You guys!! If you follow along on Instagram then you know I have been traveling, traveling and traveling over the past month. My job has taken me to some pretty amazing places and when I'm there, I've been able to do some pretty cool things. Who even knew this little blog would lead to so many opportunities, ones I am absolutely grateful for and wouldn't trade for the world.
My latest adventure took place in Iowa earlier this month. I-O-W-A....I had never been there. Wow, it's beautiful. Lucky me, the weather was gorgeous...Fall-like gorgeous, with those big blue skies, the Midwest is known for. I'm pretty sure I could live there since I'm used to more rural living now.
Anyway, I left for Iowa not knowing what to expect and embarking on a journey with the National Pork Board to learn about pork; where it comes from, how it's raised and to meet the people behind Brenneman Pork, a family run swine and grain operation. Little did I know how impressed I would be with what I found. I was surrounded by corn and lots and lots of pigs.
Did you know there are more pigs in Iowa than people? I think the ratio is 7:1! That's a lot of pigs. However, we are so lucky to have farms like the Brenneman's. Their love for what they do was obvious in how they care for the pigs they raise as well as the land they use to grow corn and soybeans. It was a pleasure to learn and experience what it takes to raise and feed pigs from birth to market.
So let's back up a bit. Upon arrival in Iowa, we headed out to a very cool and hip restaurant called Pullman Bar and Diner. The place had a great vibe and little did we know we were about to embark on a great adventure in eating some amazing pork (well duh, we were traveling with the pork board) inspired dishes.
Let's face it, we started with a porky meat salad framed by these amazing compressed cucumbers and heirloom tomatoes. Then we dined on the most beautiful and large Tomahawk Pork Chops (Duroc Cut) I have ever had the pleasure of eating. They were smothered in aged, apple bbq sauce and pickled mustard seeds. Totally swoon-worthy! We moved on to a pork laced bread pudding (yep) with bruleed banana, candied bacon, and caramel sauce made from bacon fat and pork stock! What?! I'm not even joking. It was outstanding. If you find yourself in Iowa City, this place is a MUST visit. You heard it here first.
This is also where we were able to meet and dine with the Brenneman family and begin learning about their dedication to providing high quality pork products to consumers. It must have been in the stars because this particular group of bloggers, along with the Brenneman family and others from the Pork Board and Iowa Pork, well, it was obvious that together we were a special group. We all just clicked and the camaraderie ensued. All of us were excited to spend our next day on the farm experiencing first hand how "to grow" a pig.
Look at these guys? Adorable, I know. It's why I love pigs. Thoses noses! They are curious creatures and love to be pet and scratched and they want to know who you are.
A lot of us imagine pigs in very untidy conditions, with mud and slop every where. Let me tell you, these pigs were clean and well taken care of in the most humanitarian of ways. In fact, pork in America has reached a new level of safe. We all grew up with pork cooked to almost inedible conditions. I think we've all had a pork chop or two so dry it just wasn't worth the chewing.
Due to safe farming practices here in the U.S., the USDA has changed its guidelines when it comes to cooking pork. It is now recommended pork must only be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F and it's okay if it's left a little pink on the inside.
This means you no longer have to eat dried out pork chops or pork tenderloin that is not juicy. It's just not necessary. Pork is one of those meats you'll want to cook with a meat thermometer. I let mine get to about 138 degrees F and remove it from the oven or pan. I then let it rest under loose foil until it comes to temperature. It's some of the best meat you'll ever eat.
While spending the day on the Brenneman farm I learned that theirs is the largest filtered farm in the United States. This refers to "filtered from disease". What does this mean and how do they do it?
It means, and I got to experience it first hand, that everyone who enters the farm must "shower in" and "shower out" to keep from bringing disease in or to other parts of the operation. This is one of the reasons pork has become safe to eat at a lower temperature. Farming practices are key when it comes to growing healthy pork. Helping ensure a germ-free zone for the newborns and older pigs is one of the best methods to keeping the pigs healthy.
Employees of this farm and farmers they contract with, all participate in a Pork Quality Assurance program. This helps educate everyone involved in the farm about humane practices when it comes to raising, handling and housing pigs from birth to market. Even their livestock drivers are involved in a Transport Quality Assurance Program.
