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Special RAGBRAI Issue:
Food stories from along this year’s route, from Sioux City to Dubuque
Member of Edible Communities
IOWA RIVER VALLEY ®
Summer, 2010 Celebrating the Abundance of Iowa’s Local Foods, Season by Season Number 16
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8 Educational Television TV Shows Dubuque Students how to Grow and Prepare food—By Renee Brincks Under the Prairie Sun A True Family-run Organic Farm Blossoms in Sioux City—By Michael Brownlee Kissing Emu By Renee Brincks Lessons Learned Local and Organic Turn Economic Wheels in Woodbury County—By Kristine Kopperud Jepsen Black Gold Iowa’s Tall Corn,Voting with your Fork, and the Economic Importance of Local Food—by David Murphy On the cover: Kim Corn - Photo by Kurt Michael Friese
5 7 15 16 22 26 32 34 Grist for the Mill RAGBRAI Rolls Again Back of the House Pizza on Wheels—By Brian Morelli Behind Closed Doors RAGBRAI Director TJ Juskewicz—By Rob Cline Subscription Form The 99 Dip Your Front Tire in Dubuque County—By Katie Roche 1000 Words Green Beans at the Market—By Kurt Michael Friese Edible Imbibables It’s Worth Brewing—By Lisa Stokke The Last Word David Kirby’ss Animal Factory—By Kurt Michael Friese
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grist for the mill
Dear Eater, Or maybe we should say “Dear Rider” this time. You hold in your hands issue number 16 of Edible Iowa River Valley, an issue that completes our fourth year of publication and one that is dedicated to this year’s RAGBRAI. For the uninitiated, RAGBRAI is the (Des Moines) Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa - the oldest, largest and longest noncompetetive ride in the world. is July, like the previous 37 Julys before it, more than 10,000 people will dip their rear tires in the Missouri River, then 7 days and more than 400 miles later they’ll dip their front tires in the Mississippi River. Each has his or her own reason for doing this, but most abide by what has become the unoﬃcial motto of RAGBRAI: “Will Ride For Pie.” Each of the stories in this issue come from along this year’s RAGBRAI Edible Iowa Publishers Kim and Kurt Friese on RAGBRAI XXXV route. For RAGBRAI XXXVIII that means a 442-mile winding trek Photo by some guy who was sitting next to us. from Sioux City to Dubuque. In these pages you’ll learn from Michael Brownlee about Prairie Sun Organics, a thriving farm near Sioux City. Also from that end of the state, Kristine Kopperud Jepsen fills you in on the exciting progress in Woodbury County’s local foodshed. Clear Lake resident (and Food Democracy NOW! Founder) Dave Murphy uses a brief Iowa farm history lesson to illuminate the future of food in the Hawkeye State, while his wife Lisa Stokke takes on a tour of Northwood’s Worth Brewing - where “If it’s not hand-crafted, it’s not Worth Brewing!” And we’re just getting warmed up. Brian Morelli’s regular column Back of the House goes behind the scenes of Pizza on Wheels, a sure-fire stop for nearly all the RAGBRAI riders at one point or another along the way, as they’ll be slingin’ pies every day on the route. You’re also likely to catch a glimpse of RAGBRAI Director TJ Juskeiwicz somewhere on that ride, so our interpid fridge raider Rob Cline dove into TJ’s icebox to see what thrills his grill. Further east you’ll discover the delights of Kissing Emu, and learn how TV can teach Dubuque kids about organic food, both courtesy of Renee Brincks. When you reach the end of your ride, dip your front tire in the return of our series “e 99,” where Dubuque native Katie Roche takes you on a tour of what’s great (and not-so-great) about her home turf. And Team Edible will be out there on the road again this year, in a slightly diﬀerent capacity than in years past. We’ve joined forces with RAGBRAI stalwarts Team Cuisine to supply them with local vittles along the way. And this year we welcome Edible Communiites founders Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian to their first ever Great Ride. If you can’t make the ride yourself (or even if you can), you can follow our exploits along the way via Facebook and Twitter - a good thing to do anyway since we’re always chatting up the great food stories from Iowa and beyond. Also, check out our new podcast at EdibleRadio.com! See ya down the road.... With Relish,
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All of us at Edible are proud to call these folks our Partners. ey understand the importance of supporting local farms, local food, and the local economy. Be sure to visit the Edible Partners listed here, and thank them for supporting local, sustainable food and Edible Iowa River Valley. To join the growing list of Edible Partners, please contact us at 319.337.7885 or Kim@EdibleIowa.com Blue Mountain—pg. 11 Bread Garden—pg. 36 Cafe del Sol Roasting—pg. 24 Cedar Rapids Farmers Market—pg. 28 Classic Smiles—pg. 11 Colony Inn—pg. 17 Cook-oﬀ for a Cure—pg. 24 Devotay—pg. 10 Eastwind Healing Center—pg. 20 Edible Marketplace—pg. 21 e Englert eatre—pg. 8 Fireside Winery—pg. 17 Freighthouse Farmers Market—pg. 17 Hills Bank—pg. 16 Iowa City Farmers Market—pg. 11 Jasper Winery—pg. 16 John’s Grocery—pg. 17 La Reyna—pg. 23 Locally Grown—pg. 11 Madhouse Brewing—pg. 17 MidWestOne Bank—pg. 23 Mote Wealth Management—pg. 17 Motley Cow—pg. 25 Muddy Creek Wine—pg. 17 New Pioneer Co-op—pg. 25 Oneota Community Co-op—pg. 28 Peace Tree Brewing—pg. 20 Pepper Sprout—pg. 23 Pet Central Station—pg. 25 Riverside eatre—pg. 25 Robinson Family Wellness—pg. 24 Scattergood—pg. 24 Seed Savers Exchange—pg. 10 Share Wine Lounge—pg. 28 Slow Money Alliance—pg. 20 Terri Wiebold—pg. 24 Tassel Ridge Winery—pg. 2 Wiley Publishing—pg. 3
IOWA RIVER VALLEY
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & PUBLISHER Kurt Michael Friese MANAGING EDITOR Kim McWane Friese CONTRIBUTING EDITOR Christine Cuda WRITERS & PHOTOGRAPHERS Renee Brincks Michael Brownlee Rob Cline Jerry DeWitt Kristine Kopperud Jepsen Dave Murphy Brian Morelli Gary Olsen Katie Roche Lisa Stokke
DESIGNED BY Kurt Michael Friese
CONTACT US Edible Iowa River Valley 22 Riverview Drive, NE Iowa City, Iowa 52240-7973 Telephone: 319.337.7885 Fax: 888.704.1235 www.EdibleIowa.com — info@EdibleIowa.com CUSTOMER SERVICE Edible Iowa River Valley takes pride in providing its subscribers with fast, friendly service. Subscribe • Give a Gift • Buy an Ad www.EdibleIowa.com — info@EdibleIowa.com
Edible Iowa River Valley is published with the seasons by River Valley Press, LLC. All rights reserved. Subscription rate is $28 annually. No part of this publication may be used in any form without written permission from the publisher. ©2010. 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.
Proudly printed in Iowa.
