This morning I had a message in my Facebook In-box. A friend of mine, in the next county, was writing to let me know that beef (from male calves “unlucky” enough to be born to their dairy herd) was about to be available once more, and did I want a quarter or a side? Their meat is raised all naturally, out in the sunshine and grassy fields, and always an excellent price, so I of course wrote back, “YES!” as fast as I could. The timing was impeccable, as we’d found our locker nearly bare, recently, and were reduced to the expense and embarrassment of having to purchase AUSTRALIAN organic ground beef at the Trader Joe’s while in Omaha, last weekend (not having the chance to get by the excellent One Stop Meat Shop in Sioux City; they have local goods). My carbon footprint escalated dramatically, I’m ashamed to say.
The conversation reminded me, once again, of what a vital and social sphere we create when we produce, promote and purchase foods raised and crafted locally, by our neighbors, and our friends. A few years ago, I didn’t know my friend at all. I first met her husband at our local Farmers Market—I was seeking hay for my daughter’s pet rabbit—and started up a cheerful conversation about the weather, and good, fresh eggs (he had attractive examples for sale on his table), and, ultimately, why purchasing foods from people we saw face-to-face, asked questions of and shared stories with, was such a gratifying activity. “Did he sell beef” as well as hay and eggs, I asked? This led to a discussion about sustainable and healthy ranching practices, taste, price, and just how delectable a juicy steak on the grill could be, when you knew the source of the meat and had made friends with the farmer/rancher who was responsible for that tasty bite on your fork. Next time, I met his wife, as well…more talk ensued. I bought eggs. I bought baked goods. She invited me to stop by their farm when I needed more items when the Farmers Market was closed for the season, so I started driving up there and invariably we chatted a while, as I made my purchases: about our children, the weather, our belief in eating wholesome, real foods whenever possible…We became friends. Now, I suspect that—under different circumstances—we may never have reached this state of “neighborliness”: We have fairly radically different political views (we skirt that topic in general), she’s a hard working farm woman; I’m a hobby gardener, she’s born and raised in this area and I've moved all over the country throughout my life. BUT our shared passion for ethical, local, healthful eating brought us together, and now we share quips and jokes and recipes in person, and across that “electronic back fence” that is Social Media.
That is just one, small example of how a share passion for Local Foods, and building a local food network or “system” not only benefits our pockets (if we are the producers) or our bodies (if we “merely” consume) but simultaneously builds and strengthens our communities. In fact, I’d venture to say that without a strong sense of community, the Local Food Movement would wither and die. Our need to communicate with each other (to learn how to produce our products, to share our visions, to network and locate new markets or new customers, to seek out new sources for those foods we crave) may seem like a “problem” to outsiders, but it actually is one of our great strengths. Together we are forging (some would say we are "reclaiming") a new and different way of providing ourselves with an income, a fulfilling lifestyle, and nutritious food for our bodies. We are building a Local Foods Community.
To that end, nearly 60 people across the spectrum of the Food System (farmers, ranchers, bakers, consumers, educators, community organizers, parents, and the media) braved one of the coldest days of the year, to meet in Sheldon on January 31st, to attend the Flavors of Northwest Iowa Local Food Summit. The crowd was both experienced and enthusiastic, and everyone had an opinion—usually voiced with passion—as to what the potential benefits and problems inherent in crafting a strong Local Foods Community might be, and what shape their dreams for the next five years might take. Focus groups discussed strengthening our Farmers’ Markets, establishing community gardens available to all, incorporating education about the Farm to Fork spectrum into our public schools…People made proposals to help producers grow and flourish and make a living wage on the Family Farm. We speculated as to how farmers might best expand their market for the local products they labored to produce. Speakers spoke (Matt Russell, a small scale farmer and State Food Policy Project Coordinator at Drake University, enlightened us on “Regional, State and National Trends in Local Food”), resources were shared, networks were forged, and everyone left knowing that summits such as this are JUST the beginning of the work and effort we need in Northwest Iowa, if a “community-based, economically sustainable, and environmentally and socially responsible regional food enterprise” is to firmly take root and grow. It proved an exciting day.
