Fontenelle Forest? You’re in for a Treat!

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Fontenelle Forest Trail Map

Walking the Fontenelle Forest (FF) trails is an experience unlike any other in the Omaha metro area. Fontenelle Forest owns and manages 2,000 acres of conservation land and 26 miles of marked trails within Fontenelle Forest Nature Center in Bellevue and Neale Woods in Omaha. These unique areas have been protected since 1913 and are home to many species of plants and animals. Trails of varying lengths and grades allow people of all ages and experience levels to enjoy the beauty of nature. Our one-mile Riverview Boardwalk and Gifford Memorial Boardwalk offer even paths for stroller and wheelchair access.

As you hike FF trails, you will encounter ecosystems such as deciduous forest, oak savanna, prairie, and wetlands. Although it is common to hike during the warmer months, the trails offer unique sightings during every season.

  • Wear shoes with good support
  • Dress in layers appropriate for the weather
  • Bring binoculars and a camera
  • Mark your turns on your free trail map if you are unfamiliar with the trails

Excerpt from www.fontenelleforest.org

 

Keynote Synopsis: “Turning Food Insecurity into Food Security”

NFC Annual Banquet Keynote Speaker: Tim Rinne

Michael Paulsen Lincoln Journal Star
Photo by Michael Paulsen, Lincoln Journal Star

The average bite of food on our plates travels 1500 miles to get there.  Your typical grocery store stocks just three days worth of inventory.  Our steadily warming climate, with its extreme weather and a higher incidence of disease and pests, is making it increasingly difficult for growers to bring in a harvest.  Food shortages — even here in America — are projected to be commonplace by mid-century.  And with a shortage of supply, food costs will soar.  Not since the Depression and Dust Bowl of the ’30s will Americans have faced such a challenge to feed themselves.

The need to create a resilient, locally based food system has never been greater.  Supporting our local farmers and market gardeners is paramount.  But food security doesn’t just mean joining a CSA or giving the Nebraska Food Co-op our business.  To develop a secure (and sufficient) food supply, city dwellers are going to need to start bringing more than just their appetites to the table.  The urban environment (where most of the demand is) is going to need to start pulling its weight in our food production system.

And the sooner we, as a community, dig in to meet this challenge, the easier it’s going to be on everybody.

To hear Tim delve into this topic and connect the dots, see him at NFC’s Annual Banquet on September 14 at Fontenelle Forest.

Election of NFC Board of Directors

Since 2006, the Nebraska Food Cooperative has been run mostly by a very active and dedicated board of directors. Some of them are still the original incorporators of our organization. Recent changes have now enabled NFC to actually pay our general manager (formerly a volunteer position) to handle many of the business activities that were previously performed by board members. This bodes very well for the future of NFC.

Meanwhile, it is time to schedule elections. This year, terms for three board members are expiring and need to be filled.  Board directors serve three-year terms that start in September, are expected to attend monthly board meetings (in-person and conference call meetings), and participate in email board discussions.

If you are interested in running for a director position, please send your intention statement/biography  (100-200 words) and  picture (jpg) to our general manager (gm@nebraskafood.org) no later than July 31.

On the other hand, if you aren’t quite ready to participate as a director of NFC, we also have an advisory board where you can get your feet wet and participate in co-op decisions without any of the responsibilities. The advisory board makes an excellent starting position for members wanting to be more involved and/or exploring the possibility of a term as a director.  Although it is encouraged, there is no requirement to be a member of the advisory board prior to being elected as a director.

Early next month, voting members will receive a biography of each candidate, voting instructions, and a ballot.

Please note that director positions are only available to voting members and only voting members are entitled to vote for board directors.

 

Climate Marchers Find Nebraska’s Friendliness Attractive

During the typically hottest month of the year in Nebraska, a community of concerned citizens are marching, through Nebraska, from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C.

The Great March for Climate Action comes at a critical moment in the climate crisis, contends the march’s founder. Beginning their march on March 1st and completing their journey on November 1st, the marcher’s route will cross the path of the proposed Keystone Pipeline on Saturday, July 19. Teaming up with BOLD Nebraska, the Climate Marchers will visit the renewable energy-powered barn that was built on farm land directly in the path of Keystone XL pipeline.

ClimateMarchersEnterNebraska
Two climate marchers expect great things from Nebraska’s welcoming sign.

The marchers have met folks all across Nebraska, engaging in conversations along the way. They stopped for a bite at the Haigler Country Cafe; marched in the Culbertson 4th of July parade;  hosted a potluck dinner and community  conversation in Holdrege; demonstrated their solar cooking ovens to a TV news crew in Axtell; and collected petition signatures in Kearney.

Knowing that healthy eating is critical to the health of the walkers, the Nebraska Food Cooperative was twice the source of the walkers’ local purchases. Buying greens, grains, dairy, and meat, the marchers raved about the quality and variety of NFC’s offerings. Marie, the marcher’s food coordinator, shared that once they entered Nebraska, everyone they met were friendly and respectful, regardless of their position on climate change. And the local food has been outstanding!

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Anna Wishart delivering donated pies to the marchers at the Colorado/Nebraska border.

Hearty ‘pies’ (quiche, meat, vegetable, fruit) were introduced to the marchers at the Colorado/Nebraska border by Anna Wishart, the Nebraska coordinator for the Climate Marchers. So popular were the pies, that additional donations may be made on July 19th or at a later date in Lincoln or Omaha (Nebraska route by date).

Follow their journey on FaceBook or to see how you can personally support the marchers on July 19, check out the BOLD Nebraska link that outlines the day’s march and activities, and how to offer donations.

