SIX REASONS FARMERS VISIT WASHINGTON, DC

  1. TO EXPLAIN HOW THEY LIVE: It’s no secret that every single year, more and more kids leave the farm and the rural areas where they’ve grown up for the bigger cities.  Flat out, there is just more opportunity in ST. Louis or Chicago for those young Americans.  Even if they want to stay in the ag industry, they have multiple opportunities to work for the Chicago Board of Trade or for Monsanto in the bigger cities than they do in the rural areas.  The result is that many of our legislators just don’t know what it is to live on the farm or even in a rural area.  Who better to explain farm family life to them, but farmers?
  2. FARMERS ARE LESS THAN 2 PERCENT OF THE POPULATION: And even among those 2 percent, a majority will never travel to Washington, DC and will never make an appointment to see their elected official.  It means so much to those elected officials to see real farmers in their Washington, DC offices – to have someone to ask questions of and to reflect on problems with.  Farmers really ought to visit our nation’s capital more often!
  3. TO EXPLAIN HOW POLICIES MIGHT OR MIGHT NOT WORK: Because legislators aren’t always super aware of rural life or of how to farm, they need farmers in their office to talk them through potential policy ideas.  While a farm bill is being debated, for example, farmers need to be available to point out successes or pitfalls of potential policy.  How will legislators who have never farmed understand how a policy might really work on an actual farm?
  4. TO SEE HOW THEY CAN HELP: Sometimes, legislators that really do try hard to represent their district and enact policies that make a difference need help too.  An elected official might be trying to do the right thing, but media or other non-supporters in his or her district are swinging the other way, which makes the right thing difficult.  Farmers often ask how they can help their Congressman on any potential issues in the district.  If a Congressman is genuinely trying to do the right thing for his district, farmers definitely want to help that Congressman so that he or she can remain in office.
  5. TO DONATE MONEY: It takes money to get elected into Congress and to remain in Congress.  Whether that’s right or wrong, farmers will often visit Washington, DC to donate funds to the elected officials who help them on pro-farm and pro-rural life policy initiatives.  Farmer leaders want to enable the best Congressman who try to understand agriculture and rural life to remain in office.
  6. TO BETTER UNDERSTAND THE DYNAMICS OF VARIOUS POLICY INITIATIVES: Often when farmers visit Washington, DC, they are able to meet with other national associations, companies, and think tanks to gather information and get a better picture of the dynamics influencing policy decisions.  For example, if farmers really want to pass tax reform, they need to meet with other impacted parties to determine how certain tax reforms might work for them.  Perhaps there’s a negative impact that the farmers haven’t considered and the policy idea can be changed.  Perhaps many associations are in favor of the same tax fix and they can all work together to show Congress why one idea is better than another.

When IL Corn farmer leaders travel to Washington, DC, there is almost no free time!  By the time we schedule in meetings with other interested associations and companies, by the time we background ourselves on what’s going on in Washington, DC and meet with our elected officials (all 20 of them!), and by the time we participate in fundraisers for the Congressmen who have helped us, we’re running from 6 am til 9 pm and that’s no exaggeration.

But the work farmers do in D.C. is so important to protecting farm families and rural life.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH FFA?

If you live in Illinois and are even remotely involved in agriculture, you have most likely heard the Illinois Association FFA convention took place this week. In the agriculture world, that’s a big deal. It’s more than just tons of high school kids walking around in blue corduroy jackets and dress slacks, it is high school students picking the future leaders of American agriculture.

This time of year, nostalgia hits as I begin to reflect on my own FFA days and what those experiences meant to me. Too often people explain FFA as the former title of “Future Farmers of America”, but that is no longer an accurate description of the organization. FFA provides leadership and growth opportunities for high school youth, even those who don’t want to farm.

Throughout my time in FFA, I learned more about myself than I ever could have in a classroom. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dismissing a classroom education, I wouldn’t be pursuing a Master’s degree right now if I didn’t see the value in it, but I think there is much more to be learned about oneself that can’t be figured out until you enter the real world.

I knew what I wanted to do as a career when I was a sophomore in high school, but I wouldn’t have been able to narrow that down without the experiences that FFA allowed me. I had always enjoyed talking, ask anyone who knows me, but I loved presenting to groups. In FFA I could speak to groups about agriculture and opportunities within it. At this point, I knew I had found my life calling, something I had been born to do.

