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?

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Amanda Diesburg
Illinois State University
Ag in the Classroom Intern

TOP POSTS OF 2016 #4: 6 THINGS ABOUT FARMING I DIDN’T LEARN IN SCHOOL

[Originally published: February 23, 2016]

We all love our teachers, but looking back there are things we wish somebody had told us. Here are six things about agriculture that I wish were taught in school.

  1. Food is not easy to grow.

farmer in fieldOn TV you always see farmers portrayed as a bunch of uneducated hillbillies, but that is not the case! There is a lot more to growing food than most people realize; farming is a science. Farmers have to be masters of chemistry, agronomy, physics, mathematics, economics, and meteorology. In fact, there are over 70 colleges across the country that offer degrees in Farm Management. Who knew?

  1. Most of the corn we see in the fields isn’t sweet corn.

There are several different types of corn grown in the US, but the main type is field corn, also called dent corn. This corn is used for animal feed and also processed into ethanol, corn syrup, and other products like makeup and plastic. Less than 1% of the corn grown in the US is sweet corn! Check out this math lesson teachers could use to teach students about corn.

  1. Dirt is not the same everywhere you go.

soilHave you ever wondered why Arizona soil is so much redder than the dark black soils we have here in central Illinois? It turns out there is much more to dirt than meets the eye. All soil is made up of a combination of three components: sand, silt, and clay. The way a soil looks, feels, and even how well crops can be grown in it can all be predicted by looking at the age of the soil (some soils are thousands of years old!), mineral composition, topography of the land, and what the native vegetation was. There are even people whose whole job is studying soil!

  1. Hamburgers and milk don’t come from the same place.

eat mor chikinEveryone has seen the Chick-fil-a commercials where the black and white cows are telling you to eat more chicken, but besides being a cute marketing strategy it doesn’t actually make sense. Holsteins, like the Chick-fil-a cow, are one of hundreds of breeds of dairy cattle that are milked to make cheese and ice cream, but very rarely used for meat. A more accurate commercial would have a Black Angus because they are the most common beef breed in the US. These are the cattle that are raised for their meat to be processed into steaks, roasts, and burgers.

  1. Farmers do care about the environment.

The media is always pointing its finger at the agriculture industry for polluting the atmosphere or causing global climate change, but farmers really do care about the environment. In fact, they are affected even more than the rest of us by global climate change. As the climate patterns change over time, new pests invade our fields that they are not equipped to handle. This in turn lowers their yield and actually costs them money!

  1. There are chemicals in your food. Gasp!

Pyridoxine, Natamycin, and Carboxymethylcellulose, oh my! Find out what these chemicals are. Just because something has a long name doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, all food is naturally made out of chemicals called vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. A chemical-free diet would mean that you couldn’t eat anything!

elizabeth brownElizabeth Brown
Purdue University

TOP POSTS OF 2016 #2: WHY MY FAMILY FARM IS BIG BUT NOT A FACTORY FARM

[Originally published: October 11, 2016]

What is a factory farm? Is it a 5,000-acre grain farm supporting 3 families? Is it a 40 head dairy cattle operated by a dad his son? Is it a poultry farm operated by a family of five who contract out through a corporation who will sell the chicken in the store?

The term “factory farm” seems to have originated from the non-agriculture public and media about large farms in today’s agriculture industry. The only issue is that there is no real definition of a factory farm. A factory farm in some eyes are having over 20 animals in a herd, while others see it as large rows of buildings housing thousands and thousands of livestock.

But is there such a thing as a factory farm?

img_9035Many of the large farms seen from the flatlands of the Midwest to the hills of Texas are large FAMILY farms. Does this make them a factory farm? No. There are plenty of large farms in the country that might house more than 1,000 pigs, to help provide for two or three families.

Is that a factory farm? Somewhere with multiple families and generations raising livestock to help make ends meet? No. That is families trying to make ends meet. With lower margins than in years previous, families have to increase their farm size to help put food on the table.

What about my family? We farm 40 miles south of Downtown Chicago in one of the first farm towns south of the suburbs. We farm around 3000 acres of grain crop and milk around 75 dairy cows. To put an acre in perspective, one acre equals about the size of one football field.

Does that sound like a large farm to you? By some standards, it definitely is. However, let’s break down the numbers.

Three families are provided for on this farm. My family, along with my grandparents and uncle’s family all depend on the farm for income.

img_9036We all depend on the farm for food to be on the table.