September 14: Annual Members’ Banquet & Meeting

The Nebraska Food Cooperative is holding their annual members’ meeting this year at the beautiful Fontenelle Forest in Bellevue.

banquetWith cooler temps gracing a late Sunday afternoon in mid September, it will be the perfect time to hike Fontenelle Forest trails before sitting down for a  Nebraska-local banquet.  Keynote speaker Tim Rinne will speak about local food security that has implications nationally and internationally.

Voting members will hold a short business meeting, but you don’t have to be a voting member to enjoy the evening.  Whether you are a visiting member, non-voting member, or a friend of a member, you are welcome to attend and enjoy the comaraderie of fellow local ‘foodies’.

A registration form will be available in the August newsletter.

OMA1 (Dundee) Site Closing

July 24th will be the LAST delivery cycle for the OMA1 (Dundee) site at its current site, as Yvonne and her family are moving out of state.

If you would like to volunteer, our general manager will be happy to get you started as a site coordinator. Just notify Caryl by email.

The Bold Flavors of Dried Mushrooms

Dried mushrooms are my kind of luxury, convenient and affordable. While caviar or foie gras rarely fit my mood or budget, I can always have dried shiitakes, porcini, morels, and chanterelles on hand. And I reach for them often—both on harried weeknights when the clock is ticking and also when I’m looking for an extra boost of flavor to elevate a special dish. The flavor of dried mushrooms is concentrated and intense, and the texture is good and meaty. Like fresh mushrooms, they’re terrific in everything from soups to sauces to sautés.

Give ’em a soak. Before using dried mushrooms in a recipe, even if it’s a soup or a stew, it’s best to rehydrate them in hot water. This is necessary for two reasons: First, it plumps up the mushrooms, and, as a bonus, the soaking liquid creates a flavorful broth, which you can incorporate into a dish much as you would any other kind of broth. Second, soaking also helps remove grit from the mushrooms that would otherwise spoil your dish.

Once the mushrooms have steeped, it’s easy to add them to braises, stews, or sauces. What I do is brown the meat or fish (if there’s any in the dish) and then sauté the rehydrated mushrooms with the aromatics like shallots, garlic, or onion. Because they’re moist, the mushrooms don’t exactly brown, but this quick toss in hot oil really intensifies their flavor. Finally, I add the mushroom soaking liquid and finish cooking the dish.

The way I see it, there’s no set rule for which mushroom to pair with a specific dish. It makes sense to look to the mushroom’s native region, using Italian porcini in risotto, shiitakes in Asian dishes, and chanterelles in French sauces and bistro classics like omelettes. But I often mix shiitakes with other kinds of mushrooms, particularly when I’m using a pricey variety like morels. It’s a little trick of mine. Shiitakes’ flavor perfectly complements that of other mushrooms, and their affordability keeps the meal in the realm of simple, home cooking, just where it belongs.

Shiitakes

Versatile, affordable dried shiitakes are my go-to mushroom. Their meaty texture and smoky flavor is great on its own or paired with other varieties. Shiitakes are an obvious choice for Asian dishes, filling out soy-based braises or stews or perking up quick stir-fries.

Look for shiitakes with thick brown caps ridged with white. The stems can be woody, so trim them off and discard after soaking.

Porcini

Chewy, succulent, and intensely flavorful, dried porcini (or cèpes) have a deep, earthy essence that complements Italian seasonings and is delicious with pork and chicken.

Porcini (pronounced pour-CHEE-nee) have thick stems and broad caps and are generally sliced before they’re dried. After rehydrating them, you can use them just as you would fresh mushrooms.

Chanterelles

The golden, apricot hue of chanterelles befits their bright, fruity flavor. Their size can vary from tiny blossom-like specimens to impressive 5-inch trumpets, and in the dried form, they can be quite pricey. When rehydrated, their texture is pleasantly chewy; the stems, however, can be woody, so after soaking, trim off tough stems and discard them. Pair chanterelles with eggs and cream sauces.

Morels

Nutty, buttery, and somewhat smoky, dried morels go beautifully with spring ingredients like asparagus and spring onions (or ramps, if you can find them). The hollow, honeycombed caps of wild morels can harbor sandy grit. With cultivated varieties this isn’t as much of a problem, but to be on the safe side, it’s a good idea to rinse morels with water before soaking them.

Simple ways to use dried mushrooms

When you have dried mushrooms in the pantry,  there are lots of quick and simple ways to use them in your everyday cooking. Once you rehydrate them, they can go just about anywhere fresh mushrooms can go.

• Stir them into pilafs and other rice dishes.
• Add them to tomato or cream-based pasta sauces.
• Spoon them onto polenta.
• Stir them into pan sauces for chops and cutlets.
• Add them to stir-fries.
• Sauté with green beans or snap peas.
• Add them to eggs: Sauté rehydrated dried mushrooms with shallots and butter and fold into omelets, frittatas, or scrambled eggs.
• Make flavored butter: Pulse rehydrated morels or chanterelles with softened butter and a fresh herb like thyme in a food processor. Use right away or shape into a log, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate. Pats of the butter are delicious on roasted or grilled meats and vegetables.

How to soak dried mushrooms

Put the mushrooms in a medium heatproof bowl. For Leek & Morel Strata, Wild Mushroom Ragoût, and Risotto with Peas & Porcini, pour in 2 cups boiling water and weight down the mushrooms with a small plate so the mushrooms are submerged. (If you’re using smaller or larger amounts of mushrooms, just use enough water to completely submerge them.)

Soak until they’re plumped and softened, about 20 minutes (some varieties might take longer). Use a slotted spoon to transfer the mushrooms to a cutting board, squeezing any excess liquid from the mushrooms back into the soaking liquid. Let cool. Remove and discard any tough stems. Coarsely chop the mushrooms. Strain the soaking liquid through a coffee filter or paper towel set in a sieve. Set aside the mushroom “broth” for use in your dish or freeze for another time.

