Do you remember that moment that changed your life trajectory? How FFA changed mine.

It is pretty easy for me to remember what changed the path my life would go as I grew up. Having gown up in the middle of corn fields with a dad who lived vicariously through his children by letting my older brother start milking cows when he was 12, agriculture has always been part of my daily life. My dad is a large animal veterinarian. I remember riding with him on calls. I remember loving to go to the sale barn with him on Thursdays. Even though I hated holding the gate as he and my brother would tag pigs. And I would escape to the kitchen as fast as possible.

But that wasn’t what dictated my path. Actually, those experiences of growing up with few vacations because we had cows to milk or interrupted holidays because a farmer needed my dad to come help a cow calve or sow have piglets probably was more discouraging to me and my mom to have a career focused on agriculture.

Many still refer to it as the Future Farmers of America, but FFA change the trajectory of my life by preparing me for a career better than I could imagine. By the end of my sophomore year in high school, I knew FFA was my game changer. I was a good student. Straight A’s with a random B for the most part. I was in a sport every sporting season and thanks to being virtually the tallest person on the team, I always saw plenty of playing time. I wasn’t in search of my calling when I entered high school. And honestly, FFA wasn’t on my radar at first.

There is more to high school than just sports, regardless of how much fun it is to participate.

However, the agricultural education teacher and FFA advisor noticed I wasn’t signed up for ag ed classes. And he asked why. It was my brother’s thing, not mine. After all, my brother had just won the state proficiency award for dairy production as a junior. He was the one that milked cows every morning. He was the one that farmed the carpet in our basement when we were children. I was into sports. And I got good grades easily. I was not going to be focusing my life on agriculture.

But the ag teacher convinced me to try it. So, I dropped my foreign language (which I picked up later in high school so I could get into the college of my choice) and picked up “Intro to Ag.” It was a good decision. I participated in creed speaking and did dairy judging. And may I add, I beat my brother in dairy judging my freshman year when he was a senior. That was a long ride home from the University of Illinois.While you can show cows in FFA, there is so much more you get from being involved in vocational programs, regardless of how gifted and talented you are at school.

But what people don’t realize about that ag teacher unless you have had the luxury of having an ag teacher is that he was so much more than an ag teacher.

My freshman year I made it to the state finals for creed speaking. I didn’t win. I don’t even remember what I placed. But I do remember he took me to pick up the shoes I was wearing to prom. Yes, in rural communities freshman go to prom if asked by an upper class man.

I remember hours with him and my classmates going to ag sales career development events, parlimentary procedure contests, supervised agricultural experience interviews, public speaking competitions across the state in a Suburban we were sure would break down at any moment.

I remember eating more than him on more than one occasion when we would be at a restaurant.Where are all the women leaders? FFA gave me my first chance at leadership. How FFA changed the trajectory of my life.

I remember him telling me after I was the highest vote-getter for the officer slate at the end of my sophomore year that I was going to be the president of our chapter. And that people wouldn’t be happy since I was only going to be a junior and a girl. We had less than five girls in FFA in our chapter at that point. And people were not happy.

Being award the state FFA degree is sort of like being inducted into National Honor Society. Except harder. Why FFA changed the trajectory of my life.

And the thing about ag teachers is they are always your ag teacher. Even if they no longer are teaching your classes. Mine changed jobs after my sophomore year, but he didn’t quit supporting me. He took my calls no matter how late at night when I was trying to get my state FFA degree. He took my calls when I was debating a run for a state office. He offered me internships. He offered me advice. And he encouraged me to stay in agriculture. To veer from the course my parents and other teachers wanted me to go down that was focused on a major in math or finance or actuarial science. And I listened. And absorbed.

I was all in on ag by the end of my junior year. When it was time for college applications, I knew in my heart I had one place to go. Applied to the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois. No where else. I was all in on ag.Who wouldn't want the champion pen of FFA chickens? How FFA changed the trajectory of my life.

