This was the fifteenth year for the Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner Weekend. The main event is a farm-to-table dinner held on Saturday evening at the Embassy Suites in Des Moines honoring the network of family farmers who supply pork to Niman Ranch. The event is free of charge for the farmers. Seven highly acclaimed chefs from across the country – all of whom are true culinary leaders and influencers in their regions and understand that good food starts at the farm – traveled to Iowa to tour a farm that is part of the network of farmers who supply Niman Ranch and to cook this six course meal in celebration of these farmers.
Recently I visited the Brown family at their farm in New Providence, Iowa. They are a part of the network of family farmers who supply pigs to Niman Ranch. It was a beautiful drive about an hour and a half south of my house. I couldn’t help but notice that there were many fields that remained bare because of the record amounts of rain we received in May, our prime time for planting here in Iowa. Unfortunately, some fields won’t be planted because not enough time remains in the growing season to produce any kind of yield. Many farmers may plant cover crops to prevent erosion and to have something on the land.
When I arrived at what I thought was the Brown farm, I was confused. There was a sign posted in the yard that said: “Alderland Farms.” I thought I may have gone to the wrong property. But then I saw Paul Brown, who gave me a warm welcome and invited me inside their farm house.
It’s great to see that so many people are gaining awareness about the increasing obstacles family farmers across America are facing but many don’t know what to do about it. Fortunately for us, Niman Ranch recognized early on that young and beginning farmers lack the support and tools they need and often go looking for opportunities elsewhere abandoning their family’s tradition of farming.
To slow this trend, Niman Ranch set up the Next Generation Scholarship Fund. This fund supports the children of farmers within the Niman Ranch community of family farmer by offering them scholarships to help them seek a higher education in areas that would improve their family’s farming operation and their rural hometown communities.
I participated recently in Food Revolution Day at Google campus in Seattle, Washington. It was part of a broader event held nationally at all of the Google campuses and worldwide as part of Food Revolution Day. This is a day to reconnect people with real food and essential cooking skills. It was started by television personality Chef Jamie Oliver. He describes the Food Revolution on his website as:
“a chance for people to come together within their homes, schools, workplaces and communities to cook and share their kitchen skills, food knowledge and resources. Food Revolution Day aims to raise awareness about the importance of good food and better food education for everyone by focusing on three simple actions – cook it, share it, live it.”
For the past ten years, Sophia and I have been living on a farm just a mile away from where I grew up. Last month, we finally decided to make a change and move into town. It was a tough decision, we’ll no doubt miss living on a farm, but we are close enough to still help my father. This realization made the transition a little bit easier.
Remember that six-pack of chickens we bought back in March? Well, they grew pretty fast and I have to confess their home our basement where we were keeping them became a bit of a nuisance. It was a real chore to clean it every day and the chickens were going through the feed like you wouldn’t believe. We brought those chickens with us when we moved into town and move them to a fancy little chicken run and hen house we found at our local farm supply store.
One of our spring activities on the farm is we begin to save some of our chicken eggs for incubating. It’s exciting to watch them as they hatch through the glass window of the incubator. This year we put eggs in the incubator on March 1 and are expected to hatch in 21 days.
It’s February and we are emerging from the dark days of winter. These are the days when a winter storm warning or dreaded “wintery mix” can leave us stuck on the farm for days. During these times I confess I sometimes yearn for the conveniences of city life.
With the beginning of the New Year I like to reflect on the past. Recently, I joined my mother and her group of friends who meet for coffee every Thursday morning. These women have known each other for decades. My mother remembers some of them from her childhood when the Danish Brotherhood, a national organization of Danes in America, would gather.
We have been experiencing unusually warm temperatures this winter. Just two weeks ago I had to mow the yard, unheard of in December, but great weather for farm chores. I expressed my disappointment to my Dad that we probably wouldn’t be having a white Christmas but he reminded me how a mild winter works out just fine for taking care of the pigs.
During the month of November we often take time to reflect on the things we are thankful for, which is why this is the perfect time for Part III of my reflections on the Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner. This event is our opportunity to show appreciation for the farmers’ hard work and integrity.