 

Excerpt from: Fine Cooking by Tony Rosenfeld; Photos by Scott Phillips

 

 

Board Update & Large Order Discount

From the NFC Board:

The NFC board of directors last met on May 27, 2014. Among other business, there was some great discussion about pricing and deliveries.

Members are always welcome to attend board meetings (scheduled every other month) and are encouraged to become involved as advisory board members. If you are interested in directly supporting your coop in this capacity, contact Caryl Guisinger, the general manager at gm@nebraskafood.org.

 

Large Order Discount: $600+:

Among other decisions from the May board meeting, orders over a $600 value will receive a 10% discount. We hope to roll out some additional savings in the future, but this is our way to start making your food bills more affordable.

Little-known fact: Although it has never been advertised, most large orders also receive personal home deliveries by Kevin, our route driver. This has been one of NFC’s best-kept secrets for several years, and now we’re letting the cat out of the bag. There could be some circumstances when a home delivery is not possible, but we haven’t discovered any yet.

NFC Forum List – Your Opinion Matters

youropinionmattersWe are seeking opinions about how NFC members would like to see their Forum List utilized.

The purpose of the Forum is to share relevant NFC news, discussions, and as a means for increasing exposure and participation. However, we also realize that many people like to minimize their e-mail volume.

Currently, all new members are automatically subscribed to the NFC Forum (ie, an Opt-Out forum: members may OPT-OUT of the list at any time).

So, we would like to hear from you for a short TWO QUESTION survey: 1) Do you prefer an: OPT-IN or OPT-OUT forum, and 2)  what topics you would like to see on your forum. Help us improve the forum by sharing your opinion on this SURVEY MONKEY poll by the end of June.

Thank you for your time, interest, and support in improving your NFC experience.

September 14: SAVE the DATE!

FontenelleForest

It’s time to start planning the Nebraska Food Cooperative’s Annual Membership Meeting and Celebration Dinner.

Mark your calendar now to join us at the beautiful Fontenelle Forest Nature Center in Bellevue late in the afternoon on Sunday, September 14.

Tim Rinne, of the Lincoln’s Hawley Hamlet and Mother Earth News fame, is our keynote speaker who will connect the food security dots. A Silent Auction is being organized as well as a fabulous local food dinner featuring our very own producers.

Watch for more information in upcoming newsletters. If you’d like to join the Organizing Committee, please contact the General Manager at: gm@nebraskafood.org by the end of June.

Prairie Plate: A Sustainable Restaurant

SoupThe first thing I noticed when I walked in the doors of Prairie Plate Restaurant, Waverly’s new farm-to-table restaurant, was the way the light inhabited the room, drawing you to the lake view that lay just beyond the windows.

Renee Cornett, head chef and owner of Prairie Plate, greets me at the door and begins to dive into the history of the land. She and her husband, Jerry Cornett, run Lakehouse Farm, a certified organic farm situated roughly fifty yards from the front door of the restaurant. After they started their farm in 2011, they began renovations on the house down by the lake for the restaurant that would eventually open its doors on April 2, 2014.

While their setup and concept for the restaurant would lead you to believe they had lived a lifetime as farmers, their background tells a more unique story.

Renee grew up in Maryland, graduating from the US Naval Academy with a major in mathematics. She served eleven years in the US Navy, the majority as a naval aviator, before retiring in 2001 and attending culinary school at Metropolitan Community College.

Jerry hails from Omaha. He earned a degree in political science from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and then joined the US Navy. Also a naval aviator, his career spanned twenty-one years, including serving as the defense attaché at the US Embassy in Albania, retiring in 2011 with the rank of commander.

When I ask them how they wound up in the farming and restaurant business, they laugh. This is not the first time someone has asked them this question.

“In some ways it doesn’t matter what you do, everybody eats,” Renee says.

She has cooked all her life—for friends, roommates, and her family, including their two children. As Jerry’s retirement approached, they were looking for the next steps. Their life in the Navy had taken them all over the world, including time spent in northern Italy. It was there that the concept of a farm-to-table restaurant formulated.

“You see concepts like this in Europe, northern Italy, even Albania,” Jerry said, “People would travel out into the country to the farm to have a meal that focused on what they grew there.”

In Italy, this concept is called agriturismo.

For the last five to six years of Jerry’s career, they would gather inspiration from restaurants around the world.

Their seasonal menu changes from week to week, depending on what is growing at that moment. Lakehouse Farm grows sixty to seventy different varieties of vegetables and fruit. The items they don’t have on their farm—primarily meat, dairy, and grains—are purchased from local farmers and suppliers. For instance, on the current week’s menu, they featured beef from Range West Beef in Marquette, pork from Erstwhile Farm in Columbus, cheese from Branched Oak Dairy in Raymond, and grains from The Grain Place in Marquette.

As she talks about the logistics of starting up a local food restaurant, Renee’s background in mathematics begins to show.

“You start doing the math. If you’re going to buy local food to start with, local products, how can you make the math work to make it so you don’t have to charge more than people want to come for? And so you start working through some of that,” she says, “I don’t have to truck it in, I know it’s fresh.”

“We want to showcase the region’s ingredients,” Jerry says

The Cornetts are also committed to running both their farm and restaurant as sustainably as possible.

“If we have choices, as much as possible, we try to pick one that’s lighter on the environment, that fits with the rest of the philosophy of what we’re doing. If we can avoid using a light fixture and use a sky light,” Renee smiles and gestures to the other room, “we did that.”

On their farm they practice sustainable farming by using drip irrigation, covered crops, contour farming, crop rotation, and a transplant system where plants begin in their greenhouse before being transplanted to the ground. Additionally, they also compost the kitchen scraps from the restaurant to mix into their soil.

