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Celebrating the Abundance of Local Foods, Season by Season Fall 2008 Number 9
Member of Edible Communities
Mt. Vernon’s Local Secrets Revealed Local Hero Nominations • Farm & Restaurant Recovery K&K POPCORN: TINY BUT MIGHTy
8 After the Rain By Kristine Kopperud Jepsen A Flood of Aspirations By Michael Knock The Seed of the Great Spirit: Winona LaDuke and the White Earth Land Recovery Project Tiny But Mighty: Real Iowa Popcorn By Riki Saltzman Squash in the pumpkin patch By Criss Roberts Paul Willis & Niman Ranch Pork By Dave Murphy
4 7 10 Grist for the Mill Notable Edibles Behind Closed Doors Les & Katrina Garner By Rob Cline Buy Fresh Buy Local By Mallory Smith Incredible Edibles Mount Vernon By Brian Morelli Market Watch Advertiser Directory cover By Kurt Michael Friese
Photo by Kurt Michael Friese
iowa river valley
grist for the mill
Dear Eater, We love autumn. It’s harvest time, it’s Holiday time, it’s the best time to gather around the table with the people you love and wonderful local food. Though Mother Nature has been tough on Iowa this year, its resilient people will always find a way to coax a crop out of the ground and put a full plate on the table. All over the state, folks are showing the strength and perseverance it takes to carve out a life on the prairie. Kristine Kopperud Jepsen will tell you about the long-term effects of flooding on the grazing animals of northeast Iowa, while Michael Knock shares a story of restaurant revival in Cedar Rapids. Rob Cline and Brian Morelli are both in Mount Vernon this time around. Rob is there to raid the refrigerator of Cornell College president Les Garner, but Brian will show you all the must-taste food that’s available to all this quaint little town’s residents (and you too, when you visit). Criss Roberts brings you a story of a simple pumpkin patch in Donnelson that grew from a child’s 4-H project into a popular squash-thermed adventure park complete with corn mazes and a huge selection of heirloom varieties. Remember, pumpkins aren’t just for Halloween anymore. And speaking of heirloom treats, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of enjoying the “tiny but mighty” kernels of Urbana’s K&K popcorn, then Riki Saltzman has quite a tasty surprise for you. As if that weren’t enough, Dave Murphy has the story of Thornton’s Sultan of Swine, Niman Ranch Pork founder Paul Willis. So pour yourself a glass of local beer or wine, settle back, and enjoy our Harvest & Holiday edition of Edible. When you’re done, please go out and sustain our advertising partners, who are supporting local food during tough time. With Relish, Kurt & Wendy
Kurt Michael Friese
CONTRIBUTORS Andrew Dunham Eugenia E. Gratto Brian Halweil Michael Knock Brian Morelli Dave Murphy Denise O’Brien Melissa Petersen Mallory Smith PHOTOGRAPHERS Joy Anderson Andrew Dunham Carole Topalian CONTACT US
Edible Iowa River Valley 22 Riverview Drive NE Iowa City, Iowa 52240-7973 Telephone: 319.321.7935 www.EdibleIowa.com info@EdibleIowa.com
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Edible Iowa River Valley is published quarterly by River Valley Press, LLC. All rights reserved. Subscription rate is $32 annually. Call 319.321.7935 to inquire about advertising rates and deadlines or email info@EdibleIowa.com. No part of this publication may be used without written permission by the publisher. ©2008. Every effort is made to avoid errors, misspellings, and omissions. If, however, an error comes to your attention, please accept our sincere apologies and notify us. Thank you.
Photo by Kurt Michael Friese
Some may think that the only good salsas out there come from the Southwest, but since 2000 the folks at Kramer’s Specialty Foods have been making dynamite salsa in five heat levels from the tiny Mississippi River town of Comanche. The Iowa salsa stands up well enough to have received a 2nd place prize from Chile Pepper Magazine at their competition in Fort Worth, Texas. Kramer’s also makes an assortment of pepper jellies and a few soup mixes as well. www.KramerSpecialtyFoods.com
Lucca for Lunch
We had an opportunity to enjoy lunch at Basil Prosperi’s Lucca, the hip eatery in Des Moines’ trendy East Village neighborhood that takes its name from the owner’s grandfather. While Steve Logsdon’s Tuscan-inspired eatery is best known for two-and-three course prix-fixe dinners for just $25-34, their lunches are a very tasty and even more affordable alternative. Salads, panini, and pasta are all made fresh when you arrive and served quick in a chic atmosphere that includes live piano. Basil Prosperi's Lucca 420 East Locust, Des Moines 515.243.1115 www.LuccaRestaurant.net
Buy Iowa Wine
Our friends at Muddy Creek Wine in Coralville have found a way to make it even easier to enjoy great Iowa wines. Through their new website you can choose wines from among 14 Iowa wineries (and more coming on board all the time). Mix and match wines from such well-known Iowa wineries as Fireside, Wallace, Tassel Ridge, Park Farm and Cedar Ridge to make a great case for the Holidays. Or, if you’re in the neighborhood, stop by and see Muddy Creek’s retail store in Coralville. www.BuyIowaWines.com Muddy Creek Wine Company 100 East Oakdale Boulevard, Coralville 319.354.3355 www.MuddyCreekWine.com
After the Rain
Trickle-down effects of flooding will affect pastures and livestock through winter
By Kristine Kopperud Jepsen
Fall is washing invitingly over our pastures these days--the lowly sumac is ablaze in the fence rows and the gnarly oaks' golden leaves shimmy with abandon to the ground--but the effects of June's floods on our region's livestock production remain: slumping fences ready for a fast break sometime next spring when it's least convenient to chase stock, debris hiding in tall grasses waiting to snarl up a mower, and silt that derailed a season's worth of plant growth and compacted soil structure. But what's got people talking--and speculating--is the flood's effect on grain and hay quantity and quality, as it's no secret that winter feed costs are a producer's make-or-break expense. First, spring 2008 was already brewing a "perfect storm" of unusual circumstances. A harsh winter lumbered decisively into late April, forcing many producers to buy extra hay, when it is at its highest price, or feed out more of their reserves than anyone anticipated. Simultaneously, grain prices skyrocketed, chewing into profitability whether an operation feeds a lot or a little. When the rain hit in June, it pummeled what seemed to be the cool, wet spring's only redeeming offering: a bumper first crop of hay. "We lost the majority of our first cutting on our bottom ground--and that's significant because we usually get just short of two-thirds of our yearly total tonnage from first crop," explains Ryan Herman, who raises grass-finished Angus beef with his father, Gene, on certified organic ground on northeast Iowa's border with Minnesota. The Hermans, who market their beef to distributors of natural, organic, and/or grass-fed meats, normally harvest firstand second-crop hay, while stockpiling third (and sometimes fourth) cuttings for grazing late in the growing season. "We're expecting the shortage to come to full realization this winter." Why does this matter? Well, consider that ribeye steak spends at least two and half years on hooves, with the animal munching roughly 3.5 percent of its body weight in fuel a day. On our grass-based farm, that means a single weaned calf should eat a few round bales all by himself. In an industry trying to stomach rising transport and distribution costs besides, a bad year makes everyone swallow hard. Federal assistance came mostly in the form of "emergency haying or grazing" allotments on ground legally committed to the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), a federal incentive plan that pays farmers not to plant or graze portions of their land. In other words, with these emergency allotments, produc8 Fall 2008 EDIBLEiowa.COM ers had the option to hay or graze acres they had in CRP without paying back