Food labels. Two words that are taken more seriously by consumers than any scientific reasoning, fact, or common sense explanation. Do the food labels you commonly see stress you out? Throw that stress away because you have nothing to worry about! Let’s take a further look into the labels causing all the controversy.


The most popular, and most feared food label in the market. So what is a GMO? GMO stands for genetically modified organism. Sounds scary, right? Wrong. GMOs are simply a result of modifying plant traits, produced to increase yields in order to increase food supply, reduce pesticide use, and eliminate diseases in crops. GMOs ensure a safer, and healthier food system for consumers. 


Hormones occur naturally in humans and animals. So what does a hormone-free label mean? Absolutely nothing, hormone-free meat does not exist. It’s called fear-based marketing, and it works. Need more convincing? Check out these hormone facts. 


There is no exact definition for “locally grown.” Retailers are free to set their own standards for what is considered local. The “locally grown” label could describe food that is produced within 100 miles of the store or maybe just harvested within the same state. So when shopping local, don’t always expect that the food is grown a few miles from the grocery store door.


Possibly the most widely used term in food labeling, “the FDA has not developed a definition for the use of the term natural or its derivatives.” So in other words… the “All Natural” label could be defined as healthy hogwash. 


If you dig into the term “organic” a little further, you will find that organic isn’t exactly the picture you have in your head of rolling green fields and ripe produce. Straight from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “The term “organic” is not defined by law or regulations FDA enforces.” This label can easily be thrown into the healthy hogwash family as a close sister to “All Natural.” 


Farm Fresh. According to Paul Shapiro, vice president of the Humane Society of the U.S. and an expert on commercial egg production, “”It literally means nothing.”

Well, at least we have nothing to stress about with that term… 


Cage-free eggs may not be all they are cracked up to be, literally. Cage-free is another renowned term that is loosely defined. Cage-free and free-range are two different methods used in poultry production, both incurring their own advantages and disadvantages.


A term commonly found in the same sentence as organic farming. It is completely FALSE to say that organic farms don’t use pesticides. Organic farms still use pesticides from the USDA National List of approved pesticides, and it’s quite long. 


Artificial doesn’t mean dangerous. Artificial ingredients and additives are “strictly studied, regulated and monitored,” according to the Food and Drug Administration. In fact, artificial ingredients have been studied more in depth and are believed to be safer than natural ingredients because of this. 


Meant to target the animal-compassionate consumer, this label has no significant meaning behind it. Livestock farmers are dedicated to the well-being of their livestock and ensuring that all needs of the livestock are met to produce high-quality food products for consumers.

All of these food labels have one thing in common, marketing strategy and misconception. Tricky, right? Don’t stress. Keep one thought in mind. Farmers eat the same food on their table, as you do on yours. A farmer’s job is to produce safe and healthy food to feed the world. Trust the farmer, not the label.

trust the farmer

carli millerCarli Miller
University of Illinois student


harvest 15

As of today, the USDA reports that the Illinois harvest is 71% completed, compared to Indiana which is 45% completed, Iowa which is 29% completed and Missouri which is 81% completed. Nationally, the harvest is 42% finished which is right on par with our 5 year average.

Nationally, 70% of the crop is rated excellent or good, with the remaining rated fair, poor, or very poor.

harvest is done

One of our farmer leaders titled this photo “Harvest is done!” He finished up harvesting his crops this past week and will now focus on prepping the soil for next year’s crop.

view from combine

We love this view from the combine!


I’m not a scientist and I would never pretend to be one.  But, I do have a science degree and I do work in a particularly science-heavy industry, so I feel like I know a few basic things about common science and science.

Which is why it angers me and saddens me that our world today consists of millions of people who will believe anything they read as law without questioning it first.  They could be reading the opinions of a five-year old on nuclear weapons and suddenly, that five-year old should be the next Secretary of State – or at least the head of the U.S. Army.  Or maybe a housewife with too much time on her hands has created the next fad diet that will melt away the weight with only toilet paper and kosher meals as seen on Orange is the New Black – and suddenly everyone is eating kosher and pretending to be Jewish.

