The Joy of Home grown, Free Range Food

I haven’t blogged for a while. Since my last blog entry nearly half a year ago, I have gotten married, moved to the big city in Minnesota, and started the end of my undergraduate career as a biochemistry student at the big university. It has seemed difficult to catch my breath with all of my new found responsibilities. I thought I would just catch my breath a little with a fast blog this evening.

I digress.

One of the worst parts of growing up, as it seemed at first, has been worrying about feeding myself. Now I have become a wife, and sharing the responsibility with a man that can cook well has been relieving. But I also feel the pressure; someone else has to like my cooking now!

Mastering the art of grocery shopping on a budget was the first challenge. I coupon; which helps some with the cost. Growing up on a farm, though, with fresh food, especially meats and vegetables, at my fingertips most of my childhood, has unfortunately left a sour taste in my mouth about a large part of purchasing groceries at the big store in the big city. Somewhere between the farm and the shelf, so much of the food out there changes a scary amount. A piece of the food improves through the processing that happens between farm to you (who could live without cheese, yogurt, butter, and of course the “staples”), but so much of it has to go through a lot in order to have a longer shelf life.

It feels difficult for me to enjoy so much of the food in the pretty packaging you find on your grocery store shelf (I know my husband disagrees, having always eaten food the way most Americans do).

But, this leads to the blessing in the story; my farming roots. Although I have left my family and moved out, it is always so incredible to get to visit the family farm in rural Minnesota; and I get to reap the benefits of my visit long afterward in the “grocery trip” I get to bring home. It is always such a blessing that my father still shares his farm labor with us. Although my father most likely will not read this, I would just like to say, “Thanks Dad!”

Just today, I got to enjoy free-range eggs for breakfast, free-range, organic chicken for dinner, with potatoes and veggies from the all-natural garden. Not only was this all delicious; it meant a lot that it all came from a farmer that put so much care into his work, that the chickens that give us fuel for the day were cared for properly by someone that loves to do what they do for the sake of the animals.

I know most people in this country do not come from farming backgrounds, and that is okay, but I would just like to encourage people out there to support a local farmer, and buy some of your groceries local. Visit your farmer’s market when that time of year rolls by again. Network with the hard-working people from your community that make your food. Tell them thanks for being dedicated to real food! Try gardening if you haven’t had the experience before (gardeners; shout out to those that have a bigger appreciation for the people that make real food ūüėČ ). And, thank a farmer.

And I would like to say thank you for all the farmers that stay in their occupation, working hard and providing food for the entire world. Thank you to the majority that respect the animals that feed us, and a special thank you to those that offer organic and free-range choices to eat.

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Metaphorically, What is a Dairy Princess?

Each of our 50 states in the United States of America have dairy farms in it, with a grand total of 51, 481 farms, 98% being family owned and operated.

Minnesota is home to 4,325 dairy farms, 99% of which are family owned and operated. Minnesota dairy farming is the bread and butter to Minnesota’s economy, with an economic impact of $1.8 billion annually.

Well, dairy princesses are the favorite¬†bra for such a valuable asset as the dairy industry. We have everything one would¬†want in such a support. We¬†uphold first and foremost¬†(some better than others, of course, but as a whole, we are wonderful at our job).¬†We class up the¬†situation with beauty, sparkles,¬†and feminine appeal. Our tender touch creates comfort unlike other support systems for the industry.¬†This is what we are¬†for the dairy industry as princesses and ambassadors, and we are just a bunch of dairy farmer’s daughters.

 Our crowns are our platform, where we stand up for where we came from and have a say in the future of our livelihood.

Our farms are our sanctuary, our nest, our refuge.¬†The dairy farm’s welcoming arms after a time outside is like a mother’s hug; familiar and warm. The work is our teacher, molding us into strong, hardworking¬†women. The lessons are not like any you could learn in a school. We learn about the miracle, joys, and sorrows of life. We appreciate the Earth and God’ power to a heart touching extent. We become the best breed of women through our upbringing.

Protecting and supporting our haven is an honor. We suddenly become knights in shining armor¬†when we take on the crown. We fight off the ignorance about where food comes from. We fight off negative views. We fight the belief that we don’t love our animals with everything we are. We fight the environmentalist attacking us (clearly we appreciate the Earth, we live from¬†her and give back to her to be able to keep living from her).

We are mediators, showing the enemy thoughts how we treat our animals and our Earth.

We love the cattle. Ours eat grass all day long. They enjoy our voices, our touch.

My neighbor’s cows¬†are like German Shepard dogs, loyal to only him.

There is a love between farmers and their herds that soothes the baby’s cries.

The herds know when to come in, they enjoy the time of relief and familiar comfort in their parlor.

The daughters tell of this love to the consumer as princesses. “A stress free cow is a milk-making cow!” Trust us. We grew up with the calf, we see them born, we see them grow, we see them make their own offspring when their time comes and then join the milking herd. Although the cow doesn’t know of her importance in feeding the world, we treat her that way.

