Friday, September 30, 2011

Broadening My Local Food Horizons

Yesterday my eyes were opened wide to a brand new food world. It was almost like I had been living in an M. Night Shyamalan’s version of a food “Village,” and I had no idea what was on the other side. The best, and most shocking part of this story, is the new world was not too far from my backyard.

My day job took me to Courtney Farms, where we were shooting an educational video series about Kentucky farms, farmers and food. This farm, which recently decided to grow vegetables to replace several tobacco acres, was our first stop for the series. They are growing about 100 different vegetable varieties they sell through CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares and to wholesale markets.

Can you believe it? 100 different types! I think I may eat less than 30 different vegetables on a regular basis. My daughter Eden was able to visit the farm with me, and she also was amazed at the variety. We saw patty pan squash, acorn squash, winter squash, Brussels sprouts, starburst squash, zephyr squash, eggplant, purple peppers, apricot peppers (which were absolutely fabulous, by the way) and more. That was just what had been harvested that morning. In the field we saw Swiss chard, green beans, spinach, radishes and many, many more. I wondered what kind of tizzy the teenage grocery clerk would have been in if I wandered through his/her lane with such fare.

I had the chance to meet and talk with Mary Courtney a couple times before, but this is the first time I was really able to see what she produced. I remembered that she had told me that she and her family will eat the raw vegetables straight out of the field, and my daughter and I were able to do that, too. In fact, Eden almost ate an entire cucumber and was easily coerced into trying one of those sweet apricot peppers. The best part is we were sent home with an assortment of the goodies, and I can’t wait to find recipes so we can enjoy them.

Having been a nearly 100% buy-from-the-grocery-store-chain kind of lady due to convenience and my location, I can now tell you I will definitely be eating more of this fabulous food in the future. If I can’t figure out how to grow my own in the garden I have planned for next year, I will definitely be giving Mary a call. The taste and freshness of her veggies was beyond compare.

But don’t despair, farmers across the U.S. and outside our borders. I will still need you come the first killing Kentucky frost. I have not yet learned the fine art of canning, and I still want my weekly supply of bananas and grapefruits.

You may also be interested in the interview I had with Mary about their production practices – “Why I don’t buy organic, most of the time.”

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Eating by Example

When you are a parent, even the smallest milestones make you jump for joy. My most recent jubilation came this past Sunday night; my 2-year-old son ate an entire piece of raw broccoli. What was even more amazing was that I did not even offer it to him. He just took it off of my salad plate and in his mouth it went. I told him that I was so very proud of him and gave him a big hug.

My daughter sat their staring at me wondering why I didn’t give her the same hug, but she has always been a great vegetable connoisseur. I do try to tell her on a regular basis however that I am so happy that she enjoys nutritious food.

My son, on the other hand, has been a bit pickier about his food choices. I was beginning to think that I had done something differently in raising this child since anything green usually hit the floor. I had resorted to “hiding” vegetables in his food. And since I discovered that he is very fond of “salads,” which I am sure is mostly due to the fact there is some kind of dressing masking the taste, I started sharing my salads with him on a regular basis, and he was none the wiser of me including bell peppers and onions in his bites. I also make a chopped broccoli salad quite often that includes many of his other favorites like Craisins, cheese and nuts. And the last few times we have had asparagus, I asked him if he wanted to eat a little tree, and he replied, “Roarrrrr. I eat like a dinosaur.” He did take a couple bites. And carrots and sweet potatoes have also become a few of his more recent favorites.

While these new eating habits did not occur overnight, I am now a true believer that we must show our kids how to eat properly by example. A dose of patience also goes a long way. Now that I feel that I have a true success story, here are a few of my tips to help you steer your kids to eating a larger variety of nutritious foods:

1 – Do not get into the habit of cooking your kids separate meals, especially at dinner time. It’s hard on you and sets your kids up to think they can always eat exactly what they want. And make sure to put a little of everything on their plates.

2 – Do not force your kids to try something new, but bribery works pretty well. Tell your kids they can eat something you know they like if they try what is on their plate. I always try to hold back the bread until after they have eaten an ample supply of veggies.

3 – Dramatize! It may sound silly, but if you make a big deal about how good the vegetables are, they might eventually want try it on their own to satisfy their curiosity.

4 – Get your kids involved in selecting things at the grocery or market. My daughter loves getting her own grocery cart and filling it with all of the fruits and vegetables, especially if she knows she will be eating it later. She is also pretty good at selecting the produce on her own. Nothing makes her more proud then to hear another customer compliment her on her choices. To get my toddler son involved, I make sure to have a conversation with him about all of the different things we buy.

