Category: Seasonal

Ultra-Local Eating: Jennifer Miller Guides CSA, Iowa Food Cooperative

Jennifer Miller could hardly believe the question. “When will your bananas be ready?” inquired a central Iowa woman who was buying fresh produce through Miller’s Clarion Sage market garden and community supported agriculture (CSA) business near Waukee.

“People are disconnected from where their food comes from,” said Miller, 30, who noted the woman seeking locally-grown bananas is a well-educated business professional. “I’ve even had people look at our heirloom tomatoes and say, ‘I don’t want those,’ because they think they are GMOs.’”

This disconnect isn’t all that foreign to Miller, who grew up in Highland Park, Illinois, a northern suburb of Chicago. “I had no contact with agriculture in Highland Park,” said Miller, who serves as the Iowa Food Cooperative’s member services coordinator.

Miller did have a connection with Iowa, though, through her paternal grandparents, who lived in the Clarion/Rowan area. Her decision to move to Iowa in 2010 was spurred, in part, by a health challenge and new-found passion for healthy eating.

Miller was diagnosed a number of years ago with celiac disease, a serious autoimmune disorder where consuming gluten can damage the small intestine. “I started caring more about cooking and healthy recipes, because I just wanted to feel better,” said Miller, whose gluten-free and vegan recipes on her blog caught the attention of Martha Stewart Living editors, who invited her to develop recipes for them. “That’s what got me into food and agriculture.”

Food can be so much more interesting
After moving to Iowa, Miller got involved with community gardens in the Des Moines area and became a marketing/communications specialist Iowa Food Cooperative, which operates like an online farmers market. In 2013, Miller and her partner, Cody Kilgore, moved to an acreage on the southwest edge of Waukee’s city limits in Van Meter Township so they could operate their own farm.

“It felt like coming full circle,” said Kilgore, who was raised in rural Missouri, worked in the corporate world for nearly 30 years and was ready for a career switch.

The couple planted garlic in the fall of 2013 to start their Clarion Sage market garden. The goal? “We believe in ultra-local and want to feed the community around us,” said Miller, who noted that Clarion Sage primarily serves families within a five-mile radius in southern Dallas County.

Today, Miller and Kilgore raise a wide array of vegetables and herbs, including lettuce, squash, cabbage, carrots, garlic, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, potatoes and more, including heirloom varieties that can’t be found in most stores. They offer an online ordering system for added convenience.

“Food can be so much more interesting,” Miller said. “Whether you’re sharing a family meal, providing snacks for your kids or making a favorite recipe, one thing’s for sure: the starting point for all these is good food.”

Iowa vegetable farm

Jennifer Miller displays one of the unique lettuce varieties she grows at Clarion Sage Farm near Waukee.

Six lessons learned about farming and food
As their business evolved, Miller and Kilgore have adjusted their marketing plan to adapt to the often surprising—and sometimes frustrating—buying patterns they’ve observed in the market. The Clarion Sage market garden and CSA have taught them six key lessons, including:

1. Farming is more than production. Raising an abundant crop is just step one, said Miller, who has learned that that marketing and sales are equally important.

2. Mentors matter. “I didn’t grow up gardening, so working for various produce growers in Iowa and beyond taught me so much,” said Miller, who is grateful for leaders like Angela Tedesco who started Turtle Farm near Granger, Jill Beebout from Blue Gate Farm near Chariton and other local food proponents who have mentored her along the way.

3. Buying local adds flavor to life. Clarion Sage’s customers appreciate the “know your farmer” philosophy. Most buyers tend to be in their 30s and 40s with families, or they’re retired and have an interest in good food and time to cook. “Every week we offer our customers about $30 worth of fresh vegetables,” Miller said. “We focus on staple items like lettuce, potatoes, carrots and tomatoes, with the opportunity for more exotic options like stir-fry greens, kale and eggplant.”

4. Catering to consumers can be tricky. While the Clarion Sage CSA is right on Waukee’s doorstep, some consumers don’t want to drive to the farm to pick up vegetables. Some feel they don’t have time, while others don’t like the way the gravel road makes their vehicle dusty. When Miller tried offering delivery, some consumers still rejected this option, citing a lack of time or interest in preparing fresh food. Even full-color newsletters filled with cooking tips and recipes failed to gain much traction with these types of consumers, said Miller, who plans to start selling her produce at the Downtown Farmers’ Market in Des Moines.

5. Urban sprawl is relentless. High-density residential projects are planned for the area near the Clarion Sage’s market garden. “We’re in the bullseye of urban sprawl, which is a challenge,” said Kilgore, who also works as a wedding photographer.

