What’s Cookin’? Hearty Breakfast Quiche

I’m sure most people would agree the year 2020 has sure been a doozy! Normally leading up to August, our staff gets excited for all the fun agricultural events we get to host at the Iowa State Fair. We love nothing more than getting people excited to learn how agriculture impacts our every day life. This year, all of that changed since we couldn’t meet Iowans in person to talk about agriculture. Instead, our staff came up with several virtual ideas that we could use on social media to engage with Iowans about our favorite topic – agriculture!

One of our annual events at the Iowa State Fair is a cooking contest where we invite participants to enter their favorite recipes using Iowa’s four largest agriculture commodities. This year, we decided to expand the contest to include several Iowa commodities or by-products: corn, soybeans, pork, eggs, beef, and/or turkey. We launched the Great Agriculture Cook-Off, timed when the Iowa State Fair would normally be held. Iowa commodity experts and Agriculture in the Classroom volunteers judged the best dish. Since we were doing this virtually this year, the judges cooked, tasted, and rated the recipes all individually.

Holly Houg (Urbandale, Iowa) won first place with her Hearty Breakfast Quiche with a Hash Brown Crust. Before I share the winning recipe, here’s the agriculture story behind the ingredients.


Butter is a dairy product made from the fat and protein components of milk or cream. It is most frequently made from cow’s milk, but it can also be made from animals like sheep and goat. Butter has a rich history. It can be traced clear back to the ancient Romans who used it as a beauty cream and to treat burns. Back then, people made butter by shaking milk in bags of animal skin. Today, we use modern technology to make our butter. After milk is gathered from dairy farms, large tanker trucks of raw milk deliver the milk to a processor. The milk is pumped into a separator to remove the fat from the liquid. Fat is called buttercream and the rest is skim milk. Buttercream is put into a tank where mixers stir it. After pasteurizing for 24 hours, workers put it into a churner. The churner spins as fast as a clothes dryer. After a period of churning and a few other steps, the result is butter. Watch our video on how you can make your own butter at home.


Iowa is the number one egg producing state in the country. Nearly 55 million laying hens produce 16 billion eggs a year in Iowa. In the United States, there are roughly 340 million laying birds, and each produces an average of 294 eggs per year. You can learn more about eggs in our previous blog post: Ag 101: Eggs.


Most cheese is made in factories but it all starts in one of several places – a type of animal that produces milk such as dairy cows, goats or sheep. In some parts of the world, even buffalo, camel, and donkeys are milked for cheese production. There are many different types of cheese – bleu cheese, cheddar, swiss, and Gruyere, among others. Milk first goes through a filter where more fat or cream might be added to ensure consistency. After that it is pasteurized, and good bacteria are added to the milk. The milk then begins to ferment the lactose, milk’s natural sugar, into lactic acid. This process will help determine the cheese’s flavor and texture. A few more ingredients are added such as rennet. Once it starts to gel, the cheesemakers cut it, which allows the whey to come out. It goes through several more processes until it becomes the cheese that you see in the store! Learn more about how cheese is made from the U.S. Dairy Association.   


Bacon comes from the side and belly of the pig. Iowa is the number one pork producing state in the U.S., and the top state for pork exports. According to the Iowa Pork Producers Association, nearly one-third of the nation’s hogs are raised in Iowa. At any one time, there are approximately 22 million pigs being raised in Iowa.


Cattle are raised on grass for much of their life and then fed with corn, soybeans, silage, and other feed components to finish them out. More than 97 percent of beef cattle farms and ranches are classified as family farms. Ground beef, used in the recipe below, comes from the less tender and less popular cuts of beef.

Hearty Breakfast Quiche with a Hash Brown Crust

For the Hash Brown Crust:
24 oz. pkg. shredded hash browns, thawed and squeezed dry
4 Tablespoons butter, melted, divided
1 egg
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

For the Quiche:
1 T. olive oil
1/4 cup red pepper, diced
1/4 cup green pepper, diced
1/4 cup onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 large eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups Gruyere cheese
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
1 10 oz. pkg. baby spinach
5 slices bacon
1/2 lb. ground beef, cooked and crumbled
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese

For the Hash Brown Crust:
1. Brush a 9-by-2 1/2-inch springform pan with 2 T. melted butter. Line the sides and bottom of the pan with strips of parchment paper, brush paper with butter too. Be generous on the bottom of the pan so the potatoes don’t stick.

2. Squeeze as much excess moisture from hash browns as you can. The hash browns should be as dry as possible so the crust will get crispy.

3. Combine the hash browns, 2 T. melted butter, egg and spices in a bowl. Put them in the pan pushing them up the sides.

4. Cook in a preheated oven at 400 for 20-30 minutes or until the hash browns start to crisp up.

For the Quiche:
1. In a large pan, cook the bacon until crisp. Keep the bacon drippings in the pan.

2. Over low/medium heat, sauté the onions, pepper and garlic in the bacon drippings for 8-10 minutes or until soft and translucent. Add the spinach and cook another few minutes over low heat until wilted. Set aside to cool.

3. In a bowl, combine the eggs, milk, cream, salt, pepper, cheeses, red pepper flakes, crumbled bacon & ground beef.

4. Add the cooled veggies and stir to combine. Pour into the hash brown crust.

5. Reduce the heat to 350 and bake for 45 minutes.

6. Remove from oven and sprinkle with Pecorino Romano cheese. Let cool for 10 minutes before removing the collar and base.

