SPRING RECIPE: LEMON CHICKEN STIR FRY WITH ASPARAGUS

With spring in full swing we now finally have some of our favorite vegetables back in season. Mine happens to be asparagus, which means I can cook it fresh from the garden. Instead of a traditional chicken and asparagus dish, I enjoy this one because of the complex flavors it introduces. Savory yet still simple to make. This recipe serves three to four people and is very filling.

For this recipe you will need:

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ cup of chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of water
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 bunch of asparagus, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
  • Lemon zest

Now to the best part, how to make it!

  • Cook asparagus and oil in a skillet over medium heat for 3-4 minutes. When 1 minute remains, add garlic. Set asparagus and garlic aside.
  • Season chicken with salt and pepper. Increase heat to high and cook chicken until browned.
  • Set chicken aside and add soy sauce and chicken broth to the skillet. Bring to a boil for about 1 minute. Add lemon juice, water, and cornstarch and stir for about 1 minute.
  • Return chicken and asparagus to pan. Coat with sauce, top with lemon zest and serve!

This is a quick family recipe that all are sure to enjoy!

Alison Heard
Southern Illinois University

PIG FARMERS CARE ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT

Did you know that all farmers must learn about and abide by a host of federal and state environmental regulations?  Pig farmers are no different.  They use research to understand and address the impact that large amounts of manure and using land to raise pigs can have on:

• Groundwater and surface water
• Air quality
• Animal manure management
• Land and soil quality
• Land use

Farmers are using all this research and the regulations they must abide by to fuel creative solutions to environmental concerns and to keep growing more pigs to feed more people.

Carbon footprint

American pig farmers are working hard to understand their carbon footprint and watching for opportunities to raise our food smarter.  According to the EPA, only 2.8 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) in 2007 came from animal agriculture. Of that percentage, pig farming contributes just a little more than one-third of 1 percent (0.35 percent) of total U.S. GHG emissions.

Air footprint

Right now, a tool is in development to help pig farmers better understand air emissions from their farms and how they can make improvements.

Water footprint

Most of the water used on pig farms is either to irrigate the crops the pigs will eat (90%).  The rest of the water is used to give the pigs something to drink.  The best way farmers are looking to get more control over that water use is to use science and technology to evaluate animal drinking systems.  If we can water our pigs better, we can waste less.

Improvements to our farming methods are the name of the game and we are always trying to do better and trying to find small (and big!) ways to change the way we raise pigs to make less of an impact on our earth.

Thanks to https://www.pork.org/ for this important information on pig farming!

WHERE’S MY MILK FROM?

If you drink milk, and you’d like to know what dairy your milk came from, there’s a new website that can help.

whereismymilkfrom.com

Using this website is actually really easy with only a few little pointers.  First, find the code on your dairy product carton or container.  The code is usually near the top of the container (or printed on the label), begins with two numbers, and ends with 1-5 digits.

After locating the code on your dairy product, visit http://whereismymilkfrom.com and type your code into the small box at the top left of the website.

That’s it!

Go learn more about your food and the farmers that grow it today!

AN UPDATE ON GMO LABELING

It’s been awhile since we’ve chatted about food product labels and what they mean. As we prepare for our favorite Easter Sunday meal, let’s refresh our knowledge and chat about the different labels we see on our food.

GMO: This term, often tied to negative feelings, stands for a genetically modified organism. Essentially, this means the genetic makeup of product has been altered to better the product for us, the consumers. We have the capabilities to pinpoint the exact gene we want to be changed, to help ensure our food is healthy and grows correctly. This opportunity has been ground-breaking for agriculture and is imperative to providing a safe and sufficient food supply to our growing world population.

Check out this video from our neighbors in Iowa and see real farmers’ perspectives on GMOs!

As shared in the video, GMOs have been in our food supply for 25 years. These products don’t just appear out of nowhere – each genetically modified item goes through a rigorous series of tests to meet approval from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA). By testing these products, we are ensuring they are indeed safe for consumption. Farmers feed their children the same food we as consumers buy at the store. They want a safe and healthy food supply for their families too. That’s why GMOs are such an important part to our food supply.

