HOW MANY FARMERS DOES IT TAKE TO BE “BIG AG”?

This post originally posted at Corn Commentary.

It is interesting to note the group change.org, on their “Sustainable Food” web site takes issue with the new CommonGround campaign which seeks to give exposure to family farmers and their efforts to educate the public about food and the people who raise/grow it.

common ground agri-womenIt is also ironic that if three “foodies” get together to offer their advice on how we should grow food in this country it is advocacy…a movement if you will. However, if a group of family farmers of all sizes and persuasions get together it instantly becomes that nebulous and evil “Big Ag.”
Chris Wilson, president of American Agri-Women, describes the effort well saying, “CommonGround is a program that builds bridges between the passionate women of America’s farms and their counterparts in America’s cities to dispel the misconceptions about our food and the people who grow it.”

There are numerous efforts today like Common Ground (from the Corn Farmers Coalition to The Hands That Feed Us) that seek to give a voice to family farmers. Doing so in an organized fashion and giving farm women an opportunity to be heard makes perfect sense. This public outreach effort is neither anti-sustainability, against social change or antagonistic.

Traditional farming is driving social change and has made incredible gains in environmental improvement and sustainability. In fact, all segments of Ag are moving more to the middle – saving soil, cutting pesticide and fertilizer applications, reducing carbon footprint – so it is really the rate of change that is at issue.

To continue to feed an additional 9 billion people by 2050 this speed of change will be critical to nourishing an expanding world population. Safe, abundant and affordable food is something that we can all agreement upon and is a core goal for all of the farmers supporting CommonGround.

“There are many misconceptions about agriculture in the media today, and we are working, as we have over the past 35 years, to be a voice for truth in communicating to others about agriculture,” Wilson says, so maybe it is the organized effort and the amplification of the message that is disturbing some who are used to dominating the conversation about food in this nation.

Thanks American Agri-Women for showing continued leadership and thanks for all the farmers supporting this important effort by contributing your hard-earned dollars.

Read more from Corn Commentary here!

GOOD FARMERS AND BAD FARMERS …

Part of our Illinois Commodity Conference agenda was a discussion on the research Illinois Corn has funded with Illinois Beef, Illinois Pork, Illinois Soybeans, and Illinois Farm Bureau.  This is the research that provides a baseline for us, telling us where consumers are, what they think about farmers, and how we can best reconnect with them.

Knowing some of what we were learning from consumers in focus groups and statistical analysis, we sent our interns out to create this video.

This is what people really think about farmers.  The sad fact is, they don’t know much and what they do know is wrong.  And they don’t have to be from Chicago to have incorrect notions … some of these consumers are living in the number one corn producing county in America!

THE THING THAT TOOK MY BREATH AWAY

Today is the day I’ve been waiting for.

Since Sunday, Illinois Corn Growers Association has held a board meeting, a policy meeting, a PAC Auction, an annual meeting, and coordinated the Illinois Commodity Conference. To say we’ve been busy is an understatement and honestly? I just can’t wait to take a really deep breath.

But if you’re a glass half full sort of person, you could also think of all the things we’ve accomplished. Of course, all the day-to-day operations of the board are completed like updates on key issues and action on items that couldn’t wait until January for a vote, but we’ve also discussed where our members stand on things like how the new Farm Bill should operate, that allowing corn-based ethanol to qualify as an advanced biofuel is a priority, and what we think about the Illinois budget. We’ve raised money to allow us to become more politically active next year, helping to support the candidates that support Illinois agriculture. We’ve learned that consumers believe farmers are the most trustworthy source of information about how their food is being produced and hopefully the farmers in Illinois are now motivated to stand up for their way of life.

And in the middle of all this information and action overload, enough to leave me reeling for the next four days, there was one thing that really took my breath away.

Illinois farmers. All of the farmers that spent the last three days with me left their wives and kids and farms at home in someone else’s care in order to donate three days of their lives to better their industry. All of them offered 72 hours of their own time and energy without asking or expecting monetary gain. All of them are family farmers that are concerned enough about the future of their farms and the possibility of their children having the freedom to farm that same land that they want to talk about current events, discuss legislation and policy, and work towards a common goal.

We all want to eat, right? All of these farmers were working towards a common goal with every other American. All of these farmers want legislation, regulation, communications, and actions that better our food supply and give Americans confidence that their food is safe and plentiful.

http://www.youtube.com/v/v4vvPPNyQ5g?fs=1&hl=en_US

This Thanksgiving, I’m in awe of the fathers, husbands, grandfathers, sons, moms, grandmas, and daughters that spent the last three days with me. They are dedicated, tireless, and committed. They believe in the lifestyle handed down to them from their fathers and grandfathers and they work towards perfecting the handiwork that they learned on their mother’s knee. They are smart, engaging, fun, and overall enjoyable to be around.