Second and Third Place Winners

Marcia Kreutner (Center Point, Iowa) placed second with her Turkey Cashew Casserole, and Holly Houg also placed third as well with her Spicy Sausage Wraps recipe. Holly’s Hearty Quiche also won Fan Favorite in our Facebook competition. This year we added a twist requiring each participant to include an agriculture fact for each agriculture ingredient.

Do you want to participate in the Iowa’s Big Four Cooking Contest next year at the Iowa State Fair? Follow our Facebook and Twitter pages for details next June.


Butter and Cheese and Ice Cream – Oh my!

Did you know that June is Dairy Month? To celebrate the first day of June, Colorful 90s Themed Party Photo Collagewe are going to honor some true fan favorites in the dairy industry and explain how they get from the farm to your fridge. We will cover products made from cow milk, but technically dairy can come from any mammal (sheep, goats and others)!


This list of dairy products wouldn’t be complete without the originator of all other dairy products. Your mother probably told you to drink milk when you were younger to make your bones grow stronger, and she was right! Milk serves as a great source of calcium, which helps with bone and tooth strength. Milk has other excellent components too. It provides eight grams of high-quality protein per serving (8 oz) and important parts of a person’s diet, like vitamins B, B12 and A, along with phosphorous and potassium.

We know that most milk comes from cows, but it doesn’t come straight out of the milking machine into the gallon jugs that we buy at the grocery store. The process that milk goes through from the dairy cow to your glass is a multi-step, highly regulated and careful set of operations to ensure that the consumer gets the best product for their money.

First, a dairy cow is milked on a farm. She produces about 8.5 gallons of milk every day. That milk is cooled from her body temperature to around 40 degrees and then is transported off of the farm by a truck. Before transport, the milk is sampled and is tested before it can be processed. The tests look for taste, look and temperature, but the milk is also tested in a lab for bacteria count, presence of antibiotics, and other quality factors. After that, the milk goes through a separator to separate the milk fat from the rest of the milk. The milk is then separated into the different types that we buy in the grocery store, like reduced fat and skim. Vitamins A and D are added at this point in the processing to increase nutritional content.

Next comes pasteurization and homogenization. Pasteurization is the fast heating of milk to kill bacteria in the milk. Homogenization is the spreading of milk fat throughout the milk so that the cream doesn’t rise to the top. Then the milk is packaged and sent out to stores to be consumed by you! Milk usually takes around 48 hours to get from the dairy farm to your table.


If you’ve been baking bread like nearly everyone has during quarantine, you may have purchased some butter to spread on your sourdough, banana bread, or cinnamon twist loaf. Butter is high in calories and fat, and it provides some vitamins, like A and E.


Photo from Healthline

Making butter is a centuries-old practice that dates back to when humans first domesticated animals. It can be made at home, but butter is mostly made in factories using the fat from milk.

When milk goes into the separator, it separates milk fat and the remaining liquid milk. That milk fat is collected and turned into other products, like butter. The milk fat is called butter cream, and it is pasteurized and then churned into butter. During churning, the butter cream’s particles are combined and clump into butter, discarding a liquid called butter milk. The butter is churned for about an hour, and it is during this time that flavoring and other add-ins, like salt is added. The butter is then packaged and sent out to stores for you to purchase.

Ice Cream

You scream for it, I scream for it, we all scream for it- ice cream! A beloved summertime favorite, this frozen treat can also be made at home, (and in the classroom- here’s a lesson plan) but we’re going to look at the processing that happens on a large scale in an ice cream factory.

ice cream

Photo from Serious Eats

Ice cream is composed of three different dairy products: milk, cream, and buttermilk. Other ingredients include: sugar, flavoring and add-ins, additives for processing ease, air to keep the ice cream light, and sometimes eggs. The dairy products are homogenized and pasteurized, and then the ingredients, except for the final add-ins, are whipped together in a tube that freezes the ingredients as it stirs the mixture, while blowing air into the mixture to keep it light and fluffy. After that, the add-ins, like cookie dough, birthday cake or brownie bites are mixed in and the whole mixture is packaged, frozen, and delivered to a store near you.


Greek, low-fat, frozen, in a tube––yogurt comes in many forms. Some types, like low-fat yogurt, are a healthy source of protein and calcium. Yogurt can also contain probiotics, which can increase gut health.

Making yogurt is an interesting process. It starts with milk, but may include other dairy


Photo from Serious Eats

ingredients, like milk fat and solid, dry milk in order to achieve the solid and fat content. Ingredients that can also be added at the first step include stabilizers, sweeteners, and some flavorings. The milk is pasteurized, homogenized and cooled, and after that, the cultures are added. The main cultures are Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. These cultures interact with the lactose in milk to produce lactic acid, which causes the yogurt to ferment and create the creamy texture. The yogurt sits until the pH level reaches 4.5, and then is cooled to stop fermentation. The mix-ins, like berries, are then added into the yogurt, or are put at the bottom of the packaging to be mixed in by the consumer, and the yogurt is sent out to stores.


Cheese comes in many different forms and types, but nearly everyone has at least one type they enjoy. So whether it’s melted cheddar in your cartoon-character mac and cheese, shredded Parmesan sprinkled on a pasta dish or a chunk of brie surrounded by olives and curated meats on a charcuterie board, this dairy product finds a way to work its way into nearly every meal.

