Chipotle Meatballs Recipe and Farm Tour

JoanRuskamp2Registered Dietitian and food writer from Stirlist, Amber, came out to my feedlot recently and shared one of my favorite meatball recipes on her blog. I was able to show her the feedlots, explain how we take care of our cattle, why we use vaccines and how many hormones are in beef vs. other foods (hint: see picture of M&M jars below!). 

Chipotle Meatballs and Farm Tour

DodgeWatertowerMost people end up getting out of Dodge, but last month I found myself spending the day in Dodge, Nebraska. I traveled to Dodge with my mini me (Kristen- my intern) and we had the opportunity to visit with Joan Ruskamp, a cattle feeder and farmer. I was really looking forward to spending the day with Joan so that I could see firsthand what a day in her life looks like. Joan grew up in Grand Island, NE and is a graduate of Nebraska School of Technical Agriculture at Curtis in Veterinary Technology. Her role on the farm may have changed over the years, but she stays busy with bookwork, doctoring, processing and other duties around the farm. Joan enjoys being a CommonGround volunteer because it has given her the opportunity to chat with people who might not understand what life is like as a farmer and cattle feeder. Thanks to recent marketing campaigns by brands such as Chipotle, many consumers have questioned her farming practices. However, Joan loves to answer questions and she definitely helped shed some light on a few of the tough subjects she’s had to address the past few years. I think the biggest myths about cattle feeding is that the cows are crowded, “shot up” with hormones, given unnecessary antibiotics, and that the farmers mistreat the animals. What I saw on Joan’s farm that day was the complete opposite. I was surprised to see how much room the cattle had and I was really impressed with Joan’s knowledge about feeding, managing disease, and hormones. She also gave up some very valuable time to answer all my questions, which was very much appreciated. The photo below is the view from Joan’s front door. Do you think this looks like a factory farm?DodgeDeck

It’s not quite a “factory farm,” is it? Joan prefers the term, “family farm” because the land was passed down by her husband’s family. In fact, all five of her children have helped around the farm over the years. I was really surprised to see how spread out the cattle were. I realize that I am not an expert in cattle, but I saw no signs of the cattle looking uncomfortable or crowded.DodgeCows

There is plenty of room to roam…dodgepens

One of the most popular questions that Joan receives is about the amount of estrogen in beef. To help better illustrate the amount of estrogen in beef, Joan created a great visual teaching tool using jars of chocolate candies. The amount of candy represents the amount of estrogen present in eggs, peas, potatoes, and beef. I wasn’t able to capture the labels in this photo below, but the jar starting from the left represents 1 egg, then 1/2 cup peas, 1/2 cup potato, and then 1/4 pound of beef. Each candy represents 1 nanogram of estrogen, which is 1 billionth of a gram. (That’s a pretty small amount!)

1 egg = 993 nanograms of estrogen

1/2 cup peas:452 nanograms of estrogen

1/2 cup potatoes: 300 nanograms of estrogen

1/4 lb Beef: 1.7 nanograms of estrogendodgeMs

dodgeFeed-781x1024So what do cows eat? You might have heard something about “grass fed” vs. “grain fed.” I think it’s important to mention that all cattle start out on grass, so you could say that all cattle is grass fed. However, “grass fed” implies that that cattle are not finished on the grain you see pictured below. The way Joan explained it to me is that the diet of grain and other nutrients better supports what the cattle are bred for and helps build muscle. The cows strictly fed grass their whole lives will not develop like those that are finished on grain. Joan said that one is not necessarily better or worse, but there is a difference in taste, quality, and price. If you want to eat beef that has only been fed grass it’s whole life, you can expect to pay more for it. The Ruskamps finish their cattle on a diet that consists of grain and other nutrients, and their diet is carefully monitored each day.dodgeeaters

As far as antibiotic use, Joan says that they only use antibiotics when they need to treat a sick animal. The inhumane thing would be to not give the animal medicine to improve. It was also interesting to learn how treatments have changed over the years. They can give one treatment that can last 10 days, compared to many years ago farmers were giving higher doses for longer periods of time. Also, antibiotics are only administered in the neck region and not other areas of the body. Fascinating!

