Now I have in my life made pie crust from scratch but since baby #3 came along, I'm simplifying even more which means store bought pie crust & less mess & dishes!
So grab your pie crust & favorite pie or tart pan (I don't have an official tart pan!) and set your crust in. Then comes the mozzarella cheese. Feel free to shred your own or just use the pre-shredded kind like me because as far as I'm concerned it melts into yummy cheesy goodness with a lot less work! (Side note: Pre-shredded cheese was one of my favorite things about coming back to America!)
Next comes all those tomatoes. Depending on what you have you can just slice up some big ones & place those slices on top or if you have a bunch of cherry tomatoes I think it's super cute to cute them in half and line them on top of the cheese in big circles. Finally sprinkle on the fresh or dried basil and, if you want, a little drizzle of olive oil.
Finally pop it in the oven at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes until the cheese is all melty. You'll probably want to let it sit for 5-10 minutes when you take it out of the oven to make sure the cheese isn't too gooey when you eat it. All that's left is enjoying!
What's your favorite way to use up all those end of the summer tomatoes?
We enjoyed a beautiful Labor Day weekend Sunday exploring Carrie Lane Chapman Catt's childhood home. It sits north of us about 15 miles and I've wanted to visit ever since we moved back to the area in 2011.
Who is Carrie you may be asking? At one point in life I probably would've asked the same thing. Turns out I followed in her footsteps by both attending Iowa State University & becoming a member of Pi Beta Phi while there. Through those experiences I learned that she was an instrumental leader in the women's suffrage movement (helping give women the right to vote). And now my kids are growing up in the same neighborhood she did!
For the past few years they've hosted an apple picking festival that we'd planned on going to but since our area had a late frost this spring there wasn't quite enough apples for an entire festival. We still got to a pick apples anyway! #DairymanDan had a lot of fun using the fun apple picker!
A favorite story from Carrie's early life is that you'd often find her sitting in the crook of a tree branch reading, which comes as no surprise considering all that she went on to accomplish - attending college at the now Iowa State University and then studying law and of course all of her work in the women's suffrage movement and in the final years of her life working for peace in a variety of ways.
It's hard to accomplish all those things without being an avid reader, which is one of the reasons that the sorority that both Carrie & I were a part of in college, Pi Beta Phi, champions literacy - it truly is the key to so much in life!
Carrie's childhood home & the chance to share her legacy was almost lost before a local woman championed saving the home that was in bad disrepair. Incredibly they numbered & took off each brick to clean it and then rebuilt the exterior brick walls of the house besides other repairs & improvements. It's a double brick wall house, meaning brick inside & out, check it out to the left!
Inside her home the walls share an incredible timeline story of Carrie's life paired with the historical events happening simultaneously. It's a great reminder of where we've come from! Artifacts from Carrie's life & early prairie days are also displayed throughout the house.
Finishing out a visit to Carrie's home involved a stroll through the restored natural prairie just behind her home. We were blessed to have such a beautiful day to picnic before our tour & stroll the prairie path after.
Carrie's home is open from Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day Weekend: Monday through Saturday from 10am-4pm and Sunday from 12-4pm. It's totally staffed by volunteers & is donation only to visit, which totally amazes me! The folks who are part of sharing Carrie's story truly care about letting the next generation know how women had to fight for the right to vote!
Make plans to visit Carrie's home while in North Iowa as well stopping by to take a tour of our farm!
Where are your favorite places to visit in North Iowa?
Wanna know more about what you'll do or already scheduled your spot & want to get prepared? Then read on!
Milk A Cow
Give Rita the robot a break while you try your hand at milking a cow by hand... we know it's on your bucket list! And it's not as easy as it looks!
Get Up Close & Personal
Typically in our barn visitors get pretty close to our cows in the alleyways but in order to scrape manure off the crossovers you'll get to head in among the cows, don't worry #DairymanDan will go with you & our cows are very calm!
Did you know that cows have a "personal bubble"? #DairymanDan will teach you all about how to use that personal bubble to move a cow where you want her to go without even touching her! If any cows need to be encouraged to go get milked you'll help get her in the "fetch" pen.
They're big & powerful and you'll get to ride in one, and maybe even take the wheel! Did you know the term tractor was coined just north of us in Charles City?
Everyday #DairymanDan uses the mixer wagon to mix up the cow's "salad" & then deliver it. Climb up and peek inside to see the huge augers that mix it all up!
Care for the Calves
They're cute, little (relatively speaking), and need extra special care. Hopefully we'll have a new baby calf, just a couple days old & you'll get to bottle feed a calf. If not you can still help deliver milk to the calves buckets & help them learn to eat their pellets by hand feeding them.
