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


If you didn’t know, this week plays host to a major event in the educational scene.  The American Association of School Administrators will hold its annual National Conference on Education in Houston, Texas on February 16th through 19th.  In celebration of this event, I would like to highlight recent strides in agricultural education at a Chicago high school and how agricultural literacy can be incorporated into a variety of core subject classrooms.

Last week Illinois Governor Pat Quinn paid a visit to Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences where he announced legislation which would boost enrollment at the school by 120 students (there’s a link to that article here).Illinois   Yes, you read that last sentence right; there is a high school in the middle of Chicago that centers its entire curriculum on agriculture. Not only do students study the basic core subjects (English, Science, and Math), but they also learn how to apply those concepts to agriculture.  Governor Quinn sees the promise in the school and he is pushing for more education in Illinois’s #1 industry: Agriculture.  In fact, the industry accounts for nearly a quarter of all jobs  in the state.

The campus may have the only working farm left within the  Chicago city limits; however, that doesn’t mean these students are learning to become farmers. The students choose from five pathways (animal science, agricultural mechanics, food science, horticulture/landscape design, urban farmingand agricultural finance) that allow them to personalize their education to something they are interested in.   Some students become doctors, engineers, accountants, and even chefs (you can find a link to a story about a one student’s story here).

To learn about business, the students run a farm stand at the Navy Pier Flower and Garden Show with the fruits and vegetables they grow on-site. These same fruits and vegetables are used in the school’s commercial kitchen to learn about the chemistry of food.  In biology class the students give a dog a workout in order to track its heart rate.  All of these instances are incorporating general education topics, but they are giving context to the task.

With this hands-on approach to education, it’s no surprise that students are enjoying what they are learning and it shows long-term.  Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences boasts a 92% graduation rate with 83% of those kids going on to college. That number is well above that of other Chicago Public Schools and schools statewide.  The students are not only being prepared to graduate, but to eventually have the skills necessary to successfully join the workforce too.

If this method of teaching is successful at this school, shouldn’t other schools be investigating ways to incorporate agriculture into their curriculum?  Through programs like Agriculture in the Classroom, elementary students are learning about Illinois’s #1 industry one classroom at a time, but shouldn’t these students have the opportunity to put context to their core education? The incorporation of agricultural literacy on a daily basis provides a not only a hands-on method to enrich the students’ learning, but also prepares the students for a future career that as many as a quarter of them will be engaged in someday.

elizabeth harfstLiz Harfst
Joliet Junior College student


Welcome to Video Week on Corn Corps! The Sundance Film Festival is in full swing and we thought what better way to celebrate than by bringing you one video every day this week that celebrates Illinois agriculture, corn production, and farm family life.

Today’s video comes to us from the Facebook page Agriculture Everyday

“The past few days there has been quite a bit of discussion on a Yahoo article about useless degrees, with agriculture topping it. It makes a few comments that I find somewhat degrading to the agriculture and farming lifestyle. Since most of the agriculture community has been upset and offended by that article, I felt the need to uplift farmers and remind them that agriculturalists are some of the strongest people I know. So please, watch the video below. Paul Harvey hit the nail right on the head in my opinion, and I am proud to say I grew up on a farm and I can attest to most of this video in some way or another.”


Did you read this article?

Terence Loose says that Agriculture, Animal Science, and Horticulture are among the top five most useless degrees you can get.  And I would beg to differ.

Does this have something to do with the fact that I have an animal science degree and I also have an awesome job that I love and in which I excel?  Maybe.  Does this have something to do with the fact that I have lived my entire life in agriculture and I believe it has a very solid future?  Definitely.

But most importantly, let’s look at the facts that Mr. Loose fails to consider.

1. In the middle of an economic recession, agriculture is booming. 

While unemployment skyrockets, agricultural industries are doing well.

“For the record agriculture still is one of the few industries in which there is a positive balance of trade, with more exports than imports. For the 2012 fiscal year, outbound product values are $137 billion and inbound product values are $105 billion. In the USDA’s August Outlook for Agricultural Trade the main engines driving the positive trade balance include corn, livestock products, and horticultural products. Wheat exports are running into Black Sea competition, and general oilseed production has declined to the point there is insufficient quantities to remain a major export force.”  Farmgateblog.com

And there’s also this.  When the price of farmland goes up, it indicates that agriculture is doing well.  CBS has some recent commentary on this.