Read the rest of Amber’s blog here. Now, enjoy this recipe!meatballs

Chipotle Meatballs and Farm Tour

2 pounds lean ground beef (I recommend 93-95% lean)
2 eggs
1 cup water
1 package chicken stovetop stuffing
1 12 oz jar grape jelly
1 12 oz jar chile or chipotle sauce

Mix together beef, eggs, water, and stuffing mix. Portion meatballs into 1 or 2 oz portions. 2 oz portions will yield at least 2 dozen. Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

While meatballs are baking, prepare the sauce, Over medium heat, mix together grape jelly and chipotle sauce. Bring sauce to a boil and then remove from heat.

Once meatballs are fully cooked, you can poor the sauce on top of the meatballs and then cook again for another 5 minutes. Or you can place meatballs in a crockpot, add the sauce, and cook on low heat until ready to serve.meatballs3

Speak Up! Why do hog farmers use gestation crates?

Speak Up is a series of blogs where CommonGround volunteers from all over the U.S. speak up to answer questions from consumers. This post is about South Dakota CommonGround volunteer and family hog farmer, Peggy Greenway. 

PeggyGreenway-188x160According to a Huffington Post article, “Major pork producers Smithfield and Hormel have pledged to end the use of gestation stalls by 2017, and major retailers like Burger King, Safeway, Wendy’s and Denny’s have all promised to work with their suppliers to do the same.”

South Dakota CommonGround volunteer and family hog farmer Peggy Greenway and her husband, along with 14 other area farmers, are co-owners of a 3,400-head sow (or female pig) farm. That sow farm provides weaned pigs to the Greenways to raise them to market weight in hog barns on their farm. At the sow farm, expectant mother pigs are housed in individual maternity pens or gestation creates.

According to Greenway, the purpose of individual maternity pens is misunderstood. She says these pens are used by farmers to provide for the safety of the sows.

“Animal care is first and foremost in the decision to use maternity pens,” she says. “We are trying to keep the pigs safe from one another. Most people do not know that, by nature, pregnant sows get mean and will fight each other. The pens are used to prevent sows from these fights, which often cause injuries and sometimes even death.

“A free-choice stall is another option. This is where sows in a group pen can open up an individual crate attached to the group pen and go into it to be away from the other pigs. Trials have shown that given the choice, sows choose to be in those individual crates the majority of the time when housed in a free-choice stall system. They prefer the comfort and security of not having to fight with other sows to get feed,” said Greenway.

With the corporate push toward the use of group pens, Greenway explains the issue from the farmer’s point of view.

First, Greenway says that the use of group pens will increase the number of workers needed on the farm and require farmers to build larger buildings, ultimately creating higher pork prices for consumers.

“It takes one-third more space to convert existing sow housing from gestation crates to group pens. Farmers have to look at the cost of making those conversions. Either we build the extra space or we drop back on the number of pigs we house.”

Greenway says a large part of a farmer’s decision to make housing conversions on their farm depends on each farmer’s agricultural lender. According to information supplied by AgStar, the nation’s leading lender of farm equipment and operating loans to hog producers, converting an existing barn from individual maternity pens to group housing does not increase the value of the building, but instead will increase farmer’s debt load and lower production. After conversion to group pens, the barn will hold one third less sows. Greenway says it is unclear who will foot the bill for those conversions. She thinks some producers will just decide to exit the business.

Information based on an AgStar presentation:
Converting from Gestation stalls to Gestation pens:

  • Cost looks to be $200-$300 a space to redo
  • 2500 sow unit – value $900 a space = $2.25MM
  • Current debt is $500 a space – to redo you want to borrow that cots so debt per space would go to $700-$800 a space
  • Value will be unchanged so your collateral value has dropped
  • It is still a 2500 sow unit
  • How will we pay for these conversions?

Greenway says that farmers who are planning to build new structures to house hogs will likely look at incorporating a system of group pens in order to meet the demand from end users, but she says many things go into making the final decision.

“The other cost farmers may have to consider is labor. It takes more people to make sure that the sows are not fighting in group pen systems,” Greenway explains. “If a couple of sows are fighting, animal care givers have to remove them from the pen so they don’t get injured.”