the incentives received since their given contract was issued. But to avoid penalty, grazing could not begin until August 1, and haying could not take place until after November 1. "For many people, those dates wouldn't produce enough quality forage to make it worth it," says John Lawrence, Iowa State Extension livestock economist and director of the Iowa Beef Center in Ames. By that time, grasses that haven't been cut earlier in the season are typically overgrown, making them less nutritious, not to mention less tasty. Lawrence hasn't fielded as many inquiries about flooding matters as he'd assumed he would, but he does sense that both large-scale and smallscale producers aren't taking much for granted. "Early on, people scoffed at the idea of harvesting CRP [acerage], but generally now there's an understanding that any food source, including corn stalks, is going to be of some value in some market, which helps justify the expense of baling it." he says. Producers on certified organic land aren't done assessing the flood's toll, either. While it's not likely anyone will lose certification due to flooding, says Bonnie Wideman, executive director of Midwest Organic Services Association a organic certifying organization based in Viroqua, Wisconsin. The certifying agency became entwined in every layer of assessment, from the definition of "flooding" to the development of chemical analysis for contamination, in coordination with state laboratories. "The whole thing brought about more collaboration between state organic officials and certifying agencies," says Wideman. "We learned that there's no realistic way to test for crop-specific contamination unless we account for individual soil plot composition and test for specific contaminants, many of which break down quickly," she explains. "We just wanted to get people thinking about anything uphill or upstream from them that could wash over their land without their consent--and it worked. Neighbors started talking to neighbors, and people felt confident about asking questions." The Hermans, for example, are experimenting in aerating sodden soils. "The sheer weight of water and standing water for the flooding period, I fear, have negatively affected soil microflora, biology and worm populations," Ryan Herman explains. "I am currently asking around about three different types of tillage [implements] that won't lift the whole soil profile
Photo by Kurt Michael Friese
[yet] leave a slit in the ground for roots and air. Not sure of the cost yet, but it's pretty important." Looking forward, Wideman says June's flooding is a blow to our collective ambivalence. "We've had two 100-year floods within six months," she says in awe, referring to devastating rainstorms that hit in August of 2007 as well. "I'm most concerned about the soil that leaves our states for the Gulf of Mexico. Should our flood-prone ground even be tilled? Could we work with the idea of more pasture [which better withstands erosion]?" It will pay, she says, to be less swamped next time. Midwest Organic Services Association www.MOSAOrganic.org
Kristine Kopperud Jepsen writes from the field—literally—as half of Grass Run Farm and a local foods advocate near Dorchester, Iowa. Inspired to tell the story of various curiosities and challenges, Kristine has contributed to several community-based journals on land and the web.
Behind Closed Doors
Raiding the Fridge of Cornell College’s First Couple
Les & Katrina Garner
By Rob Cline
I ate a lot of pizza in college. I ate it in my dorm room and later in my apartment. I ate it at parties and at meetings. I ate it late at night and early in the morning (which were occasionally the same moment). I ate it take-out, delivery, eat-in—find me a pizza and I would eat it. One setting in which I never consumed the stuff, however, is the college president’s house. That’s because I didn’t go to Cornell College in Mt. Vernon. I visited the residence of Cornell President Les Garner and his wife Katrina the afternoon following one of the eight pizza parties they hosted this year for the 383 new students at the college. It’s a tradition that dates back to the Garners’ time at North Carolina Wesleyan College in Raleigh. “North Carolina Wesleyan is a young school without the traditions of this college,” Katrina explains. “Most of the students had no connection to the president or the president’s house.” Les decided to change that by inviting the students over for pizza. When the Garners came to Cornell in 1994, the pizza parties came along. Are you imagining a kitchen full of soggy cardboard boxes delivered by a student who had to work instead of coming to the shindig? Think again.
“I was a caterer before I was a college president’s wife,” Katrina says. “I didn’t know what I was supposed to do as a college president’s wife, but I knew I could cook.” Aided by some students who help dress the pizzas, Katrina serves up her own pies to hungry freshman. She’s equipped with a double convection oven that the Garners installed in order to facilitate the parties. It sits across the kitchen from the 31-year-old tried and true Kenmore refrigerator I was on hand to investigate. The sausage on Katrina’s pizzas often comes from Jim and Elly Fink’s Cedar Valley Farm in Vinton (www.Iowa-Natural-Meats.com). Indeed, the Garners get much of their meat from the certified organic farm. “Elly will send us an email and say, ‘Here’s what I’ve got. What would you like?” Les says. Apparently, lightning fast response is the key to getting what you want. “You have to answer the email fast to get the chicken” says Katrina. “I still haven’t hit the send button fast enough to get the pork chops,” Les adds. The Finks deliver their products, often swapping the meat for a check left on the porch. The Garners have a similar arrangement with Howard Ciha, Photo by Rob Cline
the man who supplies their eggs. Every other Tuesday, Ciha drops off two dozen eggs in exchange for $3 left in an envelope on the porch. Those lovely brown eggs are part of Les’ breakfast every morning. The Garners also hold a small share in Abbe Hills Garden, a community supported agriculture farm just outside of Mt. Vernon, and produce from the farm is a staple of their refrigerator. Operator Laura Krouse had a bumper crop of some items this year, including sweet corn so appealing that Katrina dug into a raw ear in her car on the way home from a pickup, leaving the rest of the household one short. “It was a bad season for okra,” says Les. “We’re North Carolinians and we love okra.” In fact, it was the Garners who suggested that Krouse take up growing the vegetable. Eggplant, arugula, beets, red peppers, tomatoes, onions—Abbe Hills Garden is a source of an abundance of produce, but it offers more than that to the Garners. “It contributes to our sense of community because we see our friends and our neighbors and it’s great fun,” says Katrina.
“I still haven’t hit the send button fast enough to get the pork chops.”
It’s quite clear, of course, that the Garners are devoted to local food. Even with all the items and resources mentioned above, we’ve barely scratched surface of their sources, which include fish from two ponds and pears from a tree on a 70-acre farm they own. “I’m amazed at all the food you can get locally here,” Les says. Even so, the Garners are also world travelers and their refrigerator includes a few items that have their origins in those journeys. For example, various oriental sauces are on display in the refrigerator door. “In 1999, we spent six weeks in Shanghai while I was teaching,” explains Les, “and came back with a desire to replicate Shanghai cuisine.” There is also a bottle of rose syrup from a trip to Tuscany. “You might drizzle it on vanilla ice cream for an interesting flavor,” says Katrina, “or add it to a very plain cake to add a hint of something exotic.” And that’s the role these items play in the Garner fridge—they are the hint of something exotic in an icebox filled with a panoply of locally produced food. And it just might be worth enrolling at Cornell to get a crack at those pizzas.
