Illinois Farm Families Blog

Mar 29 2015

Farrowing Crates for Pigs

Mar 27 2015

GMO’s – The other side of the story

When I began my journey as a Field Mom, I truly set out with a mission. I wanted to know that what I was eating, and what I was serving my family was indeed….SAFE. I, like you, I am sure, have heard about the evils of all things GMO and all things Monsanto. I stood firm in my belief that mixing science with nature was the root of all the issues with the modern food chain.

However, I was determined to get the other side of the story, though I didn’t think it would EVER change my mind, I wanted to hear it from the source, from the person responsible for growing “my” food. And what better way to do that than by sitting down face to face with a farmer who is honest in his use of modified seed, who is honest in his discussions. A farmer whose very livelihood depends upon the food I was terrified to eat.

When I first met Paul and Donna Jeschke and their nephew Tyson, they were everything I expected farmers to be. Kind, warm, open and honest. But most of all, they were hard working. We learned a little bit about them personally and the story that I love most is that of Donna and Paul’s engagement….no ring for her, she got a TRACTOR. But in truth, nothing says love to a farmer better than that. To me it speaks volumes. It says “I will stand by you in your work” ” I will work side by side with you for our future” “I will support you through drought and hardship and also in times of plenty” That tractor is a beautiful reflection of a farmers life. It’s all about the fields and the family.

As a group, we were lucky enough to hear from some people that truly know their stuff….

We had the opportunity to hear from Dr. Brown from Growmark, who is a Master of soil management, his job is to aide farmers in the growing of better crops. Dr. Brown was the first to tell us that genetically modified seeds (GMO) are created using a naturally occurring soil element Bacillus thuringiensis, otherwise known as BT. BT allows the seed to be insect resistant using a a non synthetic insecticide of sorts.

Who knew ?? I certainly didn’t. So my question is this….Which is more detrimental to our health as consumers, a naturally occurring microbe embedded as an insect repellant or a topically applied synthetic chemical applied on top of the food ?? Of course, there is always organic, which is how I ALWAYS shopped. But that too has it’s downside. One example being the 2011 organic bean sprout E.coli outbreak,which killed 31 people and sickened thousands. The devil is in the details, isn’t it ?

So how do you choose ?? how do you know ?? Learning both sides of the story is a wonderful starting point. Over lunch, we had the chance to ask questions of a local farmer named Brent Salzberger, who grows using both GMO and Non-GMO seed, it was eye opening to hear how much work goes into non-GMO crops. Non-GMO is definitely time heavy and labor intensive. Far more so than GMO crops, and a farmers livelihood is tied directly to time vs. output. Because output = money.

Now, I know you are saying to yourself….”How does THAT affect me ?” and I guess, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t. But perhaps, this will. All of the farmers we spoke to, all the representatives from the seed companies and crop protection companies made certain we understood one VERY important fact, with one VERY important statement. WE EAT THIS FOOD TOO, we feed it to our families, to our children, to our grandchildren, we too, want this food to be safe. Farmers truly are stewards of the land, they tend it, they respect it, they rely on it….and, they love what they do.

I do still agree with the labeling of GMO products, as I think it allows the consumer to decide for themselves. But I ask,that before you make that decision, I hope you will educate yourself, and consider both sides of the story.

Katie Grossart
Chicago, IL

Katie was one of the Illinois Farm Families 2013 Field Moms. Throughout the year she visited several Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each tour, the Field Moms shared their thoughts by blogging about what they experienced on these farms, including five things they found most interesting. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago moms meet farmers.

Mar 26 2015

Dear County Market,

In our small town, we are very lucky to have the convenience of your supermarket.

Your market, while not as large as ones in metropolitan areas and without a vast selection of every possible food imaginable, is so wonderful to have in our community. Your staff is friendly, helpful, efficient, and kind. When I needed cilantro, you got it out of the back (fresh off the truck, mind you) for me. When I needed birthday cupcakes for my daughter, you made them with less than 24 hours notice. I recognize checkers as parents who sit on the bleachers during basketball games, and your store's size is small enough for me to navigate with my toddler and twins, without the fear of losing anyone, or my mind for that matter.