So what incentive does this restaurant have that draws people up from the city?

“From the farm, through the kitchen, to your table,” Renee recites their restaurant motto, “It’s the connection to the place—food from the place—it’s closer to where it started. It’s going to taste better because of that. All the other things—it’s healthier, the economic impact, and all that—everybody is going to have their own section of that discussion that’s important to them, but the ‘tastes better’ is always important to everybody.”

Jerry took me on a tour of the farm, showed me where the food is grown, walked me around the lake as he told me more about the history of how the farm came to be. The sun was about to set, and I left with plans to return the following evening to sample the menu.

It was an even more beautiful evening when I came back. I had snagged the best table in the house, situated in a small alcove of a bay window on the southeast side of the building. This place is a birder’s paradise. Hundreds of birds swoop down, gliding a feather’s width away from the calm, pristine surface of the lake.

The restaurant’s menu is divided into courses: first course, second course, and dessert. Each course provides several options to choose from. They also offer a variety of wines and beers, as well as French press coffee from Cultiva in Lincoln.

What is most important to note about the food is the fact that no flavor is overpowering in any of the dishes. The combinations of flavors work to each other’s favor, and everything is seasoned and salted to perfection.

The Lakehouse Farm Salad is made up of whatever variety of lettuce is best on any given day. From there, Renee adds vinaigrettes and garnishes that compliment the particular type of lettuce available that day. On this particular day, it was garnished with cheese and sunflower seeds and served with slice of bread.

The asparagus and quark soup is also a specialty first course item. Quark is a soft, spreadable cheese that is most common in Germany and other areas of Europe. Branched Oak Dairy Farm provides the quark, which compliments the asparagus for a very satisfying soup. It is garnished with a slice of bread and a halved asparagus tip.

The wilted spinach and feta salad was my favorite of the ones I tried. The spinach was done perfectly—still slightly crunchy but wilted just enough to add that warm spinach flavor combined with garlic and oil. The feta, also from Branched Oak Dairy Farm, was a perfect compliment.

I tried each of the main courses that were available that evening.

First up were the chard rolls. This was the vegetarian option for the evening and was a wonderful surprise. The chard rolls are filled with brown rice and sweet potato and are served over sorrel sauce with a side of asparagus.

The house hickory smoked brisket was served with a side of grilled polenta and roasted asparagus. The meat was very tender. The smoky flavor of the meat married well with the polenta.

The pork chop with rhubarb sauce was my favorite of the three main course dishes I tried. While I don’t traditionally think of a rhubarb sauce on pork, the semisweet sauce really brought out the best of the pork. The dish came with a side of barley and sweet potato pilaf garnished with chive flowerets that provided a beautiful splash of color and a strikingly wonderful flavor.

Two desserts were offered that evening: a rhubarb tart and a hubbard spice cake.

The rhubarb tart was beautiful in appearance; it looked like it belonged in the window of a pastry store in France rather than in Waverly, Nebraska. It was the perfect balance between tart and sweet—just like rhubarb dishes should be.

The hubbard spice cake was the dessert winner for me. The day before, Renee had shown me all about blue hubbard squash. As I helped her carry them from their storage to the kitchen, she explained how they were versatile, like a pumpkin. They are a pale blue-green on the outside and bright orange on the inside. When I saw this on the menu, I jumped at the chance to try it. It didn’t disappoint—still slightly warm from the oven, it was moist and spiced to perfection.

I left, content with having tried something new. And that’s what the farm-to-table experience is all about.

Jerry says it best.

“It’s an experience. It’s not just the food and it’s not just the place. It’s the food AND the place.”

He’s right about that. Prairie Plate is the place where you can come enjoy the beautiful Nebraska scenery and eat the finest dishes with ingredients grown and raised locally. It’s the taste of Nebraska distilled into the food on your plate.

From the farm, through the kitchen, to your table.

Prairie Plate is open Wednesday through Saturday 5–9 p.m., Sunday 12–5 p.m., from April through mid-November. The menu is constantly changing throughout the season, so check their website for weekly menus. A three-course meal plus coffee will run you around $35–43 but will be worth every penny.

Originally published in the June 2014 issue of Prairie Fire. Story by Sara Sawatski.

Trading salutes for eggs: Local veteran taking part in new ag program

Prairie Pride Poultry - feeding chickens
Lincoln Journal Star / Matt Ryerson Dan Hromas tends to his chickens at Prairie Pride Poultry east of York.

YORK — Dan Hromas reached down and ruffled the rust-colored tail feathers of a chicken.

The Rhode Island Red squatted briefly, then shook and strutted away with a cluck. Hromas smiled and laughed.

“They’re a great dual purpose breed. They’re excellent egg layers, and when they’re done, I can sell them as stewing hens,” the Iraq War veteran said.

After nearly two decades protecting U.S. freedom and interests as a soldier, the former Marine and current member of the Nebraska Army National Guard has found new purpose and resolve through his flock of 600 chickens.

He is among a small but growing group of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans now feeding the nation they served as a member of the armed forces.

Hromas’ York-area farm, Prairie Pride Poultry, is the first in Nebraska and second in the United States to be certified by the new national program Homegrown by Heroes, a marketing initiative that recognizes farmer veterans.

***

Prairie Pride Poultry - Dan Hromas
Lincoln Journal Star / Matt Ryerson Iraq war veteran Dan Hromas tends to his chickens on land he leases just east of York. Hromas found assistance programs from Nebraska and the Farmer Veteran Coalition to help bring his dream to life.

For Hromas, the birds are both livelihood and therapy.

