IMAGINE YOUR GARDEN ON A WORLD SCALE

April is National Lawn and Garden month. That’s cool. I’ve been itching for a chance to get some dirt under my fingernails since the last of the flowers got frosted last fall. The garden catalogs that light up my mailbox feed that urge. And finally, it is, “A time to plant.”

What goes into a person’s flower and vegetable gardens is not a fair comparison to the farm-scale production of both flowers and vegetables, and commodity crops, as well.

But it’s upon that very comparison, or rather contrast, that many people are deriving their opinions of food production. Are you following me? It’s like this: “What’s good for my garden must be good for the rest of the system.”

Uh, no. That’s why it’s a garden.

Some people thrive on finding the all-organic ways to produce tasty fruits and veggies from their own plot of ground. Other people look for every method they can to minimize the work and maximize the tasty output (that’s me.) That might be some granulated seed germination inhibitor, plastic sheets to block weeds, bug spray to keep the Japanese beetles from devouring the tomatoes, and chicken wire to keep out the, well, pesky chickens that not only eat the bugs but also take a bite out of every green bean, tomato, and strawberry they can find. Oh, and they can make short work of a cantaloupe, too.

But I digress.

Back to the backyard division of organic versus conventional methodologies. Both are good, in my opinion. Both have their benefits.

Same goes in the larger scale production as capitalistic minded individuals find markets for the products they’re willing to produce.

But when one way starts getting labeled as “better,” well, that’s when I get perturbed. When one way starts changing regulation, litigation, and legislation, based on falsehoods that have become “truth” just by virtue of mass acceptance? That’s a problem.

Witness an article published online in Time magazine, New Study Says That Organic Food Isn’t As Productive as Conventional Agriculture, which makes this remark:

“Yet a new meta-analysis in Nature does the math and comes to a hard conclusion: organic farming yields 25% fewer crops on average than conventional agriculture. More land therefore needed to produce fewer crops—and that means organic farming may not be as good for the planet as we think.”

Cue the invisible farm audience to say, “Duh.”

Why is this so hard to understand? Why must there be a black and white choice with social consciousness coming down only on the side of organic? When does conventional agriculture be just as accepted as the “ethical choice” for feeding deserving Americans and others worldwide?

Well, maybe, just maybe, it’s when we (and I mean that in the broadest sense) quit comparing what works in our gardens to what we think is appropriate for production beyond just our friends and neighbors wants. Maybe it happens when we CONTRAST the wants of our personal lives to the needs of a hungry planet.

That’s my two-seeds worth.

Tricia Braid
ICGA/ICMB Communications Director

KEEPING THE LEARNING GOING

Summer Time Educational Activities That Your Kids Will Love!

Finally, the sun is shining, the grass is getting greener, and school is almost out for summer! Just because school is coming to an end, does not mean that learning has to come to an end as well. In fact, summer break is a great way for children to discover new hobbies and have time for outdoor exploration. Below, you will find a few activities that you and your children can do together to keep the learning going.

The first activity, a garden tour, requires little to no preparation and is a great way to get your kids engaged. If you have a nice variety of plants in your backyard, you are ready for the tour! The three simple materials you will need are wooden Popsicle sticks, a permanent paint pen, and a book from the library with pictures of various types of plants. Your children will then walk around the area and try to guess the plants they see. It is encouraged for them to match up the plants they see to the pictures in the book. Then, they can use the popsicle sticks and pen to label each plant and place the popsicle sticks in the soil accordingly. Next time guests come over, your children can lead them through their own personalized garden tour right in your own backyard!

4-27-15 compost binThis next activity, will surely keep your children busy. Nothing makes a garden grow faster like rich and fertile soil. Instead of going out to the store to buy a bag of fertilizer, why not use items you can find in and around your home to make your own fertilizer, courtesy of a compost pile. A compost pile is a collection of natural waste, which will be broken down in two categories, brown and green waste, that decomposes with the help of microorganisms.

In regards to the two types of waste, brown waste are dead, dried plant parts like leaves and pine needles. While green waste are fresh, living parts like grass clippings, vegetables scraps, and other types of plants. You simply start with a layer of soil at the bottom of the bin, which will collect all of the nutrition that is being decomposed from the brown and green waste. Once you and your child have put a layer of soil at the bottom, add layers of brown and green waste. After completing the green layer, water the compost to make the bin inviting to the microorganism. Complete the layering process of soil, brown waste, green waste, and water until the bin is full. Compost piles can vary in size, especially if size is an issue for you. You can make a large one using a gated compost bin, or smaller size by using a milk-jug. The variations are endless!

Since summer break will be here in no time, it is important to keep educational summer plans for your children in mind. With these fun, hands-on activities, your children will appreciate the summer sun, while most importantly, keeping the learning going!

