• Tuesday, May 27, 2014

    Paying it forward

    I was traveling last week and a wonderful thing happened. I saw a young mother on the plane, traveling alone with her 4-month old son. We got off the plane together, and her arms were overfilled. I asked what I could do to help. All she needed was someone to open her stroller and put the baby seat in it. Anyone could have done it, but I got to. I was so excited, I almost cried. Seriously.

    I asked if she needed help getting to her next gate, and she said she had a long layover and would be fine. I told her again how cute her baby was and headed on out to the terminal. I was smiling ear to ear.

    Why was I so excited to help her? I was finally getting to pay it forward.

    When Vallie was little, I flew by myself with her several times. I had long delays and cancelled flights, but every time there was some stranger to help me (usually a mom, but sometimes a dad). They helped open strollers or held something for me. One lady even carried my diaper bag through the airport and made sure I got to my plane. One offered me her seat on the plane when my ticket was for the wrong flight. People were always so good to me and I finally got to pay it forward. I was so happy.

    I was thinking about that today, and I realized that that’s why I blog. To pay it forward.

    Outside of helping me in the airport, other people (lots of them, moms) have been helping me for years. Watching my kids, giving us hand-me-downs, giving me advice. Not expecting a thing in return. Most of the time, I couldn’t give them anything, except a smile and a thank you.

    But with my blog, my hope is that I help other moms (and dads too). Give them information about something that I know, that they may not know. Help them feel better about the food they feed their families. Answer the questions they have.

    I hope my blog is also good for farmers and the food industry as a whole, but I write it for the moms.

    I will be celebrating the sixth anniversary of my induction into motherhood soon and it has been a crazy whirlwind of a time. I’ve spent hours and hours thinking and worrying about what I do for my girls and the choices I make.

    If my posts help just one other mom ease her worry, then, it’s all been worth it.

    Me and my girls on Easter Sunday.

    Friday, May 16, 2014

    Blueberry Burgers

    I was asked to write a post for the Foodie Friday series on the Arkansas Women Blogger site.

    I had a great time experimenting with Blueberry Burgers!

    Go check it out at:


    Thursday, May 15, 2014

    What’s in a food label? Natural

    Last week, I started a blog series about food labels and what they mean. I was inspired by a trip to Manhattan, KS to talk to the Kansas Nutrition Council about food labels.
    This week, I’m going to cover the label ‘Natural.’

    Natural is a label that you see on lots and lots of foods.
    Examples of Natural labels

    The USDA defined the term Natural in 2005.

    Basically, Natural means that a meat product does not contain any…
    ·         Artificial color or flavoring
    ·         Coloring ingredient
    ·         Chemical preservative
    ·         Artificial or synthetic ingredient
    And that the product is minimally processed.

    The term natural refers to the meat itself and how it was processed. It has nothing to do with the way the animal was raised. The Natural term should be accompanied by another term that further explains what it means, like Natural, no artificial ingredients, minimally processed; Natural, Grass-Fed; or Natural, raised without antibiotics. You can see some examples of those claims in the picture above.

    All fresh meat is eligible for the term Natural regardless of how the animal was raised.

    Sometimes you may hear that meat was Naturally Raised. This claim was defined by the USDA Ag Marketing Service in 2009 and carries a different meaning than Natural does. 

    As of 2016, the Ag Marketing Service of USDA no longer verifies this claim. 
    I’ve found that most foods simply state the individual claims rather than just saying the animal was Naturally Raised. Those claims, like raised without antibiotics or hormones, and grass-fed, are also in my What’s in a Food Label? series.

    Let me know if you have any questions.

    Thursday, May 8, 2014


    I normally don’t have movie reviews on my blog, but for one movie, I’m going to make an exception. Last night, I was invited to the Arkansas screening of the movie, Farmland.

    Chances are, if you read this blog, you have an interest in how your food is produced, and if you’re interested in learning about how food is produced in this country, you need to see Farmland. A group called the Farmers and Rancher Alliance financed the film, and it was directed by Academy Award-winning director, James Moll.

    Six young farmers were featured, from across the country, representing many aspects of modern American agriculture.