We depend on the farm to pay for fuel to get the kids to soccer practice.

We depend on the farm to keep the lights on to study for the next big test in school.

We depend on the farm to keep life moving, just like everyone else relies on their job and income to pay the bills.

Does that make our farm a factory farm? I don’t think so. Just like every other family, we work hard to make money and provide for the family. We go past the bar, with every single member being active on the farm and helping with whatever that could be. Whether its running someone to a tractor, or helping out with feeding calves, the entire family helps out when needed on the farm.

So is that large farm you see on the side of the road a factory farm? No, it probably isn’t, because it is probably a family or two working hard to make ends meet.

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Dakota Cowger
Illinois State University

3 THINGS YOU AND A COW HAVE IN COMMON

Cows are some majestic creatures. Weighing over 1,000 pounds, they aren’t close to being the same as a human. However, we do share some similar traits with cows!

bestfriend1. Cows miss their best friend.

In dairy herds, cows typically have their best friend. These two cows are just what you think best friends would be. They hang out, assist each other in birth if necessary, and even like to stand next to each other in the barn while being milked! However, when they are apart, they miss their best friend and become stressed. It is weird to think, but cows do have best friends and miss them while apart, just like we humans do!

silly2. Cows like to have fun and be silly!

Cows seem to always be silly and have some fun while around the farm. They like to stick their tongues out, throw their head, and play with each other in the pasture! Just like you might want to run around and have some fun, cows enjoy having their free time and fun!

 

diverse3. Cows are diverse!

Just like humans, cows are very diverse. There are numerous different breeds of cows, both in dairy and beef varieties. These cows range in size and color. Some cows are white, red, black, and a mix of everything. While they all have their certain size and color, they either are raised for milk or beef purposes.  Fun Fact: Chocolate milk does NOT come from red and white dairy cows!

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Dakota Cowger
Illinois State University

PORK POWER!

Who doesn’t love a good home-cooked meal around the holidays? My favorite things to enjoy with my family are ham and mashed potatoes. Many branches of the agriculture industry in Illinois team up for the holidays to make sure everyone in the state can have pork at their family dinners. This movement is called Pork Power and consists of Illinois Pork Producers Association, Illinois Association of Meat Processors, Illinois Corn Marketing Board, Illinois Soybean Association, Feeding Illinois working together to gather pork to be donated.

12-5-16-pork-power-lightning-boltThis program was launched in 2008 by the Illinois Pork Producers and has continued to grow every year. The mission statement of the program is “To provide access to pork (vital meat protein) to our neighbors throughout Illinois by partnering with Feeding Illinois.” The 2015 results show that the mission statement is definitely being upheld. A whopping 500,000 pounds of pork was donated just last year. The half-million-pound donation amounted to 2 million meals being served to the people of Illinois.

Other events that support Pork Power are held throughout the year as well. These events include a fundraising meal at the Illinois Department of Agriculture and fun Pork Power t-shirts being sold at the Illinois State Fair. Some of these shirts have the Pork Power logo while others have puns about bacon that never get old!

Interested in donating pork to the cause? A few guidelines and more information on donating to the movement can be found here! Any other questions? Ask in the comments!

amanda-rollinsAmanda Rollins
Illinois State University

FIVE FARM WOMEN TO WATCH

Move out of the way gentleman. Here come the ladies in agriculture. These five farm women are making waves in the “agvocation” of agriculture by sharing their personal experiences and daily lives with others on social media. Between Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, these ladies in ag are helping tell their story about what farm life is like as mothers, wives, managers, farmers, and agvocates.

On Instagram you can check out two women from very different aspects of farming. Neither one is better than the other but both have beautiful photos that immediately capture your interest, making you wander… “Is it really that beautiful?”

9-29-16kristin-instagramKristin Reese – @localfarmmom

Kristin Reese is a young mom of two who lives on a farm in Ohio where her and her husband raise and show sheep. However, they also raise other livestock and grain. Through posts about her life she explains production agriculture in easy-to-understand terms that help those who don’t have a farm background understand. You can check out more of how Kristin promotes and discusses ag on her Instagram account localfarmmom.

9-29-16joneve-instagramJoneve Murphy – @farmersroots

Offering an alternative approach to ag, farmersroots Instagram Joneve Murphy is an organic farmer who travels the world capturing organic food production through a lens that helps tell a story with magnificent photos. Her latest adventures in Nicaragua offer an insight into agriculture many aren’t able to experience.