So what about labels? As many of us may have seen, labels on food products are now changing. This is part of a movement through the FDA to ensure consumers understand what they are eating and the science behind it. It is extremely important to be educated on what we eat and why we eat it. The FDA explains why genetically modified foods are safe to eat in a factual article here, check it out!

Most of us are aware that genetically engineered products are a hot topic and have been promoted, both positively and negatively, over the news and social media. How can we know if you are eating food with genetically modified contents? Some producers have voluntary labels sharing this information. Despite the labels, it is important to educate ourselves on the importance of a sustainable and healthy food supply, and how producers are working hard to feed our growing world. Different tools producers use include GMOs because it’s a way for farmers to grow more on less land. Therefore, more food can be produced to help feed us, the consumers.

So on Sunday, while making Easter dinner, ask a family member what they know about GMOs Maybe they haven’t heard anything, or maybe they’ve kept up with this hot topic via social media. In either situation, take a minute to find authentic and scientific facts, such as the article from the USDA. Sharing education means sharing a wealth of knowledge. By doing this, we can share the scientific facts about GMOs and ultimately continue to support our farmers.

Susie Thompson
Illinois State University

THE LIVESTOCK LIFECYCLE

In our fast-paced society where options are plentiful, time is sparse, and the day-to-day grind can really wear a person out, there’s one daily constant that brings me some amount of joy — or at very least, satisfaction… Food. Luckily for me, life on the farm, in conjunction with my career in corn/agriculture advocacy surrounds me with opportunities to think about where food comes from and what we can do with it. Follow along throughout the spring, summer, and fall as I share my food-related thoughts here on Corn Corps.

Let me start by saying: I love GOOD food. Specifically: fresh, flavorful, home-grown, made-with-love, not-always-healthy, much-anticipated, home-cookin’! Though I grew up surrounded by farming in Northwest Illinois, I’ve only lived on a farm for about 7 years. In that time, I’ve come to understand why March is a love-hate time of year for My Farmer. Depending on the weather (a phrase that’s thrown around A LOT at my house) there are a plethora of things that could go on in March. If the fields are still frozen, cow manure can be spread. If the frost is out, you can think about applying ammonia. We’re likely still expecting the last few baby calves to be born, and in just a few weeks we’ll begin artificially inseminating next year’s calf herd. The numerous babies that have already been born will be exploring the area between their barns and pretty soon they’ll be turned out to pasture for the first time. For me, it’s a genuine springtime feeling of new beginnings! For My Farmer, it’s a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants work schedule.

For my kids, between afternoon visits to the barn to see the new babies, and suppertime around the table, we have some pretty frank conversations. Our four-year-old understands that the meat we’re eating is beef. Beef comes from cattle. The cattle right outside. Every so often we load a couple cattle into our trailer and take them to the butcher. (–Insert gray area here–) …And the beef comes back home and we cook it and eat it for supper. So far, there haven’t been any questions about what exactly happens at the butcher – but when he asks, I’ll explain it to him. We have similar conversations about vegetables. I’m no gardener, but we have a few vegetable plants outside. He watches those grow over the summer and helps harvest the produce. My little guy understands that what we buy in the store comes from a farmer somewhere. Last week I asked my little guy “where did this potato come from?” to which he shrugged and responded, “a farmer market – like both a farmer and a store”. Technically, he was right, despite the fact that I bought it at Walmart. He actually grasps the idea that numerous people worked hard for those mashed potatoes to end up on his plate. I like to think that this framework we’ve laid will result in a lifelong appreciation of both food and the effort it takes to produce it.

The lifecycle of our livestock truly makes a full circle, and that’s one of the coolest parts of farming. We grow corn, in part, to feed our livestock. We breed our livestock to have more livestock. We care for them by keeping them fed, doctored, safe both in the pasture and the barns, and then use their manure to fertilize the fields which will grow to feed them later. At some point along the way, some of them leave us only to return a few weeks later wrapped in white paper, ready to feed our family, which allows us to keep doin’ what we do!