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Back of the House
Story & Photo By Brian Morelli
Pizza on Wheels
Al Risk and his roadshow, Pizza on Wheels, can sling 200 pies on a good day out from under an Ez-Up tent with a double-deck oven blazing during Iowa’s mid-summer biking phenomenon known as RAGBRAI. It is annually his busiest week of the year. By day, Risk owns and operates Pizza on Dubuque, a downtown Iowa City joint where you can grab a slice or a whole pie. But, on a handful of dates each year Risk takes the food to the people. The shop is known for its crust made with whole wheat flour and extra virgin olive oil, fresh veggie toppings and a back drop of jammin’ music whether in Iowa City or on the road. ”I’m just happy when I am feeding people,” Risk said. The traveling vendor version predates the established digs. Pizza on Wheels started from a pizza kitchen Risk ran on tour with the Grateful Dead in the parking lot. Jerry’s gone, but Pizza on Wheels can still be found at a few music festivals each year like Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tenn. or Wakarusa in Ozark, Ark., and Iowa Hawkeye home football games on Melrose Avenue. Risk, 59, grew up in Marion and was in Iowa City in the 1970s when RAGBRAI was first getting its legs. Risk remembers hearing about the adventuring bicyclists. “I remember thinking, I want to do that, and now we’re at the heart of it,” he said. In 1993, Risk was pushed out of his home by the flood. Again in 2008, flooding claimed his home. He was hanging around waiting for those first waters to recede, when he had an opportunity to check out RAGBRAI for the first time. He tested the waters as part of a support crew, which meant he toted gear for people who were cycling. He quickly spotted a need for more food. When his group would arrive in towns, the local churches and schools serving up meals like lasagna and spaghetti dinners would get overwhelmed by the crowds and ultimately sell out before most riders arrived. From that year on, Pizza on Wheels has been a regular on the route. They always stage their stand in a town at least 20 miles out from the start each day, sometimes closer to the ending overnight town, and sometimes in the overnight town. He gets to witness as a town of 100 people sprouts to 5,000 for a few hours, and watch the faces of the locals as they watch a party roll though; one like few who haven’t been on RAGBRAI can picture. Risk has spent time in dozens of towns across Iowa now, and one constant has been people’s pride for their community, he said. “It’s fun. You get to meet some really cool local people.” Over the years, they have built a steady following. The lines can extend 50 deep at times, and the rush can last for eight hours some days. When they are falling behind on orders, and a fresh pie emerges from the oven, the staff shouts “HOT PIZZA” in a drawn out voice and the crowd cheers, Risk said. “It’s just pizza, pizza after pizza. We are slamming them out as fast as we can,” Risk said. “They are working hard. We are working hard, and I think riders appreciate that.” The kitchen is open for all to see, and they put on a show. Risk brings a crew of 10 to 12 to help handle the crowds. The crew splits up into station from prep cooks who chop up vegetable toppings like tomatoes, zucchini, mushrooms and broccoli. Another prep cook is constantly making dough, others are portioning it and others and pressing it out into pie shells. Still other members of the team are monitoring the ovens and running the register and pizza counter. Perhaps what has kept the wheels turning over the years is consistency. A customer is likely to find the same or very similar tasting slice of pizza today as five, ten, or even twenty years ago. The pie has changed very little, Risk said. About the only changes to the pizza are a little bit less garlic in the sauce and a greater blend between white and wheat flour in the dough, Risk said. That’s not it though, Risk said. The real secret to success is love, he said, pulling a quote he said he found in the Tassajara Bread Book. “Love is not only the most important ingredient, it is the only one that really matters.”
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TV shows Dubuque students to grow and prepare food
By Renee BRincks
On a sunny afternoon in late March, elementary students gather at Dubuque’s city greenhouse to fill peat pots and cell packs with soil. “Who wants to help plant first?” asks Sara Carpenter of Steve’s Ace Home & Garden, armed with a selection of seed packets. Several hands shoot up, followed by a chorus of eager “I want to!” and “Me! Me!” exclamations. As the students sow tomato, Brussels sprout, eggplant and zucchini seeds, Carpenter and Dubuque Parks and Recreation’s Mike Horsfall talk them through the process. Nearby, one child shares his mother’s eggplant recipe. Others chat about tomatoes and hot peppers. A camera crew catches the entire event on film. It’s all part of the first episode of the fifth season of “The Garden Organic,” a Dubuque-based television series featuring students who learn to grow and prepare their own food. The show is a spinoff of “Kids in the Kitchen,” a partner production that teaches local youngsters about shopping, cooking and nutrition. That series wrapped up its fifth season this spring. Gary Olsen developed “Kids in the Kitchen” after reading about children who head to empty homes after school. “So many kids play video games or basically are latchkey kids. Very few actually pitch in and start to prepare meals or anything like that,” he says. “Because both parents are working, convenience often trumps nutrition and they end up buying high-sodium, high-fructose prepared meals. We’ve gotten away from fresh food.” In addition to missing out on nutrients, Olsen sensed that children were growing up without basic kitchen skills. “I was afraid that true cooking from scratch was going to become a lost art,” he says. Olsen drew on his new media experience – he teaches and writes about multimedia matters and works in media development and public affairs for the Dubuque Community Schools – to create a local cable show introducing children to culinary topics. He pulled in Chef Jim Terry as an on-camera host and instructor. He partnered with Dubuque’s Asbury Plaza Hy-Vee, which offered a venue for the show and donated food for the cooking segments. Megan Dalsing, the store’s dietician, also came on board as a host, and Younkers donated utensils and kitchen equipment. Local schools held open sign-ups and selected students to participate. Ten “Kids in the Kitchen” episodes aired on Mediacom that first season. Since then, participants have cooked everything from Mediterranean charmoula chicken and crème brulee to from-scratch cannelloni with béchamel sauce and meatloaf made from locally raised bison. “We prepare meals that these kids have never eaten in their lives, and we use all fresh ingredients,” Olsen says. He credits Chef Terry for taking the program down a “whole, natural, organic foods path,” and he attributes the show’s sister series to a suggestion made by Dalsing. “Megan wanted to do summer workshop where kids could tend a garden,” Olsen says. “I said, ‘Great idea – let’s turn it into a TV show and you’ll be the host.’” So began “The Garden Organic.” That program aims, in Olsen’s words, to narrow the intellectual gap between what grows out of the ground and what ends up on the plate. Each season, children raise organic vegetables and learn about soil conditioning, crop rotation and natural pest control along the way.
Photo by Gary Olsen, Dubuque Community School District
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Photo by Gary Olsen, Dubuque Community School District
concerned about what’s going into their bodies.” “I wanted to do a program where kids could get their hands in the soil and learn that there’s a whole ecosystem there. They learn about soil composition, they plant seeds and they watch them grow,” says Dalsing. “The material is endless. We venture away from the garden quite a bit, but it’s all related” Other “The Garden Organic” episodes include visits with botanists, biologists, beekeepers and chemists who discuss water quality and environmental issues. Students take field trips to dairy farms, blueberry fields, county fairs and farmers markets. They learn to can food, build birdhouses and bake foccacia seasoned with herbs they’ve grown themselves, and they’ve viewed butterfly cocoons and toured dahlia gardens. Ten-year-old Sophie Mozena appears on both “Kids in the Kitchen” and “The Garden Organic” with her six-year-old sister, Hannah. Sophie says the shows have taught her to grow her own popcorn, read labels on recyclable materials and appreciate new foods. “I have a lot more confidence in the kitchen now,” she says. “We’ve made things from all over the world…we’ve done homemade noodles filled with savory chicken and we put marinara sauce on top. We’ve also done shrimp packets with broccoli and pepper. Usually I’m not a big fan of pepper or broccoli, but I really enjoyed them in this dish.” “It’s a learning program for kids as well as adults,” says Terry Mozena, who takes her granddaughters to filming sessions. “Gary doesn’t like to speak down to children. He thinks they will listen up to you, so it makes the program very good for kids and interesting for adults, too.” She’s been introduced to cooking techniques and new ingredients through the Dubuque TV programs, and she’s noticed that her granddaughters request healthier snacks as a result of their participation. She believes these are the first steps toward long-lasting lifestyle changes. “I have to be more conscious of the types of food I’m preparing,” says Mozena. “A lot of times, when the child says something, the parent starts listening. You start to become more aware because you want to be a good example for your kids.” Of course, economics play a role in changing eating habits, as well. Show hosts advocate organic and natural foods, which can sometimes cost more than processed options. Mozena mentioned that to “Kids in the Kitchen” chef Jim Terry, and he helped her look at food choices in a new way. “We have to make food a priority because it’s about our health,” she says. “People spend so much on junky food. But he can prepare really good food using organics, and it’s not as expensive as some of the inferior fast foods or processed foods.” Chef Terry also talked to Mozena about food labels and suggested ways to find the most nutritional options for the money. On the show, he discusses buying local and buying fresh. The programs underscore the value of home gardens, too. “Economically, what’s the cost of one tomato plant? Look at the yield, and it doesn’t really take that much effort,” Mozena says. “If you want to do a gigantic garden then you have to make a time commitment, but anybody can have a small garden or a pot garden and still defray the costs of the supermarket.” Producer Gary Olsen believes this is indicative of a bigger movement. “Iowa is just starting to discover gardening again,” he says. “We grow food for manufacturing. We grow corn that is crushed into corn oil and made into fructose. Some pockets of boutique farming exist, but now farmers markets are becoming popular again and people are more “Kids in the Kitchen” and “The Garden Organic” connect a new generation with those very topics. “The majority of kids that participate in our shows have never been on a farm and never grown any food. Their parents bring them to the shows so they can learn these things,” says Olsen. As they learn about nutrition, gardening and cooking, participants on the shows also learn about production, sound technology and filming techniques while helping out behind the camera. Each on-screen appearance provides an opportunity to develop poise and presentation skills. And, lessons support what students are studying every day at school. “It is not only a show about cooking. It also becomes a show about the geography of food, the biology of food, the math and science of food,” Olsen says. That big-picture approach to education has earned national recognition for the programs. In 2007, “Kids in the Kitchen” won the Cable Television Public Affairs Association’s Beacon Award. Two years later, Olsen’s work on “The Garden Organic” earned him a Cable Leaders in Learning Award from Mediacom and Cable in the Classroom, the cable industry’s education foundation. Olsen is proud of the way his programs provide students with handson learning opportunities, in contrast with more traditional classroom instruction that involves sitting and listening. He also enjoys watching participants become food enthusiasts. “The most common thing we hear from parents is, ‘You’ve taught my child to love vegetables,’” he says. “We’ve turned these kids into very conscientious eaters.” Dalsing says she hears daily from Hy-Vee customers – children and adults alike – who pick up tips from the shows. In her opinion, the most valuable lessons extend beyond the kitchen. “We’d like to think that what students take away is an ability to make better choices,” she says. “It’s about whole health and whole well being. We encourage them to have in an interest in their environment and take part in sustaining it. It’s really about all aspects of their lives.”
