A Trip to Iowa and some Popcorn Ice Cream

Post image for A Trip to Iowa and some Popcorn Ice Cream

by Chris on October 28, 2011


This time last week I was in the midwest, in a state I had never traveled, learning about corn, industry, and tradition.  I was one of the bloggers who participated in The 2011 Iowa Cornucopia Tour, a two day whirlwind trip hosted by the Iowa Corn Growers Association and the Iowa Corn Promotion Board.

My first blogger trip, I didn’t know what to expect. And, I learned a long time ago, expectations are overrated.  Simply appreciative to be invited, my mind was open to whatever experiences that awaited me. It turned out to be a fantastically educational trip with which I don’t think the one or two posts I plan will be able to detail the full impact of my time in Iowa.  But, I will do my best.

Before I begin, however, I want to express one thought. It may come off more as a rant than a thought, but please know that whatever you call it, my words are my own, personal, and not the thoughts of any persons I met while in Iowa. Maybe I am naïve, too wrapped up in my own world trying to rebuild, or maybe I just don’t have patience for arrogance.  But, I was bothered by the deluge of negative tweets that flooded twitter after a visit to Iowa State, when a Dr. MacDonald professor answered our questions…scientifically. I think it was the #IACornTour tweet that came from the tour was about processed foods being okay in moderation, with healthy choices that sparked the frenzy, followed by the high fructose corn syrup debate. Follow up tweets from the Twitterverse were rude beyond debate or banter.  Let me make this clear.  By no way, shape, or form was the information provided to us in a dominant, in-your-face manner.  Throughout the trip, we were being given lessons in industry, about the faces behind the industry, and sustainability. A lot of this was new information, at least for me.  As an educated, lifelong learner, (I feel) it is my responsibility to listen to the information offered, then digest what I can according to my thoughts and beliefs.  Regardless of how I feel about this, that or the other, good, bad, or indifferent, the minute I refuse to listen to other points of views is the minute I lose. Apparently, others feel differently, and it is unfortunate. But, that’s enough about that.  On to the good stuff.

Arriving late in the evening Tuesday night, it wasn’t until early Wednesday morning that I met my wonderful travel mates (listed below).  After coffee and initial introductions, our journey began.   We headed to breakfast at the Machine Shed, a family style restaurant that serves hearty food, including a cinnamon roll that is the size of a dinner plate….literally!

We placed the creamer there as a point of reference the gigantic size of this cinnamon roll.

While at the Machine Shed, Vatchel White offered his thoughts on farming, and how his family farm fits into the overall picture.  And, as if running Eden Ridge Farms and being a new dad aren’t enough to have on his schedule, the triathlete is a full time employee Pioneer. Oh the free time he has….ha! Knowing his hours are spread thin, it was wonderful that we were able to spend a few hours with him.

After breakfast, we headed for Living History Farms, a “living in the moment”, interactive museum that presents real life recreations that detail “the changes that have occurred in farming methods, concepts and technology.”  Although the facilities were closed to the public at the time of our visit, the group was able to tour the historical reservation and learn about how things used during the days of old.  The Farm was a perfect preface to our next journey, almost futuristic in comparison.  Touring the ethanol plant at Lincolnway Energy, after leaving Living History Farms made me feel very Judy Jetson-like.  Our gracious hosts, Kevin Ross, President of the Iowa Corn Growers Association,  Bill Couser, board chairman for Lincolnway Energy and owner of the Couser Cattle Company which earned the 2010 Environmental Stewardship Award from the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, and Deb Keller, Chair of the Iowa Corn Growers Association (and a farmer herself) walked us through a “day in the life” after we touring the plant where we learned about the processing of corn, fermentation and distillation, how much syrup, DDG, and ethanol are produced.

From the plant, Mr. Couser introduced me us to the world of Combines when he took us to his farm.  Would you check out this city girl!?!

Admittedly, I wish we could see more of the farms many functions, but we had to move onto Iowa State.

