It’s invigorating to be able to get outside and work in the soil once again after a long winter, much of which was spent making plans for the growing season. During preparation there are so many things to consider, including possibly adding a new or different aspect to the farm. This could include increasing the diversity of our livestock operation by adding chickens, or adding cover crops to conserve our precious natural resources and stop soil erosion. Before we do anything new, we spend time thoroughly examining our options to figure out what’s the right fit.
Sarah Willis is the daughter of Niman Ranch’s founding hog farmer Paul Willis. Sarah works for Niman Ranch as a Sustainable Agriculture and Family Farming Advocate. Having grown up on the original Niman Ranch free-range pig farm in Thornton, Iowa, she has been passionately devoted to raising awareness about the dramatic changes that have impacted agriculture over the past 25 years.
Today, she continues the tradition of farming with her father and her daughter, Sophia. Through daily hands on experiences Sarah is instilling in her daughter to maintain these farming traditions, that the land and their livestock deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
Taylor, Missouri high school senior Ruthie Carpenter, who is also a Niman Ranch hog farmer and student vice president of her local FFA chapter, traveled with her mother Carolyn to speak at Wellesley College on April 15, at the request of their director of food service, Executive Chef Keith Tyger. He heard her speak at our annual Farmer Appreciation Dinner in 2015 and was greatly impacted by her words. He wanted the students at Wellesley to hear from her first hand about the humane practices she employs as a Niman Ranch hog farmer and the sustainable attributes of farming this way.
This time in Iowa is the beginning of farrowing season. For those of you unfamiliar with farm terminology, it’s the time of year when sows give birth. Many farmers have been working diligently in preparation for pasture farrowing. They’ve been busy moving hog houses from last year’s plot to the next field. It might seem like a lot of work, but pasture farrowing is not new. It’s a traditional farming practice that has been passed down for centuries.
During winter, the Iowa prairie covered in snow blends seamlessly into the stark white sky, which can make it very difficult to see at times. I have resorted to wearing my sunglasses so I don’t go snow blind! It’s fun to observe the beauty that can be found during the winter months, while understanding the unique challenges that accompany it. Winter brings about unpredictable weather. Yesterday it was 40 degrees and today it’s 16. Thanks to the most recent winter weather, the ground is covered in a blanket of snow scattered with animal tracks.
In preparation for the Super Bowl, I hit the grocery store and spent some time preparing snacks. Despite not being a big football fan, I enjoy getting together with friends and family or just hanging out with my daughter to watch the big game.
This year, we experienced a blizzard warning during the game, which gave me another reason to head to the grocery store. Blizzard shopping is a tradition on the prairie. Of course, I live in town now, so there’s was not as much reason for me to make an emergency trip to the grocery store anymore. But I still did it out of habit. I’ll always be a farm girl no matter where I live.
The beginning of winter offers new challenges on the farm. Weather is unpredictable all over the Midwest. Our first blizzard hit us before Thanksgiving, when we received about 2 feet of snow in one day. The snowflakes were beautiful as they billowed noiselessly to the ground.
My birthday is the day before Halloween and has always been recognized by my family as a blessing and a curse because it takes place at the peak of harvest. This means dad was always distracted and busy in the field, combining the crops and working against time and weather.
It’s a gorgeous fall day here in rural Iowa; a brisk coolness fills the air. As the temperatures dip our menu at home changes a bit too. We turn to roasting, slow cooking and begin making more soups and stews. All of which creates great dishes to eat as well as warm up the house and fill the air with comforting aromas.
This season makes me recall fond school- time memories, surprisingly of my school lunches- even though we probably complained about them at the time. We were lucky because the cooks at my school actually cooked our food. Regardless, the school lunch menu was always predictable.
Here is where my odd food pairing began: if we were having chili at school, we always had a cinnamon roll to go with it. This has ruined me! I can’t seem to enjoy my chili unless it’s served with a cinnamon roll. Yes, the pairing is not traditional – saltines, corn chips or even spaghetti – but I love to dip this sugary, cinnamony treat into my steamy, spicy chili. It’s just the perfect way to eat it.
Here’s the recipe I make at home. My trick is adding Niman Ranch ground pork. It gives the chili a wonderful rich and savory quality- give it a try.
On September 26th, we hosted our most recent Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner. It was a moving experience – a chance for me to see just how close our community of our farmers, chefs, customers and employees have become. We also have a whole host of people here in Iowa that continue to volunteer and support us year after year.
Do you care where your meat comes from and want to feel confident when making purchases at the grocery store? Have you considered asking your local butcher about the farm producing the meat you are buying, and how the animals were raised on that farm? If you haven’t, you should, because the way the animals were raised plays into the quality of the meat.