GRATITUDE, FOOD PRICES, and WORLD HUNGER

Growing up, my parents preached quite a few life lessons to us. Their favorites included the value of hard work, importance of good character, essentialness of polite manners and, their absolute favorite, gratitude.

Food left on my plate, I’m full and want to be excused from the table? “There are hungry little boys and girls out there that would eat that right up.”

I’d like a cell phone because I’m one of three in the entire class without one? “You don’t need one. Be grateful for what you’ve got.”

At sixteen, I don’t want to drive the old farm truck to school, because everyone else’s parents are buying them newer vehicles? “You should be grateful we’re giving you a vehicle to drive. I had to mow lawns for 25 cents an hour to save up for mine.”

Much like my grumblings growing up, as food prices have quickly risen over the past few years, there are more and more grumblings about it. Some of those grumblings are directed at the farmer. The farmer, who in reality, receives only 11.6 cents of every dollar spent on food.

food dollar, food prices, how much does the farmer get?

Even though we’re spending more on food, over the last eighty years we’ve spent less of our disposable income on it. This means that our disposable income has increased faster than food prices have. In recent years, despite food prices rising faster than before, the percent of our disposable income spent on food has been consistent.

food prices, food dollar,

Why are we grumbling about food prices?

Let’s compare the United States to the rest of the world. Referencing statistics by the U.S. Census Bureau on the percentage of household expenditures that were spent on food at home (no data was found containing worldwide information about the amount spent at home and away from home), the United States is the lowest on the chart with just 6.8% of household expenditures spent on food at home. Like many developed countries, we eat out quite often. Combining expenditures spent at home and away from home puts our total food expenditures at about 9 to 10%. Let’s compare that 10% to countries such as Azerbaijan, Norway, Algeria, Belarus, Indonesia, Ukraine, Jordan and Mexico—all of whom spend more than 40% of their total expenditures on food. Forty percent!

We’re looking pretty good, aren’t we?

In the world we live in, over 925 million people go hungry. “In round numbers there are 7 billion people in the world. Thus, with an estimated 925 million hungry people in the world, 13.1 percent, or almost 1 in 7 people are hungry” (World Hunger).

hunger, food prices, world hunger

Why are we grumbling about food prices?

We shouldn’t be. This is one of those situations that calls for taking a step back, looking at everything we have and getting an attitude of gratitude. Is it still a little painful to have to dole out that extra cash while grocery shopping? Sure. But, like my experiences with wanting to be excused from the dinner table with food still on my plate, wanting a cell phone and a nicer vehicle, this pain of not always getting what we want will provide the opportunity to look around and become grateful for everything we’ve got.

erin ehnle, grateful, thankful

Erin Ehnle
Illinois Central College student
Keeping It Real: Through the Lens of a Farm Girl

IMPORTANCE OF AG YOUTH ORGANIZATIONS

With FFA week only a short time behind us, I had a wonderful chance to reflect on the opportunities that I have had thanks to this agricultural youth organization.  I may have grown up on my family’s farm but when I was entering high school, I wanted nothing to do with farming or even in a broader sense – agriculture.

As it is said, father knows best and I was pressured into taking the Introduction to Agriculture class at Raymond-Lincolnwood High School my freshman year and join the FFA. I soon found myself struggling through the questions for greenhand quizbowl (a freshman contest on FFA trivia). This pressure turned into motivation after we managed to win beating Sullivan in what was then Section 19, I vowed never to turn down an opportunity with the FFA and in Ag.

As high school went on I grew sweet corn and other fresh produce. I raised turkeys which I marketed locally for the holidays. I traveled throughout the state of Illinois, but most importantly I found a passion for agriculture. After finishing my senior year as the Section 15 President, I had done a 180 degree shift from four years prior. No longer did I want to study political science and go into politics but I wanted to study and become a part of agriculture.

Now as I am just a few months away from completing my bachelor’s degree in agricultural systems at Southern, I have come to realize that there are several people who I owe gratitude to. One man in particular recently lost a battle with cancer. That man was my high school agriculture teacher, FFA adviser and friend.

Wallie Helm chose to take a struggling freshman to that contest. I often wonder where I would be had I not had that experience. What I hope that we can take away is the importance of our high school agriculture teachers all across our state. Collectively they expose a large pool of students to the opportunities available in agriculture.  It is important that we all encourage youth through 4-H and FFA to explore agriculture through hands-on experience, science projects, leadership enhancement and professional development.  It may be cliché but we must constantly be preparing our youth because they are our future.