BUT, it was just the beginning. The conversation has just begun. The work is in its infancy. Perhaps you wanted to attend the Summit, but the weather or other commitments prevented you from doing so. Maybe you didn’t think you had anything “valuable” to offer (yes, you do!), and stayed home. Possibly you prefer to work in smaller groups, or alone, to advance the cause of Local Foods. Whatever the case, your input is valuable. Flavors of Northwest Iowa wants to hear from you—in person, via email, in small groups (we’ll be hosting smaller, county-by-county workshops to continue the work started at the Summit over the course of this year), over the fence or at the market. The specifics of what was discussed in Sheldon will be made available for further elaboration and implementation. We will get to know each other, share our hopes and frustrations, and build this Community together. It starts with you. And us.Together. Let’s get going!
Why should you attend?
Most consumers consider locally grown food to be fresh, healthy and—possibly even more important to the farmers who grow it—safe. Farmers of all sizes of fruit and vegetable operations are learning more about on-farm food safety practices and the documentation to ensure that what they bring to the farmers markets and CSAs is as safe as possible.
Reasons why YOU should attend:
Two levels will be offered. Workshops will be held at The Security Institute on the Western Iowa Tech Community College Campus, 4647 Stone Avenue, Sioux City, IA 51102.
Sat. March 2, 9 AM - 3 PM
Level 1: “KNOW”
Level 1 provides an overview of GAPs fundamentals and optional web-based modules about basic food regulations and food microbiology. Farmers who provide food direct to consumers through community–supported agriculture (CSA), farmers’ markets, or are considering retail foodservice sales will be trained in good agriculture best practices and market considerations. This GAP workshop includes an educational packet of materials and working lunch.
Sat. March 9, 9 AM - 3 PM
Level 2: “SHOW”
In Level 2 you will develop your own On-Farm Food Safety Plan to demonstrate how you use and document GAPs in your operation. If you are considering sales to retail foodservices, such as grocers, restaurants, hospitals, and other institutions OR if you are interested in adding value to fresh produce and selling products in a convenience form—this workshop is for you! Completion of this workshop will provide food safety assurances to potential buyers. This GAP workshop includes educational packet and working lunch.
Click here to register online
Contact Dr. Angela Shaw, ISU Extension Food Safety
(515) 294-0868, firstname.lastname@example.org
OR Laura Kuennen, ISU Extension Regional Food Coordinator
Woodbury Co Extension (712) 276-2157, email@example.com
Registration is open Here's the press release:
February 5, 2013 AMES, Iowa – Producers, consumers, business owners and anyone interested in developing Iowa’s local food system are invited to register for an upcoming conference, “Road Map for Resilience: Empowering Iowa’s Local Food Economy.”
The conference, sponsored jointly by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, will take place on March 19-20, 2013 at the ISU Scheman Building.
John O’Sullivan, director of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, will give the keynote address. O’Sullivan is a leader of the North Carolina 10% Campaign, which has received national recognition for its progress toward the goal of keeping 10 percent of North Carolina’s food purchases within the state.
“The campaign has demonstrated to people quite clearly that there is a serious market for local food,” O’Sullivan said.
Lynn Heuss, Leopold Center program assistant and conference organizer, said she intends the conference to forge partnerships that will spark a similar statewide campaign in Iowa.
“The conference is open to everyone, from moms who want access to healthier food for their kids, to restaurant and franchise owners, to production farmers and community supported agriculture operators,” Heuss said. “Food impacts everyone and we want to have as many voices at the table as possible.”
Breakout sessions in the mornings and afternoons will be led by three nationally-recognized experts: Anupama Joshi, executive director of the National Farm to School Network; Diane Endicott of Good Natured Family Farms; and Susan Futrell, who works at a Boston nonprofit food hub called Red Tomato and the University of Iowa.
Participants will learn the latest about business management, beginning and minority farmers and food incentives such as Farm to School and Farm to Institution. Each session will include four “storytellers” who will share insights from Local Food and Farm Initiative- and Leopold Center-funded projects on local foods.
The conference also will include vendor exhibits and guided networking opportunities. ISU will provide locally produced options for a continental breakfast and lunch.
