A green gift for the holidays

November 30, 2011

“Place the firs over there and the pines over there,” a volunteer called the other morning at the Iowa State Fairgrounds as trucks pulled up to unload trees. A section of the empty parking area had been transformed into a tree depot as trucks with license plates all over the state unloaded their cargo of beautiful fresh cut from the farm: freshly-cut Christmas trees. The trees were part of the sixth annual “Trees for Troops” campaign that delivers real Christmas trees to military families at more than 60 military bases overseas and in the United States.

The 85 trees that were collected by the Iowa Christmas Tree Growers Association were going to be delivered by FedEx free of charge to Minot Air Force Base in Minot, North Dakota to give holiday cheer to servicemen and women that can’t be home for the holidays.

It’s the busiest time of year for Iowa Christmas tree farmers. But they don’t hesitate to give back to those who do so much to protect our freedom.

“It means an awful lot to soldiers and their families and it means a lot to families back home here knowing that we are remembering those that are in the military and away from home during Christmas time,” said Jan Pecovsky, Executive Director of the Iowa Christmas Tree Growers Association.

Each tree is carefully adorned with a tag that has the “Trees for the Troops” logo on it and a handwritten message from the grower wishing the recipient a great holiday season. This year the national “Trees for the Troops” campaign is hoping to ship its 100,000th Christmas Tree since starting the deliveries in 2005.

“It’s a very honorable thing that we have troops who are willing to sacrifice for us and keep the USA protected, so this is the least I can do,” said Bob Strohbehn, a grower from Brooklyn, IA who has been donating trees from his farm for six years. “We’ve received tear-jerking letters from families telling us how much they appreciate the trees and wreaths we have donated.”

There are just over 100 Choose and Cut Christmas tree farms in Iowa, with close to 1,500 acres in tree production. Approximately 39,000 trees are harvested annually across the state. Real trees are renewable and recyclable, they produce oxygen, prevent soil erosion, filter water, and provide wildlife habitat.
For more information about the Iowa Christmas Tree Growers Association and to find a grower near you,follow this link: http://www.iowachristmastrees.com/

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

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A toast to farmers this Thanksgiving

November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving is truly an all-American holiday. And there’s no better reflection of American agriculture and its diversity than the Thanksgiving table. The traditional Thanksgiving dinner features foods grown across the United States, from sea to shining sea.

Here’s a closer look at where your Thanksgiving favorites likely came from, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

– Turkey – Our neighbor to the north, Minnesota, is the top turkey-producing state. Iowa ranks ninth nationally in turkey production and is home to two turkey processors, Sara Lee Foods of Storm Lake and West Liberty Foods, which supply deli meats to Subway restaurants, among others.

– Cranberries – Wisconsin is number one in cranberry production. Wisconsin cranberries are grown in marshes, which are flooded at harvest so the berries can “float” for easier collection.

– Sweet potatoes – North Carolina ranks above all others in sweet potato production. Fun fact: Sweet potatoes are native to North Carolina and were grown by American Indians when Columbus discovered America.

– Pumpkin and pecans – Another neighboring state, Illinois, is the nation’s leading pumpkin producer. Prefer pecan pie over pumpkin? The pecans likely came from top-producers Texas and Georgia.

– Bread and stuffing – One-third of the country’s wheat crop, the primary ingredient in breads, stuffing and pie crust, is grown in North Dakota, Kansas and Montana.

– Green beans – It isn’t Thanksgiving without green bean casserole. Wisconsin ranks first in the nation in snap (green) bean production.

You may notice that Iowa isn’t listed as a top producer of our favorite Thanksgiving foods. But that doesn’t mean our state isn’t invited to the table.

Iowa is the nation’s leader in corn, soybean, egg and pork production. The eggs in your pumpkin pie likely came from Iowa, as did the bacon in your green bean casserole. (Everything is better with bacon.)

Iowa farmers also grow the corn and soybeans used to feed turkeys in Minnesota and across the country.
Our highly-productive farms make U.S. agriculture the envy of the world. It’s why we Americans should never take our food, and farmers, for granted.

So let’s raise a glass of wine (yes, many Iowa farmers grow grapes), or milk if you prefer (got to support those Iowa dairy farmers), to the U.S. farmers who fill our plates on Thanksgiving and year-round.

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

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Being thankful for good, nutritious food

November 21, 2011

With Thanksgiving around the corner we’ll soon be hearing a lot about food and how it’s produced. We can expect to hear plenty of loud statements about how food just doesn’t measure up if it’s not organically-raised food, or locally-grown, or hormone-free.

Food choice is important. But does it really make sense to condemn safe, nutritious food just because you don’t agree with how it is raised? That’s especially true today, when surveys show there are more people around the world—and right here in Iowa—who just don’t have enough to eat.

With the intense clamor these days about food, it’s easy to lose track of the fact that food is essentially about nourishment. That fact was driven home to me recently when my wife and I helped serve a meal at a homeless shelter in downtown Des Moines.

The shelter, only a few blocks from the bustling and pricey restaurants in the city’s restored Western Gateway area, was full on a Sunday evening. Men and women of all ages waited patiently as the volunteers warmed the food, which was prepared that afternoon.