Making cheese starts with milk, like every product on this list. However, with different

cheese cheese cheese

Photo from Mid-West Farm Report

types of cheese, the order, steps and time vary to create a great variety of cheeses. For cheese made from pasteurized milk, the milk is first standardized and pasteurized or heat treated. Then it is set to 90 degrees Fahrenheit to allow for optimal bacteria growth. Next,  starter cultures, called lactic acid bacteria are added, along with non-starter bacteria and given time to begin the fermentation process. Then an enzyme called rennet is added to curdle the milk. At that point, the cheese forms a solid and it is cut and heated to allow the whey to drain from the solid cheese. The curd, which is what’s left after the whey is drained, is periodically flipped and piled to form a tightly knit lump. Next, the cheese may have another step to go through depending on the variety. For example, mozzarella and Gouda cheese are both put into a salt water solution. After that process, the cheese is cut into the correctly sized blocks and is aged. Aging varies based on type of cheese, but can take months or even years! Then the cheese is packaged and ready to be included in your favorite soup, salad, potato or pasta dish, appetizer, with crackers, or even just straight out of the package!

So the next time you enjoy a dairy product, remember the people who work hard to get an extremely highly regulated product from the dairy cow to your table. The process varies greatly from product to product. Why not go out and purchase your favorite dairy product to help support dairy farmers and product manufacturers in honor of Dairy Month?


What’s Cookin’? – Corn Custard brûlée

The second of our annual cooking demonstrations in the Elwell Family Food building at the Iowa State Fair featured an unusual dish. This recipe was adapted from a recipe that was originally submitted as part of the Iowa’s Big Four Cooking competition at the 2018 Iowa State Fair. The original recipe was submitted by Sharon Gates of Des Moines and won 2nd prize in the sweet division of that contest. We’ve made some slight modifications from the original. But first, where do all of the ingredients come from? Here is the farm-to-fork story.

Bacon:  This tasty pork product comes from the side and belly of the pig. Pork bellies are cured in a salt brine and flavorings to provide the rich taste. The curing process evolved before refrigeration as a way of preserving the meat. Iowa is the number one producer of pork in the U.S. Companies like Farmland Foods and JBS Swift have meat packing plants in Iowa and employ hundreds of Iowans.

Sugar: 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.

Corn syrup: Corn syrup comes from field corn. Field corn is harvested after it is dried in the field. The corn kernels can then be ground up and the starches removed. Using enzymes, the starches can be converted into a mix of fructose and sucrose sugars – or corn syrup. Field corn can be used for a variety of human foods (everything from corn meal in tortilla chips to the corn syrup in ketchup), but it can also be used to feed livestock or turned into ethanol as fuel for vehicles

Sweet Corn: Although Iowa farmers do raise some of the best-tasting sweet corn in the country, less than 1% of the corn in our state is sweet corn. Although one is considered a vegetable and the other a grain, sweet corn and field corn are close relatives. Sweet corn is a naturally occurring genetic mutation of field corn. The sweet corn plant is shorter, matures faster, and its kernels have a higher sugar content.

Milk:  Milk or heavy cream 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.

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.

Pepper:  Black pepper comes from the fruit of a pepper plant species which grows in hot and humid tropical climates. The unripe dried fruit, called peppercorns, are ground into the spice we call pepper. Pepper was one of the spices that early explores traded because of its high value. It came from the spice islands of southeast Asia which also were known for nutmeg, mace and cloves.

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

Chipotle powder: Chipotle powder is the dried and crushed Chipotle pepper fruit.


  • 1/2 Cup Bacon Chopped
  • 2T Brown Sugar
  • 1T Light Corn Syrup
  • 1 Cup Fresh Sweet Corn
  • 3/4 Cup Heavy Cream
  • 1/4 Cup Whole Milk
  • 6T White Sugar
  • 3 Egg Yolks
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/2 T Salt
  • 1/4 T Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 1/8 T Chipotle Chile Morita Powder


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Stir together bacon, brown sugar and corn syrup. Spread onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven. Set aside to cool.
  3. Combine ¾ cup sweet corn, whole milk, 3T white sugar, egg yolks, egg, salt, pepper, and chipotle powder sugar into blender and liquify all. Add heavy cream pulse blender to incorporate.
  4. Pour through a fine mesh strainer. Mix in ¼ cup of sweet corn. Pour liquid mixture into ramekins that have been sprayed with non-stick spray.
  5. Place ramekin in a baking dish on the middle rack of oven.
  6. Carefully pour boiling water into the baking dish to halfway up the outside of the ramekins. Bake 30-45 minutes or until the center of the custard registers an internal temperature of 170°F. Cooking time will vary based on the size of the ramekins used. Remove from oven and let cool.
  7. Just before serving, sprinkle a layer of sugar over the top of each custard and brûlée with a torch. Garnish with candied bacon.



Say What? Common Myths in Agriculture

Spend any time around farmers’ markets, school activities, fairs, and other similar events and you’re likely to hear agriculture ‘facts’ from adults and children alike that can make you scratch your head. Iowa is one of the leading agriculture states, so you’d think most of us have had our fair share of time on a farm or around others who have a farm. But I think you’d still be surprised to hear some of the misconceptions in agriculture.

