Valentine’s Date Ideas (and Recipes) for Food Lovers

Instead of making reservations at an expensive restaurant this Valentine’s Day, impress your date with a memorable, private dining experience at home.

Feel free to follow the age-old tradition of preparing a four course meal – no one’s stopping you! But we suggest you think outside the candlelight and try one of these four unique ideas with that special food lover in your life.

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Reflections and Resolutions

Growing up, I remember almost everyone raised hogs in the same way: outdoor on pasture or deeply bedded pens. This was an integral part of the overall farming operation. Eventually, things began to change and many hog farmers implemented the latest technology and constructed Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO). These were indoor hog production facilities designed to substantially increase the number of pigs farmers could raise in a limited amount of space.

Original Homestead Thornton Iowa
The original Willis Family Farm homestead on Thornton, Iowa.

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Our 10 Best Stories and Recipes of 2015

We think 2015 was a great year. Some of the coldest days on record were experienced in Iowa, we gave more money than ever before to winners of the Next Generation Scholarship, and the best recipes yet were found to help make your time in the kitchen a little easier.

Here’s a look back at your top favorite stories – and recipes – from 2015.

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Simple Pleasures

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.

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Our Top 10 Favorite Thanksgiving Recipes

With Thanksgiving just ten days away, we’ve compiled a list of our top ten favorite recipes to help make your holiday planning a little easier. We’ve covered everything from potatoes to stuffing, ham to turkey, and even bacon bourbon pecan pie!

If you choose to bake a ham for your guests (which we strongly suggest), be sure to find out which local grocer carries our holiday hams by clicking here.


Cornbread Dressing


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An Odd Food Pairing: Chili with Cinnamon Rolls

farm shotIt’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.

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The Next Generation of Farmers

Scholarship Winners
The 2015 Next Generation Scholarship Winners in attendance at the Farmer Appreciation Dinner with Jim Wallace, Director of the Niman Ranch Live Team

Over the last 30 years, the average age of farmers has steadily increased to 58-years old, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that half of all current farmers are likely to retire in the next decade, leaving a large gap for the next generation to fill. This makes it incredibly important that we work to persuade our children and grandchildren not to leave the family farm. This is why we created the Next Generation Scholarship Fund, which awards over 20 students from farm families every year with funds to help pay for college.

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17th Annual Farmer Appreciation Dinner

The menu from the 17th Annual Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner

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.

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