Rob Cline is the marketing director for The University of Iowa’s Hancher Auditorium. He is also the founding president of the Iowa Cultural Corridor Alliance and an active freelance writer. He lives in Cedar Rapids with his wife Jenny and his children, Bryan, Jessica and Emily.
Buy Fresh Buy Local
At Mary Jo's County Garden
By Mallory Smith
For many growers, the Buy Fresh Buy Local movement has its roots in the farm crisis of the 80’s. Such is the case for Gerald Freyenberger of Wayland, just north of Mt. Pleasant. Until 1986 Freyenberger and his wife Mary Jo were running a traditional stock and grain operation on a farm that had been in his family for three generations. It was the era of “get big or get out,” yet the Freyenbergers saw another option: switch to produce and sell it directly to consumers. “I added strawberries and it kind of grew from there” is how Gerald begins the story. From a small U-pick berry operation, the farm has grown to supply 20 CSA shares and enough produce to sell at five farmers market per week. Thirty-five crops are listed on the CSA brochure and members are invited to hunt mushrooms, camp, cut firewood and fish the farm pond--privileges that certainly make Freyenberger’s CSA unique. When asked about changes and trends in local foods, Freyenberger immediately cites the farmers markets. In 1986, when he and his wife shifted the focus to produce there were no organized efforts in Henry County and very few in surrounding areas. Now there are plentiful. Freyenberger sells Tuesday through Saturday at markets located in Muscatine, Mount Pleasant, Washington and Columbus Junction, none of which existed when the strawberries were first planted. Freyenberger is a founding member of the Southeast Iowa chapter of Buy Fresh Buy Local. He is a Master Gardener and a former member of Iowa Network for Sustainable Agriculture (INCA) and the Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association. Gerald Freyenberger Farm Mary Jo’s County Garden 1508 130th Street, Wayland 319.256.7169
Photo by Mallory Smith
A Flood of Aspirations
Cedar Rapids Restaurants See a Brighter Future
By Michael Knock Photos by Kurt Michael Friese
In a disaster that defied description, it is perhaps a white linen tablecloth that best tells the story of the flood that left hundreds of blocks of Cedar Rapids underwater last June. That tablecloth was laid across a table at Blend restaurant, in downtown CR on Wednesday, June 11. Like the rest of the restaurant, it was set and ready for the evening dinner rush. But dinner never came. Instead, floodwaters from the nearby Cedar River, swollen by a week of heavy rains, forced the evacuation of downtown and led to the greatest disaster in Cedar Rapids history. When Andy Deutmeyer, 27, and his business partner Vic Kuper, 27, were able to return to Blend about a week later, they found a soggy mess. Furniture from the front of the restaurant had floated to the back office and an end table was sitting on top of a desk chair. They also found that tablecloth. Silt from the floodwaters had stained it brown, yet eerily every spot where a piece of the place setting had been was still white and clean. There were ghostly outlines of plates, salt and pepper shakers, napkins and even silverware. “It was surreal,” Kuper said. “The table was still set and the glasses were full of water. It was just weird.” Many months and hundreds of hours of work later, the downtown restaurant scene is starting to get back on its feet. At press time, Kuper and Deutmeyer hoped to be ready to serve dinner at Blend on Oct. 25, and its next-door neighbor restaurant Zins, are due to reopen this fall. Zins was less than a year old when the floods hit – having first opened November 9, 2007. “My business partner really wants us to open on Nov. 8,” said Zins co-owner Lee Belfield, 59. “Nov. 9 didn’t work out so well for us.” The return of both Blend and Zins is good news for the food scene in downtown Cedar Rapids. That scene was just beginning to blossom as more and more people from the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City corridor discovered downtown as a great place to enjoy an evening. The flood changed that. A news story from February 2008 listed 37 food vendors in the downtown area. As of early October—four months after the waters hit— only seven were open. “One of our best features for visitors, residents and businesses in our downtown community was the growing variety of food establishment—the majority unique and locally owned,” said Quinn Pettifer, the director of marketing for the downtown district. “The momentum is still there and given time we will see many of our restaurant partners back in business.”
But it’s going to be a long way back. Both Zins and Blend sustained heavy damage in the floods. Belfield estimated the damage to Zins at between $250,000 to $350,000. The numbers at Blend are similar. Deutmeyer said his restaurant had suffered about $300,000 in damage. Neither had flood insurance. “The river is two-and-a-half blocks away and it’s all uphill,” Deutmeyer said. “We’re on the line between the 500-year and the 1,000-year floodplains, so we didn’t receive a dime (from insurance).” The damage ranged from kitchen equipment to floors to cabinetry. Carpeting had to be ripped out and replaced, as did drywall. Worse yet, Belfield said that all of his records were lost. “It took us eight weeks to figure out the final payroll,” Belfield said. Both businesses have put in for assistance from the Small Business Administration. Still, the paperwork and the bureaucracy have been frustrating. Kuper said Iowa politicians like Gov. Chet Culver and Senators Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley have helped cut through some of the red tape. Local programs have also helped. Pettifer said the Cedar Rapids Chamber of Commerce created an “Adopt a Business” program whereby one business was able to help another with fundraising and providing volunteer labor. There are also grant programs from the Small Business and Job Recovery Fund from the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation and a new program from the Governor’s office called the Jump Start program. But according to Belfield, Kuper and Deutmeyer, some of the most gratifying assistance came from the people of Cedar Rapids who have provided countless hours of labor helping downtown businesses with clean-up. In fact, all three said that volunteers poured into both Blend and Zins to help as soon as they could. “At one point there were 35 people constantly going up and down the stairs helping us clean out the basement,” Deutmeyer said. “I thought it would take two weeks, but it took six hours.” Some of the volunteers were friends and others were family members. Others, however, were strangers who just wanted to help. “A handful were people I’d never met before,” Deutmeyer said. “They just came out of the woodwork.” And the business owners have appreciated it. “As difficult as this flood has been, there have been extraordinary acts of kindness for which there is not adequate way to say ‘thank you,’” Belfield said. “‘Thank you’ is something you say when someone holds the door open for you. There are no words that are adequate for what these people have done.” Volunteers did not shy away from the worst of the clean-up work. At Zins, Belfield said the nastiest job was emptying out the walk-in cooler that had been underwater and without electricity for nine days. “It was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen,” Belfield said. “Nobody should have to do work like that, yet people just helped out.” Still, Deutmeyer knows that it is going to take time to get people back in the habit of coming downtown. Both the Paramount Theatre and Theatre Cedar Rapids—which both drew business downtown—are closed and will
be for some time. Other businesses downtown have reopened, but sidewalk traffic remains light. Kuper said it can be a little scary re-opening a restaurant in a market that no one is sure about. Still, he and Deutmeyer are confident that downtown will come back. “As more and more places come back, the people will come back downtown,” Deutmeyer said. “Nearly everybody is re-opening or working towards re-opening. No one has folded or called it quits.” In fact, some think that the flood has provided the city with the chance to remake its downtown to be even better than it was before. “This is an opportunity,” Belfield said. “Depending on the decisions we make we can rebuild it better than it was.” Deutmeyer agreed. “It’s exciting to see,” Deutmeyer said. “There’s work going on everywhere, and a lot (of businesses) are coming back with improvements. If you’ve ever wanted to take time to change things, now is the time. We just need to make the best of it.”
