This year’s 14th annual Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner was a unique farm-to-table event which celebrated the hard work and independent spirit of the farmers who supply humanely and sustainably raised pork for Niman Ranch.
Paul Willis, Niman Ranch Pork Company founder and manager, was honored at the 2012 Chefs Collaborate Summit with the Pathfinder Sustainability Award. The award recognizes a visionary working in the greater food community who has been a catalyst for positive change within the food system through efforts that go beyond the kitchen.
For the last several years, turning the corner of summer into fall has been marked by the Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation dinner. It’s when we pool our collective talents and orchestrate the most important event of the year by saying Thank You to our farmers. Farmers who work outdoors in both sunshine and rain, hot and cold weather to produce the greatest tasting pork on earth.
The weekend is held each fall in Des Moines and features farm tours, sustainability seminars and lots of eating. It’s crowned with a 400-person dinner celebrating the connection between the farmers raising our food and the chefs committed to honoring it. It’s a Farm-to-Table Celebration!
So I thought it would be fun to give you a little taste of the dinner by offering a pork recipe that captures the spirit of the dinner and marks the symbolic corner from summer to fall with a dish that’s fun for everyone to make. The intention when cooking Niman pork is to enhance it with complementary flavors while celebrating the wonderful flavor it has from the love and attention given by the farmers throughout the year.
Niman Ranch celebrated its more than 550 U.S. family hog farmers and awarded 18 Next Generation Scholarships last weekend in Des Moines, Iowa, at its 14th Annual Hog Farmer Appreciation Dinner. Niman Ranch established the Next Generation Scholarship Fund in 2006 to preserve the integrity of U.S. family farms by supporting the children of rural communities who wish to attend college and pursue an education focusing on sustainable or environmental practices and who intend to return to the family farm upon graduation.
This 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.
It 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.
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.
Early 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.
Americans 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.