Agriculture Products Differ with Geography: Iowa vs. Panama

-Traveling leaves you speechless

-Adventures are the best-the journeyBefore participating in a study abroad, I had heard all of these sayings before: “Traveling leaves you speechless and turns you into a storyteller!” “Adventures are the best way to learn!” “The journey is the destination!” They sounded exciting, thrilling, and had an immense call to action for me. This, accompanied with my desire to learn more about agriculture on an international level, really pushed me to apply for a travel course. Fortunately, I was accepted into a two-week program that would provide exposure to Panama’s agriculture products and international business model. I toured both family and corporation owned farms, specializing in animal production, meat processing, and crop management. It’s second nature for me to compare all of these processes to those in the U.S., and specifically Iowa while analyzing their efficiency, safety, and overall productivity given the difference in climate and soils. After returning to the states, I had an entirely new view upon international agriculture and hope to broaden your perspectives on the agriculture industry!

Does Panama produce corn like Iowa?

It’s a known fact that Iowa is great at growing and selling corn. So, it’s a given that this is the first question I asked myself. The short answer is, that while Panama does grow corn, it’s nothing compared to the yield and quality of Iowa’s maize. To obtain some reliable numbers, I used the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations website and the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service website. In 2017, Panama produced just over 5 billion bushels of corn and Iowa produced 2.6 billion bushels. At first glance this might seem as though Panama is clearly ahead of Iowa, however, this doesn’t take into account the yield of this crop. Panama’s yield averaged 32.5 bushels per acre, compared to Iowa’s whopping 202 bu/ac. To put this huge difference of yields into perspective, if Panama could grow corn as efficiently as Iowa then their yields would be 6.2 times higher, roughly making their total production reach 31.8 million bushels.

So now that we know where Panama stands on corn production, it’s a good idea to determine what’s accounting for this huge difference from their potential yields. This is the first question I asked upon meeting a Panamanian maize grower. He said his corn normally averages 130 bu/ac, which is significantly higher than the national average. He planted corn on land with higher slopes because maize is more suitable for it than some of his other cash crops. Management practices vary a lot from the U.S., the two biggest differences being that they plant non-GMO crops and use minimal chemical application. Most farmers we encountered were certified organic, and make minimal to no post-emergence applications. One downside is the lack of protection against pest damage. Even though this management practice yields much lower than alternatives, the farm is able to stay financially stable thanks to the organic premium received upon selling the crop. Another key factor affecting their corn yields is knowing that the soil has a high percentage of clay. This could be beneficial during droughts but can be detrimental during tropical storms with high rainfall accumulation. I believe that if the soils were more of a loam and had more water drainage qualities, this would help boost the yield and production of maize in this country. It’s also important to realize that because of Panama’s tropical climate, this area is much more suitable for effectively producing other crops.

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This Panamanian corn is hand planted at 29,000 plants/ac and yields 130 bu/ac.

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This ear of corn grown in the southern peninsula of Panama only filled about 2/3 of the entire ear.

 

 

 

Agroforestry – what is it?

Agroforestry is an uncommon term in the Midwest, especially in Iowa, but is more well-known in countries like Panama. Simply put: agroforestry is the incorporation of trees and shrub-like plants into a crop and/or animal production system, usually reaping benefits from economic and environmental aspects. The most impressionable agroforestry production I visited was a cacao plantation grown and managed by a Panamanian indigenous tribe. On the side of a steep hill underneath the canopy of a forest, there were crops grown for consumption, fiber materials, and various other plants that fall under the realm of subsistence farming. An interesting fact about the cacao tree is that it actually grows best in a partially to fully shaded area! This, and the need for a tropical climate, are the two main reasons why cacao cannot be commercially produced in Iowa. The Ngobe Bugle tribe’s lifestyle and family traditions revolve around the cacao tree. The chocolate plant not only provides the main source of income for the community, but it also holds together their culture and traditions. The trees normally produce three crops throughout the year, and the entire first crop is used for tribal activities and festivities. The remaining harvest is sold internationally through an organic cooperative. Since the Ngobe Bugle people consider themselves to be one with the land, they choose not to apply pesticides, herbicides, or artificial fertilizers to their crop. There is a downside to this production method, which is the susceptibility and infestation of pests and diseases.