Either way, I’ve come up with a few questions to ask yourself when you’re reading something new.  These are meant to simply help you question the validity of everything you read and to get the thoughts flowing – they will not determine fact and fiction for you.  Only your amazing God-given brain will do that.

  1. Who is the author of this article/research/data?

Anything that you read that causes you to consider changing any aspect of your life bears some amount of research into the author.

who is the authorIs the author an honest-to-goodness expert in this area with an advanced degree?  Is the advanced degree in a related field to the information they are sharing?  (Don’t listen to a Ph.D. in Journalism tell you about Engineering and think she’s an authority!)  Does the author work for someone other than themselves?  Is their employer a reputable source?

Before you cut all red fruits and veggies from your diet, google the name of the person telling you to do that.  If that person isn’t a registered dietitian for a reputable company or a food scientist from a serious university, you probably need to investigate further.

2. Does the article/advice make sense given what you already know?

This particular pointer falls into the “Is it too good to be true” category.  No one is going to lose 50 pounds in 1 week using this quick and easy tip.  No one is going to single-handedly change the course of human history by eliminating this from their schedule.

does the article make senseIf the lifestyle changes you’re considering making don’t fit within the framework of what you already remember from grade school science, then you should probably look further.

As an example, there is a movement supporting raw milk these days.  The folks that feed their families only raw milk are ignoring basic science and history that I know they learned in fourth grade.  Heating milk to kill pathogens is healthy.  The end.  If drinking raw milk promises you all sorts of health benefits with none of the risks of Listeria, then it’s too good to be true.  It just is.

3. What does the rest of the industry say about this advice/information?

If you’re reading about vaccines, what do all other medical professionals say about this advice?  If you’re considering a new exercise plan, what do other personal trainers and physical therapists say about this plan?  If you’re worried about the latest food borne illness scare and considering swearing off fruits and veggies, what does the ag industry and the nutritionists and dietitians say about this food borne illness occurrence?

I understand that those of you with a tendency to believe everything you read have a natural hesitation to accept the advice of the industries you’re reading about.  You have a natural inclination to be skeptical.  But be skeptical of what you read too.

If farmers, who have been farming for decades and whose families have been farming for a century, tell you that an article is not true, it probably isn’t.  If a doctor with a real medical degree advises you that the medical community agrees on this course of treatment, trust that to a certain degree.

Even if you don’t 100% believe what the related industry is telling you, hearing their opinion is important to developing a more rounded view of the data you’re considering.

At the end of the day, just use your brain.

keep calm use your brainI know that reading and understanding scientific articles can be difficult and no fun.  Scientists are not skilled journalists and their writing is not always easily understood or very clearly written.  But you don’t have to dig through research journals to figure everything out.

Use your brain.  You know what sounds too good to be true.  You know what seems like complete medical quackery.  Listen to the body of experts around you.  Do a little research.  Remember, not everything on the internet is true.

Mitchell_LindsayLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Manager

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Bringing agriculture into the classroom is a great idea to cultivate an assortment of topics and subjects into a theme around the school year. Agriculture and science coincide with each other, but agriculture is often overlooked in science. One unit about agriculture can crack abstract topics in chemistry, microbiology, biology, and environmental science. Here is a list of great ideas to utilize in your next science lesson:

Growing Seeds in a Jar Seed-Germination-Activity1

This experiment is easy, cost effective, and fun; a younger crowd would enjoy this compared to high school students. All you need are glass jars, seeds, and wet paper towels. Have the students wet the paper towels, put the towels in the glass jar, place the seeds inside the jar, and wait a few days to see germination! You can use this experiment for a biology lesson that talks about photosynthesis or the plant life cycle! Also, this experiment is a great segue into talking about how plants provide us resources we need to survive such as food and clothes.

Incubation and Embryonic Growth

baby chickThis experiment is a bit more common than #1; I remember doing this project in 5th grade; it’s one of the things I can remember from long ago. With this, it’s simple: nurturing eggs into chicks allows students to visualize life and to learn the importance for our lives. Chickens play a huge role in agriculture because of what they do on a farm. My favorite memory of it was hearing the chicks chirp when they eventually made their way out of the shells.

