Let’s just say my basic knowledge of tilling the soil and raising livestock is limited to Old MacDonald, the Amish, and bottle-feeding calves on childhood petting farm field trips. But as a parent, I feel it’s my responsibility to pay more attention – to learn about the origins of the foods my family eats, and the processes that raise/grow/harvest them.
The flagship Field Mom program focuses on sharing that farm-to-family information with an open door policy. A hand-picked group of 10 Chicago-area moms have been given the opportunity to visit working Illinois farms and meet the folks who run them with the expectation that what we learn will be shared through social media.
Who knew that a lot of the food I cook up and feed my children was coming from just a few counties over?
Driving out for my first tour of the Martz grain and beef cattle farm near Maple Park felt a little bit like going back in time. Traffic thinned out - and included a lot more pickup trucks - a tractor drove down the road, and horses and cows grazed in gently sloping fields against a silo-dotted backdrop.
What awaited me next was an amazing learnathon:
- “Prime,” “Choice” and “Select” refer to meat grades from highest to lowest
- Marbling - the fat in your steak - is monounsaturated, which is actually good for you
- “USDA-inspected labels on beef can be misleading - all beef has to be USDA-inspected
- The term “grass-fed beef” is also misleading – at some point all cows are fed grass and/or roam in pastures
- More than 98% of cattle on feed in the U.S. are given hormones to aid their growth and strength
- You would have to eat 2,900 lbs. of implanted steer to equal the amount of hormones in birth control pills (example: Beef from a steer treated with estrogen contains 1.9 nanongrams – a billionth of a gram – while a girl prior to puberty has 54,000 nanograms of estrogen naturally occurring in her system)
- Nutrition wise, there is no difference between organic beef and "traditional" beef
- Antibiotics pass through cattle before they even go to market
- Market Day Ranch Steaks (we order ‘em every month) come from a packing plant in nearby Aurora – and some of the Martz cattle
- Farmers are eating the same beef we are at home
- A dedicated cattle nutritionist creates a very specific feed recipe for the cows
- Farmers and veterinarians are working to reduce antibiotic use in cattle by focusing on good nutrition and the use of vaccines in comprehensive preconditioning programs (before they get big enough for us to eat)
- A “squeeze” machine developed by Dr. Temple Grandin is used to keep cattle stress free
- One ear of corn can tell a farmer what to expect in terms of yields for the year
- Combines on the farm can harvest 12 rows of corn at one time (some combines can harvest 18!) and hold up to 25,000 lbs. of corn
Stay tuned as I learn and share more about the anything-but-slow-paced farm life.