Catch the Show
“The Garden Organic” and “Kids in the Kitchen” air on Mediacom channel 19 in the Dubuque area, and in other areas of Iowa on the Mediacom network. Episodes are also available for online viewing at
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Photo by Neal Moore
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Under the Prairie Sun
A true family-run, organic farm blossoms in Sioux City
By Michael Brownlee
A trek up Highway 75 in Woodbury County in northwest Iowa, past Sergent Bluff and Onawa, and on through Sioux City will eventually bring the traveler, if they're so inclined, to Exit 99, to County Road D12 and eventually, to the Prairie Sun Organics farm. Situated three miles outside of Sioux City, Prairie Sun is a USDA-certified organic farm that owner Angela Jackson hopes will help further the "know your farmer" trend in America. "We want to help people realize that if everybody had a family farmer, we'd see a revitalization in rural areas," Jackson said. "It'd make the family farm viable again." Prairie Sun contains 20 acres of grassbased farming. Jackson sets aside two acres for crop production, growing tomatoes, onions, carrots, cucumbers, yellow and green squash, bell peppers, watermelon, herbs and more. The rest of the land is dedicated to raising grass-fed chickens. "The vegetables respond to being picked at night better," Jackson said. Jackson gets a feel for the land, using soil indicators like smell and texture to determine when is the best time to plant. "We don't rely on, 'Oh, we have to have our beans in by May 15," Jackson said. "We just go by the land and how we feel." Prairie Sun is certified organic by the USDAs National Organic Program, and as such Jackson said she is strictly monitored and tested. "There's a big difference between certified and not. Everything I do has to be approved, I have to report it to them. Every single thing I do is managed in a farm plan," Jackson said. "If I deviate from the plan I have to permission. Tons of paperwork, too." The Prairie Sun soil is devoid of chemical fertilizers or genetically modified seeds. No synthetics. The only pest repellent at the farm are the predatory insects.
The farm is in its second incarnation. Jackson originally set up her operation during the fall of 2008 in the southern part of Plymouth County, outside of Organic Farmer Angela Jackson of Prairie Sun, Sioux City "We use natural materials as much as possible and try not to spray our vegetables LeMars. A year later, in October of 2009, with anything but botanicals," Jackson she packed up and moved Prairie Sun to said. "We respect the traditional practices of organic farming." its current location to take advantage of a tax abatement program. Woodbury County reimburses property taxes to farms that are certified She knows about organic specifications as much, if not more, than any organic. farmer in Iowa. She has a full-time job as an independent auditor in the international organic community, which takes her away from the "Which helps a little bit," Jackson said. farm often. She gets the majority of her farm work done at night and Jackson subscribes to the principles of Biodynamics, a farming philoso- on weekends. phy that looks upon the soil and the farm as living organisms. Jackson Jackson said she tries to be a steward of her land. With no pressure to said the principles allow a farmer to interact with the land. According to biodynamics.com, it is "a unified approach to agriculture that relates meet profit quotas, she is able to use sustainable practices that will the ecology of the earth-organism to that of the entire cosmos." Biody- keep the land lush for generations. At Prairie Sun Vegetables are namics came to the United States in the 1930s after being developed in planted on flat land, not on the fragile rolling hills."We feel it's not an acceptable farming practice in the Loess Hills," Jackson said of plantGermany during the 1920s. The Biodynamics Journal includes discusing on hills. "We look at things in the long term - how it will affect the sion and suggestions on biodynamic preparations and practices. Jackland, not how it will affect our pocket book." son likens it to the Farmer's Almanac, which she also uses. In practical application, Jackson uses the journal and the almanac to find the best time to plant for the different vegetables, the best day to farm based on the phases of the moon, the location of the sun and the rising of the tides. Jackson and team harvest at night under the moon, not in the heat of the day, as she's found it extends shelf life. The Loess Hills run along the Missouri River and stretch from Westfield, Iowa in the north to Mound City, Missouri in the south. The yellow hued loess soil is easily susceptible to erosion but is very fertile. The only comparable large stretch of loess in the world is in Shaanxi, China.
Photo by Jerry DeWitt
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Prairie Sun is very much a family operation, which Jackson said makes the work that much more enjoyable. Her daughter Brittany, 13, works the fields after school, on weekends and during the summer. Mom says she loves preparing the fifth generation of her family for farming. "We're very close and we enjoy working side-by-side," Jackson said. "Even though we're working, we're spending quality time together." Grandpa's often there too - Jackson's father Ed Sasse, Jr. takes time away from his farm in Nobles County, Minn. to work the fields in Woodbury when needed. Jackson's son Ryan makes the drive to Sioux City, Sioux Falls and other surrounding areas to deliver chicken and vegetables, in addition to meeting with clients. Jackson's brother Ed Sasse III and sister-in-law Tina make the trip from South Dakota to help with everything from planting seeds and harvesting to driving deliveries and placing orders. Everybody pitches in. "I absolutely love it," Tina said of working with Jackson on the farm. "I've learned so much from her." Ed and Tina bring their three children, Alikah, 13, Leann, 9, and Nikolos, 5, to the farm as well. The youngsters enjoy getting out on the farm, Tina said. "I didn't think they would, but they love going out there," Tina said. "It's a real treat for them." Jackson said through working the land the family bond is strengthened. "We're a very close family because we all work together to make the farm successful," Jackson said. "We all chip in toward a common goal. Then we get to share in the rewards of our work." The rewards have had an influence on Tina Sasse and her husband. She said working at Prairie Sun has made her and Ed think long and hard about entering farming. Ed is a jailer in Yankton while Tina will wrap up a degree in criminal justice from Colorado Tech University online in January. Both may trade in bad guys for backhoes eventually. "We're really considering it for the future," Tina said. In addition to family, most weekends during the summer Vince Heiman brings his strong hands and big personality to Prairie Sun. Heiman is Jackson's primary partner on the farm and does the majority of the mechanical work on the farm, including hooking up implements, fixing what machinery is on the farm, mending fences and helping with other aspects of construction and maintenance on the farm. "I grew up on a farm," Heiman said. "I love the mechanical stuff." He still lives on one, a soybean, corn and wheat operation near Deerfield, Wisc. While it's row crops and tractors during the week, Heiman said his time at Prairie Sun is lived at a different pace. "It's much different than what I'm used to. I work a day job in an office, looking out the window at the beautiful weather, wishing I were outside. Then on my farm, I'm on my tractor a lot, just sitting and moving along," Heiman said. "On Angela's farm, you find yourself outside, with a hoe or a shovel. You're planting the seeds; shooing chickens back to their area. You have fencing pliers in your pocket. You're digging in the dirt. "It's more personal." Jackson broke into farming in 2003 with her then-husband Robert Pridie. The couple ran a certified-organic, grass-based 100 head cow-
calf operation in Akron, Iowa, just off of Interstate-29 west of Le Mars. Cattle and chicken were raised, processed and sold to customers, right on the farm. "He taught me everything," Jackson said of her ex-husband. After the couple divorced, Jackson remained committed to farming. She organized Prairie Sun Organics in 2006 and the company was incorporated in 2007. Prairie Sun has expanded its operations to include a farm market store in downtown Vermillion, SD, that sells Jackson's chicken and vegetables, in addition to eggs, milk, cheese, beef, buffalo and more from area farmers. Jackson has also created, along with six farmers from the surrounding tri-state area, the Upper Missouri Valley Local Foods Project. Jackson said the goal of the collaborative is to share costs to better provide their goods to customers. Eventually the group plans to open a meat processing plant near Sioux City, so that the farmers would have a central location for meat processing. "The idea is that we can sell more directly to consumers," Jackson said. During the summer Jackson also does that through area farmer's markets. Jackson said there's nothing like the instant feedback of a farmer's market. "Customers let us know what we're doing right and what we're doing wrong," Jackson said. "They give us an opportunity to engage the consumer." Jackson said she hopes a revolution in food ways is coming. One that involves a multiplicity of small-farm operations working together to provide food for a local area. The revolution will revitalize rural communities and also bring people closer to the food they eat. "Food co-ops, farmers markets, operations like mine – we're all experiencing growth. People want to get back to knowing their farmer and knowing where their food came from," Jackson said. "They want to see people and say, 'that's the lady that raises my chickens,' or 'I get my milk from him.' We need to build rural communities and get back to working with artisanal food shops." An obstacle right now for that plan is infrastructure - big machines, storage space, barns, buildings – they're not cheap. "We have a good local food movement going right now (in the United State), but we lack infrastructure. Our current system in America is geared to mass production," Jackson said. "We have to dissect it. We have to move it back to a production model that is for small-scale production, not mass-scale." With small groups working together, costs would be shared, allowing the farmers to operate together while keeping operation localized. The food project hopes to do just that, because alone the farmers couldn't afford a food vacuuming machine, an industrial freezer, the processor or much of the heavy machinery that goes into farming. Alone the farmers can't change the way America gets its food on a large scale. But together they will work toward realizing Jackson's dream.
