Home » Iowa the Heart of America ~ CornQuest recap!

Iowa the Heart of America ~ CornQuest recap!

Recently I had the privilege of traveling to Des Moines, Iowa where  nine loverly food bloggers, from across the country, and I had the pleasure of embarking on Iowa CornQuest 2013 together. The mission of this trip was to unearth the a-MAIZE-ing story of corn as well as uncovering a few other Iowan gems along the way!   


I don’t feel like I have fully absorbed all that I learned and experienced while in the ♥ of America.  I need to review my adventure to help it sink in.  Join me as I relive my adventure and  incorporate a few of the facts I learned about Iowa agriculture along the way!


Fasten your seat belts here we GO! 

Pssst…yes that’s me on the far left, I’m not really that great of a jumper I’m just slow and jumped late…lest you were thinking dang white girls can jump!  Well then there’s Sandy in the orange pants and well yes that white girl can jump! 

Our CornQuest adventure officially began as we ventured outside of Des Moines to St. Charles, Iowa, destination Madison County Winery, our hosts were winery owner Doug Bakker, the Iowa Corn Growers Association, and Iowa Pork.

Ribbet collageO man where do I begin?  Our evening at  Madison County Winery and Twisted Vine Brewery was spectacular in every sense of the word!  Doug (the owner) gave us a tour of his family owned winery and brewery.  After which we were able to enjoy wine and beer pairings with various charcuterie (a.k.a. cheese and cold cuts 😉 ).

Fact: Yes this is THE Madison County, remember the book The Bridges of Madison County?  It is also the birth place of John Wayne.  Madison County also boasts that it’s the birthplace of Apple Pie!! No wonder I loved it there so much!!

The evening did not end there, after a brief walk out side to watch the sunset is was back inside to a scrumptious dinner, inspired by  Iowa Pork and Corn, prepared for us by a local chef.  Even the dessert incorporated corn, Chocolate Raspberry Cake with Homemade Iowa Sweet Corn Ice Cream, it may sound weird but it was really good!  After our ah-maize-ing dinner, we moved to the fire pit to relax and further enjoy our time together.  Upon leaving, Madison County Winery presented us each with a bottle of wine  that they had labeled for CornQuest 13!

Ribbet collage 1The next morning we were up and out bright and early to enjoy breakfast at the Gateway Market, there Vachel White  and Roger Zylstra joined us to answer any questions we had about Iowa farming and agriculture.

Iowa’s nickname is the “Corn State”, rightly so!  Because for the last two decades it has produced the largest corn crop of any state.  In fact, on an average year, Iowa produces more corn than most countries!  In 2012, Iowa corn farmers grew almost 1.88 billion bushels of corn on 13.7 million acres of land. 


IMG_9848After breakfast we boarded our bus and headed about 90 minutes outside of Des Moines to the Couser family farm.

The corn you commonly see in fields like this one isn’t the corn one would boil up and eat slathered in butter, called sweet corn.  The variety of corn we see in fields, such as the one above,  is called field corn and has literally thousands of uses.  Corn is used in the making of more than 4200 different products we use everyday.  Some examples of  products corn can be found in are shaving cream, rayon, pet and livestock food, sweeteners, cardboard, it can even be found in cosmetics! 

Ribbet collage2Our next destination was smack in the heart of Iowa, Couser Cattle Company owned by  Bill and Nancy Couser.  Did I say in the heart of Iowa?  The Cousers, have a huge heart for Iowa and our country, I’ve met many passionate farmers in my journeys but none quite like the Cousers.  Their third generation cattle ranch won the environmental stewardship award for 2010.  Achieving this award is no small task.  If you would like to know more about the Cousers this  website will give you the scoop!  We were also blessed to meet Katie who’s family owns and operates a turkey farm in the area.  Did I say that the lunch we were served was beef from the Triple U Ranch, Elaine the owner of Triple U took the time to come meet with us despite her farm being hit by a tornado only a few days before!  Nothing stops a farmer, they just keep on keepin’ on!

IMG_9876After our delicious lunch it was time to put our boots to some good use!  Uh er who’s the girl with the sneakers?


