Bread Making—A Form of Art & A Way To Connect Back to Agriculture

As a college student, bread making is not something most think about or have time to do on a regular basis. It’s a lot easier to go to the store and pick from a wide selection of sliced breads—just as it is for any food items found in the store. In this generation, it’s easy to take for granted the convenience of a supermarket and the men and women who work to make the food we eat. This is where the gap between the consumer and the farmer begins—because we are not directly making or growing the food we eat—bread making is a prime example of this, and so I spent the weekend learning how to make bread. Here is my story and the lessons I learned along the way.cinrolls

Last week, I had a curious interest about bread making. It was interesting—earlier in the week my roommate and I were having a conversation about how much we love bread and then later on that night I was on Facebook and saw one of those quick food recipe videos—it was about making homemade bread.  It intrigued me just enough that the next day I was making my very own homemade bread.

I went to the store and got all the ingredients, and when I came back I instantly got started on the process. My favorite part of the bread making process was kneading the dough—it reminded me of kneading clay in pottery class—which is something that this process is very similar to. Kneading is an important step in the bread making process. Kneading activates the natural gluten in the wheat bread flour. Gluten is a protein that stretches; when we knead the dough, the gluten stretches and becomes more elastic. Then the yeast does its job in the process. The yeast in the bread releases carbon dioxide creating little air pockets. The air pockets are only possible because the gluten allows the bread to stretch instead of crumble and break apart. This results in a light, chewy, airy texture in the final product.

I think what shocked me the most was the amount of waiting time that went into bread making. After kneading, you must let the dough rise. Letting the dough rise gives the yeast time to metabolize some of the sugars in the flour and release carbon dioxide creating little air bubbles. Yeast is a fungus and is essential in leavened bread. The more active the yeast is, the more the bread will rise. Yeast is most active at room temperature or slightly warmer, but as the baking process starts it then kills the yeast. It takes quite a few hours to let the bread rise and even after that you must do that a couple of times to get the perfect outcome.

bitmoji- breadAs I reflected on the process, I realized that bread making, in its own unique way, is a form of art, and after going through the recipe I can begin to appreciate the process and the people who make bread on a daily basis. It’s an art in the way one kneads the dough, it’s an art in the type of bread made—bagels, dinner rolls, sourdough, rye, or whole wheat—it’s an art in how you let the dough rise, and its an art in how you shape the dough to be baked. A big part of the bread making process is a form of art that some have mastered perfectly.

As the weekend went on, I found myself really enjoying making bread and sharing it with others. After making two loafs of bread on Friday I went on to make homemade cinnamon rolls on Saturday and contemplated the process of croissants on Sunday—which is a blog for another day.

It seems crazy to think how something as simple as making bread can make us closer to our agricultural roots. But anything that takes a raw product, such as wheat and dairy, and then turns it in to something new, like bread, ice cream or yogurt, can connect us back to the industry that allows us to do this—agriculture. Now even though I enjoyed my time making bread and other bakery treats this weekend, I will probably still take the convenient route of going to the store and save making homemade bread for another time when I need to be reminded of how our food is grown.bread and me crop

Recipe for White Bread


1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast

2 ¼ cups warm water

3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon salt

2 tablespoons canola oil

6 ¼ cups all-purpose flour


 Step 1: In large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add sugar, salt, oil, and start with 3 cups of flour. Mix together and slowly add in the remaining flour to form a soft dough.

Step 2: Create a floured surface and knead dough until dough becomes smooth and elastic. Roughly knead for 5-10 minutes.

Step 3: Place in a greased bowl. Cover and let dough rise until it has doubled in size. Roughly 1.5-3 hours.

Step 4: After dough has doubled in size, punch down and divide dough in half. Shape the dough and place in a greased loaf pan. Cover and let rise again until doubled in size. Approximately 1 hour.

Step 5: Bake at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown.

Step 6: Let cool and Enjoy!


New Year, New Relationship: Food


The holidays are officially behind us and the new year ahead. As we come out of our festive coma, we look at the past year and reflect. We remember the good times, the bad times and everything we didn’t accomplish or did (you go-getter you!). We also remember the savory meals, the delectable desserts and satisfying sweets, and how many pounds we gained eating grandma’s fudge. We resolve to do things differently, the first being that we will never eat sweets again. Well, until we pass the nearest ice cream shop. (And then we will only get one scoop instead of two.) The second typical resolution usually revolves around body image; we are going to get thinner, be healthier, lose weight, eat better, go on a diet, etc. We start the new year, focusing on food, what we will eat, what we won’t, which foods are healthy, which aren’t, fatty or lean, and it goes on and on and on. With so many options it’s no wonder that when we decide to change ourselves we start with what nourishes our bodies.

