From the Field to Your Fork

Food and the Olympics

With the Winter Olympic Opening Ceremonies coming tomorrow night, it’s time we start talking about the food of the Olympics.

Interested in learning about what foods this year’s athletes enjoy munching on?  The Huffington Post compiled this list pairing athletes with their pleasure foods.  My favorite?  I like the fact that Snowboarder Kelly Clark drinks chocolate milk.  After all, chocolate milk is a great re-fuel food.


Kelly Clark and Chocolate Milk | Photo Source

Fitness Magazine interviewed some Olympic nutritionists and asked them about their top tips.  I was happy to hear that skipping breakfast is a bad idea.

Russia, the host country of this year’s Olympics, boasts a rich food culture.  During my visits to Russia during my high school years, I enjoyed some delicious food.  You can find a list of classic Russian foods here.  I plan on kicking off the opening ceremonies with a bowl of borscht!

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Chili, the sweet and spicy way (a crockpot recipe)

Source:  Jake Przespo

Source: Jake Przespo

On Monday, the staff of our office gathered for the ISDA chili cook-off.  Every year in the dead of winter, a handful of ISDA staff sign-up to bring a unique chili recipe to be tested by a panel of judges.  We assemble in our conference room, place chili in bowls to ensure anonymity, and let the judges begin testing.  This year, there were three prizes that were up for grabs:  Grand Prize, People’s Choice, and Most Indiana Sourced Products.

Although I didn’t take home the Grand Prize, my chili recipe did win People’s Choice and Most Indiana Sourced products.

I created this recipe from scratch.  Stopping by Wal-Mart on my way home from visiting my fiancé, I picked up a few things that sounded good to me (namely Red Gold’s Petite Diced Tomatoes with Chipotle).  When I arrived home, I took a pound of ground beef from the freezer and raided the pantry to find the ingredients I wanted to use.

Too my dismay, I couldn’t find any chili powder in my pantry!  So I modified this recipe I found on Pinterest.

In my opinion, chili is the perfect winter food: hearty and hot while offering endless possibilities in terms of taste and texture.

Here’s my prize-winning (never thought I’d ever be able to say that about my cooking 🙂 ) recipe for my Sweet & Spicy Chili.  (Indiana sourced ingredients are in italics)


  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 lb. of ground beef
  • 46 oz. of Red Gold Tomato Juice*
  • 14.5 oz of Red Gold Petite Diced Tomatoes
  • 14.5 oz of Red Gold Petite Diced Tomatoes with chipotle
  • 32 oz of Bush’s Chili Beans, medium sauce
  • 1 ½ T of sorghum
  • 2 T smoked paprika
  • 2 t oregano
  • 1 ¼ t cumin
  • 1 ¼ t garlic powder
  • 1 t cayenne pepper**
  • 3/4 t onion powder


  • Brown the ground beef with the diced onion.
  • Combine all ingredients in a crockpot, and cook on low for 8-10 hours.
  • Serve over rice and topped with cheese and sour cream, if desired.

*Feel free to use any brand of tomato products you like.  Red Gold is my favorite, and what helped earn me my Indiana !

**One teaspoon of cayenne pepper was a bit too much for me.  When I make this recipe again, I’ll reduce the cayenne pepper to ½ – ¾ of a teaspoon.

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Eating your fruits & veggies in 2014

A few weeks ago, the Indianapolis Star published an article by Karen Fernau about new year’s resolutions and eating.  Fernau noted that diet resolutions often focus on foods we shouldn’t consume, and she goes on to recommend a different route.  Instead of focusing on foods to cut out of one’s diet, why not strive to incorporate new, healthier foods into your daily eating habits?

Photo credit: Christman

Photo credit: Christman

In the article, Fernau encourages people to add kale, canned sardines, garbanzo beans, tofu and almond milk.  While all those are practical suggestions worth noting, I started to wonder what Indiana agricultural products I should focus on adding to my diet.  Indiana is home to more than 30 fruits and vegetables that would make healthy additions to almost any diet.  Here are my top five.

Blueberries: Blueberries are the perfect low-calorie, antioxidant-packed snack.  In 2011, Indiana produced 1.6 million pounds of these scrumptious berries.  Best Health notes that blueberries help reduce the risk of colon cancer, prevent hypertension, reduce belly fat and fight off disease.  Sprinkle blueberries on your cereal, munch on them at work and/or mix them with some plain yogurt and drizzle with honey.