Your store's location, good coupons, and impact on the local economy keeps me coming back.

Until yesterday.

I sent Joe, my husband, to your store to pick up a few last minute items for my daughter's birthday party. While we were prepping for a happy day, he came home, fuming.

Joe is an agricultural professional. We used to be beef producers, and while currently do not operate a commercial cattle business, we understand the impact fear mongering and anti-agriculture marketing places on local farmers. Your company, based in Quincy, Illinois has decided to hop on the bandwagon of fear based, inaccurate, and shameful advertising for their meat products.

The checker at your store, while thanking Joe for coming in, handed him this card. She handed Joe, a Beef Quality Assurance Certified producer, who has taken multiple Beef classes in college from Tom Carr, one of the nation's top experts in all things beef, this card:

The picture is not the best, but you developed it, you should know what it says. However, let me tell you how it makes us feel.

We are angry.

We are confused.

We are frustrated.

We are fuming.

I'm not shaming the checker. She was just doing her job. However, your company, as I stated before, based in America's heartland where food is produced safely and efficiently, has decided to confuse consumers.

This card seems friendly, almost fancy. One may feel bad tossing it in the trash, as it is made of heavy, glossy stock. The size of a business card, this card could be tucked into a mom's wallet and referred to as she navigates the meat counter. It is simply worded, elegantly composed, and, from my layman's perspective, a marketing home run.

Billed as an FAQ for consumers for your new Wild Harvest product line (antibiotic and hormone free meat), its underlying message is anti conventional agriculture, anti food choice, and offensive to those in the beef production industry.

In your attempt to give consumers more information, more choice, more options, your message has stated that conventional beef producers, those who follow guidelines of animal husbandry, tend to their animals with the utmost care, are doing it incorrectly, and thus, will harm these consumers if their product is purchased.

While you concisely stated that "the animals raised and harvested for this program have never received antibiotics or added hormones-ever!" (Note the exclamation point. Your grammar, not mine.), you mention that those animals who do receive antibiotics are pulled out of your pool to be used in this program. However, you failed to mention that when animals, whether beef cattle, poultry, pork, etc., do receive antibiotics, by the time they are ready to be harvested and in the meat case, those antibiotics are out of the animal's system, causing no harm to the consumer. In other words, they once had used antibiotics, but are now free of any trace of them. While I'm not condoning juicing up animals on hormones, or using medicine at a rate that is unnecessary, your advertising is misleading.

Strike that, your advertising is not just misleading, it's yet another example of fear based advertising, confusing consumers, and painting a picture that conventional agricultural practices are going to hurt folks.

Another sticking point I have is the statement, "Animals must be humanely raised and handled safely at all times."

That's a requirement for this new Wild Harvest product line.

Once again, while you are not directly stating that conventional producers are not being kind with their animal husbandry practices, the insinuation is there. The tone is there, and if it's one thing I have learned as a mother, a writer, a friend, it's not always the words that are said, it's the tone in which it's expressed that can cause alarm.

I am all for food choice. While I am one to defend the industry, I am not so brazen to believe that everyone should buy what I buy. A family must do what is right for themselves, but this advertising is insinuating that our former livelihood, our community's heartbeat, is incorrect, unsafe, and inhumane.

And that is unacceptable.

I charge you, County Market and SuperValu to share openly, in just as pleasant of a light, conventional meat practices. I want to have an FAQ for the other choice I have, and I want it in soft colors on glossy paper.

I want you to continue to support our local producers, or I will have to forfeit my business from your store.

Emily Webel
Confessions of a Farm Wife blogger and Agricultural Advocate

Farmington, IL

Emily and her husband, Joe, raise cattle, corn, soybeans and alfalfa for hay for their animals in Illinois. Together they are raising their four children to be good stewards of the land. This was originally posted by Emily on her blog, Confessions of a Farm Wife.

Mar 25 2015

What's Cooking Wednesday: Cuban Pork Tenderloin




Using thin knife, trim silver skin from tenderloin. Mix orange juice, grapefruit juice, cilantro, cumin, oregano, garlic, salt, and hot pepper in gallon-sized zip-top plastic bag. Add pork, close, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours. Meanwhile, make Rice and Black Bean Salad. 