Ribbet collage8We headed out to another part of the Cousers farm where they were finishing up harvesting the corn crop.  We saw first hand how this farm runs a full sustainable circle!  They grow corn, harvest the corn, feed the corn to their cattle, and use the manure from the cows to fertilize their crops.  Round and round it goes!!



Uh did I mention that we were riding in style…like rock star CornQuester style.  Oh yeah baby….

Corny fact: Corn is a grass native to the Americas and is thought to have been first grown in central Mexico.  Corn is now grown all over the world and on every continent except Antarctica.  The US produces more corn than any other country and Iowa produces more corn than any other state in the US. 


Ribbet collage5

 Next stop Iowa Speedway!

48% of all the corn grown in Iowa is used to make Ethanol.  How does that compare with the nation over all?  The US produced 10.7 billion bushels of field corn in 2012 and 3.5 billion went toward the production of Ethanol. Ethanol has less impact on our environment than gasoline, is renewable, and is made in the USA!
Learn more about Ethanol = fuel made with corn HERE.

So our next stop was the race track.  I grew up within ear shot of a race track, but have never been to a actual race.  I know, I know, it’s craziness.  Watching it makes me dizzy and it’s loud.  I’m a wuss.  Regardless of my wussiness I was excited for the opportunity to ride in one of the Iowa Speedway pace cars.  I nearly wussed out, but I’m sure glad that I didn’t.  It was crazy!  Riding in that pace car for only 5 laps made me realize how hard it is to be a race car driver.  I had never really given it any thought….dang you’ve got to have some serious concentration skills to whiz around that track going 50mph faster than we were (we topped out at 117mph….I was screaming or the driver might have gone faster) and with 40 other cars on the track!!  I could never do it.  It was just as I feared too loud for me and I got sick to my stomach going in circles.  Did I mention the Iowa Corn Growers Association is an official sponsor of the Iowa Speedway?!

Corn is cool…just thought I’d share that.

Despite my motion sickness the Iowa Speedway was one of the highlights of my CornQuest trip!


After our afternoon of mock speed excitement we had time to relax and tidy up a bit before heading out for dinner at the Iowa Historical Society Building, which just so happened to have a gorgeous rooftop view of Iowa’s capitol building.  We shared appetizers and dinner with Iowan farmers and they had a chance to share their heart for the farming industries of Iowa.  Listening and learning about how hard our farmers work each and every day 365 days, nope not even Christmas off, always fills me with a sense of overwhelming thankfulness and pride for the country I live in.  We have some really amazing people working hard everyday to make our everyday happen!  Have you hugged a farmer lately?

Fact:  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports the vast majority of farms and ranches in the United States are family owned and operated – in fact, 96 percent of the 2.2 million farms in the United States are family farms. You can find more facts on the Common Ground website. 

The loverly lady in the above picture is my friend Nikki  from Seededatthetable.com.  Nikki is a Mitten girl, but now lives in Mississippi, she was in Grand Rapids visiting her family, so we were able to travel from Grand Rapids to Des Moines Iowa together. We had a blast, this girl is like a sister to me, I sure wish she lived in Meechigan!

Ribbet zombieIn case you didn’t know Foodies never stop thinking about food.  We never ever…I mean never miss a food opportunity, and by that I do not mean we are gorging ourselves all day everyday….well maybe somedays, by this I mean if we’ve eaten dinner, and we happen by a place called Zombie Burger we don’t just keep walking.  We stop.  We investigate.  We eat…..again.  It’s not in our genetic makeup to pass this sort of opportunity by.  On this occasion we even coerced Dick Gallager a farmer who had traveled from the outskirts of Iowa to meet and share with us, we told him when in Rome….eat….. Zombie Burger?  Dick was a good sport!  So the next time you are in Des Moines don’t leave without going to Zombie Burger.  The cereal shakes are pure brilliance!

It’s not over there’s still more….

Day three started out with breakfast and a round table open forum discussion with Dr. Ruth MacDonald a professor of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Iowa State University. Our questions were many and varied, and not one of them went unanswered, it was a highly informational morning.  If you would like to know more about our discussion or have question you would like answered please don’t hesitate to ask.

