Category Archives: Thoughts

Before Leaving Wichita

I should probably note that there is vastly more to do in Wichita than go to museums. I was there specifically to do research, so I focused on history this time. However, I’m also a world traveler and know what it takes to make a great destination. As wonderfully worthwhile as the places are that I’ve mentioned, know that there is vastly more, both indoors and outdoors. But one can never do everything. In fact, in addition to theaters and hiking trails, restaurants and art galleries, breweries and botanic gardens and zoos, there are many other museums. And if you like camping, not only does Wichita camping outfitter Coleman have a museum, they have an outlet store.

Wichita is a dandy town in a lovely setting, surrounded by wide-open spaces. Definitely worth a visit, no matter what your interests might be.

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Filed under Midwest, Thoughts, Travel

Kansas: We’re not in Illinois, Toto

Everyone knows that the Midwest is flat, but leaving Illinois and heading west, across the Mississippi River and then the Missouri River, one learns that “flat” is a relative term. Granted, there were no towering mountains, but the terrain I was crossing was a lot more varied than that of Illinois.

In fact, after Florida, which is largely close to sea level, Illinois is the nation’s second flattest state, so Missouri and then Kansas are far more topographically interesting. They are also a lot more open. Missouri has about half the population of Illinois, and Kansas has about half the population of Missouri.

Knowing this, I had actually expected wide open spaces in Kansas. What I hadn’t expected was to find it so enchanting. As I drove into the Flint Hills region, en route from Topeka to Wichita, the phenomenal greenness of the area led me to imagine that, if the farm hands were the inspiration for Dorothy’s Oz companions, the Flint Hills were the inspiration for the Emerald City.

A friend would later tell me that the Flint Hills are not always as astonishingly verdant as I was seeing them, but what I witnessed was glorious, and it is the image I currently carry with me of the heart of Kansas. Plus, the Flint Hills are home to the world’s largest continuous tallgrass prairie, so even if not always so green, they will always be remarkable.

This is not my photo, as I was on a highway. It is from a Visions of the Flint Hills exhibition, and it reflects what I saw—though I tend to think what I saw was even more beautiful, and it was certainly far more extensive.

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Tales of Wichita will wait for future posts, but one more thing is worth mentioning about this handsome region. Returning north, I headed through the Flint Hills region to historic Council Grove. During this drive, along more rural (but still excellent) roads, I encountered a touch of whimsy that delighted me. Just off the road, on hills and rises around Council Grove, there are metal statues recreating once-familiar scenes. It is hard to judge from a car, but the statues appeared to be life size—though I imagine that to create that impression they would need to be larger than life. The two I saw were a cowboy on horseback roping a calf and a Native American gazing out over the hills. I have, since returning home, searched and found photos of other of these Flint Hill statues, but the surprise of seeing the two I encountered was sufficient to make them vividly memorable.

But these were not the only things to love about Kansas. More to follow.

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Filed under History, Midwest, Thoughts, Travel

A Surprising Museum in Ohio

Serendipity: the finding of valuable or agreeable things not sought for. Travel just seems to multiply the likelihood of experiencing serendipity.

In Ohio doing some research, driving toward the hotel, I saw a sign that read “Welcome Center and Fulton County Museum, 1 Mile.” This place wasn’t on my radar at all. However, I was leaving the next morning and had nothing else planned while there, so I thought I’d give this place a try.

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What a surprise. This was not a huge museum, but it more than made up in splendid detail, insightful presentation, and brilliant planning what it lacked in size. And who knew so much interesting stuff happened in Fulton County, Ohio?

There are a couple of possible approaches to viewing the museum. You can read absolutely everything, which was what I chose to do. Alternatively, you can accept their invitation to see how history repeats itself and focus on periods that are in some way similar to the one in which you were born or in which you currently live. I thought this approach was immensely clever, but I didn’t want to miss anything.

The museum starts in the area’s pre-history and moves up through the centuries. One way they handle the abundance of artifacts is, under a primary display, there are drawers and drawers of additional items labeled by time period.

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Signs are abundant, making it possible to really fit together the pieces of Fulton County’s history–which includes a remarkable range of events and people who operated at the national level, from the show promoter who helped Buffalo Bill to race-car driver Barney Oldfield, plus of course involvement in such key elements of U.S. history as the Civil War and industrial progress.

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The museum only took us about 2 hours to view–so this isn’t a place you’d likely plan an entire vacation around. However, if you happen to find yourself on the Ohio Turnpike near Hwy 108, you might consider stopping.

Of course, the other lesson is, when you see a sign telling you there is something of interest a mile ahead, you might want to check it out.

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Filed under Culture, History, Midwest, Thoughts, Travel, Uncategorized

“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

New Book Coming

While this blog is titled Midwest Maize, after my first book of food history, it will have to do for future food history and Midwest-oriented books, as I can’t quite imagine starting a new blog with every book.

Which is why I’m using it to introduce my next book: Pigs, Pork, and Heartland Hogs: From Wild Boar to Baconfest. The book won’t be out for a couple of months, but it is already on Amazon, with a few reviews and the option of pre-ordering. So in case you thought I might have stopped studying after I wrote about corn, I didn’t.

Pigs were once known as cornfields on legs, because the easiest way to get pigs to market was to feed it to pigs and then let the pigs walk to market. So the connection between pigs and corn in the Midwest dates to the earliest settlement of the region. However, the history of humans and pigs dates back a lot longer than that–current estimate is 12,000 years of association. So there are a lot of tales of pigs through history, from the Celts inventing bacon to the Etruscans leading herds by playing trumpets. But the book isn’t all history. There are visits to farms and interviews with experts ranging from swine technicians to butchers and chefs to waste management specialists. There are some iconic regional recipes. And there are lot of the kinds of fun facts that make food history so enthralling.

On top of entertaining folks, I’m hoping this book will contribute to closing the gap between what people think about food and how it actually gets to us. There are a tremendous number of really good, decent, dedicated people working very hard to make sure you don’t starve. Come and meet a few of them in my books.

You can check it out here: Pigs, Pork, and Heartland Hogs.

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Filed under Agriculture, Corn, Culture, Farming, Food, History, Literature, Midwest, Midwest Maize, Thoughts

2017 Eric Hoffer Award

The Eric Hoffer Awards for 2017 were announced yesterday. This is an award designed to recognize exceptional writing from small, academic, or independent publishers that don’t usually get the attention that the big publishing houses get. While Midwest Maize didn’t get the top prize, I was awarded an Honorable Mention, which, given the thousands of books submitted, is still gratifying.

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Filed under Agriculture, Corn, Culture, Farming, Food, History, Language, Literature, Midwest, Midwest Maize, Recipe, Thoughts, Uncategorized