Dust In My Coffee

Dust In My Coffee

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Waste Not, Want Not: The Food

I don't like to waste food.  I don't like to find containers in the refrigerator with fuzz growing on the contents.  I don't like the fact that I am contributing to the statistic that says Americans throw away 20 pounds of food per person on a monthly basis.  How did Americans like myself get to the point of throwing away enough food to feed 90,000 people each day?  Is there something we can do to change our habits and keep some of that $2,500 that is going into the landfill as food waste?  Yes, there are several things we can do and I would like to share with you a few tips and resources of how we can join together to reduce food waste.  We can increase the sustainability of food production by looking at how we buy, prepare and eat our meals.

One way to cut waste is to share your food.  In the photo above, our son, Jeff,
 is sharing hissandwich with younger sister, Kim.  Steve and I have learned from
 experience some restaurant portion sizes are large enough for us to share a meal. 

Did you know that 40% of the food brought home in America goes uneaten?  In our home we are only a family of two so the issue of making sure we eat what we buy is more challenging then when we were a family of seven.  My husband, Steve, is very intentional about minimizing waste so we are careful about the amounts, sizes and perishability of the foods we buy.  Rather than buying fresh vegetables we use more frozen vegetables.  When we buy fresh food we only buy an amount we can eat.  Sometimes we buy fruit from the local FFA Chapter at Christmastime which is more than we can eat.  We will usually bake some of the apples to avoid having them rot.  Most of the time we buy items in sizes that give us the best value per serving.  We are learning an item, like milk, is better purchased in the smaller size which we can consume before spoilage.   Making food purchases that follow meal planning can also help us eliminate food waste.

This slow cooker apple and oatmeal recipe is a tasty way
to use up apples before they rot.  This is a breakfast treat
that also makes the house smell good as it bakes!

For many of us, "what's for dinner?" is a challenging question each and every day.  When we had our children all home I would often think of several meals for the week instead of going day to day.  It was also important to know the school activity schedule to accommodate for meals eaten away from home.  One of my biggest challenges was trying to avoid concession food for meals.  As a mom and a cattle farmer I had little energy left to come up with creative meal solutions.  Families today have many advantages to help with meal planning.   We can use our phones to search for recipes as we shop so we know which ingredients to buy,  some of us can receive home delivery of groceries allowing more time to think about what we need and there are meal services that will deliver meals with the ingredients and recipes right to your door.  If you can utilize services that help you with meal planning then you will find it easier to design meals you will eat rather than waste.  We can also find creative ways to use leftovers.  You can find a variety of ways to use beef leftovers here.

Jeff, the cute little boy in the first photo, is now in his 20's and his grandma
likes to make sure we all get plenty to eat at Thanksgiving.  When families
celebrate holidays we tend to make more than enough food to eat. It will help
us manage food waste if we can get creative at using up all of those left-overs.

When I was in high school I worked for a restaurant called "Bonanza".  People loved the "all-you-can-eat" salad bar that was provided with every adult entree.  Over the years buffet style eating and super-sized portions have become the norm while American waist lines continue to expand.  Conversations about what we should and shouldn't eat seem more focused on removing food groups rather than looking at serving sizes. I hear even fewer voices discussing the nutrient density per calorie of what we are eating.  If we are truly concerned about cutting food waste perhaps we need to cut portion sizes and seek to get the best nutrients in the smallest amounts needed.  I have come to appreciate the nutritional value beef has to offer.  Beef is also one of the least food items wasted at 20% versus 30-40% of other products. The beef community believes we can do better than 20% so we have done studies and have a program to help us all reduce food waste. The "30 Day Food Waste Challenge" is a great place to start if you want to cut food waste.


