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Wordless Wednesday

I can’t wait for this…

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Who Am I?

How do you introduce yourself when meeting someone for the first time? At the many farming related conferences and training sessions I have attended over the last two months, the introductions have typically been the same…name, where from, what do you grow. While that tells your new friend a little about you, they don’t really know who you are.

If I were to create a name tag with interests, personality, status, etc…it would be filled with words like this:

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Labeling seems like such a neat, tidy way to keep track of people. I’m not sure that is really being fair, though. I am much more complex than a simple label would indicate.  I almost feel like I am back in high school sometimes, which wasn’t a very fun time for me. I was the shy, socially awkward one with few friends, mostly because I didn’t fit into any neat little category. I had friends from many groups, and would move between them often. I am the same way today.

This analogy became very clear to me this past weekend. I was attending the MOSES Organic conference with Jonathan for a couple of days before heading to the AgChat Foundation’s first ever Regional Conference. The learning sessions at both events were awesome, but very different.  The people at both events were awesome, but very different.  The one thing that stood out to me the most, was how the research from both organic and conventional agriculture are complementary. The breakout sessions I attended at MOSES could have been for anyone who grows corn, soybeans, or wheat. The Social Media breakout sessions at the AgChat conference would be valuable for anyone interested in promoting agriculture. While our methods and markets are different, when it comes right down to it, we all want the same thing.

I have been challenging myself over the past year to try looking at the bigger picture. To refrain from passing judgement when I don’t know the whole story. To stop putting people into good/evil categories based on one little facet of their life. I struggle with this more than I would really like to admit. I feel it is a part of the growing process, and I hope that I am not the same person one year from now that I am today.  I hope I am a better version of myself. One who is patient when listening to others, who finds the good in people, and who thinks first and reacts second.

I would challenge all of you to do the same thing. Take a step back…don’t be so quick to label people, or put them into a good/evil category. Look at the bigger picture. You may really like the view!

Comfort Foods…A Culinary Warm Blanket

I’m sick. It doesn’t happen very often, and this cold is really making me feel cruddy. I am craving foods that give my insides a cuddle that only a warm, fuzzy blanket on a cold day can bring. Since my throat is pretty raw, and talking has become an issue, my first love has been tea.

When I was growing up, my mom would whip up a batch of Russian Tea mix in the fall. I loved coming inside from playing in the snow, and smelling the orange and spicy aroma of this tea. I still make a batch every fall, just to make sure I am prepared for the cold, snowy days of winter.

The ingredient list is pretty simple:

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I have modified the recipe that is listed in our church cookbook, but that is the beauty of this recipe. You can tweak it to suit your taste.

Russian Tea Mix

2 cups Tang powdered orange drink (this works much better than orange Kool-aid)

1 1/2 cups sugar (I omit the sugar – this is sweet enough without it)

3/4 cup unsweetened lemon flavored instant tea

1/3 cup powdered lemonade (I use a couple packets of True Lemon instead)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Mix all ingredients…or, if you are like me, put all ingredients into a food processor and pulse until all particles are the same size. I prefer everything to be well mixed, and the same size so everything dissolves evenly. Store in an airtight container.  Add 2 tablespoons of tea mix to an 8 ounce mug of boiling water.

I store my tea mix in a plastic airtight container.

I store my tea mix in a plastic airtight container.

Lately, I’ve been adding a splash of cranberry juice to my tea. If it’s before bed, I may add a splash of Prairie Vodka as well. It is my form of NyQuil.

 

What are some of your favorite comfort foods that you crave when not feeling well? Share your recipes, if you’d like. I’d love to try them!

 

Many Parts, One Body

I’ve been thinking about this post for awhile. Jonathan and I have attended three farming conferences in January. All three had important sessions that we could use on our farm, yet the conferences were very different. This is what started the theme rolling in my head…

I was reading my friend’s blog about his trip to the American Farm Bureau’s annual meeting a few weeks ago, where the theme was “Many Voices, One Vision.”

In church this past Sunday, one of the scripture lessons helped make the theme that was swirling around a little more clear.

1 Corinthians 12:14-26

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

One Body with Many Members

14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

Many parts…one body. What an awesome concept. It works with everything in life, really. It is the same with a school board, our government, or our occupations.

With farming, we have such a wide variety of passions…a wide array of crops…and a very diverse landscape. If we all tried to grow just corn, some would fail while others thrived. Our soils and our climate is not the same north to south, or east to west.  While some states are great at growing wheat, others are more suitable for peanuts. Isn’t that awesome! Because of the diversity, I can make peanut butter cookies.

I would love to see us all embracing the differences, knowing that we are all part of the body of agriculture. “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”

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!

Confessions…

I think it’s time I aired a few things…  I am not perfect.

I use too much hairspray, swear too much (sorry, mom), drink a little (again – sorry, mom), am addicted to good coffee, and have a temper.  I never finished college, and I don’t have perfect grammar. I am overweight because I love good food, and I don’t exercise enough. I am super scared of mice, and I hate spiders.