Prepare outdoor grill for direct medium-hot grilling. For a gas grill, preheat grill on high. Adjust temperature to 400°F. For a charcoal grill, build fire and let burn until coals are covered with white ash. Spread coals and let burn for 15-20 minutes. 

Lightly oil cooking grate. Remove pork from marinade, drain briefly, but do not scrape off solids. Place on grill and cover grill. Cook, turning occasionally, until browned and instant-read thermometer inserted in center of pork reads 145 degrees Fahrenheit, about 20-27 minutes. Transfer to carving board and let stand 3-5 minutes. Cut on slight diagonal and serve with rice and black bean salad. 

Yields 6 servings.

Recipe courtesy of:

Mar 24 2015

Organic vs. Traditional Produce: What I Learned

Last weekend I was blessed with the opportunity to be a City Mom 2015 with Illinois Farm Families. As a City Mom, I will be meeting and visiting local farm families to gain a better understanding of who they are, how they care for and provide the foods that I feed to my family and most importantly I hope to learn how I can continue to support them.

Our first group outing for this year was to Mariano’s in Wheaton, Illinois.  There we had an opportunity to meet with a dietician, a nutritionist and two farmers.  We toured the store and received tons of information on how to properly read labels and what to look for when making decisions about the foods we put on our tables.  

As I continue on my personal journey to provide my family with less processed foods, I was very interested in the difference between organic and traditionally grown fruits and vegetables. 

I have always assumed that organically grown fruits and vegetables were basically “naturally grown”, meaning existing in or caused by nature.  So I thought they were grown in a greenhouse or large garden, with no pesticides or chemicals used at all.  What I learned is that organic farmers are able to use pesticides and fertilizers, they just have to be of plant or animal origin.  Besides, traditional farmers aren’t just out there spraying pesticides all over their fruits and vegetables all willy-nilly.  Pesticides and fertilizers are used to make sure the farmers are able to provide the best possible products to their consumers.  Make sure you wash your fruits and vegetables and any left over residue is not harmful.  So I feel very comfortable continuing to purchase traditionally grown fruits and vegetables for my family.

My next outing is to a pork farm, which I’m extremely excited about.  I can’t wait to share my experience and the things that I learn.

Calumet City, IL

Cissy is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2015 City Moms. Throughout the year she visits Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each visit, the Field Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers.

Mar 23 2015

Spring on Our Farm: Rachel Asher

Due to the extreme cold this year, we had to rush one of the calves home for a hot bath. We used our extra large sink in the basement of our home to soak the little one in warm water until her blood warmed up. I soaked her for about an hour and a half. Because calves are soaking wet when they are born, it is important to get them somewhere warm right away. 

One of my favorite times of year is calving season. They are all so cute, fun loving and eager to explore the world around them. It can be dangerous working with the protective mothers, but together we work to give the little ones a safe home where they can grow and thrive. 

My view this evening while checking the cows. We check the pregnant cows 3 or 4 times a day looking for any signs of difficulty calving or see if there are any new calves we need to move to the pasture. 

I couldn't help but snap a quick photo when I checked on this photogenic mamma and her baby. We are all so ready for spring!

Rachel Asher
Ursa, IL

You can learn more about Rachel and her farm on her blog: Dare to Dream with Rachel
Mar 22 2015

Benefits of Fruits & Vegetables

Mar 19 2015

You might be a pregnant farmer if...

Believe it or not, many farmers become pregnant... because many are women. Two of my favorite women farmers are embarking into pregnancy and motherhood world. In an effort to have a little fun and congratulate Carrie of Dairy Carrie and Taysha, of Dirt Road Charm, a few of us got together and shared our experiences. You can check out a collaboration on A Kansas Farm, which includes commentary from another dear, dear friend and the mastermind behind this, Nicole Small along with Debbie Lyone-Blythe of Kids, Cows and Grass; Katie Pratt of Illinois Farm Girl and Melinda of Farm Living Is My Life.