Watermelon: Obviously, Indiana watermelons won’t be found on the grocery store shelves this time of year, but make sure they’re on your list this summer!  Indiana is a top producer of this crispy pink fruit.  Watermelon is a personal favorite and helps keep me hydrated during our hottest months.  Not only is watermelon an excellent source of vitamins A, C and B6, it also has the highest concentration of lycopene of any fresh fruit or vegetable, according to Discovery Fit & Health.

Apples:  An apple a day keeps the doctor away… or so the saying goes!  But what are the health benefits of the apple?  Eating Well  explains that apples aid weight loss, help keep the heart healthy and serve as a source of soluble fiber.  In 2011, our state produced more than 20 million pounds of apples.

Tomatoes: As a leader in tomato production, look for Indiana  tomatoes throughout the summer and don’t forget to purchase Red Gold tomatoes (an Indiana ag-business) for your canned tomato needs.  Tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene, and cooking tomatoes enhances their nutrients.

Cucumbers:  Full of vitamins C & K and potassium, cucumbers are a refreshing and hydrating vegetable choice.  Personally, I enjoy slicing up half of a cucumber and putting it in a cold pitcher water for a satisfying beverage option.  Cucumber is also a great dipper for hummus.

These are some of the fruits and vegetables that I’m planning on eating more of this year.  What foods are you interested in eating more of in 2014?

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What winter means for farmers


Photo credit: Ott

Have you ever wondered what farmers do in the winter?  Even the most casual observer can see what farmers keep busy with in the warmer months of the year.  Crops need to be planted, tended and harvested.  Hogs, cattle, poultry and other livestock go to local and state fairs.  All of those outside projects that came up during the winter (and were put-off until warmer weather) are finally completed.

Although the work of farmers may not be easily seen in the winter, the work of a farm never stops.  Winter is a time of wrapping up loose ends from the previous season and preparing for the upcoming one.  And like all farmers in Indiana, Rob Richards of Indy Family Farms is keeping busy this winter.  I had the opportunity to correspond with Rob and talk with him about what operations look like at his farm during the cold moths.

Rob said that his farm’s typical winter operations include fixing the equipment used during the harvest, organizing and cleaning the shop, hauling stored grain to elevators, and prepping for taxes.  Like any business, farms have assets they need to maintain and business operations to perform.

Winter offers a challenge to farmers because of the unpredictable conditions.  “We haul a lot of grain in the winter, and weather conditions can play havoc with travel and some of the equipment we use,” he explained.

Indy Family Farms Photo obviously not taken this winter :)

Indy Family Farms
Photo obviously not taken this winter 🙂

Additionally, the folks at Indy Family Farms spend a good portion of their winter finishing the 2014 crop budget, selecting and ordering various input items (seed, fertilizers, chemicals, etc…) and completing the 2014 crop plan by field.   Farming isn’t a simple matter of waking-up on the first morning of spring, pulling out the tractor and planting the fields.  Careful scheduling is involved to make sure farmers have a plan for planting their fields at the proper time of the year with the right supplies.

Although winter means busy days finishing 2013 business and preparing for the 2014 planting season, Rob noted there are advantages to the change in seasons.   “Work hours are more regular and there is less need to work extra late hours, like during planting and harvest,” he said.  He added that the winter season comes with more flexibility for family activities, and offers the opportunity to visit the landowners they work with, and sit down with employees to get their input about farming operations.

What do farmers do in the winter? Plenty.  The activities completed post-harvest and pre-planting are the nuts and bolts of a successful operation.  Colin Powell once said: “There are no secrets to success.  It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”  For the farmer, this is what winter is all about: working hard to learn from the previous season and to prepare for the next one.

Categories: Farming in the 21st Century, From the Field to Your Fork, The Faces of Modern Agriculture | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Farming: A job for all seasons

I found myself perusing Facebook while I was cooped up in my house last weekend (thanks to #PolarVortex), and this picture and accompanying caption popped up in my newsfeed from a college friend whose family operates a dairy farm in northern Indiana.


“It is hard to describe how challenging this day is on a #dairyfarm.”

Too often, I forget that the farmer’s work is never finished.  While I was in my sweats drinking tea and watching television, farmers like the Troxels continued to do their daily work of stewarding creation.  Agriculture can’t take a snow day.

Farming is a 24/7/365 job that requires a vision for the future and sacrifice.  I’m a fan of the writings of James Herriot, a British veterinarian who worked in the mid-20th century.  With a practice in an English town, Herriot worked closely with the local agricultural community.  I think this anecdote he shares sums up the farming work-ethic:  “A farmer once told me one of the greatest luxuries of his life was to wake up early only to go back to sleep again.”

