September 28, 2010

I think my husband would cook more often if he could avoid one obstacle in our kitchen.

That would be me armed with disinfectant and constant food safety warnings.

I might as well be a walking, talking, disinfecting caution symbol. My husband loves to grill steaks and broil fish and bake chicken. And, as much as I love to eat those offerings, I go a little overboard when it comes to handling raw meat.

I’ve seen enough of those undercover news shows that bring a black light into someone’s seemingly spotless kitchen and nearly give them a heart attack with the revelation of all types of residue everywhere.

“Make sure you wash your hands.”

“Did you soak that pan in hot, soapy water before putting it in the dishwasher?”

“Please use separate dishes and utensils for, well, everything that you are doing.”

Despite my crazy ways, food safety is very important, especially when you are handling raw ingredients. Meat must be prepared properly. Vegetables need to be washed and dried. Leftovers should be refrigerated if necessary.

September is actually food safety education month. U.S. farmers raise the healthiest food in the world, but we, as consumers, must also do our part by employing healthy habits when preparing that food.

Here, why don’t you quiz yourself on your own food handling habits at the American meat Institute’s website at

How did you do? I clocked in at 73 percent for my first testing. I guess I have a bit more to learn myself. (Just don’t tell my husband.)

When it comes to consumer responsibility, I’ve read some concerns from organizations that are offended that food industry folks are putting so much on their plates. A safe food supply takes an entire team effort, from the farmer to the processor to the retailer to the crazy lady with the Clorox in the kitchen. You can’t be slogging raw chicken across the stovetop and expect to have a completely safe dinner.

It’s being smart, and not overzealous with paper towels, that will keep you, your family and your food as safe as possible. Arm yourself with knowledge and let your husband make dinner, for goodness’ sake.

To download a brochure about food safety practices, check out this site. (

There’s even a Meat News Network on YouTube at

For more food safety info, check out the Partnership for Food Safety online at

Written by Heather Lilienthal
Heather is an Ag Commodities Writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau.

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Serving their country; feeding the world

September 24, 2010
Group photo at Marine Memorial of Iwo Jima

Members of the Winnebago Honor Flight gather for a group photo at the Marine Memorial of Iwo Jima in Washington D.C.

It’s hard to imagine that nearly 70 years ago men far younger than me left their farms and the small Iowa towns like Sheffield, Meservey and Manly that dot the Iowa map to fight in a war half a world away in Europe, Africa and the Pacific. I recently joined some of those men as they made another monumental journey. This time it was a one-day trip to Washington D.C. to see the World War II monument built in their honor.

I was lucky enough to be asked to go along to help the veterans on the Winnebago Honor Flight and take some photos to document the trip. For me it was a deep honor to give some of my time and skill back to the men who defended our liberty and democracy.

The trip was a pilgrimage for me too. When I was young I spent many days after school researching information about my family’s involvement in World War II. That research years later led me to the very courtroom where my great uncle stood watch over the top Nazi generals during the Nuremberg trial in Germany. I was never able to talk to him or my grandfather about their experiences in the war; sadly they both had passed away just after my birth.

It was a warm day in Washington. As I pushed wheel chairs, helped the men on and off buses, I made sure they had plenty of water. I also asked questions and most of all I listened to their stories. Each had plenty of stories about their experiences in the war.  Those experiences were still vivid in their mind as they visited the WWII, Korean, Vietnam, Iwo Jima and Lincoln Memorials. With all of the joy and excitement wrapped around that day it was hard not to think that at some point these heroes will be gone. Without the stories that they share with their children, grandchildren, teachers and students all the memories and perspectives they hold will be lost to the passages of time.

Later that week I drove through small communities and the countryside while taking photos and working on stories for Iowa Farm Bureau. It was hard not to think of all the soldiers from those very towns and their untold stories; boys that left their homes in the bread basket of the world during one of the pivotal moments for America in the 20th century then came back as heroes who quietly went about their business raising their families, building their communities and feeding the world.

I know that I will never forget all the veterans that I met that day on the Winnebago Honor Flight to Washington D.C. I have already started to share their stories with my children so another generation can appreciate the sacrifices they made to protect our freedoms.