One of the biggest failures I have seen with parents/caregivers is that they think kids won’t like certain foods because they are kids. I have also seen parents/caregivers give up too easily and resort to not-so-healthy choices so the kids have something to eat. But be persistent. If they see you eating and enjoying healthy food choices and also providing good choices, maybe they will learn to love good food as well.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Know Your Story. Write it Down. Share, Share, Share!

I was so incredibly frustrated last night. I had a perfect platform and opportunity to share my “story,” and in my mind, I flopped.

I was invited to be on a panel of women agriculture leaders at a farm women event yesterday. The coordinator wanted us to share how we got to the positions we have today. I was thinking that would not be a problem since I know my life pretty much better than anyone.

I thought it would be good to talk about how I came from a small semi-subsistence farm, my horses led me to an education in agriculture, and the fact that I never thought in a million years I would work for farmers. I also wanted to point out how after so many years, we are finally realizing the importance of empowering women to help share the message of farming and food.

Fortunately I made it through all that, but then my nerves started messing with my head and I completely forgot to share the good stuff, where I and my experience were heading.

Because of this new tool called social media, I am no longer just talking to the local fourth-grade class about grain, creating web pages and trade show displays, or writing content about and for my farmers; I am connecting with people across the country and beyond. While I am not a farmer, my work in the “field” has given me a unique viewpoint, and I now have a way to easily share that with who will listen. Social media also provides a richer learning opportunity. I am more aware of the feelings and struggles of other farmers, whether big or small, modern or traditional. That has helped me lift my blinders to my specific niche and learn to embrace others.

My day job might be “woman in ag,” or as some folks like to call me “corn girl” (which I hate by the way), my most important job is MOM: buyer and preparer of the food. My biggest motivation for involving myself in food and farm conversations is my desire to have the food choices I have today in the future.

Now that I can actually look at what I want to say on the screen, hopefully I will be a little more prepared to share this story when the opportunity presents itself. (FYI: I am one of those visual learners). Or better yet, maybe I, as well as others involved in farming, need to create those opportunities.

Follow me on Facebook at or on Twitter at

Monday, September 19, 2011

Backyard Eggs - Tastier?

This past Saturday we ate the first eggs from our chickens. It felt really good to eat food that we helped produce. But did they taste better? Many people have told me that they do.

Our first eggs were on the small size. I expect they will get bigger as the chickens mature and lay more.

The yolks were definitely more orange than a store-bought egg. Some say this is because chickens allowed to forage will eat grasses and other plants which contain beta carotene. 

We decided to scramble the eggs. I always add a little bit of milk and a pinch of salt. I will admit that the darker color weirded me out a bit, and I expected that they would taste different than the store eggs.

Eden was in charge of stirring them around the skillet.

We let Eden take the first bite, and she said, "Yum!"

Breakfast is served. We made sure to say a prayer thanking the Lord for providing this wonderful meal.

Somewhat-picky-eater Lane also approved of the eggs and ate every bit.

I eat a lot of eggs, and I did not think they tasted any different than what I usually buy (the cheapest eggs at the store), but the experience is what made them better. I can't wait until we have some more!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Hogs on the Highway

I was traveling up the interstate today and saw a semi-trailer load of hogs making its way north. (Okay, I smelled it first and pretty much knew there were hogs on board before I saw their pink little hides.) My reaction when I passed was, “Hello, little piggies. Thank you for feeding me.”

Then I began to wonder about the truck driver. Does he get dirty looks from vegetarians? I wonder how he handles looks of disgust or vulgar gestures. But then I began to wonder about the localvores. Do they also grimace at the sight of food traveling up the highway? Obviously this line of thought intrigued me, and I wanted to think more about why our food, specifically pigs, must travel long distances to get to our dinner plates.

After some research, I calculated the following numbers:

• The average American consumes about 48 pounds of pork each year.

• Market weight of a hog is between 240 and 260 pounds, which yields about 184 pounds of meat.

• Therefore, 1 hog feeds about 4 people per year.

Then I began to think about the town in which I live, population 9,344. In order to feed the people of my town the pork they desire, it would require a local farmer to raise 2,336 hogs per year. That sounds like a lot. So I called one of my favorite Kentucky farmers in the county just south of me and asked about his operation.

The Mackey family feeds 5,000 -6,000 hogs per year. They receive a new batch of weaned pigs every 5 weeks and those pigs are fed for 5 ½ months until they reach 260 pounds. Each batch of pigs received and fed is considered a group, and those groups are sold throughout the year..

