I dare you to work together.  That is the opportunity posed to Illinois agriculture, and we accept.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates only two percent of the U.S. population is comprised of farm and ranch families.  That means 98 percent of the people around us are not necessarily familiar with modern production agriculture.  With that in mind, Illinois corn and soybean farmers and beef and pork producers are always looking for opportunities to join together and help educate consumers about their food and how and where food is produced.

With funding from the soybean checkoff (financial contributions from all Illinois soybean farmers), we participate in a wide range of activities.  The list includes talking to Chicago area moms about agriculture, working with teachers and students in the classroom, and going into grocery stores and answering shopper questions about the food they purchase.

One great project that represents a cross-section of Illinois agriculture is Illinois Farm Families.  ISA helps lead the effort.  Through Illinois Farm Families, farmers from around the state open their doors to consumers and show how they grow safe, healthy food for all families.  And considering that about half of Illinois soybeans are fed to hogs, chickens and cattle, along with corn, Illinois crop farmers play a significant role in growing food for consumer tables.

As part of Illinois Farm Families, Chicago-area moms are getting their food questions answered by those of us who grow it.  We call them “Field Moms.”  You can read more on the Field Moms blog.  These city moms have been out to visit our farms and meet our families.  They are learning firsthand about farm chemicals, pesticides, the environment, animal care, hormones and antibiotics, while also uncovering the commonalities they share with farm families.

One of their activities is to grow soybeans on their back porches this year as part of a Field Moms’ Acre project.  The Field Moms are caring for and watering their container soybeans to mimic the production season of soybeans planted on an acre at Ron and Deb Moore’s farm in western Illinois.  Field Moms will see firsthand how soybeans grow.  After they see the soybeans on the Moore farm harvested this fall, proceeds from the acre will be donated to charity.

Another great example of Illinois crop and livestock producers working together is through the Pork Power: Partnering to Fight Hunger in Illinois” campaign.  Ground pork is periodically donated to the eight regional food banks associated with Feeding Illinois, with support from the Illinois Pork Producers Association, Illinois Corn Marketing Board, Illinois soybean checkoff and cash donations from pork producers and consumers.  The more than 256,000 pounds of pork donated since 2008 amounts to more than one million servings for families throughout Illinois, and helps raise awareness of the ongoing problem of hunger in our state along the way.

These are just a couple of examples of how Illinois agriculture works together to talk to consumers about the food they eat.  We dare to work together!  We all want consumers to understand their food is safe and nutritious.  Our families eat it, too.

Illinois soybean farmer Matt Hughes
Illinois Soybean Association chairman and soybean farmer from Shirley, IL


Really, YOU!! Teach someone about agriculture!  You are the expert!  You know your subject matter, and there are plenty of folks that you can help teach about what it really means to farm out there!

At Agriculture in the Classroom, we concentrate our efforts on teaching teachers, and providing classroom visits to students.  Both make an impact, getting an expert in front of a group of students is very powerful, but providing the teacher with additional training and follow up material helps multiply the effort.

You don’t have to wait for an opportunity this fall, take a moment this week in your local community.   Have you ever overheard someone telling a mistruth in the line at the grocery store? Or at a ballgame?  Help preserve that ‘teachable moment’ for adults and youth.  You are the expert, if you encounter someone that isn’t telling the truth, ask them why they think that, and then provide your side of the story.

Throughout the summer, Illinois AITC with the generous support of our Commodity Organizations, have been engaging teachers in our annual Summer Agricultural Institutes at the county level.  Many farmers have stepped up to the plate to provide ‘the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth’ about their program.

Questions such as ‘Why do you use GMO seeds?’ and ‘How do you pay for that expensive equipment?’ have been answered by the folks that know the answers they best.  The local farmer.  It really does make an impact when a teacher finds someone from their area that they might see in the grocery store or at a ball game that can answer a questions truthfully and honestly.

At a recent gathering, I had the opportunity to urge the teachers and the farmer to discover a little more about each other.  What the group was most shocked about was–there were ‘mis-truths’ about both education and agriculture that the other groups didn’t know were an issue.