Register online at http://www.aep.iastate.edu/roadmap. The registration fee, which includes meals, is $75. Students can register for $25 (early) or $40 at the door.
Contact Lynn Heuss for more information at (515) 201-9405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m just popping in, briefly, today to remind you about two things you might want to put on your “Local Foods To-Do” list—right now, in January—that can reward you with bountiful produce and foodstuffs, this coming spring and summer. Although it’s hard to believe--with the frigid temperatures we’ve been shivering through lately--the growing season soon will arrive. And just as surely as the days are lengthening, memberships at regional CSA’s are filling up, and seed stock from your favorite catalogs is being sold…out?
There’s no time like the present to consider joining one of the community supported agriculture operations that may be near your home. The demand often is high and slots fill up quickly, and it’s helpful to the farmers to know as early as possible what the size of their customer base will be for the upcoming season. Ah, but, wait! You don’t know what I mean by “Community Supported Agriculture”—or “CSA”? Briefly, a CSA is a cooperative arrangement between a producer—farmer or rancher or both-- and potential customers, wherein these customers buy “shares” (a fee set by the producer, based on their anticipated crops and offerings throughout the growing season) in advance, upon the promise of usually weekly delivery of “the goods” throughout the spring, summer, and fall. C.S.A.’s are a wonderful way to help support sustainable agriculture, because by being willing to share the farmer/producer’s slight risks (the risks inherent in farming and ranching: risks from weather, insects, etc.) and by helping to provide a small portion of the needed cash—or “capital”—at the time when it’s most useful to the producer (to invest in seeds, stock, etc.), CSA members later reap an abundant harvest of fresh, varied, and usually good value for your dollar foods for weeks and weeks on end…
My second gentle reminder concerns those of you who are home gardeners, growing (or planning to grow) your very own, extremely local foods to supplement your family’s diet, this year. Yep, it’s TIME TO ORDER THOSE SEEDS! Seed catalogs have been flooding my mailbox since before Christmas (I know for a fact that they’re arriving earlier and early each year; they used to be harbingers of the New Year as surely as were “diet resolutions” and shiny new wall calendars, but no more!) but—if you’re like me—you’ve just been too busy with the holidays, and then with post-holiday recovery, to do more than pile them in a heap. However, if you want the largest variety of choices (I like to grow exotic, or unusual varieties of each kind of vegetable every year, if possible—oddly colored beans, heirloom tomatoes with evocative names, squashes from tropical countries, and so forth..) or if you like to “start” your bedding plants yourself (I find it quite easy and reliable, with the investment in some grow lights), it’s time to get a move on…Warmer weather—and thus planting time—seems to be arriving earlier each year, this century: you’ll need those seeds planted a full 8 to 12 weeks before you plan on setting them out, at least. Some of my local stores have a good and interesting selection of seeds on display, later in the year, but since I like to horde my “stock” and gloat over the pretty pictures on the packages, and plan and re-plan my garden, I prefer purchasing the bulk of seed from catalogs and thus getting my seeds well ahead of when I’ll need to plant them.
Here are a few of my favorite seed catalogs. Some I’ve done business with for literally decades. Where do you purchase seeds for your home garden? Care to share your favorite sources?
Hi, Folks! Just a short entry today, with some good links to help you store those root vegetables which are the stars of local eating, in the winter...There are many options available to you to store your precious produce and keep it as nutritious and attractive for as long as possible. Some, your ancestors would easily recognize, but others are modern, technologically enhanced variations on the traditional theme.
