Food for thought
DES MOINES – While David Calderwood knows a lot about running his family’s wean-to-finish swine operation near Traer, he’s less familiar with the world of blogging, although he knows it’s a useful way to share agriculture’s story.
When he had the chance to meet with 10 food bloggers on the CornQuest 2012 farm tour on Sept. 26-27, he answered questions ranging from “Is it true there are more pigs than people in Iowa?” to “Can you measure a pig’s happiness?”
“This was a great opportunity to reach out to people who are talking about food and helping promote our product,” said Calderwood, who has raised hogs since 1992 and serves on the Iowa Pork Producers Association’s board of directors. “I also wanted to learn more about how these bloggers do what they do.”
As he helped prepare a recipe with the bloggers during a chef-guided meal in West Des Moines, Calderwood emphasized that sustainability is a key to modern pork production. “We follow the pork industry’s We Care principles, because we’re all about food safety and animal well-being.”
Calderwood farms with his father and brother and markets approximately 18,000 hogs each year. “We’re proud to supply versatile, nutritious food,” he said.
The food bloggers, from several states including Utah, Connecticut, New York, Montana and North Carolina, said they appreciated this first-hand perspective of agriculture.
“It was fantastic to meet some of Iowa’s farmers,” said Janelle Maiocco, of Seattle, Wash., a culinary school graduate who has written her popular “Talk of Tomatoes” blog for six years. “Talk about good hearts and hard workers.
“These are salt-of-the-earth people.”
Reach a wider audience
Personalizing the farm-to-fork connection has been a key goal of the CornQuest tour, which is now in its third year, said Mindy Williamson, communications and public relations director for the Iowa Corn Promotion Board and Iowa Corn Growers Association.
“Each year we invite influential bloggers who live outside of Iowa to spend two days here to get a behind the scenes look at the many facets of the corn industry and Iowa agriculture.
“It was great to host 10 new bloggers this fall.”
This year’s agenda included tours of the Couser Cattle Company, at Nevada, the Iowa Speedway, in Newton and the test kitchens at Des Moines’ Meredith Corporation, which publishes many of America’s leading magazines, including Better Homes and Gardens.
“We want to help consumers better understand Iowa agriculture, and these food and mommy bloggers can help us reach a wider audience than we can reach on our own,” Williamson said, who worked with IPPA, the Iowa Beef Industry Council and Iowa State University on the 2012 CornQuest tour. “We also want to be a resource for the bloggers so they can find the facts they need, whether it’s related to corn, pork, beef or other ag-related information.”
This support is invaluable, noted Ali Ebright, 29, of Missouri, who has written the “Gimme Some Oven” blog for three years. “There are so many misconceptions about corn products like high-fructose corn syrup, and you don’t know what to believe.
“Our blog readers have questions, too, and look to us for input. Now we know where to find answers.
Don’t take farmers for granted
Finding these answers started with a trip to the Couser farm, where the bloggers were impressed by the high-tech equipment.
“I was fascinated by the computer technology that helps make Iowa agriculture so productive,” said Carrie Fields, from Montana, who writes the “Fields of Cake” blog. “While we tend of think of farms in terms of little mom-and-pop operations versus big corporate farms, it was interesting to see that farms are family-owned businesses.”
For a city girl like Julie Chiou, from Washington, D.C., riding in a combine during harvest in Iowa was a thrill. “It was such an eye-opening experience to visit the farm, and I can’t wait to tell everyone about my experiences,” said Chiou, 25, a full-time web developer who has written her “Table for Two” blog for the past two years. “We shouldn’t take farmers for granted.”
Joyce Hoppes, IPPA’s consumer information director, enjoyed working with Chiou and her fellow bloggers during the CornQuest 2012 tour as they prepared maple bacon-wrapped pork with rosemary cherry sauce during a chef-guided lunch in West Des Moines. “I’m energized by the bloggers’ enthusiasm, and I appreciate their willingness to help educate people about Iowa agriculture.”
Many consumers have forgotten the people behind the food they eat, noted Carrian Cheney, 28, a young mother from Utah, whose “Oh Sweet Basil” blog focuses on sharing recipes and reinventing family dinners. “It’s important to remember our roots and realize how vital farmers and agriculture are to all of us.”
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