A recent family outing to a local farm over the Easter weekend was one such event. This local farm offers many activities for families throughout the year – a pumpkin patch, Easter egg hunt, and a cut-your-own-Christmas-tree experience, among others. They have farm animals you can feed, ponies to ride, a corn pit, massive hay bales to climb, and a huge mud kitchen as well as several other activities. One of my daughters’ favorite activities is feeding the goats. While my daughters were feeding the goats, I overheard another child ask their parent why the farm only had boy goats (since they all had horns). The parent responded that it was kind of strange that there were only boy goats.

It got me thinking…what other misconceptions do children and adults have regarding agriculture topics?

Misconception 1: Only male goats have horns
Despite the misconception that only male animals can have horns, some female animals such as goats can have horns. The horns of a male (buck) goat are typically much thicker and longer than the female (doe). Animals with horns typically use their horns to defend themselves from predators or members of their own species, and for dominance.


Misconception 2: Cotton is from sheep
The fluffiness of cotton can cause some people to think it comes from sheep. Cotton actually comes from a plant and is one of the planet’s most widely-used natural fibers. Cotton has been cultivated and used to make fabrics for at least 7,000 years.

Cotton plants
Cotton is native to the Americas, Africa, and India. The plant requires a warm, dry climate with lots of sunshine. In the U.S., these growing conditions limit cotton cotton1production to the southern U.S. region. According to the National Cotton Council of America, 98 percent of the U.S. cotton is grown in 14 states (Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas).

Cotton takes about five months to grow from a planted seed to a ripe plant ready for harvest. Cotton plants grow into green, bushy shrubs about three feet in height. The plants grow pink and cream-colored flowers. Once these flowers are pollinated, they drop off and are replaced with cotton bolls. Inside each cotton boll is fluffy white lint as well as the cotton seeds. The cotton must be removed from the seeds before it can be made into items such as clothes.

Cotton harvest
Clear into the 1950s, cotton was picked by hand and the seeds were removed by hand which were both labor-intensive activities. As early as 1793 though, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, a machine that was able to extract the seeds from cotton bolls.

Cotton Gin eli whitney

Image Source: Wikipedia

Today, cotton is entirely machine harvested.

John Deere cotton

Image Source: John Deere

Some of today’s high-capacity gins can turn out as much as 30,000 pounds of clean, cotton fiber in one hour. This video shows how cotton is grown and harvested.

Cotton uses
While you may think cotton is only used in materials such as clothes, cotton is also used in many items we consume. The oil from the cotton seed is extracted and used in products such as potato chips and crackers as well as beauty products. Cotton seed is also sold as livestock feed for animals such as dairy cows.

Educational resources
IALF has several lesson plans devoted to cotton. Check out our King Cotton Lesson Plans for 3-5 grade, 6-8 grade, and 9-12 grade. We also have several books in our Lending Library such as Where Did My Clothes Come From and In the Garden with Dr. Carver. These are available to check out for free.

To get back to our original question does cotton come from sheep? No, sheep produce wool. You can learn more about wool in one of our previous blog posts.

Did you know? John Deere’s Des Moines Works production plant is one of the locations that build John Deere cotton pickers.

Misconceptions 3, 4, 5 & 6: Milk is…
More than 47 billion pounds of milk was sold in the U.S. in 2018. Despite this large number, many people still have quite a few misconceptions on where milk is from and how it’s produced. The American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture asked recently what common questions agriculture education professionals hear about various topics. The topic of milk came up and some of the questions show us there is definitely confusion of where your milk comes from. Examples of these questions include:

  • Beef cows make the milk I drink from the store.
  • Chocolate milk comes from brown cows.
  • Milk is cow urine.
  • (When viewing a dairy cow with an udder) – Is that a bull?

Milk comes from dairy cows, not beef cows. dairy_cow2A dairy cow is bred to have a calf so they can continue to produce milk. Once the calf is weaned, the mother continues to lactate for another 10-12 months. This is the milk collected for human consumption. The key to a good milk output is a good diet. Dairy cows eat 45 kilograms of feed (a mix of hay, grass, and grains) and supplements with minerals. On a hot day, one dairy cow can drink the equivalent of a bathtub of water. This YouTube video, Milk – How It’s Made, gives you a peek inside milk production. And, no brown cows don’t make chocolate milk.

Educational resources
Dairy is a popular agriculture education topic as it’s easy for children to relate to. Who doesn’t love a glass of milk or a piece of cheese? IALF has more than a dozen books in our Lending Library on the topic of dairy. We also have several free lesson plans on milk and cows.

Did you know? Iowa is the 12th largest milk-producing state in the U.S. There are approximately 1,360 licensed dairy herds in Iowa. Source: Midwest Dairy Association

Misconception 7, 8 & 9: Eggs are a dairy product
In the past, families had their own cows, chickens and other animals to produce their family’s food. As modern agriculture progressed, more people were able to leave the farm life behind and move into cities in search of their fortunes. However, this move of people away from the farm has led to an increasing lack of knowledge of where our food comes from. This is even true for something as simple as eggs. When asking both young and old, there are quite a few misconceptions of eggs.

Eggs are a dairy product.

You need a rooster for a hen to lay eggs.

Brown eggs are from farms, white eggs are from the store.

Let’s break down each of these misconceptions.