Thanks to the Illinois Corn Growers Association and the Illinois Corn Marketing Board for teaching me something these last three days about what it means to work hard for something bigger than yourself.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

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CELEBRATE THANKSGIVING WITH PORK!

Forget the gobble gobble – at my house it isn’t Thanksgiving until the ham is sliced. That’s right; our family tradition is to gather around a nice PORK dinner. Yes we have a turkey to maintain the American tradition, but the flavorful ham is the center piece. Growing up on a hog farm, I’m used to spending Thanksgiving being thankful for the fresh ham, bacon, and pork roast that were always available for our table.

pork power food pantry donationFortunately, this Thanksgiving there are quite a few more Illinoisans that can be thankful for fresh meat on their table. Through Pork Power, an effort of the Illinois Pork Producers Association (IPPA) to provide ground pork to food pantries across Illinois, some of the Illinois residents that must get their Thanksgiving meal from a food pantry will receive a little PORK to go with it.
In a partnership between IPPA, the Illinois Corn Marketing Board, and the Illinois Soybean Association, Pork Power has donated more than 42,000 pounds of safe and nutrition ground pork to Feeding Illinois (a group committed to hunger relief and bettering the quality of life in Illinois communities) this year and more than 200,000 pounds of pork over the last three years to feed families in need.
“We are so grateful for this donation of nutritious protein,” said Tracy Smith, State Director for Feeding Illinois. “This donation comes at a critical time with reserves at food banks being very low due to the increase in demand. Food banks have seen on average a 30 percent increase in the number of people seeking food assistance in the past year,” said Smith. “Because of partners like the IL Pork Producers Association, IL Soybean Association, and IL Corn Marketing Board we will be able to put food on the table for thousands of Illinois families.”

So I guess I have yet another thing to be thankful for this year – that Illinois farmers are just as concerned about feeding those in need as they are about feeding themselves. And that in America, even those in need can look forward to a fabulous PORK dish on their Thanksgiving table!

(Check out the awesome pork recipes for your Thanksgiving here!)

Traci Pitstick

Illinois State University student

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THANKS AND GIVING: HISTORY

THANKS AND GIVING: HISTORY

So fun to be guest blogging today at the Corn Corps! I’m in the midst of a month-long series at Prairie Farmer called Thanks and Giving, and when the good folks at Illinois Corn invited me over, I couldn’t resist. Today…giving thanks for our agricultural history.

During the fall of 1998, Mike Wilson sent me out on a photo shoot at an old grain elevator in Atlanta, Illinois. It turned out to be the J.H. Hawes Grain Elevator, and it was on the National Register of Historic Places and it had just gotten a fresh coat of barn red paint. It was a photographer’s dream. The photos wound up being my first-ever cover, and Mike even took me to Pontiac to watch it roll off the printing press. And this one here won the top prize in the AAEA photo contest that year. As a fresh-out-of-the-gate ag journalist, I was giddy.

I love this photo in a very large way – large enough to print it on canvas and hang it where everyone who walks in my house will see it. In part because of the red paint and the majestic lines, but also because of the history it holds. I’m a sucker for a little heritage and a good farm history lesson, and the folks at the J.H. Hawes Grain Elevator Museum are some of the best teachers you’ll ever meet. First, you must check out their website. Don’t skip the intro. I always skip the intros, but not this time. Very cool.

Anyway, you can get the full lesson from the website, but in short, the elevator was state of the art when it was built in 1904. It was abandoned in 1976, and ready to be torched for firefighter practice in 1988. Local citizens stepped in, and saved the building.

What I love, though, is how the thing was built in the first place. In the early 1900s, prairie farmers were producing more and more corn each year, as distant grain markets expanded. Greater trade led to the development of a bulk system for inspection, grading and storage in giant bins, instead of individual sacks. All this made storage facilities along rail lines quite necessary. Mr. Hawes simply took a look at the map and noted that Atlanta was the intersection of two major rail lines – Chicago to St. Louis and Peoria to Decatur. And that’s where he put his elevator.

We have a lot to be thankful for in Illinois agriculture, from perspective to opportunity to time. And on the lighter side, we’ve got farm boys and barn kittens and a cold drink. But it’s our history that will sustain us, and that’s worth being thankful for.