When I was growing up my five siblings and I were fortunate to share many suppers together with meals prepared by my mom including meat, potatoes and a vegetable.  I can recall hearing numerous times "eat everything on your plate because there are kids starving in Africa".   There was little food waste in our family because we were taught to appreciate the food we were served, we came to the table hungry and there were rarely any leftovers. There are still people in the world that don't get enough to eat.  Farmers and ranchers are ready and willing to meet the challenge of feeding an increasing population using less resources.  One way we can each help is to cut food waste in our own lives.  Are you ready to make some changes?  Do you have some great ideas on cutting food waste?  Please share in the comments below so we can help one another fight food waste!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Waste Not, Want Not: The Feed

When my husband Steve and I bought our farm we were able to store our cattle feed ingredients in structures that allowed for as little waste as possible.  Those initial structures were put into place by Steve's grandfather and uncles as they sought ways to cut down on feed waste with better storage and proper handling.  We utilized those bins, bunkers and wooden fence line bunks to continue a tradition in agriculture that seeks to responsibly use resources in a way that allows for little or no waste.

This photo shows how Steve's grandfather fed the cattle hay in the 1950's.  He did
save some feed by keeping the hay on the outside of the pen but, we've come a long
way with nutritional research, genetics and better pen design to help cattle thrive.

I was a brand new farmer in the early 1980's with much to learn.  Growing up in the middle of the heartland with cornfields all around was not enough to fully understand the spirit of the American farmer.  I was drawn to the farm to utilize my experience as a veterinary technician to help with the health care for our cattle.  However, I lacked an understanding of growing, storing and utilizing the crops we would grow.  I would like to share with you a few things I have learned in regards to reducing as much waste as possible from the corn crop we produce each year.

During the early years on our farm I learned how to be a mom, too!  Our son,
Scott, is swinging in front of the house Steve's dad grew up in.  This was our
home for many years until the structure needed to be replaced for safety reasons.

Every late April thru the month of May planting season hits northeast Nebraska. Fields are prepared using less tillage, fertilized (with our feedlot manure), and seeds are carefully chosen to thrive in their designated fields.  The soil type, climate and topography allow farmers, like Steve and I, to grow corn well as partners with Mother Nature's natural resources.  On our farm we hold all of the water from the feedlot in a holding pond so those nutrients can be used on our growing corn instead of going into streams.  The humid summers of Nebraska help those corn plants thrive as they seemingly grow overnight. When football season arrives we begin our corn harvest.

This pivot is taking water from our holding pond that has nutrients like
nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus as well as many micro-nutrients and
giving it to the corn plants to thrive on.

Some of our corn is chopped when the moisture of the corn is around 25%.  We can chop the whole plant with the ear and make corn silage.  We can also chop only the ear with the cob and leaves to make earlage.  When we choose to make earlage we are allowing more of the plant to remain in the soil to help build up organic material.  Our crop consultant helps us decide between silage and earlage by taking soil samples so we can monitor the soil health.  As the corn is chopped it is delivered to a cement bunker for storage.  The material is packed, covered with plastic and sealed down with tires.  By carefully storing the silage in this manner we are able to maintain consistent quality with very little waste.

The chopper blowing silage into a truck.

The truck dumps a load for Steve to spread and pack.

A covered silage pile eliminates spoilage by keeping the rain
and snow out.  Raccoons can tear holes so sometimes you will
see duct taped patches as winter turns to spring!


The rest of our corn is harvested with a combine.  Generally farmers wait until the moisture in the corn is under 16% so it stores well in metal bins.  We also have dryers in some of the bins if the corn needs to be dried down.  It is important to the farmers we buy corn from to prevent waste by monitoring the corn in the bins for moisture throughout the storage period.  On our farm the bins storing the corn are located near the rest of our feed storage area for efficiency and waste prevention.


We use a payloader to put different ingredients on the feed truck.  The rolled
corn is to the left, our distiller's grain are next and then ground hay is
next to that.  We keep our ingredients out of the rain and snow to manage waste.