Although I tend to be a little lackadaisical in this regard (you would weep to see the sad, wrinkled mass that WAS last year's sweet potato harvest), I intend to improve my technique, and stop losing the "fruits" of my labor, or the labor of local farmers, to premature vegetable demise. I'm eyeing a closet off the dining room, that--due to faulty insulation by the previous owners, during their remodel--always stays MUCH colder than the rest of the house. In fact, I put a thermometer in there, this month, and found that the average temperature runs a good 15-20 degrees cooler than the dining room, itself! Now, this is NOT a good thing for my utility bill (I have a rug jammed under the door, at the moment; seems to be working, but I intend to install a better drafter stopper soon) but it would make a great storage closet for certain root vegetables and crops that handle long-term cool storage, with the addition of a few shelves or stacking crates....Hmmmm...Another Cabin Fever Project has been born! (see helpful links after the recipe)
Here's what I'm cooking with the beautiful head of cauliflower I have in my refrigerator, right now. Do you have any local varieties still stored, and ready to eat? If not, save this recipe for next Autumn, and stock up. You'll be amazed how delicious a vegetable "formerly known as bland" can become with just some quality time in the oven:
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.
Place the cauliflower florets in a large saute pan or a roasting pan. Drizzle the olive oil over the cauliflower, and season with the garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Place the saute/roasting pan in the oven and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure even roasting. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the Parmesan. Garnish with chopped chives and serve immediately while still warm.
Here are a couple of sites to inspire you as to what can be done with seasonal produce--make it local!--in the winter:
Some websites I've found that offer good advice on home storage of winter vegetables and fruits:
Outside my window, the fog swirls and a strange, January rain slithers down the glass. Everyone I know either has the flu, is recovering from the flu, or is terrified of getting the flu. The holiday season has passed, leaving tattered decorations sliding off of buildings, and dead trees tossed into the gutter. Yes, friends, it’s THAT time of year, again: “stay at home and nest” time! And if you’re like me, as surely as the calendar turns to the New Year, the urge to sort and organize and inventory my pantry takes hold with an unrelenting grip. I invariably spend some part of January peering into closets, reaching toward the mysterious back of cabinets, checking expiration dates and tossing large containers of old grains or beans that were filled with good intentions but now have nothing but stale foodstuffs. The freezers need defrosting—what better time of year, when one can simply set food outside into Mother Nature’s cold storage? Are those old sweet potatoes still salvageable, or a Science Project? Spring, with the promise of fresh air and fresh greens and fresh, local foodstuffs in abundance, seems far, far away…
But, don’t despair! You CAN continue to eat locally, taking advantage of the higher quality nutrition, lower carbon footprint, and usually more abundant deliciousness quotient of foods that haven’t traveled around the globe just to reach your kitchen, even in a Northwest Iowa winter. Right this very moment, a hog raised in my county—who led a natural, antibiotic free life out in the sunshine, and was killed humanely at the local, small town processing facility where I know the butcher’s name—awaits apportionment into my frozen foods locker, or carrying home to my kitchen (where I plan to render the fat into pure white lard, in my slow cooker, and make my first attempt at home bacon curing, with the help of curing salts and my extra refrigerator). In the pantry, I still have a small pile of acorn, butternut, and spaghetti squash—bought last autumn from a local producer. A good friend brings two dozen farm fresh, local, brown eggs (with those marigold yellow, upstanding yolks that simply sing freshness) by my husband’s office every week or so, and at least five pounds of an incredibly flavorful organic cheese—from Nebraska—sits quietly in my deli drawer, getting better and better. On my very own windowsill, I can grow sprouts (alfalfa, mung bean, broccoli, you name it) for fresh micro greens, in just a few days’ time. The grocery stores in the larger towns carry milk from local dairies—usually in aesthetically pleasing, ecologically friendly recyclable glass bottles. In my refrigerator, right this moment, are some promising beef short ribs--which I plan to cook for tonight’s dinner--that came from a friend’s dairy herd, from culling the male calves born in a past spring. And I know that, with a little searching or a little luck, local apples, maple syrup, handmade pasta, and perhaps even a greenhouse tomato, can be mine.
You don’t need to wait for farmers’ markets; check with your grocery store managers, ask them to carry more locally produced foods. Look for those independent businesses that specialize in foods of the region, all year round. Check out our Flavors directory, right here on this site, for folks who might still have root vegetables for sale, or nuts stored for the winter, or jams and relishes, or make pies or golden brown loaves of bread for sale every week, no matter what the season. Cabbages store well. Carrots keep. Local wines can grace your cellar shelves, or cheer up a dreary winter’s night.
Here are a few links to sites that discuss eating locally in the “dark days” of winter.
