#TBT: I NEVER PAID MUCH ATTENTION TO CORN

[Originally published: July 13, 2017]

Last night I took the long familiar drive home with added company in my car. I had fellow Corn Intern, Kylie, and her roommate in the car with me and we were making casual conversation about our days at work. The three of us are friends outside of work but come from various backgrounds that all led us to the University of Illinois agriculture program.

As we drove, the conversation began to lull and from the back-seat Kylie offered, “You know, I never really paid much attention to corn until I started my internship.” The sentence took me a bit off guard before she continued, “Of course we had some corn, but it was just there.” I understood what she meant, but to me, corn had never “just been there.”

Continued reflection on the topic had me curious how one could just assume corn was nothing more than passing scenery on the interstate. It was so much more than that to everyone I knew growing up and I have never known anything different. Corn was never “just there”, it was seed selected carefully, planting done late into the night praying the rain held off, then praying for rain a few weeks later. Corn was your classmate or teacher missing an afternoon because the field really needed to be picked and someone had to get it done. No, corn wasn’t “just there”.

I then thought about how the office had reacted the recent rain we had got. It was easy to tell who had been raised with farmers and whose family farm was in what parts of the state. Some were quick to groan at the thought of more water in their already sodden fields while many rejoiced at the chance for their plants to get a drink. All of the meaning was lost on Kylie, she had never paid much attention to corn. She didn’t know what the year of the drought was like. To her, the corn was still “just there”.

After having slept on the subject, I have reached a new mentality. Most people will never pay attention to the corn along the side of the roads. They will not see the food, fuel, and fiber that keeps the country turning, the backbone of the American economy, the pride of Illinois, they will see corn. That’s okay. It would be impossible to ask Kylie to appreciate corn in ways that I do, she wasn’t raised with corn as her nearest neighbor. Rather than be annoyed, upset, or frustrated, I am inspired. The fact that others think corn is “just there” means that I get to be corn’s voice. Those in agriculture have a passion that can’t be squelched. Share that passion. Spread the word. Others don’t have to pay attention to corn as long as you do.

Shelby Carlson
IL Corn Intern

JAPAN RECOGNIZES THE NEED FOR CLEANER AIR, ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY

Japan will now allow U.S. ethanol to meet up to 44 percent of a total estimated demand of 217 million gallons of ethanol used to make ETBE, or potentially 95.5 million gallons of U.S.-produced ethanol, worth about $140 million, annually.

This didn’t just happen.

Helping other countries understand the need for renewable, cleaner fuels to control global pollution issues has been an uphill educational battle and one that we are excited to finally be getting ahead of.

The U.S. Grains Council, an organization that promotes U.S. products in other countries, has led this effort to get U.S. ethanol into Japan, and now is reaping the benefits of their work.  In late June, a delegation of U.S. business and state government leaders traveled to the country, led by Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Ted McKinney, to answer Japanese questions about how this fuel could work for them.

“While we have opened the door to ethanol exports to Japan, we still have a lot of work to do,” said Darren Armstrong, USGC secretary/treasurer and farmer from North Carolina, who participated in the mission. “The Council and our partners have an opportunity to provide more information to the Japanese government as well as to the entire value chain about the many benefits of ethanol.”

“With this decision, Japan recognizes the environmental value of U.S. corn-based ethanol,” Armstrong said. “Going forward, our role is to further demonstrate the economic value of using even greater volumes of ethanol, including through direct blending, as is done in the United States.”

Read more about this exciting news here.

LEARNING BY DOING HELPS INDIAN AGRICULTURE THRIVE

On this blog, we talk a lot about agriculture in the U.S. and in Illinois, but we don’t often think about what agriculture looks like in other countries.  I found this article on Indian agriculture interesting.  We have to acknowledge where other farmers are and meet them there in order to raise all farmers to that very important level of sustainability and food security for all.

LEARNING BY DOING HELPS INDIAN AGRICULTURE THRIVE
this article originally posted at Global Farmer Network

Farmers must educate each other: That’s the best way we can learn to thrive, adopting the new technologies and sustainable practices that both conserve resources and improve productivity.

The fate of India depends on our success—and I’m trying to do my part to help from my farm in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

I grow three crops per year on about 50 acres near the village of Ulundhai. I use a common method of rotation, starting with cereals (such as corn), followed by vegetables (brinjal and broccoli), and finally by pulses (green, red, and black gram).

Like most of my neighbors, I’m always in the field with something, even though our climate brings the challenges of drenching monsoons as well as periods of drought.

Despite the hard work, Indian farmers operate at only a fraction of the productivity of farmers in industrialized countries. This means that for India’s population of more than 1 billion, food costs are high—and an unacceptable number of people are malnourished.

When people don’t eat enough, they suffer. This is especially true for children, who are in the formative stages of life. The irreversible damage to their physical and mental wellbeing scars them for life.

These impairments hurt us all. They hold back my entire country.

So we have to do better.