10.) You  might be a pregnant farmer if... your prenatal appointments are full of references to livestock terms and questions from you such as... do you use chains to pull the baby out? Can you just push my uterus back in and sew it tight if I prolapse? Can we use oxytocin to get my breast milk to drop? The icing that tops the cake is the look on your nurse or midwife when those questions are asked.

9.) The only way you understand and relate the changes to your body is by comparing your sonograms to that of your herd health vet visits. You are then prompted to explain herd health to your practitioner. Based on your response you begin contemplating a home delivery.

8.) At 38 weeks you are still running the tractor, feeding calves or grinding feed. {A special shout out to my extraordinary mother-in-law because she was carrying 40lb buckets of milk from the cows to the bulk tank when she was 40 weeks pregnant!}

7.) At 42 weed pregnant you take a ride in the tractor to initiate contractions.

6.) You've invested more money into buying little Wranglers, belt buckles, boots, FarmHer and Pink Tractor apparel (if expecting a girl), Stetson hats or tractors, than you have in prenatal care.

5.) You've initiated transfer paperwork on a calf so that your un-born child is born with their first calf in his or her name. You are denied the request because the owner must be a live person. An, then your cattle association puts you on the do-not-call list because you've harassed them about bending the rules.

4.) You have a new found appreciation for gestation stalls - you will quickly send your husband to the couch and build a contraption around the bed so you are no longer disturbed. Bonus: It will prevent random ladies coming up to rub your belly.

3.) You ask your physician to do a scheduled c-section so the birth of your child doesn't interfere with showing dairy cattle at your State Fair (I may or may not know something about this).

2.) Your biggest fear is prolapsing.

And the number one way you know that you are a pregnant farmer is...

1.) You find yourself wondering what your breast milk will test in milk fat. You then begin conspiring to slip your milk sample into the milk testers cow samples after you've finally calved, er, birthed.

Congratulations Taysha & Carrie! We are beyond excited to have some new little #AgNerds running around!

Did I miss any other indications of being a pregnant farmer? Let me know in the comments.


Reposted with permission from The Magic Farm House

Mar 18 2015

What's Cooking Wednesday: Asian Stir-Fry

To create an easy stir-fry, cook Top Sirloin Strips with fresh or frozen vegetables and your choice of sauce or seasoning. Try this asian inspired recipe below:

1. Brown Top Sirloin strips in a single layer in pan.

2. Add broccoli, carrots, sugar snap peas and your favorite Asian stir-fry sauce. Cook until veggies are tender.

It's as easy as that!

Recipe courtesy of

Mar 17 2015

It Really Is About Family

What stuck me most about the initial Illinois Farm Family meeting was that it really was about family. The title hides nothing. There was no sales pitch. There was no hidden agenda.  The meeting consisted of women discussing there lives and what was important to them. It was women sharing ideas on how to provide the best food choices for their families. 

The city moms were there posing questions and concerns regarding what and how they fed their families. The women representing family farms were there not to defend their way of life but to correct misguided notions and debunk social media myths. They did this with grace and patience devoid of irritation. Some women had questions that sounded like veiled accusations but the farm “moms” never took offense, they answered the questions with facts. They explained their way of life in detail, bringing the group closer to unison, switching the dynamic from two separate camps into one large group of moms. 

It was especially meaningful to me when the farm moms shared their desire to bring their children back to the farm and all the financial decisions that needed to be considered to make it a reality. That reminded me that though the modern farm with all its technological advances might not be what I envisioned, the family part of the equation is fairly accurate. Some interesting facts about current farming:

97% of farms in Illinois are family owned and operated.
Farmers represent 2% of our workforce.
The average age of a farmer is 56.
The number of farms in Illinois in 1910 was 250,000. There are currently 76,000.

I’m excited to see these families in their environment, on the farm. I want to learn all I can from these men and women who are taking the time to teach us what is actually required of them on a daily basis to feed our families and support their own. I’ve already used some of the knowledge I’ve gained in regards to my personal shopping habits and my ability to better understand agricultural news on popular media outlets. I encourage anyone who reads this to comment and suggest topics that I can inquire about during my next City Mom tour.

Bridget Evanson
Crystal Lake, IL

Bridget is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2015 City Moms. Throughout the year she will visit Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each visit, the Field Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers.

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