Since I was a little girl our family has hosted a Summer Solstice Picnic at the Farm. A celebratory picnic featuring friends, family, Niman Ranch farmers and field agents is a special way to honor our livelihood and rural community. Wishing all of you a wonderful summer!
Recently, I met a retired math teacher from Osage, Iowa. He said that he was so fortunate to have a majority of rural children in his classes. He told me farm kids were great at learning new concepts and applying them because of their daily experience with this type of thinking on the farm. Farming is all about problem solving, so if you didn’t know how to do something, you have to figure it out. That’s not much different than math. This gets at the heart of what I loved about farm life. There was always something to figure out.
As the snow falls in the country, it tucks us in for winter as it blankets the fields. It’s beautiful and peaceful, but as soon as the temperatures plunge our thoughts immediately turn toward our pigs. Time to bundle up, put on those insulated coveralls, hats, scarves, gloves and rubber boots and head outside to make sure the livestock are doing well and our hog waters are working properly.
Recently, while I was representing our farmers at Chipotle Mexican Grill’s Cultivate Festival in Miami, I was asked why it matters how we treat our livestock on the farm if we plan to eat them in the end anyway. I have thought a lot about this subject over the years, ever since I was a little girl on our farm tending the animals that I loved so dearly. Most farmers take pride in their care of for the livestock. Here are a few of the reasons why I believe farm animal welfare matters.
As the daylight hours shorten, the landscape gradually transforms from the rich greens of summertime into various autumn shades of gold in the farm fields. On the farm, that means one thing: harvest time! On our farm, we mainly grow field corn, soybeans, oats and hay. Some of these we grow organically, whereas others we use more conventional methods.
We have an old apple tree that grows right next to our gas barrel here on the farm. Admittedly this is not an ideal location, but these are the very best apples for making apple pie. My grandmother planted a crabapple tree (the only native apple tree to North America) there many years ago. In the wild, apples are highly heterozygous and don’t grow true to the subspecies of seed. Apples of all varieties are created by grafting trees onto a hardier apple root stock. This is how our favorite apple originated: from the root stock of the original crabapple, a separate seedling grew into another tree. We are not sure what kind it is but believe it to be a Mackintosh.
The tradition of the Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner is alive and well! We recently celebrated our 18th annual event at the Embassy Suites Downtown in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday, August 27.
Each year we painstakingly select a group of highly acclaimed chefs who meet our strict criteria. They are award –winning chefs in their regions and they have shown a real commitment to supporting Niman Ranch and our family of farmers and ranchers not only through purchasing Niman Ranch meats but by raising awareness about how our network of family farmers raise the livestock. Most often the initial reason many chefs choose Niman Ranch is because of the outstanding meat quality, but once they realize the connection with flavor and how the animals are raised, they become advocates for our entire program.
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.