Today is a twofold post: A recap from some of the highlights of my 3-day-visit at Kansas farms last month AND a Brötchen recipe honoring the Kansas state flower, the sunflower.
Kansas Farm Food Tour Recap
The barn at Juniper Hill Farm near Lawrence, Kansas (soon to be an event space).
This Is A Sponsored Post That Contains Affiliate Links
If you’re just here for the German breakfast roll recipe, I get it. I usually visit food blogs for the recipes as well of course! Scroll on down to the bottom for the Brötchen recipe.
If you came to also read about my experience at the Kansas Farm Food Tour sponsored by the Kansas Farm Bureau and Kansas Soybean Commission, then please let me help you understand how difficult it was to focus on just a couple of topics for today’s post. After returning home from the tour, I was a dripping sponge of new information, and I simply had to take a few weeks off to let it all soak in (on top of just having a ton going on). I met some incredible bloggers and farmers on this tour, and am so thankful that KFB and KSC let me be a part of it!
So here is my attempt at bringing some of the highlights of this Farm Food Tour to you. I’ll cover three questions that I had and got answers to from farmers we visited during the tour.
- Is Organic Farming Easy?
- Is GMO Really All That Bad?
- Is Organic Milk Worth The Upcharge?
I really enjoyed the farmers different viewpoints and was positively surprised by how much they cared about the well-being of the animals and for doing their part in making a good quality product available to their end consumers. I hope to be back on another tour soon to learn more and share more with you.
Is Organic Farming Easy?
Kansas Farm Food Tour Recap
Standing amidst a bunch of organic bell peppers at Juniper Hill Farms near Lawrence, Kansas.
Easy is a far-fetched understatement when it comes to organic farming in Kansas. As I visited farms ranging from produce to fiber farms all across Eastern Kansas last month, I quickly realized that there is a lot more to farming than what I had let myself believe. Especially when it comes to organic farming, there are many hurdles that need to be overcome, and the transition from conventional farming to organic farming is costly and difficult.
Did you know it takes three whole years to transition from conventional farming to organic farming?
That’s three years when farmers that decide to go the organic route are not able to charge a premium for crops, while undergoing an oftentimes expensive period. There are some companies like Kashi that support famers during this transitional phase, but it’s still not an easy process. Farmers often need to buy additional equipment and have separate storage space in order to start farming organically.
“It’s costly and a pain to clean our equipment every time we switch from using it for conventional farming to our organic farming, but it’s still the best way for us.” It’s not yet lucrative to buy new equipment for Scott Thellman of Juniper Hill Farms, a first generation farmer near Lawrence, Kansas. Half of his farm now operates and grows organic produce, the other half conventional produce. “It’s one of many hedging strategies for me.”
Scott Thellman is a first generation farmer and owner of Juniper Hill Farms near Lawrence, Kansas.
As a hedging strategy, Scott decided to grow half of his produce organically and half conventionally.
Organic is in demand, so Scott is able to charge a premium. Every year he makes his decisions on what to grow based on what he can sell for the most profit. Ultimately we as consumers are dictating by our behaviors what we want more of. Scott is preparing and protecting himself by being active in both conventional and organic farming. “A common misconception is that organic farming doesn’t require the use of fertilizer,” Scott mentioned during our visit. The truth is, organic farming uses a great amount of fertilizer, and right now, it’s more costly and doesn’t work as quickly compared to the lab-produced version that’s used for conventional farming.
As you can see, organic farming is not easy and it takes a lot of commitment to change to organic farming. The premiums aren’t available until after the three-year transition phase and I have also heard from farmers like Kim Baldwin, who accompanied us on the tour, that the current infrastructure is lacking and support and resources to help the farmers is still very limited. These struggles will become fewer as organic food is demanded more, so it’s really up to us to demand organic more.
I started eating almost exclusively organic when I became pregnant because I wanted the very best for my body and my baby. I read that synthetic fertilizers deteriorate the soil and organic fertilizers bring more life to the soil. I felt most comfortable with avoiding fertilizers for improved health for myself and my baby. What’s your view on this?
Is Organic Milk Worth The Upcharge?
Kansas Farm Food Tour Recap
How cute is this calf’s nose from the Wells Dairy farm in Milton, Kansas.
The current state of the dairy industry is one that’s a lot better than what I had in mind. It’s actually so good that I am questioning whether buying organic milk over conventional milk is really worth the extra dollar or two per half gallon. We have been buying a ton of milk cartons since I stopped breastfeeding about a week ago, so this question is one I have asked myself a lot recently.
Before the Farm Food Tour, I thought non-organic milk had antibiotics and growth hormones in it.
It turns out that the dairy industry had some consumer educating to do because to some degree I was wrong on both of those items. Let me clarify. Let’s chat about antibiotics first. Cows, like humans, get sick from time to time. For example, mastitis is a painful infection caused by clogged milk ducts (I just breastfed for 13 months and can totally relate to these cows); it’s a common infection for dairy cows to get. So when a dairy cow has an infection, they will most definitely be treated, and oftentimes that is with the use of antibiotics. Organic dairy cows are treated, too.
The calfs at the Wells’ dairy farm in Milton, Kansas, are very lovable.
The Wells helped me feel more at ease about consuming conventional dairy products.
