It's a passion for farmers to raise these animals with as much care as they would any animal.

Illinois Farm Families Blog

Aug 22 2016

Illinois Farmer Q&A: Do you grow GMOs or non-GM crops? Why?

You have questions about how the environment is cared for on farms, and Illinois farmers have those answers. We asked local farmers your questions about environmental stewardship so you can get your answers straight from the source. Let's talk about what's on your table.



Do you grow GMOs or non-GM crops? Why?

"Both. Where we can utilize Non- GM, we plant food grade soybeans. By carefully managing them in proper field conditions, we can grow great soybeans without traits. We still use GM corn in order to produce the safest corn supply for our animals and local buyers."
Casey Watkins

"We grow both GM and non-GM crops on our farm.  We firmly believe there is no difference in terms of safety to the end consumer—we base this on what we have observed in the health of our fellow farmers versus the general population.  But that doesn’t mean GM or non-GM crops are always better than the other.  We believe non-GM crops CAN be higher quality.  Why?  Because farmers are paid a premium based on meeting certain quality indicators.  In contrast, we believe GM crops CAN (and largely are) be higher in quantity.  You cannot feed the entire world population sustainably with organic agriculture—you just can’t grow enough.  So on our farm, we can focus on what the consumer wants, rather than just trying get more yield.  On the flip side, some consumers care mostly about consistency and volume—like our local ethanol plant or area cattle feeders.  The market is big enough for both GM and non-GMO.  We feel growing both balances our risk management while rewarding the choices of consumers."
Andrew  Bowman

"For us the GM decision is based on science and science alone. The environmental benefits of the technology and the potential benefits to consumers are so large and undeniable that we use the technology in all of our farm fields. I look forward to the same technology some day making similar advances on our pastures and even our animals!"

Find more information about GMOs here.

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Aug 18 2016

Illinois Farmer Q&A: How is your farm different from your grandparent's? How is it the same?

You have questions about how the environment is cared for on farms, and Illinois farmers have those answers. We asked local farmers your questions about environmental stewardship so you can get your answers straight from the source. Let's talk about what's on your table.


How is your farm different from your grandparent's? How is it the same?


"Grandpa tilled and plowed the soil multiple times.  Now we only do it every few years if that.  Grandpa also broadcast fertilizers over the soil surface, a practice we dramatically reduced this past year with strip-tillage.  What hasn’t changed is a love and respect for the land.  Grandpa didn’t plow or spread fertilizer because he didn’t care about the environment.  He did it because he remembered the rationing of the Great Depression and felt it was imperative to improve crop yield to feed his family and others.  We feel the same way now, we just have the benefit of time to see that both yield AND quality matter and there is exciting new technology to enable us to feed our family and others with much less damaging effects on Mother Nature."
Andrew Bowman

"My grandpa and dad would spend hours in the spring and summer plowing the fields.  It was the only source of weed control.  If you garden, think about how fast the weeds can take over.  You might spend one day weeding and two days later, your crop is being choked out.  Same thing happens in fields.  So, they plowed, weekly if not more.  All that disturbance to the soil caused a rapid breakdown of organic matter, created more opportunity for erosion and didn't effectively control weeds.  These days we stay out of the fields as much as possible.  We apply a pre-emerge herbicide before we plant, which will catch any new weed growth.  Then we plant, fertilize and wait.  Because we use a gm-seed resistant to glyposate and other herbicides, we can spray one time before the crop canopies, or grows tall enough to cover the soil.  We eliminate passes through the field, conserving and preserving soil while accomplishing the same thing my grandpa did."

"Maximizing by minimizing. Instead of whole field applications of fertilizer, we VRT to meet crop needs without waste. We also only spray for weeds when necessary, and the Nitrogen we put on is placed for crop needs and not simplicity. 
Our crop rotation remains the same from previous generations, along with some ground we run. (My dad is a first generation farmer.)"
Casey Watkins

"Even though science is providing us with new ways to protect the environment we still use many of the same methods to reduce soil erosion that have been around for many years. We've created many "grass waterways" that slow the speed of water runoff and allow it to drop any soil particles it may have picked up. Another method is crop rotation. By planting hay crops that keep the soil permanently covered we are able to reduce soil erosion to virtually zero on soils that have a high erosion potential due to steep slopes or soil types that are prone to erosion."
Learn more about the ways your local farmers take care of the environment here.