“Boredom is the most hazardous thing to my health,” said the chicken farmer who returned from a yearlong deployment to Iraq just in time for Christmas 2007 with persistent ringing in his ears and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Before that, Hromas was a graduate student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln studying microbiology on an Army ROTC scholarship. That came to an end when he was activated in advance of his National Guard unit on July 31, 2006, as part of President George W. Bush’s surge of American forces.

When he returned to Nebraska, Hromas got a commercial driver’s license but had difficulty sticking with a job. The one he kept for more than a year was driving a truck for the United Farmer’s Co-op in Utica.

“I can’t put up with a lot of s***,” he said.

***

Prairie Pride Poultry - watering chickens
Lincoln Journal Star / Matt Ryerson Dan Hromas tends to his chickens.

All soldiers leave the military different than they went in, said Don Sandman, a Vietnam veteran and Veterans’ Service Officer in York County.

“That is just the way it is,” Sandman said. “The military itself is traumatic. You’re in there for one reason and one reason alone. And that is to be prepared to kill mankind.”

Many veterans struggle with hearing problems, depression and the effects of PTSD. The Veterans Administration says 22 of them kill themselves every day.

The military instills a sense of being part of a greater good, part of something bigger than any individual.

That sense of duty and fellowship doesn’t come with punching a clock, said Chet Bennetts of the Farmer Veterans Coalition.

Farming can give veterans a sense of purpose again, he said.

The Farmer Veteran Coalition, which is based in Davis, California, has helped about 2,400 military service members, some still active, get involved in farming nationwide. In Nebraska, there are 35 veterans on the coalition’s radar.

“Being able to work hard and have something to do every day and feel good about it is way better than just punching a clock and getting by,” said Bennetts, who works from Lincoln.

Forty-six percent of U.S. military members hail from rural settings and many will return to them, said Scott Mickelsen, associate dean with the University of Nebraska’s College of Technical Agriculture.

“It can be somewhat soothing for them to work with animals, to work with plants, to work outdoors in a little less stressful situation,” he said.

The work ethic drilled into soldiers transfers well to agriculture, Mickelsen said. The college has developed a program tailored to retired military called Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots, which attracts four to seven veterans a year.

***

Prairie Pride Poultry - chicken house
Lincoln Journal Star / Matt Ryerson Inside a small chicken coop a Prairie Pride Poultry chicken lays an egg as a rooster is silhouetted in a window at Dan Hromas’ chicken farm east of York.

Hromas liked working for the United Farmers Co-op, but it was just a job. He started thinking about summer trips to visit his grandparents’ farm in North Dakota, looking for the eggs the chickens that ranged free laid in straw bales.

“It was like an Easter egg hunt every day.”

He missed that and wanted his four kids to have the same experience. Plus, he likes to eat eggs, and he likes the idea of being his own boss.

In October 2012, Hromas took his first step toward becoming a farmer and signed up for a Farm Beginnings Nebraska program hosted by the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society. He networked, took more classes, wrote a business plan, applied for grants and joined the York Chamber of Commerce.

On May 31, 2013, he incorporated his business and three months later got his first 300 birds. He sold his first dozen eggs to a man at the local Eagle’s Club. His first commercial account was with Chances R Restaurant in York, which buys his eggs for Sunday brunch.

Today, his hens produce 3,150 eggs a week. He sells them to Grand Central Foods in York, the Hy-Vee in Grand Island and as of last week the Williamsburg Hy-Vee in Lincoln.

Once a month, he sets up a booth at the Old Cheney Road Farmers Market and last Sunday sold out of 62 dozen eggs in three hours.

His eggs cost a little more than the generic white ones at supermarkets, Hromas said, but people are willing to pay it because they know the eggs are fresh and were laid just down the road. He prefers the term “pasture-raised chickens” to the more ambiguous descriptors “cage free” and “free range.”

His main selling points are local, healthy eggs produced by happy chickens. When he has extra eggs, he donates them to local food banks and soup kitchens.

His chickens sleep and lay eggs in coops but spend their days roaming three acres he rents just northeast of York. He likes the peace of the farm and how it keeps him too busy to dwell on the past.

A person can get frustrated and throw a wrench, Hromas said. It’s not so easy to throw a chicken.

***

Lincoln Journal Star / Matt Ryerson
Lincoln Journal Star / Matt Ryerson Adrian Hromas, 9, helps his dad collect eggs at their chicken farm on a leased plot of land east of York.

Hromas said he doesn’t like using his status as a veteran for personal gain but decided to use the Homegrown by Heroes label to reach out to fellow veterans, to let them know they’re not alone and help is available.

The program was started by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and recently went national through the work of the Farmer Veteran Coalition with underwriting from the Farm Credit Network, a group of borrower-owned lending institutions.

“I got to thinking if I have that label on the product, people are going to start asking questions,” Hromas said. “That will open the door for me to start talking about the Farmer Veteran Coalition, about agriculture.

“Veterans in general, especially veterans with disabilities, can have a future in agriculture if they want.”

Originally published in the Lincoln Journal Star on Sunday, May 29, 2014. Story by Nicholas Bergin.

Expanding the Source of our News to You!

Are you a die-hard supporter of local food and want to get the word out about a burning topic?

Or maybe you are a new or existing NFC producer who would like to share with the NFC membership about your operation or specialty products.

If you just have a hankering for writing and would like to share your love of the local food scene with the NFC membership, send your original blog article to the NFC General Manager for a review, edit – as necessary – and possible inclusion in a future NFC newsletter and/or on NFC website, under Recent News.

Thank you for your contribution to an even more successful Nebraska Food Cooperative!

Email:  gm@nebraskafood.org

The Open Source Seed Initiative

pumpkin seedsTwo weeks ago, on April 17, the open-source seed initiative (OSSI) was launched from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, partly in response to industry giants who dominate the seed industry. Monsanto, Syngenta, and DuPont currently control about half of all commercial seed sales and are rumored to have tried patenting heirloom seeds in addition to the proprietary seeds they have developed for themselves.

