Posted on Leave a comment

Eat For Your Health, Eat For Planetary Health

Check both boxes every time.

What does good farming practice have to do with healthcare? Better farming systems and practices can create more nutrient density in the food we eat and eliminate toxins which permeate our soils and the majority of our food products. Specific practices such as grass-based farming systems for livestock are better for the animals, the soils, and contribute to a better balance of the fatty acid profile in the final fat and meat product. This has a direct correlation to your health. 

The discussion of Omega 3 fatty acids versus Omega 6 fatty acids is no longer a foreign concept to most of us that have any interest in our overall health and well-being. Omega six fatty acids play a large role in the story of  inflammation and the damage it can create in your body. You may not know that auto-immune disease, heart disease, diabetes, and dementia all have root causes related to overactive inflammatory responses in the body. This can be directly impacted by your nutritional choices. 

If we know that inflammation is the underlying cause of our major health concerns we must look at what is the cause of our inflammation. Often the inflammation is a result of what is being called a leaky gut. A compromised gut lining allows proteins to leak out into your blood where they trigger an inflammatory response to the foreign bodies that are not supposed to be in the bloodstream. Toxins and mycotoxins such as pesticides and mold are pervasive in our grocery store foods, organic and non-organic, indigestible grains and bad fats/oils, and over abundance of sugars can also be cause or be contributing factors to leaky gut. In case you haven’t heard this one- antibiotics kill your gut bacteria, healthy and unhealthy alike. Taking them or getting them indirectly in the meats your purchase does impact your gut health. 

Did you also know about the gut-brain connection? Hormones can and do affect your gut and conversely what’s in your gut affects your hormones. Prebiotics, probiotics, sugar, all affect your hormones. Stress levels and sleep, ALL have an effect on your hormones.  Guess what? Your hormones affect how you deal with stress and how you sleep. Does it sound like an intense cycle of cause and effect? It is. In acknowledging this- and if you don’t believe me, just start googling for the latest research trends, you can not ignore the impact your food choices have on your health.

Choose foods for your family that have the highest nutrient density. Foods that are grown in the healthiest soils, not treated with pesticides, herbicides (in sprays or in GMO seeds), animals that are not given antibiotics, hormones or other chemicals . These are your best options and can be found if you get to know your sources and how the food is farmed. Grass-fed meats are by far healthier than grain-fed meat, and ALL fats are not created equal. Get to know why and what healthy fats you need in your diet either by eating animal protein , adding fats, or cooking with oils. 

Each individual has specific needs for his/hers/theirs optimal well-being. Determine your individual needs by understanding your metabolism and your epigenetic risk factors. Knowing your family history, learning about your genes and understanding your personal roots of inflammation will help you decide if and how much meat you need, weather or not you should be eating grains, what vegetables may need to be avoided, and how you can use intermittent fasting to optimize your metabolic system. This is no small task but time is of the essence and there are many qualified individuals around to help you dial in your personal health needs. Health coaches and physicians that practice Integrative and Functional Medicine approaches generally have a better handle on the misinformation put out by our government health officials and current studies that are coming out every day with regards to how much your gut and what you put in it affects your whole systems health. 

Taking the extra time you might have now to read a book or become a health detective online will only increase the quality of your life moving forward. You might also think about growing your own garden and raising a few backyard chickens if you have the space.

Be well and be happy. Love yourself and love our planet.


Posted on

Real Farm for Real Food

Here in Iowa we see numerous examples of harmful agriculture as well as some poorly run grazing operations but slowly more education surrounding better practices is making its way into our communities. However, it is not happening fast enough and it is up to consumers to start driving change at a more rapid rate. It is of the highest importance that you know your farms and their practices. Even your neighbors small farm may not be doing best practice. 

There are a lot of food movements in motion and strong emotions surrounding peoples convictions about food and our climate. I think this is because we, as a collective, so deeply feel that change must happen and the only chance we truly have at affecting change is by each individual action that we make. It then becomes a mission and a purpose to understand how we can first, do no harm and second, continue forward with healing our planet by all means possible. It’s too simplistic to say “don’t eat meat” or “one meal a day”.  One must look at the nuances of our farming and our food system; how we grow food, who is driving policy, and what are the repercussions of how we as the consumer, spend our food dollars.

