Agriculture Drives The Midwest Economy – And Farming Is Just The Start of It

Part-time farmer Howard Haselhuhn at his West Michigan hops farm. Credit: Lindsey Smith

This month, we’re looking into some of the hidden assets of the Midwest – the parts of our economy that don’t often get noticed when we talk about our strengths (the first part of the series is here). Agriculture is one of the biggest drivers of local economies in the Midwest – it accounts for billions of dollars worth of exports and thousands of jobs. There’s been a lot of concern about whether enough young people are going into farming these days. But the ag industry goes well beyond being just farming – and plenty of young people are interested in that.


At Navy Pier, a special meeting of the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences’s FFA chapter is being called to order. Ringed around the room, one by one, chapter officers check in during the traditional opening ceremony. It ends when President and Senior Jennifer Nelson asks her fellow FFA members: “Why are we here?”

The students stand and chant in unison: “To practice brotherhood, honor agriculture opportunities and responsibilities, and develop those qualities of leadership that an FFA member should possess.”

These students are part of the 17,000 FFA members in Illinois alone. Membership in the organization overall has increased 20 percent since 2000, to more than half a million members across the country. But there’s a reason why FFA no longer calls itself Future Farmers of America.

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Zingerman’s Turns 30 And Shares Some Secrets to Its Success

It was 30 years ago today that Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw opened the doors to Zingerman’s, a New York style deli on an Ann Arbor, Mich., side street. 

Nobody knew if their concept of high quality, high priced and highly stuffed sandwiches would work. But it did.

Now, Zingerman’s is a $40 million collection of eight businesses with hundreds of people, all based in Ann Arbor, the only place where the company wants to be. And Weinzweig is out with a new book, “Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 2: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Being a Better Leader.”

Packed inside the book are tons of tips to turn employees into energy filled, creative staffers. One of Weinzweig’s ideas is that leaders shouldn’t be the ultimate authorities: they should be servants. How do you instill servant leadership? Continue reading “Zingerman’s Turns 30 And Shares Some Secrets to Its Success”

Staying Connected To The Old Culture, While Fitting In With The New

When we asked what cultural traditions people have kept or lost, many wrote about the difficulty of fitting into American culture while staying connected to their own roots.

Yen Azzaro tried to learn her mother’s native Mandarin Chinese in college, but never mastered it. “I never learned how to read or write Chinese. Sometimes I feel inadequate or guilty about this,” said Azzaro. “But most of the time I just feel relieved that I understand some Chinese. Many people my age worked so hard to assimilate; they lost all knowledge of their native tongue,” she said.

Those who hold on to traditions often have a way of adapting and updating them to reflect new cultural experiences.

Sausage making in Anette Kingsbury's family. Credit: Annette Kingsbury

One way to track those changes and adaptations is through the way people cook and share food. We heard from a Sicilian family that once made 700 cannolis and another that (enthusiastically) honors their Sicilian roots by making hundreds of sausages.

Our culture project incorporated many stories from people who keep up a family food tradition and put their own spin on it.

Sharlene Innes writes: “The most important Polish tradition for my family and for me is Wigilia, the Christmas Eve celebration. We come together to share a meal which now includes items like a large nacho prepared by my Mexican-American brother-in-law.”

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Cake, Shortbread, or Pastry? Mazurek Is All That, And More

As part of our Your Family Story series, we’re collecting recipes that have been passed down within families. Send in your mother’s, grandfather’s, or cousin’s famous recipe for goulash, pozole, dumplings or any dish that your family has enjoyed.

We’re collecting recipes until midnight tomorrow. We’ll publish all the recipes. The winner, to be chosen by the Changing Gears team, will be announced here and on our partner websites. They’ll collect a grab bag of public radio goodies.

Today, Changing Gears Senior Editor Micki Maynard shares this recipe for Mazurek:

My father’s family, which is of French descent, has been in the United States for many generations, settling primarily in Massachusetts. But my mother is a first generation American. Her family came to the United States around 1905. Her father hailed from what was known as Byelorussia, and now Belorus, an area also known as White Russia.

My mom learned European dishes from her mother and New England recipes through my dad, so we enjoyed a varied menu at home. I’ve always heard my mother say what a good cook my grandmother was. But, I didn’t know until this year that my grandmother was co-owner of a bakery in Grand Rapids. The Northwestern Bakery stood on Leonard Street, although the building is no longer there.

Each Easter, my family gathers for brunch, and Mazurek (pronouncd mah-ZUR-eck) is always the last dish that is served. We sit over coffee and tea and enjoy this dense, rich pastry, very much like a soft shortbread. My mom was always the Mazurek baker, until she offered to teach me. She also shared the recipe with my brother, who baked the Mazurek that you see here.

Want to add Mazurek to your repertoire? Follow this recipe.