Storing our corn and other feed ingredients properly helps us show respect for the environment by reducing waste.  Utilizing cement structures like bunkers and fence line feed bunks allow us to store, mix and deliver quality feed to our cattle so those cattle can provide quality protein for us to eat.  Those cattle also give us numerous by-products including manure that can be used to nurture future corn plants for feed.


This is a sharp contrast to the photo at the top!  We have cement bunks to provide
nutritionally balanced rations for the cattle to eat.  They also have a cement
pad on the inside of the pen to keep the eating area free from mud.  A scale on
the feed truck makes sure each pen gets an exact amount so every speck is eaten.


My experiences as a farmer continue to grow as innovative ideas help us take better care of the land, the water and the cattle we feed.  A very important piece of that innovation is reducing waste while maintaining quality allowing us to be more sustainable in the use of resources for food.  In my next blog I will talk about reducing waste on the consumer side and how we can all participate in responsibly using our resources for food production.

This is a Peruvian roast beef recipe that our daughter, Emily, has made for us.
Be sure to subscribe to new posts in the upper right column to get this recipe!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Beef and Broccoli

When our family gets together you can be certain beef is on the menu.  Beef was nearly a food group of its’ own when our kids were growing up since it was such a big part of their diet.  Raising healthy kids was important to my husband and I so it pleases me to know how many nutrients they were getting with each savory bite.  Getting kids to eat beef was easy while getting them to eat a variety of vegetables was a bit more challenging.  Steve's "Broccoli and Beef" recipe in his hand-hammered wok was one of our family favorites. 

Our grandson reaches for a piece of steak as his bowl with broccoli sits nearby. 

When our children were starting to eat solid food one of the first things they were exposed to were very small pieces of hamburger.  Their tiny little fingers wanted to master the art of bringing food to the mouth. We found hamburger to be an easy, healthy item for them to try.  Steve would often refer to their hands as little grapple forks trying to grasp at food and bring it up to a wide-open mouth.  We knew the beef was giving them ZIP-zinc, iron and protein-but we didn't realize those little pieces of beef were putting important nutrients into their bodies like B12, Selenium, B6 and Phosphorus.  



It's important to me to have research showing the benefits of beef in the diet.  Many studies since the 1970's have encouraged a diet lower in red meat.  When I was taking aerobic dance classes in the 1980's I heard fitness experts promoting diets low in red meat.  Moving on into the 1990's I saw firsthand the health benefits of a diet including red meat.  Our children were rarely sick, they did very well in school and we all maintained very busy schedules.   As a beef producer I am very proud of the research our own checkoff dollars have done to show how beef can be part of a healthy diet.  If you would like to see for yourself the benefits of beef in your diet you can take the 30 day protein challenge found here.


How many reasons do you need to make sure beef is part of your healthy diet?  Beef is good for your muscles, your immune system, your nervous system, your bones and teeth, your blood, and your brains.  Not only does beef fuel your brain with vitamins B6 and B12 there is also an article that talks about the importance of meat and human development.   The article "Food For Thought: Meat-Based Diet Made Us Smarter" states "As we began to shy away from eating primarily fruit, leaves and nuts and began eating meat, our brains grew."  Anthropologist Leslie Aiello states  "Sorry, vegetarians, but eating meat apparently made our ancestors smarter — smart enough to make better tools, which in turn led to other changes".


If you are counting calories and protein this chart
can help you see how beef compares to other sources.


Steve and I are part of a community of beef producers that are committed to producing high quality beef for you and your family.  We join families around the world that seek ways to raise healthy and successful children.  It is very important to note that it only takes 3 ounces to get 25 grams of protein.  That size is about the size of a deck of cards!

As you seek ways to help your family thrive I encourage you to include beef with plenty of vegetables.  Beef and broccoli are just one of many combinations we enjoy and you can find more ideas on the "Beef It's Whats For Dinner" website. 

Be smart.  Eat beef!

This granddaughter digs in for the better part-the beef!