And with that type of attention to detail comes the rewards. First and foremost a very safe food source for all of us to enjoy. I don't know about you, but I am thankful for BACON every...single...day. I know many of you share my passion for that. We can thank our "real" pig farmers for that!
There are residual benefits too; animals that live their life with dignity and purpose. That's something we can all feel good about.
And here is something I thought I would never do, help a momma sow deliver one of her many babies. I think this little guy was #13. I put on a long plastic glove and lubed up my hand and arm. Let's just say I had to go way up (ahem) there to find this little one. But I grabbed him, pulled him out, dried him off and put him down to nurse with his other little siblings.
Isn't this little piggy the cutest? This was one of the coolest experiences of all.
This little one was still in the nursery and almost ready to be weaned. They squeal unless you hold them close.
This is Rob and Char Brenneman, the founders and owners of Brenneman Pork, which Rob started in 1980. Since then, Rob and Char, along with their children and families have grown their business into the largest, family-owned pig farm in Iowa. This was not an easy task with the ups and downs of the economy over the years. However, they risked greatly and believed in what they were doing. As a result, they persevered and are enjoying watching their children taking leadership positions in their family business to continue their legacy.
Rob told me, "I wake up every day and figure out what I, what we, can do better and then make that happen." It's such a simple statement, but with large impact.
I was so impressed with their zest and zeal for what they do. Their love for it all oozed out of them and onto me and all of us who were lucky enough to be there. It was contagious.
And after a morning on the farm, they fed us...Farm Style!
Why yes that's a pork chop on a stick, what did you expect. And pork belly burgers made three ways along with Char's Ham Balls. OMG, those ham balls....it's a Midwest thing apparently and I hope I get to experience them again. I think I'll invite Char over and convince her to make them for me!! I think she'll do it.
Why is there so much corn in Iowa? And soybeans? I never really thought about it before this trip.
However, I learned it's a local food source to feed the approximately 650,000 hogs raised on the Brenneman farm. Not only do they farm 3500 acres of their own corn and soybeans, they also purchase 4 million bushels of corn from farmers in their local area. This has been great for the community and the new generation of farmers who have been able to stay in their home state of Iowa and continue to farm the land they grew up on.
Brenneman Pork processes all of their own corn on site and creates the 13 special diets needed by a pig during its time from birth to market. These special diets result in premium pork for consumer consumption.
We rode in the large combines and experienced what it's like to bring in the harvest and what it takes to feed their pigs a quality diet.
I also learned there is corn grown for pigs and corn grown for human consumption. The corn grown at the Brenneman farm is for the pigs and is a sustainable food source. It's a cycle ~The corn feeds the pigs. The pigs poop and the manure is used to fertilize the corn fields. Boom.
When you own a farm, embracing sustainability is one of the keys to success. Farmers like the Brennemans', who remain conscious of their responsibilities to the land, while they constantly look for better ways to do things, makes them a force in the industry. It is such an important concept in today's world.
Random observation ~the corn for the pigs is also beautiful. When the kernels are removed, the cob is a gorgeous reddish-brown. Who even knew? This cob came home with me, because just look at it...it's so pretty.
And here we are again, about to enter the research barn and keeping it as germ-free as possible. I hope I get to travel with this group again some day, we had so much fun.
Honestly, I want to thank the whole Brenneman family for opening their barn doors and showing us what they do every day. I feel good knowing where my food comes from and what it takes to get that food to our markets. It's not an easy task and is something everyone should have the opportunity to see and learn about.
As a small farm owner myself, I understand the responsibility of safeguarding the land where we grow our crops. Farmers are conscious and mindful of the fact that we are only caretakers and stewards of the land we hold title to. We are aware that what we do impacts future generations. Every farmer wants to leave their land healthy and productive for our children and grandchildren. It's almost like an unspoken code of ethics! The Brenneman family is a testament to all of this.
We did so much more on this trip and I will be back to tell you all about it in another upcoming post.
Disclosure: This trip was sponsored by the National Pork Board and I have been compensated for my time and travel. However, I only work with brands I truly love, believe in, use in my kitchen and support in real life! As always, all opinions and words are 100% my own. I hope you enjoyed it. Until next time...