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Aug 17 2016

What's Cooking Wednesday: Beef and Blue Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms

These perfectly bite-sized mushrooms are stuffed with a savory blend of Ground Beef, blue cheese and chives.

Pick up some safe, nutritious beef at your local grocery store courtesy of local farmers like Mike Martz and Sara Prescott. From our families to yours, enjoy the food on your table!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 pound Ground Beef
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 36 to 40 small button or cremini mushrooms (about 1-1/2 to 2-inch diameter)
  • 1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese
  • 1/4 cup soft whole wheat bread crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons minced chives
  • 1/2 teaspoon steak seasoning blend
  • Minced fresh chives (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Remove and reserve stems from mushrooms. Season mushroom caps with salt; set aside. Mince stems to yield 1/2 cup; discard remaining stems.
  2. Combine Ground Beef, minced stems, blue cheese, bread crumbs, 3 tablespoons chives and steak seasoning. Spoon beef mixture evenly into mushrooms.
  3. Place stuffed mushrooms on rack in broiler pan. Bake in 375°F oven 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with additional chives, if desired.

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Recipe courtesy of

Aug 10 2016

What's Cooking Wednesday: Cornmeal Doughnuts with Honey-Yogurt Icing

Make these warm cornmeal doughnuts for a delicious breakfast everyone will enjoy. Serve alongside a mixture of yogurt and honey for dipping. Don't forget to thank local corn farmers like Paul and Donna Jeschke and dairy farmers like Jesse and Mary Faber for making this treat possible!

From our families to yours, enjoy the food on your table!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup corn flour
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup non-fat milk
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • Honey-Yogurt
  • 1½ cups non-fat, vanilla Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons honey

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, combine flours, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a glass, 2-cup measuring cup, stir lemon juice and lemon zest into milk. [Note: This will “sour” milk and some curdling may occur.] Stir soured milk, butter and egg into the dry mixture until combined.
  2. Spoon batter into a 1-quart zip-top storage bag. Cut an opening in one corner of the bag, just large enough to pipe the batter into each form of a small doughnut baking pan. Pipe batter into pan. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until doughnuts test clean with a toothpick and are browned on the bottom.
  3. For doughnuts, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spoon 1 tablespoon of batter into each tin of a mini-muffin pan greased with non-stick cooking spray. Bake 15 to 17 minutes or until doughnut “holes” test clean with a toothpick. Cool in pans for 5 minutes.
  4. Combine yogurt and honey for “icing” and serve with warm doughnuts.

Related posts:
What's Cooking Wednesday: Farmer's Breakfast
What's Cooking Wednesday: Kiwi Summer Limeade Pie

Recipe courtesy of:

Aug 09 2016

Top 10 Olympic Sports - Farm Style

The Summer Olympics are in full swing! Athletes have been training hard for these events, and now the world gets to watch their hard work come to fruition. But what about the other athletes of the world who get less air time? We know a few farmers who have been training every day to excel at some lesser-known sports. 

Let the games begin!

1. Fencing

No, not the kind with swords and masks. We’re talking about pliers, post-pounders and barbed wire to help keep the cattle from wandering off.

2. Hay Bale Stacking

Farmers bale hay in the summer and store it in the barn to feed the animals over the winter. You’re not doing it right if you don’t stack bales all the way to the top of the barn!

3. Tractor Pulls

This is a common hobby for many farmers. The tractor that can pull the most weight to the finish line wins.

4. Fence Hurdles

Can you jump up and over the fence using only one hand?

5. Synchronized Milking

 This has been made easier with modern technology. The cows love milking time and line up in a row for this event.

6. Crop Triathlon

Planting, weeding, harvesting - this triathlon takes three seasons to complete.

7. Bag Toss

Seed bags weigh about 50 pounds. Farmers can be seen tossing one over each shoulder to stack them on pallets or fill the planter.

8. 100-meter Loose-Calf Sprint

Calves can find their way out of anything! Time to round ‘em up.