Contracts from these companies often stipulate that farmers are forbidden from replanting seeds, forcing them to purchase new seeds every season. In response to this situation, OSSI is taking steps to place seeds explicitly into the public domain for use by anyone. The open-source seeds released by OSSI, include varieties of kale, squash, quinoa, zucchini, cress, broccoli, and carrots. They are accompanied by the following pledge:

This Open Source Seed pledge is intended to ensure your freedom to use the seed contained herein in any way you choose, and to make sure those freedoms are enjoyed by all subsequent users. By opening this packet, you pledge that you will not restrict others’ use of these seeds and their derivatives by patents, licenses, or any other means. You pledge that if you transfer these seeds or their derivatives they will also be accompanied by this pledge.

The principle behind the open-source seed initiative follows from the open-source software movement, which is aimed at producing software that can be used and re-used without being taken over by the proprietary rights of any company.

If you have ever bothered to read the end user licensing agreement (EULA) for software installed on your computer, it usually includes many pages of legal jargon detailing, among other things, that you are prohibited from looking at the code to discover how it works. This restriction on discovery is what makes the software proprietary or closed-source. The source-code (instructions that make the program work) is legally protected from any outside scrutiny.

In 1983, in response to increasing prevalence of closed-source software, the open-source software movement, now enjoined by many programmers around the world, began to produce programs, often licensed under the Gnu Public License (GPL), which ensure they will remain free for anyone to examine along with all future versions of those programs. GPL software can never be restricted by anyone, for any reason, ever.

Examples of closed-source software, restricted from public scrutiny, include operating systems like Windows and Apple, as well as programs like Internet Explorer, Safari, Outlook and Outlook Express, Microsoft Office, and Adobe products. However, open-source software is also widely used, including such operating systems as Linux and BSD, and programs like Firefox, Thunderbird, Libre Office, and many others (including all the sofware that runs the NFC website).

The recent Heartbleed bug probably would not have been discovered if it had not been an open-source program that could be reviewed for potential problems.

Even though open-source seeds are not strictly publishing the code of their seeds (i.e. the seed DNA), the initiative is borrowing from the open-source software movement to ensure the code remains open and available for use by anyone and that it will never be restricted or patented.

Making a pledge for open-sourced seeds is a great advancement toward food security.

A Primer on Grass-fed vs Corn-fed Beef

A lot of people today, horrified by how animals are treated in factory farms and feedlots, and wanting to lower their ecological footprint, are looking for healthier alternatives. As a result, there is a decided trend toward pasture-raised animals.  One former vegetarian, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford, says he now eats meat, but only “grassfed and organic and sustainable as possible, reverentially and deeply gratefully, and in small amounts.”

Sales of grassfed and organic beef are rising rapidly.  Ten years ago, there were only about 50 grassfed cattle operations left in the U.S.  Now there are thousands.

How much difference does it make?  Is grassfed really better?  If so, in what ways, and how much?

If you read on, you’ll see why I’ve concluded that grassfed is indeed better.  But then, almost anything would be.  Putting beef cattle in feedlots and feeding them grain may actually be one of the dumbest ideas in the history of western civilization.

Cattle (like sheep, deer and other grazing animals) are endowed with the ability to convert grasses, which we humans cannot digest, into flesh that we are able to digest. They can do this because unlike humans, who possess only one stomach, they are ruminants, which is to say that they possess a rumen, a 45 or so gallon fermentation tank in which resident bacteria convert cellulose into protein and fats.

In today’s feedlots, however, cows fed corn and other grains are eating food that humans can eat, and they are quite inefficiently converting it into meat.  Since it takes anywhere from 7 to 16 pounds of grain to make a pound of feedlot beef, we actually get far less food out than we put in.  It’s a protein factory in reverse.

And we do this on a massive scale, while nearly a billion people on our planet do not have enough to eat.

Feedlot Reality

How has a system that is so wasteful come to be?  Feedlots and other CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) are not the inevitable product of agricultural progress, nor are they the result of market forces.  They are instead the result of public policies that massively favor large-scale feedlots to the detriment of family farms.

From 1997 to 2005, for example, taxpayer-subsidized grain prices saved feedlots and other CAFOs about $35 billion.  This subsidy is so large that it reduced the price CAFOs pay for animal feed to a tiny fraction of what it would otherwise have been.  Cattle operations that raise animals exclusively on pasture land, however, derive no benefit from the subsidy.

Federal policies also give CAFOs billions of dollars to address their pollution problems, which arise because they confine so many animals, often tens of thousands, in a small area.  Small farmers raising cattle on pasture do not have this problem in the first place.  If feedlots and other CAFOs were required to pay the price of handling the animal waste in an environmentally health manner, if they were made to pay to prevent or to clean up the pollution they create, they wouldn’t be dominating the U.S. meat industry the way they are today.  But instead we have had farm policies that require the taxpayers to foot the bill.  Such policies have made feedlots and other CAFOs feasible, but only by fleecing the public.

Traditionally, all beef was grassfed beef, but we’ve turned that completely upside down.  Now, thanks to our misguided policies, our beef supply is almost all feedlot beef.

Thanks to government subsidies, it’s cheaper, and it’s also faster.  Seventy-five years ago, steers were slaughtered at the age of four- or five-years-old. Today’s steers, however, grow so fast on the grain they are fed that they can be butchered much younger, typically when they are only 14 or 16 months.

All beef cattle spend the first few months of their lives on pasture or rangeland, where they graze on forage crops such as grass or alfalfa.  But then nearly all are fattened, or as the industry likes to call it “finished,” in feedlots where they eat grain.  You can’t take a beef calf from a birth weight of 80 pounds to 1,200 pounds in a little more than a year on grass.  That kind of unnaturally fast weight gain takes enormous quantities of corn, soy-based protein supplements, antibiotics and other drugs, including growth hormones.

