On March 16-17, Edible Communities hosted its Edible Institute in Santa Barbara, CA. The weekend was full of great speakers, panels and discussions, including an interview of our very own Paul Willis. The Institute touched on many aspects of our food system – from farming through consumption. Here are a few of the highlights of the two-day event:
Saturday morning started off with a bang with a presentation from the event’s keynote speaker, Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU Professor and best-selling author. A dynamic speaker and personality, Dr. Nestle spoke about the increase in the American population’s consumption habits since 1980 and how advertising can affect our perception. She mentioned that as a country, we are consuming more calories per day and our portion sizes have increased. Additionally, she spoke about how the deregulation of health claims has allowed advertisers to target children more effectively. Dr. Nestle advocates social responsibility and is currently writing a new book about the food system for kids.
At the start of the New Year, we enjoy looking back over the past year and reflecting on what we accomplished. Here are some of our Niman Ranch highlights from 2012:
Reached a Milestone- over 700 small U.S. family farmers!
Our community of small, independently owned U.S. family farmers has surpassed 700 farms. Over the past five years the number of farmers raising livestock humanely and sustainably for Niman Ranch has grown from 400 to over 700. We are proud to work with farmers and ranchers committed to raising livestock to our strict sustainable and humane animal treatment protocols developed under the direction of animal handling expert and Colorado State University professor Temple Grandin, Ph.D.
Launched the only sustainably and humanely raised ‘never-ever’ natural line of prepared beef entrees on the market
We launched ready-to-eat natural beef entrees to meet consumers demand for artisan-quality meals which they can make at home quickly and easily while feeling confident of the product they are serving to their family. The Pot Roast, Beef Tips and Meatloaf are made from beef raised with NO antibiotics or hormones- EVER, without preservatives or artificial ingredients. Featured in the November edition of Every Day with Rachael Ray.
We have been experiencing unusually warm temperatures this winter. Just two weeks ago I had to mow the yard, unheard of in December, but great weather for farm chores. I expressed my disappointment to my Dad that we probably wouldn’t be having a white Christmas but he reminded me how a mild winter works out just fine for taking care of the pigs.
The mild weather didn’t last long. This week a winter storm snuck up on us and our local meteorologist predicted that we could expect 4-6 inches of snow with high wind gusts up to 40 MPH. Almost out of no where we found ourselves under a blizzard warning.
Sophia was excited at the prospect of having a snow day from school. To prepare for the storm, I went grocery shopping to make sure we wouldn’t run out of the essentials, milk, bread, and most importantly, coffee.
We woke up the next morning and, sure enough, we found ourselves buried under a blanket of fresh white snow. It was like winter had descended upon us overnight. My phone was ringing all morning with news about the storm. My sister lost electricity in Des Moines due to the damage from downed trees that just couldn’t handle the weight from so much snow at one time. Sophia’s wish had come true, there would be no school.
As we prepare to gather with our families around the dinner table, consider adding to your dinner menu a new cornbread dressing recipe made with sausage from hogs raised with care by family farmers across the Midwest. Without dressing, even the best Thanksgiving dinner would be somewhat bare.
This version uses a bold combination of Italian sausage and a cured ham balanced by the sweetness of the cornbread and slight sourness of the sourdough bread. Bake the dressing separately because the turkey and dressing cook at different rates, making it difficult to gauge doneness and safe temperatures. If you’re looking for a little added turkey flavor, baste the dressing with some of the pan juices.
Niman Ranch Cornbread Dressing
Niman Ranch Cornbread Stuffing
Makes about 8 servings
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 2 hours
1 box cornbread mix
1 16-ounce loaf sourdough bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 ounces butter
1 cup Niman Ranch Italian Sausage, casing removed and crumbled
2 cups diced Niman Ranch Jambon Royale
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced celery
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage, or 1 teaspoon ground sage
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup chicken stock
We’ve recently discovered a picturesque town east of LA in the San Bernardino foothills called Oak Glen where apple orchards and red barns line the curving mountain roads. Nestled next to cider presses and piles of fallen autumn leaves are patches with pumpkins still attached to their vines. Some gourds are striped green while others are white and the rest are Halloween orange. Allowing my two young boys to actually pick their favorite pumpkin from the vine is a good lesson in respecting crops and being certain about their choices.
I picked a few extra pumpkins for the soup I’ve been craving since the heat of this summer got the best of me. And since Halloween is the gateway to winter, I’m taking my first chance to make a velvety soup with Niman’s delicious smoky bacon. If roasting and pureeing your own pumpkins seems too daunting, don’t skip a beat, and substitute the canned version.
Niman Ranch Smoky Bacon Pumpkin Soup
2 pounds roasted pumpkin or 2 15-ounce cans pumpkin purée
Garlic cloves, as many as you want
1 thick sliced yellow onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, as desired
This year’s 14th annual Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner was a unique farm-to-table event which celebrated the hard work and independent spirit of the farmers who supply humanely and sustainably raised pork for Niman Ranch.