The Mackey’s also produce the pigs' feed—corn and soybeans—on 250 acres of adjoining crop ground. All of the manure produced from the hogs is used to fertilizer the feed crops. They have to purchase very little extra nitrogen for the field corn. So all in all, this operation is pretty self-sustaining.

My thought is that it would be fairly easy for a hog farmer to produce enough pork to sustain my town, so long as someone was willing to do it, had the land and resources, and could get a permit for such an operation. The operation would only have to be half as large as the Mackey’s.

But what if we wanted to feed my entire county, population 74,319? That would require 18.5 thousand hogs, so at least 3 to 4 hog operations the size of the Mackey’s would be needed. Since Bullitt County is 300 square miles in size, one hog farm would need to be located every 100 square miles. Most likely, every resident would live within 10 miles of a hog farm. Would they want to do that if they knew they were getting local pork? Of course that is depending upon enough farm acreage available to support the operations, which I am unsure of, and if a local processing facility could be constructed and operated.

But then let’s think about my nearest metropolitan area, just 20 miles north of me (which is likely where the hogs on the highway were heading in the first place). The population is 740,000 people, which would require 185,000 hogs. Land is not available for hog operations, so the pork must come from elsewhere in the state.

The total population of Kentucky is 4,340,000. Today, the commonwealth produces less than 300,000 hogs each year, which is only 1/3 of what we consume. The last year that we produced enough pork to feed the current population was 1980. So to be completely local do we consume two-thirds less pork, or does two-thirds of the population do without? Or, does the price of the pork go so high for increased demand that we can no longer afford to eat it?

I asked the director of my local pork producers association what barriers there were to farmers not producing more hogs. She said profitability was number one. Other factors were that it was harder for new operations to start due to environmental regulations and the fact that the growing suburban population does not want to live near a hog farm.

This scenario is not unique to hog farmers. Whether it is beef, poultry, eggs, or even apples, there are many factors at work that prohibit the required local food production. Demand for food beyond what our land and resources can produce is first and foremost.

Could we do more for ourselves? Those of us who have some land and money are in a better place to be more self-sustaining, but I can’t even get a cabbage to grow or keep my chickens safe from the local carnivores. I could raise that one hog to feed my family of four for a year, but did I mention that hogs are not allowed in my neighborhood? Thank goodness for hogs on the highway!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Food Marketing Mayhem

Produced the way God intended.

That was the first thing that popped into my head when Eden was trying to come up with a slogan to put on a carton to sell her eggs. For the chickens are free to go wherever and can eat anything they want.

Or maybe we can say, “all natural” when we sell our eggs; they are of this earth, at least to my knowledge. Free-range, raised with integrity, from a small family-farm, home-grown, gluten-free, sugar free, no high-fructose corn syrup, raised with no added hormones, no steroids, no antibiotics, local, and proceeds from all sales will go to a college fund. Who wouldn’t want to buy Eden’s eggs?

But this is exactly the kind of marketing mayhem that is making my head spin. Food companies are playing on our emotions and lack of knowledge to sell their products.

The tactic I like the least is saying a food is free of some ingredient or additive, when it never had it to begin with. In the late ‘80s and ‘90s, when the newest diet crazes required eating less fat, everything became “fat free.” Remember seeing sugar candies labeled “fat free?” Oh, yea. I can eat all I want!

Fast forward 25 years, fat is no longer the enemy; it’s sugar. Even worse in some minds is high-fructose corn syrup, which is silly. But I admit that I have hopped aboard the “sugar is bad” train. I caught myself looking at several yogurts at the store wanting to find the one that had the least sugar, but without aspartame… because that’s really bad? Oh, trans-fats are still bad. Yes? I haven’t seen a label that says no trans-fats in a while, so do we care anymore? It seems that you now need to know the difference between Omega-3s and Omega-6s. Both are naturally-occurring. Which one am I looking for, again?

The chicken companies have started to add “no added hormones” and “no steroids” to their labels. But just in case you didn’t know, chicken producers have not been allowed to use hormones and steroids since 1954. But would you buy the chicken labeled as such above a brand that is not labeled that way? I also think it is funny that they place “cage free” on packages of chicken cuts. Most all chickens produced for meat are raised cage free. Chickens from cages that have exceeded their maximum egg producing years may end up in a can of chicken noodle soup, but who would eat that anyway? Have you seen the sodium content? Wait, the soup now has “a 1/3 less sodium which is ‘heart healthy’?”

While I have not seen it as much lately, “hormone free” really gets me going. If it has ever been alive, plant or animal, there are hormones. Unless you are eating synthetic food, get used to consuming them.