78321160Our bodies are rather wonderful things. What a body does with food is astonishing – breaking down components (carbohydrates, proteins, fats) to usable amino acids and sugars. It’s amazing how our cells absorb those amino acids and simple sugars to make energy that keeps our bodies going. What we put into our bodies is really important, and that’s why we resolve to cut back on the ‘bad’ foods and increase the ‘good’ foods. But, which is which? If you have a piece of pizza with kale, chicken, light sauce, cheese, and fresh tomatoes is that bad? What about gluten-free spaghetti noodles with turkey sausage and a tomato 485913907sauce? Or, are canned fruits and veggies better for you than fresh? Or, are free-range organic eggs more nutritious than their non-organic caged counterparts? Talk about first world problems. But what does healthy really mean? ‘Healthy’ means to be in good health. ‘Health’ means “the condition of being well or free from disease”. So when you eat a single Twinkie as a treat, and don’t get sick, does that mean it’s healthy? Or you eat an entire bushel of fresh peaches and get the runs, does that mean it’s unhealthy?

452591071With access to more information and a plethora of sources to get information from, deciding what you eat has become something of a hassle. Throw in economic status and household income and diets can drastically differ between people who live in the same city. Celebrities influence diets, doctors suggest a different diets and many have decided to eat like Neanderthals (know the Croods anyone?). Instead of trying to figure out what’s ‘healthy’ what’s ‘unhealthy’ and which diet will help you lose the most pounds, we should be developing a healthy relationship with food and understand how it affects our body. Maybe there is no such thing as ‘bad’ food. You can eat a variety of foods, considered healthy or unhealthy as long as you understand what it will do to you and for you. Everything in moderation. Those who have a good relationship with their food understand the balance one needs when managing diet.

Here are some tips to improving your relationship with food:

  • Know the difference between a treat and eating the entire pan of brownies (Too much of a good thing can actually be a bad thing.)
  • Eat breakfast every single morning (This jump starts your metabolism and helps you burn calories throughout the day.)
  • Eat when you are hungry, but don’t over indulge (Listen to your body. If your stomach growls it means you are running on empty and need to refuel.)
  • Stop eating when you are full (Eat slower so you can better determine when you are full. You can also measure out portions. Tip: most portions should be smaller than you think.)
  • Eat in servings, don’t eat the ice cream straight from the container (Portion control is huge. Simple tricks like using a smaller bowl or plate can really help.)

475901949As we resolve to do better, be healthier and make this year the best it can be, don’t shy away from losing those pounds or eating better. Go out there, get active! Research your foods and decide what you feel is good for you. Go see a nutritionist. Get educated about your food and how it affects your body. Eat in moderation, but don’t forget to treat yourself occasionally. May this year be the year of food and smart eating.

– Rheba Yost is a guest blogger for IALF. She works in ag media and holds a degree in agriculture from Kansas State University.


Breaking up with Bread?

gluten-free-mintel-infographic-Gluten. Of all the health buzz words recently, gluten might take the cake. “Gluten free” marks the packaging of endless numbers of food products. Celebrities and celebrity doctors have warned of the effects of gluten and the risk of having celiac disease.

According to the Mayo Clinic, celiac disease is an immune reaction to eating gluten. For people with celiac disease, eating gluten can lead to small intestine damage and eventually prevent the absorption of other nutrients. According to the FDA, there is an estimated three million Americans with celiac disease (approximately 1% of Americans). While this is a very small percentage of people with a disease that keeps them from eating gluten, the gluten free buzz has taken off. The most famous debut of gluten came when Jimmy Kimmel featured gluten on his “Pedestrian Question” where he asked people near a popular Los Angeles work out spot “do you maintain a gluten free diet?” and “what is gluten?”. Kimmel featured four people who were definitively gluten free, but they could not define gluten. So, what is gluten?

