Category Archives: Food

You Need to See Wichita

The name alone should make you want to go. Wichita. How many stories of cattlemen and trail rides and early railroads haunted our childhoods, all anchored in Wichita? The history is still accessible, but there is so much more than that.

If you’re arriving from the north, as I was, you’ll notice that the vegetation has changed. It’s more southern. However, the clear air and bright, open spaces, as well as a fair bit of the architecture, are reminiscent of the southwest. In other words, for me, it felt like a holiday even before I started exploring.

The old Chisholm Trail, now renamed Douglas Street, connects the charming, mostly brick Historic Old Town with the one-time rowdy Historic Delano District (pronounced De-LAY-no). Delano, originally a separate town, is the part of Wichita where the Chisholm Trail entered town and cowboys stopped to party—and for many years, older Wichita tried to keep its distance from the more rough-and-tumble Delano. But today, both Old Town and Delano are attractive and loaded with historic buildings, new coffee shops, and good restaurants. I drove the length of Douglas a couple of times, to get a sense of how the two districts were alike and different, and to see what each offered.

Because Wichita gave the world both Pizza Hut and White Castle, you might think the food scene would be disappointing. It wasn’t. Farm-to-table is alive and well, and there is considerable ethnic diversity. A short stay meant I couldn’t try much, but I had a couple of very good meals and saw a lot of places I’d try if (when) I return. Public at the Brickyard is a brick-walled basement establishment in the Historic Old Town end of town. With farms and purveyors named with each ingredient (Creekstone Farms 1/2 pound steak burger, Alma Creamery aged cheddar, Serenity Farm green tomato relish, caramelized onions, crispy lettuce, Bagatelle Bakery sesame-seed bun), it was not a surprise that the burger was far from ordinary. Another night, I opted for a nice bowl of pho at My Tho, a small Vietnamese spot (cash only). Of course, proximity to both the Southwest and Kansas City meant there were lots of well-established Mexican restaurants and BBQ joints, as well. So plenty of options.

But while good food was a nice bonus, I was in town for history. Speaking of the Chisholm Trail, one of the many remarkable things I learned was that Jesse Chisholm, the half Scottish-half Cherokee man who blazed the trail, was illiterate but spoke 14 Indian languages. As a result, he was often called the prairie ambassador, as he could talk to almost any group. A trader, guide, and interpreter, he was valuable to both locals and the government. Though the Chisholm Trail became famous for the cattle drives that moved along it, Chisholm actually created the trail to trade goods with the Plains Indians across Kansas and Texas and into Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).

But that’s just a drop of what I learned in town. There are a lot of museums in Wichita, ranging from modest to impressive—and among the ones I saw, there were some surprises. For example, how did a city once nicknamed Cowtown end up as the Aviation Capital of the World? In upcoming posts, I’ll share more about Wichita, but I’ll also include some of the things I learned and experienced. It was a short stay, but it was remarkably full.

Here is a photo I took that I hoped would capture a bit of the dichotomy of Wichita. It is not just Old Town vs. Delano. It is also a bright, modern city still vividly aware of and involved in its history. The statue, which stands at the junction of the Little Arkansas and Arkansas Rivers, is called Keeper of the Plains.

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Filed under Culture, Food, History, Midwest, Travel

“Smarter Every Day” Looks at Grain Bins

I have long enjoyed the video channel “Smarter Every Day.” It offers insights into how a lot of things work. However, host Destin has now truly endeared himself to me by focusing on farmers — and pointing out just how much farmers need to know to make things work. I already knew about the bins (I cover the invention of corn bins and drying equipment in my book <em>Midwest Maize), and I knew farmers were smart (and most of the farmers I know have multiple degrees, in subjects ranging from monogastric nutrition to economics to agricultural communication), but it’s lovely to see someone else enthusiastic about everything that goes into keeping a farm going — and us fed. What you see here goes on all over the country, with bins filled with corn, beans, wheat, lentils, peas, garbanzos, barley, and more.

Oh — and that “danger” element Destin mentions — farming is considered second only to coal mining, as far as danger. So no one is farming because it’s easy. It can be hard to make a profit, but most of the farmers I know love the land–and love knowing that they are feeding people.

Here’s Destin’s video.

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Filed under Agriculture, Corn, Culture, Farming, Food, Thoughts, Uncategorized, Video

Don’t Worry about Roundup

As the author of a book on corn, I get a lot of questions about Roundup. The press and a few renegade lawyers have done their best to vilify this product. But talk to farmers—especially those who have grown up around the product (we’ve been using it for nearly half a century, so that is most farmers)—and you’ll find out that none of them are experiencing health problems. Plus it has no negative impact on the environment (which other products often do). It is, in fact, tremendously safe. One of my favorite little factoids comes from Forbes Magazine: “The acute toxicity of glyphosate is lower than that of table salt.”

So throw out your table salt and keep eating corn ground with Roundup.

If you’re interested, here is the full article from Forbes—written by a cancer epidemiologist—a person whose job is studying and knowing what can hurt you.
The Guardian’s Scare Piece On Glyphosate And Cancer Is Designed To Fuel A Tsunami of Lawsuits.

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Filed under Agriculture, Corn, Farming, Food, Thoughts, Uncategorized

Making Bacon

Being wildly busy these day, I’ve been relying on great videos to keep this blog interesting, rather than writing essays to post about places I’ve traveled in the Midwest (though more of that will be coming). I won’t apologize for this, because these are all really worthwhile videos that I want to share anyway.

I have posted a fair number of videos by or about farmers—because that is where our food comes from. But today, I’m posting a video by a science-oriented chef who talks about how bacon is made, why you might want to try making bacon, how to cook bacon—and why bacon is so tasty. With a book out on pigs, I simply couldn’t resist. Enjoy.

