The Best Ham & Potato Soup

This is really the name of this recipe and I think it lives up to its name!  Since October is National Pork month it’s a great way to round out the month, and perfect for Halloween night.  It’s great for either putting in the Crock Pot or cooking on the stovetop.

The Best Ham & Potato Soup

The Best Ham & Potato Soup

8 medium potatoes (I don’t even peel mine, just wash and dice)

2 carrots, finely shredded

2 stalks of celery, sliced

1 onion, chopped

5 cups of water

5 chicken bouillon cubes

1 ½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

1-12 ounce can of evaporated milk

2 cups of cubed ham

Directions to cook on the stove.  Bring water to boil.  Add bouillon cubes, salt, and pepper to water.  To make this recipe quickly, I just wash all my vegetables then run them through my food processor to chop.  I don’t chop the potatoes as finely as the carrots, onion, and celery.  Once the water is boiling, turn the heat down to medium; add potatoes, celery, carrots, onion, and ham.  Cook until vegetables are soft.  Add evaporated milk and cook for 5 minutes.

Directions to cook in slow cooker.  Place vegetables and ham in slow cooker.  Add bouillon cubes, water, salt, and pepper.  Cover and cook on low 6-8 hours.  About 2 hours before serving, add milk.

Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with chives, parsley, and cheese.  Yummy!

*Bonus – this soup freezes well!*

**I grew up on a family farm, and we raised pigs.  My parents stopped raising pigs about 10 years ago.  The pig farm that I was raised on was “farrow to finish”.  This means that we had mama sows that were bred, they had baby piglets that were raised to market weight and sold to be processed into meat for grocery stores.  Most family pig farms today are more specialized than what our farm was.  They may only have the mama sows and then sell the piglets once they are weaned from their mother.  Other farms might just have the small piglets and raise the pigs to market weight.  Each part of raising pigs has its own challenges.

A lot of people have questions about gestation crates that might be used on pig farms.  We did not use gestation crates on the farm that I was raised on ~ more on that in a moment.  We did; however, use farrowing (or birthing) crates.  I firmly believe that farrowing crates are important not only to the health and well-being of the mama sow, but especially important for the piglets.  The mama sow would receive individual feed and close monitoring during the days after giving birth.  The way that the crates are designed, there were bars on the sides so the piglets can get to the sides without the sow laying down or stepping on them.  The sow does have room to lie down to nurse the piglets; the piglets just have space on the sides where the sow cannot lay on top of them.  Once piglets were weaned from their mother, the sows would be moved outside to group pens.

On my parent’s farm, the group pens were outside.  Part of the pen would be concrete where the sows were fed, and part was dirt.  There were “huts” or shelters that they could get in to protect themselves from the elements.  There are some disadvantages to this type of housing.  First, there isn’t a great way to climate control the environment.  During the winter, we would “bed them down” with straw inside the huts, but there were still large open areas that exposed the outside.  Second, there is a hierarchy order with animals.  When sows are fed in this group setting the most aggressive will eat first and the most while the weaker ones will get what’s left over and less feed.  Remember survival of the fittest?  Third, even though these pens were checked at a minimum twice each day, on rare occasions, we’d miss sows that were ready to have their piglets or they’d deliver early in the group setting.  This is very challenging for a lot of reasons, one being that it’s very dangerous to remove the piglets and the sow from the setting.

On the flipside of the disadvantages of the group housing that I described above for sows can be overcome with gestation crates.  A lot of farms today have buildings that are climate controlled ~ think air conditioning/heat to keep the building at a constant temperature.  Hmmm – similarly, most of us keep our houses climate controlled year round…. The hierarchy order isn’t an issue with gestation crates.  Each pig receives their feed individually and can have their health monitored individually.

Why did my parents never convert from outside group housing to gestation crates?  As much as anything it had to do with the cost of putting in this type of barn.  From an economic and sow health aspect, there are a lot of strong reasons why a pig farmer would have built a barn with gestation crates.  Farmers don’t make these decisions without doing a lot of research and contemplating what overall makes the most sense for their farm.  That being said, if a farm already has their sows housed in gestation crates, they built this type of barn only after much research and contemplation.  Bottom-line, I am in favor of pig farmers making the decision of what type of housing works the best for their farm.

The People of Ecuador and First World Problems – Part 5

I recently had the opportunity to participate in the USB (United Soybean Board) 2014 See for Yourself Program.  The See for Yourself Program allowed participants to see how U.S. soy is used throughout the world.  On our tour we had the opportunity to visit Panama and Ecuador. 

One thing that was solidified in my mind on this trip was how complex the world food system truly is.  The food system is complex because there are more than 7 billion people on this planet that need to eat.  How do we get enough food to all the people who need to eat?  Who are the most efficient at producing and transporting food to people?

