Illinois Farm Families Blog

Aug 31 2014

Food For Thought: Farming Is in Our Genes

Do you have questions about food and farming? Check out our FAQ page to learn more, or Ask a Question of your own. And for more Food for Thought posts, visit this section.

Aug 30 2014

Grain Drying Is a Big Deal

When we harvest grain, we harvest it at anywhere from 20-30% moisture. We'd rather harvest it dryer because it costs money to dry the grain. However this year has been a difficult weather year and some corn is dying in the field, so we need to get it out now. Grain elevators want corn delivered at 15% moisture, which is optimal for storage.

All of that to say: grain drying is a big deal and it's something we monitor very closely!

This panel is located in a small building next to our dryer and grain storage system. From this panel, we can control the heat and speed of the dryer, which affects grain quality. It automatically will adjust the speed at which corn is moved out of the dryer, based on the settings we plug in here.

We can also monitor and adjust the grain dryer at night from our iPad - much more convenient and safer than running the three miles up the road to the grain setup throughout the night!

Holly Spangler
Marietta, Illinois

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois growing crops and producing cattle as well as raising their three children. Holly is an associate editor for Prairie Farmer magazine, a publication dedicated to sharing information about farm life and farm business. Read more from Holly on the Prairie Farmer blog.

Aug 29 2014

An Impromptu Farm Visit

In June, farmers Adam and JoAnn Adams met with a group of SYSCO sales reps in Chicago. They were invited to give the farmers' perspective on the beef industry. This was a good conversation between farmers and consumers. Many good questions were asked and insight was gained for everybody.

One of the fun things that came out of this presentation was one of the sales reps visiting the Adams' farm with six third graders. Third graders who had never been on a farm before. Everyone had a great time. After visiting the farmstead, the group moved the cow herd to a new pasture. The kids were fearful when Alan first called the herd up to the Kubota. But soon the kids were mimicking his call as they drove through the woods surrounded by cows and calves.

Below are a few pictures from this visit. This is the perfect example of how farmers and consumers can get to know one another and make informed choices on food and farming.

Alan and JoAnn Adams
Sandwich, Illinois

Aug 28 2014

From Illinois to Alabama, A Farmer’s Firm Conviction

When I applied to become a Field Mom last fall, I was excited to have the opportunity to visit several midwest farms and learn about how they operate. I never imagined how much more I would get out of the experience. I continue to be impressed, over and over, by the farmers I’m meeting.

I was invited to be part of an agricultural panel discussion this weekend. The audience was a group of ag business leaders, mostly from the U.S., but a few from other countries, as well. Some were farmers, others may have been involved with an ag-related business. My role on the panel was to represent the consumer-mom. I learned a lot, it was all very interesting, and the audience asked a lot of good questions of this consumer.

I was thrilled to be there to learn, as well as represent the consumer, but that wasn’t even the most interesting part of the morning. There was a man in the audience who questioned me about how concerned he thought consumer-moms are, specifically the Field Moms, about country-of-origin labeling. I learned he is from Alabama, in the cattle industry, and also raises catfish. At the end of the program, he sat down with me and we had a very interesting conversation. I had some questions for him and he had some questions for me. I came to the conference knowing that most of the seafood in the U.S. is imported, and for me, it’s challenging to find US seafood at the super-market. He informed me that the seafood standards in other parts of the globe pale in comparison to the high standards and regulations of this country. He expressed to me that it’s a big deal and that he didn’t understand why more consumers don’t take more time to learn more about it. After talking with him, I have been pondering some of the things he said. The Field Mom program is not going to talk to us about seafood, so I now have another topic to learn more about.

I want to also share this with you. The first thing he said, after he sat down, he looked me directly in the eyes, and he told me that here in the U.S. we have the safest food supply in the world. He isn’t the first farmer to do that. The same words, with the same firmness of conviction, also came from Eldon Gould one-on-one at his hog farm. They want us consumers to know that, and not in a patronizing way, just honestly and one-to-one from the real person producing the food to real person buying the food.

