I recently had an incredible opportunity to visit Iowa. As some of you may know, I lived in Iowa for three years before moving to Connecticut. I have been SO eager to go back! You may not think of Iowa as a top tourist destination or some of you may even be wondering where Iowa is. I have to tell you that it is one of the nicest places to visit and live! I’d move back to Iowa in heartbeat if I had the opportunity. Unfortunately, that doesn’t look like it’s happening anytime soon. Ten bloggers (including myself) were invited to Iowa by Iowa Corn Growers Association for a few days to see first-hand where some of our country’s food is being produced. It was such a wonderful and eye-opening experience that I just had to share my experience with all of you!
I love seeing where my food is coming from and love going on food tours, manufacturing tours, and anything else I come across. I always find the processes fascinating and eye-opening. There is so much in the media these days that it’s hard to know what to believe when it comes to our food supply, so seeing things first-hand always makes me feel better about the food I’m eating. When this opportunity came about to visit Iowa, I knew I had to jump on board!
I decided to fly into Iowa a few days early to visit some friends and tour around by myself. It was so great to be back in the midwest and all it has to offer! Iowa is such a friendly-down-to-Earth kind of place. The people are kind and genuine, and you always feel welcome. There’s something very comforting about being in the “heartland” of America. After I spent a few days on my own, I met up with the other bloggers at our hotel in Des Moines. It was so great meeting other food bloggers from around the country with different backgrounds but we all had so much in common. We had to get up early the next morning, so we headed to bed rather early.
The next morning our first stop was the Machine Shed Restaurant. It’s a small Iowa chain and a definite must-do if you’re ever in Iowa. When I lived in Iowa, we would take the kids there regularly. It’s a rather large restaurant with a “country” type store when you walk in. Everyone went crazy for the “bacon” products including t-shirts, bacon seasonings, dish towels, and more! We had a great family-style breakfast with the largest cinnamon rolls you’ve probably ever seen (about the size of a dinner plate!)! Some local farmers joined us for breakfast and we had the opportunity to ask them about their farms and any farming questions we had. Always great to meet people who are producing are food!
After breakfast we headed back on the bus to our next stop, Couser Cattle Company. This family-owned farm was incredible! We were able to see the cattle as well as the corn and soybean fields. Meeting the family behind the farm was such a treat. The farm is over 100 years old and the transformation it has undergone is truly amazing. I always seem to hear about how our food is coming from these big “corporate” farms but that’s generally not the case. Some farmers have had to set themselves up as a “company” for tax-purposes and the vast majority of farms in the U.S. are family-owned and operated. According to the USDA about 96% of the over 2.2 million farms in the U.S. are family-owned and over 90% of these family farms have gross sales of under $250,000. I’d hardly call that big “corporate” farms. We also got to ride in a combine while they were harvesting soybean fields. Wow, talk about a huge piece of equipment! The technology inside was incredible. The farmers can tell exactly where they are on their fields, track the water content of their crops right as they’re harvesting, and more! Amazing! Unfortunately, a combine can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars so not looking like I’ll be getting one anytime soon!
At lunch on the farm, Nancy Degner, Executive Director of Iowa Beef Industry Council came in and gave a great presentation about beef. I know the cuts of beef can be a little overwhelming for people but I highly recommend “The Healthy Beef Cookbook” to make things a little easier. We received a copy of the cookbook on our trip, but I actually already had a copy. It’s a great cookbook and loaded with healthy, quick, and easy beef recipes. It also contains all sorts of great reference material and tips. There are 29 cuts of lean cuts of beef available today and the book definitely makes it easier to figure out what those cuts are and how to prepare and cook them. These 29 cuts have a total fat content that fall between skinless chicken breasts and skinless chicken thighs Want more beef recipes or tips? Check out Beef It’s What’s For Dinner for recipes, tips, cooking lessons, food safety, and more!
Also on the lunch menu, corn! Iowa is the largest corn producer in the U.S. According to Iowa Corn, in 2011, Iowa corn farmers grew almost 2.3 billion bushels of corn on 13.7 million acres of land. What you might find interesting is that most of that corn is not sweet corn. It’s actually “field” corn which is used primarily for animal feed. Iowa’s corn is also used for starches, oil, sweeteners, and ethanol. There’s nothing like Iowa sweet corn in the summer from local farm stands!