6. Local food pairs well with global flavors. Miller loves ethnic cooking, from Latin American to African. “If you want to add more vegetables to your diet, look to other cultures that don’t have an abundance of meat protein,” said Miller, who encourages people to try vegetables like Cherokee Purple heirloom tomatoes (known for their smoky, complex flavor), fish peppers (which pack more heat), Merlot lettuce (whose dark red leaves offer a mellow flavor) and fingerling potatoes (which taste great fried or roasted).

Food is one of the best parts of life, added Miller, who loves the creativity involved in growing and marketing a crop. “You see a crop through from beginning to end, and you’re producing something that can feed and sustain people. That’s amazing to me.”

Want more?
Thanks for stopping by.  I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you want more more intriguing Iowa stories and history, along with Iowa food, recipes and tips to make you a better communicator. If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page. Feel free to share this information with friends and colleagues who might be interested, too.

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press, as well as my Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing, which showcases the history of small-town and rural Iowa. Order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

Let’s stay in touch. I’m at, and

P.S. Thanks for joining me. I’m glad you’re here. 

@Copyright 2017 Darcy Maulsby & Co. 

About me:
Some people know me as Darcy Dougherty Maulsby, while others call me Yettergirl. I grew up on a Century Farm between Lake City and Yetter and am proud to call Calhoun County, Iowa, home. I’m an author, writer, marketer, business owner and entrepreneur who specializes in agriculture.  Learn more at 

Leftover Ham? Make This Amazing Crustless Spinach and Ham Quiche

A ham for Easter dinner has been a tradition in my family for as long as I can remember.  It’s no wonder, since I grew up on a farrow-to-finish hog farm in Calhoun County, Iowa. Ever wonder why ham became an Easter tradition?

In the days before refrigeration, hogs were harvested in the fall. The hams were preserved by curing (salting and/or smoking). This process took a long time, and the first hams were ready to eat in the spring. Ham, then, was a natural choice for the Easter celebration.

The National Pork Board recently conducted a Ham Research Study (wouldn’t you love that job?) and found that that 69 percent of Americans served ham for Easter dinner in 2016. Also, 55 percent of consumers enjoy ham as an everyday meal. I’m certainly one of them.

If you have leftover ham this Easter, why not power up your next meal with my Crustless Quiche? This recipe is incredibly simple, flavorful and packed with veggies and protein. What more could you ask for?

Crustless Spinach and Ham Quiche
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms (or 2 cans sliced mushrooms)
Diced red and orange peppers, if desired
1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1 cup chopped, fully cooked ham
5 large eggs
3 cups shredded Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
1/8 teaspoon fresh-ground pepper

In a large skillet, saute onion and mushrooms in oil until tender. Add spinach and ham; cook and stir until the excess moisture is evaporated. Cool slightly. Beat eggs; add cheese and mix well. Stir in spinach mixture and pepper; blend well. Spread evenly into a greased 9-in. pie plate or quiche dish. Bake at 350° for 40-45 minutes or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean. Yield: 8 servings. Enjoy!

Want more Iowa culture and history?
Read more of my blog posts if you want more Iowa stories, history and recipes, as well as tips to make you a better communicator.

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press, as well as my Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing, which showcases the history of small-town and rural Iowa. Order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

P.S. Thanks for joining me. I’m glad you’re here. 

@Copyright 2017 Darcy Maulsby & Co. 

O, Christmas Tree! Small Iowa Towns Celebrate with Trees in the Middle of the Street

For a select group of small Iowa towns, it just wouldn’t be Christmas without a lighted tree downtown—right in the middle in the street. In Story City, the community has celebrated this beloved holiday custom for more than 100 years.

“I’m not surprised this tradition has lasted all these years,” said Kate Feil, director of the Story City Historical Society. “Keeping traditions alive are a big part of Story City, from the annual Scandinavian Days Festival to the municipal Christmas tree.”

This year’s evergreen tree was donated by Ole and Jackie Skaar of Story City and was installed by the Municipal Electric Company at the corner of Broad Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. Hundreds of people attended the Yulefest tree lighting ceremony on the evening of Nov. 25. Excitement intensified during countdown from 10 to 1 before the lights were flipped on. Then the high school choir led the singing of Christmas carols, and guests could warm up with cups of hot chocolate. The Story City Fire Department hosted their annual chili supper following the tree lighting ceremony.