Peek under the Hood
Always the most popular stop, people love seeing Rita at work, milking the cows. But you'll get to look under Rita's hood in the back of the robot room and see not only her arm at work but all her inner workings too!
You'll even have a chance to "play" with Rita's controller... kinda like your favorite video game!
At the end of your barn time you'll get an exclusive t-shirt to proudly wear & showcase that you "walked in #DairymanDan's boots". Be sure to head over to the "Contact" page to let us know you're coming to be a dairy farmer! See you in the barn!
With (hopefully!) less than 4 weeks to go until we meet #3 we're busy in baby prep mode, which includes digging out the baby boxes, wrapping up lose ends, and stocking the freezer with meals! The other day I made these great Cheesy Beefy Enchiladas and shared about it on Facebook & Instagram and of course there were requests for the recipe (because it really is amazing!). Since I wasn't planning on doing a whole recipe post there aren't any step by step instructions with pictures but I'm sure you'll figure it out!
Freezer Meal Tip:
Don't have lots of 9x13 pans? Always forget to buy aluminum pans for freezer meals? No problem!
I always line the bottom & sides of a 9x13 pan with aluminum foil, fill it up with my enchiladas, casserole, or whatever and pop it in the freezer. At least a day later, I grab it out of the freezer, place a piece of aluminum foil over the top, flip over the casserole, & out it pops. Then I wrap it in aluminum foil, label & pop it back into the freezer until you want to enjoy it!
To Enjoy: Place a piece of parchment paper on the bottom of a 9x13 pan (it'll make clean up easier!). Then take your casserole out of the freezer & unwrap the top and place original casserole & tin foil back into a 9x13 pan. Defrost in the fridge for 24 hours before proceeding with the recipes directions.
What are your favorite freezer meals? I'm hoping to make a few more (and keep making them even post-baby because it really does save time & is so easy!)
UPDATE: Since the writing of this post, the farmers of Swiss Valley Farms & Prairie Farms, voted to merge their dairy cooperatives, which means that we're now part of the cheese division of Prairie Farms. The principals of a dairy cooperative still stand true & we're looking forward to the opportunities that the merger will provide for us, the the dairy farmers.
So I grew up thinking that a coop was a place that you could buy organic local food in bulk because that's what my experience was and although that's true and there's plenty of coops like that out there, a coop, or a cooperative, really just means that a group of people have come together to cooperate on something and they legally form a cooperative.
So we've joined with other farmers to pool our milk together and then hire other people to take it from there! Because once our milk leaves the farm someone else has to take over in their specialty area from processing the milk into the many yummy dairy foods to marketing & selling those products both locally & globally!
What happens to our milk once we've milked the cows is one of the top questions we get asked. The simple answer? As member-owners our milk goes to Swiss Valley Farms. But you might have a few more questions... so read on!
What would your other options be if you weren't part of Swiss Valley Farms?
1) We could process it ourselves, which some people like Hansen's do but that would mean that we'd need to have some additional expertise & the machines/supplies necessary to pasteurize, make cheese, yogurt, ice cream, etc. which would take time away from caring for our cows.
2) We could also sell it on the open market to whichever milk plant, like Blue Bunny, needs or wants milk and then figure out how to get it there, again taking time away from caring for our cows, which is our specialty.
But does being part of a dairy cooperative really give you any advantages?
Yup! Here's at least three great reasons!
1. Farm to Table... and Beyond! We get tell you where our milk usually goes and what it gets made into and I think that's great because if you really want you can follow your food from Farm to Table, which is quite popular these days. Typically after our milk hauler picks up our milk along with other farms in the area, it gets taken to a cheese plant in Luana, Iowa. There's a wide variety of cheese that it can become from there, our favorite is the Swiss, because you can try it yourself by purchasing some here!
But not all of our milk ends up on tables in the USA, some of it gets made into cream cheese that ends up in cheesecakes halfway around the world in Asia! And that's pretty amazing to me, since on our own we'd never be able to make our milk into Swiss cheese for your table or into cream cheese and then figure out how to get it to Asia! Swiss Valley was even recognized this year as the 2016 Dairy Exporter of the Year by the US Dairy Export Council! Watch a video about it here!
And there's even a plant in Rochester, MN that makes processed cheese that ends up being used in all sorts of things like Goldfish or Cheez-its... yup there's real cheese in those crackers!
2. Learning & Training Being part of a dairy cooperative also gives us on-going learning & networking opportunities in and out of Swiss Valley Farms. As young farmers we have the opportunity to get together with other "Young Cooperators" each spring for 2 days of learning from Dairy Extension Staff and consultants, discussing what's happening within the cooperative, touring a farm or one our cheese plants, and having a little fun getaway from our 24/7 lives as dairy farmers!
