Heading to the Minnesota State Fair?

This last week has been incredibly warm and humid, so you may have put off plans to head the the Great Minnesota Get Together. This weekend – the final weekend of the fair – is supposed to be beautiful! It would be a great time to check out all the awesome agriculture exhibits at the Minnesota State Fair!

Our family has been attending the fair for quite a few years. We started volunteering in the Oink Booth when we were members of our county pork producers association. We had so much fun handing out pig ears and answering questions about our farm, and about raising pigs in Minnesota. After our daughters became members of 4-H, we started volunteering at the Farm Bureau barn for the days they would be competing at the state fair. This is the first year that our daughters are out of 4-H, but that doesn’t mean our state fair days are over!

On Sunday, September 1, Jonathan and I will be volunteering in the Farm Bureau Building from 1-5 pm. We are excited to be working with Bryan and Marytina Lawrence from Princeton. (To learn more about the Lawrence’s farm, click here.)    We’ve known Bryan and Marytina since we first became involved with the Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers & Ranchers program. Marytina now works with the Speak for Yourself program, which is one of the things I’m involved in.

The Speak for Yourself program does a great job of helping farmers feel comfortable telling their story in front of others. Throughout the fair, there have been several SFY participants who have volunteered to work in the Farm Bureau Building. I hope you will come out on Sunday to ask us questions, or check out the building on Monday when Wanda Patsche will be working. Be sure to also read her blog entry about the state fair before you go!

One of the reasons why I love volunteering at the Farm Bureau Building is meeting people from all over the world. Last year, there was a family from Europe who stopped by to check out how we farm compared to how they farm. When you walk into the building, you will be greeted by one of the volunteers, and asked if you would like to answer a few questions in order to win a prize. The search for the answers will take you around the displays in the building, helping you to learn more about agriculture in Minnesota. After you answer all the questions, you will receive an insulated lunch bag. There is also a recipe booklet available for those who like to cook. There are drawings for children’s books, including “Little House on the Prairie”, so make sure to sign up for your kids!

Dennis Sabel & Katie Winslow handing out insulated lunch bags
Dennis Sabel & Katie Winslow handing out insulated lunch bags

The Ag Cab Lab-Combine is also in the Farm Bureau Building. This activity is great for kids of all ages. Sit inside the cab and see what it is like to combine different crops. If you would like to see what a farmer does while driving a tractor, head on over to the CHS Miracle of Birth Center where the Ag Cab Lab-Tractor is located. While there, check out the new livestock babies that have been born during the fair. The Miracle of Birth Center is another great place to learn about agriculture in Minnesota. The veterinarians, staff, and student volunteers have been working really hard this week to make sure the animals are well cared for in the heat. Ask the FFA students about the animals they are with. They would love to answer your questions!

Besides the Oink Booth that is found in the pig barn, check out the Moo Booth, and the Baa Booth. The Moo Booth has activities going on throughout the day on Sunday, including milking demonstrations. The Baa Booth is located in the sheep barn, and has some fun facts about raising sheep. All three of these booths have farmer volunteers working in them, and they, too, would love to answer your questions.

Another great area to learn about agriculture is the Dairy Building. Not only will you be able to see Princess Kay of the Milky Way’s Butterhead, but you may even get to see Princess Kay herself! The ice cream that you can buy in the Dairy Building is awesome. You can walk around inside the building and pick up recipes from other livestock organizations. Make sure you talk to the people handing out the recipe cards. They all are passionate about what they do!

Pretty much every year, we also take a walk through the Agriculture Horticulture Building to find the Minnesota Crop Improvement Association booth. Jonathan has won many ribbons on seeds that have been submitted. There is a display there about what the seeds from different plants look like. Do you know the difference between grass seed and flax seed? This is the building that houses the contests for Christmas trees, Bees & Honey, Farm Crops, Flower Show, Fruit & Wine, and Vegetables & Potatoes. It is fun to walk through and see the entries, especially the giant vegetables!

There are so many great agriculture stories at the Minnesota State Fair. I would love to hear what you learned when you checked out all the fun displays and the barns – add it to the comments below.

See you at the Fair!


Is It Possible…Truth

Is it possible that we can all have a different truth?

The definition of truth at Dictionary.com lists 5 different meanings. In those different definitions, there is room for truth to be personal. What is true for you may not be true for me.

