#TBT: WHY I CAN’T LEAVE ILLINOIS

I live in a town where almost everyone is employed by one of two companies.

And actually, now that I think about it, we also have other large employers, but still, when I meet someone new and ask where they work, they work at one of two places most often.

corn twilightOne of those two places is shipping a lot of employees to other states.  And no, this blog post is not about the state of affair in Illinois or our lack of budget or our plethora of debt.

When one of my friends returned to my town from her new state, new house, and new job, she was telling us how much fun it has been to be out of Illinois.  How the taxes are lower.  How the schools are better.  How the political commercials hit you a little less square in the gut.  And she wondered, why would I want to stay in Illinois?

So, I thought about it.  And even after I gave her my answer, I thought about it some more.  What’s holding me here?  Why is Illinois important?  Why have I lived within a very small triangle of space my entire 38 years on this earth?!

The answer, after much debate and internal soul-searching, is exactly the same answer that came to my gut when she posed the question.

Because I’m a farm girl.

Because that dirt gets under your skin.

Because the rest of your family – even your extended family – lives near.

Because the culture, the mindset, the psyche of a farmer is to stay in one place.  To be rooted to the earth.  To know –  like a deep in your being sort of knowing – the land that you’re a steward of.

Farmers can’t pick up and move the earth that provides their living.  Even the skill set that they’ve developed, this internal intuition about how to handle every single set back that mother nature dishes out, doesn’t necessarily apply to other regions of the country.  Every bit of dirt is different, unique, and a farmer is a bit attached to his or her specific piece.

So no, I can’t imagine leaving here.  I will be a citizen of Illinois – and all the “stuff” that entails – for the rest of my life.

Lindsay Mitchell 11/14Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Manager

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

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

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

#TBT: A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF A FARMER: MARCH

[Originally published March 15, 2016]

Some people think that the only busy times of the year are planting and harvest and the rest of the year farmers spend their glorious amounts of free time vacationing or tinkering with antique tractors. This may be true for some, but not the majority. Today is the third post in my one-year series which will give you an idea of a farmer’s workload throughout the year. Keep in mind that all farms operate differently and I am just providing one example of a year in the life of a grain farmer. There are several factors that contribute to the seasonality of the farm such as size and scale of the operation, crops grown, location, livestock, management style and general upbringing or personal work ethic! I hope this provides some insight into what versatile businessman farmers are.

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Bookkeeping

March 1st was the deadline for farm taxes to be filed. That chore is a load-off… Quite possibly LITERALLY. Also, a lot of Ag lenders also expect their prior year’s input loans (think 2015’s crop) to be paid in full by now.

Next THIS year’s crop

What we previously considered “next year’s crop” can now be called “This year’s crop”. The 2016 crop year is officially underway! There is lots of prep work to get done before the first seed can be placed in the ground – but nearly every task is weather permitting.

  • 3-15-16Ayear3The seed corn that was selected last December or January will likely be delivered to the farm by the end of the month. Better clean out a corner of the shed to store it for a bit.
  • Get machinery cleaned up and prepped for planting. Wash, wax, check tires, make sure the engine’s running smoothly, re-calibrate settings for depth and spacing, vacuum out the cab, etc.
  • There might be drainage or other “dirt work” to do before crops are put into the fields. The freeze-thaw of winter might have slightly shifted the lay of the land and new, or worse, wet spots may now be visible. It would also be a good idea to make sure tile line exists are free of debris and able to drain the fields properly.
  • Depending on how wet the fields are, there’s a possibility of working ground for seedbed preparation and fertilizer application.

Household and farm odd-jobs / repairs

As mentioned last month, in March the weather dictates your schedule. If the ground’s still too cold or wet, you might have some spare time to spend working on indoor projects. Then again… don’t count on it. If something needs doin’… Do it now!