Friendly Farm Visit

kids visiting farmThis past summer I interned with my county farm bureau with Agriculture in the Classroom; each day we took the kids to a local farm to learn about various topics from plant growth to DNA. The hands on experience offered the kids something they couldn’t learn from a textbook. They got to visualize how their clothes were made (shearing a sheep) to watching their food grow six feet in a few months (corn stalks) to learning how breeds of cows differ (natural selection).

Chemical and Physical Changes

soybean crayonsThis topic can be tricky in Chemistry. As we know, a chemical change is a change of a substance with a different composition than what it started off as. On the other hand, a physical change is the change in appearance with the composition staying the same. To easily demonstrate a chemical change to students, show a bowl of soybean seeds and then show a box of crayons. Why? Because soybeans are morphed into crayons (along with other substances). In the beginning, the seed is just a seed but it’s composition and appearance change when it’s used for crayons. For a physical change, show a bowl of corn seeds, a corn stalk, and an ear of corn. Why? Well, the corn seed is morphed into a plant that grows seeds (kernels) from itself. The seed that was planted had the same composition as the kernels on the ear of corn.

Composting for Kids

A great idea to teach environmental science with agriculture is to start composting! Sounds weird, right? It’s a great hands-on experience that teaches kids a great way to be sustainable. It also shows students how we can reuse our resources and not waste products. Compost is comprised of decayed organic matter such as manure, food scraps, grass clippings, and leaves. Manure comes from farm animals, and food scraps come from humans and animals. Composting also teaches about the life cycle. Compost can help the growth of plants which helps to feed us and animals who produce the manure and food scraps that turns into compost, repeat.  No matter what grade you teach, composting is a great way to teach kids about environmental science!

If kids aren’t understanding a science concept, it’s always a great idea to step outside the box! Agriculture is a great way to spice up the science curriculum while teaching students about topics that still matter to education and to our lives.

michelle nickrent

Michelle Nickrent
University of Illinois student




Welp… Fall is officially here.

The temperatures have cooled off, the leaves are just starting to turn and the crop is mostly out of the ground around here.

I am still trying to figure out where September went, I woke up this morning and it was October. Not sure how it happened, but it might have something to do with the fact I just got back from my honeymoon. I left and it was 80 degree weather, we had 80+ degree weather the whole week in Jamaica, but I was welcomed home with 50 degree temps and clouds… Thanks Illinois.

Obviously the trip was amazing and we both can’t wait to go back. But while we were there, we both tried all kinds of foods that we had never had before. Including my new favorite, Cream of Lentil and Carrot Soup.

After asking around and begging the right person, I finally got my hands on the recipe. JACKPOT!

(Disclaimer: This recipe is for a large amount, but I am sure you could freeze the extra and save it for a future date.)

IngredientsCreamy Carrot Lentil Soup
1 lb. Lentil
4 qt. Chicken Stock or Vegetable Stock
2 medium Onions, chopped
3 tbsp. chopped Scallion
2 tbsp. chopped Garlic
1 tsp. chopped Thyme
3 tbsp. chopped Leeks
2 medium potatoes, diced
1 lb. Carrots, diced
1 stalk of Celery, chopped
½ cup of Heavy Cream
3 tbsp. Vegetable Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
Bay Leaf for garnish

In a large stock pot, add oil and allow to heat up. Add onions, scallion, garlic, thyme, leeks and celery, sauté until tender.
Add lentil, carrots and potatoes and allow to cook until tender.
Remove from heat and puree.
Return to stock pot and add stock and salt & pepper to taste.
Cook for 5 minutes, then add heavy cream, cook for additional 2 minutes.
Serve and garnish with bay leaf.

When I was enjoying this soup the first time I had the sound of waves in the background and the smell of salt water in the air. Maybe if you make the soup good enough, you will have a similar experience LOL.

Make sure to come back to get my next Jamaican recipe, Rum Punch… Just kidding!


Hannah ZellerHannah Ferguson
Communications Assistant


Where has the year gone?!?! I can’t believe it is October already.

I think we can all agree that with October comes a lot of other really great things, like the Fall! It is the best time of year, the temperatures are cooler (but it’s not freezing yet), the leaves are changing and the landscape is beautiful, and we can’t forget there is PUMPKIN SPICE FLAVORED EVERYTHING!