The evening’s menu was simple: baked chicken, roasted potatoes and broccoli. “We wanted to serve a good meat and potatoes meal,” one of volunteers said.

Nearly every patron of the shelter stopped to thank us for the home-cooked meal and for volunteering our time to help them out.

Amid the appreciation for a good meal, I didn’t hear any inquiries about whether the chicken was raised in a free-range environment. Nobody asked if the potatoes were locally grown or if the broccoli was organic.

My experience that night made me wonder why certain food production methods are often being pushed by people who have always had plenty. Researchers refer to this as the “silver spoon” mentality of consumers who have never had to worry about having an abundant supply of safe, nutritious food.

If that’s their choice, that’s fine. But their choice should not dictate or diminish someone else’s choice.

That was really brought home to me that cool November night as I helped serve to people who don’t have plenty and really appreciated a hearty, home-cooked meal.

As the holiday season approaches it’s good to remember those in need. A good place to donate is Iowa Food Bank Association at http://iowafba.org/ or (319) 272-2180.

Written by Dirck Steimel
Dirck is the news services manager for Iowa Farm Bureau.

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Food for fuel

November 9, 2011

Teaching kids the importance of eating right today is a key responsibility of being a parent. Current numbers tell us that one in three U.S. adults is obese, two-thirds are overweight, and one in five children is obese! Medical costs related to the disease are estimated to be $80 billion and the overall impact to the economy to be more than $100 billion.

My kids are now 13 and 10 years old and the days when I analyzed and controlled every item of food that went into their growing bodies is long gone. I still scrutinize their food when we sit down to dinner and when they lethargically inhale their breakfasts before school, but they are making lots of choices on their own now. From choosing items at the a-la-carte line at lunch to gnawing on snacks after school, they know what they want to eat and drink and can go for it.

And while not every selection is a healthy one, they do know that they need to use food to fuel their bodies. My daughter is a dancer. My son plays tackle football. And all of us run together, too. (And yes, they both beat me at the last 5k we ran together.)

I’ve been running races for years and my kids have watched me carefully choose my meals before a long run and down chocolate milk when I’m finished. They understand the power of protein and realize that sugar isn’t the way to wake up their tired bodies before a practice. We’ve had a great summer of searching for fresh sweet corn from our favorite farmers at area farmers’ markets and local food stands. And we’ve enjoyed our own harvests of tomatoes, zucchini and carrots from our garden. (And no, the picky eater at my house doesn’t eat most of those things, but we’re working on it…every day.)

No question that obesity is a hard problem to fix as a whole, but not impossible. Not when you break it down. Make sure that you eat more healthy foods such as lean meats, and lots of vegetables and fruits. Build up those bones with milk and dairy. But you can’t simply dictate these instructions and expect them to ‘get it.’ As parents, we need to work to set good examples and teach healthy habits to our kids.

I want my kiddos to be athletic. I’m not saying that my kids and I don’t enjoy ice cream cones or cookies. (We do!! And do so wholeheartedly.) But they also know that if they want to get through rehearsal or practice without running of gas, they have to fill their tanks with the right fuel.

But it starts with understanding how the power of CHOICE (about what you eat and how much you move) will make all the difference. CHOOSE to balance the healthy foods and the snacks at the next meal. CHOOSE to walk the dog every single day! While the kids are at practice, CHOOSE to jog around the park. Don’t just fill up, FUEL up to match your activity and it’ll all balance out.

Written by Heather Lilienthal
Heather is a communications specialist with the Iowa Farm Bureau.

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Take the time to eat together

November 1, 2011

We have all heard the experts say that eating meals together as a family is a very good experience for the kids and the parents. However, we are all living extremely busy lives and it is easy to just grab a bite to eat in the car on the way home because it will save time, but have you ever thought about what you might be missing out on if you do this a lot?

Harvest time on the farm is chaotic; especially with little kids. As the wife, you may be running a tractor and auger cart, running after parts, hauling kids around, and also fixing meals to take to the fields.

For me, I am usually keeping things going at home, hauling kids and fixing meals for about 7 guys. So including myself and 2 kids, I am feeding 10 people every other night (my mother in law gives a break). It consumes a lot of time and sometimes I try to get out of it, and tell the guys to buy food in town, but then I realize how my daughter, who is 4, and my son, age 1, are missing out on the most important reason for taking food to the field – family time.

My daughter is excited to see her daddy to tell about her day at preschool and to maybe ride with him and learn all there is to know. As many questions as she asks, I think that she could run the combine! It is a bonus for her when she sees grandpa and Uncle Jordan in the same field so she can talk to them also. My son babbles; “dada, dada” and smiles from ear to ear when he sees his dad and the combines.

This is when I know that having a “picnic” (according to my daughter) is what it is all about. The kids sleep better and all of our moods are brighter when we get the chance to eat together as a family, and at harvest we are just blessed to be able to eat outside in nature’s beauty.

Written by Jennifer Dammann
Like all families today, farmers often find it difficult to find time for a meal together. But even during the busy harvest time, Page County Farm Bureau member Jennifer Dammann has found the joy and the priceless rewards of making the effort and taking the time to eat together as a family.

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