2013 Iowa CornQuest Recap

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Last month, I was invited to join nine other bloggers to tour the Iowa cornfields and learn more about Iowa agriculture.  After just a few days of meeting farmers, walking through cornfields, and sitting through Q&A sessions, I came back with a huge appreciation for our farming industry and would love to share my experience.  Although Iowa Corn paid for my travel expenses, I was not paid to write this post.

Say hello to the 2013 Iowa CornQuesters:


(From left to right: Sheila, Heidi, Megan, Sandy, Sommer, Jessica, Lauren, Me, Annalise, Chung-Ah)

Madison County Winery

We started our journey with a little meet-and-greet hosted by Madison County Winery.  Here we had the opportunity to sample Iowa’s wines and beers, along with a nice dinner provided by Iowa Pork Producers Association and Iowa Corn.  The evening ended with a bit of relaxation by the fire pit as we sipped a little more wine and chatted with each other, knowing the next day we’d be starting early for our farming adventure.

Iowa Cornfield

Did you know…

Iowa’s farmers are the nation’s leaders in providing corn, soybeans, pork and eggs to families next door and around the world?

Before this trip, I knew little about farming.  Most of my previous knowledge was from when I was a young tot playing in the cornfields at my friend’s farmhouse in Michigan after church every Sunday.  But, my biggest take-away from then was that her mom was an amazing cook.  So in my mind, and still, farmers can work it in the kitchen.  😉

But, of course, there is so much more to farm families than ever crossed my mind before.  I realized they never take vacations.  (Well, if they do, someone in the family needs to stay back because the chores won’t get done on their own!)  Yet, farming technology has helped today’s farmers.

Farmers today provide one pound of lean pork using 41% less water and 78% less land than they did in 1959.

Market CafeDuring our second day on the trip, we woke up very early to have breakfast at Gateway Market with two family farmers, Vachel and Roger.  Here we were able to sit down and hear about the way they run their farms.

Today, one American farmer feeds over 155 people across the world.

Bill Couser Farm

Then we headed to Couser Cattle Company for a tour and lunch.  This is where I really started learning how much farmers actually do.  And, of course, in a day where many people rely on media for the “facts”, it was nice to finally see first hand how things work and realize the integrity of these farmers.  I also learned about full circle operation.  These farms contribute to economic, environmental, and community sustainability.

Corn can be used in thousands of different products that we use every day. It feeds the animals raised for meat, it feeds our people, and is now used to make fuel and many other products.

Iowa SpeedwayWhich brings me to our next item on the agenda – ethanol powered racing at the Iowa Speedway!

Ethanol is a fuel that can be made from corn. In fact about one third of the corn crop goes toward ethanol production.  Ethanol has less impact on our environment than gasoline, is renewable, and is made in the U.S.

Each one of us had the opportunity to test out the ethanol fuel by riding in one of the race cars on the track at 117 mph!  After a few times around, I was a bit dizzy, but holy cow…what a rush!

CornQuest Capitol Dinner(Group photos by Chung-Ah)

After the race, we had a few minutes to refresh and clean up for dinner at the Iowa Historical Society Building.  Once again, we sat down with local farmers and got to ask them any questions we wanted.  I was lucky to sit next to Dick Gallagher (pictured above) who runs a family farm with his brother and son, and is also a Director of the Iowa Corn Promotion Board.  He shared with me that his son convinced him that bloggers are important to the cause of farming, where we can tour the farms firsthand and have a voice to share our experiences.  He also showed me photos of his really cool french fries maker that he takes to tailgate at the football games.  I’ve heard that his tailgate space is one of the most popular.  And, you all know me…I’m a french fries lover, so Farmer Dick and I hit it off right away.  😉

Farmer Dick Zombie Burger

And it was totally cool he joined a few of us for a late night snack at Zombie Burger.  More on that in a later post.  😉