This spring, as you feel the days grow longer and observe life coming back to the land, I hope you enjoy some fresh fruit and vegetables, along with a big, juicy, well-marbled, steak, and feel gratitude for the numerous hands it took to prepare it!

Ashley Deal
IL Corn Membership Assistant

A GUIDE TO FOOD APPS

MyFitnessPal: A free app that tracks diet, exercise, micros, and macros, charts your own personal data, and utilizes your own personal goals to motivate you. You can type in food manually and it breaks it down for you, or you can simply take a picture of the barcode!

MyPlate: An app that helps consumers improve their diets by providing tools for dietary assessment, nutrition education, and more. It focuses on variety, amount, and nutrition, and it provides the ultimate food options such as food and beverages with less saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars. On top of it all, it allows consumers start with small, comfortable changes and lets them set the pace.

Dirty Dozen: This app will let you know which products are the lowest in pesticides, as well as which ones are the highest. It helps you decide on the best time to look for an organic option (food that does not have any antibiotics or growth hormones) for a certain food.

Good Guide: This app uses science to help find the best products out there. It provides ratings of the highest rated products on the market, ranging from a wide variety of products. 

 

HowGood: Similar to Good Guide, HowGood assesses products for environmental, health, and trade impacts, and it provides ratings to help shoppers gauge which option is best.

 

Farmstand: This app makes it easier for you to eat local! Eating local is better for the environment, economy, and your health. It lists more than 8,700 farmer’s markets, and lets users post pictures of markets and vendors, share good finds, and browse valuable information posted by others who shop at markets as well!

Locavore: Locavore makes finding local, in-season food easy! It shows nearby farmer’s markets and farms, and it also has loads of great seasonal recipes! It also allows users to tag local sellers, share reviews, and post new findings.

 

HarvestMark Food Traceability: This app allows shoppers to scan the code on their food, obtain detailed harvest information, and provide feedback. It allows food producers to connect with their customers, and it exposes consumers to the process of food production on a much more in-depth level.

Seasons: Seasons provides data on natural growing seasons and local availability of many different products. When a product is in season, that means the harvest or the flavor of that product is at its peak! It features data on fruits, vegetables, lettuce, herbs, fungi, and nuts, and all entries have a photo, short description, and seasonal data.

Sammy Gorlovetsky
University of Illinois

WAYS YOUR FOOD IS KILLING YOU

The saying “you are what you eat” really goes a long way when you realize how much food influences your daily life. Here are some ways that food can actually be hurting us.

  1. Not eating more fruits and veggies because they aren’t organic.

Fruits and vegetables have an abundance of essential vitamins, minerals, plant chemicals, and fiber that are all vital to our health. While organic foods have their benefits, nonorganic foods have just as many – more consistency in taste, texture, and quality, they are cheaper, and sometimes they may even have less pesticide residue than organic fruits and veggies. Just because something is not organic does not mean it is any less nutritious, and avoiding fruits and veggies can do more harm than avoiding non-organic foods.

  1. Larger portions of “safe” foods do not equal good-for-you.

Just because the food you are eating is healthy, it does not mean that you can eat an unlimited amount of it! For example, fruit is extremely healthy and good for us, but a lot of it has loads of sugar. To put it into perspective, one mango has 50 grams of sugar, whereas one can of soda has 39 grams. Even the healthiest food options are best when eaten in moderation, and an extra intake of calories will end up getting stored as fat.

  1. Choosing Reduced fat/fat-free products

Making reduced fat and fat-free products involve adding many unhealthy ingredients and increasing other unhealthy components such as sugar and carbohydrates. In most cases, low-fat products are very high in carbs, contain trans-fats, and still have a high-calorie count. Trans-fats are very detrimental to our health, especially for our heart and cholesterol. There are many healthy fats out there, choosing the natural option may be the best way to go!