My next least favorite tactic is food companies trying to make less than healthy foods seem more healthful. Jars of spaghetti sauce and canned pastas contain “two full servings of vegetables.” Wait a minute. I thought tomatoes were technically fruits. We may next be seeing that veggie slogan on a bag of potato chips. If you eat the whole bag, you may be getting several day’s worth of veggies. Yes! And while I do appreciate the breakfast cereal companies using more “whole grains” which many of them have done for years, that does not change the fact that they are still full of sugar. Hmm? Some say that cows fed corn are less healthy than cows only fed grass and hay. Will corn--which is a whole grain--make me unhealthy and fat, too? Suzanne Somers says so. What’s next? “Contains no corn” or “no grains?” Actually, I have seen that on bags of dog and cat food. Those bags also read, “Real meat.”

Since Paleolithic man did not eat grains, they must not be an ideal food choice. However, I just saw a magazine cover that says Dr. Oz swears by eating for your blood type. Since my blood is A-, I am supposedly a perfect candidate to go vegetarian, and I digest grains very well. I expect that very soon we will see frozen meals that will list blood types: “Type A approved!”

Lastly, I have been seeing foods marked, “farm-grown.” Are there so many synthetic food ingredients out there that people honestly think their food was created in a laboratory?

Or better yet, I recently saw bins full of vegetables marked “Home Grown.” I stood there with my mouth open for a few seconds. I really had a hard time believing that this mound of produce came from a local person’s back yard. The logistics alone did not make since for a large grocery chain to buy from small, very local producers.

Then I saw another store chain advertise the same in their weekly flyer and an explanation followed. The produce came from X Farms: they are family-owned, grow produce on 2,500 acres and are located in Ohio. Nothing against Ohio, but that is not close to my home, 2,500 acres is a very large operation requiring lots of labor, and most all the farms I know of are family-owned. Why isn’t the corn bread mix in the next aisle labeled “home grown” then, or the steaks in the meat aisle. I know for a fact that those came from family farmers in Kentucky, even though they are sold at a regional store chain. Maybe I need to put a bug in their marketers’ ears.

The list of food marketing tactics goes on and on. While some can claim it is a better understanding of food and nutrition that makes food companies want to cater to our desires and aim to eat better, I also believe it plays into a lot of people’s lack of understanding and fear. I am also inclined to think that these marketing buzz words give food companies justifiable reason to up the price on our food. Are you willing to pay more for the same food that is perceived as being better? I am not.

We have more information about the food we eat than ever. But while I cannot make claims on the overall health of our population, I know for a fact that we are definitely a heftier nation than we were before we knew the simplest calorie, fat and sugar content of our food. So, what is really making us fat: the food or our tendencies to embrace fancy words and slick packaging? I am still a believer that food with the least amount of frill, plastic, cardboard and ink is still best. Wash the dirt off and enjoy.

You may also enjoy - Hormones, Steroids, and Antibiotics. Oh, My! or Silly Chefs, High Fructose Corn Syrup is not the Enemy.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What about the potato?

My good friend Sharon Burton, publisher of The Farmer’s Pride newspaper, gave me permission to post her latest editorial from the September 7 edition. I can totally relate to her struggles in trying to determine what eating healthy really is when you get so many conflicting reports. And these conflicting reports undeniably affect our perspectives of the food industry and agriculture.

I’ve been trying hard to educate myself about healthy eating. I’ve been counting carbs and sugars and have lost some weight since I began.

I’ve read a couple of books, visited health food stores and gotten on a number of email lists to receive encouragement and information.

I thought I was doing well. I thought I had learned something. I was starting to look at most breads as the enemy and green leafy foods as my friend. I had weaned myself from a lot of useless food—items that provide no nutrient benefit—and improved my menu dramatically.

Then I heard something on the radio that astounded me this morning. A study has shown that a group of obese people lowered their blood pressure by eating potatoes twice a day.


The reason I began my research was because I wanted to check for diabetes. I knew I tested just fine when blood was drawn but believed there might be something going on.

I learned that the medical industry usually just lets you know when you become a diabetic. There are warning signs along the way before your body stops converting glucose to energy if you know what to look for.

One of the ways to test your blood glucose level is to eat a fast acting carbohydrate. One website I found recommended a number of foods, including a large boiled potato.

Now, if potatoes will jump up your blood sugar level, how can they be good for you?

I went back to one of the books I read to see what I could find. The book, “The Belly Fat Cure,” recommends no more than 15 grams of sugar and 6 servings (around 120 grams) of carbs a day, spaced out in meals and snacks, thus the number 15/6.