Photo by Jerry DeWitt
Visit Prairie Sun online at www.PrairieSunOrganics.com
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RAGBRAI Director T.J. Juskiewicz enjoys a bite during the 2009 ride.
Photo Courtesy e Des Moines Register- RAGBRAI; Used with permission
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Behind Closed Doors
Thrill of the Grill
Raiding the Fridge of RAGBRAI Director TJ Juskiewicz
By Rob Cline
I’ll admit that I expected T.J. Juskiewicz’s refrigerator to be filled with stuff that would give a serious bicyclist extra oomph for long rides. Since I am not even an unserious bicyclist, I will also admit that I didn’t really have a sense of what that stuff might be. Still, it seemed like a reasonable assumption that the director of RAGBRAI would have some sort of…well, something that would keep those legs pumping and those wheels spinning over hill and dale. Turns out, expectations can be tricky. For example, back in 2002, T.J.’s expectation was simply that he was going to enjoy the famed annual ride across the Hawkeye state. At the time, he lived in Florida and he didn’t have any reason to think he’d ever end up working on RAGBRAI. Nevertheless, the very next year he interviewed for and got the job. He worked with the outgoing director on the 2004 ride, and the training wheels came off for the 2005 ride. His goal as RAGBRAI director is pretty simple: “This is the premier bicycle event in the world and we want to keep it that way.” With a new route every year, there’s plenty to keep T.J. interested. “Every town’s a different adventure,” he says. Even returning to a town yields a different experience than the last time the riders rode through. “There are new challenges each and every year. We try to provide the best possible experience for our riders. That’s what we’re about every day.” The central ingredient comes from the family garden. “When you use actual carrots from your garden, that’s the best there is,” he says. “And you can get monster carrots out of the ground in Iowa. It just takes one or two carrots to make a cake…Whatever you drop into the ground is going to come up in Iowa.” The kids are engaged in the gardening, as well, planting, in addition to the carrots, tomatoes, green beans, and sometimes such fare as pumpkins and watermelons. Now, let’s talk about the grill…. T.J. loves to grill up Graziano sausage, a famed link in the Des Moines area food chain. “It’s just spectacular,” he says. Graziano Brothers was founded by Italian immigrants back in 1912. The family-owned business is still offering up homemade sausage that is simply legendary in the Des Moines area. The recipe is confidential and has remained largely unchanged over the years. T.J. loves to grill up kabobs featuring the Graziano sausage links, onions and peppers, pineapple, and chicken. “Sometimes I get a little crazy and go with shrimp, as well.” He’s also a fan of the Iowa Chop, a delicacy on many a RAGBRAI route as well as the perfect way to impress visitors. Those better-thanan-inch thick chops are sure to grab a guest’s attention. “It’s a natural if you have company, especially from out of state, to dent the grill with those.” To quench his thirst, T.J. keeps beverages from Boulevard Brewing Company as well as Fat Tire on hand. “I like things a little bit darker. They go well with the grill.” Given that he used to live in Florida, I asked him if he was ever disappointed by the shorter grilling season in Iowa. T.J. is undeterred by Iowa winters. “You can always fire up the grill.”
Photo Courtesy e Des Moines Register- RAGBRAI; Used with permission
Okay, so what does power T.J. through his busy days and lengthy bike rides? Food fresh off his grill gets his pedals pumping. But first, let’s talk about the kids… “I dare anyone to try one and say that’s not a damn good sandwich.” He’s talking about Uncrustables, a Smucker’s product that you keep in the freezer until you pack it for lunch. By lunchtime, the peanut butter and jelly (or cheese) sandwich thawed and ready to be munched. T.J. calls it a “lazy parent” item, but also points out that they’re a good option for ballgames, too. Chase, 8, and Cami, 6, have other favorites in the fridge, too. There are Go-Gurts and plenty of fruit and “every kind of cold cuts known to man,” and leftovers like mac and cheese. The kids don’t drink soda, so there’s orange juice and chocolate milk on hand. “The refrigerator is mostly dominated by kids’ food,” T.J. observes. “We’re basically feeding them.” Also, let’s not forget the garden… T.J. credits his wife, Jodi, for her culinary skills, particularly in the area of baked goods. “She makes a mean carrot cake,” he cites as an example.
And Another Thing...
Interested in that sausage TJ likes? ere’s only one place you can get it: Graziano Brothers 1601 S Union Street, Des Moines 515.244.7103
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Gardening season is upon us, so that means it’s
See what’s growing in Iowa all year long.
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Photo by Kurt Michael Friese
By Renee Brincks
Sandy McAntire of Chelsea is a self-described city girl who bought a farm. For several years renters tended her tillable acres and livestock pens. A few years ago, though, she started looking for ways to be involved in agriculture while still maintaining full-time jobs as a computer instructor and a mom. She wanted something that would help her farm pay for itself, without requiring major time and managerial investments. When a local producer offered a class on raising emus, McAntire gave him a call. She visited his operation, and soon started with eight birds of her own. Three years later, she farms around 20 emus, depending on the season, and continues increasing that number after each egg laying. By marketing the meat from her birds and crafting cosmetics from the emu oil, McAntire has turned her parttime project into a profitable venture: Kissing Emu Farms. Some find it curious that she’d raise emus in a state better known for corn, pigs and cows. “There are people that drive by real, real slow, so I always go out and say, ‘Come stop – I’ll tell you all about it,’” she says. “It’s curiosity and interest.” That curiosity is natural – the Iowa Emu Association believes there are currently only about 20 emu producers in the state. The birds themselves are unlike most other animals populating Iowa fields and feedlots, too. Originally from Australia, they can grow as tall as 6 feet and weigh nearly 150 pounds. Emus are smaller than ostriches, with shaggy brown-gray feathers. The birds can’t fly, but they can run 30-40 miles an hour, leap 5-foot-tall fences and kick their 3-toed feet powerfully when threatened. McAntire says the most off-base assumption she’s heard about emus is that they are just “big chickens.” “That would indicate that they are, A) poultry, and B) a white meat. And they’re not,” she laughs. Emu meat actually is red meat, resembling beef in texture and taste. Unlike cattle, however, emus grow with all of their fat in one pad on their back. That means emu meat is lean – nearly fat-free, in fact – and lower in calories than beef, pork and poultry. “It’s an extremely heart-healthy red meat, and whatever spices you pair it with, it takes on that flavor. It’s extremely versatile,” says McAntire. She and her 10-yearold daughter enjoy ground emu in tacos, chili and spaghetti, among other dishes. But, because it is so low in fat, emu must be cooked differently than traditional meats. “Emu steak is 97 percent fat free. If you take it and throw it on a grill for seven minutes, like a normal steak, you’ll burn it,” says Dennis Anderson, president of the Iowa Emu Association. “But if you can take it and cook it to where it stays pink all the way through, you can’t find a better cut of meat.” While emu steaks and more complicated dishes are on the menu at a growing number of Iowa restaurants, some home cooks prefer the simplicity of emu brats and sausages. Kristen Monroe of Marshalltown cooks her emu meat in a crockpot, like she would a piece of roast. She praises its taste, and touts how lean and healthy it is.