A Hero's Welcome

A veteran is welcomed to Washington D.C. by volunteers.

Fountains at the Memorial

The World War II memorial in Washington D.C.

Guardians at the Ready

Photo of myself on the Honor Flight with my mother and a good family friend.

Arlington National Cemetery

The veterans visited Arlington National Cemetery and watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Color Guard Welcome Home

Veterans make a heroes return to Mason City late that night to find over 200 people there to welcome them home.

You can view more photos from the Honor Flight here: Honor Flight Gallery

Written by Joe Murphy
Joe is a photographer and writer for Iowa Farm Bureau.

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Spend a day at the orchard

September 16, 2010

Autumn in Iowa is bittersweet. We love the fall colors, the hoodie sweatshirts and the harvest sunsets. But we also know that a cold, snowy winter is just around the corner.

So why waste a minute of this lovely fall weather sitting inside? Hit the road with your family and visit a local apple orchard or pumpkin patch.

Iowa’s apple and pumpkin farms offer a scenic glimpse of life in the country, when the combines are rolling in the fields at harvest.

But more important to kids, a day on the farm is a whole lot of fun.

Iowa’s “agritourism” destinations provide unique activities for the whole family – from the toddlers to the dads (many of whom, admittedly, may be reluctant to give up precious football-watching time).

But the farms do their best to make a visit memorable. For example, Center Grove Orchard near Cambridge lets children play in a shallow corn kernel “pool.” Families can explore a pig-shaped corn maze at the Atwood pumpkin patch near Fairfield, or launch a pumpkin 300 feet in the air with a catapult at Carroll’s Pumpkin Farm near Grinnell.

Plus, your kids can pick the perfect pumpkin right out of the field, or eat an apple straight off the tree. They can pet baby farm animals and see for themselves that milk and pork chops don’t come from the grocery store; they come from hard-working Iowa farm families.

So make a trip to an Iowa apple orchard, pumpkin patch or corn maze a new family tradition. After all, you can always watch the football highlights on Sports Center, but how often do you get a chance to play “pumpkin bowling” with your kids?

To find an Iowa apple orchard, pumpkin patch or corn maze near you, visit the Iowa Department of Agriculture’s website at

Wondering what to do with all those apples, pumpkins and squash when you get back home? Here are a few recipes I’m looking forward to trying this fall:

– Sarah’s Applesauce from
– Apple Dumplings from the Pioneer Woman
– Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal from Good Life Eats
– Roasted Butternut Squash Pizza from Two Peas and Their Pod

Written by Teresa Bjork
Teresa is a features Writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau.

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Egg Recall…Crack Open The Truth

September 2, 2010

A lot of people have been talking about modern egg production since the salmonella contaminations. All have been linked to the Big Bad Wolf of egg farmers; Jack DeCoster. This guy gets about as much respect among Iowa farmers as Mel Gibson now gets in Hollywood. That’s because the majority of Iowa farmers, both big and small…believe in doing things right.

As a farmer’s daughter, a longtime reporter, a Mom and a bargain-shopper, I ask a lot of questions and seek out information from a lot of sources to make up my mind about things that affect my family’s health. I know one bad actor does not define an industry, or a product.

I guess it’s because, like all rational, educated, hard-working Moms out there, I use common sense to guide my choices. In everything. Not everyone does that.

Witness, for example, what’s happening in California right now; California is in the middle of the worst whooping cough outbreak in a half-century. Doctors say non-vaccinating parents set this whole ball rolling. These parents believed a (now debunked) Andrew Wakefield, who did a ‘study’ with 12 kids and claimed a link between childhood vaccinations and autism. He’s been proven wrong a hundred times since then.

Back when Wakefield was making the talk-show rounds with actress Jenny McCarthy (Mother to an autistic son), it scared Moms away from giving their kids life-saving vaccinations. Many grieving, scared, searching-for-answers Moms took the advice of the defrocked doctor and an actress they never met, over their own doctor and generations of good medical science. When did common sense become a thing of the past?

And now, flash forward to another situation which calls for common sense; the egg recall at Wright County Egg Farms. Iowa farmers, both large and small, agree if the reports are true about the conditions inside that place, it was wrong; it was unhealthy for the eggs and the birds. But, as shocking as the case seems to be, it’s not typical.