I, for one, have never had to consider losing my job, being downsized, or not getting a cost of living raise for several years in a row like many of my counterparts in other industries.  Agriculture is a very secure industry for employees.

2. When everything else is gone, people will still need to eat.

There are a few occupations that I think of as indisposable.  As an example, I can’t imagine a world without teachers – I think our country and our society will always see a need to educate the population.  I can’t imagine a world without medical professionals because people will always get sick.  But even before either of those professions on the priority list are the person that grows our food and the people that sustain the industry behind him.

Can you envision a time when you will cease to be hungry?  I didn’t think so.

3. The population continues to increase and with it, the need for agricultural technology grows greater.

If we are really to consider the question of feeding millions more people without destroying the earth, we must study the genetic makeup of our crops to increase production per plant.  We must study the soils, making our plants more efficient to leave the soil composition intact.  We must study the food animals we raise, growing them more efficiently and minimizing death and illness.  We must study alternative crops, alternative best management practices, and alternative policies to maintain our food security.

And we need people to do that.

I can see that if you were a college graduate looking to work on the farm, jobs could be harder to find, as the number of farmers continues to dwindle.  But I hardly agree that a degree in agriculture is useless as careers within the industry are secure and greatly needed if Americans and others around the world still want to eat.

I trust that they do.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director


The Department of Agriculture at Illinois State University has just celebrated its 100th birthday.   The instructors, students, technology and career opportunities have changed considerably over the last ten decades but the mission of the Department has not, and that is to prepare young people to succeed and become leaders in our nation’s most important industry, agriculture. 

In 1911, Erwin Madden was hired as the first professor of agriculture at Illinois State Normal University.   Professor Madden moved quickly to establish a University Farm and by 1914 farm buildings and a house for the farm manager had been constructed.  That farm was located at the north edge of campus where the current Ropp Agriculture Building is located. The fields extended west and south where now Horton Fieldhouse, Redbird Arena and Turner Hall are located.  Enrollment in the agriculture program grew rapidly given the increase in the demand for agriculture teachers at Illinois high schools.  Because of the need to construct new classrooms, athletic facilities and dormitories near campus the ISU farm was moved to the northwest edge of campus on Gregory Street.  As the Town of Normal grew, inevitably the University farm needed to be relocated once again.  In 2000, ISU purchased the FS Research Farm near Lexington, Illinois.  Buildings at that location were renovated and new buildings were constructed.  Today the ISU Farm at Lexington provides state of the art facilities for research and teaching, and each year hosts hundreds of visitors. The Horticulture Center located just off of Rabb Road was established in 2006 and is the latest addition to the Department’s teaching and research facilities.  The Horticulture Center offers students and the general public an opportunity to view a number of gardens made up of hundreds of different plant species.

The agricultural curriculum at ISU has changed to reflect the evolution of the agriculture industry. By the 1960’s Illinois State Normal University had evolved into a comprehensive university and was now called Illinois State University.  An agriculture major with specific sequences in agronomy, livestock science and teacher education was developed and in the mid-1970’s a new major, agribusiness, was offered.  In 1992, the ISU Agriculture Department established a Master’s program in Agribusiness and later launched a Master’s Degree in Agricultural Science.  The Department’s current curriculum reflects today’s wide range of specialized fields in agriculture.  Student’s can now concentrate in horticulture and landscape design, agricultural communication and leadership,  food industry management, pre-veterinary studies as well as the traditional fields of study such as agribusiness, agronomy, livestock science and agricultural education.

The Department of Agriculture’s Centennial Celebration featured a number of events for alumni, students and the general public.  These included the 1911 Dinner at the Horticulture Center that featured food commonly offered in 1911, an old fashion barn dance and Agriculture Day at an ISU football game.   The celebration culminated in a 100th Anniversary Gala that featured Max Armstrong as the keynote speaker.

While reflecting on the accomplishments of the last 100 years, the Department of Agriculture faculty and staff look forward to the challenges and opportunities agriculture will present in the next 100 years.

