CITY PRODUCE PROGRAM PROVIDES NUTRITION, EDUCATION, AND UNDERSTANDING

Over the weekend, I was lucky enough to visit one of our partner sites in the City Produce Program, the Cook County Jail.

It was exciting to see all the fresh produce being gathered which will then be distributed to families without access to fresh veggies in inner city Chicago.  It was equally exciting to see the inmates at Cook County Jail learning about horticulture, becoming certified Master Gardners through the University of Illinois Extension program, and adding a trade to their resume to use as they rebuild their future.

But I’m interested in the new connections being built between urban and rural citizens of Illinois.

This project is about nutrition and goodwill towards our neighbors, but its also about awareness.  How often do the farmers in Illinois consider those without access to a grocery store other than the local gas station convenience store?  I can guess that its not often.

Likewise, how much do Chicago residents understand about farming as an occupation?  About the ups and downs of the market, the vulnerability of the weather, the long hours and sneaky insects that equal risky paychecks?  Not much, I’m sure.  And through this program, volunteers that simply want to contribute to the fresh vegetable access are seeing first hand what it really is to be a farmer.

There is a gap right now between the reality for urban Illinoisans and the reality for rural Illinoisans.  That gap causes distrust and confusion because of a mutual lack of understanding between the two.  What the Chicago Produce Project seeks to do for Illinois corn farmers is create understanding.

Become a Facebook fan of the City Produce Project, Illinois Corn, and Monsanto (all partners in this effort) so that you can learn more about the good we are doing in urban Chicago.  Check out Crain’s coverage of the project here.  Consider getting involved.

Rodney Weinzierl
Executive Director, ICGA/ICMB

SPRING AND SUMMER INTERNS NEEDED!

Becky Finfrock and I spent the day at Illinois State University’s Ag Career Fair today, recruiting for our spring and summer ag communications internships.  We had a great time chatting with ISU ag students, some of which were interested in ag communications and some of which weren’t interested at all!  But everyone seemed to want to know more about Illinois Corn and what exactly we do on behalf of corn farmers.
We advocate for them.  In case you were confused as well.

 

Here’s hoping that the fruits of our labors today will be intelligent, motivated college students who are passionate about agriculture and the image of farmers and modern food production!
Students, if you’re out there, we need more of you to step up to the plate and get active on behalf of Illinois agriculture.  Consider an internship with Illinois Corn for the spring or summer semester.  Spring semester interns will be focused on the social media application of their choice (Facebook, Twitter, blogging) and will independently populate, manage, and collect data on that social media tool.  Illinois Corn wants to know what motivates different audiences to interact and dialogue via social media!
Our summer interns are also focused on social media, but are expected to work in our office all summer and are more heavily focused on YouTube videos and other video applications.
Interns must be Illinois residents.
To apply, email me at lmitchell@ilcorn.org.
mitchell_lindsayLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

ENGAGE IN SOCIAL MEDIA USING THESE TIPS AND TRICKS

Farmers and “agvocates” from around the country met in Chicago recently to fine tune their social media skills.

As a board member on the AgChat Foundation, I was so impressed to see the instant camaraderie amongst the group as we clearly had some things in common: a love for American agriculture and a willingness to engage non-farmers on issues.

I was one of the speakers at the conference and I focused on basic communication skills. Don’t let the “social media” part of social media get in the way. I’m talking about moving the coffee shop to your laptop. Here are some of my tips and tricks regarding communication that I sent home with the more than 50 attendees:

If we were to summarize what non-farmers are saying to us, it is this:
• I don’t know much about what you do.
• You do something very important to me.
• You raise the food my family eats.
• The most important thing to me is protecting my family and ensuring their health.
• I know you work hard.
• I want to trust you.
• But I’m concerned based on what I see and hear.
• Give me reasons to trust you.

