Places To Take Your Kids This Summer (And Some Fun Ag-tivities To Do When You Get There)

For me, summer has always brought relief. The schedule is relaxed. There is less pressure to get things done. Our family has more freedom to explore. But after a week or so, as a parent I begin to wonder, “am I letting my kids lose what they have learned?” “Are we beginning the dreaded ‘summer slide’?” “How can I sneak some education into their little Jell-O minds before they set?” Why not fill this summer with these delightful ag-ventures?

• Make it a point to check out your local county fair. These are a great time to get a look at different kinds of farm animals. You can tour building after building of suffolk sheepsheep, cows, goats, rabbits, chickens and more. Many are free to attend, and you can be sure to find one near you.

Introduce your young learners to the livestock they will encounter with the lesson, Animal Life Cycles. The activities include animal flash cards as well as excellent background information. Comparing similarities and differences between groups of animals is one fun way to get kids talking about the animals at the fair. Also in the lesson is a section called “Did you know?”

  • Discovering some interesting Ag Facts could include:
     Looking for animals that don’t have upper teeth in the front of their mouth (incisors). Answer: goats, sheep, and cows
     Finding a breed of chicken called the Aracauna lays eggs that are a light blue or green color.
     Asking what the word “cow” actually means? It is often used to refer to cattle in general, however, cow actually refers to female cattle who have had a calf.

Visit a processing plant or local locker. If you and your family eat meat, this might be a good way to help your children understand where their food comes from. Contact a butcher in your area to see if they would give a tour of their facility. Most processing plants will be able to show you how the meat from each animal is used. Lessons like From Pig to Bacon help kids learn about the many items that come from pigs, not just bacon. Sausage, ham, Canadian bacon, pork chops, cosmetics, gelatin, crayons, and chalk, a well as insulin and even heart valves are produced from pigs.

• Find a farmer willing to give a tour. Farms are busy places and are usually run by people who truly love their jobs. field on curve with two treesFarmers need to be experienced in a variety of things. From fixing fences to caring for sick animals, a farmer needs the skill and know how to do it all. In this activity sheet, Many Hats of an Iowa Farmer, your kids can get an idea of just how many hats an Iowa farmer wears. No matter how busy, I’ve yet to meet a farmer who isn’t willing to take a few minutes of their day to educate someone about the career that is more like a lifestyle. Remember, on your tour to wear chore clothes and sturdy shoes. The farm is no place for flip-flops.

Purchase produce from a farmer’s market. This is an area where cash is welcome, so let your kids do the math. Have them select something new and be responsible for making their purchase. Adding, subtracting, and simple multiplying can all be accomplished with your purchase (plus, you’ll be supporting local farmers). Here’s a fun activity called Eat ‘Em Up. You and your kids can review the plant parts that they eat, including roots, stems, flowers, leaves, fruit, and seeds. You can then choose a favorite fruit or vegetable to feature in a healthy recipe and prepare it with your family.

• If your little one is into big machinery, check out these museums.

It takes a lot of equipment to get a crop in and the history of those machines is really quite amazing. There is a lot of engineering behind some of these agricultural marvels. Kids love to learn how things work, and a tour of a tractor museum could be a great way to spark their interest, perhaps in building something of their own.

tractorsIn the lesson, Terrific Tractors, children will learn vocabulary words like tractor, planter, sprayer, cultivator, combine, and grain wagon as well as discover what each one does. Encourage your family to recognize the simple machines that are behind the farmers most useful tools.

Find a nursery or garden center. Planting a tree is a great way to teach children patience. It can make a lasting impact as a child watches their tree grow year after year. Beginning quite small as a seed and soon, even outgrowing them. You may want to visit a farm that sells evergreens and Discover Christmas Trees.

You might not be thinking of Christmas in the summer, but all-around Iowa, farmers are caring for the trees that may end up in your living room this winter. Here’s a guessing game you can play with your kids before you arrive. Ask your kids if they can name the crop after the clues you provide.

tree-privacy-screen-02o It is harvested one time per year.
o It is not a food crop.
o It is not produced by animals. (If needed, help your kids conclude that it is produced by plants.)
o It takes 6-10 years to grow.
o It has needles instead of leaves.
o It is primarily green and cone-shaped.
o It is most associated with the Christmas holiday.
o What is it? (a Christmas tree!)

Visit the World Food Prize building in Des Moines. I recently had the opportunity to visit and it was one of the most impactful tours I had ever been on. Learning the stories of the men and women who pioneered Iowa agriculture is really quite amazing. While walking through thecorner crops historical building there was something around every corner. The magnificent rotunda actually uses the four corners to tell the story, and origins, of four primary crops involved in feeding the world: wheat, rice, corn, and soy.

When I tell myself, “I can’t wait to make time to take my kids there,” I definitely mean it. I really shouldn’t wait. The importance of this one summer visit could make a huge difference in the way they see the jobs their father and I do. Him as a farmer and me as an agriculture literacy educator. The sense of pride I felt as I looked at the wonderful exhibits is hard to explain. It really made me feel like part of something bigger, something global.globe

Which one of these places will you visit this summer? Leave a comment in the section below to share your favorite Iowa Ag-venture.


