Around the Harvest Table

by Terese Allen, Food Editor

Irene and Tom Frantzen

Tom and Irene Frantzen marked their 30th wedding anniversary recently and to celebrate they flew to a city where they knew the food would be good: San Francisco. Getaways like this are rare for the Iowa-based farmers, who raise about a thousand hogs and fifty Angus cows in the rolling, glaciated terrain of northeastern Iowa.

They own 335 acres, "all of it organic," says Tom. Opposed to confinement methods of raising livestock, he keeps his hogs on pasture during the summer; in the winter, he houses them in hoop buildings with social pens and fresh straw bedding every two or three days. That makes for a happier, healthier animal, and a tastier piece of pork.

Good food is an everyday thing in the Frantzen home. "We appreciate home cooking and we like knowing where our food comes from," says Irene. Tom adds, "We especially prefer organic food. We like to have people here and show them the difference. Organic Valley's orange juice compared to other juice is the perfect example—people just flip over it."

The Frantzens's three grown children have moved away from home, but they all helped on the farm when they lived there. One son, James, a recent high-school grad, is an employee of Harmony Valley Farm, an award-winning organic vegetable farm in Wisconsin that's recognized as one of the most innovative in the nation. "He needs to be out in the world for awhile, but James has a desire to come back and farm the family farm someday," says Irene.

What is harvest time like on a hog farm?

Tom: The truth is, the harvest here starts in June and runs through December. First our biggest crop is mixed hay with red clover in it—that harvest starts in June. Later it's barley in late July and in fall it's the corn and [soy] beans.

Who's the cook in the family?

Irene [with a laugh]: Not Tom! I've done 99.9 percent of it all these years. I grew up being taught how to provide good food for my family. I'm not a gourmet cook, I'm not one for using lots of spice. I do good ol' American country cooking.

Tom: She's pretty good with meats, whether it's pork chops, sirloin or whatever. And her pies are no joke, either.

What would you serve at the perfect harvest meal?

Irene: A lot of people like prime rib, but I'd do "prime rib-style" using pork—I season and cook a pork loin like a prime rib. You'd have to have mashed potatoes with that, and some great gravy from the loin. Of course there would be corn—Tom loves corn—but also squash, because some of us like corn and some of us like squash. So we've got to have both. I'd add some dinner rolls and for dessert there would be apple crisp.

Tom: We like to tell people that we only talk about two things: the cat—we found him in a snow bank during the holidays, so we call him Noel—and food.

You raise organic crops for the hogs, but do you have a vegetable garden for yourselves, too?

Irene: Yes, that's my side thing, my paradise from the other stuff. Gardening is a kind of relief for me—the vegetables aren't raised for sale, but it's my way of providing food for the family.

What do you grow?

Irene: Anything and everything! Potatoes, green beans, peas, beets, eggplant, cukes, even flowers. I put in whatever we'll eat for the year, and I do a little canning, but I do more freezing than canning—things like tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce, tomato juice. We have fruit trees, too, so I make apple butter, jams, jellies.

Anything else you'd like to say about harvest time?

Tom: Harvest time is the greatest time of the year—it looks the greatest, it smells the greatest.

Irene: It's when you get to see the result of what you've done. It really puts a smile on your face.

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