  1. Using Aspartame as a replacement for real sugar

Aspartame is a zero-calorie sweetener that is found in many low-calorie or zero calorie drinks. While it is a nice alternative that helps reduce your sugar intake, there are many controversies about potential ailments that may be caused by it, ranging from mild side effects such as headaches and digestive symptoms to potentially chronic illnesses such as cancer.

  1. Some vegan meat substitutes

Vegan and plant-based diets are extremely popular right now, and for many great reasons, but some vegan or vegetarian meat substitutes are often made in very unhealthy forms. Many substitutes have a lot of added sodium, and excessive sodium intake is often linked to high blood pressure and risk of heart disease. Also, just because it is vegan does not mean it is not deep fried, loaded with unhealthy sauces, and prepared as a junk food, such as vegan chicken nuggets or burgers.

It is our job to be aware of the reality behind the food we eat, so do your best to stay up to date with nutritional news so you can be the healthiest version of you!

Sammy Gorlovetsky
University of Illinois

ALL EGGS ARE ANTIBIOTIC FREE, HORMONE FREE, AND NON GMO

Want at least one worry you can put aside in the new year?  Buy any eggs you want.  They are all perfectly healthy for you and your family.

The use of hormones in eggs is prohibited by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).  No matter what the label says, any eggs you purchase in the U.S. will be hormone free.

For the sake of review, a hormone is a substance produced by an organism that stimulates specific cells or tissues into action.  In some industries, hormones can be used to stimulate growth of an animal, but in minute amounts.

FDA regulations also require that any laying hens receiving antibiotics have their eggs diverted from food consumption markets.  Most hens that are ill enough to need antibiotics would not produce eggs anyway!  The egg industry does not use antibiotics on a continual basis.

Summary?  All the eggs available to you are antibiotic free, no matter the label.

Finally, all eggs are non-GMO.  There are only nine genetically modified foods approved for human consumption, and eggs are not one of them.  You don’t even have to worry about the corn fed to the chickens!  Research confirms that any GM food in the chicken feed is not passed on to the egg itself.

Seeing eggs labeled as natural and non-GMO? That’s another marketing tactic. According to the USDA, all shell eggs are natural and eggs are not a genetically modified food. Research confirms that any GM food in the hen feed is not passed into the egg itself.

For more answers to your questions about buying the healthiest eggs, check out this article!

SPENDING MORE FOR HORMONE FREE?

Did you realize that you don’t need to?

Per federal law, hormone use is not allowed for growth promotion in hog farming or poultry farming.  Hormones are sometimes used and allowed for reproductive purposes in hogs.

Therefore, grocery store labels reading “hormone free” on packages of chicken and pork are just marketing ploys for consumers to purchase these products.

In cattle farming, farmers are allowed to use growth hormones.  The hormones are injected under the skin of the ear where the hormones dissolve slowly over time.  This is not all that different from women using an IUD (slow release hormone) to control pregnancy!

Growth hormones are used to produce leaner meats more efficiently.  They are in the ear because the ear is never used or consumed.

If this still makes you nervous, here’s a visual representation of the amount of hormones in the steak you might have on your plate.

If we use one M&M to represent the amount of nanograms of hormones in our foods, then a three-ounce steak would have half an M&M, while three ounces of cabbage would have a mason jar full.

There really is no need to pay more for hormone-free protein.  If you feel better and safer about it, then buy it!  But buy it with your eyes wide open.

 

ILLINOIS FARM FAMILIES: LEARN THE LABEL LINGO

Originally published on Illinois Farm Families

In a world filled with choice, a food label can be like a beacon of fluorescent light in the middle of a grocery aisle. Nutritional content, ingredients – this is information that helps. But then there are labels that mislead or confuse rather than clarify, hindering your ability to pick out healthy, nutritious food for you and your family – no matter the claim.

We want to help you wade through the words. So when labels lie, you know the facts behind how your food is grown and raised.