Monday, July 25, 2011

Garden Update | July

Starting to get some major zucchini – and the zuke plants are totally taking over my garden box!Garden July 24 (5)Garden July 24 (6)

Zukes and never ending broccoli:
Garden July 16 (3)Garden July 16 (4)

We did decide to tear out the broccoli plants in late July as they were only producing small broccoli heads and they were getting eaten alive by green worms. So I got a small basil plant and put it in the space.
Garden July 24

And I’m finally getting some produce that’s not green! I have some cherry tomatoes ripening and  had to pull a carrot to see it’s progress – still a ways to go yet.Garden July 24 (3)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Japan wrap-up | Olympic Gold Medal

One of the unique parts of our mission was that one of the members of our delegation was an Olympic gold medalist.

Curt Tomasevicz is the only winter Olympian in Nebraska, and has been the spokesman for Nebraska corn for the past year. He and his bobsled team won the gold medal in the 4-man event in the Vancouver Olympics.

Throughout our time in Japan, it was so neat to see the faces of the people we encountered when they saw the gold medal. It was really an iconic, international language that every person recognized. Even when we didn’t have an interpreter, we were able to connect and “communicate” with people because of their recognition and respect for the Olympian.

On Sunday, the team travelled to a Kawasaki City elementary school where we partnered with Lawson Convenience Stores - the second largest convenience store chain in Japan - to meet with a girls soccer team and distribute U.S. beef "bento boxes" or beef and rice microwavable lunches, to the girls. The girls team comprised of 7-10 year olds, were aware that our team was coming, but they were most excited about meeting Curt.

A few of them thought I was cool enough to eat  lunch with also. :)

Most girls were shy at first, but had prepared questions in English to ask Curt about the Olympics, his favorite food, and why he was in Japan. It was a great opportunity for Curt to share to the young athletes about staying healthy and eating right, as well as the reason for being in Japan - to promote U.S. beef and that U.S. beef is fed with high-quality U.S. corn grown by farmers like the  others on our team.

The team then shared their lunch time with our team and wanted to play soccer with Curt.

We also had an opportunity to travel to Nagano where the 1998 Winter Olympics were held. We met with Mr. Koshi who is a skeleton athlete, as well as a member of the Japanese Olympic Committee. He took us to “The Spiral” – the bobsled track that was used in the Olympics.

Koshi actually let us walk down the track – not as steep as I thought it might be, but the curves were pretty wicked and I can only imagine going down them at 90+ MPH!

They have a pretty unique practice track and Koshi got the practice bobsled out for Curt to show us how it is done.

And look who even got a ride. :)

The whole experience was such an amazing opportunity and I am blessed to have been able to promote U.S. beef and see an amazing part of the world. We need them as much as they need us, and because of modern technology in agriculture, we are able to work together in the incredible global market we have today.

You can see more pictures from our team’s Flickr online photo album.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Japan Day 4: Tsunami Aid

Our team rode the bullet train north of Tokyo to Sendai. We then traveled by bus to the Tohoku area Minami Sanrikucho, Shizukawa area where we visited a very damaged town after the earthquake and tsunami that occurred March 11.

Imagine traveling through the Japan countryside, through beautiful, green rice paddies and tree covered mountains when you turn the bend and see the coast. You can easily see the water two miles away because what once was thriving coastal cities, is now a layer of debris, mostly flat except for the piles that workers have begun to sort the wreckage.

The earthquake and tsunami 129 days ago and the disaster area is still very devastating to see. Buildings flattened, cars crushed, hundreds of boats inland. It was a very emotional sight. Our team was able to stop near what was the Shizukawa Hospital and take some pictures of the area that was now rubble.DSC_0480DSC_0451  DSC_0456  DSC_0466 DSC_0464 DSC_0471 DSC_0473DSC_0483

There were boats everywhere. Notice the three story building behind this boat and the car sitting on top of it. The tsunami tidal wave was just taller than three stories.DSC_0534 DSC_0549 DSC_0662

After this sobering experience of seeing the destruction, our team went to a hotel in Udazu, a fishing village on the coast, that was spared. The hotel owner opened up the hotel as a shelter for people from the area - some full families, some individuals. This shelter was open to feeding the people staying there, as well as local cleanup workers to come and enjoy a free meal.