Cacao trees start the reproductive growth phase with many flowers emerging from its branches. These flowers can only be pollinated by tiny insects and flies because they are simply too small for bees or other pollinators to pollinate. Of these flowers, about 60% are killed by a virus. This virus could be minimized and prevented with modern technology and chemicals, however, this would conflict with and disrupt the Ngobe Bugle’s lifestyle. Of the remaining 40% of flowers that are pollinated and start producing a pod, only 20% successfully make it to harvest. The rest are lost to crickets, fungi, worms, and severe weather events. This means that the cacao trees are only yielding at 20% of their potential. 

While I’m looking at this from an agronomist’s perspective and classifying it as a major problem, the indigenous tribe sees no issues with their production system. They make just enough money to break even with the organic premium they receive when selling with the cooperative. At first, this ideology was difficult for me to comprehend. In all areas of agriculture production in the U.S., the producers and growers are striving to improve in the upcoming year’s production and quality. If yield remains stagnant or decreases, that’s typically reason for producers to reevaluate some of their management choices. If there’s ever a new tactic for improvement or an increase in yield, there’s a high likelihood the producer is willing to try it. This idea of becoming more efficient and productive is not present in the Ngobe Bugle people, since they’re subsistence farmers. They only grow what they need, and have no reason to produce excess. This is just another difference and aspect of the global agriculture industry that many never have the chance to see.

It’s easy to be caught up with learning more about the agriculture industry in Iowa, and the Midwest in general, but it’s important to take a step back and look at it with a wider scope. It’s quite interesting to see and be able to visualize how the sole state of Iowa is able to help produce, and compete in yields, on a global scale. One must also realize why Iowa is an ideal location for corn production, and on the other hand appreciate why some crops are better grown in varying areas. So I encourage you to go out and learn about a foreign agriculture product that you’re interested in and/or are confused with how it’s grown! Our goal of becoming more agriculturally literate doesn’t stop with corn and livestock production in Iowa, it fits into a much larger scheme of things!

Rosie

What’s Cookin’: Blue Ribbon Brownies

There’s not much better than a soft, warm chocolate brownie.  The recipe I am sharing today is my favorite because it is easy to make, delicious, and also brings back great memories.  It was the first recipe I remember baking as a kid, without the help of my mom.  It became my signature item as a young cook.  I always jumped at the opportunity to make a batch to take to a church pot luck or deliver to a neighbor, just because.  When I became old enough to enroll in 4-H, of course it was on the list of projects I wanted to take first to the county fair.  I remember anxiously waiting for the judge’s reaction after taking a bite and being so proud when she said they were delicious and handed me a blue ribbon.

Before I share the recipe, here’s the agricultural story behind each ingredient.

cocoa beansCocoa Powder is made from beans of the cacao tree grown in tropical climates. After harvesting the beans are fermented, dried, and roasted.  The beans are then ground into a paste to separate the cocoa solids from the fat, or cocoa butter. Once the butter is removed the cocoa solids are ground into a fine powder.  The bitter powder can be packaged and sold for as unsweetened coca powder for baking cooking, or mixed with cocoa butter, milk and sugar to create the chocolate bars and chips.

Sugar for home cooking and baking 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.

eggs1Eggs– Iowa is the number one egg producing state in the country! Eggs are an essential baking ingredient. They add structure, leavening, richness, color, and flavor to your delicious treats.

Butter – 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 today.

vanilla beansVanilla 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.

Wheat PortraitFlour:  All-purpose flower is made from a blend of both hard and soft wheat grains. The bran and the germ have been removed leaving only the starchy endosperm for the flour.  The United States ranks 3rd in the production of wheat and is the #1 wheat exporting country. The top wheat-producing states are Kansas, North Dakota and Montana.

Pecans – The pecan tree is a species of hickory native to Mexico and the southern United States. Today they are grown on orchards across the southern United States, from California to North Carolina. Check out this video to see how pecans are harvested commercially. Once harvested, they are transported to a shelling plant where they are cleaned, sized, sterilized, cracked and finally, shelled.

Blue Ribbon Chocolate Brownies

Ingredients:
¾ cup cocoa powder
½ cup baking soda
2/3 cup butter, melted and divided
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup coarsely chopped pecans

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. In a large bowl, combine cocoa and baking soda;
  3. Mix in 1/3 cup melted butter.
  4. Add boiling water and stir until well blended.
  5. Stir in sugar, eggs, vanilla and remaining butter.
  6. Add flour and salt and stir until just combined.
  7. Fold in pecans.
  8. Pour into a greased 9 x 9 inch pan. Bake for 40-45 minutes.

Enjoy!