Originally posted August 4, 2014, on Field Mom Journal. Reposted with permission.

Heather Guido
Oak Park, Illinois

Heather is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2014 Field 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. Read more from Heather on her blog, Field Mom Journal.

Aug 27 2014

What's Cooking Wednesday: Cheese Lovers Pizza Squares

Servings: 10
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 18 minutes


1 can refrigerated pizza dough
1 cup Ricotta cheese
2 cups (8 oz.) shredded low-moisture part-skim Mozzarella cheese
2 ounces turkey pepperoni, diced
2 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 cup yellow pepper, sliced
1 tsp oregano
2 tbsp chopped parsley


Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Press pizza dough into 15 x 10-inch jelly roll pan.

Bake for 12 minutes; remove from oven and spread Ricotta cheese over crust. Top with Mozzarella, pepperoni, tomatoes, pepper and oregano.

Return to oven and bake for 6 minutes or until cheese is melted. Sprinkle with parsley, cut into squares and serve.

Originally posted on Midwest Dairy Association.

Aug 26 2014

An Informed Family Dinner

“Food, glorious food, we’re anxious to try it…” (from “Oliver”)
“Eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19)

If only it were that easy! Well, the “eating” part is easy; it is the planning and preparing part that usually poses challenges to me. The question, “What’s for dinner?” can put me over the edge sometimes.

Our family has a good relationship with food. My husband and I are lucky that our children have a broad palate, especially our daughter. The other evening she sautéed a buffet of vegetables for dinner – what more could we ask for?

Yet, I am troubled by food. What is really good for you? How do we know? Whom should you trust? There is so much information available, much of which is contradictory, that I sometimes think we should just not eat. Well, not really because I enjoy eating. I just need to let go of the curiosity and guilt about what I am eating. Or not eating. Or both.

Is “organic” always the best option? Do the benefits outweigh the price? Are the benefits really significant? What are GMOs? If some countries are banning them, are they that bad? Have you seen the photos or videos from meat processing plants? How do we sleep at night? Am I harming my children when I think I am helping them? Should I tell them I had my 6th birthday party at Burger King? (It was the 70s – we were cool then!) Can we eat lunch meat? If nitrates/nitrites are so bad, why are they still there? We need more protein that isn’t beans. CRAP! Summer is almost over and we’ll be back to planning lunches too??!?

That’s about the conversation in my head as we plan meals for the week, and do the grocery shopping. It was simpler when I was younger, and not responsible for children. I didn’t think so much about food, and before the Internet, there was not nearly so much information – good, bad or otherwise.

We have had so many opportunities with the Field Moms to talk about food, and it has helped me. I understand more about organics and GMOs now, and appreciated our discussion with a nutritionist.

However, no one else is going to come over and fix dinner with us, guiding us through shopping that provides the best nutrition possible for our family, while staying within a reasonable budget. So, we do our best to stay balanced. Some days, the produce comes from the big chain store on the way, some days it is from the farmer’s market, and yesterday it was from our farmer neighbor! Our little tomato plants are giving a good harvest, too. We’ve done well with the farmer’s market this year; we’ve made it every week that we were in town. And it has grown over the past 10 years – we used to call it the farmer market (singular) because it was so small.

So I think we are not the only family that is seeking to balance all of the available options and the abundance of information. Meanwhile, some meals have more produce than others, some have more organics than others, and some are just more fun to make and eat than others. The important part is that we are talking and eating……together.

Samantha Godden-Chmielowicz
Chicago, Illinois

Samantha is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2014 Field 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

Aug 25 2014

Show Mom Diaries: The Empty Halter

Oh, you never forget that moment.

That moment your first steer is loaded onto the semi, and you’re handed that empty halter.

That dreaded, empty halter.

Maybe he was a sweetheart. Maybe he was a knot head. But as you carry that empty halter back to your stalls – now missing that animal once part of your barn for months – things are different.