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.


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!


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

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

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

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!



Why My Kids Should Learn About Agriculture

I am a native of Iowa that did not grow up on a farm. I will be the first to admit that I was clueless as to the importance of agriculture. We had food on the table and in our refrigerator. I didn’t have to ask where it came from or if there was enough for the family. I can say that I really didn’t know where my food, fiber and fuel came from. I truly took a lot for granted.

Statistics say that most people today are three to four generations removed from the farm and they do not know where the food they eat comes from and really don’t know the importance of knowing anything about agriculture. Should I as an Iowan care?

  • Who are tomorrow’s influencers and decision makers:

The future of agriculture does depend on the next generation. As population grows, so does the need to be able to produce enough food to feed everyone. We need to be sure we are equipping young people with the skills and knowledge to make sound and informative decisions. The more we can teach students about where food comes from, how it is raised and if it is sustainable, the better decision makers they will become. According to the agriculture census, the average age of the American farmer is 58 years old, if this knowledge is not being passed to next generations, who will be farming tomorrow? It is vital to inspire, train and maintain a strong interest in agriculture, so we will be training and transitioning to a new younger generation of Iowan Farmers.

  • Job Markets of tomorrow:

Young people of today seek to get an education in a field of study where they will be able to find employment after a college degree is earned. Many Iowa kids have grown up on

oh the places youll go

or near farms, yet are unaware of the possibilities of what a degree in agriculture can offer them in the way of a job to do what they love to do. A degree in agriculture gives the knowledge and skills to offer students opportunities and many areas, such as: manage business, work in sales and food production, animal nutrition, plant genetics, land surveyor and journalism fields. Many young people work alongside their parents to take over the family farm, but there are many other opportunities to open doors for employment if working on the farm is not an option.

  • Introduction and exposure:

How early can students begin to learn and understand simple agriculture concepts? Children are eager to learn and understand at a very early age. We all eat. Helping very young students see the connections to farmers producing food that is healthy for us to eat is a great foundation. It helps young people develop an understanding about how food is grown and how farmers take care of the animal, the land and still provide healthy food to feed Iowans. Students learn that farmers have families and those families eat the food that is produced on the farm. These building blocks start making connections to food and farms, land and the need to always be learning.

  • They want to know & be involved

Oskaloosa Elem 2

Today’s youth want to know more about the food they eat. They are passionate about understanding and learning. Today’s technology savvy generation has so many possibilities right at their fingertips to make learning exciting and fun for kids of all ages. Farms use technology on the combines, in the barn and even on smart phones. Teachers can use computer programs and games to teach math, science, and so much more. We can even bring the classroom right into the barn with the farmer by way of FarmChat®. Farmchat® is a program that utilizes technology like Skype or Facetime to bring the farm experience into the classroom. Kids can see up close and personal and can ask questions, but they are never at risk of injury, because they are still safely seated at their desk.


Another fun and exciting way to use technology and excite the learner is Journey 2050. You can grow crops, raise livestock, craft and sell goods and engage with local and global partners as you level up. Feeding the world relies on balancing your economic, social and environmental sustainability so strive to be a leader. Along the way, real farmers from across the world will show you what they are doing on their farms. This is a great program to help kids start to really think about how we will sustainably feed 9 billion people by 2050.

I have been blessed to be able to be part of Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation and have learned so much in the past few years. I encourage you to connect with your teachers and see how they are equipping students today with real world needs of tomorrow. Let’s all be able to say we are agriculturally literate – an agriculturally literate person understands the relationship between agriculture and the environment, food, fiber and energy, animals, lifestyle, the economy and technology. We need to be part of a team to build interest and excitement for agriculture in Iowa and beyond. We’d love to have you join our team and advocate for agriculture.


Play dough – Not Just for Playtime

One of my favorite things about the holidays is the extended opportunity to spend time with family. During this holiday break, I decided to do a few hands-on projects with little ones. One of their favorite things to do is to make and play with play dough. I have always let my granddaughters help me make a home-made version of play dough. It’s fun, safe for youngsters, and they can play for quite a long time with cookie cutters and childproof utensils.

This version of play dough came with a little “agriculture” lesson. My granddaughters are Tessa, age 5 and Izzie, age 4. They are very curious about all sorts of things, so I decided while we made the play dough, we could learn not only how it is made, but also where the ingredients come from. Farmers help to make almost all of the ingredients in home-made play dough.

wheat1Flour: Most flour is made from wheat that has been finely ground into a powder. The 1.jpgprocess of making flour from the grain has been around since prehistoric times using a stone club and a stone bowl to grind the grain into a fine powder. Wheat is now grown in just about every state in the United States. The United States in 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.

Cream of Tartar: Cream of tartar is a byproduct of wine making. It is made from sediment left in the barrel after grape juice is fermented. This acidic salt acts as a stabilizer. For example, cream of tartar helps meringue retain its shape and texture on top of a pie after it is browned in a hot oven.

soybeans1Vegetable Oil: Most vegetable oils are made from soybeans. Iowa ranks number one in the production of soybeans. Extraction of oil happens when seeds are pressed, then the liquid is sent through a filtration system to sift out remaining seed residue.