Under current farm policies, switching a cow from grass to corn makes economic sense, but it is still profoundly disturbing to the animal’s digestive system.  It can actually kill a steer if not done gradually and if the animal is not continually fed antibiotics.

Author (and small-scale cattleman) Michael Pollan describes what happens to cows when they are taken off of pastures and put into feedlots and fed corn:

“Perhaps the most serious thing that can go wrong with a ruminant on corn is feedlot bloat. The rumen is always producing copious amounts of gas, which is normally expelled by belching during rumination. But when the diet contains too much starch and too little roughage, rumination all but stops, and a layer of foamy slime that can trap gas forms in the rumen. The rumen inflates like a balloon, pressing against the animal’s lungs. Unless action is promptly taken to relieve the pressure (usually by forcing a hose down the animal’s esophagus), the cow suffocates.

“A corn diet can also give a cow acidosis. Unlike our own highly acidic stomachs, the normal pH of a rumen is neutral. Corn makes it unnaturally acidic, however, causing a kind of bovine heartburn, which in some cases can kill the animal but usually just makes it sick. Acidotic animals go off their feed, pant and salivate excessively, paw at their bellies and eat dirt. The condition can lead to diarrhea, ulcers, bloat, liver disease and a general weakening of the immune system that leaves the animal vulnerable to everything from pneumonia to feedlot polio.”

Putting beef cattle in feedlots and giving them corn is not only unnatural and dangerous for the cows. It also has profound medical consequences for us, and this is true whether or not we eat their flesh. Feedlot beef as we know it today would be impossible if it weren’t for the routine and continual feeding of antibiotics to these animals. This leads directly and inexorably to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These new “superbugs” are increasingly rendering our antibiotics ineffective for treating disease in humans.

Further, it is the commercial meat industry’s practice of keeping cattle in feedlots and feeding them grain that is responsible for the heightened prevalence of deadly E. coli 0157:H7 bacteria. When cattle are grainfed, their intestinal tracts become far more acidic, which favors the growth of pathogenic E. coli bacteria that can kill people who eat undercooked hamburger.

It’s not widely known, but E. coli 0157:H7 has only recently appeared on the scene.  It was first identified in the 1980s, but now this pathogen can be found in the intestines of almost all feedlot cattle in the U.S.  Even less widely recognized is that the practice of feeding corn and other grains to cattle has created the perfect conditions for forms of E. Coli and other microbes to come into being that can, and do, kill us.

Prior to the advent of feedlots, the microbes that resided in the intestines of cows were adapted to a neutral-pH environment.  As a result, if they got into meat, it didn’t usually cause much of a problem because the microbes perished in the acidic environment of the human stomach.  But the digestive tract of the modern feedlot animal has changed.  It is now nearly as acidic as our own.  In this new, manmade environment, strains of E. coli and other pathogens have developed that can survive our stomach acids, and go on to kill us.  As Michael Pollan puts it, “by acidifying a cow’s gut with corn, we have broken down one of our food chain’s barriers to infections.”

Which is more nutritious?

Many of us think of “corn-fed” beef as nutritionally superior, but it isn’t. A cornfed cow does develop well-marbled flesh, but this is simply saturated fat that can’t be trimmed off. Grassfed meat, on the other hand, is lower both in overall fat and in artery-clogging saturated fat. A sirloin steak from a grainfed feedlot steer has more than double the total fat of a similar cut from a grassfed steer. In its less-than-infinite wisdom, however, the USDA continues to grade beef in a way that rewards marbling with intra-muscular fat.

Grassfed beef not only is lower in overall fat and in saturated fat, but it has the added advantage of providing more omega-3 fats. These crucial healthy fats are most plentiful in flaxseeds and fish, and are also found in walnuts, soybeans and in meat from animals that have grazed on omega-3 rich grass. When cattle are taken off grass, though, and shipped to a feedlot to be fattened on grain, they immediately begin losing the omega-3s they have stored in their tissues.  A grassfed steak typically has about twice as many omega-3s as a grainfed steak.

In addition to being higher in healthy omega-3s, meat from pastured cattle is also up to four times higher in vitamin E than meat from feedlot cattle, and much higher in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a nutrient associated with lower cancer risk.

What about the environment?

As well as its nutritional advantages, there are also environmental benefits to grassfed beef. According to David Pimentel, a Cornell ecologist who specializes in agriculture and energy, the corn we feed our feedlot cattle accounts for a staggering amount of fossil fuel energy. Growing the corn used to feed livestock takes vast quantities of chemical fertilizer, which in turn takes vast quantities of oil. Because of this dependence on petroleum, Pimentel says, a typical steer will in effect consume 284 gallons of oil in his lifetime. Comments Michael Pollan,

“We have succeeded in industrializing the beef calf, transforming what was once a solar-powered ruminant into the very last thing we need: another fossil-fuel machine.”

In addition to consuming less energy, grassfed beef has another environmental advantage — it is far less polluting. The animals’ wastes drop onto the land, becoming nutrients for the next cycle of crops. In feedlots and other forms of factory farming, however, the animals’ wastes build up in enormous quantities, becoming a staggering source of water and air pollution.

Less misery on the menu?

From a humanitarian perspective, there is yet another advantage to pastured animal products. The animals themselves are not forced to live in confinement. The cruelties of modern factory farming are so severe that you don’t have to be a vegetarian or an animal rights activist to find the conditions to be intolerable, and a violation of the human-animal bond. Pastured livestock are not forced to endure the miseries of factory farming. They are not cooped up in cages barely larger than their own bodies, or packed together like sardines for months on end standing knee deep in their own manure.

