MY QUACKY-Y PETS

About 20 miles outside Normal, IL lies a small town of 600 people called Danvers. I grew up on the outskirts with my Mom and Dad, Sister, two dogs and a large amount of barn cats that stayed in our shed. When I was little, I would call out to the cats and kittens every morning before school and they would run up to the house like something was chasing them. They were special to me and watching after them taught me the importance of responsibility.

Then when I was in 6th grade I came home from school, walked in the kitchen and smelled something that reminded me of woodchips and sawdust. My Mom was bent over a large shoebox and I heard a faint “Peep Peep” coming from inside. When I leaned over I saw six ducklings, eating some small green pellets the hatchery sent with them. “They came all the way from California! We’re going to use them for eggs and maybe you can even show them in the county fair!” My Mom said. She let me hold a couple, they were so delicate in the palm of my hand and I couldn’t wait for them to grow.

And sure enough in just a week they were double their size and we had to move them to an old baby pool in our basement so they would fit. By one month we had a pen built for them outside, complete with a little house my Dad built from old pieces of our machine shed. I was in charge of morning chores (changing their bedding and checking food/water) and my sister took the night shift. Together we collected the eggs we used for baking and took care of them all on our own. I would be sitting outside reading a book and the most outgoing male, which we named Tucker, would just come up and sit on my lap, just like a cat!

ducks

Then one day I came home from school and went to check on the ducks and cats. When I walked up I saw one of our ducks, Violet, had gotten her neck stuck underneath the pen. I could tell she was struggling to break free and her beak was jammed underneath the wood frame. I ran to my Dad and we carefully loosened her neck and brought her inside. We took a tub, lined it with warm towels and propped her neck up. I sat there all night with some feed mixed with water and sugar, trying to somehow nurse her back to health. We did everything we possibly could, My Mom even called our veterinarian but there was heavy nerve damage and there was nothing more we could do. I could tell she was getting weaker and the brace I fashioned from athletic tape wasn’t working. Eventually she passed and I cried for a long time, I had raised her on my own and thinking back to when they were just little balls of fuzz in my hand I remembered how fragile life is. I cared for Violet just has much as my household pets.

Time went by fast, and before I knew it I was a sophomore in high school, we still have two of the six ducks from the little shoebox, and about twenty more! My sister and I showed them in the county fair during the summer (she always seemed to win Grand Champion) and we collected eggs and sold them to various family members and friends. The workload increased but it became something that brought us all together. I loved working with the ducks and they were a part of our family. The experience taught me the circle of life, responsibility and most of all that love comes in all shapes and sizes.

sombeckEmily Sombeck
Illinois State University Student

MYTH OF THE MODERN FARMER

Originally posted on Fit to Farm blog

My sister and I talk about this one often. You see a post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Yahoo News, etc. promoting the hardworking farmer. It makes us feel good to be in the industry and generally, it’s as far as you want to look. Then scrolling down to the comments, you see the standard post that “those farmers are good, but real farmers don’t work hard like that anymore, they just let the antibiotics/robots/pesticides do the work for them, and collect a big pay check.”

While the part about the big paycheck might be comical, those types of comments are a problem that we often run into. As individual farmers, consumers see us as the hardworking person, who gets the job done. Each one of us is the exception to the rule of “corporate farmers,” or “Big Ag.” However, our industry as a whole is viewed as corrupt, run by the executives of Monsanto in some high-rise office building. How can we use technology in our farming, and not seem like the bad guy?

When talking to people, they will defend my right to farm the way they believe I do to the death. They tell me that I am unique in that I don’t abuse my animals, and use antibiotics responsibly. If friends post a picture that demeans agriculture, they even will go out of their way to tell me that my farm is the exception. My job at this point is to get them to realize, my farm isn’t the exception, and it is the rule.

As Farmers, we take responsibility for providing good, quality food to our own families, neighbors, and larger communities. We believe the food we produce is safe and we try to produce it in the best way that we can. Part of that care is treating those who are sick, and euthanizing animals that are suffering. We house our animals inside to protect them from bad weather, and provide them a stable environment. We use technology to help us achieve a consistent product, something our consumers demand.

We don’t have to look far to start to spread the message of responsible farming. It’s just not something we have had to do much in the past, so we don’t always understand some of the questions. By ignoring the myths that live around agriculture, we are letting them grow. People who don’t know will follow the popular opinion. We are no longer just farmers, but also educators.

PLAN YOUR GARDEN!

“Inch by inch, row by row.
Gonna make this Garden Grow.
All it needs is a rake and a hoe
and a piece of fertile ground”

Whenever springtime would come around I would help my mom plant the seeds in the garden.  It was quite a joy to be able to plant the land, tend it and watch it grow to the point where it bared fruit or flowers.  The reason I put those lyrics up is because we also use to sing this song while we were planting.  It made the hard work more enjoyable.

There is quite a bit of planning that goes into the care of one’s garden.  There is the choice in the plants you wish to use, if they are the seeds of the plant or a start that is already growing, but still very young.

