane is a tall perennial grass grown in more tropical environments like Florida, Latin America, and South America.  Although the plants are very different, the process of turning juice from sugar beets and sugar cane into granulated sugar is very similar.  After the juice is extracted, it is purified, and the crystals form as the water is removed through several stages of evaporation.

lemonsLemon Juice:  Lemons are the fruit of a small evergreen tree, native to Asia. In the United States, California is the land of lemons, producing 92% of U.S. lemons!  Even though we think of lemon as summer fruit, winter and early spring is when lemons and other citrus fruits are harvested.

The juice of the lemon is about 5% to 6% citric acid, with a pH of around 2.2, giving this fruit its distinctive sour taste. Lemons are a great source of calcium, vitamin C, magnesium and potassium, minerals and antioxidants.

butterButter: Fresh whole milk from dairy farms is collected and brought to the creamery. The cream is separated from the milk and rapidly heated to a high temperature. Pasteurization removes any disease-causing bacteria and helps the butter stay fresh longer.  The cream is then churned by shaking or beating it vigorously until it thickens. The remaining liquid, appropriately called buttermilk, is removed. The clumps of butter are then washed and formed into sticks or blocks. Check out this video to see exactly how butter is made.

Fresh Cranberry Sauceingredients

12 ounces fresh cranberries

1 ¼ cup sugar

1 cup water

1 T butter

1 T lemon juice


20171122_100619Bring water and sugar to a boil in a saucepan.  Add cranberries and return to boil.  Reduce heat and bil gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat, stir in lemon juice and butter.  Pour into a bowl, cover, and cool completely at room temperature.  Refrigerate until serving.



6 Reasons to Apply for an Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher Supplement Grant

We know that teachers are always looking for new ways to engage students, but funding for classroom resources is limited.  We have a solution!

This week we kicked off another year of the Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher Supplement Program. Since 2003, teachers have utilized these grants to fund innovative lessons, classroom resources, outreach programs, field trips and more!

With funding from the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation offers $200 grants to support the integration of agriculture into preschool-12th grade in-school and afterschool programs. The subject-area focus of the grant changes each year to allow a variety of projects to receive funding and encourage teachers to consider incorporate agriculture across the curriculum. This year’s focus areas are agriculture in literacy/language arts OR agriculture in social studies.

Not convinced yet, here’s a few reasons to apply:

1.  Agriculture is a topic students can easily connect with because it is all around us! Nearly everything we eat, wear, use — even the fuel that powers cars and buses — comes from plants and animals grown on farms.

2.   Agriculture provides real-world connections to Iowa Core Standards.  Teaching about agriculture in Iowa is an ideal way for students to learn what their state is all about and provide real-life connections to all subjects.

  • Tip:  On the application, be sure to specifically describe what your students will learn about agriculture through your project– not just how a topic, like Iowa history or technology, relates to agriculture.

3.  Social Studies, Social Studies, Social Studies!  Iowa recently adopted new social studies standards, and many have strong connections to agriculture!  Here’s just few examples:

-1st Grade: Describe the diverse cultural makeup of Iowa’s past and present in the local community, including indigenous and agricultural communities. (SS.1.23)

-2nd Grade: Identify how people use natural resources to produce goods and services. (SS.2.12)

-4th Grade: Explain how Iowa’s agriculture has changed over time. (SS.4.26)

-6th Grade: Explain how changes in transportation, communication, and technology influence the movement of people, goods, and ideas in various countries. (SS.6.18)

-7th Grade: Analyze the role that Iowa plays in contemporary global issues. (SS.7.27)

  • Tip: Take a look at the National Agriculture Literacy Outcomes for more ideas about what students should know about agriculture as it relates to the study of culture, society, economy and geography. Social Studies content is in orange print.

4.  It’s a great way to build your classroom library. Books are a perfect way for students to learn about agriculture! Incorporate books with an agricultural theme into a language arts or social studies lesson described in the application.  Then add them to your classroom library to be enjoyed by students for years to come.

  • Tip: Take a look at the books in the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation’s Lending Library for ideas. We have over 200 titles, and you can even check them out to review before buying your own.

5.  Funding for field trips is hard to come by. Take students to learn about agriculture first-hand at a farm, museum or historic site. Iowa’s many agriculture museums and historic sites offer tours and self-guided opportunities to learn about Iowa’s agricultural history.

  • Tip:  Be sure to include what you will do in the classroom before and after the field trip to make the most of the learning experience.  If you are learning about agriculture long-ago during the field trip, describe ways your students will compare and contrast that to farming today once they return.

6.  It’s easy!  Many grant applications take hours to complete and require long essays, spreadsheets with details budgets, administrator approval, and more.  Not this one! It only has 10 questions, and most have short answers. Head on over to the application page, create a log-in, and get started.

  • Tip:  Take a look at the application questions now, think about project ideas, and return later to finish. Once you start the application, you can save and return as often as necessary before January 10, 2018.



Beggar’s Night Favorites

Usually when we think about agriculture, we think about all of the healthy fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, and grains that we eat. But nearly all food comes from agriculture – even our indulgences like candy!

According to, Iowa’s most favorite Halloween Candy is Reese’s Cups. Second and third place contenders are M&Ms and Butterfingers.



