Illinois Farm Families Blog

Jul 03 2015

I spy with my little eye...

Farmers are pretty used to seeing animals on a regular basis. Sometimes, though, we find some unexpected and unwelcome visitors by the feed bags!

Farm animals

So, I'm feeding the goats and horse more hay, and as I reach for the cat food, I find a visitor (lower right). 

Heather Hampton-Knodle
Fillmore, IL

Heather and her husband, Brian, both come from multiple generations of farming and continue that family tradition today on their farm in Montgomery County with their four children. They raise corn, soybeans, wheat cattle and goats. Heather and Brian take their role as stewards of the land very seriously and work every day to leave the soil on their farm in better condition than the day before so that it can be fruitful for future generations to come.

Jul 02 2015

Personalizing Food Choices

In 1991, I moved to DeKalb, Illinois, to teach in a small farming community 17 miles southwest of DeKalb. In the years since then, it’s been easy to see that farmland is disappearing. New housing developments have cropped up around DeKalb and more strip malls are being built. The Chicago suburbs are expanding farther and farther west. Is this progress? Perhaps. Yet all these outlet malls, auto marts, and huge new houses are swallowing up some of the richest farmland in the world. The flat farm fields of Illinois may not look like much to the naked eye, but farmers will tell you that the dark rich soil of Northern Illinois is perfect for growing crops.

farmland, farm land

Disappearing farmland should be a concern to all of us. When the year 2050 comes around, we’ll need to feed 9 billion people on approximately the same amount or less farmland we currently have. This is more important than the fight between organic and conventional foods. There isn’t just one solution. By using a variety of farming techniques, including organic and conventional farming, we can succeed in feeding the world.

The conversation about food is difficult. It shouldn’t be, but it is. Among suburban moms, it is “fashionable” to buy only organic foods. We are making the topic of food choices too personal. I have been told (not by a doctor) that I should eat only grass fed beef because of my medical history. When I wrote on Facebook that I was was going to visit Monsanto, one person unfriended me. When my husband became interested in what Monsanto does and liked their Facebook page, a member of the family asked him, “You don’t really like Monsanto, do you?” Social media has done a good job of spreading fear and mistrust of GMOs and the companies that produce them. Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll find that one of Monsanto’s executives agrees with using organic and GMOs to help feed the world. It can’t just be one or the other.

The farming community is opening their doors to City Moms. Farmers are talking about why they farm the way they do. They are open to discussing GMOs, use of pesticides, and how they treat their livestock. They have many choices, and Monsanto seed is only one of their choices. They also have the responsibility of providing enough food for everyone as our population keeps growing. It takes courage for the City Moms to have open minds and to listen to what they are telling us, even when our friends are telling us not to listen.

I had no idea when I became a City Mom that I would be learning so much about agriculture and the food we eat. I didn’t know I would develop a passion to learn more. I also didn’t realize that I would not only be learning about the food on my dinner table, but also about feeding billions of people in the future. I now read farm blogs and agricultural reports, along with scientific articles about our food supplies. I’m personalizing my food choices by learning more about my food.

Originally posted on Lemon Drop Pie.

Christa Grabske
Mount Prospect, IL

Christa 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

Jul 01 2015

What's Cooking Wednesday: Red Velvet Ice Cream Cake


  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 + 1/8 cup oil
  • 1/2 + 1/8 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 tbsp vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 oz red food coloring
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp cocoa
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda

Ice Cream
  • 8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/8 cup milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 8 oz Cool Whip (or homemade whipped cream)
  • cake crumbs (from cutting off tops of cakes)
  • 12 ounce can cream cheese frosting (I used a whipped icing)
  • 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • remainder of cream cheese icing
  • 3/4 cup blueberries


NOTE: An 8-inch springform pan is best for this recipe so that you can easily remove the cake once it's been assembled. If you do not have a springform pan, line your pan with clear wrap before adding your parchment paper and cake board. You can use the clear warp to lift your cake out of the pan once it's assembled and frozen.