Second, about 85 percent of U.S. hog farmers keep their sows in gestation crates. See the results of this farmer survey.

“We know we are doing the right thing,” Greenway says. “Our veterinarians recommend we use maternity pens because it is the system that works best for both the animals and for the people working to care for them.”

The Pipestone Veterinary Clinic’s veterinarians provide animal care and manage the sow farm, which the Greenways co-own with their farmer friends. Pipestone Vet Clinic also manages several other sow farms in South Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota.

The Greenway family plans to continue to monitor meat industry and retailer demand for pork raised without gestation crates, while at the same time making sure they don’t compromise the health and safety of their pigs or the employees at the sow farm.

Greenway says she doesn’t know what the future will look like for hog farmers.

“If we want farmers to take good care of their pigs and provide healthy, high quality, lower-cost pork chops and bacon for consumers, we should all stay informed on this issue,” she says. “Most importantly, I urge people to seek the opinions of farmers and veterinarians if they have questions about the way sows are housed on farms.”

This is Steve with our granddaughter, Ella, fishing in our pond 
near our house and feedlot.  She is the next generation
we are striving to provide healthy and abundant food for.

One size fits all

Joan new shot 1Have you ever purchased an item that was sold as “one size fits all”?  There are some items, like a rain poncho, that worked for me to buy that way.  That wasn’t the case when I went to buy a pair of rubber gloves.   I found it very difficult to stuff my hands into a glove that was made for much smaller hands than mine.  Has this ever happened to you?  

joan pulling a glove onImagine shopping for clothes if your choices were limited to the one size fits all label.  Would we be limited to buying stretch pants and pull-over tops?  The one time in my life that I actually liked elastic pants was when I was pregnant.   Even the labels small, medium and large can be frustrating if you don’t know how much they will shrink.  Fortunately, we have clothing made for all shapes and sizes including specialty stores for those needing even more choices.

What about food choices?  Besides a plethora of diets to choose from we also have plenty of choices when it comes to how the food was raised.   When I was a child, my mom didn’t have the labels of organic, grass-fed, hormone free, etc. to look at.   Mom often bought the items that were on sale that week to feed our family of eight.  Now when a mom goes to the store, there are labels and whole grocery aisles of specialty foods that can be quite confusing.  Learning what labels mean and understanding more about production practices can help. You can learn more about labels here.

Steve and I enjoying one of our favorite meals on our deck - steak with veggies and hash browns.
Steve and I enjoying one of our favorite meals on our deck – steak with veggies and hash browns.

joan_gardenWhen Steve and I were raising our children we could choose to eat food from our farm and from the grocery store.  I took pride in having a big garden with items to freeze or can for winter meals. Perhaps many of you also enjoy gardening and eating the fruits, or veggies in my case, of your labor. We sometimes butcher a steer from our farm but also buy meat at the grocery store.  I never doubted the safety or quality of the food from the grocery store or from our farm.   How the food was raised was not a concern of mine and our children were healthy and active with doctor visits due mostly from sports injuries.   

In our culture today we have many people concerned about how food is raised.   Part of that is due to the change in the size of farms as well as fewer people doing the farming.  Farms have changed over the centuries to meet the needs of the people needing to be fed.  The food choices we have today are very important so that those with food sensitivities can find what they need as well as the family on a tight budget.Joan_four tractors oats

Our farm practices are designed to feed more people using less resources.  We utilize the science and research done by our universities and yes, companies that sell us seed, weed control and veterinary medicine. We utilize a hormone implant in cattle, antibiotics for disease and seed corn that can defend itself against a pest through DNA procedures.  It is very important to us to use methods that will leave us a better farm tomorrow. Putting research into practice is akin to saying the proof is in the pudding.   Continually finding better ways to improve our soil, provide better care for the cattle and produce a healthy food choice is what we work for.   Joan_history of auto and biotech

I encourage people on all sides of the debate about food production to first accept the need for a variety of farming methods and second to spend time getting to know farmers by asking us how we do what we do.  It is through shared friendly discussions that we all benefit from a continued food supply to meet the needs of a many sizes needed to fit all society.