Thomas Marten
Senior in Agricultural Systems
Southern Illinois University

HERE’S TO NATIONAL CHILI DAY

Recently, a family classic celebrated its own special day on February 23rd—National Chili Day.   So… why all the attention on chili?  Turns out, chili is an ancient recipe that has been handed down through generations and is stewed in several different cultures as a dinner favorite.  Last fall, I went to the farmer’s market and bought my beans, tomatoes, onion, garlic, green pepper, and fresh cheese for a great price while supporting my local farmers. Another plus of making great chili includes the option to use exotic ingredients from all over the world.  For example, some chili recipes call for alligator meat or the extremely spicy habanero pepper, which we usually import from other countries. Chill offers the freedom of creativity—experimenting with fun ingredients may help enhance that “yum” factor.

Getting creative with your chili takes time.  As an avid chili maker, I would recommend start simple. Add some tasty vegetables or experiment with brown sugar (adds a smoke-like, sweet taste), chopped hot peppers (for that 5-alarm effect), or some crushed corn chips (adds texture).  Made your chili too hot? Add some milk to help mask the burn.  Substituting meats can also be a great simple change. While some chili calls for ground beef, I like to use ground turkey or chicken since it is a little leaner.  As you become accustomed to how ingredients can change how viscosity, taste, and appearance you can begin to experiment even more and coin your very own secret chili recipe.

Ingredients for Mom’s Crockpot Turkey Chili:

2 cans kidney beans                            1 large 28 oz can of canned tomatoes with juice, puree

1 lb ground turkey burger                  3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

3T chili powder                                    1 green sweet bell pepper

1T brown sugar                                    ½ onion

Cheese or sour cream for taste         cooking spray

1) Spray skillet with cooking spray, cook meat. Add onion, pepper, and garlic and cook until tender.

2) Empty beans into crock pot (set on high). Add tomatoes, brown sugar, and chili powder. Stir and add meat and veggie mix. Stir again and cook for 4 hours.

3) Add cheese or sour cream after cooking. Garnish with some garlic bread. Bon Appetite!

Lauren Smith
University of Illinois Food Science student

FRIDAY FARM PHOTO: NATIONAL FFA WEEK

To celebrate National FFA Week, the students at Heyworth High School in Heyworth, IL, held a petting zoo for the non-farm kids to learn a little something about what they do.  Here are a few pictures of a local daycare visiting the animals, as you can see, the kids loved it!

LESSON FROM AG COMM EVENT

Last week I was given the opportunity to attend the Agricultural Communications Symposium in Champaign, IL.  It was a great opportunity for a college student such as myself, because I got to hear numerous professionals speak about ag communications and what they have learned in their years of experience. While I learned a lot at the event, there was one statement that I thought was a great take-home message from the day. During the last panel, Kristina Boone from Kansas State University made a great point:

“We all know our beliefs, but we need to know our facts.”

What a short but noteworthy point! How many times have I tried to make the point that everyone is entitled to their opinion or beliefs, but before forming said beliefs people need to do some research? Her statement really hit home for me and I thought it was worth sharing.

No matter how opinionated people are… you can’t argue the facts. Even when researching information on a topic, people often disregard facts that disagree with their current opinion. The fact of the matter is that there are facts out there that can support almost any argument, but we must take ALL of the facts into consideration in order to be making an informed judgment. Especially when it comes to the food we are choosing to buy, it is incredibly important to be an informed consumer!

So I encourage you to form your own opinions and stick to your beliefs… but know your facts first.

For more on this event, check out Holly Spangler’s blog, Is Agriculture Waiting to Talk?

Rosie Sanderson
Illinois State University Student
http://unpolishedboots.blogspot.com/

HOG FARMING HAS COME A LONG WAY!

Thanks to the Ohio Pork Producers Council for this great look at hog farming today vs a few years ago.

Did you know that corn farmers rely on vibrant livestock markets too?  Nationally, livestock is still the number one market for corn so when hog farmers do well, corn farmers do well.

Illinois Corn is then very interested in helping consumers learn more about where there food comes from – not only their corn meal, but also their beef, pork, poultry, and even veggies!  Agriculture is an entwined industry and its hard to separate one segment from the other.

Still have more questions on where your food comes from and how the farmers in IL grow it?  Check out www.watchusgrow.org!

