Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Spring of Thinking About Food

As you've no doubt noted over the past few months, we fortuitously chose an excellent time to read Nicolette Hahn Niman's Righteous Porkchop book. Along with our community-wide book discussion, there have been a lot of related issues in the news, including the "Ag Gag" legislation recently passed in Iowa and signed into law by Governor Branstad; and the controversial "pink slime" issue, which has now resulted in several plant closures and the losse of jobs.

It's often difficult to know who to believe in discussions about these contentious issues: both sides have their experts, and to the lay person, who depends upon the experts, everyone sounds equally credible. When issues are important to you, how do you educate yourself to make the right decisions? How do you decide who is credible to you and who isn't? Did you find Niman to be a credible reporter as you read her book? Did you attend our panel discussion last month to hear opposing local viewpoints? What did you think? If you enjoyed Niman's perspective, did the panelists give you pause to reconsider?

All of the metro area libraries (and our partner, Barnes & Noble!) have collections of books and resources to help guide you, on this an other food-related issues, as you work to make the best and healthiest decisions for yourselves and your families. There is a lot of information, and it can be confusing. Your librarians can help guide you to reliable information so you can make educated decisions. And we hope our community discussion this spring has been useful as well.

Please join us on Friday, May 11 at 7 p.m. when Niman will talk about her book at The Hotel at Kirkwood. The presentation is free and open to all. Bring your questions and let's find out all we can from her so we can continue to make good and wise food choices, not only for ourselves, but for our environment and for the animals we are eating.

We will look forward to seeing you on Friday! Thanks for participating in our community discussion.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


So I have a confession. My favorite stage of my garden is now. Sure, I love the stage where I have the fresh vegetables to eat, but right now it is just so pretty. There is a nice layer of green popping up all over and nothing has gotten out of control yet or gotten unruly. Everything looks so healthy and green and managed. Looking at my garden right now, you can't yet tell that I'm an amateur gardener. That a certain percentage of my plants will not make it, that I almost certainly planted things incorrectly. That at some point I'll forget to water on a 100 degree day or will over water right before a huge rain storm. At some point, a portion of my plants will get big and unruly and another portion will just look sad. Some will bear fruit that I don't know when to harvest and I will inevitable waste that food. But not today. Today they look just right. It's the picture of such hope. The start of something wonderful. I think it is great that we joined a CSA this year. Let them worry about making sure things are grown properly and harvested at the right time while I keep my plot of joy in my backyard without the pressure of success. Although, between you and me, I'll probably pretend that those vegetables are fresh from my own garden as I eat them. In my mind I'll try to claim a little vicarious accomplishment.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Meet the Author

The time is fast approaching -- soon we will have the opportunity to meet the author of the Linn Area Reads 2012 selection, Righteous Porkchop. Nicolette Hahn Niman will be speaking this Friday, May 11th at 7 pm at The Hotel at Kirkwood Center. Don't forget to come out to hear her speak and have her sign your copy of Righteous Porkchop. I am very excited to have the chance to meet the woman who wrote the book that prompted all the great discussions and happenings that have been going on this year with Linn Area Reads. I hope to see a lot of you there! Let's also not forget that Hahn Niman is visiting as part of Out Loud! The Metro Library Network Library Author Series. Out Loud! is already off to a great start with fantastic, engaging presentations by Robin Hemley, Kevin Brockmeier, and Marc Brown. Make sure you check out the rest of the Out Loud! schedule as well. It's a good one!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Win a Pig!

While not quite as cute as the pigs on the pig cam, this little piggy will be a lot easier to take care of!  And you, my dear blog readers, can sign up to have a chance to win him!

R.P., short for Righteous Porkchop, is about 3" tall, and made of yarn, including a cute, curly yarn tail.  He'd look great on your desk at work!

If you'd like a chance to win him, leave a comment here on the blog.*  I'll randomly choose a winner next Saturday--so come back to this blog then to see if you've won.

*it's easy to leave a comment.  Just click on the "comment" link at the bottom of this post, and leave your name.  Feel free to share any comments about the book, too.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Follow-up comments on our 4/14 panel discussion

I wanted to make a few comments about our great panel discussion on April 14, Beyond Factory Farming, moderated by Lyle Muller from the Gazette.

Panelists were Jason Grimm, Food System Planner for Iowa Valley Resource Conservation & Development; Elizabeth Burns-Thompson, a Drake law student focusing on agricultural law; and Jason Russell, a Prairieburg hog farmer and speaker with the Iowa Farm Bureau.

The panelists did a wonderful job, and I'd like to send a shout out to each of them for their excellent comments. I appreciated that they had all taken time to read Righteous Porkchop, our book selection, and could comment directly about things Hahn Niman says in the book. They were all well-prepared and responded intelligently both to questions from Muller and from the audience.