Not everyone has college aspirations, and that is something else I was able to learn through FFA. There is a shortage of skilled workers in the country and FFA is a place where students can try their hand at these skills. In my own family 3 out of 4 kids were headed straight to a four-year university, but the youngest had a different plan, he wanted to weld. Never for a moment were my parents in the least disappointed in his choice. They knew that his skills as a welder were needed the same as mine as a communicator and my sisters’ as teachers.

We aren’t the only family like this, the only ones whose lives had been shaped by opportunities given to us by FFA. Competitions in FFA range from livestock judging to public speaking, business management to forestry, mechanics to parliamentary procedure, and much more. Students can easily find their niche in at least one Career Development Event (CDE) or become a veteran at competitions like myself. In FFA, you learn it isn’t about winning, but getting to experience a taste of the real world in a way that would otherwise not be possible.

At the 89th Annual Illinois Association State FFA Convention that took place this week, officers were many state level CDE competitions were held. In addition, the new major state officers elected will tour the state over the next year on behalf of both Illinois FFA and agriculture. FFA turns students into leaders and gives those leaders avenues to represent the agriculture industry that they hold near and dear.

Shelby Carlson
IL Corn Intern

A CALL FOR FOOD PRODUCTION TRANSPARENCY

In a recent News Watch, the Food Production Industry was called to increase their transparency. It pointed out that while the population wants to know more about what is going into their food, there is no one group that helps wholly responsible for this effort.

It’s no secret that consumers are becoming more and more interest in the makeup of their food. A trip to the grocery store once involved choosing between the name and generic brand now involves sifting through a collection of letters and symbols placed on the food all in an attempt to learn a bit more about what is going into their body. This transparency is a right consumer have, but who is ultimately responsible? And who should be making sure the consumers understand the labels in front of them?

One must remember that the average consumer has very little knowledge of how their food is produced. It is easy to blame their lack of knowledge on an absence of effort in finding answers. They don’t spend their days in a field and their nights and weekends discussing yields with their neighbors. Their chosen profession is just as foreign a concept to a farmer.

When an average consumer hears the phrase “all natural” they honestly believe it is better for them, and why wouldn’t they?  Farmers use chemicals with names that are hard to pronounce for reasons that a consumer can’t understand. If there is a safer way to get the job done, why isn’t it being done the way? This is where transparency is the job of the agriculture industry.

Increasing industry transparency should be a top priority for producers globally. Agriculture has nothing to cover up. Safe food is produced that feeds a growing population. With the evolution of technology, questions can be answered and experiences can be shared at a much larger speed than ever before.

Americans and the global population want to trust farmers. These men and women represent the heart of the values that are held near to the hearts of the people. They are the foundation and how the country became what it is today. Each and every farmer is responsible for the life of 155 people.

Shelby Carlson
IL Corn Intern

TAKE SOME YA AND AGRICULTURE WITH YOU TO THE BEACH

[Originally published from BeyondTheBarnDoor]

Summer is here…and how about a reading list for teachers?  Whet your summer reading appetite with some YA and Ag Books!


Take some YA and Agriculture to the Beach!
A recent survey found that over half of the audience for Young Adult Literature (YA) are adults!  Why not join the ranks and take some YA with you this summer, to the beach, the ballfield or just out to the backyard!

Young Adult Literature includes pieces you probably remember. Huckleberry FinnThe Outsiders,  and even Harry Potter are considered YA, and while you might feel guilty or embarrassed about reading books designed for a younger audience, I think the summer is the perfect time to branch out! I believe you’ll find these books entertaining and fast paced.  Remember the audience they are geared toward has many more options for spare time entertainment.   The books are also well written and tackle tough issues but in a hopeful way.  They are typically relatable and many are being made into films or television shows and most are typically shorter.

My choices for YA books with an ag flair for you to use this summer??  Take a gander!