And as I look back over my college career where I changed my major just once and then once again changed course after the last heart-felt conversation with my beloved ag teacher, applied to graduate school. In agriculture, of course.

Today, I wonder what my life would be like if I hadn’t taken that intro to ag class. If I hadn’t signed up for that ag class. If I hadn’t taken a risk to do what smart kids weren’t supposed to do. If the ag teacher hadn’t encouraged me to sign up for ag class. But, never once do I regret the change of course. To have a career that mixes my passion, upbringing, and impacts every person that eats, nothing else can compare in my mind.

The friendships from friendly competition in FFA last a lifetime. Why FFA changed the trajectory of my life.

So, if you are wondering what type of classes your child should take in high school, don’t over look the non-traditional courses. The vocational, the arts, the ones that change lives. There is plenty of time for AP calculus and physics and chemistry and French. The book knowledge is needed too, but way too often we overlook the classes and programs that give us a life. Give us something more than just knowledge. These are the class that give our youth wings to be game changers in their careers and the leaders of their generation.

Learn more about FFA.

Hunk of Meat Monday: Creamy Italian Sausage Soup

There is only one reason I can appreciate old man winter. ONE. And it is soup. I love soup. And I love eating soup when the weather is cold outside. This cream Italian sausage soup is officially my new favorite soup.

Creamy Italian Sausage Soup is a twist on chili or lasagna soup. So good and feeling. Plus easily low carb and gluten free.This soup is one of those things that just leaves you wanting to clean up the bowl with a crusty piece of bread. Or lick it clean. Whatever you prefer. And, honestly, you can have this soup on the table in 30 minutes or let it simmer in the crock pot all day long. Your choice!

bowl of creamy Italian sausage soup

The most important thing about this soup is the pork. I used ground pork and added Italian sausage seasoning. I added a tablespoon of seasoning to a pound of ground pork. Plus a teaspoon of And these days I don’t make any soup without two pounds of meat. Don’t have ground pork at your grocery store? You can also buy Italian sausages or brats and just remove the casings. Either way, you are bound to get the flavorful Italian pork sausage base.

Italian Sausage Soup Base makes the soup full of flavor. If you want to cut calories, the soup at this point is delish without the added creamy, cheesy goodness.

Once the pork is browned you can start adding the sauces. I used a big 24 ounce can of garlic and herb tomato sauce. Then added a can of diced tomatoes. I added fire roasted tomatoes because that is what I had. Again, add whatever kind of tomatoes you have on hand. I then added The combination of just the pork, sauce and tomatoes makes an amazing soup base full of flavor. You honestly could stop now. But why would you want to stop now. Keep going. It just keeps getting better.

Creamy Italian Sausage Soup has five ingredients and endless flavors.

If you want to cut calories, the soup at this point is delish without the added creamy, cheesy goodness. But, how about you add the block of cream cheese now. Stir the cream cheese into the tomato and meat base till completely melted. So, now the secret ingredient comes to play… Wait for it…

Two tablespoons of brown sugar. Yep. Suuugggaaaaarrrrrrrrrr. Trust me and add it.

And again you have choices. I ate a bowl without pasta. But I am feeding a bottomless pit, so I added pasta to the soup. I would recommend a bow tie or another wide type noodle to catch sauce easily. Add the al dente pasta when the cream cheese is melted. Add more water if you want the soup to be thinner. I sort of like my soup to be more stew like. Stoups are my favorite.

Big Pot of Creamy Italian Sausage Soup is my new go-to recipe for cold, winter days.

