Gearing up for the end of summer

GearingThis summer, I helped create a new summer snack program at our boys’ school called, “Dirt to Dish” – an organic, sustainable farm-fresh approach to school snack. The goal was to teach our kids how to eat from the garden and their local farmers markets while encouraging them to try new flavor combinations, especially sweet and savory together. As the program grew, we realized how hungry (both literally and figuratively) the kids were to learn about their food and take a leadership role in snack preparation.

As we geared up for the end of summer camp, the culminating event was an all-camp BBQ.  I knew right away the menu would be Niman Ranch Fearless Franks, Sausages and fresh fruit from the local farmers market.

Hot dogs don’t always have a good reputation, but not all hot dogs are created equal. You can eat Fearless Franks with confidence that you’re getting all-natural meat that’s free of antibiotics and added hormones, and is fully traceable. So my goal was to teach both campers and parents on the values that go into the franks and the confidence they have knowing they’re eating wholesome food.

read more Gearing up for the end of summer

Summer Sweet Corn

sweet 1It all started in mid-July. Sophia and I bought some sweet corn from a local purveyor, I am not going to name names, and that very night I made it for supper for my parents and a few friends. I was embarrassed by just how tasteless and chewy it was. It just wasn’t as sweet and tender as the corn we were used to; my father even seemed to think that perhaps I was sold field corn instead.

So that started our sweet corn tasting extravaganza. We were on a mission to find the best sweet corn. The next day we bought the Candy Corn variety of sweet corn from another family farmer. What a contrast, it was beautiful with golden yellow nuggets, sweet yet savory especially when covered in salted butter. My father liked this much more however, he was certain that the Peaches and Cream variety was better yet.

read more Summer Sweet Corn

Meet the Next Generation of Niman Ranch Farmers: Michael Mardesen

As the U.S. family farm disappears, we are proud of our young Niman Ranch farmers. They are committed to raising hogs sustainably and humanely while continuing the traditional farming practices handed down by their parents and grandparents. Meet Michael Mardesen, 20 year old from Iowa and past recipient of the Next Generation Scholarship.

Visitors to the Farm

VisitorsEarly in July we had a special visitor to the Willis family farm, Ken Myers and his two adorable children stopped by during their summer vacation.   Ken had visited us a few years ago with a group from Chipotle Mexican Grill.  To support its mission of Food With Integrity, each year Chipotle sends employees by the bus-load to visit our farm to gain a deeper understanding of what the mission means. The employees learn more about farming sustainably, the humane treatment of farm animals and how all of this plays into the flavor of Niman Ranch pork.

Ken was so inspired by his trip to our farm that he has been telling his children stories ever since and wanted them to see our pigs the way he did : pasture-raised, curious and friendly.  When they arrived it was one of the hottest days during this hot and dry Iowa summer. The pigs were just lazing about and were not very interested in our visitors. However, they were interested in the mudhole by the water tank, which the pigs use to cool down on hot summer days.  The children were excited to walk into the field and finally see the pigs they had heard so much about.

read more Visitors to the Farm

Fearless Franks for Summer Grilling

FearlessAmericans love their hotdogs.  So much so, July has been declared National Hot Dog Month.  During hotdog season- Memorial Day through Labor Day- Americans consume nearly 7 billion hotdogs or 818 hotdogs every second.  We top them with everything from the classics, to more exotic ingredients like Siracha and Sweet Onion Aioli and they grace the tables of backyard barbeques and family gatherings.

As you reach for a package of hot dogs, think about what is inside them. The fewer the ingredients the better. Look for a hot dog made from quality cuts of meat and check the label to make sure the livestock was never given added hormones or antibiotics. Not only will a high quality hot dog taste better, but you’ll feel good about what you’re feeding your family.

As you enjoy the summer, fire up the grill and cook an American favorite you can feel good about: All-Natural, Niman Ranch Fearless Franks.

read more Fearless Franks for Summer Grilling

Sense of Place

At a recent event in New York, someone told me they had never met anyone with a stronger sense of place than my father, Paul Willis. I have been thinking about that comment for awhile and believe it is an attribute so many family farmers in the Midwest have in common.  I began thinking about my own sense of place and feelings about being raised on a farm in Iowa. Having lived in other parts of the country – Iowa will always be home to me.

This brings me to my latest visit to a hog farming family who supply sustainably raised hogs to Niman Ranch.  Richard and Delores Blackford have been selling pigs to Niman Ranch for well over 10 years.  Now their daughter and son-in- law, Carolyn and Marty Osterman, are running the hog farming operations.   Arriving on a bright summer.

Sense 1
Three generations, including Carolyn and Marty’s children Katie, Brett and Mollie.

 

read more Sense of Place

Grilling for the Fourth by Niman Ranch Executive Chef Andrew Hunter

Tri tipI love everything about the 4th of July. The fireworks, picnicking with friends and family, and of course the undeniable aroma of smoky charcoal and searing meat, all remind of us of our great national pride. To go along with my favorite festivities, Niman Ranch Tri-Tip is perfect for the outdoor grill. You simply can’t beat the texture or flavor.

If you’re on the fence about what to cook this holiday, search no more! This recipe will please everyone in your gathering and simplify your job as host of the party. Best of all, it draws on diverse flavors helping us celebrate what truly makes America great… we’re a melting pot!

read more Grilling for the Fourth by Niman Ranch Executive Chef Andrew Hunter

Reflecting on Spring Farm Activities

ReflectingAs we start summer, I am sitting here listening to the thunder roll through… a rare sound these days, and reflecting on the farm activity over the spring. It has been pretty dry and we were hoping for rain, it’s a welcome sound for sure.  Here in Iowa we are ruled by the ever-changing weather.  During spring we expect to get rain but we also hope that it stays dry long enough to get the crops planted and the pig field rotated.

read more Reflecting on Spring Farm Activities

No Gestation Crates Here!

Recently there has been a lot of talk about how farm animals are being raised.  I have received several calls here at the farm about whether or not Niman Ranch farmers use something called, gestation crates.   If you are wondering about that too the answer is no. Niman Ranch protocols don’t allow the use of gestation crates.  “Then how are the gestating sows handled?” a journalist recently asked me.  FYI: Sows are a breeding female that has had at least one litter of pigs.  Niman Ranch farmers know the best way to treat their sows is to allow them plenty of room to move and behave naturally.  I offered to provide some pictures to the journalist, but they said they would rather take their own.  So I arranged a tour with one of the earliest members of the Niman Ranch network, Farmer Paul Menke and his wife Lenice.  He has been farming with his family for generations.   Raising pigs just comes naturally for him.

No Gest

read more No Gestation Crates Here!