-Cindy

 

 

What’s Cookin’: Chocolate Pudding

pudding - small

One of my favorite comfort foods is chocolate pudding.  Not the kind from a box, but the rich and creamy home-made goodness that can only be made by starting from scratch.  If I’m going to indulge in chocolate pudding, I want the good stuff!

While there are many great recipes for chocolate pudding, my favorite is a simple one that even my 8-year-old son can make without help!  Before I share the recipe, here’s the agricultural story behind it’s simple ingredients.

cocoa beansCocoa Powder is made from beans of the cacao tree grown in tropical climates. After harvesting the beans are fermented, dried, and roasted.  The beans are then ground into a paste to separate the cocoa solids from the fat, or cocoa butter. Once the butter is removed the cocoa solids are ground into a fine powder.  The bitter powder can be packaged and sold for as unsweetened coca powder for baking cooking, or mixed with cocoa butter, milk and sugar to create the chocolate bars and chips.

Sugar for home cooking and baking 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.

cornCorn Starch is a fine white powder made from the starchy center, or endosperm, of corn kernels.  In the kitchen, corn starch is used as a thickening agent for sauce, gravy, pudding, and more. Corn starch is comprised of long chains of starch molecules that will unravel and swell when heated in a liquid. This swelling causes the liquid to thicken.

Milk: Long gone are the days that cows are milked by hand. Today’s dairy farms are high-tech and efficient, using mechanical milking parlors and even robots to improve the efficiency of the milking process. Once milk is collected from the cow it is quickly cooled and trucked to a processing plant where it is homogenized and pasteurized before bottling. Once bottled it is sent off to grocery stores or other consumer outlets. The whole process takes less than 48 hours and the milk is never touched by human hands.

vanilla beansVanilla 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.

Butter: 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.

Chocolate Pudding
½ cups white sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ cup corn starch
2¾ cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoons vanilla

Mix the sugar, cocoa powder, corn starch and salt together in a saucepan.

Whisk in the milk and bring to a simmer. Continue to whisk and cook until it is thick. It will not take long after it comes to a boil.

Take it off the burner and mix in the vanilla and butter. Pour into a bowl or serving dishes to cool.

Enjoy!

-Cindy

Sweet Treats

Iowa ranks #1 in the production of four major agricultural commodities: corn, soybeans, pork, and eggs. To celebrate this, state fair contestants are challenged to submit a recipe using one (or more) of these ingredients. Entries are judged by representatives from the Iowa Pork Producers Association, the Iowa Corn Growers Association, the Iowa Soybean Association and the Soyfoods Council, and the Iowa Egg Council. They are judged on taste, creativity, and presentation. Awards are presented in two divisions – sweet and savory.

Be sure to check out the winning savory recipes here. But for now let’s focus on the sweet stuff! These tasty recipes will be sure to delight event the harshest critics and will be sure to end the meal on high note.

The winning recipe – Iowa’s Big Four Sugar Cookies – was submitted by Julie Peterson of Knoxville, Iowa. Not only did she cut the cookies out into the shape of Iowa, but she also decorated them with candy pigs, eggs, soybeans, and corn!

Julie comes from a farm family that raise corn and beans and several hundred sheep. She and her husband have three sons all of whom have college degrees and farm with them. Their daughter is in her 3rd year at Iowa State University majoring in agricultural education. She loves agriculture and loves telling people about it and family farms. She loves to write and take photos, so she hopes to someday write a book on agriculture, along with becoming an agriculture teacher. She inspired the display of the cookies.

IMG_2793a.jpg1 cup soft butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 cup Crisco Oil
Pinch of salt
1 tsp. vanilla
5 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cream of tartar

Cream butter and sugar. Add next ingredients. Mix well. Roll out and cut out with state of Iowa shaped cookie cutter. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees F for 8 to 10 minutes. When cool, frost.

Frosting
1 stick soft butter
2 cups powdered sugar
¼ cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla

Combine all together and beat with mixer until desired spreading consistency. Garnish each of the Iowa shaped, frosted cookies with one of the following: corn candy, yellow jelly beans, pink gummie candy pigs, and egg gummie candy.

2nd and 3rd

The sugar cookies only barely edged out the runner-up and the second runner-up. Featuring corn syrup (made from field corn) and eggs, Old Fashioned Divinity is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. This recipe was submitted by Quinn Harbison from Ames, Iowa.