Every year 2 couples get chosen to represent Swiss Valley Farms at the National Milk Producers Federation's Annual Meeting with other Young Cooperators from around the country. We were blessed to have been chosen a few years back. We learned a lot, met some great people, and had fun!
But there's even little things that have their advantages, like the monthly newsletter we get that highlights what's happening in the various cheese plants, awards that our cheeses' have won, and accomplishments & articles about other farmers, and more.
3. Market Protection Lastly and probably the biggest reason a lot of dairy farmers are part of dairy cooperatives is that part of being a member-owner ensures that Swiss Valley Farms will always give our milk a place to go to be processed and sent into the marketplace. When milk supply far exceeds demand for dairy products and the price we get paid for our milk is low the first milk that Swiss Valley Farms uses in it's products is milk from it's farmer owners, like us.
If we were selling our milk on the open market and trying to find the milk processor that would pay us the most for our milk, at times when the market is down, we'd get a lot less. We may miss out on the highest of high prices but we also are protected from the lowest prices or even not having anyone who wanted to buy our cow's milk at all, which sadly can happen.
Along those same lines, being part owner's of a company that makes our cows' milk into cheese adds value to our cow's milk because cheese has a much longer shelf life and is a much more unique product than milk on it's own.
Isn't that complicated? All that milk and all those plants?
Yes, it takes a lot of work and people to get the milk from our farm to the local grocery store shelf or half-way around the world for Asian cheesecakes! Milk is perishable so it has to stay cool & travel quickly & efficiently and we don't want it making any unnecessary trips!
Swiss Valley Farms has a great team of folks who communicates between each of the cheese plants about how much milk they need and the many milk haulers who pick up milk from Swiss Valley farmers 365 days a year! Cows make milk everyday which means the cheese plants have to be making cheese everyday too! Weather, natural disasters, equipment malfunctioning, customer purchasing and a variety of other factors can come up and milk has to be redirected to fill needs or find a processing home. It can get complicated!
Milk is perishable and typically spends less than 24 hours in the HUGE stainless steel food grade milk silos at the processing plants. Milk travels incredible quickly & efficiently thanks to the hard work of the many logistic teams at all the different milk cooperatives & companies in the US.
So, How big is Swiss Valley Farms?
Swiss Valley Farms has farmer member owners in 4 upper-midwest states that all come together at their corners - Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota so although milk doesn't actually travel very far from farm to processing plant it can cross state lines! Of the over 500 dairy farmers who are member-owners of Swiss Valley Farms, each of their farms is a little different - that's the beauty of dairy farming! Some are smaller and some are bigger; some milk their cows in tie-stalls & others have robots milk their cows; some cows spend all summer on pasture while others stay in the shade of the barn with big fans (like our gals!) and a whole lot of other variables!
Yeah, but do the farmers actually have decision making power?
While I can't vouch for every dairy cooperative at Swiss Valley Farms, yes they do or I should say they can, if they want to be involved. Every district elects a director who together make up the board of directors who meets at least monthly with the management team that they've hired to make decisions in the cooperative. And each district also has representatives that meet to discuss cooperative issues. My mother-in-law, Pam, served on the board for 26 years, the last 8 of which she was the Chairman of the Board. I can vouch that as Chair she typically had weekly conference calls with the CEO and vice-chair, talked with farmers in her district, and consulted with other district directors about the ins and outs of cooperative business. Is it easy to represent a diverse group of dairy farmers? Not always (is it ever really easy to cooperate?) but together we can do so much more than we could on our own and dairy cooperatives truly allow smaller farms to continue to survive as economies of scale push most every industry to grow & expand.
What about other dairy cooperatives? Are there more?
Yup! You may have heard of them. Dan's aunt & uncle are part of AMPI (Associated Milk Producers Inc.), and I since grew up in the Twin Cities in Minnesota Kemps & Land O' Lakes are the dairy cooperatives I grew up with. And don't forget Cabot Cheese out in Vermont and lots of other dairy cooperatives throughout the country. The amazing thing about being an American dairy farmer is that I have options, a lot of options, about which other farmers I join to help make our cows' milk into cheese, yogurt, ice cream, cottage cheese, chocolate milk, and more!
And Guess What???
And it just so happens that October is National Co-op Month. Did you know that in the United States there are more than 29,000 cooperatives that serve 350 million people? Maybe you're even included in that number... what kind of cooperative are you part of? Electric, Dairy, Grocery, Credit Union, Health Care... there's a lot of options!
Let me know in the comments!
Growing up a city-girl, after marrying my dairy farmer husband and spending a few years abroad, we came home to expand the family dairy farm and want to share our journey & farm life with you!