Michael Knock is a lifelong Iowan who grew up learning how to cook while standing on a kitchen chair at his mother's side. He writes the weekly food column for the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
221 2nd Avenue SE, Cedar Rapids 319.366.3364 www.BlendCR.com
227 2nd Avenue SE, Cedar Rapids 319.363.ZINS (9467) www.ZinsRestaurant.com
The Seed of the Great Spirit:
Winona LaDuke and the White Earth Land Recovery Project
Hidden way back in the north woods, well off the paved roads, on the White Earth Reservation around Ponsford, Minnesota is the home of Winona LaDuke. From her ancestral land she is leading a quiet revolution to save a way of life. Though Winona was not born on this land, her father was a member of the Makwa Dodaem, or Bear Clan, of the Mississippi band of the Anishinaabe, or Ojibwe tribe on the White Earth Reservation. Her mother was the daughter of Polish immigrants, and Winona was born in California, where her father worked as an actor in Western movies. Her activism in Native American Rights began while she was attending Harvard, and her star rose quickly – she was speaking on the subject before the United Nations at age 18. By 2000 she was running for Vice President of the United States on the Green Party ticket. Back in 1867 the US Federal Government designated 1300 square miles of territory in Northern Minnesota as the White Earth Reservation, setting aside this land for the Anishinaabeg (Ojibwe) people. One hundred years later less than ten percent of the original 837,000 acres of land was in native hands, having been taken away by land developers or confiscated in tax debt repayment. In 1989 LaDuke founded The White Earth Land Recovery Project (WELRP) to get that land back. To date they have placed more than 1700 acres of community land in trust for the Ojibwe people, but that is just the beginning. At this writing they are looking to purchase six acres for a food production facility, and looking into additional land for wind turbine electrical production. This land is sacred to the Ojibwe people because of their ancient spiritual connection to it through the food it provides, which comes from their migration stories in which the Ojibwe were told by the Creator to go to the place where the Manoomin (which translates roughly to “good berry”) grows on the water. They found that place in the Northern Great Lakes region and lived healthy lives for centuries harvesting the Creator’s gift to the people, wild rice. Though the English term for Manoomin is wild rice, it is actually not rice (Oryza sativa) but rather the seed of an aquatic grass (Zizania palustris) and is related to corn. It has far more protein than rice, which is why it sustains health so well. Until the 1960’s the Anishinaabe had a virtual monopoly on wild rice production, but that changed when the University of Minnesota figured out a
The Manoomin that grows next to Winona LaDuke’s home in Ponsford, Minnesota is just beginning to rise from the surface of one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes
16 fall 2008 EDIBLEiowa.COM
An excerpt from the new book by Edible Iowa River Valley Editor-in-Chief Kurt Michael Friese; A Cook’s Journey – Slow
Food in the Heartland,
available now at Devotay and at bookstores everywhere.
way to cultivate it. In 1977 the Law of Unintended Consequences kicked in when the state legislature declared wild rice the “Official State Grain,” a kind gesture that caused massive amounts of research dollars to pour in. The ironically named “cultivated wild rice,” or paddy rice, became big industry in one of the United States’ biggest grain economies. Prices plummeted, and the natives on the White Earth Reservation and throughout the region could fetch no more than twenty-five cents per pound. For a product that takes days and days of hard physical labor to harvest and parch, such a price was completely debilitating. WELRP helps native Manoomin harvesters by paying upwards of $1.25 per pound (in 2005) for their hand harvested rice. They parch it in large batches with that of other tribal members and create markets where it can fetch a fair price. In 2000, Winona and WELRP were honored with the Slow Food Award for Biodiversity. LaDuke says it expanded their thinking. “We didn’t know we were Slow Food people,” she said. So many are and don’t know it. Additionally, Slow Food began the very first American Presidium in defense of hand harvested, hand parched Native American Wild Rice. The purpose of all the Slow Food Presidia is to promote artisan products; to stabilize production techniques; to establish stringent production standards and, above all, to guarantee a viable future for traditional foods (so that we can continue to enjoy them). Slow Food works with the producers to create viable markets for their product because if a traditional artisanal food can have an economic impact, it can be brought back from the verge of extinction. This association has broadened their thinking on the White Earth Reservation as well. Now there are Ojibwe farmers raising the Heritage turkey breeds, and people all over the country and the world recognizing the flavor and importance of real Manoomin. Today Manoomin faces additional challenges. Researchers at the Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics at the University of Minnesota are mapping the genome of wild rice. This is the initial step to the genetic manipulation of the food and to the patenting of laboratory-created, “improved” strains of rice. The long- and short-term implications of this to the health of the environment, to the Ojibwe people, and to consumers are completely unknown,. Of course the Ojibwe have banned GM crops from their land, but that does not mean they won’t get there. Pollen carried on the wind or seed blowing off passing trucks is more than enough to cause damage. If the DNA of some future, GM wild rice shows up in the lakes of the White Earth Reservation, it could have effects on all the rice on Native land.
LaDuke’s vigilance is stemming the tide in the Ojibwe’s scenic corner of the world, but much more work must be done. In 2004, she joined with 5000 other artisans, farmers, and food producers from 120 nations in Torino, Italy for an event called Terra Madre: A World Gathering of Food Communities. Terra Madre 2004 was an effort to reverse that, to build a global network of people who were concerned with the long-term viability of their ways of life. An enormous success, Terra Madre met again in 2006, “attentive to environmental resources, planetary balance, the quality of the finished product, the dignity of workers and the health of consumers, (Terra Madre) will unite producers and farmers from all over the world who together represent a different and more complex way of understanding the food system.” Most stories such as Winona LaDuke’s could get lost in the background noise of the information age, but her relentless pursuit of what is rightfully hers, rightfully the spirit of the Ojibwe people, must be silenced.