IMG_3776a.jpg3 cups sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1 cup boiling water
1 ½ tsp. vanilla
¼ tsp. almond extract
3 egg whites

Instructions:
Put sugar, corn syrup, and boiling water into saucepan. Boil until firm ball stage using a candy thermometer. Beat 3 egg whites until stiff peaks. Add sugar mixture and vanilla to eggs along the side of the bowl slowly, mix. Once mixture stands in place, put on buttered plate.

Or the chocolate lovers among us might enjoy the Flourless Dark Chocolate Espresso Cookies with Butterscotch Chips submitted by Aaron Barker from Des Moines, Iowa.

IMG_3775a.jpg2 ¼ cups powdered sugar
1 cup Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder
1 tsp. instant espresso powder
½ tsp. salt
2-3 egg whites
1 cup butterscotch chips

Instructions:
Whisk together the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder and salt. Add two egg whites and whisk into the dry ingredients until completely incorporated. If you want an extremely thick, brownie-like batter consistency here. If you need more moisture, add another egg white. Fold in the butterscotch chips. Chill the batter for 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper AND spray them with non-stick spray (this is important as it is difficult to get them off the paper). Scoop batter onto the cookie sheets using a spoon. Bake for 9-10 minutes until the edges are set. Remove from the oven and let cool completely before removing from the parchment. Yield: 30 cookies

Indulge with these tasty morsels!

-Will

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

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Source: CandyStore.com.

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.

M&Ms

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.

Butterfinger

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!

-Will

What’s Cookin’? Chocolate Milk!

What’s Cookin’? Chocolate Milk! I am an avid milk drinker. I like it skim, 2%, and chocolate! To me there is not much better than an ice-cold tall glass of chocolate milk.choc milk Chocolate milk might seem like a simple topic, but I recently became aware of some shocking statistics and thought it would be interesting to investigate. I recently read that 7 percent of Americans believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows and that 48% surveyed do not know where chocolate milk comes from. I would like to shed a little light on some history and then make an awesome chilled glass of chocolate milk.

For a little history on milk, I will refer to a 2015 blog of AG 101:It’s More Than Just Milk. In this blog, we walk through the process of milk production – from the cow to the refrigerator. Our milk comes from dairy cows. Yes, the grocery store sells soy milk from soybeans and almond milk from almonds. But for today, we are focusing on that old-fashioned goodness that comes from cows. The ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????process is very interesting and I highly suggest reading the blog to help clear up any misunderstandings of the process.

The next question would be, if white milk is from dairy cows…where does chocolate milk come from? The easy answer is that the same kind of normal whole white milk comes p15705pcfrom black and white Holstein cows or a reddish colored Devon Cow. (Another great blog on varieties of cows is Never Too Old to Learn Something New.) All cows of any hair color or coat pattern produce the same kind of milk. There may be differences in quantity or quality but it’s all white milk.

The chocolate comes from adding the chocolate as a separate ingredient. Chocolate is from the cacao bean. Read more about the cacao bean in the blog What’s Cookin’? Dark Chocolate Basil Cake. The chocolate we have come to love originates from a tree grown in tropical climates. The blog does a great job of explaining how we get chocolate from the cacao bean. Chocolate is made when we grind and mix the chocolate of the cacao bean with sugar and other additives.

The actual creator of chocolate milk is Hans Sloane from Ireland in the late 1700’s during a trip to Jamaica. Given a local beverage made from the cacao plant that made him nauseous, he decided to add milk to the local beverage and found the new beverage not only very pleasing to taste, but also healthy.

Making a sweet chocolatey glass of milk is easy nowadays. There are only a couple of ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????ingredients and the resulting beverage is cold and delectable! For starters choose the kind of milk you prefer: Whole, Skim, 1%, 2%. This drink is best served very chilled, so be sure the milk is cold.

The chocolate I use comes from a chocolate syrup or my favorite is a chocolate powder which contains sugar, soy lecithin, salt, carrageenan and vitamins and minerals.

Ingredients:

8-10 oz. Milk

2 heaping tablespoons chocolate powder or chocolate syrup

Slowly stir the chocolate syrup or chocolate flavored powder into cold milk, stirring until completely dissolved. And voilà – a delicious ice-cold glass of chocolate milk is the result! Go ahead, enjoy a glass with me! I am enjoying this part of my blog best of all! Cheers!

-Sheri

What’s Cookin’? Dark Chocolate Basil Cake

In my opinion, the most underrated herb is basil. Traditionally added to Italian or Thai dishes, basil is undersold. One of my favorite uses of basil is to mix it in when making strawberry jam. It changes the traditional family favorite into something amazingly different and delicious. I’ve experimented with basil a lot and wanted to share a winning recipe. But before the recipe, here is the story of the ingredients.

