Grocery shopping is one of the inevitable tasks everyone has to complete. I find myself buying groceries once a week and each visit I find myself dreading the store more and more. Every time I go to the store there’s an abundance of people, I can never find what I’m looking for, and more than likely I’m pushing around the jankiest cart the store has. Strangely, though, for someone who hates grocery shopping as much as I do, I’m obsessive about the process.

3-14-1720170307_185307Before I’ve even left to go to the store, I have searched ads and websites for the best deals that week. This week it happened to be Hy-Vee because I only needed a few things and there were really good gas points on the items I needed. I’m normally a strict Aldi buyer, especially when I’m in the market for meat and produce, but Hy-Vee was a quick stop after work and I could save myself fifteen cents a gallon with my purchases.As soon as I walked through the doors of Hy-Vee I was quickly greeted by a sign stating, “Today we have 116 fresh, organic produce items.” Being someone who grew up on a farm and has always eaten conventionally raised vegetables out of my dad’s garden, I have never been concerned about eating organic. If the food has been properly inspected and is on the store’s shelves then I know, regardless of organic, conventional, GMO, or non-GMO, that my food is safe; I trust the USDA.

3-14-17PicsArt_03-08-01.54.08 (1)I perused the produce section for a bag of salad mix and was quickly astonished by the range of prices. The salad I bought was 2 bags for $4, and with a coupon were only 99 cents a bag, but right next to them were the organic greens ranging from $3 to $8 a container. In the fresh produce section, conventional baby carrots were priced at $2.74 and cucumbers were 79 cents apiece, but if you wanted organic vegetables you had to pay $3.49 for the baby carrots and $2.50 for one cucumber. The price difference was even steeper in the meat department, and I was not about to pay $10 for a pound of anything.

3-14-17PicsArt_03-08-02.00.06 (1)What infuriated me the most though was when I walked by the popcorn selection. A regular 12 pack box of Orville Redenbacher popcorn was $3.48, but just two rows below was a 3 pack box of Black Jewell natural, non-GMO verified popcorn for $3.99. I was appalled that this popcorn had a Non-GMO Verified Project label on the front of the box because no form of popcorn is genetically modified. The only varieties of corn on the market that can be genetically modified are field and sweet corn, so why is this company, and many others, misleading consumers with this label? As a consumer, if you are spending extra money for non-GMO products because you believe they are safer (even though there is zero proof non-GMO is safer or healthier for you), be aware that there are only nine genetically modified products on the market, which you can learn more about from GMO Answers.

All throughout the store, I kept finding huge differences in prices. There is an entire section in Hy-Vee dedicated to healthier choices, and almost every product on those shelves contained an organic or Non-GMO verification label. Eating organic and non-GMO products does not constitute as a healthier meal; there is zero evidence stating it is healthier yet there is an abundance of evidence that GMO products are safe. As consumers, we should be aware of what we are buying and stop paying more for scare tactic marketing.

Rebecca Klump
Illinois State University


Water is essential for agriculture, just as water is essential for humans.  I know that I wouldn’t want to drink water if I didn’t know what was in my glass.  Just like us, farmers want to know what is in the water they’re using for their crops.  A water test will look at the levels of nutrients, bacteria concentrations, water salinity, and water pH.

3-13-17irrigation systemThe first reason to test the water is to improve water usage with irrigation.  This would apply to parts of southern Illinois; there are many reasons that a farm may have to irrigate its crops, including dry climate or well-drained soils.  One of the most important aspects of the water test for irrigated land is the salinity, which is when excess sodium accumulates in the soil and acts as a toxin. This makes it harder for plants to absorb water from the soil.  Farmers who irrigate must keep an eye on the water salinity because soil can’t recover from this.

3-13-17Animal drinkingAnother reason to test water is to measure the water quality and be sure that the water is safe for animal consumption.  Animals do not need the same standard of water quality that humans do.  Farmers, if they own livestock, would want to test the water to look at the number of bacteria in the water and to be sure that the bacteria isn’t harmful.  Bacteria can also be harmful to fruits or vegetables because it can contaminate the fruit or vegetable. Then those foods become harmful to the people or animals consuming them, like E. coli or Salmonella.
PrintThe third reason to test water is to find ways to reduce leaching or loss of nutrients due to draining through the soil.  Nobody wants to throw away money, so farmers should test their water to learn more about the nutrients in the water already.  The biggest nutrient that is leached in the soil would be nitrogen, and when nitrogen is in the soil it is a fantastic nutrient, but if it is leached out and into fresh water bodies then it becomes a pollutant.   Also, farmers need to look at the number of nutrients the water is leaking from the soil because that will not be useful to the crops.

Water has a large effect on soil and soil has a huge effect on plant growth.  For example, the soil needs to contain a pH of around 6.5, which is slightly acidic.  Testing the water pH is important because it will affect the acidity of the soil, and if the water is too acidic then the soil will become too acidic.

97% of the world water is in the ocean, which is unusable.  The freshwater that used in needs to be tested.  In agriculture, it is essential to test water to ensure water quality, understand and reduce leaching, and prevent water salinity and soil salinity.


Mary Marsh
University of Illinois


[Originally posted: March 9, 2015]

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.
alexis rothrock

Alexis Rothrock
Southern Illinois University


Waterways (e.g. Mississippi River) are important to farmers, especially in the Midwest. That’s how they are able to transport the grain that they produce to places across the globe. Since exports are one of the largest factors of where corn goes after it’s grown,  farmers depend on these waterways. Many of these structures are outdated and crumbling after going decades without improvement. We need them to be updated now or farmers will lose a cost efficient and vital resource. It facilitates the largest part of corn sales. It’s incredibly important to farmers, to a state’s economy, and to our national economy.

Here’s two of our leaders, Grundy County farmers Paul Jeschke and his wife Donna, explaining how necessary these structures are.


[Originally published: March 2, 2015]


Could 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.


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.


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