OD-BA499_SALTS_OZ_20140108171619Salt: Salt is not an agriculture product. It is a mineral collected by evaporating salt water or mining rock salt.

Food Coloring; artificial and natural food dyes are added to food and beverages to make them more desirable to consumers. Artificial colors are made from petroleum. Natural colors are extracted from fruits, vegetable, and even insects.


  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1 tablespoon cream of tartar
  • Food coloring
  • Saucepan
  • 1 cup flour


  1. Combine water, oil, salt, cream of tartar, and food coloring in a saucepan and heat until warm.
  2. Remove from heat and add flour.
  3. Stir, then knead until smooth. The cream of tartar makes this dough last 6 months or longer, so resist the temptation to omit this ingredient if you don’t have it on hand.
  4. Store this dough in an airtight container or a Ziploc freezer bag.

When it comes time to play, I get out the cookie cutters, plastic utensils, rolling pins,biscuit cutters and anything else they can use with their play dough. We have contests to see who can make the most different things with our “tools”. Eventually some of the green gets mixed with some of the red and the original pretty play dough looks a bit messy, but I can always be assured that we thoroughly enjoy make home-made play dough and playing with it! Take time this week and mix up a batch for the young ones in your home!

– Sheri

Savory Award Winning Recipes

If you are like me, you are looking for a great recipe to try for this holiday season. And depending on how many people you have at your table, you might end up with a lot of leftover Christmas ham. Well, now you can turn those leftovers into delicious hamballs! This recipe screams Iowa because it features two of the major commodities raised in Iowa – pork and corn.

Last summer, Iowans were challenged to present their best recipes at the Iowa State Fair and the Iowa’s Big Four Cooking Contest. Iowa is #1 in the U.S. for raising corn and soybeans. Iowa also ranks #1 in producing pork and eggs. So these recipes needed to include one (or more) of those major commodities.

The contest was broken into two classes – sweet and savory. For each, a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place recipe was awarded a cash prize. Judges representing each of the commodity organizations helped decide the winners. Judges from the Iowa Pork Producers Association, the Iowa Corn Growers Association, the Iowa Soybean Association and Soy Foods Council, and the Iowa Egg Council judged the entries on taste, creativity and presentation.

The winning recipe from the savory category was Sweet Corn Hamballs with Sweet Corn Glaze submitted by Sharon Gates of Des Moines, Iowa. Judges were overheard saying, “I just couldn’t stop eating them!”

IMG_3785.JPGInto a mixing bowl combine:
¼ C. finely chopped onions
1 ear of sweet corn grilled and cut from cob (about ½ C.)
½ C. crushed unsalted soda crackers
½ C. graham cracker crumbs
1 tsp. ground mustard
2 eggs well beaten plus enough milk to make 1 ¼ C.

Mix well and let sit a few minutes. Add to the above mixture:
¾ lb. ground ham
¾ lb. ground pork
¾ lb. ground beef

Once the meat and cracker mixtures are thoroughly combined, form into about 1/3 C. balls. Place the balls into a baking dish that has been sprayed with non-stick spray. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes. Turn over and bake another 20 minutes.

While hamballs are baking, mix together:
1 8oz. can of creamed corn
1 C. unsweetened applesauce
1 C. brown sugar
¼ C. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. dry mustard

When the meatballs are browned, cover with glaze. Then bake another 45 minutes turning over half way through the process and spooning glaze from the pan over the hamballs.

2nd and 3rd

The runner-up and second runner-up recipes were not to be missed either! For breakfast, the Pretzel and Soybean Crusted Egg Bake featured soybeans, eggs, and two different types of pork (bacon and ham)! It was submitted by Emerson Hilbert of Urbandale, Iowa.

IMG_3780a.jpg½ cup pretzels
½ cup soybeans
4 eggs
¼ cup milk
3 strips bacon
2 slices of ham
3 tablespoons of butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Crush and combine pretzels and soybeans. Melt butter. Press pretzel and soybean mix into the bottom of a baking dish and pour the butter over the top. Bake for 3-5 minutes. Combine eggs and milk. Chop bacon and ham. Layer eggs, cheese, and meats. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 25-25 minutes.

The Mexicali Corn Dip, as the name implies, featured corn. But you could also find soybeans in the vegetable oil that the mayonnaise was made from! This savory snack would be perfect for an appetizer or great for when all of those unexpected guests come knocking at your door this holiday season. The recipe was submitted by Gretta Acheson of West Des Moines, Iowa.

1 – 11oz. can of MexiCornIMG_3784a.jpg
1 cup of Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1 cup of Pepper Jack cheese, shredded
1 cup of mayonnaise
1 – 4oz. can of mild, chopped green chilies, drained
1 small jar of chopped pimentos, drained
1 ½ cup of grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Bake for 20-30 minutes. Serve with Frito Corn Chips.

Enjoy! And if you have a great recipe that features corn, soybeans, pork, eggs, or any of Iowa’s great commodities you can enter it at the Iowa State Fair in the Iowa’s Big Four Cooking Contest!


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.