How Farmers Buy Seed

Diane KarrOne of the first signs of spring is the arrival of a garden catalog in the mailbox. Fantasizing about picking crisp green cucumbers on a warm summer evening is the perfect antidote to a cold, windy day.

Mr. Corn Farmer often reminds me that he’s a bigger and better gardener than I am. It’s true, but selecting seed for our farm is no fantasy. It’s serious stuff.IMGP9718

Before the combine is put away in the shed in November after harvest, we start meeting with seed representatives and researching our seed selections for the next growing season.

Many different hybrids of corn and varieties of soybeans from different companies are planted on our farm each year. From a large number of options, we can select seed that’s tailored to the soil profile and expected moisture availability. Some fields are rather sandy; some have more clay in the soil profile. Some are irrigated; some are dry land. Some are irrigated with ample water; some with limited water. Crop rotation plans can vary from one field to the next.

We spend a great deal of time analyzing seed genetics. In order to
be more productive while taking good care of soil and water resources, these are some of the traits we carefully study:

  • Days to maturity
  • Drought tolerance
  • Standability so the crop can be easily harvested
  • Resistance to fungal and bacterial diseases
  • Bt technology which resists corn borer and rootworm in corn
  • Resistance to certain weed killers. (We can apply a product that kills the weeds but not the crop. This allows us to no-till farm,which helps us improve and conserve the land and water.)

IMGP9732Some of these traits are developed and improved through traditional plant breeding. Others are accomplished with technology that inserts naturally occurring proteins into the plant’s DNA to create a GMO, or Genetically Modified Organism. Click here for more GMO information.

Ultimately, the goal is to grow more grain more efficiently while protecting the environment where we work and raise a family. That we’re free to pick the seed we need with the traits we want is a benefit to both farmers and consumers.

This spring, when I sort through seed packets for my garden, I’ll also be watching for semi loads of corn and soybean seed to be delivered to our farm. As you select your favorite garden seeds and plants this spring, I encourage you to remember that farmers are doing the same thing. We’re all picking our favorites from a wide array of choices.

My Q & A with David Loberg from the movie Farmland

Loberg-Farm-2-1024x683RD Amber from Stirlist, a registered dietitian passionate about food, health and nutrition, recently visited the farm David Loberg, a 5th generation farmer from Carroll, Nebraska that is featured in the movie Farmland.  Amber blogged about a few things she learned about David’s farm as well as his perspective on Farmland the movie.  Enjoy!

Loberg-Farm-4-881x587I’ve spent the majority of my life in the state of Nebraska. I’ve spent hours on the road passing miles and miles of farmland, but that doesn’t make me an expert on farming or agriculture. If I’ve learned anything over the past few years visiting with different farmers, it’s that each farmer is unique and has a different story to tell.

This is why I am such a fan of the movie Farmland. The film focuses on the stories of six young farmers from different areas of the US, including Nebraska. Even though all the farmers were focusing on different types of agriculture, the running theme throughout the film is that they all care and are passionate about the land they farm.

Last week I traveled to Carroll, NE to visit with David Loberg. David is a 5th generation corn and soybean farmer and is one of the farmers featured in the movie Farmland. In addition to growing corn and soy, he also custom feeds Holstein cows. If that wasn’t enough, he’s also a volunteer for the local fire department.

David was first approached about doing the film in the fall of 2012. He said his sister, Megan, had submitted the family name for a contest not related to the film, but the film producers from Allentown production came across his information and asked if he would be interested in doing the film. A few months later, the crew showed up on Easter Sunday. The film crew spend the next 8 days filming David’s family and capturing life on the farm.

The house below belongs to David’s great grandpa, Frank who built the farmstead. Now David lives about 1-2 miles away with his wife and son, but his mother still lives in the original farmhouse.


David was gracious enough to provide a tour of his farm and spend several minutes answering my questions. Here are a few highlights from our discussion…

What makes you similar to the other farmers in the film?

“Most of us have young families and are married. We all love what we do. We all value our family. We all have the desire to stay involved in our communities.”

Do you stay in touch with the other farmers in the film?

“Yeah, we’re all friends on Facebook and we keep tabs on each other through Facebook and texting. That was the best part of the project was to get to meet the other farmers. I felt like we were friends the second we met.”

What surprised you about the film when you saw it for the first time?

“I didn’t even know what the movie was until we actually saw the documentary. I didn’t realize that we (the farmers) were the story they wanted to focus on.”

What do you think about trolls or people who attack farmers online? 