Creamy Italian Sausage Soup

Cook time: 

Total time: 

Serves: 6 servings

This cream Italian sausage soup recipe is simple with just a five basic ingredients with a super sweet secret ingredient.
Ingredients
  • 2 pounds of ground Italian Sausage or ground pork with 2 tablespoon Italian sausage seasoning
  • 1- 24 ounce can of garlic and herb tomato sauce
  • 1 -15 ounce can of diced tomatoes
  • 1-2 cups of water
  • 1 - 8 ounce block of cream cheese
  • 8 ounces of bow-tie past cooked till al dente
  • 2 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes - optional
Instructions
  1. Brown the sausage or pork with seasonings. Drain any excess grease. Return to soup pot
  2. Add red pepper flakes, tomato sauce and diced tomatoes along with salt and pepper. Add one cup of water. Simmer till just starting to bubble.
  3. Stir in cream cheese into the tomato and meat base. Add the brown sugar. Continue to simmer on low heat.
  4. Add pasta. Stir to combine and serve with shredded mozzarella cheese.

Get other great recipes over at The Country Cook’s Weekend Potluck!

What do farm kids do all summer?

I grew up on a small dairy farm in the era when we still had to physically walk beans to cut weeds. While I loved summer break because that meant county fair, it also meant work. And today I find myself in conversations with friends and parents of my children’s friends about what the kids will be doing over the summer. Then it hit me one day when I was texting with a group of friends who are also all farming, how different our lives are from the majority but yet how my kids will look back with a grateful spirit for being raised working hard and playing hard. So, here my friends is a glimpse into our farm kids’ summer.

Planted Sweet Corn and Watched It Grow

Planted Sweet Corn and Watched It Grow

Played with the Pigs

Played with the Pigs

Summer swim meet

Summer swim meet

Wrote a Pen Pal and Mailed the Letter

Wrote a Pen Pal and Mailed the Letter

Biking During the Columbus Triathlon

Biking During the Columbus Triathlon

Placing in the top 3 of the Columbus Youth Triathlon

Placing in the top 3 of the Columbus Youth Triathlon

Another Swim Meet

Another Swim Meet

Did I Mention Sister LOVES Swim Meets?

Did I Mention Sister LOVES Swim Meets?

Watching Corn Grow

Watching Corn Grow

Walking 4-H Pigs

Walking 4-H Pigs

Finding Wild Bunnies In the Yard

Finding Wild Bunnies In the Yard

 

4-H Project Work

4-H Project Work

The Girl and Her Dairy Calf

The Girl and Her Dairy Calf

 

Showing Dairy in His White Clothes

Showing Dairy in His White Clothes

Showing His York Barrow Pig

Showing His York Barrow Pig

Excitement After Winning

Excitement After Winning

 

Fun In The Greased Pig Contest

Fun In The Greased Pig Contest

And that gets us till mid-July. So, what do they do? Head to more fairs…

Off to Illinois to Watch Cousins Show

Off to Illinois to Watch Cousins Show

She Loves the Fair

She Loves the Fair

No, Really She Does

No, Really She Does

Country Walks Near Our House

Country Walks Near Our House

And then my boy had a big weekend…

 

Another Swim Meet... The STATE Meet

Another Swim Meet… The STATE Meet

The Brickyard NASCAR series

The Brickyard NASCAR series

What are your kids doing this summer?

Is Food From Small Farmers Better? Why #FarmSizeDoesntMatter

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone, someone you really respect and value their opinions, but you can’t for the life of you figure out why they believe something that could not be any farther from the truth? As a mother I have experienced this with vaccinating your kids to drinking raw milk to breast feeding. We all have our beliefs and views and have done our research. And boy do we like to push our beliefs on others and even shame others who don’t agree with our train of thought. As a mother, I want to make the best possible decision for my family. I don’t want a decision I make to impact my kid’s ability to grow, learn and develop.

Kids sitting on a tractor

Which is why I think sometimes food becomes such an emotional choice for moms like me. Every single day we are putting food in our kids mouths. Every morsel can ultimately impact their growth, their health, their wellness. I get it. However, I think the fear of not doing the best for our kids has spurred a movement of scaring people from eating certain types of food that are hard to imagine.