  1. A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck or anything by Richard Peck!
  2. ….and now Miguel  by Joseph Krumgold 1950’s Newberry Medalist with a sheep theme
  3. War Horse by Michael Morpugo…great movie, even better book
  4. Kristina Srpinger’s Just Your Average Princess…. Illinois Author, set in central IL, can’t miss book.
  5. Steering Toward Normal by Rebecca Petruck…life beyond the show ring.
  6. Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s Dairy Queen It is YA….so for the HS crowd and up!
  7. Crosswire by Dotti Enderle…I read it and saw it as a Walker Texas Ranger Flashback!
  8. Chigger by Raymond Bial another Illinois Author, I am positive those 40 and 50 somethings will see your childhood!
  9. Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson. A very popular YA author and a Yellow Fever outbreak in colonial times.
  10. Artichoke’s Heart by Suzanne Supplee. Nutrition, friendship, a quick read
  11. Peeled and Squashed by Joan Bauer. Simply great books!
  12. Seedfolks by Newberry Winner Paul Fleishman. Urban gardening at its finest.
  13. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. Certainly some coming of age  and civil rights era mixed in with pollinators
  14. The Year Money Grew on Trees by Aaron Hawkins. In the 1980s it was hard work, now it is STEM Careers!
  15. My Louisiana Sky by Kimberly Willis Holt. Nationa Book Award Winning Author.  GREAT Book!
  16. Taylor Honor Award Winner Black Radishes by Susan Lynn Meyer. Food, Hunger and WWII France.
  17. Pura Belpre Award Winner Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez. A look at immigrant labor in agriculture.
  18. National Book Winner The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata. Wheat and Wheat Harvest.  You’re going to hear more about this!

15 weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day, you’ve got 18 books with an ag message that will help you pass the time in the dog days of summer!  Check your local library or bookstore for these items!

Kevin Daughtery
Education Director
Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom

APPLES TO ORANGES: WHY CROPS THRIVE WHERE THEY DO

Jennie is a Maryland farmer. She is also a registered dietitian who speaks about food and farming systems, sustainability and family farms.

[Originally published on CommonGround]

Drive through the Midwest and you’re likely to see field after field of corn and soybeans. Head down South, there’s cotton as far as the eye can see. And of course, Florida is synonymous with oranges and other citrus groves. Why are certain crops most prevalent in certain areas? And how do farmers decide what crops to plant on their farms?

The first is often dictated by climate and season length. Crops require a certain number of days before they reach maturity and are ready to harvest. Citrus fruits, for example, need more days of warmth and sunshine, which suits them well for states like California and Florida, while crops like corn can thrive in places like the Upper Midwest, where the days get shorter and colder in early fall.

America in Miniature

My home state of Maryland is sometimes called “America in miniature” because of our diverse ecology. From ocean to mountains, we have it all, along with a typical climate that’s somewhere between that found in the north or the south. We also have well-drained soil that’s not too dense, making it good for many crops. You see a wide array of crops grown throughout Maryland – just about everything, with the exception of citrus fruit.

As I write this blog, I’m in the middle of harvesting my twenty acres of wine grapes. You may equate wine grapes with places like Napa Valley, but grapes also thrive in Maryland, New York and elsewhere in New England. We have some great wineries! We often say that grapes don’t like wet feet, meaning they thrive in soil like mine that dries quickly and where the water table isn’t high. This keeps the roots from wet soil. In addition, on our farm we grow barley, wheat, tomatoes, green beans, corn and soybeans – which we harvest in that order, from June to October.

Climate and soil type aren’t the only factors that help farmers decide what crops to grow – things like infrastructure also play a large role, and I’ll talk more about that in my next blog. But if you’ve ever wondered why there’s a Corn Belt across the U.S. and orange groves in the South, you can bet that Mother Nature is the primary reason.

Amy Erlandson
CommonGround

AG CAREER PROFILES: COOPERATIVE BOARD MEMBER

Sam Deal is a local farmer in the Danvers area and serves on the Board of the Danvers Farmers Elevator (DFE) cooperative. A cooperative is a business where a group of farmers comes together to buy and sell crop inputs and commodities in bulk to obtain the best prices. Farmers make the decisions for each cooperative by electing members to their local board. Sam is one of the many farmers who serves on cooperative boards to help run the business.

DFE Cooperative is full-service cooperative with a retail business of agronomic products such as seed, fertilizer, and crop protection products. The business provides grain marketing services and grain storage for members of its business.

Cameron: What is your role as a member of the DFE Cooperative Board?

Sam: I serve on the board of the cooperative and help run the business. I help hire the general manager for the cooperative, who oversees the business. I also examine quarterly financial statements to ensure the business is profitable. From those statements, I help make decisions to spend less money or grow the business. I also have a unique role on the board where I am the Secretary. With that job, I oversee keeping the minutes of the monthly meetings of the board.

Cameron: Why did you choose to be in this role on the DFE Cooperative Board?

Sam: Serving on the board of a local cooperative allows me to help make decisions that are better for my operation, as I am a member of the cooperative itself. Additionally, it allows me to help out my neighbors by listening to their problems and fighting for changes on the local level to help their farming operation out.

Cameron:  Can you tell us how the DFE Cooperative impacts the farmers it serves?