Wild Rice Dressing
For as long as I can remember, this dish has been the indicative flavor and aroma of Thanksgiving, which is my favorite holiday. It’s the one day in America where everybody really concentrates on being around a table with great food and the people they love. Winona told me that it’s important to remember, when using the hand-parched, truly wild rice, that it cooks much faster than the cultivated “paddy rice.” The running joke on the White Earth Reservation goes “How to cook Paddy Rice: Put rice and water in a pot with a stone and boil. When the stone is soft, the rice is almost done.” 1 pound hand-parched, Manoomin wild rice, washed 3 cups chicken stock 1 pound “breakfast-style” sage pork sausage ¼ pound butter 2 portobello mushrooms, diced ½ onion, minced 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped 1 stalk celery, diced 1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped 1 pinch fresh thyme Salt and white pepper to taste Preheat oven to 350°. Rinse rice thoroughly in 3 changes of hot tap water. Put rice and stock in a large pot and bring to a boil. Boil rice in broth for 20 minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed. Meanwhile, brown sausage in butter until fully cooked. Add remaining ingredients. Simmer 10 minutes. Mix in the rice. Transfer to a covered casserole. Bake covered at 350° for 20 minutes, then uncovered to desired consistency – I like it a little crunchy on top. Serves 4-6 as a side dish.
Born and raised in the Heartland, Edible Iowa River Valley editor-in-chief Chef Kurt Michael Friese got his BA in photography at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa before graduating from the New England Culinary Institute, where he later was a Chef-Instructor. With more than 25 years of professional foodservice experience, he has been Chef and owner, with his wife Kim McWane Friese, of the Iowa City restaurant Devotay for 12 years. Devotay is a community leader in sustainable cuisine and supporting local farmers and food artisans. Recently Kim promoted him to "Chef Emeritus," and he now devotes most of his time to writing about and advocating for sustainable cuisine.
Honest Food on the Lincoln Highway
Story and photos By Brian Morelli
Rising prices at the grocery store don’t really bother three farmers living near Pavelka’s Point at the east edge of Mount Vernon. Beef, lamb and pork rancher Lois Pavelka, bison rancher Bill Ellison and produce farmer Eric Menzel of Salt Fork Farms trade amongst themselves for most things they grow and need: beef, poultry, pork, spinach, lettuce, carrots, potatoes, apples, eggs, milk, yogurt, ice cream, cheese,etc. But the threesome is also an anchor for Mt Vernon’s local food scene,selling many of these commodities through direct retailing, at local farmers markets and the town’s restaurants. Every Thursday, Palvelka is at the Mount Vernon farmers market. Her meats are also occasionally available at the locally owned, nationally reknowned, Lincoln Café, one of the few restaurants in town that supports local food producers. Given its size, about 4,200 people, Mount Vernon is comparatively progressive and offers decent options for people looking for local edibles, from the local coffeeshop Fuel to the faithful Big Creek Co-op Mount Vernon is a quaint Iowa college town. Residents, students and visitors can often be spotted strolling down a traditional main street with a decent mix of businesses. The small liberal arts college, Cornell College, has a big impact on the town’s vibrancy, For farmers like Pavelka, Ellison and Menzel, direct sales options are growing as more people tune into the local food movement. That’s good news for these three because it mostly insulates them from market variations dictated by national economic trends. This allows them to sustain a satisfying and sloweddown life on a picturesque and diversified farm. Pavelka’s Point is nearing 200 years old and has been passed down through her late husband’s family. “If small farms are going to survive, we really need to sell a good product directly to the customer,” Pavelka said. However, Mount Vernon isn’t entirely protected from external factors. Many people here are still reeling from the 2008 record floods. Pavelka and Ellison lost about 100 acres of their 330 acre farm to water, and had to rescue a pen of new born piglets one night pulling them from an old barn to high ground. “We are still in the recovery phase,” Pavelka said. “We’ve been a month behind since March,” Ellison said. “We had a heavy winter, then too much rain and then the flood.” John and Kaylene Kroul of Kroul Farms on Highway 1 at the southern edge of Mount Vernon are also still picking up the pieces from the flood. Water rose to three feet on some parts of their property. “We were hit with the flood real bad,” John Kroul said. Many people in the eastern Iowa area are familiar with the Krouls because their farm is a must-visit during the harvest, particularly around Halloween. A spread of pumpkins decorates the property and a corn maze and hay bale maze and various Halloween ornaments make for a fun afternoon activity for families. Plus, the Krouls are the proud parents of four-year Iowa Hawkeye defensive line starter Matt Kroul, and salutes to their son and the Hawkeyes are also evident all around. The Krouls frequently host school field trips and other kid organizations, although due to the extra work from the flood, they aren’t leading tours. Groups are still welcome to come check out the farm on their own. This family friendly tradition started about 20 years ago, and its popularity has been increasing ever since, Kroul said. Still, John Kroul is a true blue farmer. He has been working to expand his trade, from livestock to more diversified vegetables, and sell it locally. That’s due in part to a nudge from Uncle Sam, Kroul said, as the country tries to become less reliant on foreign oil. That’s new, and the increased labor is still something they are figuring out. The Krouls have a table at the North Liberty farmers market and they sell everything from pumpkins, squash, eggs, to garlic and peppers from a produce stand on their farm. EDIBLEiowa.COM fall 2008 19
In town, Matt Steigerwald has built his Lincoln Café into one of the most respected and magnetic restaurants in the region. The chef and owner opened the restaurant in 2001 and later opened a wine bar two doors down. They serve a fairly traditional lunch with burgers and sandwiches, and get more creative at night. On the day Edible visited, Steigerwald was testing out a deep fried soft-boiled egg to go with grilled duck, and whipping up a batch of sausage grits. “Honest food” the front window claims, in part a nod to their location on the (Abraham) Lincoln Highway. Their t-shirts say “Food is Important,” another salvo Lincoln Café lives by. They buy as much locally as practical and work primarily with David Miller at Pure Prairie Garden. Miller also has coordinated the Mount Vernon farmers market for the past five years. “We like to think of him as our personal farmer,” Steigerwald said, noting they also buy from a handful of other local producers. “At times, in the summer, 95 percent of the vegetables on the menu are from him.” Because of the restaurant’s small size, about 12 tables, and always pliable menu, they are not constrained by some of the difficulties larger restaurants have working with small local growers. “We work well with small farm operations. It is a person working with a person,” Steigerwald said. “If they say, “I only have five pounds of potatoes today,” I’ll say, “That’s fine. Can you bring five pounds tomorrow?” And it’s this camaraderie among farmers, restaurateurs, and others that makes Mt. Vernon worth a visit.
In & Around Mt Vernon:
Lincoln Café 117 1st Street West, Mount Vernon 319.895.4041 www.FoodIsImportant.com Kroul Farms 245 Highway 1 South, Mount Vernon 319.895.8944 Pavelka’s Point 710 Ivanhoe Road, Mount Vernon 319.624.2392 Eric Menzel, Salt Fork Farms 1038 Vega Road NE, Solon 319-270-3449
Also While You’re There:
Big Creek Market 100 1st Street West, Mount Vernon 319.895.8393 www.MyBigCreekMarket.com Fuel - Coffee, Tea, Antiques 103 1st Street East, Mount Vernon 319.895.8429
Brian Morelli is a journalist who covers university news for the Iowa City Press-Citizen. A recent University of Iowa graduate, Morelli has a major in journalism and minor in political science. Prior to writing, Morelli traveled for several years primarily in the U.S. and Canada, and he cooked professionally at several restaurants across the country, most recently at Devotay. He currently resides in Iowa City with his wife and two children.
