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Family, hired help kept her cooking

By Staff | Jan 28, 2010

Jeff and Becky Nielsen operate a farm in western Hancock County. Becky Nielsen said four children in the home and extra hired help during harvest kept her constantly in the kitchen.


Farm News staff writer

BRITT – Jeff and Becky Nielsen were sweethearts in high school and have been married for 26 years. They are the parents of four children, one just graduating from college, two in college, and one remaining at home in middle school. Their four children are Zach, 24; Rachel, 21; Jamisen, 19; and Chloe, 13.

It would seem that their spacious home in western Hancock County, between Britt and Wesley, would be getting empty. With two weddings approaching, one in March and another in July, there will be additional faces when the family gathers around the table.

Zach Nielsen recently graduated from Iowa State University and is returning to farm with his father and grandfather. Rachel Nielsen, the one with a March wedding date, is a senior at ISU in adult and child family services. Jamisen Nielsen is a freshman at ISU studying agronomy and has the July wedding date. Chloe, 13, is in the eighth-grade at West Hancock Middle School.

Chocolate mint cookies.

Becky Nielsen has worked both full and part time as a secretary, but her cooking for her family, and with extra hired help, as many as five or six employees during harvest, it has always been a favorite job.

“With four children at home, I was always cooking,” she said.

Becky Nielsen likes to experiment with her cooking in contrast to her mother who followed recipes precisely. Being flexible has another advantage when meals sometimes have to be adjusted around farm activities. Becky Nielsen said her cooking menu items are meat and potatoes first and then cookies.

The Nielsen’s are active in the Evangelical Free Church in Britt and Becky’s hobbies are reading, music, and cooking. Jeff, a track star in high school and at Simpson College with state records that remain, ran a half marathon last summer at age 48.

The family members include both Hawkeye and Cyclone sports fans.

In addition to crops, the Nielsen farm has hogs that are contract-fed by Jeff for a neighbor who owns the pigs.

Jeff Nielsen feeds a few Holstein steers for his freezer and for others, who are customers with freezers of their own.

Chocolate mint cookies

1 chocolate cake mix

2 eggs

1 stick of butter

2 tablespoons water

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Mix the ingredients well. Drop dough by teaspoon into bowl with powdered sugar and roll. Bake 8-10 minutes. Cut Andes mints in half and place on top of the cookies right out of the oven.

(Note: This is a recipe from Becky Nielsen’s mother and she appreciates it as a simple way to make a batch of delicious cookies quickly. The Andes mints can be bought to reflect the season and Nielsen keeps Andes mints on hand just for this recipe.)

Skiers French toast

2 tablespoons corn syrup

1/2 cup butter

1 cup brown sugar

1 loaf Texas toast

5 eggs

1 1/2 cups milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine syrup, butter and sugar in saucepan; simmer until syrup-like. Pour mixture over bottom of 9-by-13-inch pan. Lay bread slices in a double layer. Beat together eggs, milk, vanilla and salt. Pour over bread. Cover and refrigerate over night. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Cut in squares, invert, and serve.

(Note: Becky Nielsen said she has substituted regular bread for the Texas toast, but it was not as good. Refrigerating the mixture overnight is an important step to include in the preparation. The Nielsen family has served this for Christmas brunch after opening presents, making it a family tradition.)

Sparkling fruit salad

1 fresh pineapple cut into chunks

2 11-ounce cans mandarin oranges, drained

1 1/2 cups halved strawberries

1 1/2 cups halved green grapes

1 1/2 cups white wine or white grape juice

3/4 cup chilled club soda

In a large bowl, combine the pineapple, oranges, strawberries and grapes. Combine wine or grape juice and club soda; pour over fruit. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours, stirring occasionally. Serve with slotted spoon.

(Note: Becky Nielsen said this recipe is especially good in winter as a way to improve the fruit that may not be as good as during the summer.)

Contact Clayton Rye by e-mail at cryw@wctatel.net.

