This is a sponsored post but all opinions expressed are my own.
Last month I was invited to a 3-days Farm Food Tour in Kansas organized by Kansas Farm Bureau and Kansas Soybean Commission. I accepted the invitation with much excitement, anticipating having an amazing experience and opportunity to expand my food knowledge. Truth is, having had the opportunity to walk the grounds of 8 Kansas farms was far more educational then if I had watched days worth of farming documentaries, read articles and browsed thought thousands of research pages.
Farming has always been a passion and curiosity of mine. I grew up in a small village in Brazil surrounded by farms, pastures and a small community of simple people who lived off of the land, to one level or another. However, in a side by side comparison, visiting Kansas farms was a relatively similar experience of going from a travel carnival to Disneyland.
The most valuable thing for me was being able to ask questions and dive deep into the farming industry. Learn how the system works, what are some of the difficulties they face, and simply getting to know the people behind the foods we eat.
This said, I realize that not everyone has the opportunity to take a trip to Kansas and tour some of these farms, nor are the farms able to stop business and production to accommodate a constant flow of visitors, but from what I gathered they (farmers) are just as open to have a discussion with us (consumers) as we a eager to get some answers.
It’s not a coincidence that Amy and Craig carry the name and reputation of what a Good farm practice should look like. Together they raise heritage hogs as well as soybeans, corn and Angus cattle.
Before visiting the Good’s pig farm my knowledge about a pig’s life was a limited as to think that they lived in one area their entire lives, ate the same feed everyday, had no needs and were basically laying around (in the mud mostly -for no apparent reason?!) growing fat to be sold for their meat in which I never EVER ate before.
Ignorance sticker accepted!
Craig and Amy has dedicated their lives to raise these amazing creatures, to understand their behavior, respond to their necessities, with the kind of respect to their natural environment that you would hope to see (or know) that existed in their lives.
Take my word. These animals are happy, social and living in the best environment they can possibly be. The result is nothing less than top quality pork that practically melts in your mouth.
Later on Amy and Craig served us an incredibly delicious meal prepared by Little Apple Brewery of Manhattan. I ate pork for the first time, and it was one of the best meals of my life!
Meet Craig and Amy Good, watch this video!
Sawyer Land & Cattle
Next we visited Derek and Katie Sawyer’s Farm. They raise cattle and row crops including soybeans, corn, sorghum and wheat. We met them right on the corn field where Derek (who is a fourth generation farmer) was working the combine with his Dad. Although Derek and Katie were in the middle of harvesting the field corn, they took the time to meet us and answer some of our questions.
In this stop I learned all about field corn, which until then I only knew of one type of corn – the soft and delicious corn we eat. Unlike the yummy corn we know, field corn is very dry and is used primarily to feed livestock or to make a fuel called ethanol.
We got to watch the harvesting of the corn, and that gave me goosebumps – it was so cool!
However, I must point out the coolest sight of all. Mama Katie, farmer Katie, wife Katie brilliantly performing all her jobs in one, as she watched after and entertained both her young boys who proudly showed us what a field corn looked like up close.
This lady even made us cookies! I think she is a Superwoman!
Meet Derek and Katie Sawyer, watch this video!
France Family Farm
The France Family Farm and ranch is located in western Kansas. Clint and Amy France raises wheat, grain sorghum, corn, soybeans and Black Angus cattle. Although we didn’t get to meet Clint, we were lucky enough to not only meet Amy but to have her as our very own farmer guide during the 3-days tour!
Amy opened my eyes to realize that a farmer is someone just like us. In every single way! Honestly I am not even sure why I am saying this, but in case you also have this painted image of a farmer in your head that perhaps is making you feel unsure of the system, this is what I mean by –they are just like us. They want the best for their family and consequently for our families too. Every step they take, every decision that is made, is for the best possible outcome for the benefit of all of us.
Amy showed us her family’s soybean farm. I can tell you I knew as much about soybeans as I did about pigs and field corn. NADA! But in case you ever get to go to a soybean farm I’d hope you know more than I did, so here are a few interesting facts;
Soybeans are broken down primarily into two components; the meal and the oil. The meal is fed to livestock while the oil can be used for food, fuel or numerous industrial supplies such as crayons, candles, rubber, fiber, coatings, solvents, plastics, lubricants, adhesives and more!
To sum up our visit at the France’s Farm, I must say how impressed I was to see how much time and effort farmer families devote to their jobs while managing to raise a family, often homeschool their children and keep them busy with various jobs around the farm. It’s unquestionably a product of love!
Meet Clint and Amy France, watch this video!
Reeve Cattle Company
More on the business side, rather than the family oriented visits we had seen so far, Reeve Cattle Company was extremely informational and if I may say -it made largest impact on my perspective or personal opinion when it comes to food (meat in particular). Here is what I mean;
- Prior to visiting Reeve’s Cattle Co., I did not know what a “feedlot” was nor was I aware that cows went from their ‘home’ farms to a place where they would be on a special ‘finishing’ diet prior to being harvest, and sometimes by hundreds of miles away! The amount of work and preparation to raise cattle makes me more appreciative of having a piece of steak on my plate.