Iowa's local bounty is available even when frost season begins. Most off-season markets may have sporadic schedules, so always confirm days and places.
Ames Farmers Market 2p.m. to 7p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Main Street Depot Market Master: Paula, 515.231.5900 Burlington Farmers Market 4 to 7 p.m., Thursdays through Nov. 20 at the Port of Burlington Market Master: Judy Parks, 319.752.6388 Des Moines Downtown Farmers Market 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 21 and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 19 in the 400 block of Locust Street. Market Master: Kelly Foss, 515.286.4928 Dubuque Winter Farmers Market 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays through April at 11th & Central (The Colts Drum and Bugle Corp Bingo Hall) Market Master: Amy Weber, 563.599.9858 Iowa City Holiday Markets 9 a.m. to 12 noon. Saturday, November 15 and Saturday, December 6 Robert A. Lee Community Recreation Center Gymnasium Market Master: Tammy Neumann, 319.356.5210 Mount Vernon Winter Farmers Market 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 8, Nov. 11, Dec. 13, Dec. 20, Jan 10, Jan. 24, Feb. 7, Feb. 21, March 14, March 28, April 4 and April 18 In the basement of the Mount Vernon City, 213 First Street West Market Master: Mickey Miller, 319.895.0177
Market Watch is made possible by the generous support of Everybody’s Whole Foods in Fairfield.
K&K popcorn is available at all Hy-Vee stores, all Dahls in Des Moines, and at Whole Foods markets in the upper Midwest. There's due to be a shortage for 2008, thanks to the late spring floods. Gene reports, “we will only be selling locally and internet mail order when the crop comes in this fall. That's farming!”
Gene Mealhow K&K Tiny but Mighty Popcorn 3282 62nd Street, Shellsburg 319.436.2119 or 800.330.IOWA www.KandKPopcorn.com
Tiny But Mighty: Real Iowa Popcorn
Story and Photos by Riki Saltzman
“What in the world is this stuff?” was Gene Mealhow’s reaction when he first encountered K&K popcorn. According to Urbana family farmer Richard Kelty, original owner of the business, his great, great, great-grandfather, Samuel Kelty, settled just northwest of what is now Cedar Rapids in the 1850s. The family story is that the family stash of popcorn seed came originally from Indian neighbors. Since it is a self-pollinating flint corn, the family folklore on this may well be true. The popcorn was shared locally for generations but was nearly lost when planting ceased for a few years. When Richard Kelty returned home from the army in the mid-1970s, he found the last remaining seeds in a fruit jar. He popped some and planted the rest—and a new business was born. While it was tasty, however, the corn did not produce well enough to be commercially viable. So Kelty called upon Gene Mealhow, a professional soil consultant, to help him reduce his waste and increase his yield. This was in the early 1990s; the popcorn stalks were falling down and producing only 600 lbs per acre. In the very first year, Kelty remembers that his corn crop "went nuts! Yield went from 600 to 1000 lbs. per acre, and he cut the throwaway by 10%. For Mealhow, it was “totally fun to work with Richard.” The two changed something each year—upped population, planted deeper, selected for certain traits, and planted different seeds. Mealhow, a third-generation conventional family farmer who had turned to organic methods in the 1980s, was fascinated by this unique popcorn. After five or six years, Kelty told Mealhow that he wanted to sell his popcorn business. Gene, who had tried to find a buyer for Kelty, considered doing it himself, and he and his wife, Lynn, made an offer. Kelty’s typically understated Iowan response: “I was wondering how long it would take you.” Since the late 1990s, the Mealhows and their sons have been producing K&K Tiny But Mighty Popcorn. What makes K&K popcorn special are its tiny kernels and hulls, which disintegrate when popped, making it appealing for those with digestive complaints. The disintegrating hulls have also won the approval of dentists, says Gene Mealhow. But there are still challenges ahead for this corn. K&K organic is a prized specialty item because producing sufficient organic popcorn is difficult because of weed control. But rest assured, except for limited use of herbicide on some fields, the regular product is produced without fumigants, sprays, or pesticides before or after harvest and processing. This open pollinated corn also has many different genetic traits that are difficult to isolate. Because it is hard to breed, most people in the popcorn industry wanted nothing to do with it. It requires Mealhow significant time and effort to identify and select the specific, often recessive, traits he wants to improve yield as well as the stalks’ ability to stand up. While he could turn to GMO technology, he prefers not to do so. According to Mealhow, “There may be positive factors in genetic engineering but the companies that are involved are proceeding without looking at the long term effects. How is it affecting the soil EDIBLEiowa.COM fall 2008 23 and the organisms, food quality, food digestibility, and who is regulating it? Just because we can do it, should we put are total future in it? What happens if ten to fifty years down the road we start to have problems and all of our seed base has been genenetically altered and we have none or little of the original germ plasm left to work with? Around five companies control most of the germ plasma in the world. If you control the seeds you control the food. I vote to keep as diverse seed base in a lot of different hands.” A lot of organic farmers and consumers that feel the same way, and we are involved in a large effort to conserve and breed seeds in natures way to preserve these untouched seeds for the future.
Riki Saltzman has been the Folklife Coordinator for the Iowa Arts Council/Department of Cultural Affairs since 1995. She received Leopold Center funding to document place-based foods in Iowa and to create a website. Saltzman has researched food and other cultural traditions in the south, mid-Atlantic, Midwest, and Great Britain. At the Iowa Arts Council, Saltzman works with communities and individuals on multicultural issues, project development, event planning, and presentation of traditional arts and artists. Saltzman, who obtained her Ph.D. in Anthropology/Folklore from the University of Texas at Austin, is the author of public folklore publications as well as peer-reviewed articles in scholarly journals.
Squash in the pumpkin patch
By Criss Roberts
If they had just planted it, filled their acres with twining squash vines, would people have come? Adam Hohl doubts it. He is a true believer in the power of squash, but even his faith has limits. The magic part — that probably only worked for Cinderella. What the Hohl family sees is a logic behind the booming squash market. “I think it started when the restaurants started serving it.” Hohl, who returned to his family’s Donnellson farm to grow Kathy’s Pumpkin Patch from a farm stand offering Halloween pumpkins and acorn squash to a squashthemed adventure park. Acorn squash soup, pumpkin gnocchi and butternut squash ravioli are relative newcomers on the menu boards at some of Iowa’s finer restaurants, but their appearance is introducing the staple of winter pantries and fall harvest meals to a whole new generation. Squash is no longer your grandmother’s vegetable. Each weekend, the Patch packs the trunks of everyone from food-milling young mothers making baby food to ambitious 20-somethings new to the kitchen. At the same time, older customers are delighted to find varieties they remember from their youths as well as hybrids that are sweeter, smaller and less stringy.
two years. Corn mazes and pumpkin carving were added and Julie, a local primary grade teacher, began offering children’s activities. Growing alongside the fun, however, was an ever-increasing variety of squash. This year was a trial. Where other farms fought rising rivers, the Hohls contended with unceasing rain and waterlogged fields. “We had to replant three times,” Adam said. Crops matured later than anticipated, and Kathy wonders if the high moisture content will be a factor in the vegetables’ shelf life. But then again, the latest generation of squash eaters believe in instant gratification. They won’t be storing their Squash Soup squash in a root cellar until Easter.
