Have you been able to keep up with me this summer? I’ve visited farms all over the Midwest, and I think that I’ve started my fall tour officially with the Iowa Corn Quest 2016 Tour courtesy of the Iowa Corn Board. I was invited with 9 other bloggers to spend several days asking questions of corn farmers about their planting and harvesting practices while also learning about delicious recipes to use corn in. Guys, we learned how to make an appetizer with GRITS that wasn’t a shrimp and grits shooter. So good, and it was a great way to use up peppers from my garden too!
I know that I am not the quintessential farmer type, but I like to think of myself as an urban farmer. I don’t have copious amounts of land, but the land that I do have, I love and treat with lots of respect so that it grows food to feed my family and other families in the neighborhood. It’s why I love going on this state trips to see how others farm big scale, and why I have a passion for sharing what I learn with you all.
So, of course, the usual questions came up about GMOs and whatnot – we were told that they are safe to consume, and this is something that I’ve believed since I’ve deepened my understanding of food. I get that some people don’t understand the science behind it, and I respect your right to only eat organic with the understanding that those are sprayed with pesticides as well. I mean, how else would you get pretty, hole-free produce to consume without them? (I’m not against food with holes though – it’s a way of life) Either way, food grown by farmers is typically GMO, as it’s field corn. Field corn is the corn used in products that you see on your grocery store shelves, etc. Feed corn is corn used to feed animals. Seed corn is the corn raised to plant whatever type of corn will be grown, and sweet corn accounts for less than 1% of the corn grown in the United States. Interesting, right? I thought so. The corn that I grew in the community garden was NOT GMO and I wasn’t able to enjoy ANY of it because of corn worms. I was miffed. We’ll try again next year, but we were told that sweet corn will be available in GMO varieties, and I may do an experiment with two different plots of corn beds. I left inspired.
Let’s round up the trip though, shall we? I arrived in Davenport a little before we were to have an evening dinner, and met the other nine bloggers that I would be spending the rest of the week with. We all met in the lobby of the Hotel Blackhawk and loaded into a trolley to have dinner at the Mississippi River Distilling Company. We had a wonderful meal and then learned how corn fuels our cars, and lowers emissions, while also learning that if you enjoy drinks like gin, vodka, and bourbon. We know that wheat and rye also fuel these libations too, but we were on a corn tour, so I’ll talk about them when I do a wheat or rye farm.
We had sweet corn that evening, which it was a little past season for, but it was good nonetheless.
We returned back to the hotel with instructions to be up bright and early for our trip to our cooking class, farm visit and tailgating party later that evening. Whisk Away Bakery & Cafe was the location of our cooking class using corn in every course from appetizer to dessert. My favorite item to make from the morning was the Verde chicken posole. It was SO GOOD, and I can’t wait to make it again for the Houseful. The Posole was made with hominy and had just the right kick for this spice avoiding gal. Dr. Ruth McDonald also chatted with us and answered different questions for us, including why corn is qualified as having no nutritional value unless mixed with something else because of its starch content, and what other things you can make with corn cobs.
Our next stop was a 1700 acre field corn farm, with a bit of a hog farming addition. Kurt Hora and his family were great, and I LOVED seeing the kids out with their father while he was hosting us. Out of all of the work that I’ve done with Illinois agricultural programs, I always seemed to miss visits to the farms when they were harvesting. It was nice to sit in a combine when the corn was at the exact moisture level that makes corn perfect for harvesting. If you’ve never had the pleasure of sitting in one of these behemoth vehicles, you wouldn’t know that it one swoop it harvests the corn cob, strips the kernels, deposits the stalk and cob back onto the ground and can do it all on the turn of a dime. It’s amazing. I was like a kid in these machines. I’m not sure where the love of the large tractors has come from, but the fact that they are air-conditioned technologically enabled and quite make me happy. It’s still hard work though, and long hours during harvest season.
After hanging out on the farm for a bit, we headed to a tailgate hosted by Dick Gallagher and his wife. I was envious of the outdoor roaster that he built, and his french fry cutter that he hooked up on the back of his pickup. I may have had a bit too much fun sending spuds through to be fried into what are possibly the best fries I’ve had as an adult. We were able to talk shop a little longer with the farmers before heading back to the hotel for the evening.
The next morning was a bit rainy, so instead of touring a barge, which is how the majority of the corn grown on the Eastern side of Iowa is shipped, we went to the John Deere Pavilion instead. I took awesome photos and immediately lost them with a phone upgrade, and I am ashamed. However, it means that I need to go back, so I will.
We then visited Kent Grain Processing Corporation to see how field corn is used in common products around the world, and I assure you, food scientists and chemists alike would love spending time there.
Afterward, we closed out the tour with a wonderful lunch at the Tool Shed in Davenport, and it was delicious. I had ribs. I ate them all. Nothing survived. Amen.
It was nice for me to be on this tour in that I got to see so many aspects of what corn supports. Alcohol for those who drink it, fuel – did you know ALL gasoline has at least 10% ethanol in it? – and food. I’m even more impressed by the desire for farmers to provide a tangible item for the consumption of so many.
While I come from a family of personal farmers, I know that whether you do it to support your family financially or via food, it’s a lot of hard work and a LOT of love put into it.
So, the next time you’re driving a long stretch of highway in the Midwest and see fields and fields of corn, know that it took a LOT of work to get it there.