GlutenGluten is a protein that occurs naturally in wheat, barley and rye. We use those grains to make foods like cereal, cake, breads, pasta, beer, pizza – just to name a few. Gluten is the protein that helps give the foods we love their shape and texture. Gluten is highly prized in the baking world because the protein helps give bread a slightly elastic texture. Expert bread makers will seek out wheat flour that has a higher gluten content if there is a specific type of bread that they want to make.

So, why the hype? And where do all of these gluten free foods come from?

whole-grains-rebel-dietitian-dana-mcdonald-RD1Wheat, barley and rye products can be processed to remove gluten and thus be labeled gluten free. Other grains like buckwheat, millet, oats, quinoa, rice and sorghum are naturally gluten free and can be labeled as such. And of course products that don’t contain any grains (meat, dairy, fruits, vegetables) don’t contain gluten either.

Speaking of labeling, is there any standard for labeling? Yes. In August of 2013, the FDA issued standards for labeling food products “gluten free.” FDA has set a gluten limit of less than 20 parts per million (ppm) for foods that carry the label “gluten-free,” “no gluten,” “free of gluten,” or “without gluten.” It is important to note that foods that have been processed to remove gluten and foods that naturally do not have gluten can be labeled gluten free. For example, a bottle of water can be labeled gluten free. Despite the good intent of product labeling to help the 1% of people with celiac disease and the 5% of people with gluten sensitivity, the gluten free label has more commonly been used by marketers to apply perceived health benefits to a product.

cereals_compWheat, barley and rye that carry gluten still do have many positive health benefits for people without celiac. We’ve all heard the term “whole grain” associated with good health and dietary balance and these grains are a perfect source. Fiber is also an important component for our diets and can be found in the grains that contain gluten. Whole grains can have between 6% and 18% of your recommended daily fiber per serving.

As with most things in life, moderation is key and education is paramount. If you think you have a gluten sensitivity, consult your doctor. But if you are one of the 95% or more who are unaffected, tuck into that bowl of pasta or grab another slice of pizza and enjoy. Now we are in the know. Bring it on Jimmy Kimmel.

Bread group

 – Laila Down is a guest blogger for IALF. In her career she has worked in crop protection sales and ag media. She is passionate about the agriculture industry and helping tell the story of our food, fiber and fuel.

4 Reasons To Care About Where Your Food Comes From

People today are becoming increasingly passionate about the food they eat and where it comes from. There are extreme examples of this everywhere.

Being passionate is a good thing! But, we live in a world of specialization in which we allow segments of the population to focus on one task (i.e. food production) so that the rest of us can be engaged in other pursuits. It is still important for all of us to understand food production and know where our food comes from.  Here are my top reasons you should care:

  1. blog-food_cycleKnowing where your food comes from bridges the gap between farm and fork. The United States has one of the world’s safest supply of food. But that food system relies entirely on trusting the people that were involved along the way. We have to trust the chef who prepares the food (if we aren’t eating at home). We have to trust the farmer who produced the food. We have to trust the grocery store who sold the food. And dare I say, we have to trust the corporations that might have been involved in processing or transporting that food. We have to trust that they have our safety as a top priority and that they care about the quality of the product that they are providing to us. At the end of the day they still need to make a profit and so we sometimes question their motives. But incredibly, each segment of the chain finds economies of scale and how to maintain the U.S. food supply as the cheapest in the world. As Americans become further removed from that process of farm to fork, that trust gap widens. So it is important for us all to know and understand the process that connects farmers to consumers.
  2. In the words of farmer and writer, Wendell Berry, “Every time you make a decision about food, you are farming by proxy.” We should care about what we are putting into our bodies. Health experts promote a varied diet that is balanced. We should be looking at ingredients lists. We should be concerned with our overall health and what is in our food. But, there is more than one way to crack an egg which means we should each be seeking out a diet and lifestyle that works for us as individuals. Organic might be a solution. Gluten-free might be a solution. Cage-free eggs might be a solution. But, none of those solutions should be implemented across the board as the silver bullet (gluten only affects less than 5% of the population). Only by being educated about the system and then understanding our own personal needs can we make informed decisions and farm by proxy.
  3. Anyone who has seen Food, Inc. might have a jaded view of agriculture. The media thrives on the hype of a food safety problem, the scandal of a corrupt corporation, and the fear of a newly discovered hazard. The negative of our food system gets far more air time than the positive. When was the last time you saw a news story covering the fact that more than 300 million Americans had three meals a day all produced by only 1% of that population? It isn’t news because it happens everyday. Movies like Farmland show the everyday farmers who are making the best possible decisions to put food on their tables and yours without the media sensation and hype. Is there room for improvement in agriculture production, yes. Do we still have a problem with food insecure people in America, yes. But the bottom line is that we are working hard to continually improve. Changing the system and production practices for the better.
  4. Food is a part of our culture AND a part of our economy. It is really hard to separate these in discussion because our culture is so emotionally driven. We want food to be safe and delicious. But, the economic discussion appeals to our logic. We want food to be affordable. Researchers utilize technology to address both of these issues and the conversation becomes murky. The safety of GMOs has been proven time and time again. But, fear of the unknown makes us continue to question them. Will we ever find the balance in the conversation?