Doctor RuthOn our last morning, we started with a Q&A session with Dr. Ruth MacDonald during breakfast.  Dr. MacDonald is the Chair of the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Iowa State University.  The floor was open to ask her anything and everything about the food that goes in and out of our bodies.  This woman is smart, folks!  You know my biggest take-away though?  She fully believes what I do regarding what you should and shouldn’t eat, and dieting.  When someone asked her what is the one food item she would outlaw in her house, she said “nothing!” and basically agreed that everything should be in moderation and make sure you eat a nutritional diet.  Here I learned that it is much better to listen to someone like Dr. MacDonald rather than a self-proclaimed expert on TV like Dr. Oz.  Ha!  😉

Meredith CorporationOur last day was a bit about the fun, rather than about the learning.  We were all pretty geeked to tour Meredith Corporation, home of Better Homes and Gardens.  Uhhhh, yeah! Above you can see that we had an inside look at the test kitchen and garden.  We even had a first look at November’s B&G issue!

Meredith PropsCan you believe their prop room?  This is not even half of it!  Chung-Ah and I decided that maybe we should try and steal a few items for our own home closets.  Okay, just kidding!  We reluctantly put it all back.  😉

It was finally time for lunch, something I was fearing for the entire day.  We were told that we would be making lunch for ourselves, in the wording “we’ll be putting your culinary skills to the test!”  I’m totally serious when I say that made me super nervous.  All I could envision was an Iron Chef sort of competition, and how was I to compete with the likes of these other fabulous food bloggers!? Poor Sheila had to listen to my nervous remarks all day.  Haha!

Lunch FoodTurns out, it wasn’t a competition at all.  Instead, the lovely guides and coordinators of this whole trip (Hana, Roxi, Mindy and Shannon) created a cookbook that included one corn-inspired recipe from each of our blogs.  We were to cook our recipe for a potluck style lunch.  Totally cool!  So, there were nine of us bloggers cooking up a storm in the kitchen. (One headed out earlier that morning.)  It was so fun!  And, guess what?  Not to my surprise at all, but I loved every single dish.  One of my favorites?  Annalise’s Cornmeal Lime Cookies.  Check out the rest of the amazing corn-y recipes.

CornQuesters Lunch

Our bellies were full and it was time to head home. *sniff sniff*

This trip was so beneficial to my everyday understanding of how our food is produced and how farmers are committed to continuous improvement with all of our health and sustainability in mind.  I learned what farmers are doing is safe and right, but not everyone has the luxury of seeing that first hand on the farms.  Contact a local farmer and ask if you can tour their farm.  Most of them will be very happy to host you!  In fact, I am willing to bet they will look forward to your visit.  🙂  Thanks to Iowa Corn Growers Association (and our lovely guides listed above!) for a fun time and learning adventure!

‘Til next time!

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  1. Haha, that picture of farmer Dick makes me laugh every single time. So much getting to know you Nikki! Can’t wait till our paths cross again!

  2. Such a great recap! And I’m so happy to have met you – you are the best! And I love that picture of you and me in the prop room. Good times! 🙂

  3. I love that you came to the great state I was born and raised in! I love your photos. Those are the great sites I see every day! (Except for IN Meredith)

  4. Carrie Butterwick says:

    Great article!!! Thanks for taking this tour with an open mind! Lots of food bloggers are so ‘anti-farm” it seems ridiculous! There is so much more to it and farmers are concientious and environmentally and food-saftey focussed. Glad you enjoyed yourself! Thanks for being an #agvocate !

  5. Best trip ever!! Let’s do again soon! Miss you!! P.S. that picture of Chung-ah stealing those props is priceless!!

  6. LOVED spending time with you, my friend. And the trip to Iowa was fabulous! loved the people there – salt of the earth! Hope to see you soon!

  7. So many priceless photos – well done! The CornQuest certainly wouldn’t have been the same without our Jennifer Garner look-a-like! I’ve not met a soul who can pull off aviators AND a trucker hat you do 🙂 If you have more questions for Dr. MacDonald, give a shout! Changing subject… Meredith called. Are you SURE you put all those spoons back? 😉

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