REVOLUTIONING WORLDWIDE TRADE

The Panama Canal Authority exists to produce maximum sustained benefit from (their) geographic position. It’s a geographic position that nations, traders, and explorers have hoped to maximize through the ages.

The U.S. transferred their authority of the Panama Canal back to the Panamanian government in 1997. At that time, studies indicated that the Canal would be at its maximum capacity for transit traffic by the year 2011. The Panamanian Government decided at that time that they weren’t interested in the canal infrastructure losing the potential for added use.

Interestingly enough, the need to expand the canal was known decades ago. The U.S. Government actually started working on the third shipping lane back in 1939, stopping work in 1942 because of WWII. So the Panama Canal Authority used those plans from the 1930s to start the work that has become the current Canal Project.

(In fact, the Panama Canal was designed to handle US Navy ships, like the Texas and New Jersey. They were the “Panamax”class ships of the time.)

The expansion will be complete by 2014, the 100 year anniversary of the opening of the Canal. The project is funded by both public and private investments. The project cost is expected to cost $5.25 Billion, funded roughly in half by a tax in Panama approved by the voters. The other half is provided through an international investment package.

Unheard of in the U.S., the entire project will be completed in a decade. Ten years, start to finish, from design and planning to full opening. It’s been joked (although there’s much truth in this joke) that this entire project will be finished in the time it takes the U.S. to finish a feasibility study.

What does this mean to the average person? Well, it means absolutely nothing in a direct sense. But it’s this kind of incredible engineering and planning that allows us to have our iPads and other widgets, it allows US commodities to access worldwide markets; it means less fuel consumed promising a lower environmental impact. It means jobs. Period. It’s hard to imagine, but it’s a pretty simple formula of a worldwide system that does reach into the home of the average U.S. system.

It’s a bit disturbing, too, that such a phenomenal piece of work can be completed so quickly and efficiently in a third world nation. We have the capacity in the U.S., too, but we just can’t get it done. How frustrating is that?

Tricia Braid
ICGA/ICMB Communications Director

GROWING MINDS FOR IL’S #1 INDUSTRY

If you didn’t know, this week plays host to a major event in the educational scene.  The American Association of School Administrators will hold its annual National Conference on Education in Houston, Texas on February 16th through 19th.  In celebration of this event, I would like to highlight recent strides in agricultural education at a Chicago high school and how agricultural literacy can be incorporated into a variety of core subject classrooms.

Last week Illinois Governor Pat Quinn paid a visit to Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences where he announced legislation which would boost enrollment at the school by 120 students (there’s a link to that article here).Illinois   Yes, you read that last sentence right; there is a high school in the middle of Chicago that centers its entire curriculum on agriculture. Not only do students study the basic core subjects (English, Science, and Math), but they also learn how to apply those concepts to agriculture.  Governor Quinn sees the promise in the school and he is pushing for more education in Illinois’s #1 industry: Agriculture.  In fact, the industry accounts for nearly a quarter of all jobs  in the state.

The campus may have the only working farm left within the  Chicago city limits; however, that doesn’t mean these students are learning to become farmers. The students choose from five pathways (animal science, agricultural mechanics, food science, horticulture/landscape design, urban farmingand agricultural finance) that allow them to personalize their education to something they are interested in.   Some students become doctors, engineers, accountants, and even chefs (you can find a link to a story about a one student’s story here).

To learn about business, the students run a farm stand at the Navy Pier Flower and Garden Show with the fruits and vegetables they grow on-site. These same fruits and vegetables are used in the school’s commercial kitchen to learn about the chemistry of food.  In biology class the students give a dog a workout in order to track its heart rate.  All of these instances are incorporating general education topics, but they are giving context to the task.

With this hands-on approach to education, it’s no surprise that students are enjoying what they are learning and it shows long-term.  Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences boasts a 92% graduation rate with 83% of those kids going on to college. That number is well above that of other Chicago Public Schools and schools statewide.  The students are not only being prepared to graduate, but to eventually have the skills necessary to successfully join the workforce too.

If this method of teaching is successful at this school, shouldn’t other schools be investigating ways to incorporate agriculture into their curriculum?  Through programs like Agriculture in the Classroom, elementary students are learning about Illinois’s #1 industry one classroom at a time, but shouldn’t these students have the opportunity to put context to their core education? The incorporation of agricultural literacy on a daily basis provides a not only a hands-on method to enrich the students’ learning, but also prepares the students for a future career that as many as a quarter of them will be engaged in someday.

elizabeth harfstLiz Harfst
Joliet Junior College student