Photo by iStockPhoto
Monroe, who was introduced to emu at a cook off event, believes people are unnecessarily hesitant to try dishes made with the meat. “When you say emu, it’s just not something that a lot of people are familiar with,” she says. “Often, it’s something that they’re kind of standoffish about, but if they had any idea how wonderful it was...” Monroe also enthusiastically recommends products made with emu oil, which is rendered from the fat that develops on an emu’s back. She uses everything from soap to lip balm to facial cream. “As far as cost-effectiveness, with all the other products that I was using before, these are just wonderful,” she says. “My skin is not as dry when I use soaps with the oil in them,” agrees Karen Funk of Ottumwa, another of McAntire’s customers. “It’s really soft and gentle. My hands, cuticles and overall skin are much smoother.” Research continues into the benefits of emu oil; to date, it’s been plugged as an anti-inflammatory, a wrinkle fighter and a natural pain reliever. Because it quickly
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Photo by Kurt Michael Friese
Photo by iStockPhoto
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and easily soaks into the skin, it is a popular ingredient in soaps, lotions and lip balms. Sandy McAntire makes and markets products that blend emu oil with ingredients such as cocoa butter, honey, oatmeal and a range of essential oils. She often hears from customers who found relief from the lotions and pain relievers. “It’s such a reward, having someone say, ‘I hurt myself the other night. I was in pain... I used the emu oil and it worked,’” she says. During 13 years as a producer, the Iowa Emu Association’s Dennis Anderson has watched awareness of emu-based products and foods increase – and that has boosted income opportunities for producers. “Twelve or thirteen years ago, not a lot of people knew about our oil. There’d been some meat out there, but not a lot of people had much to do with it. Everything was a struggle,” he says. “Now that pharmaceutical companies have found the healing properties and skin care properties in it, any fat that we produce from year to year can be sold in a couple of days.” Anderson says producers start earning when they process several parts of the bird and actively market the resulting products. Cooperatives like his, the Toddville-based Heartland Emu Marketing Cooperative, support those efforts. Heartland also helps growers transport birds to lockers for meat processing. To further advance the industry, the Iowa Emu Association hands out meat samples and information during the Iowa State Fair and at stops along the annual RAGBRAI route. This July, the group will be involved with the American Emu Association’s national convention in Des Moines. In August, Iowa City and Cedar Rapids chefs will gather at Iowa City’s Old Brick for the second annual Cook Off for a Cure. The competition, which features participants’ best emu dishes, doubles as a fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. “It’s a great way to spread the word [about emus], raise money and challenge chefs, so it’s a win-win-win,” McAntire says. That act of raising awareness can hook new customers, as well as new producers. “Thirteen years ago I didn’t now what emu was, and now I’m the state association president and our coop president,” Anderson says, adding that emus are attractive for hobby farmers because they don’t require a lot of space. “These birds are easy to raise, easy to feed and easy to water. The weather doesn’t bother them as long as they’re born in this area or brought up in this area.” In addition to the opportunity to help others with her products, McAntire appreciates the family-friendly aspect of the business. “The reward is getting to teach my daughter all the science – not only in the raising of animals and hatching of eggs, but in the soap making. That in and of itself is a chemistry lesson. She just really loves it,” McAntire says. “So that’s the biggest reward: Getting to raise my kid on a farm.”
For More Information
Kissing Emu Farms: www.kissingemu.com Heartland Emu Marketing Cooperative: www.HeartlandEmu.com Cook Off for a Cure: www.CookOff4ACure.org American Emu Association: www.AEA-Emu.org
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A Love Letter from a Dubuque Native
By Katie Roche
Dear RAGBRAI Riders, I did my best. I would love to say that I scouted the last day of the RAGBRAI route in advance of your masses on my bicycle, but the truth is that I drove it in a car -backwards. Rather, I drove the route backwards, not my car, as I went in search of Dubuque County’s best locally produced, sustainable, organic restaurants, food stuff and drinks. As I drove from Dubuque to Dyersville, with the gorgeous Heritage Trail (a railway line turned bike trail and a perfect alternative RAGBRAI route) always in reach I realized yet again that “backwards” is the way that much of our rural food production and consumption is going. Where were the local spots, with ingredients found just around the bend? I asked practically every person I passed and each said the same thing: there’s nothing like that here. There was, but there no longer is. The picturesque back roads RAGBRAI will ride are now mostly used by locals. To expedite travel the highways now swoop around the towns that once were replete with mom and pop restaurants, bars and groceries, farm stands spilling over with baked goods, jams and produce. These cute little towns are great places to keep a home and yard, but if you live in Graf or Bankston, you’ll have to drive in a car or be ready for quite a bike ride to get some sustenance. The roads that are being traveled the most cruise past these quaint little towns and over the years caused most everything to close. The wrap around highway syndrome combined with mega-stores have undersold main street and left her barren. And with that lesson I sadly report that in between Dyersville and Dubque the RAGBRAI route does not feature even one place to grab a bite to eat or even sit down for a cold beer. I’ll get off my tear stained soap box in a moment and report on what I did find in Dubuque County- though most, as noted, are not on your direct route. But first please consider this: after dipping your tire on the banks of the Mississippi in Dubuque think about all the wonderful small towns and townspeople that you encountered along the way. Think of that unforgettable piece of pie you bought from the church ladies, that corn, those pancakes, that sandwich that fueled you and how good if felt to know that your purchase was impacting that
vendor, that farmer, or that town directly. And as you travel back home keep that homemade pie metaphor in mind and skip the McDonalds, skip the chain and support the local people so that they can stay in business. You might have to ask for the dish on the real local goods at a gas station, turn off the highway and follow a handpainted sign, but that sounds kind of good, doesn’t it? Dyersville, the farm toy capital of the world, has a new restaurant just off the main strip called “Joe’s Place”- Joe’s is a mix of Americana (burgers, fries, wraps) with an unlikely twist- a fresh Thai buffet that is rumored to be excellent. Joe Minge, the young owner, is a second-generation restaurateur who does source his meat locally through a local grocer, but didn’t know he was featuring Iowa meats until he was asked to look into it. Let him know that you think it’s great he’s buying Iowa product and buy some yourself to help this new
business get and stay going! Afterwards, you can get buzzed at Groovy Grounds, Dyersville’s hip little sipping sanctuary on the main strip. Try a homemade pastry for dessert, choose from a wide selection of gourmet coffee and pack an excellent sandwich for the road. In season, the owners hit up the local farmers market and adjust their menu accordingly. If you’re hitting Dyersville early in the day, or any time of day for that matter, you’ll want to pop into The English Pub for a bloody excellent Bloody Mary. When asked if he was doing anything special for RAGBRAI, the poker faced owner/barkeep Michael English said matter of factly, “I’ll be ready for’em.” Don’t blink, or you might miss the town of Graf as you pedal on through. With about 30 houses and zero eateries it would only be right to mention that this little town used to feature Smitty’s. Famous to many bicyclists, Smitty’s was just across Graf park from Heritage Trail and was special only because of Smitty, the charismatic and friendly owner/barkeep who hydrated weary bikers with his bottles and draws of beer, while his wife Mary Smith’s delicious pies took the cake. Tip your bike helmet to Smitty’s memory and head on into Graf ’s little
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park. If you’re lucky, somebody there has Mary Smith’s pie recipes. And dig this non-foodie note: as you ride into town, you’ll see a huge cut of rock on your left, that was sliced through to make way for the road. This piece of rock happens to be home to the most abundant supply of cephalopod fossils known to man. Pick around on the ground for one of these thumb sized, ridged, worm looking things and you’re sure to find a 500 million year old keepsake from your trip to Graf. Bankston‘s offering of Park Farm Winery is the jewel of Dubuque County. As you approach Bankston, follow the signs to Park Farm Winery and you’ll feel like you’re spending a little time in Tuscany. This gorgeous family run winery has a large selection of wines made right on sight that you can sip from the high vantage point of the winery’s stuccoed main building. The terracotta floors, huge fire place and rolling hills with vines taming on the lines make the wine taste even sweeter. Be sure to ask the staff what’s good. They know their stuff. Dubuque, the county’s namesake, is a gem on the Mississippi and has many progressive treats to offer. Get your natural food fix at Breitbach’s Farmers Market Food Store. Bulk grains, spices herbs, fresh local produce, organic offerings galore, tree nuts, honey and maple syrup. The Breitbach’s model is one that smaller towns should adopt and could sustain: the product line is driven by a buying club that is only $10/year to join. Mike and Pearl Breitbach, former long time farmers market vendors themselves, only carry what the buying club members ask for and buy, but anyone can shop there without the advantage of the buying club discount. Folks start these kinds of clubs out of their homes all the time, but Mike and Pearl have managed to make a go of it for almost 30 years in a storefront. Their dedication and expert advice is a diamond in the ruff. Main Street in Dubuque features many restaurants that wear the locavore crown. L. May is ridiculously good with every meal not only memorable, but an education in innovation. Just down the street is Pepper Sprout, perhaps the fanciest place in town with a real passion for Midwest fare. Treat yourself at Manna Java to a simple wood fire pizza. Fresh local ingrediants are not just the norm, they drive the menu. As it should be.
When You Go...
Breitbach’s Farmers Market Food Store: 1109 Iowa Street, Dubuque 563.557.1777 Park Farm Winery: 15159 Thielen Road, Bankston www.ParkFarmWinery.com 563.557.3727 Groovy Grounds: 211 1st Ave E, Dyersville 563.875.6251 English Pub: 210 1st Ave E, Dyersville 563.875.8832
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26 www.EdibleIowa.com Summer 2010
Beans @ e Market by Kurt Michael Friese
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Local and Organic Turn Economic Wheels in Woodbury County
By Kristine Kopperud Jepsen
It's been five years since Woodbury County's economic development office rolled out the political equivalent of a sleek green road bike: tax incentives for conversion to organic agriculture and a mandate for the county's purchase of local food. That's right -- a county that harvests more than 300,000 acres of corn and soybeans each year wrote policies aiming to put small-scale and/or organic farms on the same byways as traditional big ag.