We each play a part in this debate. And there are things that we each can do everyday.  Here are a few things that you and your family can put into action.

  • edible historyLearn about some of the history that created our modern food system. I recommend An Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage.
  • Meet a farmer.  Ask them why they do different things on their farm. It makes for a great family outing.
  • Tour an agribusiness or research company. They aren’t always open to the public for tours, but school groups and educational groups regularly take tours. Try to accompany one of them.
  • Buy things in season. This helps minimize transportation costs and can be healthier and more flavorful produce. Try this handy food miles calculator.
  • Take a cooking class and learn how to prepare more things at home.  This can be a lot of fun and you’ll have more ownership in what you eat.
  • Ask questions! The more you know, the better.


The Wildly Misunderstood Buzzwords of Agriculture

Food is important.  We have an intimate relationship with it at least three times a day.  But, going to the grocery store can be really confusing when you are trying to find healthy, delicious, nutritious and affordable ways to feed your family.

There are so many terms flying around that tout benefits or warn us of dangers.  Marketers have really muddied the waters of understanding and agriculture and food is not clear cut.

“To many consumers and some producers there are only two sides:  the organic/sustainable farms and the big agribusiness/corporations,” said Megan Brown.

“This false dichotomy that society has bought into has created problems.  Unfortunately, agriculture is not as simple as the buzzwords we use to describe it.  Organic doesn’t always equate to being more sustainable than conventional farming, and convention does not always equal mega corporation.  By reducing agriculture to buzzwords, we make an extremely complex and diverse industry appear simple—black and white—when there are actually thousands of shades of grey.”

There are many many many definitions and explanations of industry buzzwords.  Whether you are reading the latest news article online or walking down the aisle at the supermarket, here is our explanation and some of the terminology that you may be bombarded with.

applesGMOs or genetically modified organisms:  This refers to an organism (like plants and animals) that was modified or changed at the genetic level by altering its DNA.  This can and does happen naturally everyday with cross pollination of plants to promote more desirable traits or by breeding two animals together to produce offspring that are superior to either parent.  We have come to use the term to describe human involvement in the process of selecting those desired traits.  Because natural reproduction combines hundreds or thousands of genes there are still a lot of variables.  When we focus on ensuring a single trait in an offspring is dominant we rely on science to help isolate the gene in a laboratory setting.  Genes can be inserted from one plant or animal cell to another.  This is called genetic engineering and has resulted in many positive breakthroughs that have advanced food production.   The opposite of GMOs or genetically engineered foods would be those heirloom varieties of produce or wild species of plants, cattle, pigs or sheep.

Genetic engineering: When researchers and scientists make changes to the genes of a plant or animal to produce a desired result.  The opposite of genetic engineering could be considered natural selection.  See GMOs.

Heirloom: Refers to old varieties of plants that are still available because individuals have continued to grow them for many years.  This might typically mean that these plants haven’t been crossbred.  The opposite of heirloom varieties would be genetically modified varieties.

Organic: Generically the term organic refers to living things.  But, in food production we more commonly use the word to designate food that has been grown or made without the use of artificial or synthetic chemicals.  Many chemicals are made from plant based materials or naturally occurring minerals and so now many pesticides are considered to be organic.  Organic doesn’t mean that the crop wasn’t treated.  The USDA classification of organic includes the exclusion of GMO traits – specifically those that were engineered in a laboratory setting.  The opposite of organic is artificial or synthetic pesticides or chemicals.