How do I know? Common sense leads me to ask farmers. And when I think of egg farming experts….I think of….The Dalai Lama? What? No, seriously, before you laugh; the Dalai Lama is now weighing in on how chickens should be raised. (I know, right?). The esteemed leader put out this statement today: Hey, there’s nothing wrong with the Dalai Lama giving his opinion. But he, like many others willing to ‘jump into the fray’, is not a farmer.

Clearly, there’s a right way and a wrong way to raise egg-laying hens. But what you may not know is that size has nothing to do with preventing salmonella. Even small farmers with a few dozen chickens scratching around in the dirt can tell you that when it comes to salmonella, it can happen to anyone. Kyle Holthaus, a small chicken and vegetable farmer from northwest Iowa, (check him out on YouTube here: says following the rules and caring for animals is key to keeping food safe. “That is something farmers both big and small do. We’ve got a 44 page manual so far for food safety and we’re not near-done writing it at all. In ideal world, we don’t need more food safety regulations…we need smarter ones,” says Holthaus.

All I know is that my menu for breakfast at home hasn’t changed; eggs, yogurt, couple strips of bacon. Of course, I’d like to put some chocolate on my plate too…but common sense prevails.

Written by Laurie Johns
Laurie Johns is Public Relations Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau.

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Back to school blog

September 2, 2010

Iowa students returned to school this week with their backpacks stuffed full of pencils, folders, notebooks and, perhaps, an apple for the teacher.

While the basic school supplies never change, students today are sitting in classrooms that are more high-tech, wired and connected than ever before.

Even the iconic symbol of American education, the chalkboard, has gone the way of the one-room schoolhouse. Now many Iowa schools are bringing electronic whiteboards into the classroom.

I recently visited with Emily Starr, an eastern Iowa native and teacher who started her own company, StarrMatica Learning Systems LLC, to develop educational software for the interactive whiteboards.

Starr said her Clinton-based business is growing as more schools use interactive whiteboards to appeal to today’s tech-savvy students.

Interactive whiteboards display video-game-style lessons on a dry-erase board or screen. Kids can play along using a digital pen that works wirelessly with a laptop computer. It’s estimated that one in seven schools worldwide will have an interactive whiteboard by the year 2011.

Talking to Starr about her software company got me thinking how technology has changed not only the classroom, but also the farm.

This fall, many Iowa farmers will harvest their crops with combines that resemble home offices on wheels.

Even in the middle of a corn field, farmers stay connected with e-mail, Facebook, market reports and weather forecasts using smartphones and wireless laptops.

Their combines are often equipped with auto-steer and global positioning system (GPS) technology, so a combine can “drive” itself through the field without a farmer placing hands on the steering wheel, except to make a turn at the end of a row.

The auto-steer technology helps farmers save fuel, because it eliminates unnecessary overlap in fields. It also reduces driver fatigue, allowing farmers to stay in the fields all night long, if necessary, to beat an approaching storm.

In addition, farmers use computerized yield monitors to measure yields as the crop is harvested. Yield data is plugged into GPS maps, which pinpoint areas in the field that may lack nitrogen or phosphorus. This information helps farmers apply fertilizer or manure exactly where needed, at the appropriate amounts.

All this technology has allowed farmers to increase their productivity, reduce their use of fertilizer and fuel, and help protect our natural resources. Or in other words, Iowa farmers are feeding more with less.

So if parents today want their kids to have the latest, greatest technology in the classroom, then why shouldn’t we expect farmers to use the best available technology as well?

Sure, we all love seeing antique tractors puttering at the county fair, just like we enjoy visiting one-room schoolhouses.

But we aren’t going to send our kids off to school with quill pens and ink wells. And we shouldn’t expect farmers to return to the days of hand-picking weeds from their soybean fields – especially when there are billions of people worldwide depending on their crops.

After all, here in Iowa, we’re not only a leader in education. We’re also a leader in providing food to the world. And for that, we should be proud.

If you want to learn first-hand how Iowa farmers grow and harvest their crops, please visit my new favorite blog, Life as an Iowa Farm Wife (

Written by Teresa Bjork
Teresa is a features Writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau.

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