“It’s counterproductive to get to wrapped up in. You’re not going to change what the loudest voices are shouting loudly. I tried debating someone on Facebook one time and I spent 30 minutes of research to provide a nice response and then a minute later, they responded by calling me names. That’s not a productive environment. You’re not going to call somebody an idiot to their face, but people feel like they can say things like that online because it’s not face to face.”

Have you received criticism because of the film? How do you respond to that? 

“Yes, but only through social media. I actually did write an email to one of the reviewers on because he just blasted the film. My response was to invite him out to the farm, but he never replied back. Most of the criticism comes from people online that aren’t tied to farming.”


Do you think people will identify with your story?

“Everybody has lost a loved one. I’m not the only one to lose a dad to cancer way too early. It’s hard losing a family member, but when you lose somebody that is the other half of your business, it will definitely impact everything. It’s not just about losing your loved one. You’re losing half your farm.”


“I was happy to see that corn on the bookshelf make it into the movie. I didn’t realize the film crew had filmed that. I’m glad they captured it. It felt like we were honoring Dad because Dad never would have told that story for himself.”

Do you think your dad would be proud of you?

“Dad always did his best to not be in the spotlight, but that was just him. But yeah, I think so. ”

What are the differences between the older generation and your generation of farmers?

“Technology for sure. It’s hard because mom and dad went through the 80’s and the recession. And we’re bracing now for an Ag recession. The older generation has been through those tough times and they get it. Without having that experience, it’s hard to keep in mind the bigger picture.”


What are you hoping that people take away from seeing the film?

“I don’t think that’s for me to decide. Everybody who watches it walks away with a different viewpoint. This is something we want the public to decide what they see and what they interpret. If we make it all about GMOs, you lose context of everything that is going on in the film. The movie wasn’t about picking sides. It opens the discussion. If you want to know about a farm, we’re there to talk.”

What do you think about being the poster child of Nebraska farming?

(Laughs) “I didn’t realize I was.”

What kind of foods do you eat? What are your favorite foods?

“I love a good pot roast with vegetables. I also love lasagna and steak.”

What would you do if you weren’t farming? 

“Probably irrigation, but maybe something industrial. If I couldn’t farm, I would be working for a farmer. If I had to choose something outside of Ag, it would probably be welding. I couldn’t sit in a cubicle.”


Why should I tell my friends and family to come see the movie?

“It used to be that everybody knew a farmer. Now most people don’t have any connection to a farmer.  Some people might think they know what we do, but most likely probably not. I hope it will give people a different perspective.”


Special thanks to CommonGround Nebraska and David Loberg for his time.

For those of you who live in Lincoln, I hope to see you at the screening on March 16th at the Grand Theatre at 6:30 pm. Attendance is free, but donations to the Food Bank of Lincoln are appreciated.




Read more from RD Amber on her Stirlist blog.


heart beef'

Heart-healthy beef recipe for Valentine’s Day

Sometimes it’s hard to think about what to make for a nice Valentine’s Day dinner. If you’re a lucky gal and your guy has made you reservations to a great restaurant, then make this recipe some other time.  :)

ranch bullsBut for most of us, we’d rather not spend the money/not fight the crowds/celebrate at home/be with your kids/insert your reason {here} for staying home for Valentine’s Day dinner.

You can still enjoy a great meal though…and for my rancher, that means Chicken Fried Steak! Yes, it’s not the most romantic or decadent piece of beef you can make, but if I make it right, that makes the way to my rancher’s heart.

Speaking of heart, you want to know one of the best reasons for eating beef?! It’s heart-healthy!

Don’t care? Every year, about 715,000 Americans have a heart attack, and about 600,000 people die from heart disease — that’s one out of every four deaths. That makes heart disease the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control. We probably should all pay a little more attention to heart-healthy foods like beef.

The American Heart Association (AHA) has certified six fresh beef cuts to its list of approved food items. The AHA stamp of approval is one of the most trusted nutrition icons on food packaging today, with many consumers checking to make sure that the AHA checkmark is on their food products before purchasing.

The six cuts that now meet AHA criteria for heart-healthy include:

  1. Sirloin tip steak (USDA Select)
  2. Bottom round steak (USDA Select
  3. Top sirloin stir-fry (USDA Select)
  4. Boneless top sirloin petite roast (USDA Select)
  5. Top sirloin filet (USDA Select)
  6. Top sirloin kabob (USDA Select)

My rancher’s favorite chicken fried steak fits right in as it’s made from a round steak. And the favorite way for me to make it for him is The Pioneer Woman’s recipe. So ladies, make your man happy this Valentine’s Day with a heart-healthy cut of beef – while also making his heart happy and healthy!