And you’re forever changed.

No matter how many years pass, you always remember that first steer.

For me, it was Tremor the Angus steer. I was 8. For months, we worked together in our Hillsboro, Texas, barn. We grew together and with each show we attended, I learned a bit more about what it took to be a showman.

I was young. Everything was new. And my 8-year-old self never fully grasped what we had accomplished during our final show of the year – capturing the Champion Angus Steer title at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and showing in the Astrodome during a rodeo break for grand champion honors.

We weren’t named grand champion. But Tremor was the champion of champions to me.

Mom and dad prepared me as best they could for what was to come, and Tremor sold in the sale of champions.

The buyers were generous. And the experience was incredible.

But then it was time for Tremor to be loaded onto the semi. And dad returned with that empty halter.

And I wasn’t as prepared as I had thought.

I cried myself to sleep for several nights. And finally, dad sat me down for a chat. He said he knew it was tough. But showing steers would always result in that end. And if I wanted to continue, I’d have to come to terms with that fact.

So I did.

Oh, I cried a bit every year. But I never allowed myself to get quite as attached to another steer after that first year.

Waylon and Lightning learned from each other during Waylon's first year of 4-H.

Our son, Waylon, reached 4-H age this year. And when he and my husband, Craig, found “the one” in an online sale, we purchased him. And Waylon’s first steer, Lightning, entered the barn.

Craig and I knew we needed to be proactive.

We had many talks with him and little brother, Nolan, about the role steers play in feeding the world. That we must take the best care possible of these animals while they’re in our care. And when it’s time, we must say good-bye, knowing it’s their time to fulfill their greater purpose.

Waylon and Lightning made the trip together to local and state shows, and to the Junior National Hereford Expo in Harrisburg, PA. Each show, growing and learning from each other. Each show, improving.

And finally, we ventured to our county fair – Lightning’s final outing.

They had a great final show, with Lightning capturing Champion Hereford Steer honors. He and Waylon worked as a team.

Then sale day arrived. Oh, that dreaded sale day.

Waylon, our often-rational child, handled it very matter-of-factly. To him, this was simply the way it worked. This is why we had a steer, and it was his time. (He gets that rational side from his dad. No doubt.)

But Nolan had many questions about where Lightning was headed and how the process worked. And Craig and I did our best to answer the questions honestly and with care.

So Waylon entered the sale ring with Lightning. And when the auctioneer’s chant was finished, Lightning was sold.

Craig led Lightning to the trailer destined for the sale barn, and the boys said their good-byes.

Two entered the trailer. And Craig exited – with the empty halter in hand.

Cattle teach our children so many incredible life lessons. Some more difficult than others.

But the greatest lesson Lightning taught our boys? That even at the young ages of 9 and 6, our boys can help feed the world. And they emerged proud to play a small role in that enormous responsibility.

They’re already making plans for next year’s steer. And they’re ready to do it again.

Without a doubt, though, they’ll always remember Lightning.

You just never forget that first steer.

Originally posted August 14, 2014, on Drovers Cattle Network.

Aug 24 2014

Food for Thought: How to Keep Deli Equipment Clean

Do you have questions about food and farming? Check out our FAQ page to learn more, or Ask a Question of your own. And for more Food for Thought posts, visit this section.

Aug 21 2014

Food Label Health Claims Primer

Government regulations—or lack thereof—guide what can and can't be said on packages. Here's a primer.

Specific health claims—such as "lowers cholesterol"—are usually carefully regulated, but health implications made on food labels are another matter, practiced in the red-hot area where clever language tickles the buying impulse.

Claim: "Added Fiber"
These days, fiber is the "it" additive, found not only in places you'd expect, like oatmeal and lentils, but also in things like yogurt and ice cream.
Bottom line: There's nothing wrong with added fibers like inulin, polydextrose, and maltodextrin. Just bear in mind that they don't yet have the same back-catalog of proven benefits as fiber found naturally in foods like whole grains, beans, and fruits.

