EYES WIDE OPEN

“Do you want to understand what the label on your food really means? You’re not alone. Visiting a local farm can really give you some insight on how your food gets from farm to table.” 

This article originally posted here, on WatchUsGrow.org by Illinois Farm Families.

Cow

I’m a millennial mom, one of 9 million other moms born between 1978-1994 who have been widely covered in research and, therefore, genius marketing ploys. I’ve seen and been a part of a plethora of market research that has tried to convince me of one thing or another when it comes to our food and nutrition choices. But, also characteristic of millennials, I’m voraciously independent and committed to getting my own facts.

Enter “City Mom” and “Illinois Farm Families.” IFF has invited moms from the Chicagoland area to visit a variety of farms for a behind-the-scene look at how our food is grown. I first heard about this unique opportunity from a good friend and “City Mom” alumnae, who suggested I apply when I was complaining about all the new trends, advice, research, and information that always seems to come my way.

As a mom of four small, energetic, adorable, crazy and exhausting children, it’s hard to know what is right and who to believe when it comes to food choices. There is the dreaded “mom guilt,” the crazy documentaries on Netflix, and let’s not forget that my computer seems to magically pop-up with advertisements from my most recent Google search. I often find myself questioning the motives and people around me. “City Moms” is a perfect way for me to have a first hand experience with those who grow and provide my family with food.

When I was one of the lucky moms selected to be a part of this program, I was thrilled and couldn’t wait for the tours to begin. I planned on asking the hard questions and showing how informed and concerned I am about what they are doing to our food. I must admit that my view on Illinois farms was a perspective of “big, bad, corporate, Monsanto-run farms.” And I’ll also admit I wasn’t sure the farmers would like my protective momma bear approach. Regardless, I was a mom on a mission – a mission to go in and see for myself.

Our first tour was at a local Mariano’s grocery store where we learned how they source their produce, meat, and seafood. We had a chance to meet some of the farmers, ask some difficult questions to a registered nutritionist, and spend some time talking with other moms. We all had lots questions about the food we buy and what we put on the table for our families. Jodi, the registered dietitian, offered a lot of insight on food labels and opened my eyes to marketing ploys and all the advertisement that goes into it. Don’t worry; I’ll fill you in on those in my next post.

All in all, I left with a few new and different thoughts that were quite unexpected:

1. 97% of Illinois farms are FAMILY run farms. Yes, read that again: Family run farms. They are not corporate EVIL factory farms contrary to what the media and Facebook posts have led me to believe. They are families like my own: families trying to make a living, families working hard, families who have been portrayed in such a negative way. Their story is not like the documentaries on Netflix. They are normal, and normal does not make for good TV.

2. As I drove home, it occurred to me that the farmers and their families are no different than I am. They are normal moms just like me. Moms who want to make good decisions and choices for their kids and grandkids. They are motivated and just as concerned as I am about putting nutritious and healthy food on the table. Sure some farms have the title of being a “corporation,” but it’s for tax purposes like my brother-in-law and his small business. They are still a family run farm that is working hard to provide.

In all honesty, while I can say I’ve now met some local farmers, I still have not yet been on an actual Illinois family farm. I also still have a lot of questions and concerns, but I do feel like my eyes have been opened to a new side of things, and a perspective I’m excited to see in person. I’m excited to go with in with my eyes wide open.

THE NEW KID ON THE FARM

“Where is the restroom?” I would be lying if I said I didn’t ask that question on my first day. My name is Hannah Zeller and I am the new Communications Assistant here at Illinois Corn.

I am a graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale with a bachelor’s degree in Speech Communications. Previously I worked in property management with The Snyder Companies in Bloomington, IL.

While my farm experiences are limited I have spent my whole life in rural America, living right here in the Corn Belt. Because of this, agriculture has always been an interest of mine. The Ag industry has been around since the beginning of time, and will continue to be a big part of the future. I like to think of this as job security.

I look forward to learning and expanding my knowledge of the industry. I hope to gain further knowledge on the types of products produced locally in Illinois and what those products are used for.

As well as gaining knowledge, I hope to network and build relationships with fellow Agriculture employees and enthusiast like myself.

I look forward to my opportunity here, and to become a new Corn Corps contributor.

Hannah ZellerHannah Zeller
Communications Assistant
IL Corn

JOBS AND CAREERS IN AGRICULTURE

Food, clothing, and shelter: the three most vital components of human life. Agriculture is the sole system that supports day-to-day living. It is safe to assume that a career in agriculture is a safe bet, but how does the new generation go about pursuing a career in this field? The “traditional” farmer is 57 years old (according to the USDA census) and standing on his front porch with overalls and a pitchfork. A professor at the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale has taken some time to provide pointers to college-aged students pursuing a career in agriculture.