{Chicken Fried Steak}chickfriedsteak


3 lbs cube steak (tenderized Round Steak)
1-1/2 cup whole milk, plus up to 2 cups for gravy
2 whole large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
Seasoned Salt
¼ teaspoon Cayenne
Salt and lots of Black Pepper
Canola oil, for frying


Begin with an assembly line of dishes for the meat: milk mixed with egg in one; flour mixed with spices in one; meat in one; then have one clean plate at the end to receive the breaded meat.

Work one piece of meat at a time. Season both sides with salt and pepper, then dip in the milk/egg mixture. Next, place the meat on the plate of seasoned flour. Turn to coat thoroughly. Place the meat back into the milk/egg mixture, turning to coat. Place back in the flour and turn to coat. (So: wet mixture/dry mixture /wet mixture/dry mixture)

Place breaded meat on the clean plate, then repeat with remaining meat.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Drop in a few sprinkles of flour to make sure it’s sufficiently hot. Cook meat, three pieces at a time, until edges start to look golden brown; around 2 to 2 ½ minutes each side.

Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and keep warm. Repeat until all meat is cooked.


After all the meat is fried, pour off the grease into a heatproof bowl. Without cleaning the pan, return it to the stove over medium-low heat. Add ¼ cup grease back into the pan. Allow grease to heat up.

Sprinkle 1/3 cup flour evenly over the grease. Using a whisk, mix flour with grease, creating a golden-brown paste. Keep cooking until it reaches a deep golden brown color. If paste seems more oily than pasty, sprinkle in another tablespoon of flour and whisk.

Whisking constantly, pour in milk. Cook to thicken the gravy. Be prepared to add more milk if it becomes overly thick. Add salt and pepper and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until gravy is smooth and thick. Be sure to taste to make sure gravy is seasoned well.

Serve meat next to a big side of mashed potatoes. Pour gravy over the whole shebang!

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Family recipes and family farms – Cinnamon Twists recipe

I found my husband’s grandmother’s cookbook recently that her church put together in 1982 and there look to be some great recipes.CinnTwists (1)

I love looking through older recipes – many the same you find in more modern cookbooks or online today – and many with ingredients that are hard to find in today’s stores. Can we say oleo?
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I find it really fun to think about how old some of these recipes might be, passed down from generation to generation in their families. It’s not much different than farmers. Today’s farmers, while some bigger than others, are still family farmers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports the vast majority of farms and ranches in the United States are family owned and operated – in fact, 93 percent of the 2.1 million farms in the United States are family owned.

Data from the last census show the number of non-family corporate farms and their percentage of total sales have remained unchanged for two decades. What’s more, after decades of decline, USDA figures show the number of family farms has actually grown by about 4 percent.

I adapted this recipe with a few “twists”. From my family to yours!

{Cinnamon Twists}
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1 cup sour cream
3 Tbsp shortening
3 Tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 large egg, unbeaten
1 pkg dry yeast
3 cups flour

2 Tbsp butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

In a large sauce pan, bring sour cream to a boil.
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Remove from heat. Stir in shortening, sugar, baking soda and salt until well blended. Cool until lukewarm.

Add egg and yeast; stir until yeast is dissolved. Mix in flour.
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Let double in bulk in warm place.
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Roll out dough into a large rectangle.
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Melt butter and spread evenly onto dough. Sprinkle brown sugar and cinnamon evenly onto dough surface. Lightly press in the sugar and cinnamon into dough.
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Cut into 1 ½ inch strips. Twist in opposite directions to form a spiral stick. Press both ends of twist firmly to a greased cookie sheet.
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Bake at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes until golden brown.
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Frost with powdered sugar frosting.

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Are GMOs A-OK?

There’s a little acronym floating around: G-M-O.

Many people have heard of it and many people are strongly skeptical of it; however, many people don’t know what it (a GMO) really is.

This reality is blatantly illustrated in the clip below from the popular late night show, Jimmy Kimmel Live. As Kimmel’s crew makes their way around a local farmers market, they ask numerous people why they avoid GMOS and, more specifically, what the letters G-M-O stand for. As you will see, those with the strongest opinions about GMO’s aren’t even sure what they are, let alone what the acronym stands for.

GMOs are a major topic of discussion today. Across our society, media and the internet, a growing number of people have shared a wide range of questions and emotions on the topic – ranging from excitement and optimism to skepticism and even fear.  But as you saw above, many people do not truly understand what GMOs are and the benefits they bring to the table.

So now you might be wondering, what is a GMO and what does it stand for?  Are GMOs safe for me and my family? Below are the answers to these and many other questions you may have about GMOs.