We started farming because we thought it was the right thing to do for our family and for the environment. We decided that our family needed meat to be healthy and we did not want to  purchase factory farmed meat. After embarking on a meat withdrawal for close to a year, we chose to raise meat for ourselves. As our journey into our personal health and wellbeing continued, we realized how important the animals food inputs and feeding are as well as raising them in a way that keeps them at their healthiest. This allowed us to feel great about having meat in our diet. The health aspects are another post, but my point is, the  way most of this country is farming has to change. For example, the way farming is happening now does use a lot of water, a lot of land, and creates polluted waterways due to pesticides, manure, erosion and nutrient depletion of soils which then grows nutrient deficient food. This is true of vegetable farming as well and livestock farming. Another example is the way we farm tree nuts. Tree nuts use enormous amounts of water and in California where the highest percentages are raised, this is a monumental issue due to their ongoing drought. Pollinators are another layer of the climate issues surrounding veg and nut production this also must be left for another post. But, in short, bees are being flown into farms as there are no longer local healthy bee populations. With all of this said, the way to positively affect climate change is to stop harmful farming practices and put all of our effort into creating balanced, nourishing soil, and this requires animals. Our soil is Earth’s microbiome; a living, breathing organism. Standard practices and policies are creating a sick world and the food we are growing in this soil is creating sick people.

Small to mid range farms like ours, which are practicing regenerative farming practices are working hard to change the food culture on a local level. Regenerative practices that encourage healthy and resilient soils and animals are largely based on rotational cover cropping and rotational grazing practices. By moving away from mono cropping, tilling, herb and pesticide use as well as planting cover crops to rebuild soils between cropping we have been able to stop erosion and create soil that will actually hold water and create less above ground demand. 

Rotational grazing operations like ours can contribute to deep, penetrating soil health. Often ranchers and farmers are able to use land that is otherwise left fallow by rotating the animals intensively and thoughtfully. Some farmers graze multiple species on the same land base, where one ruminant can utilize some part of the forage and another species can benefit from what’s left behind. Grasses and forage ideally are not eaten to the ground leaving standing nutrients on top of the soil and protecting the animals from grazing too closely to their manure. Hay fed animals that are moved around leave the carbon and nitrates on the ground creating a composting top soil that adds living organisms and nutrients back into the soil. Wildlife also benefits as the animals are moving frequently onto other land and not displacing native species, which often is consequence of current vegetable and animal farming. The inputs from these rotating animals are a key component of soil building and critical for environmental and human health.

Food and Farming go hand in hand, likewise farming and climate are inevitably intertwined. I am hearing a lot of push for change in the agriculture community of our country and I am totally on board. Our agricultural practices have to change drastically if we are hoping to affect the climate in a positive direction. But, we cannot forget all that nature has taught us about synchronicity and resilience by engineering proteins and quality carbohydrates in a laboratory and forgetting all that we know about nutrition. No one has all the answers, it is a complex and crucial discussion. But, by keeping your dollars local, getting to know your farmers and their practices you can seek transparency and integrity in the food you choose to eat. Vote for change with your dollar, and slowly we will impact the climate issues at hand. 

Posted on Leave a comment

Do you do bone broth?

The benefits of bone broth are well worth the effort.

Why bone broth? Bone broth is a very easy, very delicious way to increase minerals and electrolytes in your daily regimen. Most people can use more minerals and electrolytes because these days water is often filtered, softened, or treated. The other reason is that many of us drink coffee and other carbonated beverages throughout the day. Coffee actually makes you pee more frequently and causes you to spill more minerals and sodium. Soda and other carbonated beverages can imbalance your sodium and potassium levels increasing water retention. We like to sip rich broth by the cup in the morning or before bedtime. My kids request it when they want something warm.

Want another reason to drink bone broth? Maybe you have heard of the benefits of collagen? Collagen is found in bones, muscles, skin, and tendons. It is a protein that helps to build and strengthen tissue giving elasticity and suppleness to your skin and joints. Bone broth is rich in collagen and provides amino acids to your body so your body can build its own collagen. Homemade bone broth has been shown to be richer and more nutrient dense than most store products. Collagen is also a prebiotic, which means its healthy food for your gut flora. 

Making bone broth:

Bone broth is easy to make and it’s easy to find bones from well-raised, well-fed animals when your curious to know your farmer and their practices. Look for the most nutrient dense meat and bones that you can find. We always have bones available, so please ask if your interested.

We make our bone broth using an Instapot. I like that it contains all the minerals and it loses less liquid than when I reduce on the stove top. However, to get the richest and thickest broth, the stove top wins.  The best broths and most gelatinous can go all night on the stovetop on a very low heat and if you like the steam- this is sometimes nice. My hack is to cook a little both ways. The time you need to make it will depend on how rich you like your broth. This varies for me depending on our family’s needs and time.

First, I put a package of bones or a frozen chicken carcass in the Instapot and cover with water, usually to the max fill line depending on how many bones. I then add a tablespoon of white vinegar. This helps breakdown the bones.  You could use apple cider vinegar too but I like to save that raw vinegar for other uses. I then set the pot on the longest time setting using the manual pressure button. I let this go a full cycle and sometimes a full second cycle (after resetting it) if I don’t have time to deal with it. 