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Some of the few farm animals that we saw – free range pig and chickens.

The complexity was driven home to me most in seeing the chicken farm that we visited.  What struck me is how the people were paid daily.  Therefore, every day they need to shop for their food.  Chicken is the highest per capita meat eaten.  The people go to the market daily, if their choice that day is for chicken. They buy a live chicken, take it home to butcher it themselves, and prepare it for their family.

By contrast, in my world, I make a meal plan each week, and buy the groceries that I need to supplement what is already in my pantry and freezer.  If one of my meals has chicken in it, likely, I just purchase the parts I want (honestly, I can’t remember the last time I bought an entire chicken!).  Then as the week goes on, I may or may not make that recipe.  Perhaps I’m too busy and I choose to order pizza instead on the evening I was going to make that recipe.  Oh, first world problems!

My family’s farm is primarily produces corn and soybeans.  These are not grains that we readily consume as humans.  How our farm fits into the food chain is that most of our soybeans go to a soy crusher where the oil is extracted from the soybean to produce vegetable oil and the meal that is left is fed to livestock as a high energy and protein source.  In our area, most of the soymeal goes to feed either poultry or pigs.  Our corn either goes into feed for cattle, pigs, or poultry.  {See my blog from September 21, 2012, Where Does All That Grain Go? for details of where the grain from our farm goes once it’s harvested.}

In Ecuador, we were able to meet with several customers who buy U.S. soy which is mostly to be fed in a ration (AKA recipe) to chickens, pigs, or shrimp.  Chickens and pigs provide an important protein source for the people.  I don’t know how many of the people regularly eat shrimp, but I know from the farms we toured that each provided valuable jobs to the people.

I was interested to understand the economic benefit of the businesses we were visiting.  Of the businesses we visited, they employed about 6,500 people.  Obviously, the ports handle more than just agriculture products, but it was interesting to me to see how important these jobs are to the people and how agriculture plays a major role in all of these jobs.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading about my travels to Panama and Ecuador as much as I’ve enjoyed sharing my observations.  I feel like this was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to see in depth how U.S. agriculture impacts the world.  I’m very appreciative to the United Soybean Board for allowing me the opportunity to see for myself how U.S. soy is used in other countries.

 

 

Ecuador – Chickens and Pigs, oh my! – Part 4

I recently had the opportunity to participate in the USB (United Soybean Board) 2014 See for Yourself Program.  The See for Yourself Program allowed participants to see how U.S. soy is used throughout the world.  On our tour we had the opportunity to visit Panama and Ecuador.

The last couple days in Ecuador were spent in the mountainous region of Quito.  In this part of the country, we learned more about the importance of chicken and pork to the people’s diets.

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Quito is in the mountainous area of Ecuador. This picture was taken from the airplane. Landing was interesting, it felt more like the plane was fishtailing rather than turbulence. I wasn’t the only one on the plane that was a little nervous.

Chicken production in Ecuador is very important, as chicken is the most consumed meat per person.  We had the opportunity to visit a broiler production farm and a meat processing facility that integrated to raise chickens as well.

An interesting contrast to U.S. employees is that many Ecuadorian workers are paid daily rather than weekly or monthly (I think this is mostly true for lower wage employees).  Receiving their wages daily, most people buy their food on a daily basis.  It’s not unusual for them to purchase a live chicken to take home to cook for the evening meal.

The broiler production farm that we visited, raise 400,000 chickens per week.  Of these, over one-third of the chickens were sold retail to individuals.  I wish I would have gotten a picture of it, but we met several trucks that looked similar to older 10 wheel trucks that had high side boards.  Inside the bed of the truck were crates which were stacked one upon the other transporting live chickens to go to the market for families to buy.

This farm said that they use about 30% of soymeal in their feed rations for their chickens, and they have a preference for U.S. soymeal because of the amino acid levels.  Listen to this interview with Brownfield Ag here.

Everywhere we drove we saw small store fronts along the roadside.  All of them had bananas hanging along with other food.  We stopped at one storefront and were able to walk around.  The store was about the same size as a large master bathroom – very small!

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Typical store front that one sees frequently in Ecuador. Every one seemed to have bananas hanging in front. Notice the bag of pig feed in the front door. 1/3 to half of the pigs are raised in the backyard.

Because many people buy their food daily from these small storefronts, it’s difficult to provide additional food choices.  At the facility that we visited that does meat processing they talked about that at the few larger grocery stores in the cities that they actually provide refrigeration for their products.

The second most consumed meat in Ecuador is pork.  As recently as 2007, 50% of the pork was raised in backyard production.  As someone who was raised on a hog farm, that seems very challenging!