What is a G-M-O?

GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism and is a very common practice in crop production around the world. When creating a GMO, researchers copy specific genetic information from one plant or organism and introduce it into another to improve or enhance a specific characteristic or trait, such as resistance to insects. Developing special traits in plants allows for more food to be grown in more places using fewer chemicals and fewer natural resources

What’s the difference between GMOs and biotechnology?

While the two terms are frequently used interchangeably, biotechnology more closely refers to the process or technology used to create GMOs. You may also see the term “GM”, which of course means “genetically modified.” When you hear farmers talk about “biotech” hybrids or varieties, they are talking about the GM seeds they plant.

Is genetic modification a new thing?

Manipulating genes in plants is an approach that has been used for centuries to make bread, cheese, wine and beer. Today, nearly every food on grocery store shelves has been modified by human hands at the genetic level. The foods we eat are modified using various breeding methods. Breeding alters a plant’s genes so that it expresses new traits. That’s how we get those desirable family favorites such as, seedless watermelons and grapes, red grapefruit, peanuts, honey crisp apples and other foods. GMOs and biotechnology simply accelerate this process. “Everything about science is learning new ways to speed up evolution so that we can come up with crops faster than Mother Nature ordinarily would,” said Dr. Sally Mackenzie, Ralph and Alice Raikes Professor of Plant Science at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. “Genetically modified is a part of our future. If we want to eat with climate change, we will need technologies or we simply won’t survive, and that’s just a reality.”

Are GMOs safe for humans?

To date, more than 2,000 peer-reviewed studies have confirmed that GMOs are safe for human consumption. While there have been a handful of studies that state otherwise, these studies have been roundly debunked by scientists around the world. With over 25 years of independent research, there is no documented evidence of harm to human health or deaths from consumption of GM foods. (National Research Council, European Commission)

Is it safe to eat meat and milk from animals that were fed GMO crops?

Absolutely. A 2012 review of 24 long-term or multigenerational studies found that genetically modified corn, soy, potato, and rice had no ill effects on the rats, cows, mice, quails, chickens, pigs and sheep that ate them. Growth, development, blood, tissue structure, urine chemistry and organ and body weights were normal.

How does genetic modification affect nutrition?

There is no difference. Exhaustive testing and FDA review has confirmed that GMOs are nutritionally the same as their non-GM counterparts. They have the same levels of key nutrients such as amino acids, proteins, fiber, minerals and vitamins.

Additionally, here are the facts about why GMOs are among the safest products on the market today:

  1. Every plant improved through genetic modification is examined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency for potential health risks.
  2. Tests are done on plants before entering the food and animal-feed supply.
  3. Fruits, vegetables and grains from genetically modified crops are indistinguishable from foods developed with other breeding methods.
  4. The FDA has found that GMO foods have the same nutritional value as non-GMO foods.
  5. Out of the trillions of meals consumed that have contained GMO ingredients, not one single substantiated case of harm to human health has been caused by GMOs.
  6. The World Health Organization, American Medical Association, National Research Council, FDA, European Commission and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation all agree that GMOs are safe.

Although frustrating, the clip from Jimmy Kimmel does shed light on the harsh reality that we as farmers face in today’s world: consumers are misinformed about GMOs. As a farmer that raises GMO crops, I am proud of the safe and nutritious food I raise. We farmers feed our families food made with the crops raised on our farms and we can assure you that these foods are extremely safe for you and your family as well.

Water – Making Every Drop Count

Can you remember back to when you were a kid on those long, sultry summer days where all you wanted was to cool off? Now think back to the pure joy you experienced when your parents turned on the sprinkler for you to run through.

Now imagine that your neighbors are doing the same thing, but with less water, and their neighbors with even less, until people at the end of the block had virtually no water. Well, that’s actually the rainfall pattern in Nebraska.

From the lush, fertile crop Photo of raining over crops imagesXLB9W9ERground in the east to the desert-like Sandhills in the west, it’s clear that Nebraska has a very diverse climate. It’s been estimated as you travel across the state from east to west, you will lose an inch of rainfall annually every 50 miles. Since rainfall varies so much across the state, many farmers depend on irrigation during the summer months to help supplement moisture deficiencies.

Water for Food

Water is critically important to the farmers and ranchers in our state to raise our food. Too much rain and fields will be washed out and unable to produce a crop; not enough and plants struggle to even produce an ear or a pod.

Nebraska farmers irrigate 8.5 million acres, more than any other state in the country. Farmers depend on water from a variety of sources in order to raise a crop each year.

