Eat interesting

May 5, 2011

Eat healthy. Eat local. How about eat interesting?

Our fifth Kansas Farm Bureau Masters class was an exploration of Stafford County, Kan., and the stories behind locally grown food.

Stafford County is “a flat county punctuated with grass-covered sand dunes once labeled the Great American Desert,” says the official website. The site also says the county is like a treasure hunt. It’s true.

How about this find: Stafford County Flour Mills Co., one of the last remaining independent flour mills in the U.S.  The mill is in Hudson, population: 125. The company is 105 years old and its signature flour is Hudson Cream:

“Hudson Cream flour is made using a ‘short patent’ milling process, a method that was much more common a century ago than today. The difference is that in short patent milling the wheat is ground more times and sifted with finer-meshed sieves than in standard milling. Also, the short patent process sifts away more by-product, leaving only the heart of the wheat kernel to make Hudson Cream flour. The result is a flour that is smoother in produces baked goods that are consistently light and fluffy.”

What’s even better, wheat for the flour comes from grain elevators in Stafford County and nearby Reno County. Local wheat, local flour. I’ve walked past the flour bags in my grocery store. No more. I have two bags in my pantry right now. (You can order online here: http://www.hudsoncream.com/product.taf.)

Here’s another interesting Stafford County food find: 4 Star Hydroponics. This family business grows hydroponic tomatoes in St. John. Jarrod Taylor, son of founder, Rita Taylor, says they went to many, many farmer’s markets when they started. They offered samples to disprove the notion that hydroponic tomatoes don’t have flavor. The business has grown and prospered, now supplying grocery chains, restaurants and distributors. 

Here’s a good story on 4 Star: http://www.freshplaza.com/2006/03jan/2_us_hothouse-tomatoes.htm.

Their operation yields about 2,000 pounds a week this time of year. On one record day, they picked 8,000 pounds of tomatoes. Jarrod shares details here about the mechanics of hydroponic tomatoes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYHRPJ2YoyE.

I brought home some of his tomatoes. My son eats them like apples. Jarrod was right. They were delicious.

It was a good day of healthy, local and interesting food.

Day at the Statehouse

March 7, 2011

It’s been a long time, too long, since I visited our state capitol in Topeka, Kansas. I’ve been around legislation because of work or industry groups, but far from where it gets debated, decided or left to die. Last Thursday, I found myself in the middle of it for our fourth Kansas Farm Bureau Masters Class.

My take-aways from our day at the Statehouse:

Legislation is not for the half-hearted, uninformed or those  not connected.
I’m not saying the process is rigged, just that it’s complicated — both in how it happens and how it’s influenced. It was interesting to watch freshman legislators bumbling through the protocols of presenting and debating bills. And, for better or worse, lobbyists are everywhere. They and the groups they represent are critical to the education and persuasion of elected officials.

We can impact legislation.
My representative was surprisingly open to discussions on numerous topics. He’s a former dairy farmer, so it helped that we agree on many issues. Still, making your opinion known — in person — is important.

Senate Chamber viewed from the president's rostrum. There are 28 hand cast bronze columns decorated with morning glories and roses.

The legislative process is like a grand play.
The capitol building is a beautiful theater. The grounds, House and Senate chambers and murals are stunning. The stage crew — the clerks, researchers, pages and others — keep the performance on track. The representatives and senators — the actors in this play — deliver their lines with honest passion. At least I hope it’s honest. 

That’s our role as the audience, I suppose: to keep them honest and get our money’s worth.

Participating in policy

December 3, 2010

Farm policy. Farm environmental issues. Farm legacies. Farm leadership. These were some of the important topics discussed recently at Kansas Farm Bureau’s annual meeting. We’re new members, so this is the first that I’ve attended. It was fascinating to watch ag policy being debated and developed all around me.

I wanted to share these insights. First, comments from Mary Kay Thatcher, public policy director for the American Farm Bureau Federation (loved it that her session started ahead of schedule):

  • 1/3 of the new members have Congress have never served in public office
  • The Republican party has been the “party of  no.'”  “Now, they need to come up with ideas.”
  • We can’t just Xerox the 2008 Farm Bill for 2012. “Bottom line: We don’t have the money to keep this Farm Bill in place.”
  • Ag makes up 2 percent of the federal government’s budget. 75 percent of that 2 percent is for nutrition programs. Those programs are not likely to be cut — 1 out of 8 Americans are on food stamps. So, where to cut in ag? “Every program has a constituency.”
  • Her comments on looking ahead when drafting the 2012 Farm Bill:

Next, comments from Kansas Farm Bureau President Steve Baccus:

  • On increasing world food demand: “By 2050, we’ll need to produce enough food annually to equal the food that has been produced in the last 10,000 years.”
  • “”We are what our parents raised us to be…Feeding the children is the responsibility of the farmer.”
  • “We need to tell others that our food is produced safely.”
  • “We have been trained not to talk about ourselves. But if my parents were here today, they would approve.”

I hope to become more engaged in policy discussions — a topic outside my comfort zone. Here’s a site that should help: http://www.kfb.org/news/washingtontoday.htm.

(Thanks to Kansas Farm Bureau’s Master’s program for coordinating the opportunity to attend.)

Power of Kansas ag

October 11, 2010

Kansas Farmers Tony & Anita HorinekThe second Kansas Farm Bureau Masters class proved how powerful ag is in Kansas — and the impact our producers have worldwide. Tour stops included:

This was my first trip to northwest Kansas. I often wondered why people lived here, a question based on solely on television weather reports. It always seemed desolate and prone to severe weather. Both are true. However, I now understand the pull of an area that is so true to its Kansas beginnings — pioneers committed to making a living from the soil.

These Kansans are continuing to pioneer the way, now with the intersection of agriculture and technology. Here, Tony Horinek explain how and why he farms 8,000 acres using no-tillage methods and precision ag technology: http://www.youtube.com/user/lynnwoolf?feature=mhum#p/u/0/yPNJOQSt1kA

Listen also to KSU research engineer Freddie Lamm detail his work in underground drip irrigation. The approach may offer a solution to shrinking water supplies: http://www.youtube.com/user/lynnwoolf?feature=mhum#p/u/1/SJoG2YULj3I

Overall, I was amazed at how much these professionals shared about their work. They truly seemed to love their jobs. Maybe it’s because they’re in the middle of it all, despite being tucked away in Kansas.

Learning in the field

September 13, 2010

Kansas ranch“Can you think of anything that doesn’t come from agriculture?” That was the opening question of the Kansas Farm Bureau Masters Class XII. And, it was a good one to kick off this six-session adult education program. 

The program’s official focus: Leadership development through increased understanding of the agricultural industry. This year’s group includes 18 people from 13 different counties. Many of us have deep experience in agriculture. However, agriculture is a complex and changing industry, so we’re seeking more knowledge and more connections to those who share our passion.

After that brief discussion, we headed from the Kansas Farm Bureau boardroom to the field. Farm Bureau member, Extension Educator, farmer and rancher Glenn Brunkow led us on a tour of his beautiful Flint Hills pasture ground. The topics ranged from feed to RFID (radio frequency identification) tagging to farm safety to herd and pasture management.  Hear his interesting thoughts on grazing and burning: http://bit.ly/coxTn5

It was an invigorating day, despite the near-100-degree temperatures. We had three more stops — a corn field, soybean field and equipment dealership. I love hearing experts explain agriculture. I also greatly enjoyed the camaraderie of the class, as we each shared bits and pieces of our own ag world.

Next session: Colby, Kan., nicknamed “The Oasis on the Plains.” The topic: Managing resources for an efficient, productive agriculture.

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