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.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Farm to Market

So dear Mother Nature has decided to remind me that March really was too early for some of my planting. It fooled me there for a while, but the last couple weeks have put me back in my place! Parts of the garden are looking great - the parts that should have been planted in March. The other sections...well, I'll be replanting those once it warms up again. Oops! I have started to harvest the first round of some of the early veggies and every year I'm reminded how rewarding and delicious it is to grow your own food. I'm sure I'm not the only one with fresh veggies on the mind and it is a great time to plan out your garden or join a CSA. If you're still looking for some help deciding what fresh food option is best for you or want to learn more about local CSAs, please come to the Farm to Market Vendor Fair this Sunday, April 22nd at the Cedar Rapids Public Library/Westdale Mall. Stop by between 1 pm and 5 pm to gather some information about fresh, local foods. Plus, Sunday is Earth Day! Great timing to think about how your food is grown and where it comes from! We hope to see a lot of you there!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


A friend who has been following our Linn Area Reads blog sent me a link to what may be the cutest thing I've seen in a very long time: PigCam. PigCam is a live video feed from a pig farrowing nest at the Waddingham Farm in Iowa. (It reminds me of the Decorah Eagle Cam that has people around the world talking.) You can watch the piglets sleep, eat and play anytime you like from the comfort of your computer.

Watch live video from boojix on

You can also check out the farm at

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Dashing off a few notes

Can't believe how jam-packed our family's schedule is this weekend! I just have a moment to dash off a few thoughts:

1) I'm eager to hear how yesterday's panel discussion went. If you were there, we'd love to hear from you in the comments on this blog. I'm sure it was a fascinating--and, in keeping with Amber's post from the other day, respectful--conversation.

2) Out Loud! kicks off this coming Saturday with Robin Hemley. Join us at 1 p.m. at the Hotel at Kirkwood Center. Then Kevin Brockmeier on April 27, Marc Brown (at Linn-Mar) on May 3, and, of course, Linn Area Reads author Nicolette Hahn Niman on Friday, May 11. 

3) I must have this project on my brain more than I even realize. Opened the Gazette this morning to read my book review (I admit it: I'm a big vanity reader), and discovered that I apparently suggested a story narrowly avoided being "cutesy and meat." Um, meant "meta."

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Everything but the Squeal

Our family always has ham for Easter dinner.  And every year, I throw away the ham bone.  "Don't tell my dad," I say to my family.  My dad always made split pea soup with the ham bone, but I look at that thing with all the fat on it and say "no way."

But this year, my older son really wanted to make soup with the ham bone.  And my squeamishness was beginning to be at war with my desire to be thrifty. So this is how I did it.

First, I made broth with the ham bone.  After our Easter dinner guests left, I cut the remaining ham off the bone for leftovers.  The bone went into my stock pot with enough water to cover it.  Then I cooked it for about 45 minutes.

The broth went into the fridge, and I skimmed off the fat (plenty of it!) the next day.

Then I made the soup with the broth.

It was very good!

Here's my recipe, adapted from Good Housekeeping's Cookbook, with some of the special touches of the Moosewood Cookbook's vegetarian version (my favorite!) added.

Split Pea Soup with Ham broth
1 16-oz package split peas
1 bay leaf
4-5 c. ham bone broth (it is salty; use less if you prefer less salty soup)
2-3 c. water, to make 7 c. total liquid
2 large carrots, thinly sliced
2 large celery stalks, thinly sliced

Put all in a stock pot.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for about an hour.
Then add:
1 can chopped tomatoes, drained
a few drops of toasted sesame oil
2 T. apple cider vinegar
1 c. ham pieces, left over from the ham bone

Cook for 15-30 minutes.
Before serving, add 2-4 T. chopped parsley.

Serve with a hearty bread, like no-knead bread or faster no-knead bread.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

CSAs for Healthy Choices

Did you see the great article in the Gazette this past Sunday about our community reads project? You can read it by clicking here: Linn Area Reads Focuses on "Factory Farms." We are very excited about this weekend's panel discussion and hope you all will come to hear all sides of this compelling story.

Have you and your family ever considered joining a CSA? Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a  relationship of mutual support and commitment between local farmers and community members who pay the farmer an annual membership fee to cover the production costs of the farm. In turn, members receive a
weekly share of the harvest during the local growing season.

We have a lot of local options and this is a great way to get fresh foods and for the opportunity to try new things you might not otherwise purchase!

Check out the 2012 guide to CSAs in the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City area, Local Food Connections, and ratings of CSAs based on the amount of organic food they offer.

It's not hard to eat healthy and locally -- just explore a few of these fun resources and in no time, you'll be discovering a whole new world of tasty foods, without even visiting your local supermarket.