Second, I add the cooked stock to a large pot on the stove and bring to a low rolling boil. At this time I add a teaspoon of fish sauce just for flavor or umami. I sometimes add kelp too when I have it for extra minerals. I add more water, at least two quarts, so I can boil for a while and reduce until the color or taste is nice. If I want gelatinous broth (this is an all day or overnight thing), I must keep adding water and keep it as low as I can while still having some movement in the pot. If I’m letting it go overnight then I just keep it on low. Again, the time will vary depending on how high the boil and what water you add back in. Add salt when you’re finished or add it as you use or serve it.

Once it starts cooling, I begin transferring the broth to jars using a strainer and a piece of fabric. After the jars have I cooled, I transfer to the fridge. I usually keep broth for a week and a half in the fridge. If there’s a fat layer in tact, it will keep longer so don’t take it off even if you don’t want to use it. My mother-n-law uses breast milk bags and freezes them. This makes nice single serve portions.

*Note. Some folks freeze jars or plastic containers. I haven’t had much luck with jars and I don’t like storing food in plastics. If you do freeze jar, don’t fill them up and cool them fully in the fridge first, then they seem to store best on their sides and in the door of a freezer rather than in the center. It is also a thing to pressure can broth for longer storage. Follow your pressure cooker instructions for this.

Posted on Leave a comment

What is Your Food Worth to You?

As a small livestock producer in the Midwest, it is difficult to find a market share in the sea of big agriculture. It is often confusing to hear folks state that they want local, healthy food, raised to the highest standard, but they can’t afford it. When the average consumer sees a sign that advertises eggs for $0.99 a dozen, and then they go to the farmers markets and see eggs for $5.00 and upwards, how do they reconcile the vast pricing difference? The simple answer is becoming knowledge about farming practices and requesting transparency from the people who grow your food. Growing good food, I mean really good food, costs money, and is a lot of hard work. So ask yourself the question, do you really want to know where your food comes from and whether or not it’s truly healthy, or does it even matter when you’re looking at price? Here’s why it matters…

Many farm practices that can enhance the nutritional profile of the foods you eat are not easy to accomplish on a large scale. Things like rotationally grazing sheep or cows takes more time than free-range, but is both better for the soil and better for the health of the animals. This practice of rotating is even more challenging for chickens and pigs, as you also have to rotate shelter, feed, and water sources. But it is a fact that animals raised on grass have healthier fatty acid profiles than those that are not, with better ratios of omega-3:6 and also have more vitamin E and beta-carotene. Omega-3 fatty acids are known to decrease the risk of cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases by lowering LDL cholesterol and increasing HDL cholesterol. Grass-fed animal fats contain higher proportions of omega-3 fatty acids. Meat bought from a grass-centric producer will contain 2 to 10 times more omega-3 fatty acids than conventionally raised food bought at the grocery store.

Practices for animal health are also about the overall well-being of the animals and their quality of life. These are the areas that get tricky for big scale agriculture, and not all small farms can afford to certify with Animal Welfare Approved, or Humanely Raised, and being Certified Organic does not always ensure best practice either. You can only truly know how your food is being grown/raised by having conversations with the farmer or going to see for yourself.

Animals have a big impact on the soils they are living on, both positively and negatively. This creates a need to move the animals to fresh areas frequently. This is called intensive rotational grazing. By moving the animals frequently, they receive the benefit of fresh grass, forbes, weeds, roots, and beneficial bugs. The soil receives the benefit of fertilization from the animals’ elimination. Both of these benefits create the need for frequent moves to keep the animals from eating the plants too low to the ground, and to keep the animals from picking up parasites from their own feces. This keeps the soil healthy and nutrient dense by keeping living organisms present and producing a healthy microbial balance. Fresh pasture offers hundreds of times more nutrients than a feedlot diet.

Feed is another big factor that influences the cost of your food. Pigs and chickens need supplemental feed, though ruminants such as sheep and cattle do not need supplemental feed and are actually healthier raised without without grains of any kind. By knowing your farmer, you can ask what their supplemental feeds are and why they have chosen these feeds. Most of us understand why we want non-genetically-modified food, most of us who buy Certified Organic know why it’s worth the extra cost, and those of us who are looking to optimize our own health are always on the lookout for both good and bad fat choices. Feed combinations can be very diverse with small grains, legumes, minerals, and added fats, or they may just be Big Ag corn and soy which are the most genetically-modified species being used throughout the United States. High levels of corn and soy will impact the amounts of omega-6 fatty acids in the feed profile as well. So if you really want the most nutrient-dense food, look for truly pastured meats: either 100% grass-fed or with a supplemental feed when appropriate, that has a better ratio of omega-3’s to omega-6’s. In experiments with grass-fed pigs, 100% grain-fed pigs had a lower omega 6:3 ratio of 13.8 compared to store bought pork which had a ratio of 29.4. A pig raised on 50% grain has an omega 6:3 ratio of 9.88. Grain free animals have the least amount of saturated fats and the highest Omega-3 fatty acids.