This is Steve with our granddaughter, Ella, fishing in our pond  near our house and feedlot.  She is the next generation we are striving to provide healthy and abundant food for.
This is Steve with our granddaughter, Ella, fishing in our pond near our house and feedlot. She is the next generation we are striving to provide healthy and abundant food for.



Patio Corn Salad, Biotech, & Jean Jackets

Hilary Maricle family7I had the opportunity to share with Amber from about our farm and what I do with CommonGround. We had a great conversation about growing food, GM or biotech crops and I shared a favorite recipe: Patio Corn Salad! Here is an excerpt from her post about our conversation.


These phrases sound so romantic, right? We love using these buzz phrases because they make us feelgood. They imply a direct connection between the farmer and the consumer and that’s romantic. The problem is that the average consumer is about four generations removed from the farm and for many people, their only connection to a farmer might be the images they see portrayed on television commercials or ridiculous articles they read on the internet.

Last week I met with Hilary Maricle, a 6th generation farmer, who participates in just about every aspect of agriculture from raising calves and hogs to farming corn and soybeans. She even grew up working in her parent’s grocery store. She’s also a wife, proud mother of five, and serves as the Dean of Ag, Science, and Math at Northeast Community College in Norfolk, Nebraska. She has literally been apart of every aspect of farm to table and she also shared with me this great recipe! patio5

I wanted to hear Hilary tell me a romantic story about how food travels from farm to table, because I’ll admit it, I’m a hopeless romantic. My favorite movies are The Princess Bride and Sleepless in Seattle. Come on, who doesn’t love the moment when Wesley yells, “As you wish” after Princess Buttercup pushes him down the hill? Or the moment when the elevator door opens at the end of Sleepless in Seattle and Meg Ryan sees Tom Hanks standing there with his little boy? That is romance.

What farmers like Hilary have helped me to realize is that farming is not about romance.

Farming is hard work. Farming is a business. Farming is a science and modern farming practices, including the use of biotechnology (genetically modifying food using genetic engineering) are indeed, safe.

I think we’ve romanticized farming to the point that it has hurt both the farmers and the consumer’s perception of farming. Sure, we all love a good story. But sometimes these stories are turned into horror films by making consumers fear farmers (Chipotle, cough cough) and modern science instead of respecting a farmer’s knowledge and expertise. Hilary has been a volunteer for CommonGround Nebraska for the past five years. She said she started volunteering for CommonGround because she hates to see young mothers scared to buy food.

“As a farmer, the biggest challenge that we have today is the media making young moms fear their food. Whether you shop at Whole Foods or Walmart, you should be able to feel confident in your food choices.”

What Hilary enjoys most about volunteering with CommonGround Nebraska is being able to have conversations with mothers from all walks of life. She is often asked questions about farming practices including the use of biotechnology (most often referred to as GMOs) , pesticides, and food safety.

I know I’ve mentioned Genetically Modified Organisms before on the blog, but let me just take a moment and provide a little clarity because let’s face it, GMOs do not sound that romantic.  According to GMO Answers, “GMOs are often used to describe organisms developed using the tools of genetic engineering.” Many of my friends and students think that many foods are GMO, when in reality there are actually only eight commercially available GMO crops which include corn, soybean, cotton, alfalfa, sugar beets, canola, papaya and squash. A lot of the controversy regarding GMOs has been regarding safety or the argument that they are unnatural. In order to better answer these questions, I sat down with UNL plant scientist, Dr. Sally Mackenzie for a crash course on all things GMO.  Dr. Sally Mackenzie is a plant molecular geneticist who works in the department of Agronomy & Horticulture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is also one of the experts featured on Best Food Facts. She gave a fantastic lecture earlier this year at UNL, which is available online if you want to check it out. One of the first things she pointed out to me was that I was wearing a jean jacket. “Um….yeah lady, I’m wearing a jean jacket,” I said sarcastically in my mind. Then she said, “Did you know you are wearing GMOs?” Ha, no…I guess I hadn’t thought about that before!

Read more on Amber’s Stirlist blog post - including the Patio Corn Salad recipe!