Claim: "Natural"
With no formal FDA definition, this term can mean pretty much anything. Genetically modified foods can claim natural rights, as can "minimally processed" chicken injected with salty broth.
Bottom line: It's up to you to define natural. Scan the ingredients. Keep in mind that names for some additives—such as ascorbic acid (aka vitamin C) or carrageenan (a thickener made from seaweed)—sound more off-putting than they actually are.

Claim: "Made with Whole Grains"
Does not mean "made exclusively with whole grains." No regulations govern the specific percentage. The rest of the ingredients could be refined flour.
Bottom line: The Whole Grain Stamp requires at least 8g whole grains per serving, so it's a good guide. You want tasty food that gets you closer to the daily goal of 48g.

Claim: "Made with Real Fruit"
Some seemingly fruity foods may contain as little as 2% real fruit. Or the fruit may be juice concentrate, a form of sugar.
Bottom line: Check the ingredients to see how far down the "real" fruit falls on the list.

Claim: "Immunity Boosting"
This claim is driven by studies that link, say, vitamin C with avoiding a cold. Problem is, the subjects in most tests likely weren't given their boosters in food form.
Bottom line: The foods most likely to support immunity—fresh, whole ones—don't have any labels at all.

Claim: "Hint of Sugar" or "Lightly Sweetened"
These terms don't necessarily point to foods that are low in sugar. Some "lightly sweetened" whole-grain cereals contain up to 17g sugar per serving—5g more than you'll find in many candy-colored children's cereals.
Bottom line: The amount of sugar listed in the Nutrition Facts panel will tell you how lightly sweetened the food really is. Context: The American Heart Association recommends limiting your added-sugar intake to 25g and 38g per day for women and men, respectively.

Claim: "Made with Organic Ingredients"
Regulations are in place for this one, as of 2002. Here, "made with" means that products must contain at least 70% organic ingredients. The other 30% is up for grabs, though.
Bottom line: The official USDA Organic seal appears only on foods that are 100% organic.

Claim: "Enriched" or "Fortified"
"Enriched" means that nutrients removed during processing have been added back to the food. "Fortified" means that nutrients not naturally present in the food have been added, like vitamin D in milk.
Bottom line: Neither is harmful, and fortification is handy, but enriching is generally no substitute for the full array of nutrients found in whole foods.

Claim: "Trans Fat Free"
Foods making this claim can still contain up to half a gram of trans fat for each serving, per FDA guidelines.
Bottom line: If partially hydrogenated oils are on the ingredient list, artificial trans fats are in the product. With a 2g per day limit, even a hidden half-gram can count. So read the label, and make the call.

Reposted from Cooking Light.

Aug 20 2014

What's Cooking Wednesday: Farmer's Breakfast

Makes: 8 to 10 servings
Start to Finish Time: 50 minutes

This egg and potato skillet meal includes salami, mushrooms, and sweet peppers, making it a satisfying main dish for breakfast or dinner.


8 small potatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 tablespoons cooking oil
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
4 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 cup chopped salami or cooked ham
1 small green sweet pepper, chopped
1/2 cup chopped onion
10 eggs, lightly beaten or 2-1/2 cups refrigerated egg product
1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons snipped parsley
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (4 ounces)


Cook potatoes in boiling water about 10 minutes or until just tender. Drain well.

In a 12-inch skillet, cook the potatoes in hot oil over medium-high heat for 5 to 8 minutes or until browned, turning occasionally.

Add the butter or margarine to the skillet. Add the mushrooms, salami or ham, green pepper, and onion. Cook and stir for 5 to 8 minutes or until the vegetables are just tender.

Combine the eggs with the milk and parsley. Season with salt and black pepper. Add to skillet. Reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until eggs are just set but still moist.

Sprinkle with cheese. Cover and cook, without stirring, for 3 minutes more or until eggs are set in the center. Serve hot with toasted bagels or English muffins, if you like. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Reposted from Midwest Living.

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