Walnuts: Very few nuts are commercially produced in Iowa. But black walnut trees are found in all 99 counties in Iowa and the seed pods can be collected each fall. They may smell bad and stain your hands but after washing, drying, and cracking they can be a tasty addition to recipes. Dell Lawrence from Sabula, Iowa collects and processes black walnuts. Walnuts are high in protein, vitamin E and omega 3 fatty acids.

healthy-cocoa-pod-finalChocolate: Chocolate comes from the cacao tree grown in tropical climates. Once the pods are picked the seeds are removed and washed before being dried. The seeds are then ground, separating out the cocoa butter (fat) and the pure refined cocoa powder. Chocolatiers then mix cocoa powder with specific quantities of cocoa butter, milk and sugar to create the chocolate bars and chips that we use.  Pure cocoa powder is bitter and rich in antioxidants. A dark chocolate finished product with a high percent of cocoa will retain many of the healthy benefits.

sugar beetSugar: Granulated sugar can be refined from either sugar cane grown in tropical climates or from sugar beets. Many sugar beets are grown in Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana. After the beets are harvested they are sliced and soaked in water which extracts the sugar. The beets are pressed to remove additional sugar. The syrup is filtered and then boiled to reduce to sugar crystals. The crystals are then packaged as sugar.

wheatFlour: Most flour is made from ground wheat. Wheat is grown throughout the Midwest with a lot of wheat being grown in Kansas, Nebraska, North and South Dakota. The wheat berries can be ground whole with the husk creating whole wheat flour. Or the husk can be removed creating the more common all purpose flour.

Vegetable Oil: Most vegetable oil is made from soybeans. Iowa and Illinois are the two biggest soybean growers in the U.S. After the soybeans are harvested in the fall they are crushed to extract the oil.

Eggs: Iowa is the number one producer of eggs in the U.S. There are three different categories of chickens raised with many different species in each category. Chickens are broilers (raised for meat), ornamentals (raised for feathers), and layers (raised for eggs). Chickens typically produce one egg approximately every 27 hours (roughly one per day).  The color of the egg shell has no bearing on the nutritional value of the egg or the flavor. The color of the shell is the same as the chicken’s ear lobe. White skinned chickens produce white eggs. Brown skinned chickens produce brown eggs. Eggs can even come in shades of blue and green. The quality of egg is largely determined by the chicken’s diet. A protein rich diet with various vitamins and minerals will usually yield a richly yellowed yolk. Eggs are one of the best sources of protein in the human diet. Eggs are cleaned and checked for impurities before being packaged and sold to consumers.

Milk:  Milk is a great source of protein and vitamin D in our diets. Most dairy cows in the U.S. are Holstein (the black and white ones) which are prized for their ability to produce up to 8 gallons of milk per day. Once milk is collected from the cow it is trucked to a processing plant where it is homogenized and pasteurized before bottling. Once bottled it is sent off to grocery stores or other consumer outlets. The whole process takes less than 48 hours and the milk is never touched by human hands.

Basil:  The herb grows quickly and is great for home gardeners. Harvest the leaves and cut the stems back for continued regrowth. Grinnell, Iowa based Mariposa Farms herb growers commercially produce a wide range of herbs sold in locally grocery stores including basil.

Baking powder: Baking powder is sodium bicarbonate mixed with an acidifying agent (cream of tartar) and a drying agent like corn starch. Cream of tartar is a crystalized byproduct of the wine making process. Corn starch is one of many byproducts of processing corn. Iowa grows more corn than any other state.

Salt: Salt isn’t exactly an agricultural product. But, is an important component because it is the only rock that humans seek out and regularly consume. Salt can be harvested from salt pans (dried lakes) or mined from underground.

Dark Chocolate and Basil Cake

3/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 whole wheat flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup milk
2 tbsp. chopped basil
5 oz. dark chocolate

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Grease and line the bottom of a 9 inch round pan.
  3. In a bowl mix chopped nuts, flours, baking powder and salt.
  4. In another bowl, whisk eggs, vegetable oil, milk and chopped basil.
  5. Mix wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Before fully combined, break chocolate into chunks and fold into batter.
  6. Pour batter into your prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden around the edges and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  7. Let cool for a few minutes before removing from pan.

Enjoy!

-Will