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Farm to Table: The Tale of Travels to Uncover Sources

Sometimes life delivers an unexpected opportunity, and we just have to jump at the chance when it presents itself.

So, when the prospect of visiting local Iowa farms was presented, we packed our blue jeans and boots and headed north up the winding farm roads of Iowa. Our first stop was in West Union, Iowa to meet the folks at Iowa Food Hub, an innovative nonprofit working to connect farmers, families, and food grown close to home.

Iowa Food Hub partners with local and regional producers to bring their products directly to consumers. And, they spent two days traveling with us from farm to farm showing us exactly where the herbs grow, the chickens lay their eggs, and the cows produce milk to be made into yogurt and ice cream.

Our first stop was Cedar Ridge Farms. Did you know that chickens like privacy when they are laying eggs? Nestled amongst the rolling hills of north Iowa, Cedar Ridge Farms is home to the Lambright family where 3,000 Bovan brown chickens roam 70 acres of green, grassy pastures. With three chicken houses, the chickens have ample privacy to lay their eggs.

Founded in 2010, Neal Lambright ensures that all of the chickens at Cedar Ridge Farm receive their fair share of sunlight.

Raised in a cage-free environment, the chickens are fed a combination of corn, bean meal, and vitamins, along with natural spring water to drink. The Lambright’s believe one of the most important aspects to raising chickens and producing the healthiest eggs, is for the chickens to have as much sunlight as possible. According to Neal Lambright, “Our goal is to get eggs directly to the consumer in the shortest amount of time to ensure freshness. We are averaging about 1 week from the time the chicken lays the egg until the egg is available in your kitchen.”

Cedar Ridge Farms works closely with Iowa Food Hub to bring their eggs to market. “Iowa Food Hub is proud to bring the freshest, healthiest meat, eggs and produce to local markets and restaurants as quickly as possible,” said Georgia Windhorst, Iowa Food Hub general manager.

We can still taste the delicious raspberry frozen yogurt from Country View Dairy which was our next stop. Dave and Carolee Rapson have been making all-natural farmstead yogurt from milk produced by the Holstein cows at Country View Dairy since 2011. The family moved their dairy operation from Michigan to Iowa in 2002. Today they have 160 cows pumping milk directly to the yogurt factory at 4 am daily. The remaining milk is sent to a nearby creamery.

Under the watchful eye of a milk inspector, the Rapson’s built this state-certified yogurt processing plant where the yogurt is cup set. It's liquid when it goes into the cup and yogurt cultures set it up in the incubation room where the product sits for six hours at 108 degrees before it goes into the cooler. The yogurt is 1 percent milk fat and non-homogenized, making digestion easier.

The front of the processing plant has a retail area for visitors to enjoy complete with a window into the processing plant and free samples of frozen yogurt. Products sold in the store include the full line of yogurt from Country View Dairy, as well as products from Hansen's Dairy, WW Homestead Dairy and lettuce from Rolling Hills Greenhouse.

Speaking of Rolling Hills Greenhouse, we have never seen such a spectacular green, and we mean green, greenhouse. Despite the long, harsh winters in Iowa, Fern and Eric Unruh grow a variety of lettuce and herbs year-round. Using a hydroponic system, the plants are grown in mineral nutrient water with little or no dirt. The greenhouse at Rolling Hills was built to face north/south with a 1 degree slope to ensure even sunlight.

Rolling Hills grows green and red lettuce, romaine, butter bibb, and basil, as well as micro greens, arugula, parsley, cilantro, cutting dill, Thai basil and mint. Everything is grown chemical and preservative free. The Greenhouse is monitored by computer constantly testing the temperature, pH, electrical conductivity of the fertilizer and the air temperature.

The Unruh’s bulk deliver lettuce to institutions and restaurants including Isle® Casino. If you are grocery shopping in Iowa look for lettuce and kitchen cutting herbs at your local grocery store.

Rolling Hills Greenhouse works closely with Iowa Food Hub to bring their produce to market.

Well, we do not want this blog to get too long, so we will continue this story of traveling and eating for the next post.

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