Tap into the Emotions that drive trust: Authenticity (openness, transparency, the “truth”) Shared Values (“you” care about what “I” care about; Protecting me, my family, and my world) Responsibility

Engage in a dialogue, not a monologue

3 F’s: Feel, Felt, Found
• I appreciate the way you Feel
• Others have Felt the same way
• Here’s what I’ve Found

Squint With Your Ears!
• Know why you are listening
• Focus on content and the non-verbal messages
• Organize what you are hearing through observation, reflective listening and note taking
• Give your attention; if you cannot, say so
• Avoid giving advice, moralizing, predicting the future
• Avoid interrupting
• Listen with your heart as well as your head

Watch this video to get a flavor for what brought the group together.

http://www.youtube.com/v/eYoADgvJgE4?fs=1&hl=en_US
 

Tricia Braid
ICGA/ICMB Communications Director

VOTE

Among other things, one important activity our board engaged in last week was the Illinois Ag Legislative Roundtable’s Candidate Forum.  We heard from Governor Pat Quinn, his opponent Representative Bill Brady, Congressman Mark Kirk who is running for Senate and his opponent and current Treasurer of the IL Alexi Giannoulias.
It really was a great night.  The weather was lovely as we listened to them from the middle of a cornfield in McLean County and the food was good.  Any farmer knows that the quality of a meeting can be partially judged by the food, right?
But this post isn’t really about the candidates.  Nor is it about the food.  It’s really about just plain voting.
I came home from the Candidate Forum and I was energized.  Actually, I was less energized and more motivated.  The candidates probably don’t really inspire me as much as they motivate me to want to control government spending.  Will any of our candidates do that?  I’m not sure … but the fact remains that I’m going to vote simply because I want someone that might control spending to get into office.

 

And as motivated as I was, as I spoke to my neighbor, she was equally unmotivated.  She doesn’t care.  She doesn’t think her vote matters.  She believes that all the candidates on every side of the aisle are biased and uncaring about the American/Illinois public.  She believes that they are all seeking election for the wrong reasons.

She can’t find a candidate that she can believe in.  She can’t find a candidate that she mostly agrees with and she doesn’t understand how she can prioritize to just one topic and vote according to candidate positions on that topic.

I’m sure I can find fifty other people in the span of the next fifteen minutes that agree with her.

In the chronicals of our history I’m sure there are also millions and millions of letters, articles, stories that aim to inspire people to vote.  Will I do any better than any of those?  Likely not, but I can’t ignore it all the same.

Perhaps the problem with our country is not so much the politicians as it is the plain old citizens – the ones that are uninspired, apathetic, and too busy to care or notice what’s happening.  Perhaps the problem with our state is that its citizens aren’t demanding more accountability, more access, and more information.  Perhaps the problem with our democracy isn’t the vote, but the voters themselves.

To paraphase something Treasurer Giannoulias said in his address, things in Washington aren’t going to change until elected officials quit serving their party and themselves and recognize that they are serving the American public.

Perhaps things in Washington (and Illinois!) aren’t going to change until each and every ordinary citizen does exactly the same.

Vote.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

FAMILY FARMERS, FRONT AND CENTER IN IL AND NATIONAL MEDIA

While I’ll apologize up front for less meaty content on our blog the past couple weeks, I’ll also offer you that we’ve all been in meetings, at the state fair, and now in our Illinois Corn Marketing Board and Illinois Corn Growers Association Board meetings just drumming up fabulous content and thought provoking concepts for you to mull over in the coming weeks.

During our board meeting today, Senate Candidate and current US Congressman Mark Kirk addressed both boards with your standard campaign speech and then opened the floor for questions.  During that portion, one board member asked that all the family farmers in the room raise their hand.  Of course, the view for those 5 seconds was all hands.

This perception that the majority of farms are owned my corporations like Monsanto, Pioneer or ADM is one of the things the Corn Farmers Coaltion is trying to change.  There’s this ad that we’ve had in DC metro stations, at Reagan National Airport, and in Washington, DC publications like Congressional Quarterly and Politco …

But there’s also a need to create awareness in the homes of farmers throughout IL that this really is a problem.  So there’s also this ad that was published in FARMWEEK on Monday, August 23 and will appear in AgriNews on Thursday, August 26.

This is our effort to let Illinois farmers know that this is a real problem – a HUGE problem – and that we are trying to fix it.  After all, the Illinois Corn Marketing Board was one of the first funders of this effort and is still one of the largest funders in the coalition.