Silk-Free Sweet Corn Trick – CommonGround Nebraska on KOLN

  The Fourth of July is a great time to celebrate with friends and family, and nothing brings people together quite like food. Luckily, CommonGround Nebraska volunteer Hilary Maricle has got you covered with this easy tip for silk-free sweet corn. Watch Maricle as she demonstrates the how-to trick on KOLN’s morning show with Melanie Bloom and Torin Otis. For more information about CommonGround and where you food comes from, visit Have a safe and happy 4th!

Patio Corn Salad

Patio Corn Salad







{Photo courtesy of}


  • 4 ears of sweet corn or 2 cans W K Corn, drained
  • ½ cup onion, chopped
  • 1 cup cucumber, diced, leave skin on
  • 1 cup celery, diced
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • ¾ cup salad dressing (I use Miracle Whip)
  • ¼ cup white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 scant teaspoon dry mustard


  1. Mix all ingredients together and chill – best if chilled overnight.
  2. NOTE: It’s important to drain veggies well after washing.

Lana’s Corn Bake & Farm Tour

lana hoffschneiderAt the end of May, I had the opportunity to host Registered Dietitian (RD), Amber from, to come visit our family farm, learn about farming, talk about why we use GMOs & biotechnology on our farm and share with her one of my favorite recipes.  Here is an excerpt from her blog post, and find my recipe below!
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend the morning with Lana Hoffschneider and tour her family farm. Lana is a mother of 3 adorable children, she has her degree in agribusiness, and she grew up working on her family’s dairy farm. Lana and her husband Chad live on a farm near Waco, Nebraska. They farm alongside three other families including Chad’s father, cousin, and uncle. In addition to being a stay at home mom, she is a volunteer for CommonGround Nebraska and helps out daily around the farm. They farm soy, corn, and raise cattle. The day I dropped by for a visit, the kids were out of school that day due to a recent tornado that had caused damage to the area. Yet another fun part about farming is that your product is at the mercy of mother nature.
I asked the children what they liked best about growing up on a farm. Lana’s oldest daughter quickly shouted out, “All of it!” Cora told me her favorite part was harvest time and throwing the corn husks up in the air. That would probably be my favorite part too, Cora!
We started our journey by heading out to see the equipment that is used for planting. Planting usually takes about 2 weeks and is a pretty labor intensive process. The planter (shown below) can hold about 120 bags or bushels, which translates to a whole lotta corn. (That’s very scientific, I know) Alright, one bushel is about 35 liters. The seed comes from their seed dealer and they can either purchase by the bag or by the crate. One bag of seed is enough for 2.5 acres and costs about $250-300/bag. FYI, an acre is about the size of a football field.
We talked a lot about the recent attacks on farmers by popular brands such as Panera and Chipotle, and I asked her about how she would feel if somebody called their farm a “factory farm.” She said, “I don’t want people to see us as monsters. It bothers me when people say that. What makes a farm a factory farm? Using large equipment? We use equipment to be more efficient, which reduces waste. Why in the world would we want to return back to what we did 100 years ago? We can’t produce enough food without the advantage of economy of size. It’s not bad to question where your food comes from, but you should base your food choices on fact, not fear.”


I asked Lana why people are making food choices based on fear instead of fact. Lana replied, “People fear what they don’t know or understand.” She then described that because of activists turning to blogs and social media, it has caused terms like GMO (genetically modified organisms) or words like “hormones” and “antibiotics” to become buzzwords that stir up fear.  ”They are buzzwords that create fear of the unknown, but facts will dispel those fears if people are willing to look for the facts.” Perhaps you’ve heard about GMOs and have been led to think they are harmful? Did you know over1700 studies have confirmed the safety of GMOs? You can check out this article and series from the Omaha World Herald to learn more.

Lana also said that her confidence in grocery stores has greatly increased since she started volunteering for CommonGround Nebraska. She actually buys all of their food from the grocery store (except the meat that comes form their own cattle in the feedlot) because she’s confident that the grocery store provides safe, healthy, and nutritious food.

Read Amber’s full blog here!