It was at Iowa State that the group had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Ruth MacDonald about Food Science.  I had no idea there were programs that led to degrees in Food Science.  It would be a big fat lie if I said Iwasn’t bummed that I just figured that out. Applying for another go-around of schooling actually crossed my mind (and stayed lingering in my brain).  How cool would that be?  Going to school and learning all about the ins and outs of food…scientifically?  Maybe after I make a small dent in the doctorate loans I have been paying….

While at Iowa State, we extracted DNA from a strawberry.  Yup! DNA in a strawberry,  Who knew? So often we I connect deoxyribonucleic acid to humans.  But, as all living things come with DNA, and strawberries are living, the DNA lays out a blueprint for its berry goodness. Cool, right?  I thought so too, which is why I brought the experiment back to my bill-paying job.  The 7th grade science classes study DNA, so now, they’ll be extracting it from berries (pending no one is allergic), too!

 It’s not mucus…its DNA! 

Following our trip back to college, the bus headed for downtown Des Moines.  The destination?  The Meredith offices; the very company that publishes magazines like Successful Farming, and Better Homes and Gardens. The opportunity that was before us had the group in a blissful daze.  Touring the BHG test kitchens….really?  I was able to cross off an item on my bucket list.  Now, if I could just be employed to work in a test kitchen, more items on the list could be crossed off. heee! Pictures from the inside will be in the next Iowa post.

At the end of the day dinner at Jasper Winery with amazing farmers who took time out of their harvest to converse with our group closed out a spectacular day.

The trip presented opportunities for farmers and industry professionals to speak with laypersons (like me) and share knowledge about agriculture in general, as well as specific to their farms and individual businesses. I had no idea the amount of work, commitment, organization and technology it takes to run and maintain a productive farm;  the intricacies within are countless.  The farmers we met demonstrated their dedication, not only to their craft, but to environmental stewardship. I now have a better understanding about the critical role farming (whatever the crop) has in local and global economies, at a level I unaware.

So, while the objective of the trip was to bring us together to learn about “how one food product makes its journey from field to fork”, it was much more…in depth.  Iowa’s agricultural history has had a tremendous impact, in technology and with companies finding ways to be self-sustaining with careful planning and wise use of their resources and people.

There is a strategy many teachers use as they begin a new concept/skill called a KWL.  What do you know, what do you want to know, and what did you learn.  Well, I didn’t know much of anything going in.  Hell, I didn’t even realize there was a difference field and sweet corn!  I wanted to know what role corn played in my life.  I don’t eat much, so I assumed corn didn’t play a big role in my daily routines.  I learned that I didn’t have a clue. The impact and connections between what happens on those fields and how everything is effected, from rural to urban areas, parks and natural areas, people and wildlife are intriguing. I didn’t realize corn was present in so many things, depending on if its dry milled or wet milled: snack foods, cereals, doughnuts, marshmallows, batteries, chalk, paints, shampoo, soaps & cleaners, carpet tile, antibiotics, and the list goes on…kind of cool, actually.

Thank you, Iowa Corn, for organizing this trip.  I appreciate everything and feel very lucky, not only to have had to opporunity to learn about a part of US agriculture and its impact across the globe, but to meet the farmers who work 365 days to keep their farms afloat.

Disclaimer:  All my expenses were paid on this trip.  However,  I was not compensated, nor did not I guarantee a blog post of review in exchange for my trip. All comments and points of view are my own and not of the others who hosted or participated in this trip.

Blogger Travel Mates

Kelly of Once A Month Mom
Heather of Farmgirl Gourmet
Emily of Busy Mommy
Leslie of The Hungry Housewife
Kristy of the wicked noodle
Brenda of A Farmgirl’s Dabbles
Jyl of The Post-It Place
Kristin of Iowa Girl Eats

This ice cream came about, oddly enough, as a result of a conversation I had with Mike McCarey when he visited ISAC the weekend before I flew to Iowa.  Intriqued by the idea of popcorn ice cream, then traveling to the land of corn? I knew I had to try it.  Using the same base I did with my donut ice cream, I whipped up this tasty treat, a kind of cold Butter Popcorn Jelly Bellies dessert!