Rick Whitacre
ISU Professor


You have to love Illinois weather.  It was 50 degrees last week then barely made it out of the teens. In the last week, we’ve seen sun, snow, extreme wind, cold, and later this week perhaps lightning and thunderstorms?

Of course it was only 5 months ago that we recorded record heat in the state.  Makes you stop and wonder–if it is hard on people being outside in both extremes–what does it mean for livestock?

In the latest Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom Ag Mag– LIVESTOCK–we address the issues of how Illinois Farmers take care of their animals.   Bob Ebbesmeyer, DVM discusses on the front page how farmers work to keep their animals clean, dry and comfortable.  This is followed up with farmers who specialize in raising beef cattle, dairy cattle, pigs, chickens and horses.   There is a common theme that we saw interviewing all of these farmers.  It isn’t rocket science, but they all care deeply about their animals.  The animals are more than their livelihood.  The care that farmers we feature in our Ag Mag is typical of those farmers across the state. 

In addition to housing and physical care for animals, our new Ag Mag also features the care that goes into animal nutrition.  We worked with Tom Deters of Effingham-Clay FS Total Livestock Services to talk about Animal Nutrition. 

What he shared amazes teachers that we work with.  They are shocked to find out how animal diets and rations are properly balanced, designed to provide the optimum diet for each animal.   Animal nutrition is a key to growth and good health, providing healthier, safer food for grocery shoppers, as well as promoting health, safety and well-being of animals. 

The Illinois Corn Marketing Board is a sponsor of our latest Ag Mag, now available in print.  It will be available on our website as an interactive on-line resource shortly.  We are proud of our collaboration with Illinois Corn, and our teacher audience learns more about the feed produced by Illinois corn farmers.   One thing teachers realize is that even if a farmer doesn’t have livestock–they are an important part of the food system for the livestock.  

Thanks to Illinois Corn Farmers for not only producing the great product that you do—but for also helping educate teachers and students about what your Corn does!

Kevin Daugherty
Education Director
Illinois Ag in the Classroom


Are you tired of playing the same board games with your kids?  How many times can one adult really hear “Buzz Lightyear to the rescue!” without losing their mind?  And if this is a normal saying around your house; “Moooooom, I’m bored! There’s nothing to do!”  Well, I think it might be time to break out something new to occupy the kids this winter.  Why not try out some fun corn art!   

Edible Corn Flour Paint


2 cups of corn flour
1 cup of cold water
4.5 cups of boiling water
Liquid food coloring


Mix the corn flour and cold water together.

Pour in the boiling water one cup at a time, stirring between each one.  Keep stirring until it turns into a custardy consistency.  

Then separate the mixture into different jars/boxes before adding your colors.

Refrigerate after using and it will keep for a few days.

Check out the Corny Recipes section of IL Corn’s website for more fun ideas!


The question has been posed to the IL Corn office and farmer leaders on more than one occasion…”Why is it a good idea to get involved in a NASCAR sponsorship?”

Fair question.  The answer may seem obvious if you’re one of NASCAR’s more than 80 million fans in this country. Or maybe you’re a fan, but you’re not really sure of the answer, either.

It’s a pretty simple answer. NASCAR delivers an audience unlike any other.

NASCAR fans are more likely than any other sports fans to support sponsor messages.

NASCAR fans are more likely to purchase the products that are responsible for their sport’s sponsorship.

NASCAR fans are more likely to influence their friends to do the same thing.

The bottom line to this story is the Start/Finish line at a NASCAR race. It’s all about the fans.

Take a look at this chart. Not only do NASCAR fans deliver on their promise to support race sponsors, but the sport itself generates media coverage that can’t be bought.

In the case of ethanol, NASCAR was responsible for a huge portion of the news coverage that included ethanol, much more than what the ethanol industry or corn farmer organizations could have generated themselves.

2011 brought E15 to NASCAR race cars and trucks. 2012 will bring it to a gas pump near you. And for the NASCAR fan, they’ll be chomping at the bit to fuel up with the same high-performance fuel that their favorite driver uses.

Tricia Braid
ICGA/ICMB Communications Director