  1. Eggs are a dairy product – While eggs may be shelved in the dairy section of your grocery store, eggs are definitely not a dairy product. The definition of dairy includes foods produced from the milk of mammals such as cows and goats. Eggs come from poultry, and in the grocery store that means mainly chickens.
  1. You need a rooster for a hen to lay eggs – Unless you want fertilized eggs, you don’t need a rooster (male chicken) for hens (female chickens) to lay eggs. A hen will produce an egg once every 24 to 27 hours and it will form the egg regardless of whether the egg is actively fertilized during its formation. Learn more about how a hen produces an egg. 
  1. Brown eggs are from farms, white eggs are from the store. Nowadays, both brown and white eggs are available from the store. Egg color is determined by the genetics of the hens, according to the Michigan State University Extension. White-feathered chickens with white ear lobes lay white eggs. Red or brown-feathered chickens with red ear lobes lay brown eggs.


    Hens on farm

    Different regions of the country have a variety of preferences in shell color. White eggs are the most common in most places except the New England states. Those states prefer brown eggs. No matter the shell color, nutritionally there is no difference. Eggs are among the highest quality protein source you can get and is a crucial ingredient in many recipes.

Did you know? Iowa is the number one egg producing state in the United States. Iowa farmers are responsible for about 1 in 5 eggs consumed in the U.S. each year. Iowa’s economy benefits from the egg industry as well as contributing to more than $2 billion in total sales and more than 8,000 jobs. Learn more about Iowa’s egg industry.

Educational resources
IALF has quite a few educational resources related to eggs and poultry in our Lending Library as well as free lesson plans. Search our Lending Library and lesson plan sections for terms such as ‘eggs’ and ‘chicken.’ We’ve also written several posts on our blog regarding eggs and chickens.

What are some common misconceptions you’ve heard or have about the agriculture industry?




Vo-COW-bulary: Dairy Breeds Edition

A little while ago we posted this blog explaining some basics of a few breeds of beef cattle. If you remember, we specified that some breeds are better at producing muscle (beef breeds), whereas other breeds are better at producing milk (dairy breeds). That is not to say, however, that dairy cattle are not a part of the beef system! We know that only females that have given birth can produce milk, so the males of dairy breeds are often raised as market steers to be used for their meat once they reach maturity. When a dairy cow has aged and should no longer be used for milk production, she will also be used for meat; primarily in processed products like soup, ground beef, and similar products.

Today, we will focus in on our dairy breeds and discuss what differentiates each of them.


Dairy Breeds

You may remember that there are quite a few beef breeds in the world. However, there are really only about six popular dairy breeds of cattle. Each of them have different colorings, size, milk fat percentage, milk protein, and milk production.



Holstein cattle on an Iowa dairy farm

Holstein cattle are the big, black and white spotted cattle you see represented in kid’s books and movies most often. However, there are also red and white Holsteins, and those may be noted as a separate breed. These cattle are the most popular dairy breed because they are milk machines!

Holstein cattle originated in the Netherlands about 2,000 years ago! These cattle are huge (about 58” tall at the shoulder) and are known for being one of the largest cattle breeds. They also produce more milk than any other breed of cattle. They can adapt to different diets or management systems, and perform well in multiple environments. One Holstein cow can produce up to 10 gallons of milk every day! Can you imagine all that milk?

Compared to other breeds, Holsteins have lower butterfat and protein content. If this is a concern for a producer, they might choose to crossbreed Jerseys (another common dairy breed with a higher milk protein content) with Holsteins to produce what is sometimes called a “HoJo.” HoJos can produce lots of milk with a higher protein content.



Jersey cattle. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Compared to Holsteins, Jersey cattle are much smaller. This breed is usually a light brown color with a darker face, hooves, nose, and tail. Some Jerseys are a bit darker, almost a grey or dull black, which is called Mulberry.

Jersey cattle probably originated from the coast of France, though nobody really knows for sure. These animals have been shipped worldwide for hundreds of years and experienced a lot of popularity from the 1860s until WWI. They get their name from the Isle of Jersey which is situated in the English Channel just off the coast of France. Today, the breed is the second largest dairy breed in the world. Milk from Jersey cows has superior nutritional value and protein content, which demands a premium price at market, and yields more product when being processed into cheese. Their milk is also high in calcium and butterfat.

Brown Swiss


Brown Swiss cattle, Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay. https://pixabay.com/photos/cows-cattle-farm-rural-agriculture-2641195/

Sometimes also referred to as Braunvieh, Brown Swiss cattle are prolific, docile, and dark brown to silver in color. This breed is likely the oldest dairy breed, originating in Switzerland at least 1000 years ago. Because of the rugged landscape and harsh climate of Switzerland, these cattle can deal well with these tougher conditions.

Brown Swiss cattle have a high protein-to-fat ratio, making their milk excellent for cheese production. We can’t complain about that!



Little Sark – Guernsey Cattle, © Colin Smith and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons License. http://www.geograph.org.gg/photo/1719


Guernsey cattle are sometimes called “Golden Guernsey” because of the color of their milk. Their milk is rich and golden because of its high levels of beta carotene, the stuff that’s in carrots that we can form Vitamin A from.

Guernsey cattle hail from the Isle of Guernsey just off the coast of France. They are another spotted cattle breed, but instead of white with black spots, they are white with reddish-brown spots or patches. They are a smaller sized animal (comparable to the size of a Jersey) are said to be efficient feed converters by eating 20 to 30% less feed per pound of milk than larger breeds of cattle.



