Conversation Flows at “Dinner on the Farm”

dinner on the farm

by Laura Handke, CommonGround Kansas volunteer


Laura and Chris Handke, with daughter Audrey Ann, are proud to represent the fourth generation on Chris’ family farm near Atchison, KS.

Grain finished beef brisket, fresh-from-the-garden green beans, butter yourself (and lots of it, please) homegrown sweet corn and homemade dinner rolls preceded a perfectly crusted, vanilla ice cream topped peach cobbler—is your mouth watering yet—all from the farm and all the main topic of conversation at the Dinner on the Farm evening hosted by Bismarck Gardens, Lawrence, KS, on July 9.  It was a made-to-order event: a nice breeze beat the heat, the location was picture perfect and great conversation flowed throughout the event. It was a perfect evening!

Both the owners and employees who make Bismarck Gardens so successful, in cooperation with Kansas Corn, made sure that the evening was all about mingling, food, fun and lots of conversation! Farm owner Patrick Ross addressed the group right after the meal to talk about the farm, the dinner we had all just enjoyed and to thank everyone for coming and sharing in the evening.

I sat by a fun-loving couple from Shawnee Mission: she manages the produce department at HyVee and he is an Uber driver; a lively pair of BFFs in their eighties; and a young entrepreneurial couple from Arkansas who moved to Lawrence to grow their business of helping foreign students acclimate to a new environment, both academically and socially.  I couldn’t have hand-picked better conversations! We talked about the advantages of grain fed beef, nutrition, sweet corn versus field corn and how field corn is used, and the incredible feats agriculture technology has achieved in the past decade. We shared childhood stories of growing up on the farm — we all had farm roots, but most had long-since pursued lives in town.

As events go, I would have to say that this has been my favorite to participate in as a CommonGround volunteer. I was excited to have been invited to participate and even more excited by the thought of similar events in the future! These are the events that spark those touchy conversations that ignite interest, but with a farmer on hand to meet that interest with correct, factual and current resources and information. Way to go, Bismarck Farms and Kansas Corn, you hit the nail on the head with this event!

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“Farmland” documentary sparks questions on food, farming with dietitians

KSAND panel

Dr. Dan Thomson answers a question during the panel session following a viewing of the documentary “Farmland”

“Farmland” was the featured film during a special event held prior to the Kansas Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics annual meeting in Topeka Thursday, Apr. 14. Approximately 50 registered dietitians gathered to view the documentary, followed by drinks, hors d’oeuvres and a panel discussion featuring farmers and researchers.

Dietitian’s questions focused on GMOs, antibiotics, hormones, animal welfare and sustainability. Panelists shared real-life examples and research on these controversial topics to help equip the nutrition professionals with facts and resources to discuss the topics with their clients.

Panelists included:

  • Scotty Thelman owns Juniper Hill farms in Lawrence. He’s a young, first-generation farmer who grows organic and conventional crops. He also was recently featured in Kansas Living magazine.
  • Debbie Lyons-Blythe is a rancher from Morris County and mother of five. She began blogging in 2009 sharing what happens on her ranch and answering questions about her passions: “Kids, Cows and Grass!”
  • Dr. Dan Thomson is a professor in Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and director of the Beef Cattle Institute. He is active on committees like McDonald’s Beef Health and Welfare Committee and Animal Welfare Advisory Board of the Food Marketing Institute.
  • Dr. Tom Clemente is a professor in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Department of Agronomy and Horticulture. He runs the Clemente Lab studying functional genomics and using genetic engineering to create value added and disease control traits.
From left, Lana Barkman and Melissa Reed discussed their farming operations with dietitians during the event

From left, Lana Barkman and Melissa Reed discussed their farming operations with dietitians during the event

CommonGround volunteers Lana Barkman and Melissa Reed mingled with dietitians throughout the evening, discussing their own farming operations. Melissa’s family operates Hildebrand Dairy, which bottles and sells milk across northeast Kansas. Lana’s background is in beef cattle, horses, poultry and greenhouse production.