    ·         I have to say my favorite was Brad Bellah, a cattle rancher from Texas. His ranch is not too far from where I grew up, and the scenes from it made me gasp with reminders of home. I practically cheered when they pictured his family all decked out in the red and black of my alma mater, Texas Tech. He and I probably had many of the same professors. During the movie, his twins were born in the same hospital where I was born. Most importantly, he raises cattle for beef production. Our family also raises beef cattle.

    ·         The film traveled to Georgia to the poultry farm of Leighton Cooley. We watched him fill a barn with baby chicks and teach kids about chickens.

    ·         I was so impressed with the work ethic and drive of Margaret Schlass on her Certified Naturally Grown vegetable farm in Pennsylvania. She was the first-generation farmer in the group and she talked about how hard it was to start a farm from nothing.

    ·         Ryan Veldhuizen and his family raise pigs, corn and soybeans in Minnesota. He and his brother comically argue about tractors and land.

    ·         Large scale organic farming was represented by Sutton Morgan from California. He learned about farming produce from his dad, but turned his operation to all organic.

    ·         David Loberg took over his corn and soybean farm from his dad, and it’s tough to watch one of the sadder points of the movie when he talks about losing his dad to cancer.

    This film doesn’t shy away from the hard subjects. They cover GMOs, Organic farming, pesticides and chemicals, hormones, antibiotics, and animal cruelty videos. It was interesting to hear all the different takes on those tough subjects.

    The main take away from the film was that our food is produced by people. People who work hard and want the best for their families.

    It’s hard to devote the time and energy to traveling to a farm for a tour. Lots of farmers would love to have you. This film is a great chance to spend about 70 minutes on farms with young farmers and learn how our food is produced.

    Tuesday, May 6, 2014

    What’s in a food label? Organic

    Jodi and I. We swapped lots of new baby stories.
    Mine was 5 months and hers was about 4 weeks.
    Last month, I was asked to speak to the Kansas Nutrition Council on Food Labeling. My friend, Jodi Oleen from the Kansas Pork Association invited me, and it was lots of fun to go visit with the nutritionists and dieticians for a day. I also enjoyed a quick trip back to Manhattan, KS, where I went to graduate school.   

    My talk was about the labels that we see on meat, milk, and egg packages and while I was working on it, I thought that this would make a great blog series. So, that’s what I decided to do.

    Jodi took this one of me giving my talk.
    I like to break the ice with pictures
    of Vallie in a hair net
    When you get to a grocery store, the labels you see can be so overwhelming. It’s so hard to know what they all mean. You have so many concerns when you are buying food. You want to consider your family’s health, the environment, the animals’ wellbeing, and you only have so much money to spend.  
    All the labels at the meat counter can be so
    overwhelming when all you want to do is find
    healthy food for your family that you can afford.

    The first label I spoke about was Organic.

    In the US, foods labeled ‘Organic’ are regulated under the National Organic Program which is part of the Agricultural Marketing Service of USDA.

    To be labeled with the USDA Organic label, meat, milk and eggs must be produced from animals that were raised following strict rules on farms that are subject to audits by the NOP.

    Just a few of the regulations for organic farming include:

    ·         Animals must be fed only Organic feed

    ·         Animals are only allowed to graze Organic pasture

    ·         Animals must be allowed to graze 120 days of the year (and they must eat the grass when grazing, not just hang out in the field)

    ·         They may not be continually confined indoors

    ·         They are not allowed to be given any growth promoting hormones or antibiotics

    ·         Healthy animals MAY be given vaccines to prevent illness

    These are by no means ALL the rules when it comes to raising organic livestock, but these are the main points. When I have questions about Organic farming I consult Emily Zweber at Zweber farms. Their family has an Organic Dairy in Minnesota, and she writes a great blog about her life as an Organic dairy farmer. She has a whole series about the Myths associated with Organic farming.

    In order to use the official Organic label, a food must be made from 95% or greater organic ingredients. If a food has greater than 70% organic ingredients, the label can state that it is made with ‘Organic ingredients.’ If it is less than 70% organic, the organic ingredients are just listed on the ingredient statement.

    Organic is not the same as Natural. I’m going to cover the Natural label in the next post in this series, so STAY TUNED!

    Although, I’ve blogged about the difference between Natural, Organic, Grass fed, and others, I am planning to repeat some of that information in this labeling series and expand on it. Please let me know if you have any questions about meat labels and I’ll do my best to answer them.