We are also teachers. We go to schools and tell the kids crucial things about their world. The wonder of finding out where one’s food comes from can be¬†like a baby seeing his hands for the first time. We¬†have a burning for¬†teaching¬†people, especially young ones,¬†about being healthy; about giving their body the fuel it needs to grow strong and stay active (Such as through Fuel Up To Play 60 programs). We create waves where we go.

One of my favorite parts of being a dairy princess is the influence I have as an author of positivity in young women’s lives. Their positive views toward my outward appearance give me a pen to write into their lives truths about how beautiful they¬†were created.¬†Girls look to me like a compass. They ask me,¬†“what direction should I go?” I have the responsibility¬†of pointing due north, to use my platform in a great way. I need to study and stay true beyond what others expect, because the wind of falsehood can blow the flower into the dirt.

I love my responsibility as a ray of sunshine. It is hard work overcoming the clouds of many people’s, “you are not good enough,” and “what you stand for is stupid.” I have the opportunity to rise above the clouds.

I have the teamwork of other princesses, dairy background and non-dairy background. We love our community, they are our soil and we the flowers. We came from them and we give back to them because now is our time to do so.

We are poised as statues, yet fun as a pod of dolphins. We know our manners, yet we can make a group laugh. We are politically correct, yet always smiling. We are positive and upbeat. It takes a special talent, a special woman. I can accredit my personality to the Lord first, and absolutely molded by my upbringing on the farm.

Now speaking more¬†literally…¬† I am proud to be a dairy princess. I am proud of my ambassador platform. I get to show¬†others who my dairy industry family is. I get to tell the world about the health of dairy foods. I get to tell them of the positive economic impact of our industry. I get to tell them that we love and respect our animals and our land. I get to speak truths into the lives of girls, young and old, as a strong,¬†beautiful¬†woman. How many other platforms could¬†give such an honor to a measly farmer’s daughter?

I am honored to be a Mille Lacs County Senior Dairy Princess.

Chocolate Milk as part of a Nutritious Diet

A recent article in the newspaper of the town I grew up in recently confirmed to me that the high school I used to attend stopped serving chocolate milk on all but one day of the week.

( http://unioneagle.com/2012/09/new-school-menu-gets-mixed-reviews/ )

There had been a large menu change this school year at PHS, and I would say mostly for the better. They are offering more whole grain choices, unlimited raw veggies and fruits, and decreasing sodium and sugar in the overall menu. The one awful decision someone made, however, was to take away chocolate milk almost completely (chocolate milk is offered only on Fridays). As a strong supporter of all things dairy, I would just like to say this choice on removing chocolate milk from the school lunch menu is greatly hindering many people’s nutrient intake throughout the week. Many students (and teachers for that matter) simply do not enjoy the taste of skim or 1% milk out of a cardboard carton, and with removing the choice of chocolate; you are entirely removing their serving of dairy from their lunch. In the newspaper article about the recent menu changes, 7 out of the 10 interviewed students/teachers commented negatively on the milk situation (none positively), several saying they were entirely choosing not to even drink milk at lunch without the choice of chocolate or 2%. One quote that stood out to me was from a past teacher of mine, a very successful basketball coach at PHS¬†and supporter of health, wellness, and physical activity. He himself said, “I never drank white milk.” He also makes a valid point, that assuming a one-fits-all, low-calorie, very-low-sugar diet is good for such a large group of people is unfair, as many are more active than others.

The elimination of¬†chocolate milk¬†from the menu of a large group of people, such as in schools, does more harm than good to the overall diets of people. Chocolate milk has¬†every one¬†of the 9-essential nutrients¬†unflavored skim or 1% milk offer. These include calcium, vitamins A, D and B12, potassium, riboflavin, niacin, protein and phosphorus. Not offering the more preferred choice takes away from many people’s’ 3 servings of dairy a day and¬†harms their overall nutritional intake. With about only 29% of families in America serving milk at their dinner table, milk consumption at school is a crucial opportunity for nutrient consumption for many developing adolescents.

But what about that added sugar in flavored milk? Flavored milks contribute only 3% of the added sugars¬†in the average kid’s diet. Let’s really compare white milk to chocolate. The white, whole milk in my fridge has 11 grams of sugars, entirely natural lactose occurring in milk. Our chocolate milk offers only 6 more grams of sugar, just more than a tspoon, what most adults consume in their morning coffee each day. Compare these both to the same serving size of my Naked “Blue Machine” juice? A whopping 29 grams of sugar per serving almost double that of chocolate milk. I don’t hear anyone deeming that choice unhealthy!