During this time of the year, you sometimes see roadside stands of some sort offering fresh sweet corn for sale.  Sometimes the stand is set up in front of a field of field corn.  This continues the misconception that sweet corn is grown in many of our fields.  You might just point out that all corn isn’t corn.  It is that simple.

So….take a minute—listen and find out what the questions are that the general public has about agriculture and take time to fill them in.   Take a minute to teach someone about agriculture.  I dare you!

Kevin Daugherty
Education Director
Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom


If you are reading this blog, you already know about and are participating in social media. Chances are you are also aware of how popular social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogging (to name a few) have all become. But what can we do, as representatives of the agriculture industry, to make our use of social media more effective in reaching more diverse demographics and creating a positive image of the industry that we are all so passionate about?

Today, I watched a Ustream video on U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance’s website Food Dialogues. The live video stream today was called “Hollywood and “Vine”: The Intersection of Pop Culture and Food Production” and included representatives from both the agriculture and media industries. The discussion was largely based on how agriculture and the media need to work together to bring real facts and honest stories to the consumer. It was mentioned that the next generation of kids will be able to operate an iPad or laptop without any problem, but they won’t have a clue about where there food comes from. Examples from current “educational” cartoons were depictions of bulls with udders and an understanding that “if it has horns, it must be a bull.”

Most of you reading this (I hope) understand that those things are not true, but how are we ensuring that our kids know and understand these concepts? Another suggestion in the Food Dialogue was that agriculture needs to be a source for these materials. If we are making the cartoons and other informational outlets, we have control over the messages and information being presented to kids in our schools.

There is one thing in particular that stands out to me from the video stream: Social media is NOT a “magic cure-all” for agriculture’s challenges today. It is a tool, and if used correctly, it can make a big impact. When it comes to reaching a large and diverse audience and getting them to listen to your message, there is a right and a wrong way to use social media. Jeff Fowle, one of the panelists today, is a farmer/rancher who knows how to use social media effectively. He is one of the founders of the Ag Chat Foundation, which has this mission: “to empower farmers, ranchers and foresters to share their stories effectively through social media platforms.” More recently, he began the  Just Farmer blog with a few other colleagues. This is a social media platform for dialogue between consumers and producers that has seen a lot of success.

Check out some of these organizations and ideas to learn more about how you can make better use of you social media skills to start more discussions about food production! My generation has already accepted and flocked to social media, now all you have to do is find a way to keep their attention and tell them your side of the story!

Rosie Sanderson
ICGA/ICMB Membership Administrative Assistant


Being a video editing intern at the Illinois Corn Marketing Board has been a fruitful experience. Being born and raised in Chicago, I didn’t have a clue about agriculture or farming. On the contrary, most of the Corn Board employees were raised on farms, own farms, or have relatives that are farmers. Although I didn’t have any knowledge of farming, I was eager to learn and felt that my urban perspective was valued by the Corn Board.

During the few months I spent visiting Illinois Corn Board farmers, I learned that farmers have quite a bit in common with city folk. The biggest thing we have in common with each other is family values. Just like most people, farmers have an obligation to provide for their families. Harvest after harvest, the farm is not only the home to crops but it’s home for the farmer, his parents, wife, children, grandchildren…and dog. So whether you live in an urban city surrounded by trains and buses, or in a rural town with a population of 500, you have a place to call home and a family to care for.

Also, I learned about the various uses for corn. Before I interned, I was under the impression that all corn was grown to be eaten by humans. However, after visiting and speaking with several farmers, I learned that corn can be used to make ethanol, feed livestock, and be used in other products as corn starch, corn syrup, etc. Most people immediately assume that corn is grown for consumption. Although this is true in some cases, it doesn’t mean that all corn growers are producing the kind of corn that will sit on your table.