But here is the thing when it comes to food, it all starts on a farm. Big farms. Small farms. Local farms. Foreign farms. The culture of being a farmer has evolved just like being a teacher has evolved. There are farmers who still raise heirloom tomatoes just like there are places kids learn in one room schools with multiple grades all together. In the same way there are farmers who raise hybrid tomatoes and just like there are schools that now never meet in a formal classroom but learn through online platforms. Does one situation mean it is superior to the other? I would argue that these types of farming and educational formats are what works and fits for that community and people working on those farms and in those schools.

stand for farmers

This year on our farm we aren’t just growing our regular corn and soybeans on the less than 250 acres we are farming, we are also growing pigs, a dairy calf and chickens and sweet corn. And let me be honest, the latter part of our operation is a losing operation. Losing money, that is. We hope to make some money from the sweet corn but that is if we sell the 25,000 ears of corn that come from the 25,000 seeds we are planting on one acre.

Beyer Beware's small farm #FarmSizeDoesntMatter That’s the thing with farm size, they didn’t grow larger because anyone forced it to happen. For generations farming has evolved and changed. My hens pecking around in the grass outside of my red barn is romantic. But let me tell you what isn’t romantic. Picking up 12 of the 32 chickens that have been killed in the middle of the night. Because that is a reality. Putting the chickens outside is almost more for our psyche than theirs. We literally have to to push them out the door to get them to go out. And a crazy fox or weasel and they are all goners. Hard to make money off of dead chickens. Hence why most egg laying chickens are raised in safe, secure buildings. Farmers have to have birds to pay the light bill.

We have older equipment. The equipment we are using to plant our sweet corn is 10 years older than I am. Yet, we have some the best genetics and technology packed into the seed. Equipment is expensive today. You have to have a lot of land to spread the fixed cost of equipment over. Seed however is a variable cost. We can buy more expensive seed that will require less chemicals and be more hardy to deliver a crop to us. Thus we use older equipment and newer seed technology.

old equipment new seed technology #FarmSizeDoesntMatterSo, does that mean our sweet corn is from “Big Ag” even though it is being grown on our one acre field? Or does that mean it should be better because it is from people who picked by hand by someone in our family. My point is this, regardless, of size or method of production, all farmers go home to families. These families may have incorporated their farms and the IRS may look at them as corporations, but first and foremost they are families. Buying food in your box store or at your local farmers market shouldn’t matter. The farmers grew the whole foods that went into your food. While we can debate on processing, additives and what not, that has nothing to do with farm size. Continue to ask questions and push all of us to explore the best options for all people not just your community. And when you are trying to decide what type of farm you want your food to come from, remember #FarmSizeDoesntMatter.

 

Quick Spicy Beef Burritos

We can all pretend that we are always ready to whip up a meal for our starving kids. But, after being on the road or on a plane for a month straight, I would rather everyone just make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

When I came across the recipe for quick spicy beef burritos in my latest Gooseberry Patch Cookbook I am reviewing on the way home from a week on the beach, I knew even my kicking and screaming bad attitude towards cooking right now could handle it.

Quick Spicy Beef burritos on corn tortillasThe great thing about this recipe is Beyer pantry friendly ingredients.

Quick Spicy Beef Burritos Recipe

Don’t we all have refried beans, diced tomatoes and chilies and taco seasoning in bulk? Or just me?

Taco Meat add ins

Of course, I always have literally hundreds of pounds of meat just laying around in one of my two chest freezers. I get the frozen pound of ground beef going with a quarter cup of diced onions.

Browning beef for burritosOnce the beef is browned, drained of any excess grease, add those tomatoes, beans and seasoning.

Quick Spicy Beef Burrito FillingsStir to combine and let simmer for several minutes. And I dare you not to steal a bite.

Beef Burrito FillingYou will notice my spoon is missing from my awesome Fighting Illini spoon rest.

Quick Beef Burrito filling with Illini spoon restNow, stop sneaking bites and start assembling. For a healthier option, grab whole wheat tortillas. If you are gluten free, go for the corn. If you are me and you are going with what you have, you will use run of the mill flour tortillas for the family.