Beans @ e Market by Kurt Michael Friese
we're trying to build a system to support both local foods production and the products themselves so it's economically viable for people to operate and sell locally." 2. Support local-foods infrastructure. Woodbury's biggest hurdle in meeting its local food purchasing mandate has been wholesale aggregation and distribution of local foods. The challenge was originally delegated to Sustainable Food For Siouxland, a collaborative warehousing venture which folded after the failure of its adjacent Firehouse Restaurant, which set out to feature an all-organic menu. "We're in the growing pains of having some local supply but few producers who market wholesale. They like the retail premium they get at farmers market, and who can blame them? But the reality is that we can't convince food brokers like CBM [Managed Services] to include local seasonal products if we don't have the volume." The March 2010 closure of Green Planet Foods, a $40 million organic soy processing plant in South Sioux City, also made the county downshift. The facility shut down due to tightening national economics, eliminating 40 jobs and dampening hopes that local soybeans could be contracted, processed and distributed close to home. "It's likely another organic processor will re-open the plant," Marqusee says. "All in all, it's just another reminder that local foods can't be commonplace without the infrastructure to handle them." Realizing that a solid wholesale market for local foods starts with "one tomato sold to one restaurant," as Marqusee says, Woodbury County is carefully orchestrating the local buying options of Courthouse Cafeteria, opened in May 2010. The establishment prioritizes local foods and serves breakfast and lunch to courthouse employees and the public. "We're working to make one-on-one connections with local producers," Marqusee explains. "If a farmer can build a relationship with a chef based on food quality and consistency, that chef is going to come back for more." 3. Get ready to grow organically (even when faced with opposition). If there's one constant in local foods development, it's that change happens gradually, as lessons are learned season to season. "Right now we're trying to build markets for wholesale local foods by legislating a type of contract between large wholesale buyers and local producers," Marqusee says. Called the Iowa Local Farmer & Food Security Act and introduced by Iowa Senator Joe Bolkcum of Johnson County in 2010, the agreement would require grocers and food distributors to contract for local goods no fewer than 45 days from delivery, in exchange for a 20% tax credit based on the amount spent on local products. "What it does is locks in a buyer's commitment to a local product and kicks back the valuable incentive they're used to getting with other 'preferred vendors' in their industry," Marqusee explains. "True, some farmers won't support it because it gives tax breaks to stores they don't align with philosophically. But does it eliminate some risk in marketing their local product? Yes. It's a give and take."
"We are a community that believes in diversification of agriculture and that is willing to support that diversity. We want to treat the small farmer like any other business that gets opportunities from economic development. There's no reason to discriminate against small farmers," says Rob Marqusee, director of Woodbury's Rural Economic Development since 2005 and architect of the Organics Conversion Policy and the Local Foods Purchase Policy. The Organics Conversion Policy offers a $50,000 annual pool of property tax rebates for Woodbury farmers who begin conversion to organic production. "The benefit is that farmers qualify for the rebate in their first year of conversion -- they're supported even before they have a certified organic product to sell." The Local Food Purchase Policy requires county departments and services to buy, as often as possible, organic food produced within a 100-mile radius. As news of these county measures - the first and greenest anywhere - rolled all over the country, even dipping a tire in the New York Times, some observers scoffed. But, Marqusee argues, what some called "feel good" tactics have paid themselves forward. "The public relations alone -- worth millions -- didn't cost the county a dime," he says. And the $10,000 in tax rebates the county has issued since invoking the organic conversion policy are more than offset by the total value of farmers living and working in the county. Growing a local foods industry makes perfect social and economic sense, he argues, pointing to the $203 million in groceries consumed annually in Woodbury County alone, more than 90 percent of which - according to Iowa's average are currently imported. Here's what Woodbury learned, and how all of Iowa can benefit: 1. Dream big, then get real. "My heart is in local foods--fresh, unique stuff that tastes good," Marqusee says. In 2008, he even blogged about a summer's worth of his own local-foods diet (see www.WoodburyOrganics.com and click on Local Food Journal). "But I get that our whole food system is connected. My job is to situate commerce in Woodbury County, whether it's box stores or farmers' markets." In addition to providing economic benefit, Woodbury's policies aim to educate both food producers and consumers about the social value of economic development and the realities of food production in Iowa today - it's next to impossible for young farmers to get started and difficult for established farmers to transition to alternative production methods. "There are range wars out there," Marqusee says. "It's no small thing to consider turning down a government commodity payment in favor of going into organics. In many ways,
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4. Don't forget to look beyond the county line. The overall impact of Woodbury County's green initiatives is tricky to measure, Marqusee says, but there are sustainable ag enterprises sprouting in neighboring counties that clearly benefit from having friendly borders. One producer in Plymouth County has certified more than 1,000 acres, while others in Monona have certified 600 acres. He also points to America Natural Soy, one of then nation's largest processors of organic soybeans, canola, sunflower, safflower, and flax seeds, in nearby Cherokee, Iowa. "Is that because of Woodbury County? No, but it's all related. People in all kinds of business are looking at us, and it's pretty cool." In addition, Sioux City's farmers market has been professionally restructured and now hosts more than 34 vendors of produce, eggs, artisan breads, crafts, art, clothing, wine, meat, and more. Vendors represent four states and dozens of communities within 100 miles of Sioux City. In 2009, gross sales topped $500,000. "Woodbury's policies have heightened awareness and interest in finding local foods in the Sioux City area, and it's allowed a spectrum of vendors to sell to a variety of customers," says organizer Roger Caudron. "Some people want locally raised produce because of the difference in taste; some are wanting organically raised. And they all enjoy supporting the people who raised it."
When You Go...
Visit Sioux City's Farmers Market on RAGBRAI, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday for local foods sampling, live music and more. Crop schedules, directions and special events info at: www.FarmersMarketSiouxCity.com For more information on Woodbury County policies and economic development related to local foods, visit www.WooduryOrganics.com.
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Iowa’s Tall Corn, Voting with your Fork, and the Economic Importance of Local Food
By David Murphy
Growing up in Iowa, I remember spending countless hours sitting in the backseat of my parents’ car, staring idly out the window as the green fields of corn rolled by. For one reason or another, my parents always seemed to be packing my brother and sister and I up for a trip and I was mesmerized by the endless rows of corn and soybeans sprouting from the freshly plowed soil. For me, a trip in the car was an educational experience, a time to hear stories about our family, politics, odd facts about agriculture or nature or what it was like for the earlier pioneers who helped settle the land we now call Iowa. It may help that my father was a good storyteller and I was fortunate to have two grandfathers as well who taught me the importance of agriculture and the signs of a well-kept farm. One grandfather had been born and raised on a hog farm in New Bloomfield, Missouri and another raised prized Hereford bulls and grew corn and soybeans on a farm in Defiance, Iowa. My mother’s father took great pride in the fact that he raised corn for Jolly Time popcorn and liked to show off the conservation terraces that he had built on his farm in the early 1950s. Like many children, I was hypnotized by the stories and the tall green stalks that zipped by as we sped down the road, listening to the latest weather reports on the radio and countless broadcaster’s attempts to predict whether or not Iowa’s corn crop would reach “knee high by the 4th of July” each year. Driving across the state today, it’s hard to imagine that a little more than a 150 years ago, that the fields full of corn you look out on now were once virgin prairie. For the early pioneers who first came to Iowa in the 1830s, Iowa’s tall grass prairie was a wonder of nature, stretching for hundreds of miles, wild grass that was taller than a man on horseback. For buffalo, elk and other wildlife, the prairie was an abundant source of food and a vibrant and diverse habitat teaming with life.