The event was hosted by the Kansas Farm Food Connection, a group of farmers and ranchers who bring delicious Kansas-grown food to your table. The KFFC includes Kansas Farm Bureau, Kansas Pork Association, Kansas Wheat, Midwest Dairy, Kansas Livestock Association, Kansas Soybean Commission, Kansas Grain Sorghum and Kansas Corn. CommonGround also lends support to the KFFC.

Attendees went home with a reusable grocery bag from CommonGround filled with goodies from the KFFC partners.

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Bloggers meet farmers at Go Blog Social

Volunteers LaVell Winsor (left) and Laura Handke (right) chat with guests at the "Sip and Shop" event during Go Blog Social Apr. 3.

Volunteers LaVell Winsor (left) and Laura Handke (right) chat with guests at the “Sip and Shop” event during Go Blog Social Apr. 3.

Fashion and food brought new friends together at the Go Blog Social “Sip and Shop” event on Friday, Apr. 3. After a day of soaking up blogging tips, lifestyle bloggers from across the Midwest enjoyed an opportunity relax and sip on signature cocktails at the hip Berg Event Space near downtown Kansas City.

Attendees took a break from shopping and visiting with health and wellness professionals to ask their food and farming questions at the CommonGround Kansas table. Questions such as “Is grass-fed beef better?”, “Are there antibiotics in my meat?” and “Are hormones used in chicken?” were popular among attendees. Volunteers LaVell Winsor, Grantville, and Laura Handke, Atchinson, shared experiences from their farms and sent bloggers home with flexible cutting mats with food safety tips, as well as links to find science-based facts to help guide food choices.

This marks CommonGround Kansas’ second year attending the popular Go Blog Social conference, which helps attendees grow their blog and social media knowledge, connect with businesses and socialize with like-minded bloggers. Attendees had ample opportunities to learn about food and farming, as women from Kansas Farm Bureau and the Kansas Farm Food Connection also supported the event.



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Campus conversations focus on food & farming


Volunteers from CommonGround, the Kansas Pork Association and K-State’s Food for Thought organization handed out free bacon and spoke with students and faculty in the Kansas Memorial Union on Apr. 1.

Bacon and buzzwords enticed curious visitors to pause at the University of Kansas on Wednesday, Apr. 1, to learn how Kansas farmers raise their food.

The Kansas Memorial Union lobby hummed with conversation as students, faculty and staff sampled free bacon and posed their questions on modern farming practices to volunteers from Kansas State University’s Food for Thought organization, the Kansas Pork Association and CommonGround Kansas. Some visitors posted their questions publicly to receive a “baconologist” or “baconista” T-shirt from the Kansas Pork Association.

Events connecting food buyers with farmers are becoming more common as interest in food production practices grows. Many consumers find they have more questions than answers.

“We’re faced with more choices than ever, which can be very overwhelming. Our goal is to forge connections where shoppers can feel comfortable asking tough questions of the folks growing their food,” said Shannon Krueger, CommonGround Kansas coordinator. “Everyone deserves to have the information they need to be confident in their food choices.”

Common questions addressed concerns with biotechnology, animal welfare and organic foods. Visitors learned about pig farming while viewing a model barn and received information with links to research on common food concerns.

Connor Needham, sophomore from Dallas, Texas, said making smart food decisions became more challenging once he started college.

“I grew up in a family that emphasized healthy food choices,” he said. “When I’m grocery shopping, I’ll call my mom for advice.”

Many shoppers find it difficult to find trustworthy sources for food information. In an increasingly noisy online space, it can be tedious to decipher which sources are based on sound science. In addition, few consumers personally know a farmer they can ask about production practices.

The widening communication gap requires cooperation from both sides.

“It is vital that farmers create opportunities to connect with consumers and listen to their concerns. It’s equally important that consumers seek out factual information to help guide food choices,” said Jacob Hagenmaier, Food for Thought outreach coordinator.

The event’s sponsoring organizations have a shared mission to connect grocery shoppers with the farmers who grow their food.