“Families plan their Thanksgiving gatherings each year so they can attend the tree lighting ceremony,” said Abby Huff, executive director at Story City Greater Chamber Connection. “It’s a tradition we hope to carry on for many more years to come.”


Hundreds of people attended the Yulefest tree lighting ceremony in Story City, Iowa, on the evening of Nov. 25. Excitement intensified during countdown from 10 to 1 before the lights were flipped on. Then the high school choir led the singing of Christmas carols, and guests could warm up with cups of hot chocolate.

Let there be light

In 1914, Story City became one of the first towns in Iowa to display a municipal Christmas tree with electric lights. While many Iowa communities had begun to offer electrical service in the late 1890s and early 1900s, electricity was still a novelty that held the power to fascinate, especially in rural areas.

At that time, electricity was out of reach for thousands of farm families, many of whom wouldn’t receive electrical service until the federal Rural Electrification Act of 1936 brought power to rural America in the late 1930s and into the 1940s.

When Story City harvested its first municipal Christmas tree in town in 1914, local citizens decorated the tree with large, multi-colored lights. The lighting of the tree became a memorable event for a town that had not fully integrated electricity into all homes. A man who was visiting Story City during the Christmas season in 1914 described the tree as “the biggest stunt the town ever pulled off.”

Other communities took note. After Story City celebrated its first lighted Christmas tree, the event attracted newspaper coverage across the Midwest, and the concept of municipal Christmas trees started gaining popularity in small towns across Iowa and beyond.

Story City’s municipal Christmas tree has even reflected noteworthy moments in American history. No municipal Christmas trees were displayed in Story during World War 2 from 1942 to 1944, Feil said. Also, there was no tree in 1973, and no street ornaments were lit that year, due to the nation’s energy crisis.

Nothing caused more consternation, however, than a decision in 1948 to place a decorative Santa and sleigh with four horses from the town’s iconic carousel at intersection of Broad Street and Pennsylvania Avenue instead of a tree. It didn’t go over well, Feil said. “People like the tree.”

Today, many community members, including Mayor Mike Jensen, have helped make sure Story City has a municipal Christmas tree each year. Since it can be a little difficult to find trees that are right for the municipal tree, community leaders have begun planting evergreens near the soccer fields in the northwest part of Story City, said Huff, who noted that Story City is a member of Trees Forever. These trees will help ensure this beloved tradition lives on.

“From the first tree in 1914 to our current tree, I love the feeling of community our municipal Christmas tree continues to bring each year,” Feil said.


The municipal Christmas tree is unique feature of Exira, Iowa, population 840, which is also known for its 4th of July celebration. “It’s a proud tradition we want to keep around for years to come,” says the city clerk.

Christmas tree helps define Exira

On the other side of the state in Exira, population 840, local residents also cherish the tradition of a municipal Christmas tree that stands tall in an intersection downtown near the town square.

“We’ve had a tree each Christmas for many years,” said Lexi Christensen, Exira’s city clerk. “A lot of people compliment us on this tradition.”

This year’s tree, which was donated by Lana Wiges of Hamlin, was set up the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The tree was officially lit when Santa Claus came to town during the first weekend in December. Has anyone ever crashed into the holiday icon? “Fortunately not,” Christensen said.

As part of the tree lighting celebration, guests enjoyed soup and homemade treats at the local recreation center, while the Exira Community Club collected food and toys to donate to local families in need. “The Christmas tree is unique feature of Exira,” said Christensen, who added that Exira is also known for its 4th of July celebration. “It’s a proud tradition we want to keep around for years to come.”

Remsen revives Christmas tree tradition

Municipal Christmas trees used to be a much more common sight in small Iowa towns, but the tradition faded away in many communities due to the work involved, declining populations and other factors. To Tammy Maaff-Portz, it was a tradition worth reviving in her hometown of Remsen, population 1,663.

“I’d say the tradition had died out by the mid-1960s, but a group of us wanted to bring back an old-fashioned Christmas with a tree in the middle of the road. We made it happen in 2003 and have been carrying on this tradition ever since.”

This year’s municipal Christmas tree stands about 30 feet tall on Main Street and is covered with an array of oversized green and red ornaments and approximately 3,000 lights, including a lighted star on top. The massive tree sits in a permanent hole dug into the street downtown and is held in place with a support system designed for this purpose. The hole in the street is covered with a steel plate the rest of the year.

The lighting of the municipal Christmas tree, which took place the first Monday evening in December, started with a blessing of the tree by local religious leaders. Then Santa arrived on a vintage fire truck and lit the tree before heading to the Remsen Heritage Museum, where children could share their wish list with him and receive a candy cane.