There are many more out there, if you need further inspiration:
Next time, I’ll offer advice to help you learn to love winter vegetables! Really, there’s more to “boring root crops” than you might imagine: They can be spiced up, caramelized into sweet, roasted wonderfulness, tossed into imaginative salads, pureed into pies…there’s almost no limit to their versatility. In the meantime, here’s the recipe I’m using for the short ribs, tonight, from a gorgeous new cookbook called The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by Deb Perleman:
Balsamic and Beer Braised Short Ribs, with Parsnip Puree:
5 lbs. bone-in short ribs, at room temperature, trimmed of excess fat
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 TBS olive oil
1 large red onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
2 TBS tomato paste
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (not the expensive bottle!)
3 TBS Worcestershire sauce
2 bottles (24 oz. total) dark beer, such as black lager
2 to 3 cups beef stock
Minced fresh, flat-leaf parsley, to serve (optional)
Preheat the oven to 325 F.
Season the short ribs generously on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat a large Dutch oven over high heat, and add olive oil to coat the bottom. Once the oil is hot, brown the short ribs on all sides, in batches. Transfer the browned ribs to a plate.
Once all the ribs are browned, turn your heat down to medium-high and pour off all but one tablespoon of fat. Add the onion, season to taste with salt and pepper, and cook until softened and lightly brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic cloves and sauté 3 more minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook for another couple of minutes, until thickened. Now add the vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and beer, scraping all the tasty bits stuck to the bottom of the pot.
Return the browned ribs to the pot; try to place them in meatiest sides down. If not all will fit this way, place some standing on their sides with the bones vertical. Add enough stock just to cover the ribs. Bring the liquid to a simmer then turn off heat. Cover the pot tightly with foil, then with the pot’s lid.
Bake for 3 hours, or until the meat can easily be pierced with a knife, or pieces can be torn back with a fork. Remove from the oven and let rest for 15 minutes, uncovered. Skim as much fat as possible off the top, or chill till the next day, when you can easily remove the layer of fat; the flavor will probably be even better!
This next step is only for “fancy”—you can go ahead and eat at this point, if you’re really hungry:
Preheat your oven to 420 F. Remove ribs from braise and spread them out on a baking sheet (I’d suggest covering it with foil and spraying that with cooking oil spray). Roast ribs for 15 minutes, or until the edges start to crisp. Meanwhile, strain the braising liquid into a saucepan and simmer it over high heat for 10 to 15 minutes or longer if you want a thicker glaze.
To serve, place a mound of parsnip puree on your plate, then top with 1-2 short ribs and ladle with sauce.
2 pounds parsnips, (about six medium) peeled and sliced into medium-sized chunks.
4 TBS unsalted butter
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 TBS prepared horseradish sauce or freshly grate (local?) horseradish.
½ tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper
In a large, heavy pot, combine parsnips with enough cold water to cover. Place over moderately high heat, cover, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and cook until tender—about 20 or 30 minutes, then drain. Puree hot parsnips, butter, heavy cream, horseradish, salt, and pepper until smooth.
As I’m writing this, our sweet, strangely warm weather is departing, replaced by gusty winds and falling temperatures, and the skies have become dark with grey, wintry cloud banks. Deny it as we might, winter IS coming. And with the arrival of winter, most of us tend to crave the aromas and tastes of hearty “comfort foods” that warm our spirits and nourish our bodies, giving us the energy to fight the snow drifts, or rewarding us for surviving yet another gloomy day when the sun rises and sets much too quickly.
Although the stores this time of year fill up with exotic Clementines from Spain, or oysters shipped from the East Coast, and it seems all the vegetables in the produce aisle are from tropical countries with dubious growing conditions, and the local farmer’s markets become a memory as surely as do spring mornings and balmy temperatures, it’s still possible to keep adding local foods to your diet, even in the dead of an Iowa winter, if you know where to look, and who to ask. First, let me remind you of some of the compelling reasons why we should take the time and effort to eat locally produced foods in the first place:
Are you convinced? Are you ready to explore the flavors of Northwest Iowa in the wintertime? In the next entry, I’ll share tips on what’s in season, talk about foods and products you may not have considered buying locally, before, and offer some recipes for those filling, warming, foods that help alleviate the Winter Doldrums.
