Resolve to make healthy choices in 2014

December 31, 2013

New-Year-graphic1   Is it just me, or have you noticed that as soon the ball drops in Times Square to usher in the New Year, weight-loss commercials flood our TV screens.

During the holiday season, I’ve been bombarded with press releases from “experts” selling their diet books or plans. It seems like the low-fat and no-carb diets are so last year, as people have realized the diets are hard to stick with. Nowadays, the newest diet trends are clean eating, where you avoid all processed foods, and juicing.

If you haven’t heard of juicing yet, you will soon. It’s the latest craze on the East and West Coasts, where juice bars are popping up as quickly as frozen yogurt shops have here in the Midwest.

People who “juice” buy a pricy supply of fresh-pressed juice (or buy an expensive at-home juicing machine) and then consume nothing but juice for three to seven days, supposedly to “cleanse” the body and promote rapid weight loss.

Admittedly, the harsh truth is that a lot of us are carrying a few more pounds than we should. Iowa is ranked as the 12th most obese state in the nation by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. About two-thirds of Iowa’s population is considered obese.

And being overweight puts us at greater risk for chronic health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease, that are not only costly to treat, but reduce our overall quality of life.

Hy-Vee-salad-prep1Yet that doesn’t mean going to extremes, like consuming an all-juice diet, is a lasting solution.

A few years back, I met a wellness coach who helped several Farm Bureau members in northeast Iowa lose weight and get healthy. I still remember her no-nonsense advice.

She told me, straight up, that losing weight – and keeping the weight off – isn’t easy. It isn’t about one-month or one-week diet plans; it’s about making healthier choices every day.

walking-archives1-One of her clients lost more than 15 pounds by making simple changes in her lifestyle, such as ordering the grilled chicken sandwich and a side salad in the drive-thru; drinking more water instead of soda; and reserving just 10 minutes of her day, if that’s all the time she had, to walking on the treadmill.

So instead of trendy diets, stick with commonsense advice. Try to fit more activity in your day, and follow the MyPlate guidelines recommended by dieticians. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, plus one serving of lean protein, one serving of whole grains and low-fat milk or dairy.

Let’s all resolve to take better care of ourselves in 2014, if only so we can stay healthy for our family and loved

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is senior features writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

Food assistance needed at Christmas, and all through the year

December 23, 2013

foo-banks1When you look beyond the shiny tinsel, bells and lights, what the Christmas season truly celebrates is the spirit of giving.

Just a few days before Christmas, I was invited on a tour of the Food Bank of Iowa’s warehouse in Des Moines. The warehouse was bustling, with volunteers packaging donations from holiday food drives and making room in the coolers for a shipment of frozen turkeys from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Emergency Food Assistance Program.

(The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation University of Iowa Athletic Department just announced a special donation of $21,500 through the America Needs Farmers (ANF) initiative. Read more here.)

The need for food assistance is great not just during the holiday season, but year round. One in eight Iowans are food secure; and one in five Iowa children doesn’t have enough to eat, according to Feeding America’s “Map the Meal Gap” study (

During our tour, I learned quite a few interesting tidbits about the Food Bank of Iowa that I also think are worth sharing.

  •  The Food Bank of Iowa’s warehouse distributes food to 285 partner agencies in 42 counties in central Iowa, stretching from the Minnesota to the Missouri borders. An additional 13 counties are served through a redistribution organization, the Food Bank of Southern Iowa. Last year, the Food Bank of Iowa distributed more than 9 million pounds of food.
  •  In addition to the holiday food drives, I was impressed by the number of corporate donors to the Food Bank of Iowa. Iowa-based Anderson Erickson Dairy and Sparboe eggs are regular donors, as are Hy-Vee, Wal-Mart and PDI, a refrigerated product distributor in Ankeny.
  •  The Food Bank of Iowa now runs 12 “mobile” pantries, or trucks, that travel to small communities in central Iowa. The trucks provide food to people who otherwise would have to drive 30 miles or so to the nearest food pantry.
  •  A new focus in 2014 is to provide Iowans with healthy, fresh produce during the summer growing season. The Food Bank of Iowa is partnering with the United Way of Central Iowa and Des Moines area business on a new Giving Garden project this spring. Farm Bureau employees are planting a Giving Garden at their West Des Moines headquarters to help supply fresh produce to local food pantries.

To find out how you can donate or volunteer your time at the Food Bank of Iowa, visit

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is the senior features writer for Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

Remembering the “Good Old Days”

December 16, 2013

The wind chill outside was 20 degrees below zero, but Larry Sailer’s pigs were warm and cozy.