Holly Spangler
Prairie Farmer

WHAT’S SO GREAT ABOUT ILLINOIS AG EDUCATION?

The first blog post celebrating American Education Week talked about Agriculture Education. Illinois has a rich history with our Agriculture Ed Programs, FFA and SAE courses. In addition to other state Ag Education Programs that look to the ‘well oiled machine’ that Illinois has with our Agriculture Ed Program, other Career and Technical Education programs across the nation look to the model that Illinois has built. Career and Technical Education (CTE) may be a new term to you—but these programs exist in nearly every district in the state at the secondary level. You might know them best as former ‘Vocational Education’ programs of Business, Marketing and Computer Education, Family and Consumer Science, Health Science Technology and Technical and Engineering Education. Agriculture classes, Agriculture Education Teacher Training, and expectations in the work force have come a long way and the classes you might have know as Business, Home Economics, and Shop have also come a long way.

One advantage we have in Agriculture is the Agriculture Literacy effort across the state. Illinois houses our Agriculture Literacy within the Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom program. This program combines the efforts of Illinois Farm Bureau, UI Extension, Soil and Water Conservation Districts and commodity groups at the state and local level to deliver high quality agriculture messages to teachers and students outside the traditional High School Agriculture program.
education agriculture classroomIllinois Agriculture in the Classroom (IAITC) can trace its roots to the early 1920’s as the IAA Record has photos and stories of local farmers bringing examples of crops and animals into schools across the state. In 1981, as John Block headed to Washington, he brought the concept of teaching students and teachers about their food, fiber and fuel system to the USDA. IAITC has undergone many changes in the past three decades, most importantly the emphasis of sharing the story of farmers and their work remains in tact.

IAITC is recognized as one of the strongest program in the nations, due in large part to the outstanding support of farmers across the state. Our decentralized distribution system of materials, classroom presentations and teacher training is one of a kind in the US. Each county in Illinois has a county contact, either a paid Agriculture Literacy coordinator or key volunteers that implement the program at the local level. During the 2009-2010 school year 2,899 volunteers assisted in local efforts. Our program is valued in urban, suburban and rural areas. Lack of understanding of the food, fiber and fuel chain exists across the state!

In the last school year, 30,454 teachers utilized IAITC materials in 2,392 attendance centers across the state. 486,610 students were reached with an AITC in classroom presentations. An additional 1,627 Pre-Service Teachers (University students ready to student teach) were presented with materials and training about how to incorporate agriculture into their existing classroom curriculum.
As local school districts become more focused on the ISAT/PSAE high stakes test, at IAITC we’ve worked to find ways to further incorporate agriculture into math, science, social studies and language arts. Teachers are very open to using IAITC materials, especially after they see the size and scope of agriculture. Many only associate agriculture with actual production. When we are able to show processing, research, sales, marketing among other career options teachers begin to see how agriculture has a direct impact on them as well as their students.
The cornerstone of Illinois AITC is our teacher training. Providing teachers with high quality, standards based, scientifically sound agriculture information that can be easily integrated by teacher into existing classroom curriculum is our goal at the state and local level. Although the program has had a mainstay in the elementary classrooms, our program is working to expand to the middle school and high school levels.
How can you get involved? There are multiple volunteer opportunities at the local level. Log on to our website http://www.agintheclassroom.org/ and click on contact your county to see where you could assist. At the state level, consider our ‘Adopt a Classroom’ program. For over 25 years, we’ve paired ‘farm writers’ with classrooms in Chicago in a pen pal program. In this program you can write to a classroom and share what you do on your farm, and share what goes on in Illinois Agriculture.
How are things changing? As teachers gain access to more technology, our AITC program has branched out to include SMART Board related materials, and we’ll be featuring new interactive Ag Mags with video and hot links on our website during the coming school year.
At Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom we are working to spread an accurate message about what it means to be an ‘Illinois Farmer’. Training teachers and working with students can help promote a positive dialogue about agriculture in classrooms and at home.
If you have additional questions, please contact me at kdaugherty@ilfb.org or check out our website!

Kevin Daugherty
Illinois Ag in the Classroom Education Director
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TELLING YOUR STORY AT ILLINOIS COMMODITY CONFERENCE!

I know you’ve been hearing more and more talk of late about social media and why you should get involved. Sure you understand what the issues are, you even understand how we got to this point, but do you really understand how social media can help fix them and why you should be a part of the solution?