As you drive along the interstate, it may seem like farmers constantly run their pivots, but that’s actually not the case. Besides the high diesel or electrical cost to irrigate, over-watering can actually be detrimental to the plant’s growth.

Smart Water

The purpose of irrigation is to supplement rainfall as needed. Many farmers are now adopting technologies that allow them to use less water. By pulling local weather data and installing water sensors in their fields, farmers can know not only when it’s time to irrigate, but exactly how much water should be applied. Sustainable technologies like these are helping farmers produce more grain while using fewer resources and helping to keep the water supply clean and plentiful for you and your family.

So the next time you find yourself sweltering in the summer heat, remember that farmers and ranchers are doing their part to make sure every drop counts.

Water QualityPhoto of a glass of water

Water quality is an issue that’s very near and dear to farmers’ hearts. Maintaining a pure, plentiful supply of drinking water is a top concern for farmers.

In recent years, farmers and ranchers have shouldered a disproportionate amount of blame for water quality issues in places like the Gulf of Mexico, the Chesapeake Bay, and other locations. While runoff from farms and ranches does play a part in this problem, the issue is much larger than food production.

Nonpoint source pollution is the biggest threat to water quality, and it occurs when snowmelt, rainfall, or irrigation waters run over the land and pick up pollutants, carrying them to nearby waterways. This includes nutrients and sediment from Nebraska’s farms.

Nutrients (specifically nitrogen and phosphorus) come from fertilizers, manure and human sewage. Excessive nutrients cause algae blooms in lakes (making them smelly and making boating difficult), contribute to fish kills, and can cause water to require additional and costly treatment before drinking.

Sediment, or soil, is considered a pollutant when it ends up in Nebraska’s waterways. Weather events and erosion cause sediment from farm fields, construction sites, and stream banks to flow downstream. Sediment fills in lakes, streams and ponds and destroys fish habitats.

What are Farmers Doing to Solve the Problem?

Since most of Nebraska’s land area is devoted to food production, every decision regarding water quality matters. Decisions to improve practices have a cumulative effect to enhance the safety of our water supply.

The three largest areas of focus to help enhance water quality relate to tillage, cover crops, and technology, but there are other conservation measures being used, too.

Conservation Tillage:

Tilling (or plowing) is often necessary to get the land ready for planting. And traditionally in Nebraska, farmers till their ground after harvest in the fall, so that they can plant as soon as possible in the spring. This means that their fields are bare all winter long, with topsoil exposed to the elements, creating perfect conditions for erosion when snow melts or spring storms come.

However, many farmers are now embracing a practice known as “conservation tillage” including no-till and strip-till methods.

No-till is just what it sounds like. The ground is not tilled at all. After the crop is harvested, the stubble is left in the field and protects it from erosion over the winter. The stubble also acts as a water filter, keeping excess nutrients from entering waterways. No-till only works with certain crops and certain soil types, so it is not something that can be used on every acre in Nebraska.

Strip-till is another conservation tillage method where GPS technology guides a tiller through the field and small strips are tilled, which is where the seeds will be planted in the spring.  This leaves MOST of the land covered with crop stubble over the winter, but works for a different variety of crops.

Cover Crops:

Cover crops are another way farmers are keeping the soil in place and filtering nutrients. A cover crop is a second crop, planted after the first is harvested or soon before, solely for the purpose of benefitting the soil. These crops grow quickly in the fall and use up excess nutrients, keep the soil from compacting, reduce erosion, and suppress weeds. Many companies in the public and private sectors are dedicating time and money to finding innovative ways to utilize cover crops, including letting cattle graze on them, making this method beneficial on multiple levels.


Farmers are now embracing technology, such as GPS and variable rate applications, in an effort to improve water quality. GPS and variable rate applications give farmers the ability to become more efficient when planting or applying water or nutrients. The use of technology in farming is in its infancy, and while new applications have helped farmers make huge strides in protecting the water quality, we have only scratched the surface of the benefits of precision agriculture.

The Future of Water Quality

Farmers clearly have a vested interest in conservation practices and water quality. The land and water are their livelihood, meaning they will make the best decisions for their operations with the information at hand. Farmers are dedicated to improving and ensuring that future generations have the same, if not better, opportunities.

While farming and ranching does play a large role in water quality, the right solution to this issue will come from all responsible parties acknowledging their part and working together to find the best solution.