We’ve made more than 100 million positive impressions (to clarify the marketing lingo, an impression is one viewing.  So these ads have been seen 100 million times, maybe sometimes by the same people, but rarely does one viewing actually hit home anyway.) with our legislators, thought leaders, and others in the DC area and now we’re bringing these ads back to IL to put a face on Illinois corn farmers.

Remember this?  These Corn Farmers Coalition ads are now all over the Normal, IL Corn Crib, teaching people the truth about the agriculture all around them and introducing them to the family farmers that feed them everyday.

Check out the Corn Farmers Coalition website to learn more about what we’re doing to set the record straight about corn farmers and US agriculture.  I’m confident that you won’t be sorry that you did.

mitchell_lindsayLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

CHICAGOAN OF THE CORN: MY EXPERIENCE HARVESTING CORN FOR THE CITY PRODUCE PROJECT

As a college student, I have a general rule for mornings; stay in bed as long as possible. On Thursday, however, I found myself waiting at the train station at 6:50 a.m. to pick up my friend Ryan because we were going on an adventure. We were going corn harvesting in Manhattan, IL. Armed with bug spray, sunscreen, caffeine and Twinkies, these two city kids were on the road south to lend a hand to farmers who were aiding the City Produce Project supported by Monsanto and the Illinois Corn Marketing Board. While in the car, I explained the program to my yawning partner in crime.

“The corn is going to be sent to a food pantry and then given to people who live in food deserts,” I said.

“Where is there a desert around here,” Ryan asked. More caffeine.

I started to question this adventure as the trek took us through landscape less dotted with buildings and more defined by various crops indistinguishable to my untrained urban eye. But after navigating country detours and gravel roads with my not-as-trusty-as-you’d-expect GPS, there was no turning back. I parked my car behind a pick-up truck and next to a tractor, and Ryan and I left bliss known as air-conditioning behind.

“It’s hot. I mean…no, really, it is hot,” I observed in discomfort. I questioned my choices in farming fashion, wondering if I should have dressed for extreme heat, but surprisingly enough, I made a smart decision.

When picking corn, it is a good idea to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, plus eye protection. I split the difference on all counts, opting for capris, short-sleeved t-shirt and goofy sunglasses. Truth be told, I looked goofy, period.

With a high-five and a “Let’s DO THIS!” affirmation, we joined a large group of volunteers in the field. There were several kids helping, some of which were from a church group and some were Boy Scouts, and all seemed very eager to help. I noticed a photographer snapping pictures of all the hard work and also heard John Kiefner, a farmer who planted corn for City Produce Project, giving a very energetic interview.

Ryan and I introduced ourselves to an experienced corn harvester and received a quick tutorial. After another high-five and bout of nervous laughter, I got to pickin’. A corn stalk had anywhere between one and three ears of corn growing on it. The first stalk I grabbed had a large ear of corn, so I took hold and tried to rip it off the stalk. It didn’t budge. At all. Embarrassment ensued.

Ryan surrounded by broken stalks

I swallowed my pride and asked a young volunteer next to me, “Wait…I maybe missed something here. How do you do this again?” He said, “Like this,” and ripped that sucker clean off without a hitch. I needed to man up. After that small hiccup, it was smooth sailing; remove the corn, then break the stalk so it would fall to the ground and make way for the next. The crops themselves were actually very resilient, with leaves firm enough to give me a small cut similar to a paper-cut on the top of my hand. It even drew a small amount of blood, but nothing was going to get me to cry uncle in front of these seasoned harvesters. Not even the fact that I was smeared with mud. Yuck.

Once the corn was removed from the stalk, I was told to peel back a small section of the husk to make sure the corn was acceptable to be donated. It was important to harvest as much good corn as we could, considering the crop was going to those in underserved communities. Every ear counted.

“If it’s yellow and developed, throw it in the bucket,” said our corn guru. I took that advice maybe too literally, and did my best Michael Jordan lay-up with my corn haul.

“She shoots…she scores,” Kiefner exclaimed while driving a tractor in reverse. Who says a city girl can’t have fun on a farm?