Visitors had the opportunity to share their questions publicly and received a "Baconista" or "Baconologist" T-shirt from the Kansas Pork Association. The responses filled two sides of our white board.

Visitors had the opportunity to share their questions publicly and received a “Baconista” or “Baconologist” T-shirt from the Kansas Pork Association. The responses filled two sides of our white board.

“We enjoy connecting with folks who are passionate and want to learn more about their food,” said Jodi Oleen, director of consumer outreach for the Kansas Pork Association. “Partnering with Food for Thought and CommonGround allows us to offer a wide variety of perspectives and information to our visitors.”

Volunteers included, from Food for Thought: Chance Hunley, Riverton; Lindi Bilberry, Garden City; Jacob Hagenmaier, Randolph; Bruce Figger, Hudson; Karly Frederick, Alden; from the Kansas Pork Association: Jodi Oleen, Manhattan; from CommonGround Kansas: Karra James, Clay Center; Laura Handke, Atchison; and Shannon Krueger, Abilene.

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Why Food Day “Facts” Aren’t So Factual

Oct. 24 is Food Day, which celebrates healthy, affordable and sustainably produced food. It sounds like a pretty great cause to get behind, right?

As farmers and moms, we support the movement to get Americans to eat healthier and move more. But what really concerns us is pushing out loads of misinformation behind what seems to be fairly noble cause.

Do we agree we should spend less time in the drive-through and more time as a family at the dinner table? Absolutely!

Do we agree that we should strive to eat more balanced diets with fruits and vegetables instead of cartons of greasy fried foods, gooey pastas and sugary desserts? You bet!

But here’s where we simply need to set the record straight:

Food Day urges folks to cut back on “fatty, factory-farmed meats.”

What exactly is a factory farm, anyway? Take a good look around at the 2.2 million U.S. farms. We are hard-working families, not factories. We devote our lives to giving our animals the best care possible, often putting their needs above our own. In any weather and at any time of day, we’re there to ensure our farm animals have the food, water, shelter, space and medical care they need.

We also want our critics to know that cattle spend the majority of their lives in pastures eating grass. When mature, cattle are sold or moved to feedlots where they typically spend 4-6 months. Feedlots allow ranchers to raise beef more efficiently with fewer natural resources like land, feed and water. Feedlot cattle live in fenced areas that give them plenty of food, fresh water and room to move around. Veterinarians, nutritionists and cattlemen work together to look after each animal every day.

And labeling all meats as fatty? Well, that’s just not accurate. In fact, there are 29 cuts of lean beef and six cuts of lean pork that meet the USDA’s guidelines for lean, heart-healthy meats with less than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat and 95 milligrams of cholesterol per serving. The trend of avoiding meat because it’s generally “unhealthy” is simply unfounded. Why can’t we all just adopt the attitude of “everything in moderation,” park a little farther from the store and talk a walk more often?

Food Day advocates say “a meat-heavy diet takes a terrible toll on the environment.”

Farmers are the original environmentalists. For generations, we have cared for the land so we can pass it on to our children and grandchildren. We care about what goes into the soil and the air, and we work tirelessly to do more with less inputs and land every day.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, livestock production accounts for 3.12% of total emissions, far from the claim that cows are worse than cars. In addition, modern farming continues to implement sustainable practices that significantly reduce the amount of fuel and chemicals required for food production. There’s an old saying that “You can’t make any more land.” That’s why we work hard to protect what we have.

Food Day activists “are united by a vision of food that is healthy, affordable, and produced with care for the environment, farm animals, and the people who grow, harvest, and serve it.”

Hey, wait! That sounds a lot like our vision as farmers and ranchers. Like any successful professionals, we want to do our jobs better. We are constantly finding new ways to grow safe, affordable food on less land and with fewer resources. If we didn’t care for our animals and our land, we couldn’t stay in business. And if we can’t stay in the business of growing food and fiber for a booming world population, it won’t be long before we’ll have some very serious issues on a global scale.