Q: How are “traditional” careers in agriculture changing?planted keyboard

A: Like every industry, agriculture is becoming more technologically advanced. We need more computer wizzes and less tractor drivers.  It is important to have an idea of technology in every field. For example, it is good to know a little bit about genetics and some about precision agriculture. Agriculture is also becoming more international. Rather than America providing for America, we are competing with Brazil for exports and doing some trading along the way.

Q: What careers are available for students in agriculture?aquaculture

A: Students that come from a farm have a better chance at getting involved in production agriculture [growing crops and livestock]. While we will always need farmers, the demand for out-of-the-box agriculture [related careers] is increasing. Things like aquaculture [the farming of fish, oysters, etc.] and organics are really popular right now. The niche markets are booming.

Q: How do students without an agriculture background get involved?

A: They meet people. They [students] start out in fashion and live with an agriculture student and by the next semester they have changed their major. Some, however, just become interested in the field and that’s what they decide to do.

Q: How do students with and agriculture backgrounds compare to students without?

A: While they do not differ much, people who grew up on a farm are not open-minded to new ways to accomplish a task. They do things the way dad did them and dad did them the way grandpa did them. It’s not a bad thing, but sometimes it sacrifices efficiency.

Q: What will be a future trend for students pursuing a career in agriculture?

A: Less connection to production, more connection to the food. Suddenly, America seems to be more concerned about the safety of what they consume. It hasn’t ever been not safe, but now they are getting curious about hormones, antibiotics, and genetically modified crops. We need more people willing to work with the retail side of the market. Connections with the consumers is becoming more important.

Q: Are there enough young people interested in agricultural careers?

A: Yes, as long as students understand that agriculture is not [limited to] farming. Its food, consumers, the environment, natural resources, and wildlife. It is much broader than what it used to be, and with good reason.

Alexialexis rothrocks Rothrock

Southern Illinois University

A LITTLE FARM POETRY …

Farming is not a job that just anyone can do
In fact it’s a job that is done by few

About 2% of people claim farming as their occupation
But 2.2 million farms is a good foundation

FAMILY PETSThere’s always work to be done; rain or shine
Oh, you need a nap? There is no time!

Throwing hay bales in the summer’s heat
Or doing chores in the rain, snow, or sleet

Manual labor isn’t always fun
But farmers do what they have to, to get the job done

Mechanics and farmers go hand-in-hand
Because farming is unpredictable and doesn’t always go as planned

Hogs, cattle, chickens, goats, and sheep
It’s never quiet on the farm; there’s always a peep

sunset plantingWhen do farmers plant in the spring and harvest in the fall?
They rely on Mother Nature to help make that call

An acre is about the size of a football field
The more you produce, the better the yield

Corn is grown in every state in the United States
That’s a fun fact to remember when it’s on your plate

Alfalfa is the oldest plant known that is used for livestock feed
A nutritious choice that is a supply in need

Farming could not improve without science
Together they have quite the alliance

Illinois farmers, farmKeeping equipment and genetics up to speed
Technology helps the farming industry succeed

National Poetry month happens to be April
Enjoy reading this farm poem around the kitchen table

Ali Seys
Illinois State University Student

25 WAYS TO BE MORE INVOLVED WITH YOUR FOOD

Everybody needs food to survive so why not learn more about where your food comes from and experiment with making some things at home!

1. Talk to your local butcher.

Ask them if they prefer grass or grain fed beef. You could even ask what their favorite cut of meat is and how they prepare it.

farmers markets2. Head to farmers’ markets.

This is a great way to get fresh produce and interact with area farmers.

3. Contact a farmer association in your state.

Some examples of these associations would be farm bureau, extension offices, commodity groups, etc. You could ask about meeting a local farmer or tour a local farm.

4. Investigate nutrition labels on the USDA website.

This is an easy way to figure out what is really in your food and decipher some of those words you may not understand.

5. Start buying fresh fruits and veggies whenever possible.

The fresher the better!

6. If you have the space, raise your own chickens.

Typical hens lay daily, making a reliable source for eggs.

herbs7. Grow herbs inside during the winter.

Basil, chives, cilantro, and parsley are commonly used herbs. Being able to get them from your own kitchen instead of the store is a much more convenient way to boost the flavor of some dishes.

8. Make your own butter.

Who doesn’t love butter? Making your own at home would be a great way to teach your kids about everything that we get from cows: butter, yogurt, ice cream, milk, etc.

9. Bake your own bread.

There is nothing better than warm, fresh-baked bread coming out of the oven. You could even spread some of your homemade butter on it as toast!