  • 1 small white onion (diced)
  • 1 small red bell pepper (diced)
  • 1 small green pepper (diced)
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 package jiffy corn muffin mix
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup light sour cream
  • 4 oz light cream cheese
  • 2 cans no salt added corn (drained)
  • 3 eggs
  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Melt 2 Tb butter over medium heat and then sauté onions and peppers. Cook and set aside to cool.
  3. In a mixing bowl combine leftover butter (6 TB), corn muffin mix, cheese, light sour cream, light cream cheese, the 2 cans of drained corn, and eggs. Add sautéed onions and peppers.
  4. Pour mixture into greased casserole dish, 9 x 13 pan.
  5. Bake 50-55 minutes.

Make a Wish! {Strawberries and Cream Sheet Cake Recipe}

Dawn_1I have to think that one of the most universal traditions is making a wish when blowing out candles on a birthday cake! If it isn’t, we should all help spread the word! Last week Matt and I got to spend a day driving several hours west to deliver bulls to a friend/customer who had purchased them. Since all of us have spring birthdays and three of the four of us had just celebrated birthdays within the week, I decided it was most appropriate to take a birthday cake along!  It was an absolutely wonderful lunch with some great friends!

Can you see the candle in each serving of cake? Each of us got our very own wish!
Can you see the candle in each serving of cake? Each of us got our very own wish!

One can never share their wish at the time of blowing out the candles, because it might not come true! However – I can now share mine.  :)  I had one simple wish as I closed my eyes and blew out my candle. I wished (and prayed) for rain on our pastures and wheat fields. Well – what do ya know? It came true! Best Mother’s Day gift ever for this farm/ranch mama! We were blessed with 2.75″ of rain yesterday and it couldn’t have been more timely!  I hope the other 3 had their wishes come true, too!make a wish_commonground_nebraska_storm_clouds

Part of the cattle got turned out to pasture on Saturday even though the grass was still pretty short – this rain will give us some restful nights now, for make a wish_commonground_nebraska_cowsat least a few weeks; knowing there will be grass for the cows to eat and water in the ponds for them to drink. Rain is so very crucial to farming and ranching – one only has to observe how much the number of cows in the U.S. has decreased the past few years due to drought. You can see it in the prices of beef in the grocery store and at restaurants. I can guarantee there are very few if any ranch families that wanted to sell their cow herds, but when there isn’t enough feed, you have to keep around only what can be properly cared for, and not permanently damage the land. It is tough emotionally and economically. When your annual source of income (or, your salary, if you will)  all gets sold at one shot – there has to be a tremendous amount of planning, pride-swallowing, and willingness to do something different for a while.  Some ranchers have received rains and are beginning to rebuild herds, but it will take years to get back to what they once had. Best wishes to everyone who has had to make the tough choices!

I definitely should share the recipe for the cake I took along to celebrate with! It was from one of the recent issues of Southern Living & it is SO Yummy!!!!! I just can’t say enough about how good it is! And – not always does my food turn out like the picture, but this cake did.

make a wish_commonground_nebraska_strawberries_and_cream_sheetcake_coverStrawberries-and-Cream Sheet Cake


  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 2 tablespoons strawberry-flavored gelatin
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2/3 cup chopped fresh strawberries
  • Shortening
  • Parchment paper
  • Vegetable cooking spray
  • Strawberry Frosting
  • Garnish: fresh strawberries


  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add sugar, beating 4 to 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Beat in lemon juice and vanilla.
  2. Stir together flour and next 3 ingredients; add flour mixture to butter mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended. Stir in strawberries.
  3. Grease (with shortening) and flour a 13- x 9-inch pan; line with parchment paper, allowing 2 to 3 inches to extend over long sides. Lightly grease paper with cooking spray. Spread batter in prepared pan.
  4. Bake at 350° for 30 to 40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack 30 minutes. Lift cake from pan, using parchment paper sides as handles. Invert cake onto wire rack; gently remove parchment paper. Cool completely (about 1 hour). Spread Strawberry Frosting on top and sides of cake.

Time of the Season: Winter Wheat in Early Spring

Diane KarrAfter a few seemingly endless months of winter on the Great Plains, the sight of green on the landscape is beacon of hope that warmer days are just around the corner.

