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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Visiting Indiana Agriculture (ISDA’s Holiday Gift Guide)

Need a last minute gift idea?  Indiana agriculture comes in many forms and it may be the present you’re looking for to finish your Christmas shopping. To celebrate the season, I compiled gift ideas from some of the staff here at ISDA.

Christmas lights 2010

Christmas lights 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of my favorite presents to receive is the gift of a shared experience.  For Christmas one year, my childhood friend treated me and some of our other friends to ice skating and Starbucks, and then had pictures from the evening printed for us.  It was a perfect gift: we made a memory together and enjoyed Indianapolis at Christmastime.  That present was far more meaningful than any trinket.

The agriculture and food scene of Indiana has countless experiences that fit the bill for anyone on your list.

Interested in learning about the farm-to-fork continuum?  Visit a farm!

Places like Fair Oaks and Kelsay’s Farms are great destinations for families, children, and friends to visit and learn about how food is produce, and have fun while doing so!

Want to learn more about Indiana’s ag history? Check-out Indiana’s food/rural attractions!

Here’s just a sampling of some of the events/attractions that offer visitors a look at how agriculture is related to Indiana’s cultural identity:

  • DigINdiana  is a food fest where Indiana’s farmers, chefs, brewers, vinters and foodies come together to taste and learn about the food grown right here in Indiana.
  • The Indiana Wine Trail of southeastern Indiana offers wine connoisseurs an opportunity to learn about Indiana’s wine heritage.
  • The Maple Syrup Fair of Parke County offers visitors an opportunity to learn about how maple syrup is made and taste the final product.
  • The Covered Bridge Festival, also in Parke County,  celebrates the history and importance of covered bridges in our state.  Nan Hammel, an ISDA resource specialist, wrote a wonderful blog post about the significance of these bridges.  Fun fact: Parke County is the covered bridge capital!

Looking for a low-key, fun outing with friends? Ag businesses have the answer for you!

Why not try out a soup, wine and music one winter afternoon at Mallow Run Winery?  Visit Apple Works and enjoy some snacks and their trails?  Or drive to Roanoke and eat at Joseph Decuis restaurant for a special evening out?  These are just three ideas; do a little searching online and you’re sure to find more!

How to gift an experience

Of course, it’s always a treat to open up a package on Christmas day.  Here are some ideas of how to package your experience to present it as a gift.

  • Include a tangible item that relates to the experience.  Going to take someone to the maple syrup fair?  Give them a small bottle of maple syrup with a note about your upcoming plans.
  • Make a gift certificate on your computer and wrap it in a box.
  • Give an empty picture frame, and write a note about how you’ll fill the frame with a photo from the event.

Have you visited one of the locations mentioned? What ag tourism destinations would you recommend?

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Drinking Indiana Agriculture (ISDA’s Holiday Gift Guide)

Need a last minute gift idea?  Indiana agriculture comes in many forms and it may be the present you’re looking for to finish

English: A Christmas Tree at Home

English: A Christmas Tree at Home (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

your Christmas shopping. To celebrate the season, I compiled gift ideas from some of the staff here at ISDA.

On Wednesday, I shared some ideas for edible gifts of Indiana agriculture.  Today, I’m excited to share information about various beverages you can find that are produced and/or processed in our great state


Did you know that Indiana was the site of the first commercial winery in the United States? The wine industry took root in our state in the early 1800s in Vevay, Ind.  Following the Prohibition, Indiana wine production significantly diminished.  However, the Small Winery Act of 1971 re-ignited the industry and today we have more than 75 wineries dotted throughout our state.  Check out this map and pick up a bottle of wine for someone on your Christmas list.

Indiana’s signature grape is the Traminette and it pairs well with pork, turkey, seafood and Asian cuisine.


Beer also has a long history in our state.  From what historians can gather, the first commercial brewery was established in 1816 near Richmond Indiana.  Like Indiana’s wine industry, our beer industry shrank during the Prohibition and began to recently re-emerge.  Visit Indiana Beer for a list of current microbreweries, and make plans to stop by one and pick-up a six-pack.


