I dare you to work together. That is the opportunity posed to Illinois agriculture, and we accept.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates only two percent of the U.S. population is comprised of farm and ranch families. That means 98 percent of the people around us are not necessarily familiar with modern production agriculture. With that in mind, Illinois corn and soybean farmers and beef and pork producers are always looking for opportunities to join together and help educate consumers about their food and how and where food is produced.
With funding from the soybean checkoff (financial contributions from all Illinois soybean farmers), we participate in a wide range of activities. The list includes talking to Chicago area moms about agriculture, working with teachers and students in the classroom, and going into grocery stores and answering shopper questions about the food they purchase.
One great project that represents a cross-section of Illinois agriculture is Illinois Farm Families. ISA helps lead the effort. Through Illinois Farm Families, farmers from around the state open their doors to consumers and show how they grow safe, healthy food for all families. And considering that about half of Illinois soybeans are fed to hogs, chickens, and cattle, along with corn, Illinois crop farmers play a significant role in growing food for consumer tables.
As part of Illinois Farm Families, Chicago-area moms are getting their food questions answered by those of us who grow it. We call them “Field Moms.” These city moms have been out to visit our farms and meet our families. They are learning firsthand about farm chemicals, pesticides, the environment, animal care, hormones, and antibiotics, while also uncovering the commonalities they share with farm families.
One of their activities is to grow soybeans on their back porches this year as part of a Field Moms’ Acre project. The Field Moms are caring for and watering their container soybeans to mimic the production season of soybeans planted on an acre at Ron and Deb Moore’s farm in western Illinois. Field Moms will see firsthand how soybeans grow. After they see the soybeans on the Moore farm harvested this fall, proceeds from the acre will be donated to charity.
Another great example of Illinois crop and livestock producers working together is through the “Pork Power: Partnering to Fight Hunger in Illinois” campaign. Ground pork is periodically donated to the eight regional food banks associated with Feeding Illinois, with support from the Illinois Pork Producers Association, Illinois Corn Marketing Board, Illinois soybean checkoff and cash donations from pork producers and consumers. The more than 256,000 pounds of pork donated since 2008 amounts to more than one million servings for families throughout Illinois and helps raise awareness of the ongoing problem of hunger in our state along the way.
These are just a couple of examples of how Illinois agriculture works together to talk to consumers about the food they eat. We dare to work together! We all want consumers to understand their food is safe and nutritious. Our families eat it, too.
Illinois Soybean Association chairman and soybean farmer from Shirley, IL