[Originally published July 28, 2011]
A mutual friend recently introduced me to someone I’ll call Jane. Jane is college-educated, holds a good job and seemed to be an all around intellectual individual. In the course of our conversation and in getting to know each other it came up that I was from a farm. She literally said to me, “Oh my gosh, YOU are an ACTUAL farmer?” I explained that no, I have a full-time job, but my Dad IS a farmer and yes, I do still help on the farm when he needs it and my time allows. His operation isn’t large enough to hire full-time farmhands… that’s why he had four kids of course, built in help!
Jane was so excited to meet an actual ‘farmer’, she had a lot of questions that I was happy to answer. Some of them seemed so silly to me that I had a hard time not rolling my eyes. But then I remembered: if we as individuals who KNOW the answers to the silly questions don’t take them seriously, then who will? The people who have an anti-ag agenda, that’s who. And trust me, they are out there scattering their false statements around like a manure spreader.
After a lengthy conversation, I think Jane has a better understanding of agriculture and what farming actually is all about. She had no clue that 94% of all farms are family owned. Instead, she thought that the majority were owned by corporate entities and they just hired people to work on the farms. I asked her why she thought that and she said one of the reasons was the signs in fields. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this. Those seed corn signs that are all over the countryside this time of year? Yeah, to those outside of the ag world, they think that displays ownership of the field.
I must admit there were a few of her questions that I couldn’t give a precise answer to. Like what exactly are in pesticides and how they are applied. I’m not a chemist, nor do I have an applicators license, so while I can give broad answers, I can’t give specific details. However, since I do also work in the ag industry, I told her that it would be easy for me to find the answers and would gladly do so for her if she would like me to.
I present this only as an example and a reminder of what the ag community needs to do. If urban folks that literally live in our own backyards are excited, impressed and shocked to meet an actual ‘farmer’ then we aren’t doing our jobs! For so long, farmers have belonged to an association thinking that the association would promote their industry for them. That worked for a while, but no more.
Non-farmers want to connect with farmers. They want to understand who you are, what you do and why you do it. If you don’t tell them, who will?
Amie Hasselbring is a University Relations Recruiter for GROWMARK in Bloomington, IL. She grew up showing beef cattle in both 4-H and the FFA, realizing at a young age that she had a passion for communicating the positive message of the agriculture industry. After graduating from high school, Amie spent a year serving as the Illinois FFA State President and went on to attend Illinois State University (ISU) to study agriculture communications and leadership. During the summer after her junior year, Amie completed an internship at GROWMARK that gave her the opportunity to experience many different aspects of communications in agriculture. After graduating from ISU she was able to enter the GROWMARK system with a full-time position.
AMIE: I chose to pursue a career in agriculture because I have always been passionate about the industry. Growing up I was involved with our family farm and realized the noble purpose that comes along with being involved with such a great industry. Being a member of FFA developed the skill set I use every day in my career also showed me the countless opportunities in the industry.
AMANDA: What are some things that stand out that helped you get to where you are at today?
AMIE: Not being afraid to take opportunities – even when they may not seem be within your comfort zone or what you were seeking out.
Find a mentor (and don’t be afraid to ask someone to serve as your mentor). My mentor most definitely has helped me grow professionally. She has challenged me to take on new tasks and allowed me to utilize her as my sounding board.
Support from people believing in my abilities. This includes my family, my ag teacher, supervisors and mentors. They pushed me to take on new opportunities and were there to guide me through them as I grew.
AMANDA: Describe a typical day at work.
AMIE: It really depends on the season and honestly no two days are the same. My duties include facilitating a relationship between the GROWMARK and FS System and the secondary education community. This includes our hiring managers and their potential needs, as well as faculty and students. I am involved with the full life cycle of intern candidates which includes the initial meet, phone interview, face-to-face interview, offer extension, onboarding and internship experience. I am able to work closely with our product division managers as well as our Member Companies. A great deal of event planning also comes along with the job as well. Marketing is another aspect of the position. I market our brand on campus – not just our product and services but also our System and the opportunities within it and our people.
AMANDA: .What has been the most rewarding part of your career?