9. Interpreting Hand Signals

Farm equipment is loud, so farmers have created their own version of sign language to communicate what they want to one another. This takes Olympic-level dedication to master.

10. Cow-pie Dodge

 Keep one eye on the ground when you’re walking through the pasture to check cows, there are cow-pies everywhere.



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Aug 08 2016

Some Say GMOs Are Safe, Some Say GMOs Are Unsafe – Who Should I Believe?

Food brings out the emotional eater in all of us, especially when it comes to the topic of genetically modified foods (aka GMOs). As parents, we want to feed our families healthy foods, but does healthy mean GMO-free? With all of the conflicting headlines, healthy has become so confusing and quite frankly, downright scary. As a registered dietitian mom who shares your concerns, I’d like to help you become more than a headline reader. Rather than rely on the Food Babe or the food industry, here is where I go to get the facts about GMOs – both pros and cons - from reliable sources. I encourage you to check them out so that you can get the full story and make the right call for feeding your family.
 
GMO Safety: National Academy Report. According to this recently published report, genetically engineered foods appear to be safe to eat and do not pose health risks. A committee of 20 independent scientists examined more than 1,000 studies spanning the twenty year period since GMO crops were introduced and found: 

  • “No substantial evidence of a difference in risk to human health between current commercially available genetically engineered (GMO) crops and conventional bread crops.” 

While continued GMO safety research is essential, national health experts, such as Connie Diekman Former Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics President, are hopeful that using the technique of genetically engineered foods will have the potential to help meet the needs of feeding a growing worldwide population. 

GMO Labeling: Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is the FDA’s job to make sure all food –genetically altered or not – is safe to eat. Some countries already have laws requiring GMO labeling. Here in the U.S., a new law just passed requiring a national standard for GMO labeling. Before the law can be enacted, the USDA will work out the specific rules for use. Until then, the FDA has issued guidance on when the term is appropriate.  If you prefer to not eat GMOs, choose foods carrying the "certified organic" seal.  


GMO Education: GMO Answers. What do seedless watermelons, honeycrisp apples, and grapefruits have in common? They’re all hybrids meaning they were crossbred with other plants, a technique that’s been going on for centuries. Genetically engineered foods speed up this natural process using biotechnology to make it happen. Currently there are only nine GMO crops available in the U.S. today with one more approved and coming to market soon. If you’re confused or skeptical about GMOs, the biotech industry created this website to do a better job of answering any and all types of consumer questions. Independent experts such as researchers, nutritionists, and farmers provide all of the answers to questions generated by people like you. The goal of GMO Answers is to have an honest conversation with everyone who cares about how our food is grown. You’ll also find several resources written in consumer language to help you better understand the science and issues about GMOs.

Bottom line: When it comes to feeding your family healthy foods, you’re in charge. So when it comes to GMO’s, whether you’re reading a food label or blog post, rather than be scared, be informed and prepared. 

Jodie Shield, MEd, RDN
Kildeer, IL

Jodie is the Editor-in-Chief of the blog Healthy Eating For Families and teaches nutrition at Benedictine University in Lisle, IL and Dominican University in River Forest, IL.

Aug 04 2016

Pig Farming and the Environment — We’re Always Improving

When we talk about pig farming, we can get a lot of questions within our communities. But I’m here to tell you, we understand the concerns and we’re doing everything in our power to do the right thing for the environment.

But it’s not just about the air. Ask any pig farmer, and they know how important it is to protect our natural resources in all of our practices as part of the We Care Initiative. Our environmental goals include:

  • Management of manure as a valuable resource and use in a manner that safeguards air and water quality
  • Management of air quality from farms to minimize the impact on neighbors and the community
  • Management of our farms to protect the quality of natural resources
  • Operating in a manner that protects the environment and public health

Farmers are subject to a host of federal and state environmental regulations. We work with officials at all levels of government to develop science-based rules to reuse and manage valuable manure-based nutrients — swine manure is a very economical fertilizer. Farmers are looking at best management practices like manure injection which is the use of nitrogen inhibitors and cover crops to keep fertilizer in the field. These practices keep manure nutrients with the crops and reduce input costs.