6 tablespoons chopped onion 4 tablespoons butter 6 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash 3 cups chicken stock ½ teaspoons marjoram ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper 2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
Melt the butter in a large saucepan, sauté onion until tender. Add squash, stock and spices. Boil, the simmer for 20 minutes or until squash is tender. Puree squash and cream cheese in a blender or food processor. Return to saucepan and heat. Do not allow to boil.
Beyond the Butternut
Each year, the Patch grows new tendrils, adding varieties and family activities. This season’s inventory includes 175 varieties of squash and gourds this year, ranging from warty pumpkins the size of a child to tiny single-serving dumpling squash. Kathy Hohl has no problem picking her favorite squash. She loves the pink banana squash. “It’s a big ugly thing,” Hohl said, wielding a 30-pounder like a club. It is indeed pink, a pastel melony pink, and it has that banana shape, almost all of it edible. The charm of it, Hohl said, is that it makes perfect sense for any busy cook.
Then in 2004, looking to replace the livestock with something less labor-intensive, Kathy planted 5 acres of pumpkins and sold them at the farm stand to eager pie bakers and Jack-o-Lantern carvers. Two years later, Adam returned to the farm with his wife, Julie, and their son. The row crops gave way to more pumpkins and more gourds. They’ve maxed on subscriptions for their CSA in
“Any recipe that uses pumpkin or squash, you can use this.” Its close kin, the blue banana squash, isn’t as freezer friendly, but it keeps longer than most varieties in the fridge.
Photo by Kurt Michael Friese
The Hohl family has been farming in southeast Iowa for five generations. Kathy and Greg Hohl ran the farm as a livestock and grain operation for most of their married life. In 1994, son Adam grew some pumpkins as a 4-H project, selling them at the roadside table with a jar to collect payment on the honor system. His sister, Amber, continued the project. When the kids went to college, the pumpkin project turned back into a handful of unplanted seeds.
“You cut it up in slices,” she said, chopping her hand down the squash in inch-wide cross sections. “You scoop out the seeds so you have a donut, lay them out on a baking sheet to cook, then freeze them until your ready to use it.”
One of this fall’s biggest sellers is Red Warty Thing. That’s really its name.
For those who demand pumpkins, Kathy’s a fan of the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin, an heirloom variety with the yellow-gold hue of a good cheddar, hence the Cheese in its name.“It has beautiful flesh,” she said. For nostalgia, nothing beats the Hubbards. “They’re what our grandparents would have grown,” Hohl said. A hybrid of those thick-skinned heirlooms are the mini Blue Hubbard or Blue Magic, both smaller and more tender. Small is a trend in squash — and pumpkins are a member of the squash family. So is big. Big and ugly. One of this fall’s biggest sellers is Red Warty Thing. “That’s really its name,” Adam said. Halloween décor is trend driven and the trend is moving toward homely varieties with names like Knucklehead and Goosebumps, pumpkins which look like they’ve got a fungus growing on their orange or green skin. While all their produce is technically edible — “We tell people to decorate with it now and eat it later” — Kathy steers cooks toward other, more savory, selections. “Our No. 1 question is ‘How do I cook it,’ ” she said. “No. 2 is “How do I get my kids to eat it?’ ” She can answer the first question with a handful of recipes and regularly scheduled cooking demonstrations. That second question, the one about the kids … it’s kind of a chicken-and-egg thing. Will your kids eat it if you cook it? Or will you cook it if your kids eat it? Cookies and cakes are always a good place to start. Sneak pureed pumpkin into pancake batter too. Sweet and creamy soups are friendly for the squashphobic, a malady quickly cured by a visit to Hohl’s.
Kathy's Pumpkin Patch 1977 Highway 2, Donnellson 319.470.1558 • www.KathysPumpkinPatch.com
Criss Roberts, a Chicago native, married into an Iowa farm family. She lives in Burlington, where she is the former feature editor of the Hawk Eye, and writes for other publications and websites.
Paul Willis & Niman Ranch Pork
An Edible Icon
By Dave Murphy Photos by Kurt Michael Friese
It may be true that pigs can’t fly, but if you’ve ever tasted Niman Ranch pork you’d sure think these pigs had wings. From top chefs across the country to your average backyard barbeque, pork lovers have consistently voted with their forks in agreement that Niman Ranch pork is “the best tasting meat in the world” as their company’s modest slogan claims. Whether it’s a pork chop, their famous Applewood Smoked Bacon, or the company’s unique specialty products—such as their Andouille, Apple & Gouda or Chorizo sausages, Niman Ranch has found a recipe for making carnivores’ mouths water while tempting a growing number of vegetarians away from their endive and radicchio salads. For Iowans worried that some slick Californian (where the Niman Ranch’s parent company is headquartered) is about to take claim of producing the world’s finest tasting pork there’s nothing to worry about. The Niman Ranch Pork Company was founded here in Iowa, by Thornton farmer Paul Willis, who has taken his passion for raising pork with the highest intergrity. The company does not allow hormones or sub-therapetic antibiotics, uses vegetarian feed, and is the only meat company to be certified humanely raised by the Animal Welfare Institute. Willis has turned Niman into a national brand known for its sustainable, family farm mission. Since starting the company in 1998, Willis has recruited over 600 family farmers from across 12 states in the Midwest to help form the foundation of the enterprise. Iowans can be proud that not only does its founder hail from Iowa, but nearly 40% of the Niman Ranch hog farmers also call Iowa home. 26 fall 2008 EDIBLEiowa.COM
For the many people fortunate enough to travel to the Willis’ farm, located 100 miles north of Des Moines just off I-35, one of the best sights to see are the Willis’ pigs roaming happily across the pasture, with the littlest ones, weaned at six weeks, running like kids on a playground. Even better is the chance to walk through the listening to him talk about his pigs and why they mean so much to him. Walking among the hogs in Willis’ fields has become a time-honored tradition for many of the nation’s top chefs, environmentalists, foodies, politicians and the hundreds of people who just stop by because they love Niman Ranch pork and want to see where it all started. Regulars include visits of executives and chefs from some of Iowa’s, and the nations’ best restaurants. In addition, during the political season, politicians and their staffs all made a pilgrimage to the famous hog farm, including Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich. During the most recent Iowa caucus season, Chris Dodd and a regular round of Obama staffers kept coming back for freshly grilled pork. For all their supposed political differences, one thing they all agreed upon was that they thought Willis’ lovely wife Phyllis, who bakes her famous pie crusts with lard rather than butter to bring out that special flavor, makes the best apple pie they had ever tasted. For the majority of these people though, the most memorable thing is a walk with Willis through their fields where they learn firsthand about how farming, the environment and animal welfare go hand in hand.