10. Make your own peanut butter.

Peanut butter is surprisingly easy to make, by making your own you know exactly what you are eating. If you eat enough of it, it would definitely be worth your while in terms of money.

11. Start gardening to grow your own vegetables.

Green beans, cucumbers, leaf lettuce, and tomatoes are all common vegetables to garden. If you don’t have a yard big enough for a traditional garden tomatoes can be grown on the patio!

12. Can your own pickles.

You can make some of your own pickles with cucumbers out of the garden. Most stores sell pre-packaged mixes so don’t worry if you don’t have any recipes.

13. Make your own salsa.

If there is something that you don’t like about restaurant or store bought salsa this gives you the opportunity to make it exactly how you and your family like it!

14. Order less takeout.

Takeout usually has more sodium and fat than home-cooked meals. Try making your own fried rice or pizza.

15. If you have a new baby make your own baby food.

Not only is it healthier and fresher, but it can also be easily tailored to what your baby likes.

16. Invite your kids to cook with you.

Kids can help you wash produce, stir the pot, season the food, and even help you taste test. Getting them cooking gets them interested in food and may make them more adventurous eaters.

17. Go pick apples, pumpkins, peaches, berries, etc. at a local orchard when they’re in season.

This is a great way to get your whole family outside and spend some quality time together!

18. Make your own applesauce.

Kids love applesauce and by making it at home you can control how much sugar goes into it.

19. Make some homemade grape juice.

Grape juice is the beverage of choice for most kids and if they can help make it they will be even more excited to drink it.

20. Check out nutrition.gov.

This page has a lot of helpful information about nutrition, meal planning, and food assistance programs.

21. Learn about different kinds of sugars.

Not all sugars are the same, some sugars work better in certain recipes.

22. Research the My Plate Program with your kids.

Teaching your kids about healthy eating can help reduce the risk of childhood obesity.

23. Pop your own popcorn instead of buying it in the grocery store.

Popcorn that you pop yourself tastes 100 times better than the microwaveable bags…well unless you burn it!

sausage24. Make your own sausage.

My family does this every year and it is a blast! It can also be scaled down to fit individual needs.

25. Research GMOs from reliable sources such as http://watchusgrow.com/.

GMOs are a huge controversy in today’s society, by educating yourself you will be able to sort fact from fiction.

 

Jessica Probst

Jessica Probst
Missouri State University Student

 

 

 

 

 

SHOULD I WORRY ABOUT ANTIBIOTICS IN MY MEAT AND MILK?

AntibioticFreeMeatCould there be antibiotics in this meat? What about this gallon of milk? These may be questions that run through your mind frequently while shopping at your grocery store. If you want to know the answer, the person to ask is your local farmer.

Let’s look at this one step at a time.

Why do farmers use antibiotics?

Just like when your children get sick, farmers want to keep their animals healthy. The first step for your children and for animals is very similar, farmers call the Veterinarian just like you would call the Doctor. Antibiotics are quite expensive for animals, so they are only used when necessary not as a preventive measure.  Farmers claim their animals as family, if they don’t take good care of their animals, then the animals won’t produce and the farmer will lose their profit.

Meat

The USDA requires all beef, pork, poultry or milk headed for grocery store shelves or restaurants be tested and inspected by the Food Safety Inspection Service to guarantee no antibiotic residues are in the meat. Farmers follow firm withdrawal policies for animals that were given antibiotics. This means that there is a certain amount of days after being treated with antibiotics before the animal can be harvested. When a farmer has been given the prescription from the Veterinarian, he follows the instructions just like you do at home. The farmer keeps records of when the animal was treated and keeps track of any symptoms the animal may still have.

Milk

Dairy cows have a different challenge than beef cows, when a dairy cow is treated with antibiotics it is expelled through her milk. Dairy farmers have to keep very good records of when a cow was treated. When a milk cow is treated most producers put colored ankle bands on the cow to ensure that they remember that she has been treated.

Once a treated cow comes into the parlor to be milked, a dump milk bucket is hooked up so that her milk will be completely separate from the milk that will be sold. Her milk all goes into the bucket and once she is finished milking, the milker unit is sanitized thoroughly. The bucket full of milk is then disposed of so that it doesn’t contaminate any other milk. The dump bucket is then sanitized so that it is clean.

After the antibiotics have left the cows system, the farmer takes a milk sample and has it tested to make sure that she has no antibiotics left in her system. When the milk truck comes to a farm to pick up their milk, they also take a sample to make sure no antibiotics are present.

antibiotic milk

As it turns out humans and their pets use TEN times more antibiotics than the Nation’s livestock. Farmers wouldn’t want to eat meat or drink milk with antibiotics in them, so they won’t sell antibiotic treated products to you!

jessica tJessica Telgmann
University of Illinois student