AMIE: The most rewarding part of my career is when a student realizes a career path they would like to pursue based on the experience we were able to provide them through an internship opportunity. Helping them gain the hands on experience to answering questions about job interviewing allows me to give back to students in the same manner people helped me start my career.
AMANDA: What advice would you give to a young person who is thinking of pursuing a career in the agriculture industry?
AMIE: Agriculture is not going anywhere – everyone needs to eat, utilize energy and fibers. If you have an interest, whether it be IT, communications, fuels, commodities, accounting etc., there is a home for you within the industry. Agriculture is continuously evolving and allows you as a young professional to grow your skill set right along with the industry.
Amie says that she loves agriculture because of the diverse opportunities within the industry. No matter what your passion may be, you can find your place. Whatever your role is within the industry you are contributing to the overall noble purpose of the feeding, fueling and clothing the world.
You can find Amie and the rest of the GROWMARK team at career fairs at your university this fall!
Ag in the Classroom Intern
This week Illinois FFA had an amazing opportunity sponsored by the Illinois Corn Growers. I along with my four major state officers and 17 Section Presidents journeyed to our nation’s capital, Washington D.C., to participate in National Corn Congress. We came out here to advocate for the agriculture industry, as well as, educate ourselves on the current “hot button” issues and meet with legislators to explain what agriculture and more specifically corn means to us.
In order to accurately convey our message to our legislators we first began by educating ourselves at the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Crop Life America.
Beginning at the AFBF was very helpful to us for obtaining information on a couple of the issues plaguing production agriculture. One of the biggest is the Clean Water Act. The biggest issue with this act is that there is no clear definition of navigable waters this makes it more difficult for farmers to follow guidelines. At the USDA, we had a fantastic lunch and met with an individual who told us more about their agency, its role with producers, as well as, how we can get involved. At the EPA we learned about pressing environmental concerns and discussed their efforts in connecting with farmers and their role in ensuring our voice and apprehensions are heard. Crop Life America really summed up the day for us and gave us some very helpful advocacy tips and a lot of really cool, free stuff! With all of this knowledge in hand it was time to go to the Hill!
Unfortunately with both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions either coming up or occurring this week the legislators had left town. Fortunately, the staff members out here are top-notch. Personally, we met with our home congressmen’s, Cheri Bustos and John Shimkus, staffers, as well as, Illinois senators, Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk. We found these staffers to be incredibly supportive of our efforts. For the most part these staffers were very in tuned to our concerns and were very supportive of Illinois agriculture.
It was a great trip for the Illinois FFA, full of memories and incredibly educational. Thank you to the Illinois Corn Growers for sponsoring this trip, giving us the opportunity to work with our federal legislature and for connecting us with information that will serve us greatly in our year of service!
In Blue and Gold,
J.C. Campbell and Paxton Morse
Illinois Association FFA
Summer is in full swing and finding activities to occupy your kids may be becoming a difficult task. Ice cream is the perfect summer treat. But what is it that goes into that ice cream that makes it taste so good and how can you use it to entertain your kids?
To start off, we have the milk. The most common dairy cow breeds are Jersey, Guernsey, Holstein (these are the cows that are white with black spots!), Ayrshire, and Brown Swiss. These breeds produce the milk that will be used to make ice cream.
The average dairy cow produces 8 gallons of milk each day, each gallon weighs almost 9 pounds! It takes about 12 pounds of milk to produce 1 gallon of ice cream. So how many gallons of ice cream can you get from the average cow each day? That’s right, each cow can give you about 5 ½ gallons of ice cream in a day!
Ice cream isn’t all milk though, so what else goes into the sweet treat? Sugar of course! Sugar cane is typically grown in areas with a warmer climate. Here in the US, sugarcane is commercially grown in Hawaii, Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. How do you get the sugar that we are all familiar with from the sugar cane? Well, the stalks are shredded and squeezed to remove the juice. That juice is then boiled and the sugar crystals begin to appear. Once the boiling process is over, the mixture is spun to remove the molasses and leaves the white sugar crystals. Those sugar crystals are then sold commercially as the sugar we all know and love!