Have fun!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Beyond Factory Farms: A Panel Discussion

The Metro Library Network and Linn Area Reads committee invite you to join us this Saturday at 2:00 pm at the Marion Public Library for "Beyond Factory Farms: A Panel Discussion." The panel discussion is a part of the Linn Area Reads programming surrounding this years book selection: "Righteous Porkchop" by Nicolette Hahn Niman.

We will hear from three panelists with a variety of backgrounds and perspectives. The discussion will be led by Gazette Editor Lyle Muller. This is his third year moderating a panel for Linn Area Reads and he is always a wonderful leader.

The panelists are volunteering their time for this discussion because they feel it's important to talk about the themes in this book . We have asked them to participate because we value their insight and experience and look forward to hearing from them. 

The object of this panel is not to debate the subject at hand, nor is it to provide anyone an opportunity to heckle or be confrontational of anyone else. We hope to have a wide variety of perspectives and opinions within the audience and to facilitate a fair discussion of the topic. This is an educational opportunity and should be seen as such. We in no way want to create an environment where a person is attacked for their perspective.

I think it's very important to mention this before our event on Saturday. As we have seen throughout the past several weeks, this book is a good instigator for some very emotional discussions. That's one of the reasons the committee selected it. I just ask that people remember to be respectful of each other during this event.

Hope to see many of you there!

Monday, April 9, 2012

It's in the Feathers

I stumbled across this article today entitled Arsenic in Our Chicken? After questioning whether the pink slime in hamburger meat is hysteria or serious cause for concern, now we have this to consider with chicken. The article does let us know that they haven't found anything that seems to be a health concern (insert sigh of relief), but it does make you wonder what we are feeding our poultry. (I now can picture a chicken sipping on a triple shot latte...) I think it's great that this information is available to the public so that we have a better understanding of what we are consuming. Many of us may continue to purchase this chicken, but at least we'll understand what we are buying and an educated consumer is never a bad thing.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Not Meat

This entry isn't about meat.  But it is about food, and knowing where it comes from.

Because it's gardening time!

We have a fairly small yard and lots of shade, so putting a vegetable garden is a bit of a challenge. We don't grow too much, but we still enjoy it.

I put my spinach and lettuce in a week early this year because of the nice weather.

Those cages over the lettuce sprouts keep the bunnies from eating it.

I also started my basil and zinnias.

Most of the time they're inside, under a grow light, from the end of March, when I plant them, until Mother's Day when I set them out.  But I put them in the sun if we have warm weather.

I also have some perennial edibles in my yard.

Well, the parsley's a biennial . . . but I don't think my chives--supposed to be behind that little sign on the right--survived our wimpy winter.

I also have raspberries, given to me by a friend.  They are rather invasive, so if you have a friend with raspberries, you might be able to get some shoots.

My family loves what we grow--salad stuff, raspberries, fresh tomatoes, and basil for pesto.

My younger son, though, thinks we need to grow pumpkins!
Since we don't have nearly enough room--or sun--for pumpkins, we've decided to rent a garden plot from the city of Cedar Rapids in Ellis Park this year.  I've never done it--have any of you done this, blog readers?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Thank you!

I want to thank all of the great people that came to the book discussions of Righteous Porkchop. I was able to attend the final discussion and realized that I missed some great ideas the previous 3 weeks.

Two students from Kirkwood's Humane Officer program came that night. They hadn't had a chance to read the book (Molly gave them a copy), but their contributions were invaluable. I came away knowing that Hahn Niman's message wasn't an isolated instance. Our two students had the same information--cutting the beaks off of poultry, the overflowing of poultry cages, the gestational sow cages and more.

The rest of our group were wonderful, also. Several of us are already vegan or vegetarian. Several more of us are searching for alternate sources of fresh meat. And one of us (after reading the last chapters of the book) can't eat seafood.

This was a great discussion group. Most of us will be at the panel discussion (April 14 at 2:00 p. m. at the Marion Public Library), at the vendor fair (April 22 from 1 to 5 at Westdale Mall )and at the presentation by Hahn Niman (on May 11 at 7:00 p.m. at the Hotel at Kirkwood). Hope to see you there.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

FDA on livestock antibiotics

A Facebook friend just sent me this article this afternoon. More good news from the industrial farming front! Check it out!

In addition...

Just came across this in my Shelf Awareness email, a new release by Tyler Cowen called An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies. Check it out! 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

If you liked Righteous Porkchop, you'll like ...

