Sarah Willis
Spring Catalogs

It’s been pretty quiet on the farm this January.  The land is covered in a blanket of snow and temperatures occasionally dip to -40 below zero with the wind chill. Our farmers keep pretty busy checking hog waters and ensuring they aren’t frozen, cleaning out farm buildings and adding bedding for farm animals to keep them warm and cozy.  Evenings are filled with after school activities like basketball, band and choir concerts, wrestling meets and the like. Playing Scrabble or card games is also popular this time of year. Anything you can do indoors to keep warm!

Jan 1

One favorite activity among farmers is perusing the latest seed catalogs. As they arrive in the mail, we begin preparing for spring planting.   Seed Savers, a non-profit organization dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds, puts out one of our favorite catalogs.   It’s fun to see what we can find – anything from purple carrots to purple potatoes. More importantly, planting and saving these heirloom varieties perpetuate diversity in our gardens as well as our diet.  Sophia has always loved finding unique vegetables for our garden; it’s a great way to get children interested in growing things and eating their vegetables.  Offering carrots that are purple, red or white is much more interesting than the expected orange.

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Sarah Willis
Holidays Growing Up on the Willis Family Farm

Growing up, we wrapped all of our Christmas presents in newspaper. My mother insisted for several reasons:Potato Stamp- Dec

  1. it was cheaper than buying wrapping paper
  2. it was an easy way to recycle the newspaper cutting down on waste
  3. it was fun

stamping paper- DecYou might think it wouldn’t be as beautiful but we took pride in decorating our newspaper to make it really special by stamping our own Christmas designs all over it. We created our own stamper by carving potatoes. I usually carved a Christmas tree or snowman. This is still a good idea- Sophia loves doing crafts like this.




wrapped presentInstead of purchasing decorations I like to continue the tradition of using things found around me to decorate our home for the holidays. Bringing the beauty found outdoors in nature inside for Christmas adds a special quality.

Decorations like pine cones are simply hung from our doorway or windowsills or even on the Christmas tree itself. As a family we have fun stringing together cranberries or popcorn to make garlands. And remember paper chains? These are still fun activities especially if you have little ones.

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Niman Ranch
Leftover Split Pea and Ham Soup

Have a lot of leftover ham from the holiday? This Leftover Split Pea and Ham Soup is a one-pot recipe that’s sure to satisfy. If you’re tired of working in the kitchen, just freeze the ham and thaw it out the day you plan to cook. As with most soups, this one is best when reheated the day after cooking.


Ham Soup 3


Leftover Split Pea and Ham Soup

3 tbsp butter or oil
1 c finely chopped onions
1/2 c finely chopped celery and carrots
1 tbsp minced garlic

1 lb dried split peas or lentils
1 lb leftover Bone-In Half Uncured Spiral Sliced Ham with Glaze, diced
8 1/2 c water or *ham stock
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
2 tsp fresh thyme
1 pinch nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

1/2 c chopped carrots
1/2 c chopped potatoes

*leftover ham bone

1. Cover peas with 2 inches of water in a medium sized bowl and soak 8 to 12 hours. Drain and set aside.

2. Melt butter over med-high heat in a large pot. Add the onions, celery and carrots and stir until soft, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and stir until combined.

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Niman Ranch
Football Food Favorites from Uncle Rich – Part 2

With the football season in full swing and the weather a bit cooler, Uncle Rich is eager to use quick and easy grill recipes that are sure to please the crowds. This one was created with simplicity in mind – all you have to do is marinade the meat and voila! Delicious skewers.

Be sure to marinate these as directed, not overnight – it really makes a difference. The thin pieces of marinated meat cook in a jiff so you don’t have to miss a single pass or play!


Beef Satay 1


Niman Ranch Top Sirloin Beef Satay

1 ½ lbs. Niman Ranch top sirloin, cut as shown in photo
1 cup warm water
½ cup brown sugar
1 cup soy sauce
2 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, add more if you like
3 cloves garlic, peeled & minced
3 inches of fresh ginger root, peeled & grated
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Two green onions, green part only thin sliced (save some for garnish)
One bottle of Zena’s Sassy Peanut-Sesame Sauce, or your favorite brand peanut sauce


  1. Dissolve the brown sugar in the warm water.
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Niman Ranch
Winter on the Farm

nimanranch-339Each season on the farm is different, year to year, region to region, based on anything from weather to corn prices and which of the kids is going to college. Here is some insight as to what some of our independent family hog farmers do when the fields fall dormant. You can be sure they keep very busy.

Many in the Midwest were hit with an early November snowfall that postponed harvest. Luckily, it warmed up enough to finish the harvest. December has been mild and fairly dry thus far, but farmers will not easily forget last winter’s record-breaking low temperatures. They’ll have to keep an eye out for frozen water sources to keep the hogs hydrated as the season progresses.