December has been a pretty tough month to raise livestock in Iowa. It has been extremely cold, and we’ve had enough snow to assure us of a white Christmas.

But when I think back to how my family and I raised livestock in years past, I can’t complain. Neither can my hogs.

Following a recent snow storm, I stepped inside one of the modern barns I manage and snapped a picture of a pen of pigs. I posted it on my Facebook page, along with an outside picture showing the wind and snow. While the wind chill outside had to be at least 20 below zero, the pigs were warm and cozy. I even received more than one comment suggesting that one of my pigs appeared to be smiling.

It made me think of the criticism today’s farmers receive for the way we raise our animals. I have to say I was pretty jealous of my hogs that day! I had to go back outside and move snow!

I think back to how hogs were raised when I was growing up back in the ’50s. I can remember going to the Coulter Creamery with my Grandpa Pete Jensen. We’d crawl into his 1954 Ford pickup and drive across town to pick up milk processing by-products for his hogs. The by-products were Grandpa’s best choice to get some extra protein for those pigs. The rest of their diet was ear corn! It was a far cry from the balanced rations we feed our hogs today.

Fast forward to the 1970s when I built my first “modern” hog building. I thought it was state-of-the-art! The pigs could get inside, where I had installed a heater in the floor. They could go outside to drink from an automatic waterer and eat at any time from a self-feeder that had feed blended from ground corn and soybean meal, with a pre-mix added to give them everything they needed to grow. With their much improved diets, my hogs grew faster and could make it to market weight in about seven or eight months.

But even my first “modern” barn had problems. The open, south-facing building made it hard to keep things cool in the summer time. And the snow we had! One year I had to rent a jackhammer to break up the ice and snow that were preventing my hogs from getting feed and water.

Yes, I don’t have to think too long about the “good old days” before I start feeling very thankful for the “modern” way we take care of our animals. Today, my barns have computer controls that keep the temperature just right. They have fans to keep the air fresh. They have “cup” waterers to keep the water fresh.

There’s an automatic curtain drop to give my hogs fresh air if the power goes out. This is Iowa, and the power does go out! I have a generator on standby for when that happens. I even have an alarm system that calls my cell phone when anything goes wrong. It even calls me if the water pressure in the barn gets too low!

And here’s the best part – I don’t need that jackhammer any more to move snow and ice!

By Larry Sailer. Larry is a crop and livestock farmer from Franklin County, Iowa.

Helping Iowans Rise Up

December 9, 2013
Pitching in to help each other at the Living History Farm run.

Pitching in to help each other at the Living History Farm run.

It was 14 degrees, nearly twice as cold as usual for a typical November in Iowa.  But more than 5,800 people still showed up at Living History Farms at the break of dawn to run seven miles across the snow-covered farm fields, ice-caked streams and muddy ravines.  As if the course wasn’t challenging enough, many runners wore costumes.  I skipped the costume, but I was still eager to join this crazy bunch as they stumbled across fields and climbed up creek banks.

“Why?” my friends and family are still asking, probably because none of them run.  I guess the easiest answer is this: common values.  Runners at the Living History Farms race come in every size, age and ability.  They live in other cities, states, even countries.  But on that day, in that event, we all had a common goal; to enjoy nature while having fun.  To run.  To breathe.  To sweat.  To help each other get across the finish line, no matter the obstacles.

At one particularly tough spot on the course, I found myself slipping, trying to climb out of a muddy ravine, unable to get a foothold, sweat from the previous four miles plastered hair to the side of my face and froze.  Hardly attractive.  Yet from out of nowhere, a hand from an older runner reached out to pull me up.  “You got this,” he said, then turned and kept running.  When I cleared the edge, I turned around and helped a much-younger girl get out of the ravine.  She helped a young boy clear the ravine.  Over and over again, people worked together to climb out of the frozen ravine.

If only we could channel that same spirit, offer that same hand to reach across the divide that separates consumers from today’s farmers.   Having lived in Iowa for a half-century and grown up on a century hog farm, I know there is room for, and a need for, diversity; some farmers will raise animals on a pasture, others in a feedlot or hog barn.  All are farmers. Farmers like Andrew Pittz set their own pace.  Pittz, who started the nation’s first commercial aronia berry farm, talked about his business model during a recent Farm Bureau annual meeting education seminar.

Andrew Pittz of Sawmill Hollow Farms in Iowa's Loess Hills.

Andrew Pittz of Sawmill Hollow Farms in Iowa’s Loess Hills.