After your seeds or start plants have been chosen then it comes to the tending of the land.  In most parts of the Midwest there has been snow covering the ground over the winter season.  The ground has become very compact and some tilling is needed to loosen up the soil before the seeds can be planted.  That way the plant has the best possible environment to grow in.

Once the land is loosened up it is time to plant your seeds!  The packaging usually tells you proper depths and space needed for the plant to expand while it matures.  After the plant is in the ground a person needs to decide if fertilizer needs to be added to the plant to help it grow.  There are a number of options such as the use of compost, Miracle Grow® or specific hormones for that plant.

There is a difference in the types of fertilizers that you might use from what farmer’s use in their fields.  They are adding Nitrogen and Phosphorus, which has been depleted from the soil from the previous harvest.  You might need to add fertilizer too in order to make your garden healthy and strong; it will depend on what types of plants you are growing and if you grew anything in that location last year.

Agrarian crops are usually harvested in a dried or dead state, like a farmer harvests corn.  This allows for better storage and can be fed to livestock for added protein.  Horticulture crops, such as those produced in the garden are harvested in a living state.  They usually have higher water content and are very perishable.

If you are still considering if you are going to plant a garden and don’t feel like you have the space to do it, remember to always start small. You can grow your favorite kind of tomatoes in a flower box and then expand the next year.  Just remember to plant with a little love and watch it grow into something amazing and delicious!

blindt ellenEllen Blindt
Illinois State University student

REACHING WOMEN WITH AN AGRICULTURAL MESSAGE

Let me begin by saying my dad is a third generation farmer, I participated in 4H for years, and I was a county fair queen. People would assume I am a fountain of knowledge on all things agriculture. Heck, I grew up in a town named Farmersville! But for years I got by on saying I was a farm girl without ever knowing what it meant to a farm girl. Then I started an internship in which I was responsible for informing women about agriculture. This past January, I took over the Facebook page “She’s Country.” When I started, the previous administrator had done a wonderful job of building her audience, tailoring her content to fit her fans’ interests, and really promoting agriculture. “She’s Country” already had a solid audience of 1,692 fans.

To inform my audience of country-lovin’, ag-supporting Facebook fans, I first had to inform myself. Without further ado, here is the story of how I became a more educated member of society that I hope women everywhere can relate to.

Day 1 of my internship: Wait a second, people use Facebook to do more than creep on people they barely know? Gulp. Just post about something you know, Lauren! Cue Miss America fact.

Day 2:  Oh boy, my page’s description says I need to reach moms and grandmothers. Hmmm… a family bucket list?

she's country postDay 5: I’m all about empowering women. Where’s the information about women in agriculture at? Ah ha! Women make up 50% of farmers worldwide. If they were given the same resources as men, we could feed nearly 150 million more people!

Day 10, 11, 12, 13. . . :  DIY projects and decorating sound like fun ideas. Hello, ombre walls and adorable Valentine’s Day treat bags!

Day 35: It’s National FFA Week. Duh, Lauren. Tell everyone how females make up 44% of the FFA membership and 50% of state level offices!

Day 40: Eek! Not so great feedback at my midterm meeting. Kick up the country in She’s Country! More ag, less artsy.

Day 41: Think, Lauren, think! Agriculture is EVERYWHERE, but how can I reach people who aren’t interested in increasing yields or incorporating the latest cell phone technology into life on the farm? Farm Bureau and county extension offices will probably have some great resources. Blog sites could be useful if I do a little fact-checking.

Shes CountryFrom that day on, I made it my goal to not simply post DIY projects or pretty pictures of fields, but rather, to educate myself and, in turn, educate my fans. As much as we would like to believe it, not every woman in America wants to know that agriculture supports nearly 23 million jobs. What they may want to know, however, is whether high fructose corn syrup is going to cause their children to become obese. And while they might not crave information about how Starbucks uses 93 million gallons of milk each year, women do respond to surprising facts about agriculture. It’s my hope that when non-farm women see facts about products they use every day, they will be inspired to learn more.

It’s important that we don’t force-feed women facts. Rather, we should help give women the tools to inform themselves by providing resources such as links to various websites like www.ilcorn.org, articles from national newspapers that cover current agricultural matters (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/03/17/women-farmers-increasing/1993009/), or websites/blogs that provide a balanced and well-researched approach to controversial issues like the labeling of genetically modified foods (http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/foodnut/09371.html). One of my favorite ways non-farm women are able to inform themselves is through Farm Bureau’s “Field Moms,” which allows for mothers from the Chicago area to visit a family farm, meet real farmers, and learn about where their food actually comes from.

Since I began posting more relatable agriculture content, I’ve seen my fan base grow to nearly 2,000. The faithful followers of “She’s Country” hale from all over the world, but I’m most proud when I see my highest numbers come from Chicago. Although I probably won’t be taking over my dad’s farm anytime soon, I can now confidently say I’m a few steps closer to actually being a farm girl.

Lauren MurphyLauren Murphy
Illinois State University graduate student

ON FARM PETS AND UNDERSTANDING THE CIRCLE OF LIFE

Life on the farm always meant lots of animals.