The farmers on the Illinois Corn Marketing Board are passionate about their work. They take good care of their crops and treat them like their own children. Just like you, farmers want to protect their children, not harm them. The chemicals and fertilizers used when planting are safe and government approved. Not all chemicals are harmful – it’s no different than when people take medicine or get vaccines to prevent illness – crops need pesticides and fertilizer so they can grow healthy.

I am thankful for the opportunity to work with the Illinois Corn Marketing Board. Lastly, this internship has given me a new respect for farmers. I didn’t know that farming was such a gamble. It takes a lot of guts to take out loans, buy expensive equipment, plant seeds, and pray that rain falls out of the sky. Agriculture is a risky business. You have to be passionate in order to be in this career, otherwise it’s not worth the effort. My advice for consumers and people who thought like me before I interned at the Illinois Corn Marketing Board, is to trust your farmer. They wouldn’t be in this profession if they didn’t have passion and dedication; and since this work is so risky and expensive, farmers can’t afford to harm their crop, which would consequently be harming themselves. 

Kamaya Thompson


Today, the Normal CornBelters hosted an exhibition game and their first education day.  Area schools were invited to attend the game, and many schools brought their students as an incentive to finish out the year strong.  If you remember being in school, you might recall that the nearer students get to summer break, the more distracted they become, so the baseball game incentive was a win-win for local schools.

And a win for Illinois farmers, as it turns out.  Illinois Corn staff was present at the game to provide teachers with packets of corn Ag Mags, featuring the Normal CornBelters, to share in their classroom.   The benefit of the Ag Mags is that they often make their way into the hands of the parents, teaching the young and old alike about corn farming in Illinois.














Does seeing an Ag Mag interest you?  Click here to view a smart board ready version of the Corn Ag Mag and click here to see the list of all the Ag Mags available FOR FREE to Illinois teachers!

Becky Finfrock
IL Corn Communications Assistant


Did know you that today is National Teacher Day? Today students, parents, school administrators, and communities nationwide will take the time to honor the crucial role that teachers play in the lives of their students.

Where would our world without teachers? My personal favorite quote about the importance of teachers is by Henry Adams, an American historian and journalist:

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”

If you are reading this, you should thank a teacher, but if you also understand the significance of the agricultural industry and where you food comes from, you should probably thank an agriculture teacher. On a day like today, I think it’s appropriate that we recognize these unique educators who make a difference in the lives of so many of their students.

growing, agriculture, educationTeaching agriculture is a difficult, yet rewarding career, so it is imperative that these teachers have a passion for what they do. If asked, most agriculture instructors would tell you that even though the school day is from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., their job doesn’t stop there. Ag teachers not only teach in the classroom, but also have several other duties including overseeing student Supervised Agricultural Experience projects (where students gain real-world experience in the industry), advising the school’s FFA chapter, maintaining a school greenhouse or land lab, and other non-teaching assignments (i.e. Class sponsor, cafeteria supervisor, etc.) for the school. These responsibilities can easily result in a 12-hour workday. In my personal high school experience, I remember one specific example where there was a 6:30 a.m. FFA officer meeting, then a FFA contest later that evening and we did not return home until 10:30 p.m. that night. That example alone resulted in a 16-hour workday.

Unlike most other teachers, agriculture instructors are able to develop closer relationships with their students since most are enrolled in the agriculture program over multiple years. Because of this, students often turn to their agriculture teachers for advice about college and career choices. With more personal relationships, students are also more often to seek help from their agriculture teacher for tutoring in other subject areas, thus creating an additional role for the teacher.

Agriculture teachers are committed to the students they teach and recognize the “bigger picture” of WHY their role in the agricultural industry is important. In fact, part of the Agriculture Teacher’s Creed, as quoted from the National Association of Agricultural Educators website, reads: “I am an agricultural educator by choice and not by chance. I believe in American agriculture; I dedicate my life to its development and the advancement of its people.” In Illinois, nearly 1 in 4 jobs is directly related to the agricultural industry, and teachers recognize the importance of developing leaders for the state’s largest industry.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank my own agriculture teachers, Mr. Jesse Faber and Mr. Parker Bane, for the impact they have made on my life. It was because of them that I decided to (in their words) “join the fast-paced world of ag education” and study to be an agriculture teacher myself.

