About Niman RanchNiman Ranch is a community of over 700 small, independent U.S. family farmers committed to raising livestock traditionally, humanely and sustainably to deliver the finest tasting meat.
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For the past ten years, Sophia and I have been living on a farm just a mile away from where I grew up. Last month, we finally decided to make a change and move into town. It was a tough decision, we’ll no doubt miss living on a farm, but we are close enough to still help my father. This realization made the transition a little bit easier.
Remember that six-pack of chickens we bought back in March? Well, they grew pretty fast and I have to confess their home our basement where we were keeping them became a bit of a nuisance. It was a real chore to clean it every day and the chickens were going through the feed like you wouldn’t believe. We brought those chickens with us when we moved into town and move them to a fancy little chicken run and hen house we found at our local farm supply store.
We’re going to try our hand at Urban Farming. We were so excited once the weather warmed up and we were able to move our chickens outside and test the new chicken house.
One of our spring activities on the farm is we begin to save some of our chicken eggs for incubating. It’s exciting to watch them as they hatch through the glass window of the incubator. This year we put eggs in the incubator on March 1 and are expected to hatch in 21 days.
You would never know spring break is here by the weather we have had. Last week while preparing for another blizzard and picking up some groceries, my daughter, Sophia, asked if we could check our local farmer supply store to see if they had baby chicks in yet, just to “look” at them.
Of course when we saw them there they were irresistible. Sophia asked if she could buy a few with her own money. She couldn’t wait for our eggs to hatch. The sign at the store said you could not buy fewer than six at a time. It seemed like a good idea knowing that we would be snowed in the following day and it was spring break. Nothing is more fun than a few fuzzy baby chicks. I guess you might call it, “spring chicken fever”.
It’s February and we are emerging from the dark days of winter. These are the days when a winter storm warning or dreaded “wintery mix” can leave us stuck on the farm for days. During these times I confess I sometimes yearn for the conveniences of city life.
Years ago, I took a job where I transferred to Los Angeles. Of course, it was beautiful in California. I remember stopping in at a local coffee shop and commenting to the barista what a nice day it was, a sentiment which seemed redundant after the first few days. People in Los Angeles were spoiled by the sunny days and mild weather, so they didn’t comment on it that much.
It must have been my Midwestern roots that inspired my fascination with the weather. Everyone in our little town of Thornton, where I come from, commented on it. The weather has a defining effect on daily life in Iowa. But even with the beautiful weather in California, I couldn’t wait to return to the Midwest. There is something about the connection with nature that creates a sense of autonomy and peace that can only be found on the farm. I missed my family too. My drive to return to the farm grew even stronger when my daughter was born.
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.
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.
Chef Michael Schwartz, chef/owner of Michaels Genuine, Harry’s Pizza and The Genuine Kitchen, uses Niman Ranch meat on the menus of his restaurants in Miami and the Cayman Islands. In 2011 he honored our farmers by cooking at the Niman Ranch 14th Annual Hog Farmer Appreciation dinner.
He recently published Michael’s Genuine Food Down-To-Earth Cooking for People Who Love to Eat, in which he shares recipes for dishes you know and love from Caramelized Onion Dip with Thick Cut Potato Chips to Crispy Sweet & Spicy Pork Belly with Kimchi and crushed peanuts. Find a delicious recipe for leg of lamb perfect for your holiday celebrations.
Grilled Leg of Lamb with Cranberry Salsa Verde
Serves 6 to 8
1 (6-pound) leg of lamb, bone in, trimmed of excess fat
1/2 cup Greek-style yogurt
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
3 lemons, halved
Salsa Verde (recipe follows)
Put the lamb in a large roasting pan and pat dry with paper towels.
The holidays are my favorite time of year. It’s a time for family, fun, and a respite from crazy schedules. For me it means spending less time in the kitchen and more time in the living room watching football with my boys. Glazing a Niman Ranch ham fits perfectly into this holiday plan because it’s short on preparation and long on leftovers.
The honey glaze will seep into the nooks and crannies as the ham bakes. Plan ahead though and put the ham in early so you can let it bake at a low and slow temperature until it’s steamy hot in the center.
Niman Ranch Holiday Ham with Honey–Brown Sugar Glaze
1 Niman Ranch Half Bone-in Ham (approximately 7-10 pounds)
½ cup honey
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup orange juice
2 tablespoons brandy
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 teaspoon ground cloves
Pinch of kosher salt
Remove the plastic wrapping from the ham, place the ham on a rack in a roasting pan, and allow it to temper at room temperature for about 90 minutes. Tempering will allow the ham to bake more evenly. Score the ham, making about ¼” deep cuts in a criss-cross pattern. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
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
There are many reasons why Niman Ranch meat is better than the rest- how we raise our animals is one of them. How our animals are raised directly impacts the quality and taste of Niman Ranch meat.
The chefs that serve Niman Ranch meats often like to see where and how the animal is raised. Bringing chefs to the farms and ranches to meet the farmers in person gives them the opportunity to see first hand how humane animal care and sustainable farming practices impact the meat that ends up their menus. Several times a year, we are able to make that happen.
A few weeks ago a small group visited the Willis Ranch in Laketown Utah, to see how Niman Ranch lamb is raised. We began the tour at the Willis’ fall grazing ground located in the small corner between Utah’s Bear Lake and the Idaho and Wyoming borders. Here we learned about the work Clark Willis spearheaded on rangeland restoration. His work opened up the grazing land, which positively impacted the endangered Sage Grouse by providing an optimum habitat for breeding.
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.
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.
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