Continue reading “Cake, Shortbread, or Pastry? Mazurek Is All That, And More”

Contest! Send Us Your Recipes For Our Midwest Family Collection

As part of our Your Family Story series, we’re collecting recipes that have been passed down within families. Send in your mother’s, grandfather’s, or cousins’ famous recipe for goulash, pozole, dumplings, babka — anything that’s descended from your ethnic roots.

We’re collecting recipes from this very second until midnight on Wednesday. Changing Gears will publish all the recipes in our Midwest Family Collection. The winning recipe, to be selected by the Changing Gears team, will be announced here and on our partner websites. As a prize, the winner will collect a grab bag of public radio goodies.

So, get cooking! We want to include you in our collection.

In Minnesota, South Korean Traditions with a Twist

Rosalyn Park of Minnesota writes:

My parents emigrated from South Korea to Iowa in the early 1960s. My mother struggled with the dualities of raising children the American-born way and being the wife of a traditional Korean man. Every night, she would cook two dinners: a Korean meal for my father, and an American one for us girls.

Over time, as my tastes expanded, I grew to truly appreciate Korean food.

One tradition in particular really epitomizes this shift. Growing up, my mother would make traditional Korean potstickers (mandu) once a year. It was a huge ordeal—everything was made by hand. We’d sit down and make mandu for hours.

Being the last of 3 daughters, I eventually found myself facing this daunting task alone. I’d come home from high school to see the big mandu bowl and be filled with dread—it was like a bad Chinese movie: Night of Three Million Eggrolls. I’d sit at the kitchen counter, hand stuffing each mandu by myself and thinking wearily of the unfair plight handed to Sister Number 3.

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Midwest Memo: Ohio Unemployment Rate Steady, Chicago Food Deserts Dwindle, Wisconsin Owes $1 Billion To Government

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Chicago food deserts dwindle. Fewer Chicago residents are living in food deserts, according to a recently released report. In the past five years, the number of residents living in so-called food deserts – a low-income census tract where a substantial number of residents lack access to a grocery store – has dropped 40 percent. The study’s author, Mari Gallagher, tells partner station WBEZ that some “big name” stores have arrived in poorer communities, but that the remaining problem lies in African-American neighborhoods on the city’s south and west sides.

2. Ohio unemployment rate holds steady. Ohio’s unemployment rate remained unchanged at 9.1 percent in September, according to data released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It marked the third consecutive month the Buckeye State’s unemployment rate was at or above the 9 percent mark. State officials found some promise in the numbers. “We’re in a recovery, we just think it’s going to take some time,” Angela Terez, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, tells our partner station Ideastream. “We’re seeing some good things like initial unemployment claims going down, and the number of layoffs going down.”

3. Wisconsin repaying $1.18 billion. The state of Wisconsin owes the federal government $1.18 billion borrowed to pay unemployment benefits, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The state has made $42.4 million in interest payments to date in 2011, and is taking several steps to pay the money back, including enforcing a one-week waiting period for people seeing unemployment benefits. Among 27 states that owe the federal government money, Wisconsin ranks 11th. California takes dubious top honors, owing $8.63 billion, according to the newspaper.

Camp Bacon Gives Midwest A Slice of Culinary Trend

The idea started as a pipe dream. While writing a comprehensive book about the history of bacon, Ari Weinzweig envisioned a summit of the country’s foremost bacon experts and luminaries.

“I don’t write fiction,” said Weinzweig, co-owner of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Zingerman’s.

So he only had one choice – turn the pipe dream into a pork reality. From June 30 to July 3, Zingerman’s will host the second annual Camp Bacon, a four-day bacon conference in Ann Arbor that includes seminars on bacon history, the creations of two James Beard award-winning chefs, a benefit concert at The Ark and, of course, lots of good eats.

Zingerman’s is already known throughout the Midwest, and among foodies worldwide, for its entrepreneurial spirit. In nearly 30 years, it has grown from the original deli started by a handful of people to a variety of businesses. Alex Young, executive chef at Zingerman’s Roadhouse, was named winner of the James Beard Award this year for Best Chef: Great Lakes.

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Podcast: Oprah’s Impact and Food Trucks

Welcome to our podcast that recaps our Changing Gears coverage from the past few days.

This was Oprah Winfrey’s last week hosting her top-rated television show following a 25-year run. Her “Favorite Things” list catapulted small businesses throughout the Midwest into the spotlight – for better or worse. Changing Gears reporter Niala Boodhoo joined us in the studio to discuss that impact and share what comes next for “Favorite Things.”

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Midwest Memo: Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sears once seemed synonymous with downtown Chicago.

But the landmark skyscraper once called the Sears Tower name officially changed its name in 2009. Now, Sears may disappear from Illinois entirely. A tax-incentive agreement with the state expires next year, and parent company Sears Holding Corp. is exploring the possibility of relocation.

“We do owe it to our associates and shareholders to consider options and alternatives and intend to be very thoughtful and thorough in our deliberations,” spokesperson Kimberly Freely told the Akron Beacon Journal. Changing Gears reporter Niala Boodhoo examined the future of Sears in March.

Sears has been around since 1893. (Niala Boodhoo)

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