Let’s break these down and look at the agriculture that helped make these sweet treats.

Reese’s Cups
It is no surprise that the three most popular candies are chocolate. Chocolate is a mixture of cocoa powder, milk, cocoa butter, milk fat, soy lecithin, sugar, and maybe a little salt. We discussed chocolate and how it comes from the cacao bean before. Milk and milk fats come from dairy cows. Chocolate comes in a wide variety. Different types of chocolates have different amounts of these core ingredients. Dark chocolate will have a higher ratio of cocoa powder than milk chocolate. White chocolate doesn’t have any cocoa powder – only the cocoa butter. Milk chocolate is somewhere in the middle.

Soy lecithin you may not be familiar with. Lecithin are fatty compounds that can come from plant or animal sources (eggs, cotton seeds, etc.). Soy is abundantly produced in Iowa, throughout the Midwest, and throughout the world which is why soy lecithin is found in so many of our foods. It acts as a great emulsifier that helps oils and water stay mixed in our food products. Just a small amount goes a long way to helping improve the texture, appearance, and shelf life of food.

Peanuts are the second main ingredient in Reese’s Cups. Despite the name, they are not nuts at all. They don’t grow on trees like almonds, walnuts, or pistachios. They are grown underground! They are legumes and related to beans and peas. What we know as peanuts are produced as part of the root structure of the peanut plant. Legumes are important in agriculture because they host bacteria in the soil that help turn nitrogen into nitrates. Plants use nitrates in soil to stay healthy. Peanuts and other legumes are used in crop rotation to help keep soils healthy. Peanuts can be roasted, boiled, and also ground into peanut butter.

The term “sugar” can be used to either refer specifically to sucrose or it can be used generally to refer to all simple sugars (lactose, glucose, fructose, galactose, sucrose, etc.). chocolatiers may use any of these sugars to sweeten their chocolate. Most commonly, sugar comes from sugar beets grown in the upper Midwest (Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana) or sugar cane grown in more tropical climates (like Florida).

Reese’s Cups also use another sweetener called dextrose. Dextrose is a simple sugar obtained most often from corn (field corn,  not sweet corn), but can be obtained from other sources as well, such as wheat, sorghum, and tapioca.


The primary ingredient is of course chocolate. It is a slightly different ratio of cocoa powder, milk, and sugar, etc. but it has all of the same component parts. What makes M&Ms fun and unique is their colorful candy shells. To get the right appearance and to not let the candy shell mix with chocolate center, the chocolate is sprinkled with a little bit of cornstarch. Cornstarch (from field corn) acts as a moisture barrier to keep the candy shell crunchy and not mix with the chocolate. The shells are then made from a little corn syrup, dextrin, food colorings, and gum acacia.


The flakey buttery center of Butterfinger candy is a mix of corn syrup, sugar, ground roasted peanuts, hydrogenated palm kernel oil, molasses, confectioner’s corn flakes, salt, soybean oil, and cornstarch. You can see a common theme in these candies (chocolate, sugar, etc.). The molasses, corn syrup, and peanut butter are all mixed together. Molasses comes from sugar beet or sugar cane juice that is boiled down until it yields a thick, dark syrup. It can also be made from sorghum, dates, or pomegranate.

The sticky rich mixture is poured over confectioner’s corn flakes. These are not like the breakfast cereal. They are small pieces of field corn that have been rolled flat and dried. The corn flakes provide the candy the crispity-crunchity texture. Finally chocolate is poured over the center filling. Check out the video on how Butterfingers are made.

As you can see, a lot of the ingredients used in these candies come from Iowa and Midwest agriculture. Corn syrup, corn starch, and corn flakes from field corn. Sugar and molasses from sugar beets. Soy lecithin and soy oil from soybeans. And milk! No wonder Iowans like these sweet treats.

Of course these candies probably can be considered a part of a healthy diet. So don’t overindulge. But we hope you enjoy Beggar’s Night and have a Happy Halloween!


What’s Cooking? Parmesan Crusted Pork Chops

October is National Pork Month, or “Porktober”! This is a great time to celebrate, because Iowa produces more pork than any other state in the U.S. About 1/3 of all pork in the U.S. comes from Iowa!

If you would like to celebrate, there are some good ways for you to do so. One, is to make this easy and delicious pork chop recipe. The star of the show is, of course, the thick, Iowa pork chops, but there are some also great co-stars, like Parmesan cheese, parsley, and breadcrumbs. Many of the ingredients are not widely produced in Iowa, like pepper, paprika, and garlic. To me, that just shows how fortunate we are to have established trade systems, so we can combine the things we do have close to home (like pork chops) with delicious things found abroad (like olive oil, paprika, and garlic).

To walk through the recipe and to learn more about each ingredient, watch this quick video:




  • 4 boneless pork chops
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • 2-3 tablespoons dried, Italian breadcrumbs
  • 1/8 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • bundle of asparagus (optional)


  • Mix dry ingredients on a plate or shallow pan
  • Coat pork chops in mixture
  • Sear chops in olive oil on medium-high heat for five minutes on each side
  • Place pork chops and asparagus in glass baking dish
  • Coat asparagus with olive oil and Parmesan
  • Place in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the pork chops is 145 degrees

Hope you enjoy this yummy Iowa treat!