Milk and cookies are a natural pairing for the holiday season.  Did you know that when you buy milk from the grocery store, you’re supporting Indiana’s dairy farmers?  I think a milk and cookies basket would be the perfect gift for neighbors.

Coffee roasting/Tea blending

Although Indiana doesn’t produce tea or coffee, our state is home to a variety of processors who roast coffee and blend tea.  As an avid connoisseur of hot beverages, I’m somewhat familiar with the coffee and tea scene in Indiana.  Julian Roasters and Tea Pots ‘n’ Treasures are just two examples of Indiana’s offerings in this segment of agriculture.

Not only are these beverages wonderful gift ideas, they can also become the means of establishing traditions with family and friends.  For example, why not try a new variety of coffee from an Indiana roaster to serve Christmas morning when opening gifts with family? Or, open a bottle of Traminette to usher in the New Year?

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Eating Indiana Agriculture (ISDA’s Holiday Gift Guide)

Need a last minute gift idea?  Indiana agriculture comes in many forms and it may be the present you’re looking for to finish

Christmas cupcakes

Christmas cupcakes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

your Christmas shopping. To celebrate the season, I compiled gift ideas from some of the staff here at ISDA.

When it comes to edible gifts, Indiana agriculture has a plethora of options to satisfy the demands of your Christmas list.


Chocolate covered pretzels.  Popcorn.  Beef Jerky.  Salsa.  These are some of my favorite snacks, and just a few of the food items that are produced and/or processed right here in Indiana.  To order snack items for your friends, visit a website like Hoosier Market Place, place your order and pick up at a desired location.


Who doesn’t like sweets around the holidays?  Fortunately, Indiana is home to lots of options in this area.  Some highlights include…

  • Places like 240 Sweets and Not Just Popcorn.  Indiana offers several artisanal products that are guaranteed to satisfy anyone’s sweet tooth.
  • Maple syrup tapped in Indiana, and definitely worth the purchase.  There’s no better treat than pancake drizzled with real maple syrup.
  • Indiana honey is also the perfect gift for anyone on your list who enjoys cooking, baking and/or a good cuppa.  Use resources like to find Indiana honey for sale near you.

For your table

Practical gifts are (almost) always appreciated.  They offer me special treats for daily life.  If I were making myself a practical Christmas list, here’s what I would request.

  • Community Supported Agriculture Share: Did you know that Indiana is home to more than 30 fruits and vegetables?  A CSA is a program where farmers sell “shares” or baskets of their produce before it is ready for market.  A customer pays a farmer up-front for X amount of products/week throughout the summer.  Between a certain period of time (usually May through September), the customer picks up his/her share of products at a designated location once a week.  What could be a better gift than fresh produce throughout the summer?
  • A Side of a Cow/Hog: Since I was a young girl, my parents have often stocked our freezer with a side of a cow.  Although I have no qualms about buying meat from grocery stores, it’s a treat to have a freezer full of delicious meat in a variety of cuts knowing that your purchase benefited a farmer in or near your community.  Also, buying a whole steer/partial steer can be very affordable per pound if you have the resources to pay for the meat up front.  One Indiana producer estimates it costs about $4.32/lb for all cuts (including steaks and filets). Another option that sounds tasty (but I haven’t tried yet) is purchasing a whole or half of a hog.  As our state is the fifth largest producer of pork in the United States, nothing says Indiana like gifting a pig 🙂

What Indiana food products would you add to this list?

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3 take-aways from our radio appearance

Black and white photograph of a Neumann U87 mi...

Black and white photograph of a Neumann U87 microphone | Wikipedia Commons

Last Tuesday, my colleague Jordan Seger appeared on WFYI’s “No Limits” radio show.  Jordan is the director of ISDA’s soil conservation division.  The topic of the show was the future of agriculture, and Jordan was joined by Kim Ferraro of Hoosier Environmental Council and Laura Henderson of Growing Places Indy.  John Krull of Franklin College moderated the conversation.