It starts with the sharing of information. I spend a portion of my time training fellow farmers and young people in proper agricultural practices. The main theme of my workshops is: Learning by doing.

People come to my farm and participate in the work. Then they take what they’ve learned and apply it to their own fields.

Books and classrooms are excellent sources of education, but nothing is better than the experience of doing something—and that’s how we approach our farming education here. This is doubly important in my region, where many farmers are illiterate. They can’t read books, so we distribute pictorial pamphlets in the local language that transmit knowledge in simple ways that can be understood and followed.

Mostly, however, we demonstrate. We have to move slowly, taking things step-by-step. At my workshops, for example, I like to say that knowing how to operate a tractor doesn’t mean that you can hop into a Ferrari and drive to the city. Without proper awareness and instruction, you’ll hurt yourself and others—and it won’t be the fault of the Ferrari!

A farmer’s tools aren’t as a fancy as a Ferrari, of course. Some are mechanized, like tractors. Others are made for traditional manual labor. All tools, however, require at least some education so that farmers can learn how to handle devices for seeding, weeding, and fertilizing. I believe strongly that tools will enhance our man-power efficiency. This is an absolute need for a productive farming sector.

Modern farming is a science. We have to analyze the soil for nutrients and balance the fertility levels for specific kinds of crops. We must be careful about where fertilizer is placed, making sure it goes into the root zone for efficient uptake. Then there’s the challenge of pest and weed management, which means defeating insects and invasive plants through the appropriate use of crop-protection products.

Most Indian farmers don’t yet enjoy access to GMO technology, except for cotton, which means that we can’t take advantage of this technology for any of our food crops. Personally, I’d love to plant GMO corn and brinjal. A good seed sandwiched with precise crop production techniques will enhance the yield to its optimum. I am confident it would boost my farm’s productivity and help feed my country.

We’d also have to train farmers in the proper use of this technology. This can be done—it would not be too hard—but we would have to commit ourselves to the project, and once again engage in the strategy of learning by doing.

As I conduct workshops for entrepreneurs, my goal is to present agriculture as a profession, lifting it up from being viewed as a lowly occupation to an industrial activity. If we gain better access to tools and technology and perform the education that must go along with it, farmers will produce more food and consumers will have the means to buy more of it.

All of India would be much better off.

Rajaram Madhavan grows three different crops a year on his farm near Ulundhai Village, Tamil Nadu, India. Madhavan has several patents for farmer-friendly farm tools, conducts workshops that encourage entrepreneurs to take up agriculture as a profession.

DOES YOUR SUMMER BUCKET LIST INCLUDE AG?

At my house, the summer seems like it is going to be over before we even turn around twice.  Sadly, we haven’t even gotten a vacation in!  Between work trips, church camp, the kids’ work schedules, and life, finding a day to just do something fun seems so difficult.

If you’re feeling the same way, I’d encourage you to take a quick minute and schedule a day trip to learn more about agriculture before the summer is over!  A day trip can be the perfect solution to so many problems:

  1. You need a break
  2. Your kids need a break
  3. You want your children to have one happy memory of you over the summer
  4. They haven’t learned anything meaningful since the end of May and it’s about time.

In that vein …

Please enjoy this quick roundup of potential ways to learn more about where your food comes from before the summer is over!

Tour an alpaca farm in Amboy, IL

Alpaca’s are similar to camels, but with more charm and personality says the West Wind Alpaca farm in Amboy.  You can tour their alpaca farm by calling or emailing them.

 

 

Pick blueberries at Valley Orchard in Cherry Valley, IL

The blueberries, red raspberries, and currants are available for picking at Valley Orchard in Cherry Valley.  Your kids will love picking their own fruit, and if you plan ahead, you can schedule a tour of their orchard and learn something about how apples and other fruits are grown.

 

 

Experience the Children’s Farm at The Center in Palos Park, IL

During weekend visits, farm guides invite the public into each animal pen and are ready to supply information about the animals to inquiring visitors. Guests are welcome to touch, pet and groom many of our animals. Our barn animals change seasonally but we often have a variety of chickens, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, pigs, goats, cows, sheep, horses, ponies and donkeys.  And if you’re looking for a longer term opportunity, they even take volunteers to care for the animals!

Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, IL

I learned something today!  Who knew that we had one of the premiere Japanese Gardens in the U.S. right here in Rockford, IL!?  Anderson Gardens is a  twelve-acre landscape of streams, waterfalls, winding pathways, and koi-filled ponds has been rated one of North America’s highest quality Japanese gardens for more than a decade.  Not your traditional agriculture visit, but definitely something to see.

 

Learn about grain marketing at the oldest grain elevator in Illinois

The M.J. Hogan Grain Elevator is the earliest remaining grain elevator built along the Illinois & Michigan Canal. The elevator, constructed in 1861-1862 by John Armour, allowed local farmers to ship their grain in bulk to Chicago markets via the canal, as opposed to transporting each load by horse and wagon.  You can take a tour of this treasure!