- One of my biggest concern and skepticism about the beef industry was how these animals are raised. According to many publications and documentaries I’ve seen, it can be a scary place. My findings at Reeve feed yard and at Dalebanks Angus Ranch (which I’ll get to it in just a bit) came crushing down a fort of misconception and ultimately changed my opinion about the meat industry. These animals are HAPPY, they are beautiful, they are outside, they live on spacious lots and are under full care and great responsibility by strictly placed rules and regulations.
- Another area of concern was around these animals diet. Lee, who is a sixth generation farmer openly shared (and we got to see) that beef cows are grass fed and finished on grain which can include corn, sorghum, wheat at soybeans.
- Speaking on grass fed, here is another knock down for me; while I didn’t know what a non-grass-fed diet included I tightly held on to the idea that grass-fed sounds better and more natural. This may be true to a level, but turns out these animals are definitely not eating something that will compromise my health either. It’s simply a choice for both farmers and consumers. Finally, I must include this article by Kansas Living Magazine which offers an overview of the eating cycle of Cattle.
Meet Lee Reeve, watch this video!
After leaving the grounds of Reeve Cattle Co., I felt that my ability to be impressed by something had reached new highs. Not because it was better but in relation to size production. I was still collecting my jaw from having dropped to the ground when we arrived at Forget-Me-Not Dairy Farm.
This experience was basically a Reeve Cattle re-do on the milk isle. Oh. Em. Gee!
First of all, if you saw the Boersma family photo (the whole family works on the farm!), you would wonder whether they needed such a large dairy farm just to provide milk to their family, lol… but I guess they do manage to produce enough for the rest of us, lol. I mean, think landscape photo standing 100ft back in order to fit everyone in the picture!
In case you missed the lack of knowledge in which I started this article, well it is back because I’ve always wondered how did someone manage to milk enough cows to provide with this liquid gold for the world? If nothing else they would have nice toned arms, right? I am sure you are speechless!
Machines do that, silly! At Forget-Me-Not Farms, 72 cows are milked at once on a quite impressive rotation system producing about 598,000 pounds of milk every day!
The farm houses over 9,200 happy cows and they have about 100 employees to give these animals the best care possible. They are quite adorable too!
I was very impressed to watch the entire process from the time cow is milked to the time the milk leaves the farm, all in a time manner that will give the freshest milk possible on the consumer hand.
Hear from a member of the Forget-Me-Not Farm family, here!
Dalebanks Angus is a fifth-generation ranch located in the Flint Hills of Kansas. When you hear about the Flint Hills of Kansas it probably doesn’t phase you or it lead you to picture a grassy area at best, until you land a foot on THE FLINT HILLS of Kansas and then you are like wooowww!!
Some will stay in wow for a while, some might attentively listen to ranger Matt explain the anatomy of this God gifted land, but some might consider prancing around the field collecting samples of the special wheat-like grass to bring home as a keepsake. That was totally me!
In all seriousness, it’s an absolutely stunning location where the Perrier family raises Angus Cattle, which by the way we didn’t get to see because those lucky animals were happily lost in nature, just as you would hope them to be.
Ranger Matt gave us an overview into some of challenges he faces, his constant efforts working with Mother Nature to preserve the land and broke the ice by showing us a bottle of antibiotic which he would hope to never use in his animals, unless it is absolutely needed like you would if your child needed it, and in this case those animals that were administered antibiotics will go through a withdrawal period until it is safe for consumption.
Meet Ranger Matt, watch this video!
Juniper Hill Farm
Our last stop was at Juniper Hill Farms, a first generation farm ran by Scott Thellman, a young farmer filled with innovative ideas. You knew Juniper Hill Farms was something special from the moment you entered the gates.
At first sight the view captured your heart, then listening to Scott explaining with so much passion about his innovative and sustainable practices made me consider moving to Kansas and bagging him for a job at the farm.
Currently, the farm manages over 150 acres of USDA Certified Organic land, 400 acres of sustainably grown land, and will grow more than 50 acres of vegetables! Other crops grown at the farm include hay, alfalfa, small grains, and row crops. I was very impressed!
Although Scott’s practices may differentiate from others, in the end I think this tour gave me an opportunity to listen and learn from all, and appreciation for the choices and availability we have nowadays. It is because of people like Scott, Matt, the Boersma family, Lee, Clint, Amy, Derek, Katie, Craig and Amy, along with all the other farmers that we get to eat, that our food is abundant and we have all the options available to us.
Meet Scott Thellman, watch this video!
Meet the Bloggers, Organizers and Crew Team!
Before this tour we were completely strangers sharing one thing in common, our love for food. For 3-days we traveled over 900 miles across Kansas, we laughed, we learned and we ate many meals together. Please take a moment to visit their profiles and read about their work and their own take on the Farm Food Tour.
Patti Dollarhide – Registered Dietitian
This is a sponsored post but all opinions expressed are my own.