Tallest corn ever measured: 26 feet 10 inches Raised by: Don Radda of Washington, IA Won: First place in WHO National Tall Corn Contest held in Des Moines, Sept. 5th, 1942 From e State of Iowa Welcomes You, 4th Ed., 1943
For our pioneer ancestors, the rich topsoil that waited underneath the freshly plowed land, which had taken thousands of years to build, became known as “Iowa’s black gold,” providing the source that drove Iowa’s early economy and made it an agricultural powerhouse, which today leads the U.S. in production of corn, hogs, soybeans and eggs. From its earliest days, corn and the state’s fertile soil have provided a livelihood for many families either as farmers or merchants and businesses in the small towns that dot the state. Aptly known as the “Tall Corn State”, Iowa, which contains 25% of the most fertile farmland in the U.S., produces an estimated 7% of the nation’s food supply and one fifth of its corn. Over the years, Iowa farmers and conservationists have led the way in both production and innovation in farming not only increasing yields, but also in efforts to care for the land. In 2008, according to USDA statistics, Iowa farmers produced nearly 20 percent of the nation’s corn, 17 percent of its soybeans, 30 percent of its hogs and 14 percent of the eggs. Despite this incredible productivity, gains in agriculture have come at a high price for most rural communities who have watched as farm numbers have been cut in half since 1950, when Iowa boasted more than 200,000 farms to today where less than 92,000 remain. For many, each succeeding boom in agriculture has been quickly followed by another bust, and the 1980’s Farm Crisis and failures from the 1996 “Freedom to Farm” Farm Bill still standout as examples of painful failures in government policies. With each loss of a farmer, Iowans know
e Barclay Farm, West Liberty, circa 1875
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the hope for small communities only continues to dwindle. Ironically, in spite of all of Iowa’s obvious bounty and rich natural resources, if a visitor were to be dropped out in the middle of the country side, he would soon learn, that despite all the long rows of corn and soybeans, there would be virtually nothing that would sustain him if he were lost for more than a few hours. Since the vast majority of corn and soybeans are genetically modified and intended to feed livestock, it’s inedible for human consumption until its highly processed, either as high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated vegetable oil or has been fed to animals and can be eaten as meat, dairy or eggs. A friend of mine found this out recently last summer, when a farmer delivered what he thought was sweet corn from his field intended for an afternoon cookout. Unfortunately, after boiling the corn for a long time, its ears proved to be dry and chalky and when my friend showed it to another farmer at the event, he laughed at the pinkish red cob and realized that he had just been served “field corn”, meant to feed hogs, beef cattle and chickens or go into ethanol plants and not to be eaten, so he quickly put it down on his plate and then got up and quietly removed the rest from the table. Oddly enough, for all the corn planted in Iowa, more than 13 million acres annually, less than 5,000 acres are planted in sweet corn each year. In Iowa, despite all the lush green fields, it’s important for people to know that they’re living in the middle of one of the most paradoxical places on earth — a giant food desert that produces a large portion of America’s and the world’s agricultural products that are not immediately fit for human consumption. Author Michael Pollan made this same observation in his recent visit to Luther College in Decorah, where he entertained a crowded auditorium in February with a bag of “local” goodies, most not obviously made from corn that included soda pop, Twinkies, chips, Cocoa Krispies, Cheetos and dozens of other items Pollan purchased during an outing to an area Wal-Mart, (yes, that’s surprising!) where he said he was still amazed at all the products that corn cold be turned into. For those who haven’t read Pollan’s New York Times best-selling book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma or seen Food Inc., Pollan estimates that nearly 25 percent of the 45,000 items in your average American supermarket contain corn, one fifth of which is grown here in Iowa. The fact that Iowa could produce so much food, without having much of it to actually eat “off the vine”, so to speak, while not widely known, is not really a new fact. In the past 100 years, Iowa’s farms have followed the national trend of consolidation, more than doubling in size from 151 acres in 1900 to 355 acres in 2005. During this time, production on Iowa farms has grown highly specialized, with many farmers narrowing their crop production to only a handful of commodity crops. Today livestock and crop farming are done separately, rather than traditionally, where farmers maintained a more diverse mixture of livestock and grain farming that allowed them to take advantage of their own animals natural manure. Instead of being raised outdoors on pasture, hogs are now raised in giant factory farms, which dot the state and have led to a decline in family farmers and a rise in air and water pollution. Since 1920, when Iowa farmers regularly grew more than two-dozen varieties of crops, including corn, apples, wheat, flax, alfalfa, cherries, plums, grapes, peaches and peas, the diversity of food grown on Iowa’s farms has dropped sharply. By 1997, according to a study done by the Leopold Center’s Rich Pirog, Iowa farmers produced less than 10 crops or livestock animals, mainly corn, soybeans, hay, hogs, and cattle, with many specializing in the two-crop rotation of corn and soybeans, opt-
ing out of livestock production entirely. Today, as a result, Iowa imports more than 90% of its food and has lost its ability to feed itself; an odd paradox that our self-reliant pioneer ancestors would find hard to imagine. While nobody is recommending going back to the days of the horse and plow, a growing chorus across America is beginning to see the wisdom in rebuilding local and regional food systems. For many such a move is common sense and brings with it a sense of renewal, community and connection to the land. Once again, Iowa is fortunate to have many of the nation’s leading voices in this effort, farmers and local food advocates like Denise O’Brien, Francis Thicke, Fred Kirschenmann, Jan Libbey, Matt Russell, Neil Hamilton and Paul Willis who not only see the movement as a way to revitalize rural communities and create a healthy food system for all Iowans, but a way to encourage new and beginning farmers on the land and help rebuild vibrant rural economies. A number of studies done by Iowa State University have found exactly that; a prudent way to provide an easy and lasting boost to our state’s rural communities is to create market opportunities for small and midsize farmers to expand into local food production, which is becoming increasingly popular as Iowans flock to farmers markets and buying directly from farmers in record numbers. A 2006 study done by ISU economist David Swenson found that if Iowans simply ate the 5 daily-recommended servings of fresh fruits and vegetables during the three summer months and these were all grown by Iowa farmers, Iowa would add more than $300 million in retail sales and gain over 4,000 jobs. A follow-up study this year found that for rural areas where agriculture is a mainstay of the economy, such as Southwest Iowa, a marginal shift towards new fruit and vegetable production, only 3,000 acres, would add an additional $16.6 million in retails sales, $2.67 million in labor incomes and 45 new jobs. In a tough economy and at a time when rural jobs seem difficult to come by, it’s hard to argue with such a simple solution. While much of 20th century Iowa agricultural gains were found in increasing productivity and in consolidating farm production and food processing, a portion of Iowa’s beginning farmers in this new century may find a new path that imitates the more diverse, local farm management of their pioneer ancestors. Twenty-first century Iowans may have hard time believing it, but in the 1920s, Iowa was the nation’s leading apple-producing state and that the ever-popular Delicious apple was first developed by Madison County farmer Jesse Hiatt in the late 19th century. During this time, Iowa was also the 6th leading producer of grapes, something might surprise your average farmers market shopper in Des Moines today. Fortunately, Iowa’s local grape production is making a strong comeback, with Iowa wines leading the way. At the same time local food products, such as Niman Ranch Pork, founded in Thornton, and La Quercia Prosciutto - based in Norwalk - are widely sought by celebrity chefs across the country. For Iowa’s agricultural community, this resurgence of interest in agriculture and local food production should be encouraged. Connecting with farmers at farmers markets, buying directly from them or seeking out local products in grocery stores is the best way for their urban cousins to begin to understand the forces that have shaped our current food system and the surest way to guarantee that they have allies the next time the farm economy dips. And who knows, it wouldn’t be the first time that the son or daughter of a commodity farmer found their way back to the farm through smaller scale, local production, something which Iowa’s rural communities greatly need and that all Iowans can appreciate.
Photo by Kurt Michael Friese
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Photo by Kurt Michael Friese
EIRV 2010-06 - Issue 16 - Summer - draft:Layout 1 5/19/10 1:20 PM Page 32
It’s Worth Brewing
By Lisa Stokke
The Pub First impressions of Worth Brewing Company lend itself to the idea of rich nostalgia, appreciation of community and the value of a slower pace of life. Black and white photos from the past checker the walls inside the pub, furnished with worn and well-maintained wooden floors and tables. Here it’s easy to let out a sigh and feel like you can take your time and relax. The pub’s centerpiece, an old bank teller cage, draws attention immediately, with beautiful oak pillars and hanging mugs neatly and proudly displaying their namesake crest, Worth Brewing Company. The cage now serves as the bar, finding its return and resting place in the brewery, after bouncing around over the years between a veterinarian’s stables, a Chevy garage, the Historical Society and then eventually back to its original home here where a community bank began in the late 1800’s. The owners, Ausenhaus and his wife and partner, Margaret Bishop, are proud to recount the story of the renovation and history of the building, showcasing it in their menus and throughout the establishment. Originally the Worth County State Bank was built on the premises in 1886. By 1921, it was owned by an electric company. In 2006, Peter and Margaret claimed it for a better use. It had undergone a significant “modernization” in 1935, to which it is now restored. Peter and Margaret were happy to strip away the old plywood and linoleum to reveal wood and tile, giving the place its current warmth and charm. The building itself is listed on the historical register along with several others in downtown Northwood. Another distinction that Worth Brewing Company bears is that of being perhaps the smallest brewery in the country, according to Peter, making 10-gallon batches at a time for local consumption. He estimates that there exists only maybe a handful of other brewers in the country who utilize such a small brewing system to support a pub as he does, giving a whole new meaning to the term “micro-brewer”. By my observation, this attention to detail is rewarded with a quality to the beer that can then be experienced and appreciated through all the senses with its taste, texture and aroma. As with most artisanal food and beverage, there is an undeniable quality that emerges. It’s a challenge to pinpoint exactly what makes the quality superior and memorable. As I was soon to find out, consuming this fine beer was no exception. For north Iowa and southern Minnesota patrons, this experience was brought together through the skills of the brewer and his carefully selected ingredients. The Brewer Ausenhaus, a journalist by trade, abandoned his profession in favor of his passion. He practiced brewing beer at home for 25 years. During that time, he worked at Summit Brewing in Minneapolis, Minnesota while working on his PhD dissertation. There he was given an opportunity to fine tune his skills and develop a deep appreciation for his craft. He and Margaret, a consulting engineer, decided to make the move to a quieter life where they could realize their dreams, without the unnecessary stress, and settled in Northwood.