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Kate October 29, 2011 at 8:17 AM

The strawberry DNA thing is going to be awesome for your students.

Chris October 29, 2011 at 10:20 PM

I hope so Kate! I forwarded the experiment to the teachers. :)

Barbara | Creative Culinary October 29, 2011 at 10:56 AM

I appreciate your absolute openness and honesty…not just in this post Chris but in all you write. I have no doubt that many negatives were influenced by a similar trip last year which were too often followed by blog posts about how great HFCS really is and it seemed like some on that similar trip had been brainwashed when their posts sounded a bit too much like propaganda.

The future of farming is important to all of us and as a Midwestern girl at heart I grew up in the middle of that ‘heartland.’ Honest reporting, both good and bad helps to educate; it’s clear you are one that was a perfect choice for this experience.

Chris October 29, 2011 at 10:22 PM

Thank you so much, Barbara! I debated on whether or not to mention anything, but it bothers me so! You know I can’t keep quiet. I think I lived in the midwest in a past life, because I love it there. I would move in a hot second!

Brenda @ a farmgirl's dabbles October 29, 2011 at 3:36 PM

Great recap, Chris – just as I remember it. And I know you’re a city girl, but you look darn good out in that corn field. 😉

Chris October 29, 2011 at 10:23 PM

Thanks Brenda! I hope we can get out there again, soon!

Brenda @ a farmgirl's dabbles October 29, 2011 at 3:36 PM

Oh! And I really, really want a scoop of that ice cream!!!!

Chris October 29, 2011 at 10:23 PM

Passing over a scoop now, Brenda! Just watch the key board. :)

Brenda @ a farmgirl's dabbles October 30, 2011 at 11:11 PM

mmmmmm…delicious! :)

pam October 29, 2011 at 3:56 PM

Well, I guess I missed all the controversy. I think you post was thought out and well presented. As a firm lover of popcorn, I can’t wait to try that ice cream.

Chris October 29, 2011 at 10:24 PM

Thanks Pam! The ice cream is weird but good! It plays a trick on you mind a bit….a wonderful trick. :)

Claire October 29, 2011 at 5:04 PM

Wow! I may not have a job if Mindy reads your excellent writing! We were so happy to have you here in Iowa and are beyond elated that you found the experience to be worthwhile. Thanks for coming to spend a few days with us in Iowa!

Chris October 29, 2011 at 10:25 PM

oh, you’re silly Claire! Thanks for having us. I look forward to the possibility of our paths crossing again!

Emily @ Busy Mommy October 30, 2011 at 12:17 AM

What a wonderful post! You took the words right out of my mouth about the negative Twitter feedback we got on #iacorntour (except much more eloquently, haha!). I love how you took this trip as a learning experience, as did I, and I learned a ton (and I even live in Iowa!) It was nice meeting you and hopefully we can cross paths at another event!

DessertForTwo October 30, 2011 at 7:13 PM

I’m so glad to hear about tours like this!

I work in agriculture and I get a DELUGE of nasty comments because of it. Sometimes I just want to scream because Hello, I have a freaking degree (2, but who’s counting?) in this stuff and someone who has never set foot on a farm is telling me what to think?! Oh.my.lands I’m getting all worked up over here! Don’t even get me started on people who see 1 movie or read 1 book and think they know exactly what’s wrong with our farming system and how to fix it. These people! Gah! Ok, trying to step away from the negative here.
So glad that farmers are reaching out to people and explaining agriculture. In America, less than 5% of the population feeds us! We are so productive with our land, and it just keeps getting better with research! The world’s population is going to reach new heights soon and we have to keep up! Go farmers! :)

leslie November 8, 2011 at 9:35 PM

Great recap!!! Loved the video! I miss my corn PEEPS!

Aggie November 9, 2011 at 9:15 PM

What an absolutely wonderful post. So well written!!! What a fun group of gals to be on a trip like this with too. :)

Okay…and I’m all over that ice cream. I just love the sweet salty thing so I’m pretty sure I would enjoy it :)

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