What was most surprising wasn’t just the marketing or production hurdles this young Loess Hills sixth-generation farmer has weathered, but the perspectives of some media folks he’s encountered, who too often portray farming as a race for profit, rather than a journey that brings all Iowans together for a common goal.  Pittz says folks are surprised to hear that Farm Bureau encourages organic farmers, niche businesses as well as conventional agriculture.  To him, the end-goal is obvious: more choices at the grocery store.  “Sometimes, it makes sense to be conventional (ag), and sometimes, it makes sense for your farm to be organic.  For us, competing in this market, we are taking on multi-national corporations, so it really makes sense for us to be organic on the marketing side. And it really pays off in the market place,” says Pittz.

Judging by the ‘standing room only’ crowd who came to Des Moines to hear Pittz and other innovative ag leaders, farmers are good at reaching out to others, supporting new ideas that come along.   They’re not ‘in it to win it’, but rather to learn from each other.  To finish well.  To find common ground along the way.  To “run” with honor and embrace diversity.
So the big question is can you?

By Laurie Johns. Laurie is public relations manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

What’s More “Iowan” Than Farm Bureau?

December 3, 2013

My four-month-old daughter and I enjoy reading, and one of her favorite books (as far as I or anyone else can tell) teaches kids about the people, places, and things that define Iowa, from A-Z.

It’s a fun book with a glaring omission; it doesn’t mention Farm Bureau.

Now, before you write me off as a self-serving such-and-such, hear me out. Yesterday marked the beginning of Iowa Farm Bureau Week, and I can argue that NOTHING is MORE IOWAN than Farm Bureau.

Go ahead. Name something.

Farms. Hello? We represent more farmers than any other organization in Iowa. Our members raise everything from hogs and cattle to fish. They grow crops ranging from corn and soybeans to fruits and vegetables, and they live in every corner of the state, which is why we have a Farm Bureau in all 99 Iowa counties (and two in Pottawattamie County).

Conclusion: Farming and Farm Bureau are everywhere in Iowa.

Caucuses. Yes, politicians and national media descend on Iowa every four years to see how the state will set the presidential election’s tone with its first-in-the-nation caucuses. Four years is a long time to wait. Farm Bureau asks its members to share their opinions on important issues – including taxation, education, energy and the environment – every year. Members kick off the grassroots process by sharing those opinions with their county Farm Bureaus. In turn, county Farm Bureaus pass policies that guide Iowa Farm Bureau’s work on state and national issues.

Conclusion: Caucuses give Iowans an opportunity to voice their opinions. Farm Bureau echoes Iowans’ voices.

Iowa State Fair. “Nothing Compares” to the Iowa State Fair, right? The fair has a history dating back to the 1850s, food on a stick, games, and grandstand acts that draw one million visitors annually. Farm Bureau loves the fair too. In fact, Farm Bureau is so involved with the Iowa State Fair that there’s an Iowa Farm Bureau Day at the Fair. Do you know what happens on Farm Bureau Day? For the past 50 years, Farm Bureau has assembled the winners of county cookout contests around the state to grill/smoke their finest pork, beef, chicken, turkey, and lamb creations for fairgoers.


Conclusion: Is fair food more Iowan than free samples of steak, loin, ribs, burgers, and meatballs from Iowa’s best outdoor cooks? I’ll let you answer that.

Iowa’s universities. What kind of fool argues to be included in the same discussion as Iowa’s iconic universities when you can’t turn around without bumping into an Iowan who calls himself/herself a Hawkeye, Cyclone, or Panther?

Here goes.

Like the State Fair, Iowa’s public universities were born in the mid-1800s, decades before the first county Farm Bureau was established in the early 1900s. Combined enrollment for Iowa’s three public universities is roughly 76,500, half the number of Farm Bureau member families in Iowa (153,000).

Students turn to universities to better themselves and the state. Members turn to Farm Bureau for the same reasons. Students enroll in Iowa’s universities for their expertise in medicine, engineering, agriculture, education, liberal arts, and business (to name a few areas). Members sign up for Farm Bureau to be part of an organization that works for farmers, rural communities (Farm Bureau has reinvested more than $80 million in these communities over the past decade), quality healthcare, and, of course, education (Farm Bureau awards nearly $500,000 in scholarships annually).

Conclusion: Students find value in Iowa’s universities. Members join Farm Bureau because of the value the organization places on students and universities (among other things).

Have I satisfied your objections (or at least amused you enough to read this entire blog post)?

Pin it to Pinterest, smear it into a dusty tailgate, or stamp it on a Raygun shirt: nothing is MORE Iowan than Farm Bureau.

By Zach Bader. Zach is the Online Community Manager for Iowa Farm Bureau.

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