A few cool season weeds creeping up in my yard almost sneak past my attention undetected, but it’s tough to ignore an entire field of winter wheat greening up. It seems to take at least another month for the rest of the countryside to catch up and come back to life.

Hard red winter wheat in early spring. Residue from last year's soybean crop is visible in this dryland no-till system.
Hard red winter wheat in early spring. Residue from last year’s soybean crop is visible in this dryland no-till system.

There are various types of wheat, but if you’re the central part of the plains, it’s a safe bet that you’re looking at hard red winter wheat. Wheat is used primarily for human consumption.

The birthplace of your next bowl of Wheaties? Maybe!
The birthplace of your next bowl of Wheaties? Maybe!

Ohio State Extension explains that hard red winter wheat is the class of wheat used mostly for bread and all-purpose flour. This wheat is fall-seeded, has medium to high protein content, and can have either hard or soft endosperm. Hard red winter wheat accounts for more than 40% of the U.S. wheat crop and half of U.S. wheat exports. This wheat is produced in the Great Plains, between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, and from Texas to the Dakotas and Montana. It has a wide range of protein and good milling and baking qualities. The flour is used to produce bread, rolls, some sweet goods, and all-purpose flour. Total acreage is about 23 million acres. For more wheat facts from the National Association of Wheat Growers, click here.

IMG_2018This particular field was planted after soybeans were harvested in late September last year. We feel like September 25th is the magical date for planting wheat in our area, so we aim to get the seed in the ground at least by early October. Planting wheat too early fosters too much fall growth which depletes soil moisture. Planting too late can lead to a thin stand. Both can decrease yield dramatically.

The weather extremes from late fall to early spring can be a cause of concern for wheat farmers. While we all enjoy a stretch of warm days as a reprieve from fury of Old Man Winter, this can have a negative impact on our crop. Prolonged warmth can trigger the wheat to emerge from dormancy too early, and if this is followed by a cold snap, this leaves the wheat susceptible to winter kill.

Planting wheat is an important part of the rotation in no-till farming. After the wheat is harvested it leaves behind a substantial stubble, which will be great mulch for next years corn crop. This field has been no-till for over 25 years, so by leaving stalks or stubble from the prior year’s growing season, we’ve done all we can to maintain moisture levels, improve soil fertility, maintain organic matter, and prevent erosion. Although this year will be less profitable for this farm with wheat, next year’s corn should shine because of the value of wheat in the rotation in terms of what ecofallow does for the soil.

This field was fertilized with nitrogen in early April, applied by a spray tractor. Wheat responds well to phosphorus in the fall for improved stooling and root development, and nitrogen in the spring for vegetative growth and head size. Fungicide may be necessary to combat disease in upcoming months if needed.

I expect wheat harvest in southern Nebraska to begin somewhere between the last week of June and the first two weeks of July. Until then, we’ll pray for good weather. If it’s too dry, the wheat won’t yield well. If it’s too wet, the crop is more susceptible to diseases, like rust, which also take a toll on yield. Storms with wind and hail can also cause extreme damage.

It takes some faith to raise wheat. With the wild weather we can have, I have to admit we are a little giddy when a field of wheat turns in a high yield.


Wheat yumminess.
Wheat yumminess.

After the crop is harvested and trucked to the grain elevator, our worries for the growing season are over. However, I do wonder about all the places our wheat could go for milling into flour, and all the people who enjoy it after that point, as flour or baked goods. It’s fun to think that some of the foods in my pantry could have originated on my family’s farm! When I think of how we grow wheat and that most farmers I know share the same mindset, I’m confident of the process. I’m proud that my family’s farm plays a role in bringing healthy food choices to your local grocery store – and ultimately your table.

Being a wife…

We are not all that different… you city gals and us country gals. Many of us love a great glass of wine while we cook supper/dinner, we like spring flowers, we secretly appreciate having doors held open for us and generally being treated like a lady. Some of us are great cooks, some are amazing gardeners, many have a knack for shopping, while others shine at athletics, music or business. We all love a good massage and loathe being disrespected.

My Mom, sis-in-law, and I at a Manheim Steamroller concert; enjoying some culture!
My Mom, sis-in-law, and I at a Manheim Steamroller concert; enjoying some culture!