The team cooked U.S. sirloin steaks that were donated by many U.S. companies through USMEF for the relief effort. USMEF has partnered with trade organizations like food service, wholesale, processors, etc., to lead the cooperative relief effort. They have gone to more than 30 locations, served more than 93,000 servings of beef and pork and have a goal of serving more than 100,000.DSC_0596P1110100

All of the evacuees were very grateful for the U.S. beef, as many of them did not have meat for more than one month after the disaster. It was humbling to walk through the line of evacuees waiting for the beef bowl lunch and receive handshakes, thank you’s and big smiles.-15

What really affected me about this day was that not only were these people’s homes taken away, but their livelihoods as well – all in 15 minutes of what was the tsunami! As many of these people were in the fishing industry, it will take time to redevelop the industry in these areas until infrastructure is redeveloped.

I have many more pictures posted on our team’s online Flickr photo album.

Japan Day 3: U.S. beef bowl processing plant

DSC_0370 Our team was the first of any trade team or USMEF staff that were able to visit the Matsuya Foods Company plant in Ranzan, Japan, just northwest of Tokyo.

Matsuya is a type of "fast-food" restaurant chain with outlets scattered throughout Japan, and even some in China and one in New York City. Their main featured dish is a beef bowl - large bowls filled with rice and topped with short plate beef, boiled and seasoned. They also served BBQ beef short plate cuts that are thicker and the customer can choose the sauce. This was the first time that any USMEF staff or U.S. visitors were able to tour the beef processing plant as they just recently switched to using U.S. beef.

This was a significant switch. Matsuya uses 2 million pounds of short plate cut beef per month. The short plate cut is the muscle around the stomach and is a highly preferred cut of beef in Japan, whereas in the U.S., this is used in making hamburger. By exporting the short plates from the U.S. to other countries like Japan that prefer it, we are adding value to our corn-fed beef.

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Food safety is a major concern for Japan and that was very evident the moment we arrived at the Matsuya processing plant. We were asked to sanitize our hands constantly, wore full body suits with masks, hairnets and rubber boots. We then had to go into a machine that blew the dust off of us, were rolled with a dust rollers by employees and had to wash in/wash out. (Yes, that is me…)P1020839DSC_0328  

But it was all worth the efforts to walk in and see the boxes of U.S. beef, see the machines that were slicing the short plate in different thicknesses for the beef bowls and BBQ beef, and hear the meat buyers compliment the best tasting U.S. beef and USMEF.


Even though this Matsuya beef processing plant was not directly affected by the tsunami disaster, it has had to make a big change in production. They usually serve 150 million customers per year and have the plant open five days per week. But after the disaster, the Japanese government asked the country to help conserve energy with the power plants being damaged, so they work less hours during the weekdays when more energy is used, and remain open 7 days a week to process in the daylight.

You can see more pictures on the team’s online Flickr photo album.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Japan Day 2: U.S. beef promotions

DSC_0167Our second day in Japan began with market briefings by USMEF and the U.S. Ag Trade Center office from the U.S. Embassy. After our meetings, the group visited with the corporate Lawson outlet office (second-largest convenience store chain in Japan) and toured a Lawson convenience store to observe the U.S. beef promotion with the “bento” boxes. Bento’s are a microwavable lunch box and these specific kinds in Lawson carry the U.S. beef “We Care” program marketing.

It seems Lawson is targeting young, working men who enjoy beef because they need a high energy, nutritious diet. This is good and will hopefully trickle over their families for more beef consumption.

The team then toured three different grocery stores that carried U.S. beef and were doing a promotion with USMEF and the “We Care” marketing. These grocery stores were very clean and had more choices than U.S. grocery stores in their meat department.


What was awesome to see were moms feeding their children the samples of U.S. beef. That really showed they trusted the safe beef, if they were willing to feed it to their children!


Some other interested things we saw in the grocery stores:


A video of the farmers where the Japanese beef came from:DSC_0257DSC_0277DSC_0281DSC_0290

Look at the price of this cantaloupe – 15,750 yen which is around $200! Similar pricing to these watermelon. DSC_0297

You can view more pictures on the NCB online photo album here.