Remsen’s businesses stayed open that evening until about 8 p.m. Carolers walked from shop to shop, singing songs of the season, while visitors enjoyed horse-drawn wagon rides as sleigh bells rang throughout Main Street. Children took advantage of Kids’ Korner, where they could shop for gifts for their family and either wrap the presents themselves or get a little help from the business owners.

“Living windows” in local stores have also become a popular part of the celebration. This year, members of the St. Mary’s boys’ basketball team were at Schorg’s Custom Cabinetry, where visitors could visit with them while decorating their own Christmas cookies.

“All these events are free and open to the public,” said Maaff-Portz, who owns Furnishings on Second At Muller’s. “People of all ages love it.”

Remsen’s municipal Christmas tree stays lit all through the night, every night, until the tree is taken down during the first few weeks of January. Maaff-Portz is already looking forward to a gala event in a few years to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the municipal Christmas tree’s triumphant return to Remsen. “It’s definitely a community effort. We want to make this a family and community tradition as long as we can.”

Christmas Trees Thrive in Iowa

The modern Christmas tree is believed to have originated in Germany in the 16th century. Here are some other Christmas tree facts from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship:

  • Iowa has more than 100 Christmas tree farms in all parts of the state.
  • These farms devote more than 1,500 acres to Christmas tree production in Iowa and harvest approximately 39,500 Christmas trees each year.
  • It takes 6 to 12 years to grow a Christmas tree before it is ready to be sold.
  • Christmas tree farms in Iowa are part of a $1 million industry that contribute to the state’s economy.


*This article first appeared in Farm News, December 2016 

Want more Iowa culture and history? Check out my top-selling “Calhoun County” book, which showcases the history of small-town and rural Iowa, as well as my “Culinary History of Iowa” book from The History Press. Order your signed copy today!

P.S. Thanks for joining me. I’m glad you’re here. 

@Copyright 2016 Darcy Maulsby & Co. 

Very Veggie: Iowan’s Farm-Fresh Recipes Offer Guilt-Free Eating

For a guy who didn’t care for vegetables as a kid, Adam Nockels has come a long ways. Now he runs Iowa’s Raccoon Ridge Farm, which specializes in an array of naturally-grown produce.

“My foodie friends in college, including one who is a gardener, got me interested in fresh foods and new flavors,” said Nockels, who was born in Lake City but grew up on military bases before returning to the Lake City area.

Food production also appealed to Nockels, a U.S. Air Force veteran who used the G.I. Bill to attend Iowa State University, where he earned his biology degree in 2010. After completing an internship at Turtle Farm near Granger, where he learned about vegetable production and community supported agriculture (CSA), Nockels knew he wanted to work in production agriculture. When he proposed the idea of starting a farm on the land his family owns between Lake City and Auburn, his grandparents Dennis and Sheila Moulds liked the idea.

“My Grandma Sheila and my mom, Debby, have green thumbs,” said Nockels, who has 10 acres in Raccoon Ridge Farm, which includes 2.5 to 3 acres of vegetables grown with organic practices. “I also like working outdoors and growing healthy food for people.”

Nockels grows a wide variety of crops, including green beans, spinach, lettuce, radishes, strawberries, kale, herbs, squash, peas, potatoes, beets, heirloom tomatoes and more, which he sells at the Lake City Farmers Market and through his weekly CSA deliveries in Lake City, Rockwell City and Carroll. Nockels’ favorite heirloom tomato is the Cherokee Purple Tomato, a flavorful variety that was reportedly gifted to a farmer in Tennessee in the 1890s from Cherokee natives. “Nothing is better than an heirloom tomato,” Nockels said. “For me, it’s either slice, salt and go, or use the tomato in a BLT sandwich.”

Nockels’ weekly newsletters for CSA customers include a list of produce supplied that week, brief descriptions of the unique items in the box, tips for storing the produce, recipes and seasonal cooking tips such as how to roast chile peppers. Some of Nockels most popular items are his green beans. In 2015, the sandy, loamy soils of Raccoon Ridge Farm produced almost 450 pounds of green beans, so full-share holders received roughly 23 pounds of green beans each.

Nockels enjoys experimenting with new recipes, as well as relying on tried-and-true family recipes, to showcase the bounty of the harvest. “When good food is prepared properly, it tastes better. This is guilt-free eating.”