I remember one fall when my dad inadvertently killed a mama bunny with the combine when harvesting the corn.  Somehow, he found the nest and brought all those baby bunnies home for me to raise and play with.  What’s more fun than a box of baby bunnies?

I remember one spring when my dad and Alex (our hired man) found a den of baby foxes that had lost their mother on the busy road.  Picture an older, overweight man trying to outrun a handful of baby foxes with lots of sliding and falling in the loose dirt in the field.  I was old enough at this point to die laughing at the scene.  We eventually called a nature conservancy who came and got them.

I remember brisk evenings, just after school started, spent cleaning out the dog kennels and remarking the puppy’s ears.  My dad had hunting dogs and we sold a few litters when I was in high school.  Puppies add a lot of chores to the mix, but they certainly are so cute and cuddly that you almost don’t mind.

barn kittiesBut most of all, I remember summers – endless summers – with the barn cats and their kittens that seemed to proliferate our farm.

I’m a fan of names and I guess I always have been.  As a little girl, my first cat was Custard (Strawberry Shortcake had a cat named Custard too) but in the years that followed I had Lucretia, Athena, Abby, Grant, Quincy, Callie, Percy, Otis, Rambo and Sambo. We even had Pancake and Fuzzy, though my grandma named those.  And I’m sure a host of others that didn’t live long enough for me to remember.

Yes, I spent countless hours with each of those as kittens, petting, playing house, sometimes bottle feeding, and reading.  I also spent days watching pregnant mama-cats waddle across the farm, anticipating the arrival of litters of kittens, and then, seeing that same Mama scrawny and droopy days later, spent hours searching for that litter of kittens to find what colors and patterns she’d delivered.

I loved every single one of those barn cats.

But there were so many kittens that died.  So many that got up inside the motor of a vehicle that they shouldn’t have been in, so many that wandered too close to harvest and the whir of the combine, so many that were simply cast out by their mama-cats instead of being nursed and loved.

In this way, I learned early about life and death.  Life is a gift to be anticipated and full of excitement, just like finding that litter of kittens.  Death is inevitable; to be mourned and always expected, just like the runt that mama-cat turns away.

These days, there is a lot of talk about farmers not caring for their animals and treating them inhumanely.  There is talk about meat eaters, killing animals for their dinner plates.  There is talk about hunters who make sport out of harvesting animals from the countryside.

But I think the problem is that people have lost track of the circle of life.  They’ve forgotten that death is inevitable and expected.  Maybe they have come to view death as something to fear because of a lack of faith rather than something to rejoice.

As a child growing up on the farm, each death was mourned.  And each death was expected.  It wasn’t cruel or unusual, it just was.

I carry this understanding with me today as an adult and I believe it’s the perspective from this lifetime of farm pets that makes me question conventional thinking.  Harvesting pigs or cattle isn’t something to be scared of, it just is.  It’s not cruel or unusual and it is certainly not inhumane.

Death is as much as part of life as is the act of being born.

Maybe the point is that farmers and their families aren’t heartless.  Yes, each farm kid has a painful lesson to learn when his prize winning steer, the calf he raised and halter broke and spent the summer with, turns into dinner, but it’s just a fact of life.

Animals are born.  Animals die.  Just like people.  It is inevitable and expected.  And never fun.  It just is.

It is the circle of life.

Lindsay MitchellLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

NO BACON? SAY IT AIN’T SO!

Mistakes happen. As humans, it’s impossible for us to be perfect. I understand that and normally I can accept it. But with the latest food recall, I am having a really hard time living with the reality. If you haven’t seen it already, bacon has been recalled (see below for FDA release).

recalled bacon

You read that right. BACON HAS BEEN RECALLED. And not just one manufacturer has pulled it from their line, they ALL have. To make matters worse, from the sounds of it, it could be a very long time before you see that breakfast staple back on your grocers’ shelves.

I’ve always been thankful to be from a farm family, but never have I been more so than right now. Luckily, I know how to butcher my own hogs and I won’t have to utilize the support and withdrawal groups that are sure to come from this.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE –  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is announcing a voluntary recall of all bacon and bacon products produced from December 12, 2012 to March 31, 2013 due to possible contamination with Escherichia coli O121 bacteria (“E. Coli O121”).

Symptoms of the illness include mild to severe diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Blood is often seen in the stool. Usually little or no fever is present. Although most healthy adults can recover completely within 5-10 days, certain individuals can develop a complication called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) which can cause the kidneys to fail. HUS is most likely to occur in young children and the elderly. The condition could lead to serious kidney damage and even death.

Food safety and the safety of American consumers is of paramount importance. Since discovering that illnesses may be linked to these products, we have been working quickly and extensively with the Food Safety Inspection Service at USDA.  We also are working as fast as possible to investigate and identify the possible source of contamination. We will be keeping all customers and the public fully informed as we learn more in the coming days, but we are afraid this may be a very lengthy investigation. 

All distributors and retailers who have received the products in question have been notified and have been directed to remove and destroy the affected product.

A special hotline has been created for consumers who have purchased these products and have any questions.  Call 1-888-662-2266 (888-NO BACON) 8 am to 8 pm EST Monday through Friday.