Chefs: Jeffery Surprise, Frederic Morineau, Scott Pampuch, Jordon Barnett, Niman Ranch Executive Chef Andrew Hunter, John Villa, Tyson Grant and Charles Kassels
Six chefs, who are committed to honoring these farmers in their kitchens and restaurants around the country, and abroad, cooked a six-course meal to celebrate the farmers. The attendance at the Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner has grown tremendously the first year we had fewer than100 guests and this year’s event sold out at 400 guests.
The featured chefs were selected because they have shown true leadership in their communities by raising awareness that great food starts at the farm. Each chef has shown their commitment to excellent food and their support of traditional, humane and sustainable farming practices employed by Niman Ranch farmers and others in their community. The 2012 Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner featured chefs were:
Paul Willis, Niman Ranch Pork Company founder and manager, was honored at the 2012 Chefs Collaborate Summit with the Pathfinder Sustainability Award. The award recognizes a visionary working in the greater food community who has been a catalyst for positive change within the food system through efforts that go beyond the kitchen.
Julia Stambules, Analon Corporation, Paul Willis and Michael Leviton, Board Chariman Chefs Collaborative
Willis, fourth generation hog farmer, was raising free-range hogs the way his family had for generations. He knew raising pigs traditionally resulted in higher quality and tastier pork but did not know how to get the pigs to market. In 1995, he was introduced to Niman Ranch and shipped 30 pigs to the Bay Area. A number of chefs in San Francisco tasted the pork and were impressed with the quality. With this chef interest, Willis realized there was a market for hogs raised using traditional farming methods and hoped this need would help revitalize sustainable hog farming methods in the Midwest.
In 1996, Willis started building a community of family hog farmers to raise hogs traditionally and humanely for Niman Ranch. Today, the network has grown to over 500 farmers raising hogs to the strictest protocols in the industry:
• Raised outdoors or in deeply bedded pens
• Never given antibiotics or hormones-ever
• No gestation crates or farrowing crates- ever
Niman Ranch celebrated its more than 550 U.S. family hog farmers and awarded 18 Next Generation Scholarships last weekend in Des Moines, Iowa, at its 14th Annual Hog Farmer Appreciation Dinner. Niman Ranch established the Next Generation Scholarship Fund in 2006 to preserve the integrity of U.S. family farms by supporting the children of rural communities who wish to attend college and pursue an education focusing on sustainable or environmental practices and who intend to return to the family farm upon graduation.
Niman Ranch Next Generation Scholarship Winners at the Hog Farmer Appreciation Dinner
The Next Generation Scholarship Fund receives a substantial contribution from Chipotle Mexican Grill and additional contributions from Whole Foods Market and many members of Niman Ranch’s distributor network including: Boggeri Sales, Buedel Food Products, DeBragga & Spitler, E & B Natural Way, Old Town Foods, Premier Meat Co., Tri-City Meats and Wasatch Meats. Since 2006 more than $140,000 in scholarships has been awarded to 74 students. This year, Niman Ranch provided 18 deserving students scholarships ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 each.
As the U.S. family farm disappears, we are proud of our young Niman Ranch farmers. They are committed to raising hogs sustainably and humanely while continuing the traditional farming practices handed down by their parents and grandparents. Meet Mitchell Meinke, a young farmer following the family tradition. He is from Iowa and past recipient of the Next Generation Scholarship.
This summer, I helped create a new summer snack program at our boys’ school called, “Dirt to Dish” – an organic, sustainable farm-fresh approach to school snack. The goal was to teach our kids how to eat from the garden and their local farmers markets while encouraging them to try new flavor combinations, especially sweet and savory together. As the program grew, we realized how hungry (both literally and figuratively) the kids were to learn about their food and take a leadership role in snack preparation.
As we geared up for the end of summer camp, the culminating event was an all-camp BBQ. I knew right away the menu would be Niman Ranch Fearless Franks, Sausages and fresh fruit from the local farmers market.
Hot dogs don’t always have a good reputation, but not all hot dogs are created equal. You can eat Fearless Franks with confidence that you’re getting all-natural meat that’s free of antibiotics and added hormones, and is fully traceable. So my goal was to teach both campers and parents on the values that go into the franks and the confidence they have knowing they’re eating wholesome food.
Chef Andrew is the executive chef for Niman Ranch where he develops high quality value-added, all natural meat products for retail and foodservice applications. He has more than 20 years of culinary experience. He began his training at the Culinary Institute of America and has worked in various segments of the industry including fine and casual dining, and research and development.
As former vice president of culinary development for Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, Chef Andrew was responsible for translating Wolfgang’s signature fine dining vision into profitable fast casual menu concepts for 90+ Express and Bistro restaurants throughout the United States, Canada and Japan. He helped implement a first-of-its-kind humane farm animal treatment program created in partnership with the Humane Society of the United States. Chef Andrew is currently president of Culinary Craft, a company specializing in culinary development services for chefs, restaurateurs and retailers.
Andrew lives in Los Angeles, with his wife, Marilyn, and his two sons, Benjamin and Nicholas. He recently returned from Thanksgiving in Afghanistan where he cooked a “Dinner of a Lifetime” for US Special Forces in forward operating bases.