Quick beef burritos

Add shredded cheese and roll up tortillas and serve.

Quick Spicy Beef burritos on corn tortillasNotice, I have some corn tortillas in the mix. And if you like more filling in your burritos, go for it. Add some guacamole. It’s healthy!

Quick Spicy Beef BurritosLooking for healthier ideas for any night of the week? Come back tomorrow and register to win this Good-For-You Everyday Meals Cookbook from Gooseberry Patch. Or go buy it now!

Quick Spicy Beef Burritos

Serves: 5

Serving size: 1 burrito

Lovers of Tex-Mex food looking for a change of pace from regular tacos will fall in love with these quick spicy beef burritos.
Ingredients
  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • ¼ c. diced onion
  • 1-1/4 ounce package of taco seasoning
  • 16 ounce can refried beans
  • 10 ounce can of diced tomatoes and green chilies
  • Flour or corn tortillas
  • 1 cup shredded cheese
Instructions
  1. In a skillet over medium heat, brown beef with onion.
  2. Drain off any excess grease and stir in the taco seasoning, beans and tomatoes and chilies. Simmer for five minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Warm up flour tortillas or crisp up corn tortillas and fill with beef filling.
  4. Sprinkle with cheese and then roll up and serve immediately.

This recipe is from a cookbook given to me by Gooseberry Patch. The recipe commentary and opinions are mine.

The Secret to Quick Meals on Busy Nights

You know when you have a way to save time in the kitchen, but don’t yell it from the the mountaintops because you think your friends already know it? Well, that happened to me recently. A few of us were sitting around when one of my friends said “Thank goodness someone told me about Leah’s secret of making browned meat from frozen meat in seven minutes in the microwave.” Which was no big deal until another friend said, “Yeah, and I am also glad she told me how to cook pasta in the microwave.”

Blank stares from those who most not know about my secrets. My secret weapon more specifically.

It’s a simple little thing.

microwaving ground meatOn the nights when you have to literally throw dinner together in 15 minutes because you have soccer or ballet or chores or cross country or corn to harvest or just no energy. You need a secret weapon.

how to microwave pastaYou can microwave ground meat that is froze solid in two increments of three and a half minutes that result in browned meat.

how to microwave meatViola. Add seasoning for tacos or taco salad. Pour into spaghetti sauce for a quick spaghetti meal.

But you are still wondering on how to microwave pasta aren’t you? There is a small are to the pasta. I normally do a cup and a half of water and pasta into the large micro cooker. For most pasta I just double the cook time. So, if it takes 5-6 minutes to boil to al dente, I cook on high in the microwave for 11 minutes.

microwaved cooked pastaMost times the pasta will absorb all the water, but if not go ahead and dump the extra water out before adding the cheese, milk and butter for mac and cheese. I mean, after all what else do you make with pasta?

microwave mac and cheeseMicrowave for second intervals until the pasta and cheese is smooth.

microwaved mac and cheeseAdd bacon for that completely irresistible meal in no time flat!

Microwave mac and cheese

What are your secret tips or recipes for the nights you are on the go?

I am participating in Indiana’s Family of Farmers Table Talk Series and received a gift in exchange for my participation.

Table Talk Contributor for Indiana Family of Farmers

Microwave Mac and Cheese
A one dish mac and cheese dish that can be made in 15 minutes in the microwave.
Ingredients
  • 1.5 cups uncooked pasta
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ⅓ cup milk
  • 4-8 ounces of velveeta, cubed or shredded
  • salt and pepper
  • Crumbled bacon
Instructions
  1. Place pasta and water in micro cooker and cook for 4-5 minutes longer than the box stated boil time on high. Check pasta and cook longer if not cooked to al dente. Add more water if necessary.
  2. Drain any excess water. Add butter, milk and cheese and microwave in 30 second increments till cheese is melted.
  3. Add salt and pepper to your taste. Serve with crumbled bacon on top.

What Summer Is Like in Indiana

When school gets out don’t we all have all these grand plans. Well, when you are in the country of Indiana this is what ends up happening.

