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Combining frugal farm lessons with foodie interests

By Staff | Nov 30, 2017



GRAND JUNCTION – Mary Hillman is a life-long fan of chickens.

“My love of chickens started before I could even recall,” she said. “I can remember dragging the pail of cracked corn across the barnyard to feed the chickens. My sisters were afraid of them, so it was my job to feed them. Since then I’ve always had a flock of chickens.”

Eggs and the chickens that laid them were essential to their life on the farm, Hillman said. The only source for money to buy groceries came from the eggs her mother would sell in town. Those staples were added to the fresh produce they grew and the meat they raised to make the meals served on their table.

“I’m sure it was that way for a lot of farm families back then,” Hillman said.

But now she has taken the lessons she learned from her mother to create a niche for herself in the local farm-to-market, fresh food movement. She owns Mary’s Farm & Garden, a small produce and pastured poultry enterprise based on her six acre farmstead in Greene County. She sells eggs from her flock of free-range chickens to restaurants, food cooperatives and individuals. She also raises and sells meat broiler chickens, as well as grows an assortment of seasonal, all-natural produce without the use of chemicals and cans vegetables and homemade sauces.

“A lot of young people are real foodies,” Hillman said. “They want good, quality food. They want to know where it’s from and how it was raised.”

Her approach to healthy eating and sustainable production came about from being frugal, just as her mother and father had learned to be as their families dealt with the long-lasting influence of the Great Depression.

“When you’re raised on the farm, you don’t let anything to go to waste,” she said. “And I’ve always canned. I had to do that just to raise a family and make ends meet.”

Now, her four grown daughters and their generation are equally conscious and careful about their produce and meat sources. It’s not as a result of limited resources, though, Hillman said. Instead they want naturally raised and unprocessed foods for the health benefits and taste.

Hillman develops her recipes from a variety of sources, she said. Many of them are those that have been passed down from family members while others she pulled from an old-school, classic recipe book. She then adapts them as needed.

“I try to keep them super simple,” Hillman said. “Sometimes those basic recipes are the best and they’re so easy.”

One such recipe is her easy quiche. Similar to a Quiche Lorrain, her version only requires eggs, a splash of milk and a bit of cheese poured into a pie crust. Variations on added vegetables can change up the flavor and keep things interesting, she said.

“To me you can just play with it,” Hillman said. “You can use whatever produce and cheese you have on hand. That’s the joy of making a quiche, you can make it however you want. In the springtime, I like asparagus, garlic and bell peppers.”

Serve a slice with a side salad and you have a nice lunch or dinner, she said. Or you can load it up with ham and bacon and have a lovely brunch or breakfast. Quiche, because of its base ingredient of eggs, is flexible.

“You won’t go hungry when you have chickens,” Hillman said. “Eggs are so versatile, and with meat birds there are so many different ways to fix chicken.”

Hillman’s recipes have been featured in local cookbooks and her broiler birds have been on the menu for the Farm to Table Dining experiences offered at the historic Wallace House in Des Moines.

Hillman is a member of Practical Farmers of Iowa, as well as a member of Buy Fresh-Buy Local. Her eggs, chickens, produce and canned goods are available at Perry’s Farmers Market, Wheatsfield Cooperative in Ames and through Farm to Folk at the United Church of Christ in Ames. Her items are also used by restaurants that include Centro in downtown Des Moines, Trostels Dish in West Des Moines, Trostels Greenbrair in Johnston, The Cheese Shop and The Cheese Bar, also in Des Moines.

Hillman also sells to individuals who contact her at the farm. Mary’s Farm & Garden has a page on Facebook and can be emailed at maryalicehillman@yahoo.com. She can be contacted at (515) 738-5181.

Mary’s roasted


1 4-5 pound whole chicken, thawed

Olive oil

1 fresh lemon

Fresh rosemary, chopped

Kosher salt and cracked pepper

Garlic, optional

Heat oven to 375. Place bird in a large roasting pan and coat both sides with olive oil, rubbing into the skin. Place bird breast side up.

Cut lemon in half and squeeze juice over the bird. Place lemon rinds inside the cavity. Sprinkle with rosemary and put some inside the cavity as well. Season with salt and pepper. If you are using garlic, place under the skin of the cavity.

Roast for 15 minutes per pound or until the meat reaches 160 degrees with a meat thermometer. Uncover for last 15 minutes until the chicken turns golden brown. Remove from oven and let set for 10 minutes before cutting.

Angel hair squash (similar to spaghetti squash)

1 small to medium angel hair squash

Marinara or spaghetti sauce


Mozzarella cheese

Prick the skin of the squash all over then microwave for 4 to 5 minutes. This will make the squash easier to cut when you cut it in half. Brush about tablespoon of olive oil on both the inside and out. Place them face down in a foil lined pan and bake the halves 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

Fill the squash with ingredients of your choice. Brown sugar and butter is one option. Or the squash can be used to make an Italian sausage boat. Brown and drain sausage. Spoon marinara sauce on each half, sprinkle browned sausage on then top it with mozzarella cheese. Put the squash back in the oven just long enough to melt the cheese. Serve.

Easy quiche

9 inch pastry pie crust (homemade or frozen)

6 fresh eggs

1/4 to 1/2 cup milk

1 dash of nutmeg

1 cup shredded cheese of your choice

6 to 12 piece of cooked bacon, chopped (optional)

Vegetables of your choice, chopped and sauteed

Crack eggs into bowl, add milk and nutmeg then scramble with a fork or whisk. Chop vegetables of choice, such as broccoli, mushroom and onion or asparagus, garlic and bell pepper. Quickly sautee them in a small amount of butter. Microwave or bake bacon then cut or tear into small pieces. Add the bacon and vegetables to the egg mixture, carefully working them in with a fork. Sprinkle cheese and work it into the egg mixture too. Bake the quiche at 425 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. Stick a knife in the center and when it comes out clean, the quiche is done. Remove from the oven and let the quiche cool for 5 to 10 minutes, allowing it to set up before slicing and serving.

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