Sam: Farmers across Central Illinois utilize DFE Cooperative’s services for agronomic and grain resources. For over 100 years, the business has helped farmers get the best prices, service, and knowledge of their farming operations. Additionally, the cooperative’s grain advantage allows the business to offer higher prices for corn and soybeans due to larger amounts of commodities being sold.

Cameron: What role do you see cooperatives playing in the future of agriculture?

Sam: Cooperatives provide an outlet for farmers for their grain to get a higher price, something that will be needed as the price to a produce a bushel of corn and soybeans rises. I see the cooperative, not only DFE, but all others grow and get bigger to stay competitive.

Cameron Jodlowski
Iowa State University Graduate

AG CAREER PROFILES: ISSUES MANAGER

Kristen is the Issues Manager for GROWMARK.  She communicates, educates, and advocates to policymakers and regulators on behalf of GROWMARK and the FS System. She is responsible for the territories of Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio.  She also works on certain federal legislation as well.

Jacey: What inspired you to want this type of career?

Kristen: When I was a senior in high school, I attended the Women Changing the Face of Agriculture Conference and met two women who worked for Illinois Farm Bureau educating urban legislators about the importance of agricultural issues.  Up until that point, I did not know that I could combine my passion for agriculture with my interest in politics and government.  I added a Political Science minor when I got to Illinois State the following August and set my sights on a career in Government Relations for an agriculture organization.

Jacey:  What are some of your main job duties?

Kristen:  I research issues and determine the impact on GROWMARK and our member cooperatives.  I then work with legislators or regulatory officials to provide input on these proposals and try to shape the outcome of the process.  I develop position papers and written comments as well as provide legislative updates to various stakeholders.

Jacey:  How easy or difficult is it to promote agriculture agendas to legislatures who don’t come from an agriculture background?

Kristen:  It can be a challenge at times, but I have found that most legislators and their staff want to understand more about the agriculture industry.  They seek out opportunities to visit one of our facilities or a farm in their district and see the impact of a piece of legislation firsthand.  A part of my role is organizing these types of educational opportunities.  In fact, this August is our annual congressional staff tour that we coordinate in conjunction with the Illinois Corn Marketing Board and the Illinois Soybean Association Checkoff Board.  The tour is a great opportunity for staff members of the Illinois delegation to learn more about agriculture issues and have the chance to talk to farmers one-on-one.

Jacey:  What is one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to pursue a career in agriculture?

Kristen:  One piece of advice I have is to take advantage of every opportunity to learn more about our industry.  I did not grow up on a farm and my parents do not even work in the agriculture industry, so I had a lot of learning to do. Farmers and agriculturists want to impart their knowledge on the next generation, you just have to listen and now be afraid to ask questions when you don’t know something. Never stop learning either.  One of my favorite parts about my job is learning about different agricultural crops and growing practices.  I grew up surrounded by corn and soybeans, so I enjoy learning about the production of cranberries, tomatoes, potatoes, and even ginseng while traveling throughout my territory.

Jacey Wickenhauser
Illinois State University

#TBT AG BOOK REVIEW FOR CHILDREN’S BOOK WEEK!

May 2 through 8 marks Children’s Book Week AND Teacher Appreciation Week . Why not celebrate both with a touch of Agriculture? Students across Illinois continue to face an emphasis on reading and literature, so linking agriculture would be a natural fit. Several new books are featured on the Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom website […]

This post originally published May 5, 2011.  For #TBT, maybe you’d like to surprise one of your teachers with a little bit of agriculture?  This year, Teacher Appreciation Week is May 8-12, 2017.

May 2 through 8 marks Children’s Book Week AND Teacher Appreciation Week . Why not celebrate both with a touch of Agriculture?

Students across Illinois continue to face an emphasis on reading and literature, so linking agriculture would be a natural fit. Several new books are featured on the Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom website and I wanted to share some highlight with you here!

As a former History teacher, one of my favorites is Farmer George Plants a Nation  by Peggy Thomas. This is the story of George Washington’s life as farmer, and the impact agriculture had on his life. We have a companion lesson plan guide featuring lessons related to Soil, Trees, Horses, Agricultural Mechanization and Wheat all of which are featured in the book. This book is published by Caulkins Creek–an imprint of Boyds Mills Press–featuring historically accurate information. The book features beautiful oil painting art work, and although the reading level is listed as grades 3-6, it would be an excellent “Coffee Table Book” for audiences of all ages.

Who Grew My Soup by Tom Darbyshire takes a look at how agricultural products become consumer products, specifically soup. Most importantly the book introduces readers to farmers who raise the crops that become soup. It is a great look at healthy, nutritious food and where it comes from. Written at a 3rd grade level, the art and pace appeal to audiences of all levels!