While Instagram provides a beautiful backdrop to conversations about ag, Twitter is where those conversations can get started and grow.

9-29-16twitter-micheleMichele Payn-Knoper -@mpaynspeaker

Twitter Ag Queen Michele Payn-Knoper is the creator of the popular hash tag #agchat. Michele encourages everyone in the industry to share their story, and offers opportunities for people of all backgrounds to come together and to discuss ag topics ranging from nutrition to organic farming in #agchats. This plays a huge part in helping connect the gap between producer and consumer.

The other platform women use is Facebook — with more than one billion people using Facebook, women agvocates are able to help teach moms and women across the world about what their farm life is like.

9-29-16dairy-carrieDairy Carrie – @DairyCarrie

In 2011, Dairy Carrie started sharing her journey of what life was like on her dairy farm in Wisconsin with her husband and their 100 dairy cows. Carrie shares on her Facebook page and website about everything dairy but also about ag in general. She says her “brain to mouth filter is the smallest known to mankind,” but this plays to her advantage as her honesty helps give the transparency needed in today’s agricultural production.

9-29-16the-farmers-wifeThe Farmer’s Wifee – @StaufferDairy

The second woman to watch on Facebook is The Farmer’s Wifee. Krista is a mom and first-generation dairy farmer with her husband in Washington with three kids and 150 dairy cows.  She writes her own blog about daily life, shares facts about her industry, and shares articles that offer insight and knowledge for a range of ag topics for moms everywhere.

These women know how to make an impact with words. Thanks to them, many people are being educated while the women agvocate using daily life experiences. Different backgrounds, different parts of the ag industry, but all helpful in making a difference.

maxley_jaylynnJaylynn Maxley
University of Illinois

FRIDAY FARM PHOTO: FARM TOUR

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Join Illinois Farm Families they show Chicago moms how food gets to their table by visiting two different poultry farms in Illinois – all from the comfort of your couch! At 9AM tomorrow morning, tune into to IFF’s Facebook page and follow along. Make sure to “Like” their page so you can get a notification once they go live.

FRIDAY FARM PHOTO: ILLINOIS STATE FAIR

IMG_8861This past Tuesday (August 16) was Ag Day at the Illinois State Fair. If you’re familiar with the history of the fair, you’ll know the fair’s primary purpose was for agriculture. People brought their animals from across the state and to compete in showing. For instance, the competition would decide which dairy cow had the best features and characteristic of the ideal dairy cow that would best carry on the breed. These competitions still exist today and have varying criteria based on the category/animal.

Since then, the Illinois State Fair has evolved to include a non-farming audience with different games, rides, concerts and foods. While no one is discounting the glory of a funnel cake, Ag Day was created to give a spotlight to the fair’s original intention. This year, IL Corn joined other agriculture organizations, farming families, and government leaders to showcase the industry while also engaging the non-farming community to learn about issues agriculture faces today.

Among the events:

 

 

  • 8-16-16rauner

    Government officials including Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and U.S. Congressman for Illinois Cheri Bustos showed their support by meeting with industry leaders.

 

 

 

  • IMG_8851Illinois FFA members interacted with government and industry officials to talk shop as they learn more to become our nation’s next agriculture leaders.

 

 

Check out more from our Facebook, where we livestreamed an interview with Illinois FFA members and heard from IL Corn leaders.

FRIDAY FARM PHOTO: MEET PHIL

8-5-16meetphil

Phil Borgic is the owner of Borgic Farms Inc., located in Illinois. The 6,200-sow farm staff focuses on properly caring for their pigs and their employees. Phil sat down with the #RealPigFarming team to tell us a little bit more about himself and his family’s farm.

Read the interview here.

TAKING CARE OF PIGS ON FARMS

[Originally posted here]

8-4-16caring-for-our-pigsFarmers are eager to explain how pigs are raised and cared for. Few people have firsthand knowledge of what modern pig farming looks like. Now more than ever, we have access to many tools and resources to better care for our animals and meet consumer demand. These advancements have helped make the U.S. pork supply safer and more nutritious than at any time in our nation’s history. No matter the farm, the basic tenet of animal agriculture is the same: Good animal care is imperative to produce healthy food for consumers. For pig farmers, ensuring the well-being of animals is about more than taking care of business. It is part of America’s agricultural heritage. We are intent on preserving — and building upon — that legacy.

You can discover more about how pigs are treated and the regulations surrounding pig farming here.