In short — we know that forward-thinking agricultural practices are not just good for the planet and its people, they’re also good for business. So the next time you hear a farmer talking shop, know that today most pig farmers have embraced these expanded concepts of sustainability. We’re doing our best to protect the environment.


Originally posted on Real Pig Farming.

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Phil Borgic
Nokomis, IL
Aug 03 2016

What's Cooking Wednesday: Grilled Cookie Bacon S'mores

Bake. Grill. Roast. Assemble. EAT. Discover what true love really is with this incredible spin on a classic s'more. 

A special thanks to local Illinois pig farmers like Chris Gould and Jen Sturtevant for bringing us the safe and nutritious pork featured in this recipe! From our families to yours, enjoy the food on your table.

INGREDIENTS

  • 12 THICK CUT SLICES BACON, (HICKORY SMOKED, APPLEWOOD SMOKED OR MAPLE)
  • 12 LARGE MARSHMALLOWS
  • 12 2-INCH SQUARES CHOCOLATE, GOOD QUALITY
  • 12 SKEWERS

To bake your own cookies:

  • 12 TABLESPOONS BUTTER, SOFTENED
  • 3/4 CUP BROWN SUGAR
  • 1/4 CUP SUGAR
  • 2 TEASPOONS VANILLA
  • 1 EGG PLUS 1 EGG YOLK
  • 2 CUPS FLOUR
  • 1 3.4-OZ BOX INSTANT FRENCH VANILLA PUDDING MIX, DRY, NOT PREPARED*
  • 1 TEASPOON BAKING SODA
  • 1/2 TEASPOON SALT
  • 2 CUPS SEMI-SWEET CHOCOLATE CHIPS

INSTRUCTIONS

Make the cookies: 

  1. In a bowl, cream together butter, sugar and brown sugar for 1 to 2 minutes until light and very fluffy. Add vanilla, egg and egg yolk, and mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, pudding mix, baking soda and salt. 
  2. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix until incorporated and dough comes together. Stir in chocolate chips. Cover very tightly and chill for at least 1 hour. 
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Roll dough into balls (about 1 1/2 inch) and space 2 to 3 inches apart on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until lightly browned on top. Allow to cool 5 to 10 minutes on baking sheet before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely. 

To grill the bacon: 

  1. Heat a grill to medium-high heat. Thread bacon onto skewers in an S-shape. Place skewers directly on grill and cook 8 to 12 minutes, rotating as needed to ensure even cooking. Transfer to a plate, let cool and then remove bacon from skewers. Set aside. 
Meanwhile, roast the marshmallows: 
  1. Roast marshmallows directly over the grill using skewers or roasting sticks until cooked to your preference. 
Assemble s’mores: 
  1. Flip one cookie over so it’s upside down. Place a square of chocolate on top of the upside down cookie, then top with grilled marshmallow, bacon and a right side-up second cookie. Serve immediately. 


Original recipe from Tiffany Edwards, Le Crème de la Crumb.

Related posts:
What's Cooking Wednesday: Kiwi Summer Limeade Pie
What's Cooking Wednesday: Rhubarb Mousse


Recipe courtesy of:

Aug 03 2016

Real Illinois Pig Farming

Phil Borgic is a proud pig farmer from Illinois. Pig farming has greatly improved over the years and Phil is always keeping the pig’s best interest in mind. Phil and his team are dedicated and considerate toward the animals and at Borgic Farms the end goal is to provide safe, healthy pork to consumers.



Learn more at RealPigFarming.com
Aug 01 2016

The Cruelest Thing I Saw On a Hog Farm

Walking into the hog barn, the strong smell of pig manure pierced my nostrils. As my body adjusted to the smell, my sight was the next sense to be overwhelmed.  Row upon row of large hogs were lined up in stalls just bigger than their bodies. Literally hundreds of 250 lb animals were shoulder-to-shoulder in crates too narrow for them to even turn around in. 