Little Joe by Sandra Neil Wallace is a chapter book written for 3rd grade. I like this book, especially for ‘reluctant’ young boy readers. This is the story of Eli who is gaining experience raising his first show animal. It is very agriculturally accurate, and addresses the issue of a ‘pet’ versus livestock.

The Beef Princess of Practical County by Michelle Houts is very similar to Little Joe, but is written for a slightly older (grades 5-7) female audience. As a father of 2 daughters, I like this book with its strong female main character, actively engaging in agriculture. Libby Burns walks in the shadow of her older brother and tries to prove her agricultural skills to her father and grandfather. Her ‘nerdy’ best friend helps her as she struggles with some unique challenges surrounding the county fair. This might be my favorite agriculture book on the market. Michelle Houts is a Junior High teacher in Ohio and also actively engaged in farming with her husband!

The Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry is set on a ranch in eastern Oregon. While both Little Joe and Beef Princess have many “Illinois” related topics—the books could be set here–This book describes ranching in Oregon. I like this book because the main character has to face many challenges of agriculture on his own, as his father is shipped off to the middle east with the National Guard. This is an outstanding book for all -especially targeted to grades 5-7.

Some other books worth checking out include: Seed, Soil, Sun by Cris Peterson, Clarabelle by Cris Peterson, The Hungry Planet by Pete Menzel, and Corn Belt Harvest by Ray Bial. Your county agriculture literacy program may have a number of books in a lending library to preview. Check your county program at http://www.agintheclassroom.org or for more suggestions check out the Illinois AITC website or on the AFBF Website you can look at their Authentic Agriculture book list and even nominate a candidate for their book of the year!!

Kevin Daugherty

Education Director

Illinois Ag in the Classroom

TOP POSTS OF 2016 #10: WHAT DOES AN AG TEACHER DO?

[Originally published: May 26, 2016]

5-26-16agDoug Anderson has been an agriculture teacher for more than 30 years and has spent the majority of those years at Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School (PBL) in Paxton, Illinois. He has played an instrumental role in building the Ag Program at PBL and has played an even bigger role in the lives of countless students.

AMANDA: What made you choose to pursue a career in Agricultural Education?

DOUG: I chose teaching agriculture because I love agriculture and I love young people.  Teaching agriculture allowed me to make the most of 2 interests I have.  Also, I enjoy the variety of what I do each day.  I enjoyed the practical skills that can be taught to students and being able to relate those to everyday life.  I have enjoyed the competitive aspect of Career Development Events, which I learned to appreciate well after I started my career.

AMANDA: What are some things that stand out that helped you get to where you are at today?

agteacherDOUG: I had 2 really good parents that supported me in everything I ever did.  My father farmed for the first 10 years of my life which developed my interest in agriculture.  When he quit farming, he went to work for a seed corn company and so I spent most of my older growing up years closely connected to the agronomy industry.  FFA had a huge impact on my life in helping me develop leadership skills and opportunities to compete outside of athletics.  My ag teacher really pushed me and helped me see opportunities that I would not have discovered had it not been for ag education.  Lastly, I have had the privilege of working with some great teachers, students, parents, alumni, and community members which all had a part in getting me to this point in my career.

AMANDA: Describe a typical day on the job.

DOUG: I’m not sure there is a typical day, which is a big reason why I have enjoyed my career so much.  I’m usually up by 4:30 or 5:00am and at school by 6:45am.  We often have an FFA practice for an upcoming contest or event.  I teach my classes throughout the day and 1 to 2 and sometimes 3 nights a week, we have some kind of FFA activity whether it be a contest, practice, meeting or leadership workshop, etc.

AMANDA: What has been the most rewarding part of your career?

5-26-16ag2DOUG: The most rewarding part of my career is seeing students succeed.  Success is different for nearly every student.  For some, it’s choosing a career that they really like and do well in.  For some, it is accomplishing goals in FFA.  For others, it’s finding a place to fit in and develop friendships.  It is very rewarding to watch kids mature into young adults with a purpose and goals for their future.

Anderson will be retiring at the end of this school year. He has loved the career that he has had and, if given the chance, he would not change a single thing. He is thankful for all that his career has given him and is excited to see what this next phase of life has in store.

Are you considering a career in Agricultural Education?

Diesburg_Amanda_IL Corn intern 2x3 16

Amanda Diesburg
Illinois State University
Ag in the Classroom Intern