I PLANT GMOs IN MY FIELD, NOT IN MY GARDEN

April is Lawn and Garden Month.  To honor that, I present a #TBT to this excellent post (and point!) made by Katie Pratt last year.  It’s a good point that most people don’t realize … no, farmers don’t plant GMO foods in their gardens because in most cases, GMO OPTIONS DON’T EXIST. 

IL Corn is in favor of customers having options, buying what they feel good about, and using purchasing power to influence decisions.  But for pete’s sake, please understand what you’re buying and talking about.

Back in early February, I sat in my kitchen in front of my laptop preparing to Skype for the first time. I know, I know. My lack of techy-ness is shining through. I use my computer for work, my phone to talk to people and the TV to watch. Old school.

On the other side of my computer screen sitting in a studio in L.A. was Larry King, – as in TV-host, journalism legend Larry King – a panel of celebrity “experts” and one scientist.

Ensuring Skype worked properly sent my anxiety levels through the roof, even more so than facing off with Larry King about the hottest topic in food and farming . . . until I realized who was asking the questions and how much they didn’t know.

The topic was none other than GMOs and the panel of “experts” included celebrity chef Curtis Stone, actress Mary Lou Henner and former NBA-player John Salley. The scientist was Dr. Bob Goldberg from the department of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology at UCLA. He knows science and biotechnology.

During the hour long show the panel spoke to numerous guests and bantered amongst themselves about the value ofbiotechnology in agriculture. I did not hear any of that though, as I waited in my kitchen for the notification bell to ‘ding’ on my computer. I thought when that happened I’d be able to see who I was talking to and hear their conversation prior to my interview.

When the bell ‘dinged’, I saw just me on my screen. Uh oh. Then, I heard Larry ask, “Let’s start with why you use gm-seed on your farm?”

I didn’t expect this to be a friendly interview, (i.e. Mary Lou’s first question, “Do you feed your children these crops?” referring to our acres of field corn.), but I did expect if folks were going to be on a webcast they’d be somewhat up on the facts. Not the case.

When Chef Stone in so many words called me a hypocrite because I plant genetically modified seed in our fields and not in our gardens (He said I plant organic seeds. I do not buy seed labeled organic.), I realized who I was talking to – another uninformed food consumer.

This doesn’t make Chef Stone a bad person. In fact of all the panelists I thought he was pretty nice. But I wonder if he hadn’t taken Mary Lou’s advice to “google it” to find out about biotech and agriculture. After all, if it’s on the internet, it must be so.

Only eight crops have commercially available genetically modified seed – corn, soybeans, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya, squash, and cotton. As a back-yard gardener, I can’t plant a genetically modified squash seed in my garden, because I am not a commercial grower.  A tomato labeled non-gm is labeled as such because you can’t grow/buy it any other way. A head of lettuce labeled non-gm says so because no gm-lettuce exists.

As Chef Stone pointed out approximately 70 percent of processed food may contain an ingredient derived from a genetically modified crop. However, the science states that these sugars, starches and oils are no different compared to their counterparts derived from non-gm crops. Even more arguments speak to the genetic make-up of said ingredients – can a sugar really be genetically modified when a sugar is chemically a compound with no genes to be found?  I know that high school junior year chemistry, Mr. Simpson’s class.

I’ve pondered this interview quite a bit while weeding my garden and plucking beetles (already!) off the plants, wondering if that gm-squash seed would kill those buggers so I don’t have to. GM-squash is disease resistant. No help to me.

This interview still irritates me, which is why I haven’t shared it until now. I’m all for robust discussion challenging what we hold to be true, but posing as an expert and sharing an opinion as fact isn’t right.

You can watch the full Larry King Now episodes here (see below). It is a two part series and I do recommend watching both pieces in their entirety; however, for shameless self-promotion kicks, my less than stellar performance is after the first break in Part 2.

Larry King Now: GMOs, Part 1
Larry King Now: GMOs, Part 2

Katie PrattKatie Pratt
Dixon, Illinois Farmer

Originally posted June 23, 2014 on Rural Route 2.

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.

4-27-15 gardening-with-kids-landscape-design-landscaping-tips-ideas-3648x2736The 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

SIGNS OF SPRING

Spring is one of the best times of year, this is probably because there are so many visible signs of the season. All of these signs are a reminder that winter is coming to an end and the warmer weather of summer is right around the corner.

Here are some of our favorite signs of spring.

New calfCalves

For anyone that raises livestock, a sure sign of spring is the birth of their young.