 

Experience modern agriculture at Fair Oaks Farms in Fair Oaks, IN

Yes, this one isn’t in IL, but it still might be a possible day trip for you.  And it’s worth it!  This tour isn’t about history of agriculture or what used to be, but instead features the way farmers currently raise cattle, pigs, and how they use technology to do everything better.  This one is worth more than a day if you have the time to spare!

 

Hope you enjoy these fun places to learn more about agriculture this summer!  Please come back and comment if you visited any or have any others we should add!

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

 

DID YOU KNOW GMOs PROTECT THE ENVIRONMENT?

Many misconceptions might fuel the belief that GMO crops aren’t environmentally sustainable, but in reality many of the practices often affiliated with sustainable farming are used with GMO crops.

Fewer pesticide applications, conservation tillage (which reduces greenhouse gas emissions) and water conservation are all practices that can be used with GMO crops.

Find out more at GMO Answers!

CARPOOL WITH A FARMER

Have so many questions about your food but very little time to look for answers?

What if you could have a farmer for a day?  Ask her all of your questions and get the answers you felt confident in?  What if you and that farmer could actually … talk?

Check out the conversations this busy mom and her farmer had when we did exactly that.

 

Follow us at Common Ground.

#TBT: CELEBRATE NATIONAL DAIRY MONTH WITH PIZZA

[Originally published: June 23, 2016]

June is National Dairy Month! Now I don’t know about you, but that sounds like an exciting time for me. You can find me celebrating by eating ice cream, cheese, and all of the other delicious dairy products that our American Dairy Farmers work hard to produce!

6-23-16image6National Dairy Month is a little more personal for me. I grew up on my family’s dairy farm 40 miles south of downtown Chicago. On my family’s farm, I was able to watch as my grandfather, uncle, and father worked hard each morning and evening, no matter the weather conditions, to feed, milk, and clean up the cows. Their dedication to the animals was mesmerizing. Even I had the chance to be active and work with the cows in day-in and day-out as I grew up.

No matter how much hard work dairy farmers put in, they still seem to be scrutinized by the general public. It is always interesting to me that those from off the farm don’t stop to see and realize that American Dairy Farmers spend every day of the year working with their cattle to make sure they are strong and healthy.

I grew up on a dairy farm and I have worked on my family’s dairy farm. I know how we treat our animals. We treat our animals with care, love, and respect. You can ask anyone who knows me that I love my cows and treat them with better respect than most humans I interact with.

6-23-16image5Now, to celebrate my love for National Dairy Month, I decided to cook one of my favorite meals, my homemade pizza. I make the dough and sauce from scratch, but what makes this pizza great is the cheese: Chellino’s Scamorza Cheese to be exact. Chellino’s is based in Joliet, IL and they use milk from our dairy farm to make the cheese. Now, what could be better? Great tasting cheese AND you know who put in the hard work to produce and deliver the milk and cheese.

If you can’t get your hands on Chellino’s Scamorza, it is okay to use other Scamorza, or even smoked mozzarella. However, if you can get your hand on some of Chellino’s, you’ll know it will turn out delicious, and you’ll even know where the milk came from that produced it!

FOR THE PIZZA:

  • 1 1/3 cup hot water (not boiling)
  • 1/4oz envelope active dry yeast
  • 3 tsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp olive oil (and extra for oiling bowls)
  • 4 tsp salt
  • 3 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • granulated garlic
  • scamorza cheese
  • baby arugula
  • diced pancetta
  • baby arugula

GET COOKIN’:

  1. In a bowl, add warm water and 1 1/2 tsp sugar, and then add in the yeast packet. Set aside.
  1. 6-23-16image2In a stand mixer bowl, add 3 tbsp olive oil, salt, the rest of the sugar, and the flour. Then, take the water, yeast, and sugar and mix until it is dissolved. Once dissolved, add to mixer bowl. With a dough hook, mix at low until everything is combined, and then mix on medium and let the mixer knead the dough. Add more flour if needed until the dough is coming off the sides of the bowl and not sticking, about 6-8 minutes.
  1. Take the dough and divide it into two piece. With each piece, round into two balls and place into an oiled bowl seam side down. Cover with plastic wrap and let them sit to rise for 90 minutes, preferably in an oven recently turned off and still warm.
  1. Once risen, the dough should be able to be poked and the indent stays. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Roll the dough out into a circle and onto a pizza stone. Mix together 1/4 cup olive oil with 1 teaspoon of granulated garlic. Once mixed, brush onto the dough. Once spread onto dough, grate about 1/4 – 1/2 lb of Scamorza cheese onto the pizza. Pop into the oven for 15 minutes.
  1. After 15 minutes, remove the pizza from the oven and add the diced pancetta. Pop back into the oven for another 5-7 minutes. Once finished, add baby arugula to the top of the pizza. Slice up and enjoy!

For more recipes, find me on my website at DiningWithDakota.com

Cowger_Dakota_IL CORN INTERN 2x3 16

Dakota Cowger
Communications Intern
IL Corn