We hope you have been enjoying Righteous Porkchop. If so, you'll be glad (though likely not surprised) to know Hahn Niman isn't the only one writing on this topic. Here are a few other books you may enjoying exploring:

Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan
The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair 

Get educated. And let us help. Join us this month for two great programs: a panel discussion at the Marion Public Library, moderated by Lyle Muller from The Gazette, at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 14; and a Farm to Market Vendor Fair at the Cedar Rapids Public Library at Westdale Mall from 1-5 p.m. on Sunday, April 22. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Access for Everyone

While there may be disagreements on how we raise our food, most of us can agree that we want our children to be healthy and eat well. But it's not easy if you have a limited budget. Not everyone can raise a garden and grow the food they need to feed their family. And the truth is that there is a large section of the population that cannot afford to purchase fresh food.

The Woman, Infants and Children Farmers Market Nutrition Program is a federal initiative aimed at boosting health among those who are most vulnerable to malnutrition, obesity, heart disease, cancers, and other health issues by working to supply low income women and children with fresh food they otherwise cannot access. WIC farmers market program provided more than two million Americans with benefits in 2010.

The problem? The 2012 appropriations bill cut its funding by 3o percent. That means more than 300,000 families saw a decrease in their WIC benefits. 

More than 23 million American's don't live near a supermarket. They live in what is now referred to as food deserts, areas where a person has to travel more than a mile to reach a grocery store or market. What they do have easy access to is fast food and convenience stores, which are full of processed foods.

Most farmers markets in America are held in affluent neighborhoods, don't accept food stamps, and can be really intimidating for someone who has no experience with the items on sale. (What exactly do you do with kohlrabi, for example?)

Something to keep in mind: between 1995 and 2010, US farmers received $261.9 billion in subsidies from the government. Ten percent of those subsidies went to 74% of the farmers in this country. The rest of that money went to industrial-scale corn, cotton, soybeans, wheat and rice farmers.

The healthy food movement is an important one and cannot be limited only to those who have a higher income to access it. All children in this country should be given the opportunity to eat well and be healthy. What can we do in our own communities to create more access for those in need? It's something we should be thinking about.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Farmers Have Nothing to Hide?

Did you see the opinion piece in last Friday's Gazette written by Ron Birkenholz, the Communications Director for the Iowa Pork Producers Association? Here's a link:

Birkenholz says Iowa farmers have nothing to hide. He's writing with regard to the recently passed Ag Protection Act legislation signed into law by Governor Branstad on March 2. 

I had some problems with his piece, which says "Hog farms are business enterprises run by experienced farmers who have a passion for raising food animals. Swine production practices are based on that experience, as well as years of proven scientific research on how best to properly care for and maintain the health, safety and comfort of the livestock." 

After what we've all been learning about practices on hog farms in the past month or two, this is a little difficult to stomach. Really? " Scientific research on how best to properly care for and maintain the health, safety, and comfort of the livestock?" 

As it happens, the Iowa Pork Producers will be part of our panel discussion on April 14 -- 2:00 at the Marion Library. The discussion will be moderated by Lyle Muller of the the Gazette. Don't you wonder what they will have to say for themselves in that forum? 

The discussion will be free! We hope to see many of there to hear both sides of this compelling story about the food we eat. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Pink slime hysteria?

So was the pink slime news just hysteria, or should consumers be concerned that this ingredient has been in our ground beef for the last 20 years?

The Gazette thinks it's hysteria. 

Which burger was made with lean, finely-textured beef? Hard to tell from looking at it, it's true.  And apparently it's "safe."

But the whole pink slime issue has caused people to think a bit more carefully about where their food comes from.  And that is good.

Oh, and by the way, did you hear that Twitter is going to cut the length of tweets from 140 to 133 characters, saving the company $1.7 billion a year?

April Fools!

(One advantage to being late with my usual Saturday post.)

Oh, the burger on the right is made with pink slime.

The battle over "pink slime"

It's been interesting to keep an eye on developments regarding so-called "pink slime"--also known as (as Wikipedia explains) boneless lean beef trimmings (BLBT) or lean finely textured beef (LFTB)--over the last week. 

First, Hy-Vee decided not to carry the product anymore. After customer complaints, Hy-Vee reversed course, promising to offer products both with and without the additive. Meanwhile, a coalition of governors--including our own Terry Branstad--have gotten behind the product. They have good reason to: jobs in the food industry are being lost as a result of the "pink slime" controversy, and that's troubling.

This is potentially a good lesson in the power of words to frame debates. When I first heard about "pink slime," I assumed it must be bad. With a name like that, how could it be good? But there's an argument on the other side that is summed up succinctly in the Des Moines Register article linked to above: "Dude, it's beef."

Reminds me of a similar (though reverse) lesson learned by folks who wanted to sell the Chinese gooseberry in an international market. The name that sticks to something often determines how it is received by the public.