Since I’ve been working in agriculture, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for the work to which farmers and ag businesses devote themselves.  Not only are farmers concerned with being good stewards of the earth and caring for their animals, they also want to create an agricultural system that is sustainable for generations to come.  These people are often heavily involved in their communities; they work with parent-teacher associations, volunteer at their churches and serve on various boards.  Their work spans the breadth and depth of society, and touches the world.

Their work is also dependent on factors outside of their control.  Not enough rain at one time of the year and too much at another time can be the difference between a good crop and a bad one. And that’s just one example.  Talk to any farmer, and he/she will tell you of dozens of instances when farm operations were impacted by weather, disease, etc.

Farming.  It truly is a job for all seasons.  I’m thankful that farmers work year-round to put food on our tables and clothes on our backs while taking care of the earth.

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Food for the holidays (Thanksgiving Series Pt. II)

The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote: “We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts.”  To commemorate Thanksgiving, “The (agri)Cultured Foodie” will use the next week and a half to look at the “ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts” that put food on your table.

English: Thanksgiving Dinner, Falmouth, Maine,...

English: Thanksgiving Dinner, Falmouth, Maine, USA 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you sit down at your table this Thanksgiving, don’t forget that farmers played an important role in producing that food.  We’re fortunate to live in a country where food is readily available.  And not only are we blessed with affordable food, the food is high-quality and safe to eat. 

Some farmwives from across our state have recipes on their blogs that celebrate the good food we enjoy because of the people behind agriculture.  I have included some links to recipes below that might make great additions to your Thanksgiving meal.

Crockpot Turkey Breast | If you’re having a smaller gathering for your Thanksgiving dinner, this recipe from “Beyer Beware” could be just the solution for you.

Lighter-Than-Air Potato Rolls | Homemade rolls are always a treat for the holidays.  I’ve never made rolls with potatoes, but I’ll probably give this recipe from “Two Maids a Milking” a try this year.

Creamy Grape Salad | My aunt makes a variation of this salad from “Goodeness Gracious” for holidays.  It’s a great (though not particularly healthy) way to incorporate fruit into your menu.

Caramel Glazed Apple Cake | I’m always a fan of any dessert with apples, and these cakes from “A Latte with Ott, A” look especially yummy.

What are some foods you enjoy making for Thanksgiving?  Comment and include a link below!

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Consider food’s cost (Thanksgiving Series Pt. 1)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote: “We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts.”  To commemorate Thanksgiving, “The (agri)Cultured Foodie” will use the next week and a half to look at the “ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts” that bring food to the table.

The grocery trip before Thanksgiving is one that takes careful planning.  In high school, I remember the year my mom tasked me with going grocery shopping for the holiday.  Armed with a list and money, I drove to our local Kroger and started carefully selecting items.  Growing up, my mom had taught me how to check an item’s price/unit, make sure the sales are really the best deals, and strategically buy in bulk.  I left the store not quite as rich as when I entered, but nonetheless excited about my purchases and the impending holiday meal.

In America, we’re fortunate when it comes to the cost of groceries.  Did you know that Americans are currently spending less on food (as a percentage of their income) than they did in the 1980s?  Bloomberg Businessweek explains: “In 1984, the average U.S. household spent 16.8 percent of its annual post-tax income on food. By 2011, Americans spent only 11.2 percent. The U.S. devotes less of its income to food than any other country—half as much as households in France and one-fourth of those in India.”

The cost of your Thanksgiving meal will likely be less expensive this year because food inflation and turkey prices are lower than usual, according to Purdue Ag Comm’s annual article on Thanksgiving’s cost.  Purdue Economist Corinne Alexander noted that the decreased cost could allow room for additional treats this Thanksgiving.  She also noted that although the average family spends about 10 percent on food, families impacted my unemployment and minimal wage could spend up to 25 percent of their income on food.

“For these families, any food price rise is significant,” Alexander said in the article. “We should remember those who are less fortunate and share our food bounty.”

Thanksgiving offers us a time to be thankful for a sound ag infrastructure that brings us quality food at an affordable price, and to celebrate our thankfulness by offering what we have with those in times of hardship.

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Cooking with pumpkin | Guest Recipe

Jennifer Pinkston serves as grants coordinator for ISDA’s environmental stewardship team.  In addition to her work with ISDA, Jennifer blogs at “From Mess Hall to Bistro.”  A fun fact about Jennifer’s family is that they raise chickens.