Most pasture-raised hogs are moved into barns with deeply bedded pens during the winter months to receive extra TLC and protection from extreme elements. “This deeply bedded system provides warmth during these frigid temperatures,” explains Sustainable Farming Advocate Sarah Willis. “When the bedding gets soiled by the pigs the farmer applies clean bedding on top. This starts a composting process which generates heat, like an electric blanket.  They can go outside to eat and get a drink whenever they want, or stay inside the deeply bedded barn or hoop building to keep warm.”

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Niman Ranch
The How’s and Why’s of Dry Aging Meat

There’s nothing quite like biting into a juicy, flavor-filled steak. It’s something that any meat lover longs to enjoy for dinner, and something that apparently gets better the longer you wait.  The process of aging meat requires an ample amount of patience, both with wet aging and dry aging, but this patience adds an undeniable amount of flavor and texture to any cut.

Many of our distributors and chefs are into dry aging, but the practice has been a mystery to many, both the method and meaning. You’ll find that a dry aged cut of steak is far more expensive than your average steak, which is due to the meticulous care that goes into the lengthy process. This great article by Eater Dallas sheds light on what incredible things Chef John Tesar is doing at Knife in Dallas, TX with Niman Ranch beef. Also check out this video put together last year by Bon Appetit about DeBragga & Spitler in New York, another one of our partners who dry age our beef. We’re a big fan of what they’re both doing to bring you the finest tasting meat in the world.


Courtesy of Bon Appetit, 2013

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Niman Ranch
An Eye on Holiday Waste

Just how much waste is created each holiday? You may be surprised! Do what you can to help make this a more sustainable holiday season. Mother Nature Network has some good ideas to follow, as well as Rethink Recycling.

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Sarah Willis
Harvest, Nostalgia & Thanksgiving

Me, Dad and my sister, Anne, on top of our rock pile, 1986.

Me, Dad and my sister, Anne, on top of our rock pile, 1986.

Farmers are real rock stars this time of year, working long hours in the fields to harvest crops.  For me, autumn brings feelings of nostalgia about past harvest seasons.   I’m reminded that the wonderful abundance that surrounds me is the result of strenuous fieldwork done through the summer months. I remember those hot, sweaty days when my dad had us pick up rocks from the fields so we could avoid any damage they might cause our combine during harvest.  My sister and I used to spend days’ riding the “rock-picker,” which was hitched to the back of the tractor. We jumped off each time we found a rock and hurled it back into the picker’s bucket.  Soil stuck to our sweaty faces as we scoped the landscape for more.  It’s the kind of work you don’t hear much about. But it’s this kind of difficult task that brings another harvest we can all be thankful for.

Round corn stalk bales.

Round corn stalk bales.

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Niman Ranch
California’s Proposition 2 and the Rise of the Cage-Free Egg

eggsAs with pork, beef and lamb, our eggs are laid by hens raised with all vegetarian feed, in housing approved by the Humane Farm Animal Care and American Humane Certified programs (cage-free) and are never-ever given antibiotics. This means they’re humanely raised, cage-free eggs that don’t contain the chemicals and medicines you find in most store-bought eggs.

Now, all egg producers selling in California have less than four months to establish similar, more humane standards for laying hens because of Proposition 2, also known as the California Standards for Confining Farm Animals Act. This new law will go into effect on January 1, 2015, so we’d like to share some information on what makes this proposition worth talking about.


What is Proposition 2 or the “California Standards for Confining Farm Animals Act”?

Proposition 2 was a ballot initiative passed by the voters of California in November of 2008 by 63% majority.  It required that egg-laying hens and veal calves raised in California be confined only in a way that allows the animals to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely.  Proposition 2 does not define exactly what the space and housing specifications would be to meet these requirements, but it is generally believed that twice the space as birds raised in cage-free environments is required – roughly a minimum of 1.5 square feet in floor space per hen.

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Niman Ranch
Football Food Favorites from Uncle Rich


One of our team members, Rich Sanders, is a huge fan of football. Family and friends gather every fall in his living room to watch their favorite team play, but they don’t just come to root for the home team.

Rich’s nieces all say “Uncle Rich’s is the place to feed your face” and with football season in full swing, he wants to share some of the crowd-pleasers that keep his couch filled year after year.

His first recipe, Niman Ranch Bacon-wrapped Gulf Shrimp, is one of the family’s favorites. They love how the smoky bacon flavors the Gulf shrimp and the pop in spice from the jalapeño.

You may ask, “Why U-15 Louisiana Gulf shrimp?” Well, there are 15 shrimp per pound, so they’re larger in size. But most importantly, they’re sweet, wild and caught by fishermen from the USA – not farmed in China or Vietnam.  Rich believes “the bottom line is this: they are better in every way. The same reasons you chose Niman Ranch pork products.”


20140809_082720Uncle Rich’s Niman Ranch Bacon-Wrapped Gulf Shrimp

15 Jumbo (like U-15 Louisiana Gulf) shrimp, peeled and cleaned
15 strips Niman Ranch Uncured Applewood Smoked Bacon
1 block feta cheese
3 jalapeño peppers, seeded

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