SamarSamar Dabneh
Illinois State University

SPRING PLANTING 2015 UPDATE

plant15
photo courtesy cerbsen on Instagram

Spring planting is underway in some areas of the state.  It’s an interesting year because some of our farmers report being mostly done, while many haven’t even started due to wet weather and cooler temperatures.

Here’s what some of the farmers around the state are saying …

Andy Bartlow, Macomb: We are 75% done with corn planting and I would estimate our area is probably 85% planted.  Corn that was planted Easter weekend is up.

Bill Leigh, Minonk: We are about 20% done with corn planting. Not been much done in our area – maybe 5%.  Been too damp and cold in most areas.  My corn planted on Friday morning (4/17) is sprouted.

Don Duvall, Carmi: Only the highest sand fields are planted in our area in southeastern part of state.  All other fields are much too wet.   Probably less than 1% corn planted.

Paul Taylor, Esmond: I got the planter running Friday, April 17.  I planted a research plot Saturday.  Held off yesterday ahead of the cold weather this week.  Less than 5% planted in our area.  A lot of equipment just sitting, I assume for soil to warm-up.

Kent Kleinschmidt, Emden: I have planted nothing so far and I will start when it dries out.  We received .65 inches of rain in the last 24 hours.  Our area is about 10-15% planted.

Justin Durdan, Utica: We are 70% planted on corn. Last week we had the best planting and ground conditions we have seen in 3 years. Our area is far behind our normal pace, maybe at 5-10%. Some guys have not turned a planter wheel yet. Hope being aggressive was a good decision on our end…

FRIDAY FARM PHOTO: CORN SEEDLINGS!

seedling in trashSome farmers in Illinois are finally getting started in the field – though most are having to wait for the field to dry out from all the spring rains.

In this field, the corn seedlings are growing through the “trash” left over from the corn field planted and harvested here the year before.  Leaving the corn stalks, leaves, and cobs on the field helps eliminate soil erosion and increases the organic matter of the soil.

This is also a good example of a corn-on-corn rotation.  Some farmers grow soybeans the year after the field has been planted to corn, but this farmer is experimenting with ways to make continuous corn on one field work for him AND the soil.

 

FOUR TIPS FOR SHARING THE ROAD WITH FARMERS

It is getting to be that time of year again! Many farmers are out in their fields planting or getting ready to start planting. Which means tractors and other large farm equipment will be out on the roads.

Every year we hear of accidents occurring between motorist and farm equipment. These accidents can be prevented, here are four tips to help prevent an accident.

slow moving vehicle sign1. Slow Down!

The tractors are moving much slower than regular motorist. This means you will approach them much quicker than other traffic. As soon as you see them, you need to start slowing down.

2. Know your Surroundings.

This means, be mindful of your location. Know what kind of traffic is up ahead of you and the equipment, also be aware of the traffic that is behind you. You must also watch for drivers that are not being as patient. They may try to pass you and the equipment, or others may pull out in front of you and the equipment.

Be sure to also watch for turn signals or even hand signals from the driver in the tractor. He may be turning into a field entrance that you may not see or notice.

Tractor on the road3. Leave plenty of space between you and the equipment.

This includes when you are behind them waiting to pass and while passing them. If you can’t see the driver and his mirrors, he can’t see you. Also keep in mind they will need more space to turn.

4. Be Patient!

They are working hard and appreciate your patience. They are out doing their job of feeding the world.

And remember to always give a wave!

 

Hannah ZellerHannah Zeller
Communications Assistant

WHY I’M NOT EXCITED ABOUT GMO LABELING

On contrary to the belief, people like to believe that large corporations like Monsanto, Dupont, and Dow AgroSciences control the food market but that is not the case.  You and me are both consumers and we both choose what food we want to buy.  Our decisions have led food companies to create gluten free options, all-natural foods, and organic selections.  We, as consumers, control the market… not these big companies … but now are wanting to know more about where our food comes from.

A new bill in the United State Congress is the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act.  This bill creates a mandatory Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) labeling law as well as describes what it means to be all natural.  As a consumer, I am a little nervous about this bill.  It is really great to know what my food contains but to be completely honest, there are already too many labels on a food package as it is.  I become overwhelmed when there is too much information on a package.  On the package now, there is the mandatory calorie content label, maybe a label that talks about it being organic or gluten free, as well as the marketing labels that the company uses sell their product.

I understand why this labeling law is wanted.  People are wanting to know what is in their food but I don’t believe that is the actual driving factor of this bill.  The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act will prevent a patchwork of state labeling laws from increasing consumer confusion and food prices.  There are activists that are pushing labeling in more than 20 states.  The details of these mandates vary from state to state, meaning that farmers, food manufactures, and consumers would have to navigate a very complex system.  As consumers, we should be able to have the same packing of a product no matter if I buy it in New York City or Los Angeles.

