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.
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.
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.
Here in the midst of the heat and humidity of July, the pale purple cone flowers have just finished blooming. The heat is oppressive during the daytime, but it’s a relief when the sun sets. At dusk the lightning bugs appear like magic, flickering like star dust above the grasses of the landscape. It’s a magical time on the prairie here at Willis Dream Farm. The land is alive with action and the air is filled with a symphony of insects.
We work so diligently during the summer months here in Iowa. There is only so much time for planting crops, farrowing, lambing, calving, construction and home improvement projects. But in the midst of all this work we still make time to gather together for weddings, ball games, soccer matches, family reunions, dance recitals and picnics.
After planting season is over here at the Willis Dream Farm, we hold a farmer picnic in our three-sided shed, which overlooks 140 acres of native tall grass prairie. The picnic is a get-together of Niman Ranch hog farmers, along with friends in our local community. Everyone brings a pot luck-style side dish, casserole or dessert. We always throw Niman Ranch Fearless Franks and sausages on the grill as the crowd gathers.
A feeling of accomplishment sets in as another year of school is finished and Sophia is ready for summer. Today she couldn’t wait to spend time swimming with friends. It’s been a little crazy this year wrapping up the eighth grade and looking forward to beginning high school in the fall.
Earth Day is the time in April when we strengthen our practices of good stewardship by taking simple steps like growing our own food, planting a tree, decreasing our waste and supporting businesses whose values mirror our own. We focus on issues like sustaining our natural resources for future generations, on maintaining clean drinking water and clean air to breathe and creating healthy communities to live and thrive in.
On March 4, the high temperature in Iowa was 16 degrees with a low of -4, with snow along the roads and in the fields. Just two weeks later, we experienced some of the warmest weather this year with a high reaching 63 degrees. And technically it’s still winter.
As you can imagine the snow has been melting very quickly releasing moisture into the air in the form of fog. With most of the snow is gone as the sun shines brightly, nature is giving us a reminder of all of the work to be done in the coming weeks.