Feel free to use the comment box below to thank the teacher(s) who have impacted your life…

elizabeth harfstLiz Harfst
Joliet Junior College


National Teach Ag Day is a day that is set aside to bring awareness to the career of agricultural education and to recognize agriculture educators for their dedication and hard work. University of Illinois has received the top honors for the past two years and seeks to gain honors again this year. National Teach Ag day is set for March 15, 2012. The University of Illinois continues its efforts to expand the campaign every year because the students involved in the agricultural education program at the university feel that agriculture teachers, and the idea of agricultural education as a whole, creates the base for the largest industry in the world.

This industry is what has helped inspire so many of our current students to pursue a degree in agricultural education. A current student, Molly Maxstadt, who is currently out in the field student teaching had this to say about a teacher she observed teaching: “The teacher pushed the students to their limit but knew in the end they were going to succeed. They wanted the best for their students, even if it meant staying a few minutes later after school.” The students in the agricultural education program are very gracious of those teachers who stayed late and helped them because they are the reason many people are pursuing this degree. The ag teacher was the one who cared more about the student than assuring everyone passed and did the bare minimum.

While Teach Ag Day is one day set aside, the University of Illinois Agricultural Education Club has planned many events throughout the whole week to advocate agriculture.  The planned activities students will take part in to express the importance of the Ag Ed career and agriculture in general include the following:

  • Writing 511 thank you notes to all of the high school and junior college agriculture teachers in Illinois
  • Having interactive exhibits at the ExplorAces event held on campus on March 9th and 10th, 2012
  • Student teachers creating a bulletin board, giving a presentation to their classes and posting “Teach Ag” posters in each of their schools/Ag programs
  • Early Field Experience students (AGED 250) students and student teachers giving presentations on “Why Teach Ag?” or “What is Ag Ed?”
  • A social event providing Ag Ed students with an opportunity to bring friends who are not in Ag Ed as a way of letting other people on campus to see how much fun we have as Ag Ed majors
  • Bulletin Boards in Bevier Hall on ACES Campus promoting National Teach Ag Day
  • WCIA Interview on the morning show
  • Radio interviews on WYXY Classic and RFD-Radio
  • News Editorials in local newspapers
  • News Articles in ACES Communication and Illinois Agri-News on the National Teach Ag Campaign
  • National Teach Ag Day Symbol as Facebook profile pictures of students in the program
  • Current students will visit the Lexington, KY area to learn more about agriculture programs in another state and more about agriculture-based areas significant to Kentucky, such as growing tobacco and the race horse industry.

With a successful and energetic program, we hope to continue to make an impact spreading the word about agriculture and Agricultural Education as a challenging yet rewarding career choice.

Jake Ralph and Shelby Lahey
University of Illinois Ag students


I like to fiddle.  It drives my wife and kids nuts.   I have to have something in my hands.  If I have a pen, I twirl it or click it. It is just that way.  I like to tinker.

As a teacher–I tried to understand when I had students express themselves in the same way.   It wasn’t easy all of the time. Sometimes it drove me nuts!

At Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom we know and understand that there are different types of learners.  Not all students learn best with paper and pencil or by lecture.  Theorists believe that all learners have various learning styles.   Many break these down by VAK–Visual, Audial and Kinesthetic

People that learn by doing, or with their hands are kinesthetic learners. Roughly 1/3 of the population learns best by doing.  Think our schools might have trouble reaching kids that don’t do well learning visually or via hearing?   The Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory estimates that most High School dropouts are primarily kinesthetic learners and  80% of prison inmates are kinesthetic learners.  Do you think there could be a better reason to continue to advocate for what used to be considered ‘vocational’ courses at an upper level?  Even at the elementary level, we have to make sure students are engaged!