Planting GardenPlanting Tomatoes

Starting your garden means spring time! The air is getting warmer, and the days are getting longer, it is time to get out there and plant your fruits and veggies. Flower Blooms

 

With April showers bring May flowers. In the spring all of the flowers and trees start to bloom and the once gray colors of winter turn into the bright colors of spring.

 

 

Tractor

 

Last, but not least, the most obvious sign of spring around here. Farmers in the fields. Spring means it is time to get the crop in the ground.

Once the conditions are right, farmers can often times work around the clock to get all of their fields planted.

What is your sign of spring?

 
malloryMallory Blunier
Illinois State University

BACKYARD BILLY GOAT

The billy goat may have cursed the Chicago Cubs, but that hasn’t stopped the goat market in Chicago, and around the world, from thriving.Cubs Goat 2

Cubs Goat

Goats are usually seen in rural settings and most commonly on a farm; however raising goats in the city is becoming more popular. Goats are considered small animals (which are classified differently than farm animals) and are completely legal in many cities including Chicago, St. Louis, St. Paul, San Francisco, Portland, Cleveland, and Fort Worth to name a few. So, why is raising goats becoming the next big market for urban homesteads?

Urban farmRaising small animals like chickens and goats allows people to raise and produce their own food. In some communities, raising small animals promotes agriculture education, inspiration, and forms a stronger community. Once a family sees how beneficial urban farming is, some try a “goat share” where families could buy one goat, split the upkeep costs, and share the goat milk. The shared investment is already being done with cows, so why not expand to goats, too.

Goats are also great for land upkeep. In 2013, the city of Chicago set a herd of goats, sheep, llamas, and burrows free to handle the landscaping of 120 acres on O’Hare Airport property. Google also rented 200 goats to clear brush and weeds to reduce fire hazards around their headquarters. Not only did the animals clear the land fast and efficiently, it provided some entertainment for the city-goers.

Animals O'HareHowever, raising goats takes a lot of responsibility and should not be entered into lightly. Female goats (called does) only produce milk for eight to ten months after giving birth. That means in order to get milk, your goat needs to be impregnated and give birth. Goat gestation (the amount of time the mom carries the baby in her womb) lasts approximately five months. Many does give birth to one baby (kid or billy) however, it is common for goats to give birth to twins and even triplets and quintuplets. Goats raised for milk means being there to milk them twice a day, every day. As mentioned before, they are expensive when it comes to a constant supply of food, water, proper fencing, shelter, and hoof trimming. You also need to have access to a veterinarian for medical and birthing emergencies.

The goat cheese market is also making a name in the Chicagoland area. The Standard Market in Westmont, Illinois took third place in the  2013 American Cheese Society Competition for it’s Aged Batista (a half cow/half goat cheese from Lovera Cheese Company).

Before you join the herd of urban homesteaders raising goats and other small animals, make sure to check your city’s laws and ordinances, establish a budget to make sure you can afford it, and talk with your neighbors to establish a relationship. Many city farmers say their success has greatly depended upon the support from of their neighbors who don’t mind the extra noise and smells that small animals bring.

ali seys

Ali Seys
Illinois State University student

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.

 

QUESTIONS FROM A CITY GIRL PART #2

Hey farming friends!

It’s me again, your favorite city girl here with a few more questions! I recently watched a video on the IL Corn YouTube channel! It was about Marty Marr, the Illinois Corn Grower’s Association’s District 10 director!  He was talking all about the farm he owns and works on and I just had a few more questions about farming life and some of the things he mentioned in the video!

1. Soybeans

He mentioned that he grows soybeans on his farm. I think soybeans are a popular vegetable grown here in the Midwest, correct me if I am wrong, and I was wondering why that is. What all can soybeans be used for other than eating purposes? Soybeans

2. Machine powered vs. man power

In the video Marty mentions about “doing it the old fashioned way”. I have no clue what he means by this and am wondering what tool he is holding in the video. He mentions snagging a weed, does this mean cleaning up the field or does it have a different meaning. Would you rather have your work done mostly by machines or hand done and why?Tractor in Field

3. Challenges and Rewards

My next question is what do you think the biggest challenges are as a farmer today? Again, I have never even set foot on a farm so I can’t imagine the struggles that come with working on one and I am very curious to find out. Along with the biggest challenge of working on a farm, what is the most rewarding thing about being a farmer?Farm Family

4. Life on the Farm

If you are living and working on a farm, do you use your own resources or are they just something you export. I assume that if you live on a farm that you are going to be supplying yourself with food that you’re personally growing. Is this true?

Can’t wait to see your answers to my questions and thank you for helping me get more knowledgeable about farming! Here is the link to the video and check back often for more videos, we are always posting!

Love,

Your favorite Chicago city girl

 

nikkiNikki Faber
Illinois State University

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