I have good qualities as well. I am a christian, am active in my church, and I love to give back when I can. I am involved on many agricultural related committees and task forces. I am a wife, mom, aunt, sister, cousin, and friend. I love my whole crazy family – the in-laws and outlaws, too.  I try to be respectful at all times, whether I am communicating in person, or on the internet. I am loyal to a fault…yes, I’m still a Minnesota pro sports fan.

Jonathan and I hang out with very different groups of people.  We have our neighborhood card club, made up mostly of Belgian-American farmers that are pretty much all related to each other. We are the only Scandinavians in the group.  Then there is our dinner club, made up of 5 couples from church. Our ages range from early 40’s to mid-70’s.  It is a very eclectic group, but we have tons of fun.  I am active in Farm Bureau, and count amongst my friends farmers from all over the US and Canada.  There are many different farming styles represented by my friends.

I’m pretty sure there are no others on the planet that have the same personality quirks that I do. I am an individual, unique, even a bit crazy at times. Yet, I am welcomed into each group because I have at least one thing in common with them.  The whole six degrees of separation thing has proven itself many times!

Does this sound any different from the rest of you?

I am an organic crop farmer. I’m not a 1st generation hippie farmer like some would like you to believe. Our farm will be celebrating it’s centennial this year. 100 years of continuous Olson family farmers.  Jonathan and I started farming together in 1988. We farmed conventionally until 1998, when we started to transition our first field into organic production. We finished transitioning all of our acres just a few years ago.  In the early ’90’s, many farm economists were talking about value added opportunities, and finding alternative crops to grow to stay viable. So, we did. We love our method of farming, and we are proud of what we grow.  That attitude is pretty much the same attitude that Jonathan’s great-grandfather had when he moved his family to this farm from Iowa. It is the same attitude that Jonathan’s grandfather had when he started raising seed for the Minnesota Crop Improvement Association in the 1940’s.

More confessions – we do not eat an exclusively organic diet. We eat more meat than vegetables at some meals, and don’t feel bad about it. I buy groceries based on taste preferences, and what’s available at the time. I don’t like turnips or tons of root vegetables. I have never tried kale, and part of me thinks there is no way it can be good for you. I don’t like heavy whole wheat breads. And, I don’t feel guilty for my food choices. I know that whatever I choose to eat, a farmer is involved.

I don’t think I fit any stereotypes for organic farmers. Funny thing is, I don’t know too many who do.

The point of this whole thing? Every farmer is unique. We all do things a little differently on our farms, like to eat different foods, and cheer for different sports teams. We can get along when we are face to face at meetings, on trips, or just hanging out. Why, then, does it seem like we can’t get along on the internet?  Why do people feel free to put down others in a medium that is viewed by those who may not understand the subjects we are arguing about? Just discussing the pros and cons of certain GM seeds, or different organic methods can quickly turn into a battle between farmers. What’s the point in that? What are others hearing when farmers are putting each other down?

I shared some my laundry at the beginning of this blog – not to make myself feel better, but to point out that we typically only see a small portion of who a person is.  Agriculture is the same way. What we talk about on social media is only a small portion of what farming is. Instead of focusing on the faults, why not take a look at the whole picture?  You might find that you have more in common with each other than you think.

I can't seem to take a decent photograph...

I can’t seem to take a decent photograph…

What Messages are our Readers Hearing?

Social media moves fast. Opinions are cast about, sometimes without further thought. At times, this is okay. Other times, we may have just washed our credibility down the drain.  It is sort of like the high school kid who posts a ton of inspirational Bible verses during the week, and all weekend there are photos of them either drunk, or with alcohol in hand at a party.  Which image are you going to remember? The underage drinking, or the Bible verses?

I like to follow certain agriculture blogs, and have found it worthwhile to connect with them on Twitter and Facebook as well. It seems to be a more complete picture of the message they would like to convey.  I know I’m not the only one, judging by the traffic on those sites.

Today, there was a lot of conversation going on about this speech that made the news last night.  I read the article, and decided to digest it a little while before commenting.  I watched my Facebook and Twitter feeds, looking to see what others had to say as well.

I have many friends that farm organically, and I have many friends that farm conventionally. When we are together, we do not throw barbs at one another, or make inflammatory remarks about their methods of farming. We are passionate about what we do, and want to promote our products. That is not a bad thing. Every farmer should be proud of what they raise.

There are times when passion takes over, and lines are crossed. It makes me sad when farmers are attacking one another, just because they farm differently. The trend this afternoon has been to take snippets of Mark’s speech (linked above), and use it to bolster their opinion.  How does this make us any better than the activists who are bent on putting us out of business, simply because they have an impassioned opinion about what we do?

Jonathan and I both share the opinion that there is room for all kinds of agriculture in the United States.  This means that I try very hard not to put down farming practices that are different from mine.  I learn more when I try looking at things from a different angle, or try understanding where another person is coming from.

