Iowa Cornquest: 'you had me at farmers'
Over a cinnamon role the size of my face, a bowl of whipped butter, biscuits and gravy and piles of bacon and sausage: I had a tearful moment. I was in the middle of farm country chatting with farmers and friends of farmers, ogling farm implements hanging on walls (at the Machine Shed restaurant in Iowa), surrounded by t-shirts for sale that hailed tractors and bacon. I was in farm-heaven and I wanted to cry.
Like I had come home. No wonder Dorothy missed home and clicked her heels.
Farmers. Fields. Dirt. Tractors. Pitchforks. Farm tools. Animals and barn boots. Salt of the earth people. Multi-generational families. Sun-earned grins.
Finally a trip where I could leave my stilettos at home and pack my cowboy boots and plaid shirts, favorite worn jeans and vintage belts. Plan to get dirty? I am in. Race cars? Sign me up. Farmers? Well, you had me at farmers.
The Iowa Corn Growers invited me to Iowa---along with a handful of other food and mommy bloggers---to talk agriculture. To be fair I have reservations about large-scale farming that is a culmination of American agriculture, business, science and technology. It is fair to say America breeds big business, a result of an impressive application of mathematics and engineering, innovation and research, economics and financial markets.
I personally am a proponent of small farmers, organic farming and sustainability (the more local the better). I said yes to Iowa b/c I love farmers and have a lot to learn about the farming landscape/business in this country. For now: I simply want to share some top-level tidbits and thank Iowa Corn for inviting me.
Iowa corn growers may be folded under 'big business' but they are also 3rd and 4th generation farmers. It is what they are good at. Farming is in their blood. They are fans of John Deere, American football and good bacon.
The corn in Iowa---in fact 99% of all corn grown in America---isn't for human consumption (we grow plenty for feeding humans, but grow so, so much more for other purposes). The corn belt largely grows its population of stalks for ethanol gas, making plastic, cow/pig/chicken feed, etc. As my brainiac son explained to me (as I handed him a wristwatch and coffee tumbler made from 'corn'): corn is essentially a starch module. It can be used to make plastics, fabrics, adhesives and more.
I prefer diverse food/plants as opposed to uniform genetics. Reducing diversity/altering genetics and applying science and technology helps [large] farms survive by removing today's risks (disease, pests). Our grandfathers use to pray for good weather and curse at molds and pests---and small farms didn't always make it. I understand why our food system evolved this way---and I appreciate that we continue to examine, evaluate and evolve.
Farmers all in. I like you as a bunch. You don't mind the smell of cow manure, you work hard and often as a whole family. You risk and grow. You cultivate and feed. You watch the weather and appreciate nature, you have good stories about this great year and that awful one. You care for your neighbors and contribute to community---and like to make things work more efficiently with fewer dollars.
And Iowa farmers in particular? I learned that they watch their animals closely, multiple times a day to ensure their comfort and health. When I rode in a combine harvester I watched a computer screen; technology enables farmers to know what the dirt needs---to the square foot. It tracked the efficiency of the dirt, the moisture in the plant, the percentage yield and how that patch of land would perform next year. Farmers then know: where to fortify their land, where to water and where not to bother. Iowa farmers love using each part of their harvest from the corn stalks to the husks and grain. All of this efficiency reduces waste.
I loved how well they knew their land, their cows and pigs, and ever maintained their reverence toward the weather.
Farming is in my blood too. My father was reared on a dairy and chicken farm in Lynden, Washington. The farm lasted for 3 generations until it was sold. It wasn't easy and they worked hard; they have stories of good times and bad. Farmers are good people: I should know, since I was raised by one.
*funny detail: the pic of me in corn is actually in front of my home in Seattle. I grew my own corn, though I put it in the ground too late for it to fully mature... making it 'decorative corn.'
***grateful for new, fellow Iowa CornQuest friends: Shari of Tickled Red (http://www.tickledred.com), Lisa Huff of Snappy Gourmet (http://snappygourmet.com), Tina of My Life as a Mrs. (http://www.mylifeasamrs.com), Carrie of Fields of Cake (http://fieldsofcake.com) pictured with me, above, Carrian of Oh Sweet Basil (http://www.ohsweetbasil.com), Rebecca of Foodie with Family (http://www.foodiewithfamily.com), Kelley of Mountain Mama Cooks (http://www.mountainmamacooks.com), Julie of Table for Two (http://www.tablefortwoblog.com).