After our trip to the farm, we headed over to the Iowa Speedway. While at the track we discussed ethanol and the future of ethanol in our gasoline here in the United States. It was interesting to hear about the ethanol process and how some cars can run on 100% ethanol. Since the oil companies own the major distribution outlets here in the U.S. it may be difficult for other energy sources, such as ethanol to make an impact in the near future. Hopefully, that will change in the future if there is a push for oil alternatives. After we talked about the benefits of ethanol, we headed outside for a few laps around the track. I have a whole new appreciation for race car drivers!!! And I’m quite thankful I didn’t get sick. :)
We headed back to Des Moines for a nice dinner at the State of Iowa Historical Museum. We had the pleasure of having dinner with a few local farmers and they were happy to answer any questions we had about Iowa and farming. Again, they were so kind of willing to answer any questions we had. After a long day, we all headed back to the hotel to get a good night’s sleep. Our view from dinner…
We were up early again the next morning for a breakfast buffet at the Embassy Suites (I love that hotel!!). Dr. Ruth MacDonald, Chair of the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Iowa State University joined us for breakfast. I could have listened to her talk ALL day! She was so knowledgeable about nutrition and food and we could ask her anything we wanted. We discussed a wide range of topics including corn syrup, processed food, and healthy diets. We also talked about how the internet and media is saturated with information; some good, some bad. How do you know what to believe? It’s hard to know what to believe in our information overload society. She suggested for everyone to do their own research and to choose reputable sources including peer-reviewed journals. Great advice!
After breakfast we were in for a real treat! We headed to Meredith Corporation home of Better Homes & Gardens for a tour. Such a dream touring Better Homes & Gardens! My first (and still one of my favorite cookbooks) is from Better Homes & Gardens so to take a tour, was a dream come true! Meredith Corporation’s test kitchen has been operating since 1928!! The Meredith Corporation test kitchens and photo studios support a wide range of magazines and publications. Their staff includes 6 culinary specialists, 2 nutrition specialists, 1 purchasing specialist, 3 housekeepers, 1 office manager, 2 food stylists, and 1 assistant food stylist! The test kitchen includes 10 galley kitchens, 2 dining-room style tasting rooms, an outdoor grilling area, a showcase kitchen (which is gorgeous!), and library. They also have a photo studio that contains 9 kitchens with shooting bays that are used for food photography and video production!! Their test kitchens, were busy trying out recipes while we were there. We also got a first hand look at their photo studio where they were taking some food photos for upcoming publications. The real treat was taking a quick walk through their prop room! WOW! Rows and rows of all sorts of kitchen utensils, plates, glasses, silverware, backgrounds, and anything else you could think of!!! I wonder if they’d let me move in?? :) A typical year in the test kitchen and photo studio is testing more than 5,900 recipes and producing more than 2,500 food images. They spend about $120,000/year on groceries and go through about 6,000 cups of flour; 4,000 cups of sugar; 400 dozen eggs, and 800 onions!
After our “inside” tour we headed “outside” for a quick tour around their gardens. Boy, do I wish I had a green thumb!
After our Meredith Corporation and Better Homes & Gardens tour we headed to lunch at a local grocery store. We split up into groups, and prepared a great lunch. What a fun time all cooking together! The Iowa Pork Producers Association was there so there was lots of pork and bacon on the menu (Yum!). We got to meet several local farmers who raise pigs and they were happy to answer any questions we had about pork, pigs, and farming. What a great group of people! And the good news is that they are very optimistic about this “bacon shortage” that has been all over the news lately!!
Unfortunately that was the end of our trip. We all said our good-byes and headed off to the airport. I learned SO much on this trip. But what I really took away from it all was the passion farmers have for their land, their animals, their family, and consumers all over the world. You can see the kindness and passion in their eyes. It was such a treat to see where our food comes from and the people behind it. I have a whole new appreciation for farmers and hope you do too! Special thanks to Iowa Corn Growers Association for a great trip and Hana, Roxi, Shannon, and Mindy for answering all our questions and making this trip special for all of us!
In the mood for a little corn??? Check out these corn recipes from myself as well as the other bloggers who joined me on this trip:
- Blue Cheddar Cornbread – Shari of Tickled Red
- Cheesy Corn Dog Muffins – Carrie of Fields of Cake
- Southwestern Salad with Cilantro Jalapeno Vinaigrette – Tina of My Life as a Mrs.
- Authentic Mexican Corn – Carrian of Oh Sweet Basil
- Roasted Corn and Potato Chowder – Rebecca of Foodie with Family
- Crab Enchiladas with Bacon and Orange Sauce – Janelle of Talk of Tomatoes
- Summer Veggie Saute – Kelley of Mountain Mama Cooks
- BBQ Chicken Cornbread Pie – Julie of Table for Two
- Corn on the Cob Cake Pops – Ali of Gimme Some Oven
- Mexican Sausage & Cornbread Strata – (my recipe)
Disclaimer: My trip and expenses were paid for by Iowa Corn. All opinions are my own.