Till next time!
Hello! My name is Becky Leach, and I have the good fortune to have been hired as the Program Assistant for Flavors of Northwest Iowa. In addition to helping Laura Kuennan with special projects, filling in the gaps in the Flavors Directory by tracking down and getting acquainted with producers and growers in Buena Vista, Clay, Dickinson, Emmet, O’Brien, Osceola and Palo Alto counties, I’ll be taking over blog duties here on the website. I’m hoping that this blog will become a conversational tool between Flavors, and you readers out there, allowing you to offer suggestions as to information you’d like to receive, topics you’d like to see us cover, and as a chance for us—via your comments here or on our Facebook page (go “like” Flavors of Northwest Iowa on Facebook…right now! I’ll wait…)—to get to know each better as neighbors in the local foods community here in the northwest region of the state. So, feel free to let me hear from you: What are your needs? How can we better serve you in your quest to grow, produce, obtain, share, cook, and eat the fresh and exciting local foods our region has to offer? I’m eager to begin meeting artisan food producers, the family farmers who are practicing sustainable agriculture, the C.S.A. (“community supported agriculture”) providers, the farmer’s market customers and salespeople, and restaurant owners and grocery store managers who are working hard to offer healthy, fresh, local foods to their customers, and others in the region who share our vision, and offer their stories here, on the blog, for your enjoyment, as well.
I’ve had a long love affair with the subject of food in general, and many years in graduate school studying Culinary History, and ethnic and regional Foodways. My husband and I are recreational eaters, always tracking down one more hole-in-the-wall local restaurant in our travels, or cruising the aisles of the grocery stores of any town or city we visit, seeking regionally distinct, local food specialties. We are so dedicated to getting our hands on the best, the most delicious, local foods available that I once rode all the way back from the East Coast with a 14 pound Smithfield ham in my lap, since the car was already stuffed with daughters and dogs!). Over the past 30 years, we prowled farmers’ markets around the state, chased after local cheeses, knocked on the doors of Amish farmers, seeking fresh eggs with golden yolks…and we grew food—our largest organic garden was about 5000 square feet—and--having become entranced with a book about Chickens In Your Backyard--starting raising 30 of what later would be called “free range” chickens, in the late 1980’s. The coyotes occasionally just called them "free lunch", though.
About ten years ago—on a tip from my parents, whose doctor was raising his own natural, antibiotic free cattle, we bought our first side of beef, direct from the producer…and then we bought a hog, and started meeting neighborhood butchers (each one seemed to have their own fiercely guarded secret cure recipe, about which they were passionately proud), learned the satisfaction of a well-stocked locker and/or freezer, discovered how delicious locally sourced, humanely raised meat could be, and were astonished at the money we saved by buying directly from the producer, for excellent food that—in fancy restaurants in big cities on the coasts— would cost a small fortune. We were hooked! Next, we joined an organic C.S.A. outside of Sioux City, and reaped an abundant harvest of healthy produce. We started passing on our leads to friends who also were discovering the satisfaction that comes from buying locally raised and distributed foods: incredible value, extraordinary freshness, exceptional nutrition, and unparalleled taste. They were also discovering that buying local foods offered certain satisfactions unusual in this day of mass produced, corporate everything: the chance to meet the people who devoted their lives to producing that high quality food for their communities, pride in helping them to earn a fair price for their efforts, and the knowledge that their action helped their communities flourish, and that they promotedenvironmentally responsible, sustainable eating. I cannot imagine ever going back to the way we ate before we got to know our farmers, our local markets, and our community food producers. The rewards are endless.
So, as you can see, I’m passionate about the subject, and hope that you are, too! We have much to learn from each other: ideas to share, tips to pass along, recipes to divulge, leads to follow, and stories to tell. I’d like to write about my favorite books and websites, hear about your plans for expanding your crops, or making that farm stand or restaurant become a reality, and your suggestions for how we might, together, help everyone—neighbors, businesses, schools, our families and friends—become as enthusiastic about the local foods and flavors of Northwest Iowa as we are, right now.