Program shows kids where food comes from

By Margaret

A. Haapoja

From GRIT magazine

ITASCA – Boys and girls from “College for Kids” classes scrambled last summer around the garden on a sunny morning planting tomatoes and cabbages

Instructors Christa Berg and Jennifer Behm encouraged them to dig deep holes so tomatoes can root all the way up their stems and carefully tamp the soil around cabbage seedlings.

The young children in the Itasca Community College summer program set out pepper plants and built a bean tunnel.

With a plot on the east edge of Grand Rapids, Minn., donated by the University of Minnesota North Central Research and Outreach Center, the Plant to Plate garden gathers volunteers of all ages to grow nutritious produce that is donated to the local food shelf – 1,000 to 2,000 pounds each season.

The project mixes a wide spectrum of folks, and the variety of ages and occupations working together is fun, said Joan Foster, former Plant to Plate director.

And the gardens are right down the hill from the cow barn so the soil there is so fertile. You plant a seed there and it just explodes.

Jeff Janacek, who has volunteered with the program since it began six years ago, marvels that so many children had no idea where corn came from, or had never planted a seed in the ground.

“I think we’re making an impact there,” Janacek said. “Getting the kids’ hands dirty, when so much of what they do is sedentary and antiseptic these days, and getting them to plant something so they can see the fruits of their labor, is pretty thrilling.”

Holly Downing and Laurie Benge, Itasca County public health nurses, are the project architects. Inspired by Frances Moore Lapp’s book Diet for a Small Planet, which emphasized organic gardening, vegetarian diets and local food, Downing enlisted Benge, her co-worker and an experienced gardener, to launch the venture.

Downing dubbed the project Plant to Plate six years ago.

Fifth-graders from Southwest Elementary School in Grand Rapids have been involved for several years, and teacher Nancy Mike-Johnson knows some of her students – now in high school – have had a home garden ever since fifth grade because of Plant to Plate.

Former fifth-graders Jace Mann and Nicole Uzelac said they loved working in the gardens. Mann helps his grandmother garden during the summer and wishes he could return to Plant to Plate next year.

The experience has inspired Uzelac to garden at home, and she plans to volunteer at Plant to Plate in the future.

YMCA campers worked in the gardens several hours a week this summer. In addition to learning where their food comes from and giving back to people in need, children benefit from interaction with caring adults who work side by side with them in the garden.

Retirees Barb and Doug Veit have volunteered since the project’s inception.

We really like the idea of community coming together to produce healthy food, said Barb Viet, a former elementary school teacher. That’s such an important thing for us. If we can help get healthy food to more people, that’s what motivates us to stay involved with Plant to Plate.

Demand at the Second Harvest North Central Food Bank was up 11 percent during the first half of 2009 over the same period in 2008, said Executive Director Sue Estee.

Seven hundred and forty one households visited the Grand Rapids Food Shelf – one of 33 food shelves operated by Second Harvest – in July 2009 compared to 647 households in July 2008.

“We average about 21 pounds of free food per individual coming to the Food Shelf and distribute more than 40,000 pounds of free food to families in need each month, said Ellen Christmas, Grand Rapids Food Shelf program manager. “Many families have to make a second visit because they need to feed their children who are home from school and not receiving meals there during the summer.

“Many families are applying for the first time as unemployment is at an all-time high in our area.”

A $2,000 grant from the Northland Foundation supported the Plant to Plate project last year, but almost all seeds, time, labor and equipment are donated.

National companies like Seed Savers Exchange and Johnny’s Selected Seeds contribute seeds, and local nurseries donate plants and mulch that the city public works department delivers to the site.

Volunteers take responsibility for planting, weeding and harvesting by adopting one of the 21 beds.

Plant to Plate is a great community project, said Lynn Cottingham, former nutrition outreach manager at Second Harvest Food Bank in Grand Rapids, “and it’s wonderful that so many people have stepped forward.

“I think they realize it’s important to be involved in something that’s good for kids.”

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