I’ve enjoyed perusing Jennifer’s blog, and reading about her family’s chicken adventures and eying her recipes.  I asked if I could post her recipe for pumpkin chocolate chip cookies to conclude my pumpkin series, and she graciously agreed.  You can find more of her pumpkin recipes here.

Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies by Jennifer Pinkston

Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies.

Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1 ½ cup canned pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling)

1 cup sugar

½ cup applesauce (if using cinnamon flavored applesauce, cut cinnamon below in half)

2 cups flour

1 egg

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 teaspoon milk

2 cups chocolate chips (can substitute white chocolate chips, or use a mixture of both)

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat oven to 365*F. Mix all ingredients together. Batter will be slightly stiff. Drop cookies onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. These cookies don’t spread much when baking, so I suggest lifting the cookie sheet about 4 inches from the counter and dropping it. That will slightly flatten the cookies, but will still leave that smooth, gooey center. Bake cookies for 12-14 minutes. They’re done when you can touch the top of the cookie and your finger doesn’t sink in. Let cool about 5 minutes then transfer to wire rack to finish cookies. Store them in the refrigerator. They’re great served chilled!

P.S. Jennifer also had some helpful tips on selecting pumpkins to decorate.  If painting a pumpkin, Jennifer recommends looking for ones with odd shapes (curves or bulges) to use to enhance the face.  If carving a pumpkin, pick one with a flat side so it can be laid down for easier carving.  When it comes to pumpkin size, Jennifer shares this story: “When we buy pumpkins at our house, we have the general rule that the kids can pick any size pumpkin they want, as long as they can carry it.  The rule worked great until last year. Our 15 year old had the strength to carry a 70 lb pumpkin. We may have to rethink that rule for this year!”

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5 tips for picking the right pumpkin to carve | Guest Post


Logan at Governor Pence’s Pumpkin Patch on Tuesday

Logan Garner is a program manager for ISDA’s environmental stewardship team.  Today, he shares his “Top 5” for selecting a good carving pumpkin.  Enjoy!

Logan’s tips for selecting the perfect pumpkin

5. Make sure it’s free of disease.           

No one likes a knobby, spotty pumpkin–unless you just feel sorry for it (or you’re going for that Boris Karloff look).

4. Look for one with a healthy stem and a flat bottom.

I like my pumpkins to sit level (or even look up a tad) and have a strong stem for grabbing and opening the top.  Some folks like to carve out the bottom and place the opening directly over the candle, which eliminates the “flat bottom” issue, but I was raised on the “lobotomy” method: scoop out the brains and guts from the top.  It just feels more Halloween-y that way…or maybe I’m just afraid of change.

3. Go for that nice bright (but light) orange.

A uniformly-colored pumpkin is a no-brainer, but also keep in mind that pumpkins tend to darken as they expire (a process which speeds up big time once you’ve carved your Jack-o’-Lantern and exposed its insides to the air).  A deep yellow-orange is my go-to color to ensure that I don’t have a rusty looking pumpkin hiding in the dark by Halloween.

2. Go big.

This one’s pretty simple but very important, at least to me.  I like big pumpkins because they aren’t as tedious to gut or carve.  They also have more seeds, and I love roasted pumpkin seeds!  Why let them go to waste?

And finally the most important tip…

1. Choose a good canvas!

That means after carefully narrowing down your selection, choose the pumpkin with a flat, wide “face” on it to carve, well, a face!  Maybe it’s the lazy-man’s approach, but I find that by avoiding really rounded or bulbous sided pumpkins, I don’t have to worry about that pesky problem of potentially disproportionate facial features (read: I’m not an artist and need all the help I can get).

 Need a place to pick a pumpkin with your family? Check out this post from Indy with Kids.

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If you carve (or eat) a pumpkin this fall, thank a farmer.

Did you know that pumpkins are a member of the gourd family?  Did you know that pumpkins are native to the western hemisphere?  Did

Photo by: Seest

Photo by: Seest

you know that the top pumpkin producing states are Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and California?*

Welcome to a short series celebrating… pumpkins!  Not only are pumpkins a good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin B, potassium, protein and iron, they have come to symbolize fall and the harvest season.

Although Indiana is not a top pumpkin growing state, our pumpkin growers certainly contribute to our agricultural bounty, especially in terms of agritourism.  You don’t need to look far to find farms and stores that grow/sell this variety of orange squash.  Over at “Indy with Kids,” Katy wrote a post about pumpkin patches around Indianapolis.

Check back tomorrow for tips on choosing the right pumpkin for carving.  On Friday, we’ll feature a pumpkin recipe from an ISDA staff member.

*Information from: The History Channel and Illinois Extension.

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