We are farmers. We are moms. We commit our lives to producing safe, healthy food — the same food we feed our families. To infer that hard-working American farmers and ranchers aren’t producing food with care? Well, we invite you to look again. That’s what we do, day in and day out.

Have a question about your food? Ask us! We’re always happy to share openly about how we grow crops and raise livestock on our Kansas farms. We’ll never tell you what to eat, we’ll just answer your questions so you can make the most informed choices for your family.

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Heart-Healthy Beef? You Bet!

I Heart BeefFebruary is “I Heart Beef” month, and to celebrate, volunteer LaVell Winsor welcomed Hy-Vee dietitian Amber Groeling as a guest blogger on Growing for Tomorrow. We recently met Amber at our first-ever CommonGround Kansas cooking class at the Topeka Hy-Vee.

“Instead of hearing ‘No red meat!’, you’ll now hear Hy-Vee dietitians encouraging the consumption of lean beef as part of a heart-healthy diet,” Amber says.

Amber shares research that shows how lean beef can be part of a heart-healthy diet, as well as the 29 cuts of lean beef. She also shares a recipe for Skillet Steaks with Sauteed Wild Mushrooms. Yum!

Head on over to LaVell’s blog and check out the savory news!


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Why Santa (and You) Shouldn’t Fear Milk and Cookies This Christmas

Note: This post comes to us from CommonGround volunteer Beth Chittenden, a dairy farmer in Schodack Landing, NY. 

Beth Chittenden is a dairy farmer in New York.

Beth Chittenden is a dairy farmer in New York.

While it seems like the holidays come earlier and earlier every year, one time-honored tradition always waits until Christmas Eve. Each December 24, just before heading off to bed, millions of children participate in the ritual of leaving cookies and milk for Santa to snack on. As a dairy farmer, my family and I are proud to serve not only Mr. Claus, but millions of American families, with safe and healthy milk. We work hard each and every day to make sure ALL of our consumers, not just the jolly ones, can enjoy milk without any need to worry about safety.

As a farmer and a mom, I know that between Christmas lists and grocery lists, December can be especially tricky to coordinate. And with all of the added labeling and information found on milk products, the dairy aisle can be particularly confusing. This Christmas, I want to give all moms the gift of peace of mind, because they have absolutely nothing to fear at the dairy case. Here are the facts:

  • Hormones occur naturally in farm animals like dairy cows and even some produce, like cabbage. They are present in our food even when animals haven’t been given supplemental hormones – it’s a natural part of life. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says there is no need to worry about hormones in milk.
  • According to the World Health Organization and the FDA, pasteurization destroys 90 percent of hormones in milk and the rest are broken down during digestion. Pasteurization also destroys harmful bacteria that may be present, including salmonella and E. coli.
  • All milk, whether organic or conventional, is strictly tested for antibiotics on the farm and at the processing plant. Any milk that tests positive cannot be sold to the public.
  • No research shows that milk or other dairy products play a role in early puberty. In fact, girls today drink less milk than their mothers did. Some scientists believe that childhood obesity may lead to earlier onset of puberty, according to a report published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Happy Holidays!

Beth Chittenden, Dairy Farmer
Schodack Landing, N.Y.

To learn more about hormones as they relate to milk products, please visit the Food Facts page at As always, please send your questions our way. We’ll be happy to share how we operate our farms.


About Beth

Beth Chittenden is highly qualified to teach folks about farming and their food – especially dairy. She grew up on a dairy farm, studied animal husbandry at Cornell University, worked as an animal nutritionist, obtained a Master’s degree in Education, and now helps operate a 600-cow dairy and 2,000-acre farm in Schodack Landing, New York. Beth’s goal is to open a full-time education center at Dutch Hollow Farm to teach students and the public about modern agriculture. Her extensive knowledge of agriculture and education give her the skills to explain modern farming in terms urban neighbors can understand.