If you have decided that you are a person that really cares about how your meat is raised and who is raising it, then you would benefit from getting to know your farmer and supporting the small farms that cannot compete with the prices of factory food and large scale agriculture. And the bottom line is you must be willing to pay more at the coop,and the mainstream grocery store for well-raised, healthier food. You will see, feel and taste the difference, and spending more on your food choices means you will spend less on your healthcare bills. Find us here at driftlesshillsfarm.com

Posted on Leave a comment

Living the Dream

I am Betsy Boone my husband and our two small children have a small farm in Northeastern Iowa in the Driftless region of the Midwest. We raise 100% grass-fed sheep, rotationally-pastured heritage-breed pork, and rotationally-grazed, free-range chicken. We are working passionately everyday to raise the highest quality meat and live our ideals.

When we moved back to Iowa, my husband Andy’s state, we were filled with the hope and promise of finding good, affordable land that we could farm in order to raise the best possible food for our family and our community. We had big dreams of living a simple, nature-filled life, where we would find meaning by contributing well-raised, healthy meat to our community. Afterall, it was Iowa, right? It is where farming happens. Now, living here in the midst of big agriculture, it has been a struggle to learn farming and to figure out how to get a market share.

We have been faced by challenges that most small farmers struggle though or against. The first challenge was finding enough affordable land on which to grow an enterprise. We started out with five acres in southwest Iowa, which was hardly enough to have more than a homestead. In order to afford this, my husband had to work a full-time job while I stayed home with the kids, and we both did farming tasks as we could–often well into the night. It got even busier during the summer when we did the farmers market, and Andy continued working full-time as a manager of a vegetable CSA. By the second year, this so-called sustainable lifestyle we were trying to live was not feeling “sustainable” at all. We were tired and we were subsidising the business with off-farm income. We knew something had to change or we could no longer farm. In order to make enough money to support ourselves, we needed to grow, and in order to grow, we needed more land, something we could not afford.

About this time of worried and sometimes heated conversation about how to move forward with our farming venture, I came across a notice on the website of Practical Farmers of Iowa. There was a link about a farm that had been donated to the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT), and they were looking to find new farmers for a heritage farm in northeastern Iowa, about four hours away from us. Once again, hopes and dreams started to kindle in my heart as we considered the idea of moving our family and our farm to an established farm that offered more land, more home, and the equipment we would need to grow. Again, I took a chance and started the process of applying and rebuilding our business around the possibility of a new farm.

Last year, we were notified by SILT that we had been chosen by a committee to take over the Luzum Heritage Farm in Decorah, Iowa, and that we could move onto the farm later that November. Months after the move, as I reflect on our journey, I am so overwhelmed with gratitude for the families that can see a future in farming sustainably even when they no longer have someone take over the family farm. These families and organizations like SILT give individuals and families like mine the tremendous opportunity to pour our passion into farming and the environment, even when we were not passed on this wealth of opportunity from our own families.

Now that we are here on Driftless Hills Farm, the new adventure and challenge has begun, and it is as if we have started over. This time we are leasing much more land than we had been,which has already been certified organic. We have the tools which we need to farm and potentially even grow our own feed for the pigs and chickens. So with all those limitations behind us we can now just focus on finding our community and finding our customers. Oddly enough, this is not as easy as it sounds. People are used to paying low prices for low quality meat and the education of healthy fats and meats is slow to gain ground. It is becoming more and more important to know how your meat is raised and what you are putting into your bodies. One can only truly know these things by knowing who their farmer is and exactly what their farming practices are. This includes knowing what the animals are being fed and how they are raised.

We have chosen to set ourselves apart from Big Ag and even other small farmers that are using conventional and confinement style practices. Surprisingly, this is still what the majority of pork farms are doing. Driftless Hills Farm is focused on raising the most nutrient-dense food using regenerative agriculture practices such as rotational grazing, cover cropping, and crop rotation. We are pasturing our animals as much as possible to increase the nutrient density of our food, always working to increase our omega-3 fatty acids and reduce our omega-6 fatty acids. By giving our sheep a 100% grass-fed diet, we can increase the levels of Conjugated Linoleic Acids (CLA) in our lamb as well. The most nutritious food we can raise while still doing best farming practices is our highest goal.

You can purchase our meat online or see where to find us at regional farmers markets or by joining our regional buying clubs. Check out our website at driftlesshillsfarm.com for pick up locations and to get information about shipping possibilities in the Midwest and Eastern states, and to subscribe to our mailing list which will keep you informed about what we’re up to.