What do the experts say about this sugar trade-off? The Institute of Medicine recognizes flavored milk as a great nutritional source with a moderate sugar level. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recognizes both white and flavored milks as a great alternative to soft drinks, which many teens choose when they cannot have their good tasting chocolate milk. Most of our nation’s leading health and nutrition organizations and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recognize the valuable role that milk, including flavored milk, can play in meeting daily nutrient needs. They recognize the small amount of added sugars in flavored milk as an acceptable trade-off for the nutrients provided.

I think it is clear here that we should not be attacking chocolate milk to make our school menu more nutritious or healthy. According to the USDA, flavored milk is chosen 66% of the time in school lunch programs. Limiting the choice of chocolate milk in school lunches lowers milk consumption by more than 35%, a big ouch in the nutrition intake. I think the people have spoken; we need to allow the choice of chocolate milk in our schools. I truly admire all the efforts this school district is making toward healthier lifestyle promotion, but chocolate milk was really NOT the thing to remove from the menu. A lot of great choices were made for a healthier diet, but to make sure the student and staff body are consuming the nutrients they need, we need to allow flavored milk as a choice in our school lunches.

I think we also need to look at this issue as a nation-wide concern. With the First Lady’s positive support toward a healthy and active lifestyle in kids, many school districts are incorrectly turning against chocolate milk as a way to cut a bit of sugar from kids’ diets. There are more appropriate ways to cut calories, sodium, fat and sugar from diets, and we need to protect this one nutrient-rich miracle food we have in milk. School boards and congress-people need to be aware of how much people love chocolate milk and all the benefits in keeping it in our schools. In order to ensure our nation is staying strong and healthy, we need to offer our growing kids the nutrients they need through milk, and offer it in a way that the majority will choose to drink it.

Can you ever have too much butter?

‚ÄúIs there anything better than butter? Think it over, every time you‚Äôve tasted something that‚Äôs delicious beyond imagining, and you say, ‚Äėwhat is in this?!‚Äô the answer‚Äôs always going to be: Butter.‚ÄĚ (Julie and Julia)
Perhaps I have such an appreciation for butter because it is the way I was raised… I grew up on a dairy farm with about 35 cattle on it in a small town in Minnesota. We lived on our products, drinking way more milk than you could imagine, and butter in and on EVERYTHING. But butter is such a magical product. Butter is the perfect accent to any flavor, the way it absorbs the flavors around it and adds its own sweet, savory touch.
Last night I served one of my favorite dinners for my family; Mediterranean green beans, cheese and spinach lasagna, veggie salad, and fruit. I have a few strategies I like to use when I cook/bake, such as using only Roma tomatoes for their retention of juices and flavors, never being afraid of garlic, and always using real olive oil when frying or keeping moisture in foods. None of these stands above¬†the power I see in some good old fashion butter you can add to almost any food. The addition of¬†butter to so many foods¬†makes the difference¬†between, ‚ÄúMmm, these are some good beans,‚ÄĚ and, ‚ÄúWow! I love these beans! How did you get the garlic and seasonings to blend together so well?‚ÄĚ The answer is in the way you roast the garlic and the final¬†touch you add to the¬†dish; adding butter, of course! It somehow magically absorbs and brings together all the flavors in a dish.
So what about margarine? The product from milk fat has received a bad rep, with many claiming margarine as an equal and healthier alternative. Excuse me if you are one of these margarine advocates, but I cannot imagine why so many honestly have followed this movement toward a fake trans-fat in exchange of a natural animal fat. Not to mention that butter tastes so much better than its hydrogenated imitation! I wouldn’t even bother with the flavor-adding touch of butter if it weren’t the real deal.
Although I would not eat a whole stick of butter this evening, I stand behind butter all the way for its magical deliciousness. I hope I have at least inspired a small change in someone out there that you will be motivated to add a little butter to a dish and name it your ‚Äúsecret ingredient‚ÄĚ or brag about the remarkable addition to an outdated family dish and spread the word about butter!

Princess Kay of the Milky Way Event

I am at the May Event for Princess Kay of the Milky Way, the official goodwill¬† ambassador for the dairy industry in Minnesota. This weekend is officially a competition for the crown, but also a great learning experience for how to represent the dairy industry and better be a dairy princess in my local community. One thing I learned is how to use blogging to stand up for what I love and believe in! So, here is my stance; I am a dairy believer! As a dairy farmer’s daughter, dairy is where I came from. It is the healthy choice for anyone. I love coming from the background of a family that loves and cares for animals. Now we do not milk cows at my home, but my father milks off the farm. I love being a dairy princess and I am super excited to use my new media as a way to promote what I love! Here is me sitting in our “cyber caf√©” learning from the midwest dairy association media expert, learning all the tricks of blogging.

My first blog with the Midwest Dairy Association’s media expert! (I am on the far left with the TOMS sticker)

Hopefully I learn something! Soon to come: Recipes and life stories! And a little of my life on the farm and my transition out of the farm life and into my life as an independent human being.