“It’s not just about money,” he mused, who has been raising hogs on this farm since he was a child. “These pigs have a right to a decent life. We try to provide them that and in the end we believe a happy pig makes a better tasting pig.” As we walk through the field, the pigs, in all shapes, colors and sizes come up to us to check us out. After a few minutes we are surrounded by dozens of curious pigs, gazing up at us, some sniffing or even nibbling at our shoes or jeans and gently poking us with their snouts as if looking for some sign of where we have come from. Unlike their unfortunate cousins found around the state, Niman Ranch hogs aren’t raised in confinement feedlots, which have become the standard way to raise hogs and most farm animals in the United States, from broiler and egg laying chickens to dairy cattle. Today in Iowa, which raises the most pigs in the nation — slaughtering some 36 million in 2007 alone according to recent USDA figures — most pigs are raised in factory-like warehouse buildings that house anywhere between 1,000 to more than 10,000 hogs under one roof. Rather than allowing the animals outdoors, hogs in confinement are kept in temperature controlled buildings, with automated feed and water, and forced to stand on slatted concrete floors over a massive pit where their waste collects for six months at a time before it’s emptied on nearby fields as “fertilizer.” While many farmers across Iowa adopted this factory farm model for raising hogs, Willis refused to go along. Instead, he started a quiet revolution by raising his pigs outdoors as they had been for hundreds of years, in what is now ironically called “the traditional manner” or “old fashion way” of raising hogs. Willis shrugs his shoulders and laughs when he sums up his pig philosophy and the secret of his success, which he says boils down to: “Let pigs be pigs.” Walking past a sow with a young litter of piglets, Willis stops and looks out across his field to talk about why how way he raises his pigs and the environment forms a symbiotic relationship between the animal, the farmer, nature and, in the end, those who eat the final product. “To me the environment is about the land, the air and the water. The more natural the system you work with, the better it is for the animal, the environment and ultimately the consumer,” says Willis. “Working with nature is much better than trying to use chemicals and engineering to manufacture protein.” While many of his fellow hog farmers started calling themselves pork producers in the 1990s and began putting up million dollar confinement systems and locking their animals permanently indoors, Willis continued to refine his animal husbandry practices, started using non-GMO feed and began looking for a market to sell his free range hogs. In 1995 Willis met Bill Niman, who founded Niman Ranch in 1969 from his cattle ranch in Bolinas, California, and Willis sent a few freshly slaughtered hogs out West to see how they would fare.
After sending a batches of hogs out to California, including supplying Alice Water’s Chez Penisse in San Francisco every week for a number of years, Willis founded the Niman Ranch Pork Company in 1998. In less than a decade, that company has become synonymous with the finest quality in taste, sustainability and its lifeblood — the family farmer. Each year the company holds the annual Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner, which honors its family farmers for their efforts and flies in some of the nation’s top chefs to create an entire six-course meal entirely out of pork, including a desert that regularly features candied bacon. For those fortunate to attend, this is a night, described by many, as a time when pigs take flight.
Dave Murphy is a sixth generation Iowan and an advocate for sustainable agriculture. When not roaming the Iowa countryside, he spends his time in Des Moines, Okoboji, and Clear Lake.
Where to Find Niman Ranch In Iowa
Niman Ranch pork is available at many area retailers, such as New Pioneer Co-op and the Bread Garden Market in Iowa City, and Gateway Market in Des Moines. For their online store, visit their website at www.NimanRanch.com.
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AMES Chocolaterie Stam 230 Main St. 515.232.0656 StamChocolate.com AmesEats.com Wheatsfield Cooperative Grocery 413 Douglas Ave. 515.232.4094 Local.Wheatsfield.coop ANAMOSA Daly Creek Winery 106 N. Ford St. 319.462.2525 DalyCreekWinery.com BALDWIN Tabor Homes Vineyards & Winery 3570 67th St. 563.673.3131 TaborWines.com BANKSTON Park Farm Winery 15159 Thielen Rd. 563.557.3727 ParkFarmWinery.com CEDAR RAPIDS Zins Restaurant 227 2nd Ave. SE 319.363.ZINS ZinsRestaurant.com CORALVILLE Iowa City Coralville Convention and Visitors Bureau 900 1st Ave. 319.337.6592 IowaCityCoralville.org Muddy Creek Winery 100 East Oakdale Blvd. 319.354.3355 MuddyCreekWinery.com
New Pioneer Food Co-op 1101 2nd St. 319. 358.5513 NewPi.com DECORAH Winnishiek Wildberry Winery 1966 337th St. 563.735.5809 WWWinery.com FAIRFIELD Everybody’s Whole Foods 501 N. 2nd St. 641.472.5199 EverbodysWholeFoods.com FT. MADISON Ivy’s Bake Shoppe 6th Street at Avenue G 319.372.9939 IvysBakeShoppe.com HILLS Hills Bank 131 Main St. 800.HILLSBK HillsBank.com IOWA CITY Bread Garden 225 S. Linn St. 319.354.4246 Devotay 117 N. Linn St. 319.354.1001 Devotay.net The Englert Theater 221 E. Washington St. 319.688.2653 Englert.org Hancher Auditorium 319.335.1158 Hancher.UIowa.edu
Lammers’ Construction 35 Imperial Ct. 319.354.5905 LammersConstruction.com New Pioneer Food Co-op 22 S. Van Buren 319.338.9441 NewPi.com LEIGHTON Tassel Ridge Vineyard 1681 220th St. 641.672.9463 TasselRidge.com LISBON Sutliff Cider Company 382 Sutliff Rd. 319.455.4093 SutliffCider.com MARENGO Fireside Winery 1755 P Avenue (V. 77) 319.662.4222 FiresideWinery.com MARQUETTE Eagle’s Landing Winery 127 North St. 563.873.2509 EaglesLandingWinery.com PELLA Ulrich Meat Market 715 Franklin St. 641.628.2771 UlrichMeatMarket.com WATERLOO Rudy’s Tacos 2410 Falls Dr. 319.234.5686
WEST BRANCH Scattergood Friends School 1951 Delta Ave. 319.643.7600 Scattergood.org Wallace Winery 5305 Herbert Hoover Hwy,NE 319.643.3000 WallaceWinery.com WEST BURLINGTON Ivy’s Bake Shoppe in Shottenkirk Superstore 309 S.Gear Ave. 319.752.4981 IvysBakeShoppe.com
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