After my re-enactment of the Chicago Bulls Championship run of 1993, Ryan and I dumped the bucket of corn onto a large flat-bed truck. Kiefner drove the truck from the field and into the barn, where the corn was loaded into sacks. The barn was also where the volunteers could refuel and get a minute away from the beating rays of the sun (did I mention it was hot?). Volunteers sat down on any suitable area they could find and sipped on water to prevent dehydration.

The field after all the sweet corn was harvested

Jim Robbins, the owner of the farm, helped facilitate the action within the barn while Kiefner worked outside. During my time in the barn, I got to see all of the volunteers at once; there was significantly more than I had anticipated. I signed my name onto a sheet that was passed around the barn, and I was amazed that my name fit on the second sheet of paper.

While I didn’t get a chance to really interact with many of the other helpers, I did take a moment to chat with a lady who had videotaped us working in the field. When she asked where I was from, I told her Chicago.

“Wow, what are you doing down here,” she asked.

“I’m here to help on behalf of the City Produce Project,” I said. Noticing her confusion, I continued, “This corn will be cycled into this program. After it leaves the farm, it will be distributed to families who have little access to fresh vegetables otherwise. It’s designed to improve nutrition in places that don’t have the opportunity to experience fresh, local food like this. It’s a good thing.”

And that’s when it hit me.

It really is a good thing. While getting up before fast food joints stop serving breakfast and driving down a gravel road isn’t going to be a lifestyle that’s calling my name, I have a new appreciation for fresh food. The farmers seemed so grateful for the help, expressing that we managed to finish a day-long job for two people in just about two hours. Plus knowing the corn was going to city residents in need rather than a supermarket produce section halfway across the country solidified a sense of just plain “good.”

For more information about the City Produce Project, check out their Twitter at http://twitter.com/CityProdProj

Nicky Hunter
The Kineo Group Intern

PAYING EIGHT DOLLARS FOR EGGS IS A BARGAIN? SINCE WHEN!?

Remember when the price of food went up a bit last year and everyone screamed and cried?  Legislators were getting calls right and left about how their constituents couldn’t afford to go to the grocery store anymore?  The media had us all concerned that Americans were finally going to go hungry?

Michael Pollan, journalist and self-appointed “food production system expert” with zero background in food science, nutrition or agriculture, has announced that he feels $8 for a dozen eggs is a great thing!

What’s even crazier is that the elite in this country agree with him!

I’m afraid that we have seriously gotten to a point in this country where we are way too wealthy and out of touch with reality.  We don’t know what it is to be hungry and we left our common sense in back in the 1900’s.

If you need more proof that the rich and influential in American are getting a bit extreme, check out this article on how the EPA wants to regulate dust in the air.  Dust!

Lindsay Mitchell

ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

SURPRISE! FARMERS HAVE TO FEED AN EXPONENTIALLY GROWING WORLD POPULATION!

I find it interesting that this is “breaking National news.”

Are there any readers that were under the assumption that food was just going to magically appear in your refrigerator? Did any of you think that world population was decreasing?

Of course farmers need to work smarter in order to grow safe, affordable, wholesome food for a world population that is growing exponentially. That’s why growing more with less is exactly what we’re doing.

“Maintaining adequate food production levels in light of increasing population, climate change impacts, increasing costs of energy, constraints on carbon, land degradation and the finite supply of productive soils is a major challenge,” said Dr. Neil MacKenzie says in the article.

That’s why corn farmers are facing that challenge head on.

They’ve decreased the amount of land needed to produce one bushel of corn, the amount of soil lost per bushel of corn, the amount of energy used to produce one bushel of corn, and the emissions per bushel of corn.

The article also quotes Ms. Wensley, a former Australian ambassador for the environment, who said scientists have an important public advocacy role in the face of “growing disconnect between food production and consumption on our heavily and increasingly urbanized planet.”

And I guess that statement is exactly why the fact that we need to grow more food with less is breaking National news. It’s not that farmers aren’t able to meet the challenge. It’s not that corn farmers aren’t ALREADY meeting the challenge. It’s that consumers don’t understand what actions corn farmers are taking and that we actually have a challenge in the first place.

That’s where you come in.