My Facebook and Twitter feeds have been filled with people or organizations wanting to tell you the truth about GMO’s…or about organic farming…or the causes of cholesterol…or the cure for baldness and cancer. All the posts floating out there have made me question the Truth about Agriculture message.

You all know by now that Jonathan and I are organic crop farmers, and conventional pig farmers. What we consider the truth about agriculture is different that what other farmers consider the truth. So, who is right? Well, we both are.

When I tell my farm story to groups like the Lions or Rotary, I tell my farm story. I don’t mention anything about how my neighbors farm other than the fact that we do things differently. I don’t know the first thing about raising almonds, or milking cows, or cutting alfalfa, or growing cotton. Why would I even try to speculate on what those farmers might be doing? I don’t want to be the one spreading internet generated half truths about my neighbor’s farm. I eat at the same restaurants, worship at the same church, and attend family reunions with some of them. I respect my neighbors and my farmer friends too much to want to condemn their methods of farming just to make me look or feel good. I am sensitive to the power of words, and hate when I say something that would hurt someone. It’s just part of my DNA. I’m definitely not trying to make myself sound like I’m perfect. Jonathan and the girls will tell you differently.

My hope is that more farmers will be willing to get out there and tell their stories. Start your own blog, attend a training session to become part of a speakers corp, or use other social media platforms where consumers will be able to hear your truth. I’d rather hear about your farm from you, not from some group with an agenda.

Going Old School – Boneless Pork Loin Supper

When I am having troubles with inspiration on what to make for supper, I’ll ask Jonathan to bring a random package of meat in from the freezer.  This time, he brought in a boneless pork loin roast. We put it in the fridge to thaw overnight, so I had a few hours to decide what I wanted to do with it.

The roast as it arrived in from the freezer.
The roast as it arrived in from the freezer.


Typically I like to use the Crock Pot, but since I wasn’t roasting any veggies with this one, I decided to use the oven.  I have a Corning French White baking dish that we received for a wedding gift 24 years ago. It is the perfect size for most roasts.

This Corning baking dish rocks!
This Corning baking dish rocks!

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. It is a good idea to spray the baking dish with non-stick spray.  Unwrapping the roast is a little like unwrapping a Christmas present. You know that you are going to love what’s inside, you just don’t know exactly what it looks like.  This one did not disappoint!

Beautiful boneless roast with an excellent fat cap
Beautiful boneless roast with an excellent fat cap

The layer of fat on top of this roast was beautiful! It wasn’t too thick, yet it covered nearly the whole top.  When you are shopping for roasts, look for one with a layer of fat like this one. It helps keep the meat moist while it is roasting, yet isn’t so thick that your seasonings can’t flavor the meat.

Speaking of seasonings, I decided to go old school with a twist. I don’t know what is tradition in your area, but around this Scandinavian area, we don’t get too wild with the spice.

Hy-Vee dry onion soup mix, Vegetable Stock, and Red Wine - simple seasonings
Hy-Vee dry onion soup mix, Vegetable Stock, and Red Wine – simple seasonings

I love the Hy-Vee brand of dry onion soup mix. It is inexpensive, and has a great flavor. Emeril’s Vegetable Stock has a good flavor, and isn’t too salty.  The red wine may break some rules, but I really have no clue what wine is supposed to go with what meat. I just use what I like…as you should!  If you don’t like wine, use apple juice.

Wine and Vegetable Stock poured over roast
Wine and Vegetable Stock poured over roast

Pour the liquids over the roast to get the surface moist. I used just under a cup of liquid total.  After the liquid is in, sprinkle the dry onion soup mix over the top. It should look like this:

Dry onion soup mix sprinkled over the top
Dry onion soup mix sprinkled over the top

Cover the whole thing with aluminum foil, and place on the middle rack of the oven.

The middle rack is the best to make sure heat circulates evenly
The middle rack is the best to make sure heat circulates evenly

This roast was still slightly frozen when I put it in, so I set the timer for 2 hours.  I took it out about 5 minutes before the timer went off, and let it rest while still covered. If you are using a meat thermometer that you leave in while it is cooking, set your timer for 145 degrees.  This is what it looked like after the rest period:

Fresh from the oven. It smelled so good!
Fresh from the oven. It smelled so good!