Kid-Friendly Beefy Spaghetti Cups Recipe | Meat Prices

Farm moms like us realize that time and budgets are important commodities – just like our crops and livestock! This recipe is perfect for an affordable and easy meal that kids love. What we like best is that you can freeze the cups and pop into the microwave for a fast meal for toddlers and kids. We know that many people are concerned about rising food costs- and specifically meat costs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) forecasts beef and veal prices to increase by 8-9 percent by the end of 2014, compared with 2013. Pork prices could rise by between 7.5 and 8.5 percent.Meat Counter So, what’s behind the increase? There are several contributing factors, including:

  • Effects of drought on cattle herds in the plains and western United States. When drought hit many major cattle-producing states in 2011, the grazing space for cattle greatly decreased. This forced many farmers to sell their animals to be processed. The high cost of feed for cattle further contributed to smaller herds. This decreased the supply of beef available, while demand has remained high. Herd sizes have been slow to rebound and are currently at historic lows, similar to those in the 1950s. That’s because it can take 18 months for a calf to reach market weight.
  • Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDv). This pig virus is responsible for millions of piglet deaths in the past year. Hog farms in more than 40 states were affected by the illness that is most fatal to newborn pigs. Farmers tried to compensate by raising their animals to heavier weights, but only partially compensated for the losses. Hog supplies are now back on the rise, but pork prices will continue to be higher until supplies get closer to meeting demand. PEDv poses no risk to other animals, humans or food safety.
  • Rising demand for protein from U.S. consumers. The protein power movement is gaining traction here in the U.S. which means greater demand. This can be seen in reports from companies like BB&T Capital Markets and NPD Group and in the menus at Taco Bell, McDonald’s, KFC and Panera.
  • Rising middle classes in Asia, Africa and South America. A growing number of people around the world are eating more meat today than in years past. As the global population and individual incomes rise, so, too, does meat demand.

Have additional questions about how meat gets from the farm to your table? Click here to learn more about the farmers who raise beef, pork and turkey. {Kid-Friendly Beefy Spaghetti Cups }20141216_223538 Ingredients20141216_175859 1 lb ground beef ½ onion, chopped (or substitute 2 tbsp of minced onion) ½ box elbow macaroni 1 cup cottage cheese ½ cup Parmesan cheese 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese 1 cup spaghetti sauce 1 tsp garlic powder 2 tsp Italian seasoning Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Fill a medium saucepan halfway with water. Bring to a boil and cook pasta to al dente (about 8 minutes).
  • While the pasta is cooking, brown the hamburger and onion in a small skillet.
  • Drain pasta and put in a large mixing bowl.
  • Add in cottage cheese, parmesan cheese, 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese, garlic powder and Italian seasoning to pasta and stir well.20141216_181505
  • Slowly add in ground beef and spaghetti sauce. Mix well.20141216_182041
  • Spray muffin tin with cooking spray. Fill cups to the top of each with the pasta mixture. Gently press down on each cup.20141216_182625
  • Add around one spoonful of mozzarella cheese on top of each muffin cup.20141216_182738
  • Bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until cheese is melted and starting to brown.20141216_185005
  • Let the cups sit for 5 minutes before serving, or freeze for easy reheating and a fast meal. Kid-approved!20141216_183238

Organic Farm Tour & Maple Dill Carrots recipe

Linda peppers smile no glassesRD Amber from Stirlist, a registered dietitian passionate about food, health and nutrition, came to visit my farm recently and she blogged about what she learned about our organic production, as well as an amazing Maple Dill Carrot recipe (keep reading for the recipe!). Enjoy learning a little more about our farm.

carrots-26-881x587Linda and Tom Schwarz live near Smithfield, NE with their son, Alex and daughter, Becky. They own Schwarz Family Farm and the family has been farming in Nebraska for six generations. The day I visited their farm was the coldest day we’ve had in Nebraska since last winter! Even though the temperature was quickly dropping and the wind gusts were fierce, I had an amazing time getting to visit with this family and learn more about their farm.carrots-11-1024x682

When CommonGround asked me to pay them a visit, I had no idea what to expect. When I think of organic farmers, the word “hippie” usually comes to mind. The funny thing is, they totally called me out on that. Tom said, “Most people are surprised to learn that we are not hippies.” How did he know what I was thinking? Ha! Instead, I made some new friends that day and walked away with a new respect for organic farmers.

At Schwarz Family Farm you can find row crops including organic corn, wheat, soybeans, sorghum, and alfalfa. Additionally, they grow a variety of organic vegetables and herbs such as tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, carrots and peas. Their customers include other farmers who are raising organic animals, local restaurants and grocery stores throughout Nebraska that supply organic produce.carrots-2-1024x682

Linda has been working with CommonGround for the last three years. She said she enjoys being a CommonGround volunteer because it gives her the opportunity to share more about their farm and connect with consumers. Her favorite part about working with CommonGround is answering questions and setting the record straight about organic farming practices.