I had the pleasure of listening to the show live in a WFYI studio with the show’s producer and engineers.  It was also great to meet Laura and Kim and visit with them briefly before and after the show.

Throughout the show, a variety of topics surfaced, from legislation to farmers’ markets to community development.  Here were my key take-aways from the show.

Like Laura Henderson said, the future of agriculture needs to be polyfaced.  Agriculture is a multifaceted field with many players, issues and concerns.  There is not a “right” farming method, way of approaching a problem, or solution to the issues we see surfacing.  We need CAFOs and the farmers’ markets.  In September, I interviewed Kip Tom on my blog and he put it this way: “I and many in agriculture embrace all forms of food production, whether organic, natural, local or commercial modern agriculture.  We need them all for today and tomorrow.”

Radio is a place to gain an introduction to complex topics.  There were several “hot topics” brought up on the show, including the “Ag Gag” and “Right to Farm.”  These are subjects that were introduced on the radio, but couldn’t be fully explored.  Before you make a decision on either of these topics, talk to a farmer, read some literature from both sides, and call your senators and representatives to see where they stand.

ISDA wants to help agribusinesses and farms of all shapes and sizes as we explore the future of agriculture.  Our division of soil conservation works with farmers throughout Indiana to implement stewardship programs.  In the radio program, Laura Henderson mentioned our economic development team’s efforts to assess the viability of “food hubs” (or virtual farmers’ markets)The goal of our grain warehouse licensing branch is to foster a sound grain marketing infrastructure so that Indiana can continue to be a standard in grain production.  ISDA recognizes that Indiana is a global leader in agriculture, and we want to make sure that continues into the future.

Have you had an opportunity to listen to the radio show?  If so, what questions did you have?

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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.

Categories: From the Field to Your Fork, General, Informational | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

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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Some easy experiments for the classroom or home

October is National Farm-To-School Month.  Check back every Monday of the month for a post about how to incorporate agricultural themes into the classroom.

Sometimes, modern agriculture becomes an impersonal force in the food system.  We don’t understand how it works, the science behind it, and what it means for our world and our lives.


Agriculture (Photo credit: thegreenpages)

Here are two links that illustrate some of the scientific principles behind the agriculture around us.

In this YouTube video, you can learn how to extract a mass of DNA from strawberries using common household items.  This is an experiment I did in freshman botany at Purdue, and it helped me visualize the various components of a living plant.

This experiment teaches about the basics of fertilizers.  Fertilizers are mainly composed of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, and help farmers compensate for the deficiencies of the soil where they’re planting.  Through this experiment, students can learn how fertilizers are tools to help with plant growth.

Happy experimenting!

Categories: Farming in the 21st Century, General, Informational | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

To-do: Enjoy the season

Last week, I shared one of my favorite poems by James Whitcomb Riley, “When the frost is on the punkin.”

I especially enjoy this stanza:

They’s something kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere

When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here–

Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees,

And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and buzzin’ of the bees;

But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze

Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days

Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock–

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

Have you had the opportunity to venture into the country and see the beauty of autumn “that no painter has the colorin’ to mock”?

If your answer is no, let me encourage you to go to visit some of Indiana’s agritourism destinations.  Here’s a great resource to help you find places to visit in your area.

As Kevin Baird, an ISDA staff member and owner of Cornucopia Farm, wrote in a recent blog post on ISDA’s conservation blog:

“We are into the home stretch of another crop season on the farm coming down to the wire.  Summer by title is over and fall is here.  The corn and beans are changing rapidly.  It will not be long before harvest is in full swing and then completed.  Fall agritourism venues are getting into full swing also.    Pumpkins are ripe and ready to decorate many homesteads.  There is just something special about fall.”

Photo by Lisa Jamison

Photo by Lisa Jamison

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