I’m always a little nervous when I make the first cut into a roast. I don’t want to mess it up with a bad slicing job! I should mention – it is okay for the center to have a bit of pink in it if the meat reached 145 degrees. The first few slices revealed a slight pink, and lots of juice!

This roast was tender and juicy.
This roast was tender and juicy.

I sliced the roast into 3 ounce portions, or one slice per serving. If you are weight conscious – as I am – one serving of lean pork roast is an excellent source of protein.

Each slice is about 3 ounces, or one serving.
Each slice is about 3 ounces, or one serving.

I went traditional with our sides. We love Bird’s Eye Baby Sweet Peas, mashed potatoes, and homemade gravy. One final photo before Jonathan and I devoured our supper. The meat was moist, and tender…sooo good!

Supper is served!
Supper is served!

I hope you are able to try a similar recipe soon!

Blizzards and Caring for Livestock

We were hit with a blizzard warning this weekend, the first major snow of the season. Our forecast on Friday was for 3-4 inches of snow for the weekend, and no watches or warnings. That changed in a hurry on Saturday. Suddenly, we found ourselves in a winter weather advisory for Saturday night, and a blizzard warning for Sunday. Our 3-4 inches became 15 inches…and a lot of wind. We had wind gusts in excess of 40 mph.

This is one of our little trees on Saturday morning. I ran out in flip flops and a fleece jacket to take this photo since it was a beautiful 34 degrees.



This is what the tree looked like early Sunday morning. It was still snowing pretty good at this point.  I wore my snow boots with my fleece jacket this time. The snow was coming in over the tops of my 10 inch boots.


When the winds picked up around 2:00pm, the temps dropped from 34 degrees to 16 degrees in about a half an hour. When trees and power lines are loaded with snow, and the winds kick up to over 40 mph, chances are good we’re going to lose power. The first time the power flashed, both Jonathan and I held our breath. Then, it was lights out. This meant a trip to our other farm site in a whiteout.

Our pigs are housed inside barns where they are warm and dry in the winter, cool and comfy in the summer. They have curtain sides that act like windows in the summer, and, when opened several inches, are emergency ventilation systems in the winter. The barns were built on the farm site where Jonathan and I lived for the first 10 years of our marriage.

pig barn

When the power goes out, we hook up a generator that attaches to a tractor, keeping the barns running as normal. This means that Jonathan must bundle up and drive the tractor the 2.5 miles to the other farm. The tar roads were somewhat manageable, if he drove slowly enough. The turn onto the gravel road meant that all ditch edges were pretty much invisible. It really made me think about all the stories of people getting turned around in blizzards, and being found miles from home. This is the part where I did a lot of praying!

The kindly neighbor, who lives on the corner where Jonathan turned, said he would check on Jonathan when I called and told him the situation. That was a good thing! Jonathan had gone off the road, and had troubles seeing which direction he needed to go. He finally could make out the edge of the grove at the kindly neighbors, and headed back in that direction.  That is where he ended up staying for the night.

Fortunately, the renters in our little house on the barn site were home. The husband agreed to check on the barns, and make sure the automatic curtains dropped for emergency ventilation. The power was out for just over 5 hours…the first time. It stayed on for about 20 minutes before going out for another hour. The last time we lost power was in the middle of the night, for about an hour that time as well.  The outside temperatures were in the -14 degree range at that point. Our renter went out to the barns and adjusted the curtains to make sure there was plenty of fresh air, yet the pigs weren’t getting too cold.

This is what we woke up to. A gorgeous December day.


After Jonathan finally made it home, he went to work clearing out our yard with our little cab-less tractor. He cleaned enough snow to get the pickup out of the yard, then went into town to help his sister. After dinner, our friends went over to the other farm site with their big tractor that has a blade on the front. In the summer, this blade is used for pushing silage into piles. In the winter, we hire him to clear snow.  When the barn site was cleaned out, they pulled our tractor out of the ditch, then they came over to our home place and cleaned out our yard.


While our yard was being cleaned out, Jonathan was over checking on things at the barn. There were a few things to take care of due to the weather, but thankfully, all the pigs looked good!

We are so thankful that Jonathan had a warm place to stay last night! This was the first time in 14 years that he hasn’t made it to the barns in a storm. He has driven over in blizzards, tornado warnings, and severe thunderstorms.  To him, it’s the right thing to do.