Although we did not see any areas that were high production areas for corn, we were told that Ecuador’s goal is to be self sufficient in corn production.  The only corn that we saw were small patches planted near houses in an area the size of a large backyard.  That corn was surely hand planted and the plants appears to be a few feet apart, much different than our fields where corn plants are about 6 inches apart!

It was very interesting to see how the Ecuadorians purchase food compared to the U.S.  I appreciate my refrigerator and opportunity to grocery shop once per week even more after seeing how they must purchase food.  The reality is I could probably go a month (maybe more) without grocery shopping, where many of these folks literally might not eat that night without working for that day’s wages.

The Best Ham & Potato Soup

Recipe Flashback – in honor of January being National Soup Month!

This is really the name of this recipe and I think it lives up to its name!  Since October is National Pork month it’s a great way to round out the month, and perfect for Halloween night.  It’s great for either putting in the Crock Pot or cooking on the stove.

The Best Ham & Potato Soup

8 medium potatoes (I don’t even peel mine, just wash and dice)

2 carrots, finely shredded

2 stalks of celery, sliced

1 onion, chopped

5 cups of water

5 chicken bouillon cubes

1 ½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

1-12 ounce can of evaporated milk

2 cups of cubed ham

Directions to cook on the stove.  Bring water to boil.  Add bouillon cubes, salt, and pepper to water.  To make this recipe quickly, I just wash all my vegetables then run them through my food processor to chop.  I don’t chop the potatoes as finely as the carrots, onion, and celery.  Once the water is boiling, turn the heat down to medium; add potatoes, celery, carrots, onion, and ham.  Cook until vegetables are soft.  Add evaporated milk and cook for 5 minutes.

Directions to cook in slow cooker.  Place vegetables and ham in slow cooker.  Add bouillon cubes, water, salt, and pepper.  Cover and cook on low 6-8 hours.  About 2 hours before serving, add milk.

Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with chives, parsley, and cheese.  Yummy!

The pig farm where I was raised — I grew up on a family farm, and we raised pigs.  My parents stopped raising pigs around 2006.  The pig farm that I was raised on was “farrow to finish”.  This means that we had mama sows that were bred, they had baby piglets that were raised to market weight and sold to be processed into meat for grocery stores.  Most family pig farms today are more specialized than what our farm was.  They may only have the mama sows and then sell the piglets once they are weaned from their mother.  Other farms might just have the small piglets and raise the feeder pigs to market weight.  Each part of raising pigs has its own challenges.

A lot of people have questions about gestation crates that might be used on pig farms.  We did not use gestation crates on the farm that I was raised on ~ more on that in a moment.  We did; however, use farrowing (or birthing) crates.  I firmly believe that farrowing crates are important not only to the health and well-being of the mama sow, but especially important for the piglets.  The mama sow would receive individual feed and close monitoring during the days after giving birth.  The way that the crates are designed, there were bars on the sides so the piglets can get to the sides without the sow laying down or stepping on them.  The sow does have room to lie down to nurse the piglets; the piglets just have space on the sides where the sow cannot lay on top of them.  Once piglets were weaned from their mother, the sows would be moved outside to group pens.

On my parent’s farm, the group pens were outside.  Part of the pen would be concrete where the sows were fed, and part was dirt.  There were “huts” or shelters that they could get in to protect themselves from the elements.  There are some disadvantages to this type of housing.  First, there isn’t a great way to climate control the environment.  During the winter, we would “bed them down” with straw inside the huts, but there were still large open areas that exposed the outside.  Second, there is a hierarchy order with animals.  When sows are fed in this group setting the most aggressive will eat first and the most while the weaker ones will get what’s left over and less feed.  Remember survival of the fittest?  Third, even though these pens were checked at a minimum twice each day, on rare occasions, we’d miss sows that were ready to have their piglets or they’d deliver early in the group setting.  This is very challenging for a lot of reasons, one being that it’s very dangerous to remove the piglets and the sow from the setting.

On the flipside of the disadvantages of the group housing that I described above for sows can be overcome with gestation crates.  A lot of farms today have buildings that are climate controlled ~ think air conditioning/heat to keep the building at a constant temperature.  Hmmm – similarly, most of us keep our houses climate controlled year round…. The hierarchy order isn’t an issue with gestation crates.  Each pig receives their feed individually and can have their health monitored individually.

Why did my parents never convert from outside group housing to gestation crates?  I would say that as much as anything it had to do with the cost of putting in this type of barn.  From an economic and sow health aspect, there are a lot of strong reasons why a pig farmer would have built a barn with gestation crates.  Farmers don’t make these decisions without doing a lot of research and contemplating what overall makes the most sense for their farm.  That being said, if a farm already has their sows housed in gestation crates, they built this type of barn only after much research and contemplation.