To be honest, I was hoping people would react to Mark’s speech in a way that could heal some of the division we are seeing in agriculture. I would challenge others to view the speech not as validation for any one point of view, but as a courageous admission that maybe we don’t know everything.  I challenge my friends and neighbors to stand up for each other. Support the farmer’s choice for how they farm their land, or raise their animals. Our goals are all the same, really.

This leads me to ask, what messages are our readers hearing? The ones where we say agriculture needs to be united, or the messages where we put down that which is different than our own?

Merry Christmas From our Farm to You!

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year from the Olson family!

The Christmas season is typically filled with the hustle and bustle of baking, shopping, and decorating. This year, we added a trip to the Mayo Clinic for Anna’s yearly checkup, and grain hauling into the mix. Some decorating didn’t happen, but Christmas isn’t dependent on how festive the house looks.  After all, Jesus was born in a stable, surrounded by farm animals.

I am so thankful for Anna’s positive check up. Her MRI showed no new Multiple Sclerosis activity, and her physical tests showed no major declines in strength or other issues. That was our first Christmas gift this year.  Anna and I left for Rochester a day early, due to a blizzard warning in that area. We wanted to get ahead of the storm, and avoid driving in the wide open spaces in wind driven snow. This was the third year in a row that we have spent extra time in Rochester due to winter storms. Our hotel was great when Anna’s first appointment went long, and we were late for checkout on Friday morning. They didn’t charge us a late checkout fee, even though they could have. That was our second Christmas gift this year.

On Christmas Eve Day, we started out with fresh caramel rolls for breakfast.  We all went in to our church’s candle light Christmas Eve service that evening, where we served as the greeters. I love seeing all of the families who have come home for Christmas. Having our girls home for Christmas was our third gift this year.

Our family opens gifts on Christmas Eve, following the candlelight service. I love the laughter, the delight, the joy at gifts given and gifts received. Two of the girls did the majority of the gift buying this year.  It was a fun night.

Christmas day dawned bright and cold.  It was a day of playing games with Jonathan’s cousins from town, and eating delicious appetizers and cookies.

In the midst of all the merriment, Jonathan has been out working in the single digit temperatures to load out semi loads of grain, as well as the usual pig chores. The cold temperatures always bring equipment issues, but typically things get fixed in short order. We are thankful for our dairy friends who are out in the barns every day – holiday or not. I haven’t heard any complaints about working holidays, or working in the extreme cold. This is the life we have chosen, and we are thankful for it.

So, from our farm to you, we wish you a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Love this Crazy Life

Time flies when you are having fun, right? I can’t believe how fast the last month has gone!

Jonathan and Laura returned from Tanzania full of stories, videos, and photos.  I’ll let Jonathan tell you about his experiences in another blog.

After the travelers returned home, we jumped right into a full schedule. Laura wanted to head back to college right away to try and catch up on more assignments, so I took her back to USF just a day after they returned home. A day later, Jonathan and I had an organic farming seminar to attend a few hours from home, so he basically hit the ground running as well.

The following week was Thanksgiving. We were hosting this year, so I was able to plan the event how I wanted it. My rule this year – nobody brings anything, and everyone stays out of the kitchen until time for dishes. The exceptions were Christina, who made the dinner rolls, and Laura, who was my sous chef.  The day was awesome. It was the most stress-free Thanksgiving I have ever hosted!

Our menu was partly traditional, and partly not. As in, we didn’t have any cranberry anything, and no marshmallows made an appearance on sweet potatoes.

We started the meal with a Squash Soup appetizer. While our guests were eating their soup, Laura and I set the rest of the meal on the table.

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The rest of our menu looked like this:

Apple Cider Brined Turkey

Mashed potatoes

A Simple Gravy made with chicken stock (no drippings)

Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Green Bean Casserole

Dinner Rolls (recipe follows)

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For dessert, I made a pecan pie, double layer pumpkin pie, and chocoflan

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After our meal, everyone pitched in on dishes, and then we relaxed. We took our Olson family photo (minus one nephew who is currently studying in India) so Grandpa could send out his Christmas letter.  It was nice to celebrate with Anita and Charles, who will be heading back to Canada in a couple of days to celebrate Christmas with Charles’ family. They will be heading back to the mission field after the New Year.

I am so thankful for my family, my in-laws, the outlaws, my friends. The list could go on forever. I have been so blessed this past year! Thank you, my dear readers, for being a part of my life for the last two years. I look forward to sharing more stories about my family, my farm, and successful ventures in the kitchen.

Fly Off the Plate Dinner Rolls

1 egg

1 1/2 cups warm water

4 1/2 cups flour

1/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

3 Tablespoons instant dry milk

3 Tablespoons oil

2 1/4 teaspoons yeast

Mix egg with fork. Add ingredients in order recommended by your bread machine manufacturer. Put pan in bread machine. Select dough cycle, push start. After about 10 minutes, push finger into dough. If it is sticky, add more flour. When bread machine is done, shape into buns. Allow to rise about 20 minutes. Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Bake 10-15 minutes

 

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