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Filed under Culture, Food, pigs, pork, Video

Fair Oaks Farms

In both Midwest Maize and Pigs, Pork and Heartland Hogs, I wrote about Fair Oaks Farms. This is a remarkable operation where the owners not only focus on safe, sustainable food with a low carbon footprint, but also want to educate the public about where food comes from. While my books look at farms of many different sizes, this is among the largest–and yet, they are so forward thinking that their carbon footprint is half that of smaller farms.

In addition to being splendidly effective farmers, they are also exceptional educators.  If you happen to live anywhere near northern Indiana, or if a driving trip will take you through the area, you definitely want to stop here. And know that if you like cheese or ice cream, you can see both being made –and can purchase an abundance of both (though other food is available, as well–but seriously, if you like cheese, this place is amazing).

Here’s a video I found in which the founders talk about their vision for the farm and why they developed it the way they did. Hope you enjoy it. And hope you get to visit.

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Filed under Agriculture, Farming, Food, Heartland Hogs, Midwest, Midwest Maize, pigs, Travel, Video

Midwest Maize Meets Mexican Hogs

There are times that it is difficult to decide where a post goes. This blog focuses on the Midwest–the people, the history, the places–and The World’s Fare focuses on my adventures, primarily culinary, around the world. But I just posted a recipe on The World’s Fare that includes both corn and pork, mainstays of Midwestern agriculture and cuisine–but the recipe is one I found in Mexico. It is Pozole Rojo, a delightful, hearty soup that brings together these two cornerstones of both Midwestern and Mexican life. So definitely the fare of another land, but still related to the Midwest. Therefore, I posted it there and am just linking to it here. (Though Brazilian cornstarch cookies are on this site–so clearly not always easy to draw those lines.)

Anyway, for the recipe, click this link–Pozole Rojo--and enjoy a delightful soup that brings together a couple of world culinary icons.

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Filed under Corn, Culture, Food, Recipe, Uncategorized

A Millennial in Minnesota

Continuing to post samples from my favorite farmer video channels, I’m taking you to Minnesota this time—so in the Midwest—and one of the four top corn-producing states in the nation. (All states grow corn, but more than 50 percent of all U.S. corn is grown in Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska and Minnesota.) Contributing to that remarkable abundance of Midwestern corn is fifth-generation farmer Zach Johnson, known on YouTube as the MN Millennial Farmer.

Each of the farmer channels offers something different and has a different focus and approach, while still always including the key elements of family, history, and love for the land. Zach’s approach is more technical, offering explanations of what various tasks involve, what problems farmers run into, how things are taken care of, how equipment works, how to know when crops are ready to harvest, and more (though not all of these in every video). His videos are marked by enthusiasm and humor. And they are a wonderful source of insight into just how much work is involved in farming–but also how rewarding it is for those who love it.

Corn is not the only crop raised on Zach’s family’s farm, but since this blog is called Midwest Maize, I figured I’d offer a video that does show corn being harvested. Every video I watch makes me more grateful for the food I have and for the farmers who make it available.

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Filed under Agriculture, Corn, Farming, Food, Midwest, Video

Welker Farms and the Beauty of Farming

I’ve decided to adopt Montana as part of the Midwest. The type of farming, the love for the land, and the history of families working together to feed the world make it feel similar to what I’ve discovered while traveling around the Midwest. And Montana is a next-door neighbor of the northern Midwest.

On the 100-year-old, family-owned and -operated Welker Farms in northern Montana, this love/land/family combination is made gloriously visible through the efforts of fourth-generation farmer Nick Welker, who, in addition to farming, creates glorious videos that reflect the majesty of the location and of the work. He also creates fun video of rebuilding farm equipment–because keeping things going is a big part of successful farming. But in this video, it’s the epic vision of harvest season on the sprawling Welker property that is recorded. This is a really beautiful piece of work.

If you enjoy eating regularly, it’s good to remember that this is why. Because 80 percent of all crops in the U.S. are grown on family farms. They may be big farms, like this one, but they are operated by a handful of people who love farming and have, in most cases, been doing it for generations.

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Filed under Agriculture, Farming, Food, Video

Farmers Rock

If you’ve read this blog for long, or if you’ve read either of my food history books, you’ll know that I think pretty highly of farmers. They are among those people one would traditionally call “salt of the earth.”

Plus we’d all be mighty hungry without them.

But one thing I love is that a lot of them are also great fun. I’ve posted a number of different videos made by farmers, including several from the Peterson Farm Bros. Some of the videos are specifically about different aspects of farming–but some of them, including several that I’ve posted, are clever, farming-related parodies of popular songs. That’s the case with the video below. But adding to the fun in this particular video is the inclusion of farmers from several other video channels — many of them channels I watch and at least one that I’ve featured here. It also reminds us that the vast majority of our food is raised on family farms.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I have.

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Filed under Agriculture, Farming, Food, Midwest, Uncategorized, Video

Fooditor Likes Pigs

Having won a James Beard Award for his video series, “Sky Full of Bacon,” it probably isn’t surprising that food writer and videographer Michael Gebert is interested in pigs. Happily, he has also expressed interest in my new book, Pigs, Pork, and Heartland Hogs. Enough interest in fact to want to ask me a few questions for his wonderful Fooditor website. Here is the result of our communication: The Story of How the Midwest Was Won–by Pigs. (I know — you’re never supposed to send people to other sites. But aside from appreciating the honor, I was also delighted with the photos Gebert used for the story. He’s clearly someone who understands the appeal of pork.)

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Filed under Agriculture, Food, Heartland Hogs, History, Midwest, pigs, pork