A prize winning Ayrshire cow at the Romsey show 2005. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Ayrshire cattle are medium-sized animals (1,200 lbs at maturity), strong, and adaptable. These cattle are another spotted breed, with white and red patches. Historically, these patches could look more brindle or roan, but these patterns are rare in the breed today.

Ayrshire cattle originate from the County of Ayr in Scotland in the early 1800s. Though they are not the most popular breed in the U.S. currently, their adaptability makes them a popular breed in many other countries, including South Africa and Russia.

Milking Shorthorn


Dairy Shorthorn cow at Tullamore Show, County Offaly, Ireland, 2012. Licensed by Finnegas under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

Milking Shorthorn (sometimes called Dairy Shorthorn) cattle are an offshoot from the beef breed of Shorthorn cattle. Because of this tie, Milking Shorthorns are considered a “dual purpose” breed capable of producing both milk and meat.

Milking Shorthorns, as well as their beef counterpart, are known for their beautiful red and white roan coats. They originated from Great Britain, and their milk has a high protein-to-fat ratio.


Internationally, there are many other breeds of dairy cattle. Montbeliarde and Swedish Red have begun to make an appearance in crossbreeding systems here in the United States. Others like Normande, Milking Devon, or Friesian are raised for dairy, as well.

Historically, more dairy cattle producers have preferred to keep purebred lines instead of crossbreeding. This has recently changed, and producers in the dairy industry are experimenting more with dairy breed crosses. When crossing breeds of livestock, the progeny (offspring) can contain beneficial traits from both or multiple breeds. This can look like the Holstein and Jersey cross mentioned above where the offspring may produce more milk than a pure Jersey but with more protein than a pure Holstein.

Crossbred livestock also exhibit something called heterosis (also called hybrid vigor). This phenomenon essentially causes the first generation of the cross to grow larger, faster, and produce more milk or meat than the genetics of either parent would suggest. This phenomenon is common across all organisms and was responsible for a crop yield boom in the 1940s.

To ensure the future of their herd, dairy producers look for cattle that are healthy, structurally sound, and have a history of calving easily. Dairy cattle are also measured by their milk production. Producers measure this by pounds of milk (there are 8.6 pounds to a gallon of milk) per lactation (305 days). The USDA reported that in 2018 milk production per cow in the United States was just over 23,000 pounds (over 2,600 gallons) in 305 days. That’s almost nine gallons of milk every day of their lactation!

Farmers also measure percent protein and butterfat content of the milk produced. This varies from breed to breed, herd to herd, and animal to animal. However, most breeds have about 3.5-4.5% fat content and 3-4% protein content. The content of fat and protein can impact what the milk is best used for and can impact the price given to the farmer.

What else would you like to learn about dairy production? Let us know in the comments!



Why Do They Do That? – Hormones

We recently had a Facebook post go viral! Well, not viral by standard definitions, but pretty good for us! At last count it was up to more than 17,000 engagements and more than 226,000 people reached. It was one of a regular series we post once a week hash-tagged #FridayFarmFact. It featured turkeys and as we were going into the Thanksgiving season it peaked a lot of interest. Here it is:

It could be that it went viral because it is such an interesting picture. Who doesn’t love seeing a bunch of turkeys just hanging out doing turkey stuff?

Or it could be that it went viral because there is still a lot of confusion about hormone use in production agriculture. Let’s assume it is the latter and let’s try to clear some things up. Do farmers use hormones when raising animals? And if so, why do they do that?

There are three things that often get lumped together in conversation but are actually very different and are often confused – hormones, antibiotics, and vaccines. We’ve discussed antibiotics and vaccines before. As a refresher, antibiotics are typically used to treat bacterial infections AFTER an animal like a pig or a human have gotten sick. Vaccines use a dead or modified virus to stimulate the body’s natural defenses against infection without causing the illness itself BEFORE getting sick. Hormones on the other hand are chemical messengers in the body. They are produced naturally in the endocrine gland and travel through the bloodstream. They control most major bodily functions – everything from hunger to reproduction to temperament. 

Hormones are produced naturally in all animals. Just like hormones regulate your bodily functions, they regulate bodily functions in animals such as livestock. So the meat, eggs, and milk that we get from livestock will have naturally occurring hormones in them. Any food label that reads “hormone-free” is simply not true. But some labels read “No Added Hormones.” For beef cattle and dairy cattle, farmers have found many positive benefits in including hormones in their management plan. Depending on the hormone, they can be given to the animals as a feed additive, a topical solution, or most commonly as an injected implant that releases the hormone slowly over time. The hormones – sometimes called steroids – are usually synthetic versions of naturally occurring hormones like estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone.

In beef cattle, the hormones help the animals grow more efficiently. This means they grow quicker using less feed. Not only is this cheaper for the farmer (they don’t spend as much on feed costs) but it can also be better for the environment. A recent study suggests that using hormones can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by ~5% by reducing the cattle’s environmental footprint. Dairy cattle may also be given bST or Bovine Somatotropin which is a growth hormone that increases milk production. The synthetic version of this naturally occurring hormone is called rbST. SciMoms does a great job of explaining that both the meat from beef cattle and the milk from dairy cattle is safe to consume even with these added hormones. 