Have you connected with important ag media outlets to get good tidbits of information to share with your friends? Have you made an effort to connect your friends with those same outlets?  Check out Agricultural Everyday on Facebook. Check out The Beef Ambassador blog or Midwestern Gold. Follow @agchick on Twitter. Encourage your friends, neighbors, and acquaintances to do the same.

Start talking about agriculture. Let’s make the awesome job that farmers are doing the next national headline.

Jim Tarmann
ICGA/ICMB Field Services Director

WE MUST UNITE TO ADVOCATE OUR INDUSTRY AND EDUCATE THE PUBLIC

Throughout time we have seen struggles in American Agriculture. Every segment of the American Agriculture Industry has its distinct issues. From animal rights groups to the use of genetic engineering to develop better hyrbrids, agriculture is always under scrutiny. However, a more significant and prevalent challenge exists.

When I served as the Illinois State FFA President I was always asked the question, “What is the most important issue in agriculture?” Working for the Illinois Beef Association this summer, I realize the answer is still the same: Awareness and knowledge of agriculture in the American public. As more and more people become removed from where their food supply comes from, the basic understanding of our industry slowly diminishes.

We are all in this struggle together. From the landscaper in the Chicago suburbs, the central Illinois Corn Farmer, the Beef Producer in western Illinois and the southern pork producer, we must unite together to advocate our industry and EDUCATE the public. These people are more than our customers; they are our friends, neighbors, employers and fellow human beings. Cooperation and action will be the solution to this struggle, and will ensure the future of American Agriculture for generations to come!

I invite you to read this article on BEEF Magazine that encourages us all to change our mindsets and consider the end consumer in every single one of our conversations about agriculture.

Clay Zwilling
Illinois Beef Association Summer Intern
Former FFA State President
(Follow me on IBA’s FACEBOOK page!)

CORN IS A RECORD CROP

Out here in DC where many corn farmers from many different states have met to visit their congressmen and work on corn policy, one topic of conversation that bridges all gaps is this season’s crop. Fairly often, you hear one farmer walk up to another they barely know, and overcome any political or ideological differences with one question: “So, are you going to have a record crop this year?”

Unfortunately, extremely wet weather in IL makes most of the IL corn farmers answer no, but the subject of record yields and yields that trend upwards and offer less variability are a common topic in our congressional visits too. In fact, growing corn yields are addressed in the new Corn Fact Book that we are giving to each of our elected officials this week.

We as farmers understand that when we used to get 150 bushel to the acre, we’re now getting more than 200. Consumers, legislators, and thought leaders both in DC and in our communities in Illinois don’t know that.

This is one place where you can help. Explaining something as simple as Illinois corn’s yield trend to your neighbors and non-farm friends can help people understand that there is more than enough corn to provide for all our markets and that our efficiency and yields are still growing!

I am proud to be a part of the latest Corn Farmers Coalition ad campaign in DC and around our state and I am equally proud to share the below excerpt from the Corn Fact Book where we explain growing yields. If you could use a copy of the Corn Fact Book in your community work to educate friends and neighbors about corn production, please leave a note in the comments and we will be happy to help you obtain a copy.

Scott Stirling
ICMB Vice Chair

Record After Record

How do America’s family farmers out-produce everyone else? The roots of this success run deep and wide.

There’s know-how – the everyday working knowledge and understanding of how best to plant, raise and harvest a crop. This is not simply tossing a few seeds to the ground and hoping for the best. It involves high-tech equipment that places hybrid seeds at the desired depth in the soil and the optimal number of seeds per acre. It’s the ability to help keep that crop healthy during the growing season. The understanding of where plant nutrients are needed and when – and the technical savvy to do just that. The optimism to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into a crop Mother Nature can wipe out in an instant.

Then comes the continuing advancement of hybrid seed corn – every year means better hybrid seeds for farmers. Plant breeders today have advanced tools to better predict which desirable characteristics will come from its two parents. They can identify those with potential and run tests before a single seed is ever planted in the ground. Add the advances gained through biotechnology and the potential from mapping the corn genome, its DNA, and it’s safe to say today’s yields – unimagined a generation ago – are just the beginning.