Next time, I want to talk a little bit about why we should promote and practice eating locally, and discuss strategies for getting through the long, Iowa winters without access to our kitchen gardens or the farmers’ market. How can we still eat as close to home as possible when the world outside seems frozen and dead? Stay tuned!
We are pleased to announce that Becky Leach is our new Regional Foods Program Assistant. Becky comes to Iowa State University Extension & Outreach with a background in American Foodways studies, which includes the study of the history, culture, social significance, and regional flavors of the entire process of food production, procurement, and consumption. Additionally, Becky has experience as a producer in sustainable agriculture raising organic produce and free range chickens. She is currently an avid gardener and home cook, and has been a member of various local food cooperatives. As Regional Foods Program Assistant Becky will work to enhance the Flavors of Northwest Iowa program, with a focus on consumer education. She will be expanding the Local Food & Flavor Guide to the Iowa Lakes region, including Osceola, Dickinson, Emmet, O’Brien, Clay, Palo Alto, and Buena Vista Counties. Welcome, Becky! To get to know her better, we asked her a few questions.
Q: Can you share a little more about your background with local food?
A: I have always been fascinated by foodways and culinary arts. Years ago, my husband and I rented a farm outside of Oskaloosa, IA where we started raising free-range chickens and organic produce. We sold our products directly to consumers but once we moved to a rural area (outside of Iowa City), we found that people weren’t always interested in what we were offering at the time. People didn’t yet consider local food a higher priority—so it got me thinking about why it is important to me and how I can share this lifestyle with others. Now I have a large garden near Aurelia and have been making my own map of local farmers that I buy food from that I share with others. Now I can help do this through Flavors of Northwest Iowa!
Q: Tell me more about what you have been doing to share the local food lifestyle.
A: When I moved to Northwest Iowa, locally grown food was more difficult to find without an urban market like I went to in Iowa City so I started to put feelers out to locate the artisan producers. I learned who to talk to and built up a small a network of people who knew where to go for grassfed beef, organic chickens, goats, homemade cheese, etcetera. I just shared what I learned with friends and neighbors enthusiastically because it is healthy, nutritious food for our communities and makes sense economically. There is joyfulness in it, too! I love the sense of pride, craftsmanship, and husbandry of the local producers that I know.
Q: What do you hope to help Flavors of Northwest Iowa accomplish as we further develop the regional food system?
A: I would like to see us pinpoint every source of locally grown food in the region. We also need to concentrate on education—informing consumers on the benefits of locally grown food. It would also be good if we could find a way to help streamline the distribution chain regionally. I want to see more locally grown food in the local grocery stores and generally more available in more places.
Q: I hear you’re a great cook—what is your favorite thing to create in the kitchen?
A: Soup! Soups are wonderful because they have no hard and fast rules. You can approach them in many different moods. A certain soup can cheer you up, while another might return you to health. Soups are often have very distinctive regional and ethnic identities, but are accessible to the home cook. On the other hand, soup can use up all the odds and ends you collect from your garden or CSA. Maybe you’ll be seeing a few of my cooking tips and recipes on this blog in the future!
Here are the dreamers! This group of eleven recently completed a new ISU Extension and Outreach program called "Exploring the Small Farm Dream." The four-week course provided a framework to help alternative farmers assess their skills and interests, learn the realities of farm business ownership, and become connected to local resources.
Melissa O’Rourke, Farm & Agribusiness Management Specialist and Kaye Strohbehn, O'Brien County Program Coordinator developed the course based on the program from the New England Small Farm Institute as a way to address the increasing number of questions and calls related to options and strategies for small farms.
Exploring the Small Farm Dream sessions covered assessing yourself, researching the landscape, finance and production, and planning the next steps. Each week farmers who are "living the dream" spoke to the class about their dream and how it became a reality for them.
Congratulations to the course graduates! We can't wait to see where your entrepreneurial spirit will lead you. We hope to catch up with you in the near future to feature YOUR new farm business on the Flavors of Northwest Iowa blog!