Most people concerned about added hormones in food are concerned about human health consequences. Concerns often cite studies of children exhibiting signs of puberty at an earlier age. But in looking at the data, this trend began before the use of hormones in agriculture. So while there is a correlation, it doesn’t appear that early puberty is caused by hormones. Correlation does not equal causation. Because rbST is a protein hormone it is destroyed in human digestion and doesn’t make it into the human blood stream. Other concerns are over animal welfare issues where some dairy cows developed mastitis. But through improved genetics over the years, farmers have selected for cows that do not get mastitis as easily. The benefits of using hormones in beef and dairy cattle seem to far outweigh the risks.

As the #FridayFarmFact says, poultry (chickens, turkey, ducks, etc.) are raised without any added hormones. Regulations in the 1950s banned the use of added hormones in poultry. Chickens (and turkeys and ducks) are bigger today than they were 50 years ago because of genetics and breeding programs – not because of growth hormones. 

Increase in the size of broiler chickens from 1957-2005 due to breeding. Figure from Poult Sci. 2014;93(12):2970-2982. doi:10.3382/ps.2014-04291

Different breeds of chickens are selected for their  characteristics as good egg layers or good meat producers (broilers). Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds are usually raised for their eggs while Cornish Crosses and Delaware Broilers are usually raised for their meat. Some hormones have been tested on poultry but so far they don’t have a significant enough effect. They do have an effect on growth rate and food conversion efficiency so it is possible that we could see some changes in the law in the future. But for now, there are no added hormones in poultry. 

Neither are there added hormones in pork. Pigs have also gotten bigger, but that is because of better nutrition, good genetics programs, and good management programs – not from hormones. There could be some confusion because some hormones can be used in swine breeding programs to help manage estrous cycles, milk let down, and farrowing. But hormones cannot be used in pigs that will be harvested for meat. 

Hormones are not the simplest subject to understand because there are a lot of different hormones that all have different functions. Maybe the most important thing to understand is that beef cattle and dairy cattle production have federal regulations that allow for the use of hormones and poultry and pork production have different federal regulations that don’t allow for the use of hormones. In both instances though farmers are trying to find economically sound ways to improve their operations (while ensuring animals stay healthy) and federal regulators are trying to ensure that the food system stays safe. Based on what we know from research you can have confidence in the food that is being produced by farmers and that makes it to your table. Whether it is a whole turkey, a roast beef, or a big ham that sits on your holiday table this season, enjoy!


Other references:

Milking Cows – Why Do They Do That?

Most-Americans-eat-like-MyPlate-for-just-a-week-a-year_wrbm_large.jpgDairy is an important part of a balanced diet. It can come in the form of cheese, yogurt, ice cream, or good old fashioned milk. Dairy can be a good source of protein, but one of the main reasons it is recommended as a part of the human diet is as a source of calcium, potassium, and vitamin D. All dairy products start with milk as the base, but why do we milk cows in the first place?

Dairy products can, in theory, come from any lactating mammal. Humans regularly consume milk from goats and sheep, but most dairy products come from cow’s milk. Humans and cows have evolved alongside each other for as many as 10,000 years. Cows were valuable animals in early days of agriculture because they could pull plows or turn grinding mills. But cows also provided meat when they were butchered and their hides were turned into leather for clothing, armor, and tools. When a mother needed more milk for her baby, cow milk was an easy alternative.

Different breeds of cattle are thought to have been domesticated in Africa and Europe. Those cattle were bred over thousands of years and the ones best at producing milk were selected separately from the ones best at producing muscle. Today, breeds like Holstein, Jersey, Brown Swiss, and Guernsey are known for their high milk production. They produce much more milk than goats and sheep and so cows are a natural choice. Because humans (particularly those with European ancestry) have been consuming dairy for so long, humans have evolved to be able to better digest milk. Not everyone has adapted, though, and that is why some people are lactose intolerant.

IMG_0072.JPGEarly farmers found that a cow starts producing a lot of milk after they have a baby calf. That calf can grow healthy and strong with that milk because it has all of the right nutrients. But eventually the calf will start eating grass. Early farmers discovered that if they keeping milking the cow after the calf has been weaned (starts eating grass) then the cow will continue producing milk. This milk could then be used for human consumption. It could be preserved into things like cheese and potentially be saved for lean times.

Dairy cows like Holsteins are bred for one purpose and that is to produce milk – approximately 6-7 gallons of it a day! Male dairy cattle are raised and sold for beef. Female dairy cattle are raised until they are about 1 year old at which time they are sexually mature. They are typically artificially inseminated and will become pregnant. It is through the process of pregnancy that their bodies start producing milk. Calves are weaned at a young age and farmers will start milking the cows and collecting the milk for human consumption.

IMG_1235.JPGFarmers have learned that a healthy, balanced diet will allow the cows to produce more milk. So they work with nutritionists to try to find the best feed ration for their cows that has the right balance of grains, roughage, vitamins, and minerals. For cows to make milk they need to drink a lot of fresh water – sometimes as much as 15 gallons or more a day. So the cows always have access to as much water as they want. Farmers have also learned that if the cows are comfortable and not stressed they will produce more milk. So farmers go to extreme lengths to make their cows comfortable and happy. They provide fans and misters in barns and outdoor areas to keep them comfortable and cool in the summer. Buildings are also heated in the winter to maintain more comfortable temperatures. Dairy cows are often provided with nice sand sleeping stalls that are comfortable for them to lay in. A lot of thought is put in to making the animals happy and comfortable.

