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:
Posted in Niman Ranch, Sarah Willis, Sustainable Farming Advocate
Tagged confinement free hogs, family farming, free range hogs, gestation crate-free, humanely raised hogs, humanely raised pork, Sustainable farming, sustainably rasied pork, U.S. family farmers
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.
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.
Three generations, including Carolyn and Marty’s children Katie, Brett and Mollie.
At a recent event in New York, someone told me they had never met anyone with a stronger sense of place than my father, Paul Willis. I have been thinking about that comment for awhile and believe it is an attribute so many family farmers in the Midwest have in common. I began thinking about my own sense of place and feelings about being raised on a farm in Iowa. Having lived in other parts of the country – Iowa will always be home to me.
This brings me to my latest visit to a hog farming family who supply sustainably raised hogs to Niman Ranch. Richard and Delores Blackford have been selling pigs to Niman Ranch for well over 10 years. Now their daughter and son-in- law, Carolyn and Marty Osterman, are running the hog farming operations. Arriving on a bright summer
morning, Carolyn and Marty were busy doing chores. Their teenage daughters, Mollie and Katie, invited me inside. After visiting a bit, I was struck by how much these girls reminded me of myself when I was their age. Soon Carolyn arrived fresh from working outside, it was great to catch up with another farmer’s daughter and compare our experiences working with our fathers.
As we start summer, I am sitting here listening to the thunder roll through… a rare sound these days, and reflecting on the farm activity over the spring. It has been pretty dry and we were hoping for rain, it’s a welcome sound for sure. Here in Iowa we are ruled by the ever-changing weather. During spring we expect to get rain but we also hope that it stays dry long enough to get the crops planted and the pig field rotated.
Sow exploring the pasture at the Willis Family Farm
On our sustainable hog farm we annually rotate the pigs from one field to the next and plant corn where the pigs were the year before. This is a traditional farming practice that has been used for centuries, it harnesses natural fertilizer produced by the pigs to improve corn production, as well as decreases our reliance on chemical fertilizers. Moving all of the Porta-Huts- the pig houses- fencing, waterers, and feeders takes a lot of time and energy but it’s wonderful to work outside on a beautiful cool and sunny spring mornings.
As we enter the New Year it has been unusually warm and it doesn’t look like winter. The landscapes are painted in toasty yellow ochre and sepia tones, not the high contrasts of bright white snow and stark grayish blue shadows we’ve come to expect from our winters here in Iowa.
With the beginning of a new year I like to take inventory of the previous year. I believe it’s important to reflect and recognize the little things that made us happy during the year. Of course there are always a few things that stand out. One of my favorite memories of 2011 was just a simple little thing. In June, I picked a bowl full of tart cherries at the farm while my daughter was busy climbing the fruiting trees. Cherries don’t hang on the tree forever; there is a small window of opportunity and if you miss it, you’re out of luck. Fortunately for us, our timing was perfect.
After I filled my bowl to the brim with tart cherries I brought them inside and began to whip together a pie. I followed the same techniques my mother has used for the past 15 years. I have made my fair share of pies in the past but there was something about the freshness of the fruit that made me feel more confident than ever.