Fun Fact: Did you know Illinois was the number one producing state of pumpkins? Remember that next time you get your pumpkin spiced latte from Starbucks.

October also has, football, bonfires, s’mores, start of hunting season, my birthday, Halloween, haunted houses, many other favorite things… and of course HARVEST TIME!

In the spirit of October, I have gone back and selected my favorite posts in October from previous years.

Here are the posts I think deserve another look. Click on each title to read the full post.


““It’s harvest time in this little town, time to bring it on in, pay the loans down.”  Luke Bryan’s new song “Harvest Time” explains this time of year perfectly.  However, not so long ago, harvest was done completely different around here.  Instead of the combines, tractors, grain carts and the semi-trucks we use today, farmers harvested with much simpler tools.  Farming has seen numerous changes over the years, but none of them have been as impactful as the mechanization of harvest equipment.”Threshing Machine

This article is a fun little story about the history of farm equipment, and it has a great picture.


“Most of the corn grown in Illinois is genetically modified corn.  It’s genetically altered to withstand insect attack or to live through certain herbicide applications.  New varieties are genetically altered to perform under stressful conditions like last year’s drought.

Although this technology makes some customers skeptical, hybridization of crops has been happening for years and years.  In fact, the history of the Illinois Corn Growers Association starts before 1900 sometime when groups of farmers would come together for a fall meeting to trade their best ears of corn.  Those kernels from other parts of the state would grow and pollinate with kernels the farmer already had to continually produce the best corn – ear size, stalk quality, performance under stress were all factors when farmers selected their very best ears.

Years later, we shorten the process by choosing genes that we know are insect resistant, herbicide resistant, drought resistant and inserting them into our plants.  And some remain unsure that the research has been done to prove these foods safe.”

I cannot believe the amount is misinformation is out there about GMOs. Don’t be a fool, stay in school… and get the facts about GMOs. They are safe, science says so.


“Women have always been a part of the agriculture industry, but most the time have been overlooked. However, this trend is changing, and women are becoming more prevalent on farms today. Do you know any women in agriculture, either on farms or in the industry?

In early American history, a woman’s job on the farm typically meant bookkeeping for the farming operation. Women also tended to the family garden, which was most likely a major food supply for the farm family. Even though women did contribute to the farm, their work was never recorded by the Department of Agriculture, thus making women seem non-existent in the agriculture world.”


“We have SO MUCH CORN right now all over the Midwest.  These piles are the reason we work for increased ethanol markets and upgraded locks and dams.

Although non-farmers think that we don’t have enough corn to feed all our markets, WE DO!  These piles are proof!  We need ethanol as a growing market to use up all this corn.  We need locks and dams to get our corn to international markets.”corn pile with men

Making sure our farmers have a demand for their crop is what we are all about!


“Ethanol is always a good choice if you are concerned about the environment, energy security, and even buying local!

Illinois grows it, you should use it!”


indian corn“A symbol of harvest season, they crop up every fall— those ears of corn with multicolored kernels that adorn doors and grace centerpieces. So how does this decorative corn, known in America as flint corn or Indian corn, differ from other types of corn? How long has it been around? Also, is it grown solely to look good next to pumpkins, gourds and scarecrows in those seasonal displays, or can you actually eat it?

Corn does not grow wild anywhere in the world. Instead, this domesticated plant evolved sometime in the last 10,000 years, through human intervention, from teosinte, a form of wild Mexican grass. Originally cultivated in the Americas, corn was brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus in the late 1400s; thanks to other explorers and traders, it soon made its way to much of the rest of the globe. In America, the early colonists learned how to cultivate it from the Indians, for whom it was a dietary staple.”

When you think of Fall decorations, you think of Indian corn, so obviously this one is a staple. I even learned something new when I read this post, and that is a good reason to have it in my number two spot on this countdown.


“Pop Quiz!! Take our quiz and find out how much you know about Illinois corn and then leave a comment with what you scored!”corn quiz

This post was my number one favorite post from all previous October posts. It is a fun interactive quiz to test your knowledge of how much you know about corn. I took the quiz and on my first try scored a 9,683. No big deal. (*Brushes shoulder off*)


Hannah ZellerHannah Ferguson
Communications Assistant