A red medium potato uses up three of those 15 sugars and 2 of those 6 carb servings.

A large baked potato uses four of each—two-thirds of the recommended carbs.

A researcher told USA Today that the potato skin is the key. Potatoes contain a substance similar to ACE inhibitors, a widely used family of blood pressure drugs, according to the statement released about the research project.

So, is the potato my friend or enemy?

Is there any wonder people are beginning to question the motives of the food industry? Do you understand why agriculture is under attack? If we don’t know whether or not we can trust a potato, what can we trust? Who do we trust?

There are so many similar stories. Remember the attack on the egg? Everything I read now says to start my day with a couple of eggs, real butter and some bacon.

Each one of these items has been the target of attacks in the past.

Honestly, trying to learn the truth about food is one of the most frustrating experiences I have gone through in a while. It’s no wonder people give up and go back to eating Twinkies.

But I’m determined not to eat Twinkies. I want to do better for myself. I just have a simple question. What about the potato?

The Farmer’s Pride, is a statewide newspaper that provides hometown news for Kentucky’s farm community. Sharon has been in the newspaper business all her adult life and has enjoyed traveling the commonwealth visiting farms, rural communities and covering all aspects of Kentucky agriculture since 1989. Under Sharon’s leadership, The Farmer’s Pride has been recognized by commodity and other farm organizations across Kentucky with various communications awards for its role in covering issues vital to Kentucky farmers.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Proud to Wear Dirt

I am writing this post for two reasons: 1) it makes sense to honor a hard worker at Labor Day, and 2) there is no better time to celebrate my mother than on my birthday.

A couple of weeks ago a Facebook friend who rides at my parents’ horse stable commented that she could not believe how dirty she was after spending a few hours at the barn. I replied, “Now you know why my mother looks such a mess most of the time.”

My mom did not think this was amusing, but after I thought about it, I think it can be paid as a compliment, because I know she wears her dirt with great honor. She loves her job. She gets to work with horses every day. She gets to teach people how to work better with their horses so they form a wonderful relationship. While she is a teacher, she is also always in student mode, soaking up every bit of information she can find, whether from a book, video or another instructor.

Because of her success and great love for her job, she always gave me the same advice when it came to my career. “I will be proud of you no matter what you do; I just want you to be happy doing it.” She did not push me to go to college (even though I did) or have a job that would make lots of money (though sometimes I wish I had chosen that route). She just let me find my own happiness, and I can truly say that I also love my job.

When I speak to school children, and even now to my peers, I proudly say, “When I was thinking about what I wanted to be when I grew up, I never in a million years thought that I would work for farmers. But I am so glad that I do, because I cannot think of a job more important than providing food to people who can’t provide it for themselves.”

While working with the land or livestock may not be the fashionable career choice, it is most definitely an honorable career choice. I hope, like my mom, anyone who gets their hands dirty to make a living, will stand strong and be proud to wear their dirt. I appreciate you!

My parents gave me a wonderful birthday present on this Labor Day - they took me and my daughter horseback riding at one of their favorite riding spots. Thank you so much!

Friday, September 2, 2011

More for Your Food Dollar – Resources Worth Sharing

My last few trips to the grocery store again had me shaking my head at higher prices on many of the regular items I buy. (FYI – corn and ethanol are not THE reasons for higher food prices, as some would have you believe. Higher energy prices and local/global weather events have much higher impacts on our food supply and the prices we pay at the grocery.)

Unfortunately I have not learned the art of creative coupon clipping; those “extreme clippers” crack me up. What the heck are you going to do with 100 bottles of mustard? Are you sure need all those candy bars? I have made sure to clip a few coupons on things that I know I buy and use regularly, but I don’t want to eat and breathe coupons. I am all about buying in bulk and stocking up when things are on sale, some suggestions that the following folks share. Check them out.

Arizona Farm Bureau - @Cottonaggie does a fabulous job posting weekly menus and tips that help save consumers money. Check out these pages:

• 10+ Tips for Stretching Your Food Dollar:  

• Latest Food Price Trends:

• Menus and Shopping Lists to Stretch Your Food Dollar:

Food and Farm Hour with Ray Bowman (@jrfarms) on America’s Web Radio – Jenna Hogan, a nutrition and wellness educator with the University of Illinois, shares ways to save while not skimping on quality or nutrition:

I also like to buy food that are processed as little as possible. That way more money goes back to the farmer and not the processor. If you have tips you would like to share for saving money at the grocery, please post in the comments below.
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