You get a puppy. Yes, he is a GoldenDoodle. His name is Moses. We call him Moe.

Our GoldenDoodle Puppy MosesBut then, you have to deal with a sad little Checkers. The puppy got a little bit more love than him.

Our Teddy Bear Dog, CheckersBut, soon he got over that little bought of jealousy. So, we went back to watching the corn grow…

Corn Irrigation

Like many of you, we spend a lot of time swimming. In lanes. While your parents melt in the stands with absolutely no beer sales at the said swimming meet.

Boo swimming the butterflyAnd all of this fun is then interrupted with the job. The thing that pays for tree houses that cost more than your first car.

New playset at the new houseHowever, who wouldn’t want to host foreign visitors on a two day tour prior to the World Pork Expo? I mean, seriously, it was awesome. Plus, I got to ride a barge on the mighty Mississippi River and see grain being loaded onto a barge.

Grain Barge on the Mississippi RiverAnd then it is back home to the quaintness of rural Indiana and lazy Saturdays.

Farm WindmillThe best thing about summer is the amazing nights you can spend outdoors with friends. On the 4th of July we had fun with friends and a sky that gave the fireworks competition.

Indiana July SunsetAnd just when you think your life can’t be any better, the corn starts pollinating. Did I mention I am surrounded by corn fields. Eyes have been watering for weeks thanks to all this corn sex…

Corn PollinationThen the letter comes. The letter with the class lists and school supplies. The list that means summer is over soon. The letter that makes you realize you have worked too much and played too little. The letter that makes you sad because you feel guilty for not spending enough time with your kids doing all these big fancy pants things that memories are made of. And then, your kids make you feel loved when you are up in your office having a little pitty party by yourself. My kids did it. They threw me a surprise tea/lemonade party.

surprise tea partyAnd I am going to just assume everyone’s kitchen table looks like mine. It will make me feel normal.

Summer Fashion Accessory Must-Haves

I think I have a love hate relationship with summer. I love the warm weather. I love flip flops. I love not having to wear a coat. I have gotten bold lately. Especially with colors. Curious people have been asking what my secrets are to buying cute clothes that are comfortable and not so “momish.” Here is an example from this week.Boden Summer Fashion

This outfit encompasses nearly all of my must-haves for me this morning. My favorite shirt. The wedges I am obsessed with right now. And a skirt from my favorite online store.

But I want focus on accessories. Because they are cheaper to add some flare to your summer wardrobe. So, let’s start with shoes.

toms wedgesSometimes I get lucky and I match. Not that being matchy, matchy is in-style, but these Toms sandals might be my favorite pair of shoes. The close second.

toms splatter wedges

Yep, they look like splattered paint. Also, Toms wedges. I have the same shoe in gray. Yes, I can wear them all day. Yes, they are comfortable. One caveat…your toes have to get used to them. I got some blisters where the top of my toes meats the materials. Other than that, bliss.

Moving on up the body…Scarves. I am plain in love with scarves. Probably because I can use them to hide where I spill coffee on myself. I have scarves from just about everywhere. My current favorite is this Calvin Klein – Ombre Colorblock Scarf.

Calvin Klein - Ombre Colorblock Scarf (Pale Lime/Aqua) - Accessories


Love this scarf. Every time I wear it I get a compliment. You can get it from Zappos.com or TJ Maxx like I did.

I also love statement necklaces. Let’s face it, I want to draw as much attention away from my problem areas. Scarves, necklaces, dangling earrings draw attention up instead of to my midsection!

chunky gold necklace

This is one of my latest. I buy way too much from Zulily. You get good quality for a discount. And it changes daily. But, my ultimate favorite place to by big statement necklaces…

beaded bib necklaceAnthrologie. I can’t help it. I just love the eclectic nature of the store. And my All-Time favorite necklace is from there. And they no longer sell it, so I am not even going to show it to you.

So, what are you summer must-have’s?

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