Grassfed or organic?

It’s important to remember that organic is not the same as grassfed. Natural food stores often sell organic beef and dairy products that are hormone- and antibiotic- free.  These products come from animals who were fed organically grown grain, but who typically still spent most of their lives (or in the case of dairy cows perhaps their whole lives) in feedlots.  The sad reality is that almost all the organic beef and organic dairy products sold in the U.S. today comes from feedlots.

Just as organic does not mean grass-fed, grass-fed does not mean organic. Pastured animals sometimes graze on land that has been treated with synthetic fertilizers and even doused with herbicides. Unless the meat label specifically says it is both grassfed and organic, it isn’t.

 Editor’s Note: This article lays out the reasons why is it even more important to Know Your Farmer and their herd management practices.

Excerpt from John Robbins, The Food Revolution Network

Does NFC Offer SNAP Benefits?

Now that Nebraska farmers’ markets are offering Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to their customers, NFC customers are wondering if we can follow the same lead.

The US Department of Agriculture Food Nutrition Service (FNS) who manages SNAP says, “No” that the Nebraska Food Cooperative does not operate the same as farmers’ markets with our multiple delivery points.  Another kink is that the SNAP process does not allow for online ordering of products for a later delivery date.

But NFC wants to find a solution. So we are working on providing an alternate method.

SNAPIt is possible that by working through churches as delivery points that FNS would allow pre-ordered products (ie, you would be able to use SNAP for NFC products by picking up your order at a church).

So, NFC is looking for interested members located in Omaha, Lincoln, and other towns who are associated with churches to start a SNAP drop point for NFC products.

Everyone should have equal access to healthy food.  And it should matter not whether you are paying with cash, PayPal, or through SNAP.

If you would like to volunteer to be a church site coordinator or if you have an alternative solution, contact the NFC General Manager or the NFC Treasurer of your interest.

Email:
gm@nebraskafood.org
nfctreasurer@nebraskafood.org

Angel Food Cake (100% Scratch)

angelfoodcakeDo you want an extra-special treat? Try a baked-100 percent-from-scratch angel food cake!

Homemade angel food cake is definitely worth the work. It is moist, unlike the sweet styrofoam available in the grocery bakery.

Ingredients for a 10 inch cake:

  • 1 1/2 cups egg whites
    Hint: separate when cold; beat at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 3/4 cups white sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


Directions:

  1. Beat egg whites until they form stiff peaks, and then add cream of tartar, vanilla extract, and almond extract.
  2. Sift together flour, sugar, and salt. Repeat five times.
  3. Gently combine the egg whites with the dry ingredients, and then pour into an ungreased 10 inch tube pan. NOTE: A tube pan with a removable bottom is highly recommended.
  4. Place cake pan in a cold oven. Turn the oven on; set it to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Cook for about one hour, or until cake is golden brown.
  5. Invert cake, and allow it to cool in the pan. When thoroughly cooled, remove from pan.

 

Recipe by Syd, allrecipes.com

Website Security and Heartbleed

This morning, we made a several updates to the NFC website, including switching to secure protocol for data transmission, also known as SSL or TLS. Beginning now, you will see a “padlock” on all NFC pages, indicating the data between your computer and NFC is encrypted.

This will help ensure the privacy of personal data, such as usernames and passwords, even when working from a public wi-fi network. Sensitive financial information (such as credit-card numbers) have never been at risk with NFC since they are only handled by external agencies, like PayPal, who specialize in protecting that sort of information.

Heartbleed OKFinally, the recent “heartbleed” OpenSSL security flaw has been addressed at NFC and poses no known risk for the future. We strive to keep your information as safe as possible and would be happy to discuss any concerns you may have.

Beginning Women Farmer Workshops

If you a woman who is interested in getting started in gardening, farming, and/or ranching, then this workshop series is perfect for you!

The Center for Rural Affairs is offering Beginning Women Farmer learning opportunities!  Each workshop is only $5, and it includes lunch.

Please register, in advance, with Virginia Meyer:
Email: virginiam@cfra.org
Phone: (402) 992-5134)

Farm Dreams
April 12, 2014; 10:30 am – 2:30 pm
Syracuse Public Library
496 6th St, Syracuse, NE

The Farm Dreams Workshop is an entry level, four-hour workshop designed to help people who are seeking practical, common sense information on whether farming or ranching is the next step for them. Participants will be able to examine their resources, skills, and motivations for farming/ranching, and develop a plan for moving forward toward their farming goals.

Farm Business Financing
May 10, 2014; 10:30 am – 2:30 pm
Lewis and Clark Center
100 Valmont Drive
Nebraska City, NE

The Farm Business Financing Workshop is an intensive business planning and farm financing course designed to help women farmers and ranchers design a business plan and access financing for their agricultural operations.  A well-organized and thoughtful business plan is a key step for beginning farmers and ranchers who want to finance their operations.

Selling at Farmers Markets
June 7, 2014;  11:30 am – 2:30 pm
Breadeux Pizza
1425 Silver Street
Ashland, NE

We have tips and tricks to help you rock the Farmers’ Market.  This workshop will focus on making the most of selling at farmers’ markets including location, building a customer base, product, presentation, price, and the art of selling.  This workshop is perfect for those getting started or those thinking about selling at farmers’ market.

Selling through a CSA
June 21, 2014; 11:30 am – 3:30 pm
Webermeier Public Library
617 2nd Street
Milford, NE

Learn more about selling through a Community Supported Agriculture or CSA system.  Advantages of selling through CSA include:

  • customers pay up front, which generates operating capital, and
  • CSAs can build loyal customers, who buy reliably from your farm

Attend this workshop to learn more about selling through a CSA.