But they haven’t always farmed organic.

They farmed using conventional means for several years and then transitioned to organic in 1998. So, why did they switch to farming organic? They had the opportunity to downsize and realized they wanted to do more with less. Switching to organic was also motivated by their two children wanting to be a part of the farm. Linda’s husband, Tom, mentioned that another reason they farm organic is because there is an increase in demand for organic crops. Tom says, “Our customer is the person sitting down to a meal at home, not the co-op.” I thought this was a really interesting point he made and honestly, this is something that I hadn’t really thought about before. This family understands the demand and knows who their customer is.

Even though it might be more difficult to grow organic crops and vegetables, the benefit is that they have developed their own niche growing organics in Nebraska. They can offer an amazing variety of produce and herbs such as chocolate mint, sugar pea greens, and yellow candy onions.carrots-3-1024x682

Growing organic is not easy. It is extremely labor intensive. Linda and Tom both mentioned how difficult managing weeds can be. Not only does it take a lot of time and dedication to manage the land itself, but organic famers spend quite a bit of time on paperwork. They have to keep records and document everything to maintain their organic certification. This is an important process and extremely time consuming. By the way, it takes at least three years to transition to organic farming.

carrots-6-1024x682And yes, that’s a lady bug in that photo above. In order to deal with aphids (pesky little things that like to feed on vegetables), the family uses lady bugs and praying mantis egg cases to help manage the aphid population in their green houses.

carrots-5-1024x682Why greenhouses? Well, Nebraska is known for extreme weather conditions. The greenhouse facilities and tunnels provide an opportunity for the family to grow year round. They are also portable, which allows them to move the greenhouses from year to year, allowing the land to rest which can help with disease management.

carrots-15-1024x682Another reason for growing organic is that they can grow a variety of produce and herbs. If you haven’t figured it out, they are serious foodies. They love spicy food and even jar their own salsa, which I had the opportunity to sample. In the spring you will find these greenhouses filled with tomatoes, perfect for Linda’s famous salsa recipe. Linda said that Tom is a great cook and makes the best chicken enchiladas. Because they have such an amazing variety, they love trying new recipes and experimenting with different herbs.

carrots-16-1024x682They have also created their own unique brand. You can find different herbs and seasonings in pots that are sold are Hy-Vee stores in Lincoln and Omaha. Or you can purchase their dry seasonings on their website.

Clearly Tom and Linda’s children, Alex and Becky, love being apart of the family business. Both kids work really hard to keep the farm going and help market their products. In addition to her role on the farm, Becky also manages the family website and social media. Alex, who also happens to be a very talented actor, plays a major role in day to day operations. His enthusiasm for sharing their farm values, methods and love of food is truly moving.

Here are what the tunnels look like.carrots-81-1024x682

Purple lettuce? Um, yes please.carrots-8-1024x682

One thing that I really appreciated about the Shwarz family was hearing them talk about other farmers. Not once did I hear a negative word from them about farmers who don’t choose to farm organic. I thought this was incredibly awesome because as I mentioned before, even I walked into the experience with some preconceived ideas. If I could put a theme on my experience with CommonGround the last six months, I’ve learned that farmers advocate for choice. It’s amazing that we have so many options! I’m so impressed with Linda and Tom’s farm that I’ve already promised to pay them a visit again in April when their greenhouses are full of tomatoes.

Read more from RD Amber on her Stirlist blog. carrots-22

Maple Dill Carrots & Organic Farm Tour

  • 3 cups peeled and sliced carrots
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  1. Place carrots in a skillet and pour in just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium heat; simmer until water has evaporated and the carrots are tender. Stir in butter, brown sugar, dill, salt and pepper.

Seeking Nebraska Farm Women to Become CommonGround Volunteers!

Kristen_1We are seeking Nebraska farm women who are interested in sharing the message of where America’s food comes from. CommonGround is looking for women who like answering consumers’ questions about food and farming. This is a chance to help those disconnected from agriculture understand how their food is grown and raised – straight from the original source, the farmer.

The time commitment to being a volunteer is as much or as little as you want! CommonGround will hold a training for these new volunteers in January. We would love for YOU to become an agvocate and a volunteer for CommonGround!