Beth knows how important it is to answer tough questions about food because her farm is situated near the cities of New York and Boston. “Many topics such as animal care, biotechnology, and antibiotics are sometimes misunderstood by my city neighbors. But, once I explain how we do our best to raise great food and show them around the farm, my urban friends walk away confident in our abilities and commitment as farmers.”


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Life on a Kansas Farm

Ever wondered what it’s like to live and work on a farm?

The America’s Heartland TV program recently featured the Brunkow family from Westmoreland, KS. The show shares the story of daily life on their family farm, from providing constant care for their cattle and sheep herds to salvaging what’s left of their crops in the drought-stricken Great Plains. The show recently aired on RFD-TV.

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Noodling Around in the Blogosphere

Nicole Small

Nicole Small, CommonGround Kansas volunteer, recently wrote a guest post on Once a Mom, Always a Cook.

Did you catch last month’s guest post by CommonGround Kansas volunteer Nicole Small on Once a Mom, Always a Cook? If you missed it, now is the perfect time to hop over and check it out.

Once a Mom, Always a Cook is a blog by Audra, wife of a member of our armed services and mom of three. Nicole was excited to guest blog for Audra while she spent time with her husband who was home from serving overseas. We salute folks like Audra who spend months apart from their spouses who are protecting our freedom. Thanks for your devotion to our nation!

In addition to sharing one of the dishes she cooks for her family, “No Boil the Noodle Lasagna“, Nicole also took time to share photos of her children and their family farm in southeast Kansas.

Here’s what Nicole says about the recipe:

I hope you enjoy my favorite Lasagna recipe. It is certainly a favorite of my kids and husband and uses both beef and wheat. We raise both on our farm.

She also discusses how to use fresh garlic and get the most flavor from it using a garlic press. Even her youngest son helped make the dish. As busy moms, we definitely appreciate recipes like this that cut down the preparation time. Not having to boil the noodles for lasagna is quite a time saver!

No Boil the Noodle Lasagna

Check out Nicole’s No Boil the Noodle Lasagna on Once a Mom, Always a Cook.

While we were on Audra’s blog, we also found some other yummy creations that scream summer! Check out these mouth-watering recipes!

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Is Our Food Really “Dirty”?

We had the opportunity to hear a presentation by the talented Dr. Carl Winter this winter at a conference. He’s known as the “Elvis of E. coli” and the “Sinatra of Salmonella,” for his work in providing entertaining, educational and humorous presentations on food safety.

Winter brings a wealth of experience in food safety to the table. He currently is the Director of the FoodSafe Program and Extension Food Toxicologist in the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of California at Davis.

We heard him speak on “Understanding Food Safety Risks,” and the points he shared really helped us understand just how safe our food industry really is.

Winter told us 96% of consumers say they’re concerned about the hazard of pesticide residues in foods. Much of that concern is fueled by misleading information in the media. He shared with us that samples are taken from produce on its way to market and the majority of samples contain no residue. What few do are well within the limits, and illegal residues — or traces of chemicals not allowed in the United States — are very rare, he noted.

In studies where animals — over the course of their entire lives — were exposed every day to 10,000 times the daily exposure of pesticides, there were no adverse effects observed. Wow! That really put it in perspective for us.

He also explained to us that organic foods are not necessarily pesticide free. They simply have different regulations. One of our fellow farm women at the conference grows organic produce on her farm. She explained that many organic farmers use pesticides, but they go through a different process to be approved for organic use.

You’ve probably heard of the “Dirty Dozen” foods. This list, released annually, can easily spread fear among all of us regarding the safety of our produce. However, that fear is uncalled for. Winter explained that in studies of these foods, researchers found there was very little exposure to pesticides. In fact it was so small that it equaled 1 millionth of the exposure found in a lab rat that had been exposed to 10,000 times their daily exposure. This study received no funding and was peer reviewed, so we can trust that it comes from unbiased sources.

If you’re still not sure about the safety of your food, there is some great information at We also encourage you to ask our volunteers about how they raise crops on their farms in Kansas. Plus, has some commonly asked questions that might help answer your questions.

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