I know many of us farm and ranch gals blog about our various duties in our day to day lives that are vastly different from women who may live in the suburbs of a city or a fun downtown loft. After all, how many one-bedroom flat owners get the pleasure of carrying buckets of grain as part of their daily workout or drain water hoses on cold nights after filling tanks, or even wash a couple of loads of laundry that contain manure-caked jeans after a day of working cattle?  I am guessing few to none! However, when it comes to being a wife – we are all so, very, very much alike. We want our husband to be there when supper/dinner gets done, we want them to want to go on a day trip with us, we want to look good for them, and we most certainly want them to be fun and cheerful and not be stressed out!

Matt using a measuring tape of the foot of a newborn calf to determine it’s birth weight. And yes – his jeans got very dirty on this day
Matt using a measuring tape of the foot of a newborn calf to determine it’s birth weight. And yes – his jeans got very dirty on this day

I believe every strong and healthy marriage is made up of two people who consciously and constantly strive to please one another and make one another proud – and kiss a lot!  :)  I also know that most husbands tend to appreciate a good meal; in our house, that meal will never, ever include tuna, cauliflower, or cold noodles and it will often contain beef, cheese, lettuce, and peanut butter (preferably in the form of peanut butter cookies or peanut butter pie). So – I enjoy spinach, cauliflower, and cold noodles when I visit other people or take something to a luncheon and we enjoy his menus at home. It works perfectly! And I believe most wives, early in their marriage, learn what and what not to fix for their life partner!

I also think many of us wives, regardless if city-dweller or country-dweller, tend to set our expectations too high – only to be disappointed. As much as I would love for my husband (and I am sure many of you would, too) to be that smokin’ hot perfect guy we envision as we read the smutty romance novels that you can get for a couple of bucks on Amazon, he is not. Nor is anyone in real life – if you have one of those guys, please don’t tell me and ruin this for me! Real men are concerned with providing for their family, teach their children to pray, pray for their wives and their marriage, take their wives on dates just often enough to remind them that there is still some spark there and as stated previously, kiss their wives a lot!  :)  Many of them have “their chair” in the living room, keep a lot of guy stuff around (guns, vehicles, tools, etc.) and hopefully will think to toss in a load of laundry now and then or empty the dishwasher (mine does – and yes, I consider myself very fortunate!).  Most husbands are not romance novel hotties, but they are very, very good men who are absolutely smokin’ hot and very charming in their own ways!

Not my husband, but a husband, none-the-less & Kaydee took this great picture – I just had to share. :)  His jeans ended up pretty dirty, too!
Not my husband, but a husband, none-the-less & Kaydee took this great picture – I just had to share. :) His jeans ended up pretty dirty, too!

I would like to think that city-wives and country-wives all make supper for their families on the nights when you aren’t living on concession food at a ball game or dining out. I would have to guess that a major difference is meal time – it is very common for us to eat at 8:30 or later. If we have supper at 6:00, it is some kind of very special occasion – or more likely – someone else has made plans for us! But still – supper happens and our bodies get nourished. And yes – a glass of wine should still be consumed during preparation!  :)  And yes – I am sure many of us have had a new recipe turn out less than stellar. Call it “tuition.” Sometimes, you just know not to make something again – we’ve all been there!

Regardless of where you live, life happens. And hopefully, if you are married, you get to be married to your best friend and soul mate. Type of work definitely offers different opportunity for humor and challenges and always creates need for lots of kisses at the beginning of the day and the end of the day.  **If you are one of those extremely fortunate wives who gets to work with your husband, consider yourself blessed! My goodness – how fun to observe and enjoy the happenings of the day all throughout the day together. I once had a farmer ask me, since I work in town, how much my husband and I must miss each other throughout the day. His example was great! “What if you see a really neat different bird or something? Who do you show it to if your spouse isn’t there?”  That guy might have been right up there close to the romance novel super star type guy!

Regardless of where we live, being married takes work and commitment and lots and lots of prayer and kisses  :)  Enjoy every precious minute with your spouse – if you chose them, they should be a blessing to you.

Being married and being parents…blessed!

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