The cows are milked two or three times a day and they easily fall into a routine. When their udder gets too full it can be somewhat uncomfortable and they usually want to get milked. Many modern dairies are highly automated and so animals can get milked at their leisure. The teats are washed with brushes and then lasers line up the cups to each teat. Gentle suction starts the milk flowing and it is then pumped to a storage tank. Cows like to get milked because they usually get a little ‘treat’ – maybe some extra feed when they are in the milking parlor. But if a cow tries to come through the milking parlor more than two or three times, automated sensors will not let that cow in. The automated milking parlors recognize which cow is in the parlor and adjust the teat cup settings to match that cow. The computer will track how much milk is let down and compare it to data from previous milkings. It is easy to quickly identify if there is anything wrong with an individual cow because milkings are usually pretty consistent.

A cow will continue to lactate and be milked for up to 10 months. During which time she is inseminated and becomes pregnant again. About two months before she is due to give birth again, milking is stopped and the cow is ‘dried off‘. This is intended to let the cow rest and be strong and healthy for the new baby. Once the new baby is born, milk is produced again and the cycle starts over.

Milk production becomes more and more efficient as farmers continue to learn to manage their animals including keeping them healthy, well fed, and comfortable. This in turn leads to cows producing a lot of great milk products for humans to enjoy. As a part of a balanced diet, why not enjoy a tall glass of milk or a summer treat like a bowl of ice cream!


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!



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.


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.


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


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

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

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

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


What’s Cookin’? – Bacon & Ricotta Polenta

IMG_3702.JPGThe Iowa State Fair brings approximately a million people to Des Moines. It is a time to celebrate new foods, carnival rides, traditions, harvest, and fun. We can be found around the fairgrounds sharing the story of agriculture literacy. At the Elwell Family Food building we shared a cooking demonstration connecting the farm-to-fork. With a delicious recipe, we discussed where each product came from — the farm.

This recipe makes a delicious appetizer. Slightly bigger portions could turn this into the perfect side dish. Polenta is cornmeal used in Italian cooking, so you can think of this as this as Italian cornbread. Where does corn meal come from? How about the other ingredients? Here is the story of Bacon & Ricotta Polenta Bites.

IMG_3718.JPGCornmeal: Although Iowa farmers do raise some of the best-tasting sweet corn in the country, less than 1% of the corn grown in our state is sweet corn. Although one is considered a vegetable and the other a grain, sweet corn and field corn are close relatives. Sweet corn is a naturally occurring genetic mutation of field corn. The sweet corn plant is shorter, matures faster, and its kernels have a higher sugar content. Cornmeal actually comes from field corn. Field corn is harvested after it is dried in the field. The corn kernels can then be ground up to make cornmeal. Field corn can be used for a variety of human foods (everything from tortilla chips to the corn syrup in ketchup), but it can also be used to feed livestock or turned into ethanol as fuel for vehicles.

Bacon:  This tasty pork product comes from the side and belly of the pig. Pork bellies are cured in a salt brine and flavorings to provide the rich taste. The curing process evolved before refrigeration as a way of preserving the meat. Iowa is the number one producer of pork in the U.S. Companies like Farmland Foods and JBS Swift have meat packing plants in Iowa and employ hundreds of Iowans.

Cheese: Cheese is typically made from cows’ milk but can also be made from sheep, goat, and other animals’ milk. The flavor of cheese comes from the type of milk, the butterfat content, and also the type of bacteria and/or mold used in the aging process. Cheese might have a slight natural yellow color, but the dark yellow color of cheeses like cheddar come from the addition of food coloring.

Milk:  Milk or heavy cream 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 almost 9 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.

Chicken stock: Iowa raises a lot of chickens. 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). Most of Iowa’s chickens are layers. Chicken broth is made from boiling the meat and bones. The juice from this cooking process is chicken broth and can be used for soups or flavorings.

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.

Pepper:  Black pepper comes from the fruit of a pepper plant species which grows in hot and humid tropical climates. The unripe dried fruit, called peppercorns, are ground into the spice we call pepper. Pepper was one of the spices that early explores traded because of its high value. It came from the spice islands of southeast Asia which also were known for nutmeg, mace and cloves.

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.

IMG_2773.JPGOregano and basil: Basil and oregano are herbs that are typically associated with Italian cooking. The herbs grow quickly and are great for home gardeners. Harvest the leaves and cut the stems back for continued regrowth. Local herb growers commercially produce a wide range of herbs sold in locally grocery stores including basil and oregano.

And the recipe…

  • 3 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 ½ cups course cornmeal
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 6 strips of bacon
  • 15 oz. whole milk ricotta
  • 1 cup fresh chopped oregano & basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Vegetable oil


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and generously grease a 9×13-inch baking dish.
  2. Whisk together the cornmeal, whole milk, chicken stock, Parmesan cheese, and salt and pour into the baking dish. Bake for 50 to 70 minutes or until firm. Refrigerate overnight.
  3. Fry bacon until crisp. Drain the fat and refrigerate, if not using immediately.
  4. Mix together the ricotta, herbs, salt, and pepper. Taste and season more if desired. Refrigerate if not using immediately.
  5. Remove the chilled, firm polenta from the fridge and brush lightly with vegetable oil. Place under a broiler for 5-10 minutes.
  6. Slice into triangles and remove from pan. Spoon a dollop of the ricotta onto each triangle and sprinkle some bacon.