IMG_9980After breakfast it was on to the highly anticipated (for me anyway) tour of Meredith Corporation and Better Homes and Gardens test kitchens!  We were like kids in candy shop let me tell you!!


 I mean the prop room alone!

Ribbet collage3Having the opportunity to go behind the scenes and see where one of my first and most used cookbooks was developed took my breath away….no seriously I was a little light headed!  I know I’m a geek. Thank YOU  Meredith Corporation for giving us this unique opportunity!  

Hold your horses there’s still more….

After our tour of Meredith Corp. it was off to cook or be cooked…we were not sure what was going to happen.  We had been told that our CornQuest adventure might end in the kitchen, however what this meant or what was in store for us was not made clear.  I of course had my full on Food Network imagination going….Chopped we were going to do Chopped corn style, NO maybe Iron Chef corn style, or maybe a trip back to the Cousers Ranch to film our CornQuest version of The Pioneer Woman…nope wrong again.  Instead we headed to the test kitchens for Hy-Vee grocery store in Des Moines where we were given a cookbook that included a cornilicious recipe from each of our blogs and from that we prepared the food from our blogs to share with each other for lunch.  I may have built it up on my mind a bit too much in advance (I tend to do that), but really it was a blast!  No pressure pure fun!

This was the perfect way to end an A-maize-ing trip, in the kitchen with nine fantastic bloggers who I can now call my friends. 

IMG_3130Our menu was creative and delicous it covered, as you can see, everything from cookies to cocktails below I have linked all the scrumptious recipes from my CornQuest companions blogs.  I encourage you to visit their blogs, say howdy, tell them I said howdy too!

Top row L>R: Me, Heidi ~ Foodie Crush, Jessica ~ The Novice Chef, Megan ~ Country Cleaver, Annalise ~ Completely Delicious, Sandy ~ The Reluctant Entertainer

Front row L.R: Nikki ~ Seeded at the Table, Chung-ah ~ Damn Delicious, Lauren ~ Climbing Grier Mountain

(pssst Sommer of Spicy Perspective had to leave early and could not join our cooking party, wah!)

Thanks for taking the time to read all about my Iowa CornQuest adventure!  I am very thankful for the many food related travels, I would definitely put Iowa at the top of my foodie adventure list.  Who knew? Next time you have the chance stop in Iowa don’t just drive through, take time to explore and get to know the lovely people at the heart of America!

Lastly and certainly not least I would like to thank the Iowa Corn Growers Association (Janet, Mindy and Shannon) as well as CMA (Roxi and Hana) for putting together this incredibly well thought out trip for us.  I will never forget my time in Iowa!

I-O-Wahhhh I miss you!!

Disclaimer: The Iowa Corn Growers Association payed for my traveling expenses.  I was not compensated for writing this post, all thoughts are my own. 


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  1. Thank you so much for visiting our state and learning about corn! As an Iowa farmer I appreciate your willingness to learn about one of the most diverse plants grown on earth. Please come visit Iowa again!
    Suzanne from 2 Farmers & Their 3 Sprouts

    1. Suzanne, I truly had one of the best times of my life. What a privilege it was to meet you all and have you share your life with us! Thank you! Sheila

  2. Sheila – Yes: corn is cool. But maybe not as cool as you 🙂 Thanks so much for joining the CornQuest! Gorgeous photos and such a neat way of telling your experience through facts and, as usual, phonetics 🙂 I loved learning more about you and your family, eating your finger-licking-good cowboy caviar (my favorite dish on the a-maize-ingly corny spread), and hearing your direct and thoughtful questions for Dr. MacDonald during our time in Iowa. If you or your readers have additional questions on healthy eating, nutrition or weird food science, I’m happy to link you up with Dr. MacDonald or any of the other 150+ food experts with whom we are connected. Until next time, keep being corny 🙂

    1. Roxi,
      Thank you! I will be sure to let you know if anyone approaches me with questions. Loved meeting you! xox Sheila

  3. Thank goodness you found Iowa:) So often when we travel out East, some do not know where Iowa
    is. I have learned to spell Iowa for them and pronounce very slowly. I am glad you enjoyed our beautiful state, especially at harvest time. Come again.

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