All women interested can click below to fill out the Volunteer Profile Form.

cg vol prof form

diane wheat 1

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread & Farm Tour

diane wheat 5I recently hosted Amber from to visit my farm and share with her one of my favorite fall bread recipes.  Here is a part of her post, and you and read the whole story on her blog

I recently saw a meme online that said, “We should go back to how we produced food 100 years ago. The grocery store was your vegetable garden and basement cellar. And if you didn’t have something you needed, you simply asked your neighbor.”

diane wheat 2While this might sound very sweet and romantic, I wondered if this is truly realistic? To learn more about this, I traveled three hours across the great state of Nebraska to visit with mom and farmer, Diane Karr. Diane and her family live near Blue Hill, NE and they raise wheat, soybeans, corn, alfalfa and cattle. Diane studied agribusiness in college and then moved back to Blue Hill where she and her new husband rented a farm and became actively involved in his family’s farm. Today Diane and her husband have been married for 17 years and now farm the land where her husband grew up.

When I asked Diane about how farming has changed over the past 100 years, she immediately said, “You need to see the plat map.”

Did she just say, “Plat map?”diane wheat 4

A plat map shows where each farm is located. Diane placed two plat maps side by side. One was from 100 years ago and the other was a recent plat map from last year. It was a humbling experience to watch Diane turn the pages and share stories about how the community has changed over the years. The biggest difference between the two maps is how many more individual farms existed 100 years ago. Many of those farms that existed 100 years ago no longer exist today. When I asked her about how farms like hers might be compared to factory farms, she laughed and said, “Farming practices might have changed, but that doesn’t make us a factory farm. Farming is a living thing. We care about the land and we feed our own children what we grow here. 100 years ago there were many nutrient deficiencies and modern farming and food science has helped solve that. Farmers are now more efficient than ever and today we are able to do more with less. People forget how much harder it was to farm 100 years ago. Why would we want to go back to doing things like we did 100 years go? ” Great question.

As a nutrition expert, I think consumers have given a lot of authority to non-experts regarding farming and food production. A popular example of this would be celebrities claiming gluten and wheat products cause autism and other health issues. Knowing that Diane is a wheat farmer, I wanted to spend a little time chatting with her about this. One thing that consumers are often confused about is wheat and GMOs. “Did you know that there is no commercial GMO wheat available on the market? It might exist someday, but currently wheat is not available as a GMO.” You can read more about that HERE.

Another myth that people have come to believe is that in order to be healthy, you should stay away from wheat. Unless you have been diagnosed with celiac disease or an allergy, there is no reason to avoid wheat. As a Registered Dietitian, I’ve unfortunately seen people use “gluten sensitivity” as a fad diet and in my opinion, it really minimizes the serious effects consuming wheat could have on those with true celiac disease. I think it’s important to mention that celiac disease is actually an autoimmune disorder and it occurs in about 1/133 people. It is not as common as everybody thinks it is, but it is a very real thing for those who actually have it. But that doesn’t mean everybody else needs to avoid it. According to the Wheat Foods Council, wheat has been consumed by humans for the last 17,000 years and we have seen an increase in all autoimmune disorders, not just celiac disease. When you eliminate wheat products, you eliminate several other important nutrients such as B vitamins, folate, iron and fiber.diane wheat 6

This field is hard red winter wheat. This wheat was planted in early September and will probably be harvested in July. Diane told me, “It goes dormant in the winter just like the green grass outside your house.” Apparently this is the type of wheat that you will find in all-purpose flour and used for making breads and rolls. There are actually 6 classes of wheat that include hard red winter, hard red spring, soft red winter, durum, hard white, and soft white. The hard flours are usually good for breads and rolls and the soft wheat is good for flat breads and crackers. Durum wheat is used for pasta making. This recipe that Diane shared with me contains all-purpose flour, which is perfect for quick breads like this.diane wheat 1

Diane and her husband’s parents still live near Blue Hill and when they’re not working on the farm, you can find Diane and the rest of her family cheering at cross country meets and football games. This chocolate chip pumpkin bread recipe is a fall family favorite.diane wheat 7

Diane assured me that while the number of farmers may have changed, the reliance on neighbors and passion for caring for the land could not be stronger. Seeing the impact of a family caring for the same piece of land for over 125 years brings a perspective we often neglect.

Special thanks to CommonGround Nebraska and Diane for the tour and for sharing this recipe! Be sure to visit Diane’s blog and please feel free to reach out if you have questions.

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread & Farm Tour
Cook time: 60 mins Total time: 1 hour

3 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 can pumpkin (15 oz)
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp allspice
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup chocolate chips

In a bowl, combine sugar, eggs, pumpkin, vegetable oil, and vanilla. Set aside. In another bowl, combine flour, spices, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Fold in chocolate chips. Spoon into 2 greased and floured 8 x 4 inch loaf pans. Bake at 350 for about 60 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks.

We're a group of Nebraska farm women on a mission to help you learn more about your food and where it comes from.