Because I came expecting to oppose Jason Russell, I would like especially note that he did a fabulous job. He was articulate about his own farming operation and operating a confinement facility. And he made a few comments that stuck with me: their hogs don't get antibiotics throughout their lives, basically only when they are young -- sounded sort of like human infant vaccinations -- and then if they are ill or have problems. They don't have manure lagoons. You would never apply manure to saturated soil or in the rain, that would be crazy. They try to keep their manure cleaned up and protected from the weather so it can be as dry as possible when applied. Manure is like gold; they do not have to purchase any fertilizers because they use their manure -- appropriately -- on their crop fields. He says his facility does not have odor problems -- and there were neighbors of his in the audience who corroborated this. He talked about sows and their propensity for either cannibalizing their piglets or simply crushing them by lying on them, and that the sows are crated to protect the piglets.

There were lots of good audience questions, no heckling, and Muller had to call it quits while many hands were still raised. The panelists did not come off as being on opposing sides of an argument at all; they agreed on lots of things. Overall, I left the program glad for a little balance and realizing that, as with most issues, it's good to remember there is a lot of gray area and industrial farming is not as black-and-white as Niman paints it.

I am looking forward now to meeting Niman and to hearing what she has to say when she visits on May 11! We hope many of you will join us at The Hotel @ Kirkwood, 7 p.m. on 5/11, to hear her. It will be an interesting night.

And, not to suggest Niman's not enough of a draw -- but if you come, you'll be entered in a drawing for one of two color Nook ereaders AND you'll have a chance that evening to win one of three $50 Barnes & Noble gift cards! Meet famous author, win prizes, pay nothing. What's not to like?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Farm to Market Vendor Fair--Many Thanks!

The Linn Area Reads "Farm to Market" Vendor Fair was held on Sunday, April 22. We had a wonderful group of people from around the area sharing their expertise on local farms and sustainable agriculture. I want to mention them here so you can find out more information about these vendors. The Iowa Valley Food Coop: Launched in 2011 after two years of planning, the IVFC is a web-based cooperative where consumers can order products directly from area farmers and other local businesses. Products include vegetables, berries, apples, eggs, beef, pork, lamb, chicken, baked goods, homemade soaps, rugs, baby clothes, and much more. Members pay a one-time refundable market share fee of $25 and an annual fee of $10 to help defray administrative costs. For more information on the IVFC, visit Rehberg's Pork: In the market for pork products? Check out the selection of high quality pork products from Rehberg's Pork. Dedicated to supplying only the highest quality pork, the Rehberg's use no antibiotics, no hormones, non-GMO grain, and no MSGs. They are located in Walker, Iowa, a short drive north of Cedar Rapids. Learn more at Bass Family Farms: Located on Highway 30 near Mt. Vernon, Iowa, Bass Family Farms provide a variety of options for the savvy shopper and health food junkie. With a nursery and greenhouse, boutique selling gifts and decor (including some amazing soy candles), a market, and a CSA, this farm has something for everyone. You can even follow the farm on Twitter (@BassFarms) or read up on happenings on Chris' Blog. Bass Farms is committed to an herbicide and pesticide free relationship with the land. Learn more at We also had information on a few other local options: Local Harvest CSA: Locally grown vegetables, bread, eggs, lamb, chicken and turkey are distributed through Local Harvest CSA, with location drop sites in Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, North Liberty and Solon. Learn more at or contact Susan at 319-929-5032. Heartland Emu Marketing Cooperative: Who knew how lean Emu meat is? The American Heart Association now recommends emu as a heart-healthy meat, a great alternative to other red meats. It's 95% fat free and high in iron and B12. Heartland Emu Marketing Coop offers a variety of emu options. Find out more at Morgan Creek Farms: Located on Highway 30 West of Cedar Rapids (10501 16th Avenue SW), Morgan Creek Farms offer a variety of vegetables grown on their 37 acres. They also have a greenhouse for year-round production. Learn more about Morgan Creek Farms by calling (319) 396-3629. Thank you to those who attended and our wonderful participants for providing us with information about what we can find in our own back yard. If you know of more local businesses or farms we should know about, please let us know in the comments below!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Fish Tale

So I'm heading to the grocery store with my list and my canvas bags, and as I am rolling into the parking lot, a story on the radio catches my attention.

It was about fish farming, and the guest, an expert on the fishing industry, pointed out that people should realize that most fish are not sustainably harvested.  He gave the example of tilapia--the the fish are often farmed in large-scale fish farms that pollute the waters.

This caught my attention, because there on my shopping list was the item "frozen tilapia."

We've started to have fish about once a week at our house, and we love the mild, tender white fish.  I coat it in honey-mustard dip, roll it in seasoned bread crumbs, and bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

But as I turned off the car and went into the grocery store, I wondered if there were a more sustainable fish I could buy.

It turns out that tilapia can be a good choice, according to the well-known Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch , but only if it is farmed in the US.  The frozen tilapia I had found at the Hy-Vee was from China--a type of fish to avoid (there, it is not farmed in a sustainable way).

Another good choice, though, was catfish a type of fish available all over the far-from-the-ocean midwest!  And it was on sale at Hy-Vee.  We tried some catfish this week--it was mild and very tender, similar to the tilapia.  I cooked it the same way as I did the tilapia, but next time, I'm going to slice it into thinner filets.