Photo courtesy Margaret Bishop
When the editor of this fine magazine asked me write an article on beer, I must admit, I wasn’t entirely thrilled – and I even tried getting out of it. I wanted to visit a farm, savor some local food – or even better, some heirloom tomatoes or artisanal cheeses. It didn’t take me long to realize, however, that I was living in a utopia of my own as the only seasonal tomatoes being grown were the ones in my dreams of the summer ahead, so I agreed. After all, it was beer. Despite my hesitance, I found myself gratefully surprised after sampling a few of the best beers I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking, while getting a very brief course in Brewing 101 with Peter Ausenhus, proprietor of the Worth Brewing Company. This was my third visit to the brewery in Northwood, Iowa - an even more northern Iowa town than my own, being only a few miles south of the Minnesota border. I fondly recalled with my first visits that I enjoyed the beer, the company and the genuine quality and warmth of the pub itself. It wasn’t long, however, before I gained an even deeper appreciation of the craftsmanship that went into the beer as well. This place was indeed a gem.
Photo Courtesy of the Mason City Globe-Gazette
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The ingredients and Process As Peter patiently explains his method, it’s obvious that he is fluent in brewing and has mastered his craft. He is mindful of every step in the process of making fine beer. He looks for the right pH of the water, waits for the right temperature, stirs, smells… tastes. He checks the sugar content, the alcohol content and takes careful time to explain each ingredient, where it comes from, adding in other facts and stories about the vast differences between the styles of beers. As I glance over the bags of grains from other parts of the world, I want to know what it is about this beer that seems to invoke a far more pleasurable experience than say, Miller Lite? Without judgment or pretense, Peter explains that there are several different styles of beer, with pilsner being very light and the style most widely used and recognized in the U.S. On the scale that most beers are brewed, it remains a challenge to create the dimension of flavor and overall experience characteristic of a microbrewed beer, giving close attention and consideration to the ingredients and process. Peter does add, however, that “Miller Lite drinkers won’t touch the stuff any more” once they taste his local brews. At Worth Brewing, Peter uses hops grown locally when possible, from a farmer near Clear Lake and also right on their acreage, raised without the use of pesticides and harmful chemicals. I also learn that on their acreage they have their own bees and the honey that is used in certain brews. The chickens at home consume the leftover “mash” – the conglomeration of grain and hops, yeast and water used in the brewing process. Peter is more than happy to accommodate when asked what exactly hops are by showing the small plant growing in the back. I begin to anticipate the impending “beer tasting”, even if it is only 11am. The Beer Entering the tap room, you first notice curious looking tap handles, some with quirky and unusual faces and names. I sample a dark stout, which is not bitter as has been my experience. It is smooth, with variant and distinctive flavors. We move on to Belgians and Ales and I am quickly enamored by the many colors and tastes. I was impressed, to say the least and was now considering abandoning my loyalty to red wines for the pleasures of a well-tended brew. Worth Brewing Company features five “mainstay” beers year-round. One of them, a wheat beer called Bishop Weizen, is named after his wife, Margaret. They offer a new brew every month and as Peter says, “once it’s gone, it’s gone”. They do no individual bottling on the premises with beers being aptly consumed promptly and locally. However, when their beers are properly kegged, they can last as long as ten years, aging much like a fine spirit, before spoilage. They offer prohibition-era jugs emblazoned with their name for take home enjoyment and also kegs when given a two-week notice. Peter brews six batches a week, with each beer taking five weeks from start to finish. They sell everything they make within the confines of their fine pub. No advertising, just word of mouth. The Community Their patrons come mainly from neighboring Austin and Albert Lea, Minnesota. Another close neighbor, Kensett, a mere 5 miles away, is new home to Fat Fanny’s, a restaurant and catering service where I obtained a most delicious spring mix salad upon a referral from Peter. Fat Fanny’s and Worth Brewing Company are teaming up to create a meal and beer pairings event this coming July. (Information is available on their website). Also in July of this year, Worth Brewing Company is proud to host and
sponsor Team One More, the RAGBRAI biking team, who has a beer crafted especially in their honor. Last year, it was the Field Trip IPA beer, and this year will see the premiere of Worth’s newest RAGBRAI brew, Cowbell Blonde. Two paintings on the pub wall by artist Tim Wirth (yes, a coincidence) commemorate the beers, Team One More and the Worth Brewing Company. As I left the pub I wished that it was later in the day, so that I could be afforded the pleasure of a full pint. In spite of my wishes, I had indeed discovered the basis for their motto, “If it’s not hand crafted, it’s not Worth Brewing.”
When You Go...
Worth Brewing Company 826 Central Avenue, Northwood 641.324.9899 www.WorthBrewing.com Fat Fanny’s Bistro 206 5th Street, Kensett 641.845.2555 www.FatFannysBistro.com
Photo Courtesy of the Mason City Globe-Gazette
Photo courtesy Margaret Bishop
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The Last Word
By Kurt Michael Friese
Here in Iowa we have an event called RAGBRAI – e Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa – the oldest, largest and longest non-competitive ride in the world. Simply put, roughly 15,000 of us dip our back tires in the Missouri River one July Sunday Morning, then pedaling past the cities, fields and farms we dip our front tires in the Mississippi River 6 days later, having ridden an average of 465 miles. When the ride started 38 years ago, riders rolled past countless fields dotted with little lean-to style huts – shelters for the hogs that have been raised here since the European settlers came in the early 1800s. Since then, though, the huts have all but disappeared, replaced by long, narrow steel buildings with pairs of 6foot exhaust fans on each end and large lagoons outside. Now these are not lagoons like we used to see on Gilligan’s Island. ese would be more properly referred to as cesspools. ey are 1acre and larger lakes of eﬄuent from the Confined Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, that have nearly taken over the entire livestock world. e methane and ammonia fumes are gagging at the best of times. When you’re humping 70 miles on two wheels and need the extra oxygen, they can be asphyxiating. is of course is a relatively miniscule side-eﬀect of these industrial methods, and in his new book Animal Factory, author and investigative journalist David Kirby details the devastating impact these methods have had, and evidently will continue to have unless some drastic changes are made. Rightfully ranking with books like Upton Sinclair’s muckraking exposé of turn of the 19th century meatpackers, e Jungle, and Eric Schlosser’s more recent look at our Fast Food Nation, Animal Factory reads like a suspense thriller. We meet Rick Dove, a former US Marine JAG Corps Attorney and avid fisherman in North Carolina who finds himself waging a very personal war with CAFO operators when their leaking and rupturing
lagoons poison his beloved Neuse River. We meet Helen Reddout of the Yakima Valley in Washington, who wanted to go all Howard Beale but dared not open the window and shout “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it any more!” for fear of the stench from nearby dairy confinements. And we meet Karen Hudson in Elmwood, Illinois, as she watches brother turn against brother over the construction of another dairy confinement, only to see her worst nightmares of pollution from ruptured lagoons come to pass. Readers scarcely need glance past the introduction to see the impacts of these methods, the until-now hidden costs of taxpayer-subsidized cheap industrial food. Kirby points out that CAFOs in the US yield 100 times more waste than all US human sewage treatment plants. None of the animal waste is treated - as the human waste is - to kill pathogens. It is simply sprayed onto cropland, often while it is frozen and often with no regard to nearby waterways. It contains pathogens, antibiotics, drug-resistant bacteria, hormones and heavy metals. If these farms were made to bear these true costs of their methods, they would be rendered economically unfeasible. But instead they are party to lax regulation and subsidized feed, without so much as a nod toward the future implications of their actions. Karen Hudson is optimistic though. She thinks “e CAFO industry has lost the public relations game.” Rick Dove doesn’t see it that way. “I feel sorry for all the innocent souls who will be consumed in the fury of this storm,” he said of the looming environmental catastrophe, “but I don’t feel a bit sorry for the swine barons. ey shall reap what they have sowed.” Animal Factory: e Looming reat of Industrial Pig, Dairy and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment - by David Kirby Published by St. Martin’s Press, New York. ©2010
EIRV 2010-06 - Issue 16 - Summer - draft:Layout 1 5/19/10 1:20 PM Page 35
EIRV 2010-06 - Issue 16 - Summer - draft:Layout 1 5/19/10 1:20 PM Page 36
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