Natural: USDA defines natural products as those being free of artificial ingredients, coloring ingredients, or chemical preservatives and minimally processed.  Products can be labeled as being made with all-natural ingredients provided a portion of the ingredients are natural, but not all ingredients have to be all-natural to earn that label.

breadGluten:  Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.  Gluten is essential for the process of making bread and it is that protein that gives bread its texture and elasticity.  Breads and grains have long been a staple of human diets and continue to be an excellent source of energy.  A small percent of the population (between 1% and 2%) has celiac disease which is an intolerance to gluten.  Another small percentage (maybe up to 5%) have a wheat allergy or gluten sensitivity.  Grains that are gluten free include oats, millet, quinoa, rice, corn, sorghum, and buckwheat.

Biotechnology: The science of modifying living organism according to human purposes – genetic engineering. This technology has led the way toward vast improvements in crop production and efficiencies that offer multiple benefits including: higher crop yields, drought tolerant plants, increases in nutritional values, improved taste/appearance and the decreased need for inputs.

Pesticides: Also referred to as crop protection chemicals, pesticides include a number of different chemicals that we put on our crops.  Herbicides control and manage weed and plant species.  Insecticides control problem insect species. Fungicides manage fungus species that are detrimental to plant crops.  Pesticides can be both organic and artificial.  Pesticides help increase crop yields by reducing the amount of the crop that is damaged by these pests (weeds, insects, fungi).

Local:  In most instances people refer to local food as that food being grown in their own state or within a 100 to 150 mile radius of their city.  But, local is relative.  Local varies by product.  Local varies by location.  Buying local is great to support the local economy, but it doesn’t really mean anything about the quality of the product. Buying local may help reduce transportation costs and/or carbon emissions from transportation.  But, many food items have to be imported from international destinations. We don’t have the right climate to grow bananas in the U.S. and have to import them.  Because the U.S. only has a three to five month growing season many other fresh fruits and vegetables need to be imported in during the wither months.

Precision Agriculture: Precision agriculture is the use of Global Positioning System (GPS) in agricultural equipment to allow for more precise planting and application of chemicals. With advances in GPS, tractors can drive themselves to plant, furrow/cultivate and even harvest. Variable rate technology allows for different segments of the field to receive different levels of chemicals to be applied based on the nutrient level in the soil or other affecting factors.

sustainableSustainable Agriculture: Preservation of resources through improved farm efficiencies. Some sustainable practices include: long-term crop rotations, returns to natural flooding cycles to replenish lost nutrients, low or no-tillage cultivation, modified irrigation systems vs. flood irrigation, and natural fertilizers.  Long term goals of sustainable farming might include: satisfying human food needs, enhancing environmental quality and the present natural resources, efficient use of nonrenewable resources, sustaining the economic viability of farm operations, and enhancing the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.  Many proponents of sustainable agriculture define it as practices that only promote the long term sustainability of the environment when in fact economic factors (costs) and societal factors (feeding a growing population) also need to be taken into consideration.

No-Till Agriculture: If tilling is the agricultural preparation of soil via digging, stirring, overturning, etc.; then no-till agriculture is the farming practice that does not break the soil, opting instead to seed directly on top of the soil. Where tilling helps to loosen and aerate the top layer of soil, facilitating crop planting, it can also cause nutrient loss and erosion, exacerbate fertilizer and chemical runoff, and reduce helpful organic matter within the soil. No-till practices help maintain carbon within the soil (as opposed to in the atmosphere) and increase the amount of water and organic matter in the land. Though no-till does reduces chemical runoff, tillage does destroy weeds and so many no-till-practicing farmers apply herbicides to control those weeds. Other terms for no-till farming include zero tillage, direct planting, and pasture cropping.

Conventional farming: Conventional farming describes any farming not dedicated to alternative methods and makes use of chemical plant protectants and chemical fertilizers to increase production yields. Convention farming works to maintain a controlled and uniform environment.  Alternatives to convention farming are organic or biodynamic.

Biodynamic farming: is a method of organic farming that emphasizes the holistic and natural development and treatment of soil, plants, and animals. Biodynamics relies on specific practices that guide the natural decomposition process without the use of outside materials. Farmers using this method think in terms of processes and forces, as opposed to substances and products.

These buzzwords are everywhere; your farmer’s market, grocery store, on packaging, and in the news.  If where your food comes from is important to you, you should have a good general understanding of farming practices and policies in the U.S.

So, did we get it right?  How do you use and define these terms?

Look for future definitions and explanations as we’ll focus on the food animal production in upcoming posts.