These cages are known as gestation stalls. I had visited the Gould’s third-generation family owned and operated grain and livestock farm in Western Kane County as an Illinois Farm Families 2014 Field Mom. Most of the pigs on this farm were pregnant, as it is a farrow-to-wean swine operation consisting of 750 females producing 16,000 piglets annually. That means female pigs are housed to be bred. Piglets are nursed until weaning, then moved on to another operation, which raises them to market weight.  Animal activist and industry debates center on the use of such constrictive confinement. I don’t have to tell you how cruel it seems to be unable to walk or even turn around. 

When confronted with swine housing, most consumers automatically suggest open pens. They seem more natural and idyllic of farms.  But most of us, like me, have absolutely no experience raising livestock and need to understand the issue isn’t quite that simple.

Hogs can demonstrate very violent social behavior as alphas try to establish dominance. Sows, or mother pigs, have to be on specialized, measured diets to ensure optimal health during pregnancy. In open pen situations, the more aggressive pigs end up with more feed than they should, the timid hogs with too little, and all suffer from fighting for feed.  The scratching and biting result in open wounds, leaving pigs hurt and sick.  

However, the eeriest thing in the Gould gestation barn was that it was almost silent. All those animals lined up one after another and there was no snorting, no grunting and no aggressive behavior.  For as much as a non-animal-expert can tell you, the environment seemed to be low stress.  Perhaps larger stalls that allow room to at least turn could improve the pigs’ lives, but currently they seemed to be clean, calm and healthy-looking.

Next we moved onto the farrowing barn, where newborn pigs nurse with their mothers. They were housed in farrowing stalls, where piglets have an open pen, but bars separate the mother from rolling onto and crushing her babies.

It was hard not to squeal with joy at the piles of tiny pink piglets. New brothers and sisters were grunting and pushing as they clamored for warmth and milk. But just as my heart filled with the joy of new life, my eyes laid upon a smaller, thinner one shivering in the corner.

“Oh no,” I said, pointing. “I think that one needs help.”  

Eldon Gould, owner of the farm since 1968, reached into the pen and pulled the struggling newborn into the warmth of the heat lamp.

I looked at Eldon and the piglet with my sad but hopeful eyes. We moved on. Several stalls down I saw another runt shaking.

“Diarrhea,” Eldon said. 

“What do you do?” I asked.

Eldon shrugged, “Mother Nature can be very cruel.” He explained how they didn’t want to force things or take artificial measures. “Sometimes they’re just not going to make it.”

I stopped taking pictures of the piglets.

“How many of them don’t make it?” I asked.

“We have a 10-12% mortality rate,” he answered honestly.  

While it was hard to stomach the image of a struggling newborn pig, I appreciated the fact that the Gould family was not sheltering us from the reality of hog farming.  After all, that was why I was there.

I asked the Gould family what the most difficult thing about being farmers was.  The answer was uncertainty, and usually a different kind each day. Farmers have to play mental games with finances and resources as they struggle with variable weather and fight diseases.  “One year there’s a drought, the next there’s a flood,” said Sandy Gould, Eldon’s wife and co-owner of the farm.  I nodded my head in understanding as we were huddled together on a 30-degree day in late March. I think we can all agree that farmers have tough jobs and many mouths to feed. 

I was impressed by the amount of science incorporated into farming today. Genetics help ensure sows have healthy litter sizes and hogs are bred to ideal weights and lengths. Proper nutrition and care is taken and measured for each hog on “baseball card stats.”

“What’s good for pigs is good for us,” Eldon said. “Like your kids, keep them healthy rather than try to get them better after being sick.”

Leaving the Gould farm, I felt they were doing their best to raise healthy animals to feed our country and make a living. While my first look at gestation crates and farrowing stalls was alarming, the images I truly can’t shake are of the baby piglets that were simply born unstable. The cruelest thing I saw on that hog farm was at the hands of Mother Nature, not a farmer, as some alarmist propaganda may have you believe.

“Are there some bad farmers?” Pam Janssen, owner of another hog farm, asked us on our previous Field Mom excursion.  “Sure.  Just like there are some bad teachers and bad priests. But does that make them all bad?”

I suggest going and seeing for yourself.


Related posts:
Curiosity Turns Into Knowledge on the Hog Farm
Hog Farm Tour: A New Perspective
What I wish people knew about pig farming


Cortney Fries
Chicago, Illinois

Cortney 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.