Deal_Ashley

Ashley Deal
ICGA/ICMB Membership Assistant

WHY AG EDUCATION SHOULD BE A GENERAL EDUCATION REQUIREMENT

Each of us has taken (or is in the process of taking) general education classes at school, whether it be at a middle school, high school, community college or a university. These classes vary by institution but usually include a combination of English, fine arts, math, science and Global Studies. I think it is fair to assume not everyone is extremely passionate about all of those basic general education courses. I can say from personal experience, I was not exactly the most excited about my Introduction to Theatre course. I’m not a fine arts major, so I did not receive many benefits for my future career from that class.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have required general education courses that we actually utilize in the real world? Not that things like the Pythagorean Theorem aren’t useful; however, theories like that one aren’t useful outside the walls of math class. That’s where agriculture education comes in. The agriculture industry offers many lessons to be taught to those who desire to learn. For example, many FFA members have projects and must keep accurate records of all transactions that occur each year. This teaches students how to balance a checkbook, budget accordingly and plan for the future – all of which are real-world skills.

At many universities, introductory agriculture courses offer many ways to help students grow professionally, for both agriculture and non-ag majors. For example, at my university, a class titled, “Introduction to the Agriculture Industry” (also known as AGR 109) requires students to create a resume, cover letter, and participate in a mock interview with real employers, all for a grade. Many students enrolled in this course, from college freshmen all the way to seniors, did not have a resume created for themselves. This class creates an opportunity for those students to make a resume and receive feedback as well. On top of that, the mock interviews allow for students to network with actual recruiters from many different companies. This basic agriculture class helps students prepare for the professional world, far more than my Introduction to Theatre class ever did.

General Education courses are important; they are considered a foundation for student education. However, when courses like AGR 109 offer professional development skills and put students in real-life scenarios, this helps prepare for life after graduation. Those classes are solidifying the foundation they will use for the rest of their lives. This is why everyone should take at least one agriculture education course as a student, from middle school all the way through college. The skills learned, knowledge gained and networking opportunities provided are very applicable to the working world – all the more reason to add agriculture as a general education requirement.

Susie Thompson
Illinois State University

ORGANIC VS CONVENTIONAL FARMING – WHAT’S THE SAME, WHAT’S DIFFERENT?

[Republished from Illinois Farm Families]

Organic versus conventional – it’s a highly debated topic. As a farmer who has employed both methods, perhaps I can offer a valuable point of view to help you make the best choice for you and your family.

What’s the same?

  • Pesticides – There are pesticides approved for use in both types of farming. Farmers use these to protect their crops from bugs and disease.
  • Soil health – Farmers use a variety of tools and practices to maintain soil and water health on farms of every shape and size.
  • Sustainability – All farmers think about sustainability. The tools farmers can use vary slightly between conventional and organic, but the desired result is the same.
  • Farmers care – We all care about growing safe food for our families and preserving our land for years to come.
  • Safety – Whether or not you’re reaching for an “organic” label at the store, the food you’re eating is safe. Furthermore, research shows very little difference between the nutritional value of organic and conventionally grown foods.

What’s different?

  • Pesticides – While there are approved pesticides for use in both types of farming, pesticides used on organic farms must be naturally derived whereas conventional farms can use synthetic pesticides.
  • GMOs – Genetically modified crops are not allowed in organic farming. GMOs can be grown in our conventional fields and help us avoid using pesticides among other benefits.
  • Cost – But you already knew that. Generally speaking, certified organic food costs more.
  • So, yes, there are some differences between conventional and organic farming, but there isn’t necessarily a “right” and a “wrong” way to farm. It all comes down to what is best for each individual farmer and their land. In my case, I’m comfortable growing both and I feed both to my family. I’m making what I believe are the best choices and I encourage you to do the same..

TRENT SANDERSON

Trent farms with his family in northern Illinois. He also enjoys learning and educating other farmers about the environmental benefits of cover crops. He lives on the farm with his wife, Elizabeth, and their son Owen.