Foodie Travels: Day in the Country!

This past Saturday, I spent a beautiful fall day in the Indiana countryside. There were a lot of pigs; a lot of cows; well-designed exhibits as impressive as a museum, I kid you not; several info-packed lectures; delicious, locally grown food; horses (I rode my first!); and, mostly, very kind, very passionate people who have made farming their livelihood, their enjoyment, their pastime and who could not have been more gracious.

An image of a red tractor with a big white shed as the background.

When we arrived in Indiana, to an area just a short 75-minute drive from Chicago, our first stop was the Belstra Family Pig Farm, which is fitting, given that this whole thing was made possible for me by the National Pork Board. They sent me, with my friend Alicia, to join the ChicaGourmets group that was going Saturday.

An image of tractors lining up with people on it and some haystacks.

So at the pig farm: we hopped on tractor-pulled hayrides that looped around the barns, stopping at spots for us to see pigs milling around, a nursery with babies eating, sow stalls where the artificial insemination is done (yes, we watched it happen). Malcolm DeKryger, vice president of Belstra Milling/Belstra Group pig production, was the leader on my ride, explaining how workers have to shower before even entering the barns and how animal waste is filtered out into pools in back, repurposed into fertilizer, and how much he absolutely loves this whole life of farming.

All this, despite the fact that media treatment of “swine flu” hurt the pork industry terribly (25%/$1 million loss, at this farm alone). And pigs were only the beginning.

A number of pigs in a pig farm.

Next was a quick ride down the street to Fair Oaks Farms, one of the largest dairies in the country, which is owned by five families, including Dr. Mike and Sue McCloskey. Mike talked about the dairy industry while we ate grilled cheese sandwiches made with cheese from their own dairy, and then continued as he guided us through exhibits like a 4-D movie and a simulated forest with interactive features, showing what Indiana land originally looked like. (I am telling you, this place would be such a cool field trip for kids.)

A collage of cows, squash, and fences in a farm setting.

Like Malcolm, Mike had an obvious passion for farming — in the space of a few hours, he lectured, took us through the milking parlor where cows come three times a day to be milked, helped deliver a calf in the birthing barn (yes, I watched this, too), rode horses (and helped me get on one for the first time) and talked about other farms he owns in Oregon and Wisconsin.

In fact, everywhere we went, with everyone we talked to at the different farms, there’s this strong sense of pride you see in the people — they are invested, physically and mentally and emotionally, in both the way they are doing business and the products they are putting out. Visiting there totally changes the way you see your food and the respect you have for those making it.

A cobweb on a metal wired fence.

Did you know something like less than 1.5% of the world’s population is involved in its agriculture? I think that’s crazy.

Oh and it’s about time I told you all we ate! No photos of the grilled cheese — let’s just say touring farms makes you hungry, and you eat fast!

A table filled with various plates and bowls brimming with taco fillings and seasonings.

But above is part of our taco feast, and below is my ohmygoshsogood ice cream and flourless chocolate tart. We also enjoyed lots of cheese and crackers, amazing smoked salmon made in an on-site smoke house and fresh vegetables from one of the organic gardens.

A top view of image of chocolate flourless tart on a black plate and cup of ice cream.

Also, for what it’s worth, having visited these farms, I am newly convinced that the Midwest has something to offer the rest of the country, and you know I questioned that. Big thanks to the Pork Board, big thanks to the inspiring farmers who hosted us but mostly, big thanks to you, for stopping over here and reading sometimes, sitting down at the table and eating with me, enough to make people besides me notice that you’re people worth reaching.

For More:
My Flickr Album
Chicagourmet Facebook Album

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About Shanna Mallon

Shanna holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her mantra? Restoring order and celebrating beauty through creative content, photography, and food. Shanna's work has been featured in Bon Appetit, The Kitchn, MSN.com, Everyday Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Houzz.com, Food News Journal, Food52, Zeit Magazine, Chew the World, Mom.me, Babble, Delish.com, Parade, Foodista, Entrepreneur and Ragan PR.

17 thoughts on “Foodie Travels: Day in the Country!

  1. Yay, I couldn’t wait to read this! It was great! I just love the “Charlotte’s Web” picture, and mmmm the salmon, I’m ready to go back and have some more. Thanks again for bringing me, I HAD A BLAST!!! Even the traumatizing parts were worth it.

  2. Sounds like a great farm visit! I have been wanting to do something like this myself…this is a good reminder to myself that I need to look into my local farms!

  3. Shannalee,

    Thank you for a great piece! Indiana’s pork farmers are the best, and I’m glad you were able to experience it first hand!

    Sarah Ford, Indiana Pork

  4. Thank you for such a positive piece on Indiana agriculture. It is nice to see people appreciate farmers efforts. We truly do care about both consumers and our livestock.

    Pam Gunn
    Greenfield, IN

  5. OK, I have to admit when I looked at that first picture I thought, “It’s so FLAT. It needs some mountains in the background”. But you do make a good case for the midwest. Farming on the side of the mountain probably wouldn’t be too efficient. Congrats on your first horse ride too!

  6. Alicia, Thanks again for coming. You were a great sport, and I loved taking in all the farm sights with someone who appreciates them.

    Kim, You should! It’s so inspiring.

    Sarah and Pam, Thank you, ladies, for stopping by to comment! I definitely respect and appreciate what you’re doing.

    Wendi, ha! It’s like there’s a purpose for everything, you know?

  7. Shannalee, I am a Wisconsin Dairy Producer who markets our cattle genetics as well as milk. Further, I am a promoter of all local foods and quality of life. THANK YOU for taking the opportunity you were offered to further share and educate others on what midwest agriculture really is! Your photos are beautiful as well, congrats on all your talents and thank you again for using them to help promote where food really comes from.

  8. ahh i love the country. murdo’s dad is a farmer and they have tons of land out in yorkville. no animals though, just feed crops. but still. i kind of want to live on one of their farms someday. is that crazy?

    anyway, very awesome that you got to experience all of this and learn so much!

  9. Postcollegecook, We did! I’d love for the three of us to meet up sometime when you’re down this way!

    Marci, What a lovely comment – thank you so much for adding that here, and please keep promoting local foods and quality of life. I am with you 100%.

    Jacqui. WHAT? Murdo’s dad is a farmer?? So did he grow up on a farm? I am so jealous and totally would’ve attacked him with questions if I’d known. No, it’s absolutely not crazy you want to live on one someday – I SO AGREE. I’ll come visit you guys, OK? Oh, I can just see it.

  10. Jessica, It really is amazing, and it’s such an enormous shift from the past!

    Sues, Those pigs were so cute, I tell you, I wanted to take them home with me!

  11. We really appreciate the way you saw our farms last fall. Those of us who live and work with livestock wonder if we are nuts for being so passionate or if we are out of touch. We have told many people to look at your pictures and comments. Thanks again!

  12. Thanks so much for your comment, Malcolm. My friend Alicia and I had a great time and appreciated your information and hospitality. Lots of respect for what you do.

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