We have the milk, we have the sugar, how are we going to flavor our ice cream? Well, for the purposes of our activity, we are going to talk about vanilla. Vanilla beans are most commonly grown in Mexico and Guatemala. The beans come from vine-like plants that can grow up to 30 feet tall! The liquid vanilla extract we find in the grocery store is produced by letting the contents of the vanilla bean infuse into the liquid. Using vanilla extract is much easier than using the bean itself which is why the liquid flavoring has become so popular.
Now that we know what goes into our ice cream, why not make some ourselves? But what if you don’t have an ice cream churn? Not a problem! Grab some plastic bags and some active kids and head outside.
Ice Cream in a Bag:
- ½ cup milk
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- 1 ½ tablespoons sugar
- 6 tablespoons salt (rock salt works best but table salt will do!)
- 1 gallon size Ziploc bag, filled ¾ the way with ice
- 1 quart size Ziploc bag
- Put the milk, vanilla, and sugar into the quart size bag (you may want to double bag the mixture). Shake until the ingredients are well mixed.
- Pour salt over the ice in the gallon size bag.
- Put the smaller bag inside the larger bag and close it.
- Send the kids out the yard to toss the bag back and forth or to shake it for about 10 minutes.
- Once the liquid has thickened, take the smaller bag out, open it up, and enjoy!
Ag in the Classroom Intern
In the past few years, many issues have popped up about animal welfare. These issues range from quality of life, the antibiotics used to treat livestock, and environmental concerns from factory farm animal waste.
The first thing I want to say is stop believing everything you read from large animal activist groups. They don’t always have the facts right. It’s just like in school when your teachers told you to not use Wikipedia as a “credible source” for writing a paper. I’m not saying that they are always incorrect, but the very fact that they are spreading false information is a major concern in supporting any claim they make.
I have seen many videos distorting the truth about factory farms. There was one video that used a drone to fly over a factory farm where the farm was shown disposing of animal excrement by spraying it carelessly into the air. When I first watched this, being the gullible, I was shocked by their lack of concern. However, after having read many stories where actual farmers expose the false information being fed into media—I was highly skeptical of this video.
Did you know that large farms are required by law to create Nutrient Management Plans? Basically, these plans describe how much manure is produced, how it will be stored, and where it will end up. In the case of this video, the factory farm disposed of their waste by having vents in the floor where animal excretions drop through and are flooded into a body of water. After a certain amount of time, this waste breaks down in the water and is transported to other farms where it can be sprayed over crops as fertilizer. Manure has been used for centuries to fertilize soil and provides a lot of essential nutrients to crops. While there are alternative fertilizer choices to manure that are beneficial and more cost efficient, still many farms are utilizing manure as a form of soil fertilizer.
Now let’s talk about antibiotics. When an animal gets sick, farmers carefully evaluate when they should use medicine to treat their animals. All antibiotics must go through rigorous government inspection before being approved for use in livestock. The medicine has to be approved in three areas; safety of the animal, environment, and the consumers. After approval, antibiotics are annually re-evaluated and only stay on the market if they are still safe. Specifically in the case of dairy cows, farmers separate cattle with illnesses from the cattle that are producing milk for purchase. Then, as the cattle that are treated with antibiotics, they remain separate until the medication passes from their system before returning to be milked for production. The separation period is also the same for livestock bred for meat. Farmers diligently make sure to take care with using antibiotic treatment and ensure that their products are not at all contaminated by the former medication when they hit market.
Here’s another thought. Why would a person become a full-time farmer if they didn’t love animals in the first place? Think about your job. After you finish school, it’s what consumes a majority of your life so it makes sense to work in what you love. More than that, agriculture is a business that costs. Taking care of even a dog, say for example, is expensive. How much more than does it cost to take care of hundreds of cattle or pigs? I’d like to end this by encouraging you to really dig deep when evaluating your standpoint regarding animal treatment. Farmers are not out to get you, because they also eat the food you eat.
Before I started my internship here at IL Corn this summer, I was informed that I would have to dress up as Captain Cornelius at several events this summer. While I did not look forward to sweating profusely in a costume in 90 degree heat, I was excited for the opportunity. I mean, who doesn’t want to dress up and act crazy while dressed as corn? No one? Just me? Okay…
After several stints in the costume for various photos and videos we did here at the office, which you can see on our YouTube channel, I came across my first event to attend as Captain Cornelius. Last night, we had an event at Standard Bank Stadium in Crestwood, a south suburb of Chicago. The Normal Cornbelters were playing the Windy City Thunderbolts.