The difference: Organic dairy cows are marked once treated with antibiotics and their milk will never be used for organic milk again. Conventional dairy cows are also marked when treated with antibiotics. As long as they’re on the antibiotic, the milk is thrown out. Once the cow passes a withdrawal period, the milk is then added back in with the other cows’ milk. Yes, there may be some minimal antibiotic residue in the milk, but all milk is tested, and when the test fails, the milk will not be picked up from the dairy farm (this is when insurance comes in handy). The second myth is that people still think that cows are injected with growth hormones. I don’t know about you, but part of the reason why I kept buying organic milk is because I didn’t want my daughter to start puberty at the age of eight. It turns out that I don’t need to be so worried here, either. Heidi Wells is a registered dietitian and at Wells Dairy Farm in Milton, Kansas, where her husband works full time as a 4th generation dairy farmer. According to her, there are many vegetables that will top the levels of naturally occurring growth hormones in milk, both conventional and organic.
Bottom line is: For nutritional reasons, I am now less worried about consuming conventional dairy products.
Is GMO Really All That Bad?
Kansas Farm Food Tour Recap
Adam and Kim Baldwin standing by one of the soybean fields on their farm.
Genetically modified organisms, or short GMO, is what have been on the list of concerns for me for one major reason. They are banned in Germany and to some extent in most of the countries in the EU. Whenever I come across such a drastic difference in regulations, I take a big step back and tend to stay on the cautious side until I figure out the big why. And let me tell you: I still haven’t figured it out. But I have gotten a chance to experience farmers in Kansas and their view on the use of GMO crops.
Jacqueline Leffler is showing us around her farm. As a young, 4th generation farmer she embraces technology and GMO farming to help her farm more efficiently.
This beautiful grain sorghum from the Baldwins’ farm is non-GMO; a GMO version isn’t available yet.
The Leffler Farm in Americus, Kansas, stands out in that aspect, with Jacquelyne Leffler leading the forefront of this 4th generation farming business. I was positively shocked by the farming technology she uses to help farm more efficiently and sustainably. She also fully embraces the use of GMO’s. It became clear to me that without the use of GMO’s, which really are genetically modified organisms to help resist pests (and harsh weather conditions and more), farmers would need to fight even harder to keep pests under control, meaning a higher use of pesticides, which are also expensive, and a higher pollution and deterioration of the soil.
Generally speaking, I am still a bit creeped out by GMO’s and hope to learn more about them in the future, but I do now understand better how farmers are benefitting from them to produce higher yields at a lower cost.
About this Recipe
Finally we’re talking about these Brötchen, which are ‘little breads’ translated from German, or rolls or buns in actual English language. I wanted to create a sunflower seed roll to celebrate the state flower of Kansas, which is the sunflower. And I also undeniably love sunflower seeds (they are right at the top with pumpkin seeds for me). And of course Brötchen are at the bane of my existence. They are THE essential part to a German breakfast.
Airy, fluffy interior, thin, crisp crust coupled with the irresistible aroma of fresh bread… Whenever I go visit home, I haven’t fully arrived until I have taken a bite from a fresh Brötchen the following morning. When I was searching for a roll recipe, I first consulted the bread bibles I already have on hand by Lutz Geissler. I took one of his recipes, changed a couple of things about it to make it easier to get ahold of the ingredients and born was the perfect sunflower seed roll. The dough uses a mixture of white wheat, semolina and whole grain rye flours, that are combined with milk, water, yeast and sunflower seeds. The dough rests for 12 hours in the fridge overnight, and requires just 20 minutes of active work in the morning. It’s a must for anyone that misses German bakery bread, especially Brötchen. Scroll on down for the recipe (now in printable version).
more German Bread Recipes
Sonnenblumenkern-Brötchen: German Sunflower Seed Rolls
- Combine yeast and warm milk and allow to sit and activate for 5 minutes. If it doesn't start to bubble up after 5 minutes, start over.
- Combine all ingredients for the dough, except for the sunflower seeds and knead for 10 minutes on the lowest setting, then increase to a medium setting and knead 5 more minutes. The dough should be smooth and elastic and pulling away from the sides.
- Add in the roasted sunflower seeds and knead for one minute or until combined.
- Put the dough in a bowl and cover it in plastic wrap, so it's air-tight (laying the plastic right on top of the dough). Move to the fridge and allow to proof for 12 hours (easiest to do this overnight). It should have doubled in size.
- Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and divide it into 8 equal pieces of dough; do not knead them.
- Working with one dough piece at a time, pull the dough, so it's elongated. Take one of the short ends and fold it over itself and towards your body, pressing down with all fingertips, and repeat folding the roll in itself.
- Repeat this shaping process until you end up with a tight cylinder shape. Be careful not to allow too many of the natural gases to leak out of the dough while you're shaping the rolls. This allows for the crumb to have bigger pores.
- Pour the sunflower seeds for the toppings onto a surface and press the rolls into the seeds, so that they stick to the dough, then transfer the rolls, seam down, onto a baking sheet prepped with parchement paper. Cover loosely with a baker's couche or a clean linen towel and allow to rise for 45 minutes in a warm spot in your house.
- In the meantime while the rolls are rising, preheat the oven to 230° C/445° F in the meantime, and put a large pan filled with water on the bottom rack of your oven, allowing it to heat up as well and to create steam.
- Turn the rolls over (seam up), spray them with a little bit of water, and bake for 10 minutes (total baking time will be 20 minutes), leaving the pan filled with water in the oven. After 10 minutes, widely open the oven door for a few seconds to allow the steam to escape, then close the oven door, and bake for another 5 minutes. For the last 5 minutes of baking, leave the oven door open at a gap. This will ensure a browned, crisp surface.
- Transfer to a cooling rack and leave uncovered until cooled completely.
I received compensation from the Kansas Farm Bureau in exchange for writing this post. Although this post is sponsored, all opinions, thoughts and recipes are my own. This post contains affiliate links, which means that I may be compensated if you click certain links.