A confusing bill is the Vermont labeling bill.  Vermont’s labeling law would exempt up to 2/3 of food sold in the state.  A can of vegetable soup would have to be labeled but a can of vegetable beef soup would be exempt.  State labeling does nothing to decrease consumer uncertainty, in fact it increases confusion.  An interesting study from Cornell University found that state labeling would result in a $500 increase per year for an average family of four.

In my opinion, I think it would be easier for food that doesn’t contain GMOs to be labeled.  It would be more affordable for consumers to buy food and it still requires GMO labels on products.  The consumers who are looking for GMO free food is a niche market and they are willing to pay higher for their food.  Labeling are confusing to consumers and we need to limit labels to minimum.

perryPerry Harlow
Illinois State University student

THIS COULD BE US …

but we have livestock

You’ve probably never really thought about it, but livestock farmers don’t get to take vacations.  Livestock need fed and watered, milked and tended every single day of the year – sometimes twice a day!

Until you have a son or daughter old enough to take over the chores for you or a neighbor that likes you a whole lot, you don’t get to take a vacation!

WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT FARMLAND?

FARMLAND (2014)

Directed and Produced by James Moll

This film is a documentary about the daily life of six young diverse farmers and ranchers in America.

This documentary is intended for a non-farming audience, and is intended to link the disconnection between the farmer and the consumer. It is intended to inform consumers on where their food comes from and how it gets from farm to table.

James Moll, director and producer of the film, got the idea from wondering where his food came from while shopping. He admitted that we live in a world where we are flooded with opinions on what you should eat and what you should avoid.

Throughout this documentary the farmers talk about their daily lives, tasks, concerns and struggles. Each farmer is very different from the last, but many of their concerns share the same bottom line, which is public perception.

farmlandIn the public’s eyes farmers are stereotyped as either, the man with the red barn, some animals, coveralls and the straw hanging out of his mouth, or as the person who runs a large corporation, just sitting behind and desk and has no connection to the farm.

All six of these farmers are neither of those descriptions. While this is just one issue of public perception, the farmers also talk about things such as GMOs vs. organics, animal welfare and consumer trust. All of which are currently important topics in society.

The film is successful in discussing each issue and explaining in a simplistic way for everyone to understand. I believe that anyone who is truly paying attention to the film, will have a better understanding about the food they purchase and where it comes from. Ultimately people can make their own conclusions for what they buy, but after watching this film it is easy to see that we [America] are fortunate to have a very safe source for our food.

I was impressed with the diversity of the farmers in the film, but was disappointed with the representation. Two out of the six farmers were organic farmers in the film. While this was great for diversity purposes, it is not a true representation of the ratio of organic to conventional farmers in America.

Overall, I found the film to very informative and interesting. I would highly recommend this film to anyone who is interested in learning more about today’s farmers.

 

Hannah ZellerHannah Zeller
Communication Assistant

WORDS FROM A FARMER’S WIFE AND MASTER GARDENER

This is a post from last year during Garden Week. We love reading about real life experiences from those we know, which is why we thought this one definitely deserved to be shared again!

paul and barb taylorAs a farmer’s wife, I worked full time off the farm. My job was challenging and time consuming as many farmers wives probably can attest to. Part of my job was spent driving to and from appointments which led me through country sides and neighborhoods with beautiful gardens and landscaping. I’d like to think that my appreciation for these, and maybe even the fact that I noticed them at all, was part of my heritage! My grandmother was a farm wife and a gardener so maybe this was the genetic part of my passion to know more about “all things green.”

One year at an annual review for my full time, off-farm job, my boss asked me what my goals were for the year. I am absolutely sure by the look on his face that the answer he got was not what he expected.

“I want to learn to play the piano and I want to be a Master Gardner.”

Ok, I had to renege on that and get serious! He did get some more appropriate goals out of me, but gardening was what I really wanted to do.

I finally became a Master Gardener when I retired. I love it! I will never know all those Latin names for everything, but meeting and gardening with likeminded lovers of the soil and blooms is wonderful thing.

summer-flower-garden-with-rocksBeing a farm wife, I had visions of what my farmer husband would do to help me with his “big bucket” and all those tractors. Sadly, he is more concerned about planting our fields and making a living for us before the next rain, so I got that out of my mind pretty quickly! But it is ok, I work around all those glorious ideas of large rocks and he likes gardening enough to help me when he can. I sometimes leave photos or drawings around the house exclaiming my next idea so he understands what he’ll be working on as soon as the crops allow.

Being a Master Gardener is a lot like farming. Planning, buying your seeds, preparing your soil, caring for your mature plants, and enjoying or eating your harvest … and then you start over again. I find that my love for the garden and my husband’s love for his fields helps us understand each other just a little better!

If you are interested in becoming a Master Gardener you can get the details here. Your Extension Office will be happy to help you with any questions you have.

Being a Master Gardener is knowledge that will grow into a need for more, as you create, experiment, and learn about the love of our beautiful Midwest summers and “all things green.”

Barb Taylor
Farm Wife and Master Gardener