An hour before the game was to begin, we were set up on the main concourse. Myself, dressed as Captain Cornelius, waved to children and took pictures with many kids for a chance to win a gift card to Mariano’s. Along with me was a farmer, Jim Robbins, from Will County, to help pass out freebies and talk with consumers about our fields and environment.
Right before the game was to begin, I was able to throw out a ceremonial first pitch. It was not a strike, but it did make it across the plate, or somewhere close to it. That wasn’t too bad for being inside the costume and not really being able to see out of it. Throughout the game, we walked around and spoke with kids and their parents about farming and their chances to win a gift card. I took numerous photos with kids, and even signed a few baseballs. It was pretty hard being the center of attention.
As we walked around, I heard many people talking about how I was just a piece of sweet corn, before being told that there are different types of corn, like dent, sweet, and popcorn. While there were many who called me sweet corn, there were also a good number of attendees who immediately told their children that I was field corn, and that I’m not the same thing as what you would eat at dinner time. It was refreshing to see and know that some efforts by the agriculture community are working to educate and communicate our practices with the consumers of the food we raise.
The best part of my night was when a little girl walked up to me and said, “My last name is Cornfield, so this is the best thing ever,” and then took a picture with Captain Cornelius. It’s the little things, I guess!
Want to come out and see Captain Cornelius in action? He and the crew will be out on August 2nd at Daley Plaza in Chicago and Silver Cross Field in Joliet, and also on August 13th at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva. For a full schedule and other information, check out watchusgrow.org/corn
After I graduated from college in May, I never expected to work in agriculture. When I received the internship, I wondered how working there was going to benefit my career. I later realized that Christ intended to use this as an opportunity to teach me how to appreciate the hard-working hands that feed me. Growing up in the United States, we have an expectation to get everything we want. The sad thing is, there are so many other countries around the world that cannot boast of the same privileges. I’d like to take this time to share with you why it’s so important to appreciate American Agriculture and reflect on how much we take for granted.
I had the same understanding as anyone else when it comes to food. You go to the grocery store, and its there, perfectly packaged waiting for you to buy it. I never went out of my way to research agricultural-related topics or invest in anything past the first page of a Google search. I listened as my coworkers discussed topics like “GMOS,” and it piqued my interest so much that I started to dig deeper and do some real research. This wasn’t the only major Ag-issue I researched, just one example, and throughout all of the different controversial topics I explored (trying my best to remain as unbiased as I could), I still didn’t understand where the negative hype came from. All of the facts were presented, most farm stories I came across seemed eager to share their voice, and the general consensus was that, overall, American farmers were just as invested in safe and healthy food as the consumers were.
I’ve learned that mainstream media distorts the truth for most controversial topics-food, religion, politics—you name it. I’ve learned that the first page of a Google search does not do healthy research investigation justice. I’ve learned that certain organizations against big agriculture will do whatever they can to gain attention and profit even if it means spreading false information and allowing their audience to construe misconceptions. I’ve learned that farmers go into the livestock business primarily because they love animals, they don’t have a wicked bone in their body, and would never think about abusing their animals. More than that, I have better understanding as to why it’s important to treat sick animals with antibiotics and how careful farmers are about preventing traces of the medication to seep into their products. I’ve learned that agriculture is an expensive industry, so not only do farmers take care of their crops and livestock well—but also it costs them for every minor mistake made which adds to the motivation of careful care. I’ve learned that GMOs could save lives if people would stop worrying about unproven risk. I’ve learned that GMOs are just as safe as regular crops, and are more resilient, which is a very necessary for future population needs. I’ve learned so much in such a small time that I can’t even describe it all.
I’m thankful that God brought me into a line of work I barely knew anything about, even if it’s just a temporary assignment. It gave me a deeper perspective on how appreciative I should be for living in a country where I have access to practically an endless food supply. More than that, it gave me a passion for American farmers and love for the work they do in a way I never would have if Christ had led me elsewhere. Sometimes I think it’s important to stop and smell the roses, especially when the one who plants those roses are the reason its aroma is so sweet.