This year’s Illinois Commodity Conference will help you navigate through the muddy “social media” waters and point you in the right direction. The theme is Telling Your Story which means that we will focus on getting you engaged in telling YOUR own story and encouraging you to utilize social media to its fullest potential. Why? Because it couldn’t be any easier to do. Conversations are already occurring and all you need is your knowledge and a smart phone to join in!

http://www.youtube.com/v/lFZ0z5Fm-Ng?fs=1&hl=en_US

Research tells us that the non-farm public doesn’t understand us. We are also finding out that consumers want to hear the truth FROM FARMERS. Farmers are considered trustworthy sources of information about farming and food production so we are our own best story tellers. Farmers MUST get engaged. We are less than 2% of the U.S. population. There aren’t enough of us to wait around for the neighbor to do it!

We hope that this conference will leave you feeling motivated and educated to participate in the discussions happening all over the web. The non-farm public does not want to hear from associations or trade groups, they want to hear from you. So your associations are now working together to tell you how to get involved.

If you are not already registered, don’t worry it’s not too late! Click here for a brochure or you can register on site on November 23. Stay tuned to the Illinois Corn’s Facebook page this week as well. You might get lucky enough to win a free registration!

A lot of hard work has gone into this conference and while we hope you have good time learning, we also know that it wouldn’t happen without the help from our sponsors. So I’d like to end with a thank you to our biggest corporate sponsors: Syngenta, Pioneer, and Monsanto!

Becky Finfrock
ICGA/ICMB Communications Assistant

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GET SCHOOLED ON AG EDUCATION DURING AMERICAN EDUCATION WEEK!

This week is American Education Week and for me, education means Agriculture Education. I am currently a junior at the University of Illinois majoring in Agricultural Education so it’s easy for me to see the importance of ag education in schools. Unfortunately this is not the case for most people. When people hear “ag education” they either have no idea what you’re talking about, or they think of blue corduroy jackets. Although agriculture education can be college and continuing education through different programs it is most commonly known as a high school program. Agriculture education is extremely beneficial to students and is about more than just sows, cows and plows.

Agriculture education is broken down into three different overlapping categories, the first of which is classroom instruction. Ag classes are extremely varied from small engines, to horticulture, to ag business. It’s easy for students to find a class that suits their interests and gives them many hands on activities. Unfortunately many ag programs are cut from schools because administrators do not see the importance of the content taught in ag classes. Classes teach important content and life skills that pertain to agriculture, an industry that employs 35% of the workforce in the United States. Ag classes also teach science and math skills applied to real life situations. In horticulture, animal science, or vet tech classes students can learn biology through hands on experiences. Math can be learned through ag business and management classes using real life scenarios. Ag classes can be very beneficial, even for students who don’t think they will have a future on the farm.

The second component of Agriculture Education is Supervised Agricultural Experiences or SAE’s. If you are familiar with SAE’s you are probably groaning right now thinking about hours spent keeping and recording diligent records on a project. That is basically what an SAE is, a project, job or experiment that the student conducts with minimal guidance from their teacher. SAE’s can be almost anything, from building a lawn tractor, to hatching eggs, to working in a vet’s office. Students must then keep records on their experience and have the opportunity to compete with their record book for section, state and national awards. By selecting their own projects students get to gain knowledge in subjects they are interested in and expand on the content they learn in the classroom. SAE’s also teach the responsibility of record keeping and allow students to learn from personal experiences.

The final aspect of Agriculture Education is, of course, FFA. What used to be known as Future Farmers of America is now the National FFA Organization. The FFA is the largest national high school organization and provides endless opportunities to its members. Being involved in FFA gives high schoolers the chance to meet students from a school in the next town over, to a school across the country. Students can be learn how to become great leaders from their peers. They can also compete as teams at Career Development Events or CDE’s that pinpoint their interests. CDE’s can range from the very agricultural livestock judging or dairy foods to the very universal and beneficial public speaking, job interview and parliamentary procedure. These CDE’s allow for friendly competition and a chance for students to hone in their skills in the areas that interest them the most. FFA provides students with priceless opportunities that prepare them for the future with leadership skills, career development and working with peers.

Agriculture education can be a vital part any school curriculum and greatly benefits high school students. Whether a student comes from an agricultural background or not, or plans to go into agriculture or not, they can greatly benefit from the opportunities available through agriculture education. Throughout American Education Week keep in mind how important it is to educate youth about agriculture. Agriculture education represents a wide range of subjects and skills that can be learned in and out of a classroom from teachers, peers and the students themselves. It is important to support Ag programs in our schools to give students the opportunity to be the future of the agriculture industry.

Sarah Carson
University of Illinois student
majoring in Ag Education
 
 
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