At Ag in the Classroom we have take our familiar ‘Make and Take Items’ and transitioned them into what we call “Interest Approaches”.   At the same time that  we see statistics like those mentioned above, schools are interested in showing how to increase learning, and measuring learning under Federal, State and local guidelines, it seems that the place for ‘crafts’ in education have lost their luster.  So, we’ve worked out ways to incorporate this learning to make sure that the craft has a purpose and it is tied back to a lesson.  

Some of our favorites include our chains and charms.   While sequencing items in a chain form and placing them in a paper plate (see apple chain) might not seem like rocket science, that chain can be expanded far beyond what meets the eye.   Our “Tassel to Table” chain walks students and adults through the process of how corn goes from the field through transportation and processing to be used in a final product by consumers.  When you break it down many are amazed at how often their food travels from place to place. 

Another great activity is showing how biodegradable corn starch packing peanuts differ from standard Styrofoam peanuts.  We encourage students to build a structure by moistening the packing peanuts and sticking them together and then placing the finished structure in a bucket of water and watching them dissolve.

Our interest approaches are designed to reach learners of all ages in multiple levels!   Why don t you take a minute and take a peek at how you might be able to use your kinesthetic learning style in agriculture!!

Kevin Daugherty
Education Director
Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom


With FFA week only a short time behind us, I had a wonderful chance to reflect on the opportunities that I have had thanks to this agricultural youth organization.  I may have grown up on my family’s farm but when I was entering high school, I wanted nothing to do with farming or even in a broader sense – agriculture.

As it is said, father knows best and I was pressured into taking the Introduction to Agriculture class at Raymond-Lincolnwood High School my freshman year and join the FFA. I soon found myself struggling through the questions for greenhand quizbowl (a freshman contest on FFA trivia). This pressure turned into motivation after we managed to win beating Sullivan in what was then Section 19, I vowed never to turn down an opportunity with the FFA and in Ag.

As high school went on I grew sweet corn and other fresh produce. I raised turkeys which I marketed locally for the holidays. I traveled throughout the state of Illinois, but most importantly I found a passion for agriculture. After finishing my senior year as the Section 15 President, I had done a 180 degree shift from four years prior. No longer did I want to study political science and go into politics but I wanted to study and become a part of agriculture.

Now as I am just a few months away from completing my bachelor’s degree in agricultural systems at Southern, I have come to realize that there are several people who I owe gratitude to. One man in particular recently lost a battle with cancer. That man was my high school agriculture teacher, FFA adviser and friend.

Wallie Helm chose to take a struggling freshman to that contest. I often wonder where I would be had I not had that experience. What I hope that we can take away is the importance of our high school agriculture teachers all across our state. Collectively they expose a large pool of students to the opportunities available in agriculture.  It is important that we all encourage youth through 4-H and FFA to explore agriculture through hands-on experience, science projects, leadership enhancement and professional development.  It may be cliché but we must constantly be preparing our youth because they are our future.

Thomas Marten
Senior in Agricultural Systems
Southern Illinois University


Last week I was given the opportunity to attend the Agricultural Communications Symposium in Champaign, IL.  It was a great opportunity for a college student such as myself, because I got to hear numerous professionals speak about ag communications and what they have learned in their years of experience. While I learned a lot at the event, there was one statement that I thought was a great take-home message from the day. During the last panel, Kristina Boone from Kansas State University made a great point:

“We all know our beliefs, but we need to know our facts.”

What a short but noteworthy point! How many times have I tried to make the point that everyone is entitled to their opinion or beliefs, but before forming said beliefs people need to do some research? Her statement really hit home for me and I thought it was worth sharing.

No matter how opinionated people are… you can’t argue the facts. Even when researching information on a topic, people often disregard facts that disagree with their current opinion. The fact of the matter is that there are facts out there that can support almost any argument, but we must take ALL of the facts into consideration in order to be making an informed judgment. Especially when it comes to the food we are choosing to buy, it is incredibly important to be an informed consumer!

So I encourage you to form your own opinions and stick to your beliefs… but know your facts first.

For more on this event, check out Holly Spangler’s blog, Is Agriculture Waiting to Talk?

Rosie Sanderson
Illinois State University Student