Savor more of Iowa and its food stories, history and more
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Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese
1 / 4 cup balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons shallots, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon honey
1/ 3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 medium beets, cooked and quartered
6 cups fresh greens (spinach, lettuce, arugula, etc.)
1 / 2 cup walnuts, toasted, coarsely chopped
3 ounces soft fresh goat cheese, coarsely crumbled

Line a baking sheet with tinfoil. Preheat oven to 450 degrees

Whisk the vinegar, shallots and honey in a medium bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in the olive oil. Season the vinaigrette to taste with salt and pepper. Toss the beets in a small bowl with enough dressing to coat. Place the beets on the prepared baking sheet, and roast until the beets are slightly caramelized, stirring occasionally, about 12 minutes. Set aside and cool.

Toss the greens and walnuts in a large bowl with enough vinaigrette to coat. Season the salad to taste with salt and pepper. Mound the salad atop four plates. Arrange beets around the salad. Sprinkle with goat cheese. Serve.


Radish Toast with Sesame-Ginger Butter
4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
3 tablespoons minced chives, divided
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
3 / 4 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
1 / 4 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
16 1 / 4-inch-thick baguette slices, lightly toasted
10 radishes, thinly sliced

Mix butter, 2 tablespoons chives, sesame seeds, ginger and sesame oil in small bowl; season with salt and pepper. Spread butter mixture over each bread slice. Top with radishes, overlapping slightly. Sprinkle with remaining chives.


Spinach Quiche
1 tablespoon butter
2 spring onions, minced
2 bunches spinach, thick stems removed and leaves roughly chopped
Coarse salt and ground pepper
4 ounces Gruyere or Swiss cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
1 frozen pie crust
4 large eggs
1 1 / 2 cups half-and-half
Dash of ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with racks set in upper and lower thirds. In a large skillet, heat butter over medium. Add spring onions, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add as much spinach to skillet as will fit; season with salt and pepper, and toss, adding more spinach as room becomes available, until wilted, 2 to 3 minutes.

Transfer spinach mixture to a colander. Press firmly with the back of a spoon to squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Sprinkle cheese onto crust. Spread spinach mixture over shredded cheese.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, half-and-half, nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Pour egg mixture into crust.

Bake until center of quiche is just set, 55 to 60 minutes. Let quiche stand 15 minutes before serving.

Cover and refrigerate leftovers up to 1 day. Reheat at 350 degrees until warm in the center, 30 to 40 minutes.


Easy Kale Chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove large central stem from kale leaves and tear into chip sized pieces. Drizzle with olive oil and add a sprinkle of salt or seasoned salt. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes until leaves edges are brown but not burnt.

Peas and New Potatoes
1 pound new potatoes
1 cup shelled peas
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup milk or half & half

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Boil potatoes for 15 to 20 minutes, until tender. Drain.

In a medium saucepan, bring 1 cup water to a boil. Simmer peas in boiling water for 6 to 7 minutes, or until tender (do not overcook). Drain.

Using the same saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in flour to make a thick paste; gradually whisk in milk, stirring constantly until slightly thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add potatoes and peas to the sauce; simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Serve immediately.

Crisp Tuna-Cabbage Salad
One 5-ounce can tuna, drained
2 cups finely chopped green or red cabbage, from about 4 ounces or 1 / 4 of a small head of cabbage
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
3 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Shred the tuna with a fork and mix thoroughly with the cabbage. Stir in mayonnaise and yogurt. Add salt and pepper to taste. Eat immediately, or refrigerate for up to two days. Makes two 1-cup servings.

Basil Pesto
1-2 cups fresh basil leaves
2-4 cloves of garlic
3 / 4 cup good olive oil
1 / 2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 / 4 cup pine nuts or walnuts (opt.)

Put basil in blender or food processor. Add garlic, and blend, adding olive oil slowly. Add Parmesan and pine nuts. Blend all into a thick sauce.

This is good over any hot pastas. It can be also added to salad dressing, 1 tablespoon at a time, used as a spread for tomatoes, on crackers, etc. Pesto can also be frozen in small container for use later.

Green Bean and Pasta Salad
4 ounces penne pasta, uncooked (1 1/4 cups)
4 ounces green beans, halved crosswise (about 1 cup)
1 cup canned red or kidney beans, rinsed
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan (2 ounces)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt and black pepper

Cook the pasta according to the package directions, adding the green beans during the last 3 minutes of cooking. Drain and run under cold water to cool.

Toss the cooled pasta and green beans with the red beans, parsley, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, lemon juice, 1 / 2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1 / 4 teaspoon black pepper. Divide the salad between two containers and refrigerate for up to one day.