To make the cake:
  1. Whisk together all wet ingredients in a large bowl until combined. Set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients until combined.
  3. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix on medium high until completely combined.
  4. Pour into two prepared 8 inch cake pans.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees for 19-21 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out with just a few crumbs.
  6. Allow to cool for a few minutes in the pans and then remove to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Once cake has cooled, make the ice cream:
  1. Mix cream cheese, sugar, milk and vanilla extract together until well combined.
  2. Fold in the cool whip.
  3. Cut the domes (the rounded tops) off of the cakes with a long serrated knife. Crumble the tops of the cakes into the ice cream mixture and stir until well incorporated.

Assembling it all:
  1. Line the sides of an 8-inch springform pan with parchment paper. The parchment paper should stick up above the top edge of the pan, since the cake will be a little taller than your pan. If you want, put a cardboard cake circle in the bottom of the pan. NOTE: You should be using the same 8-inch pan you used for the cake. Not all 8-inch pans are exactly the same size. Your cake needs to fit in this pan.
  2. Put the first cake layer in the bottom of your pan.
  3. Pour a third of the ice cream mixture on top of the cake and spread evenly.
  4. Add 1/2 a cup of cream cheese icing on top of the ice cream and spread evenly, working it lightly into the ice cream.
  5. Add another third of the ice cream mixture on top of the icing and spread evenly.
  6. Add another 1/2 a cup of cream cheese icing on top of the ice cream and spread evenly, working it lightly into the ice cream.
  7. Top with remaining ice cream and spread evenly, smoothing out the top.
  8. Top with second layer of cake.
  9. Allow ice cream cake to freeze completely, 5-6 hours or overnight.
  10. Once frozen, remove cake from springform pan and remove parchment paper from sides.

Adding the topping:
  1. Freeze metal bowl and whisk for 15-20 minutes to get them good and cold.
  2. Remove bowl from freezer and add whipping cream.
  3. Whip until stiff peaks form, about 5-7 minutes.
  4. Stir in the remaining cream cheese icing.
  5. Spread whipped topping on top of cake and top with blueberries. You can add blueberries right before serving, if you prefer them to be un-frozen.
  6. Store cake in freezer for 4-5 days. Allow to sit for about 15 minutes to soften before serving.

Follow us on Pinterest for more great recipes like this one!

Recipe originally pinned from Life, Love & Sugar.
Jun 30 2015

Best Seat in the House

Farm views

This was a picture I took while waiting to fill the planter. I was in our pickup facing the tractor with the sunset behind me. I couldn’t help but snap a quick photo!

These days go by pretty quick. Every few hours I get a call that someone needs filled and I bring the seed bags (weighing 30-65 pounds each) to the planter that is running low. The tractor will stop, I pull up in the truck, we take off the planter lids and load ’em up! It takes about 20 minuets total and then the tractor is back in business. We literally do this all day, weather willing.

Originally posted on Dare to Dream with Rachel.

Rachel Asher
Ursa, IL

Rachel grew up on her family's farm where they raised dairy cows, pigs and crops. Today, she and her husband raise cattle, corn and soybeans on their own family farm in Ursa, IL. You can learn more about Rachel's farm on her blog: Dare to Dram with Rachel.

Jun 29 2015

G-M-Okay I feel better now

GMOs and biotechnology are among the most asked about topics on Recently, a group of IFF City Moms, who have toured Illinois farms and wanted to ask additional questions about Monsanto, were given the opportunity to visit their Biotechnology Research Center. The tour was provided by IFF,  with additional support from the Illinois Corn Marketing Board. 

On April 25th, I was fortunate enough to tour Monsanto’s research center in St. Louis,Missouri, with a group of Mom’s dedicated to learning about food and farming. We boarded a plane early in the morning, and hit the ground running. I was a nervous wreck…not just because I hate to fly, but also because I felt intimidated, and I felt overwhelmed at the prospect of the million different questions that were bouncing around my head. I was worried that even if we asked the truth, we wouldn’t get it, it would be smoke and mirrors in an attempt to appease our concerns.

I am happy to report…..I was WRONG. Much to my surprise, they were MORE than transparent, and they answered our questions with incredible knowledge of fact, incredible displays of science, and incredible rebuttal to fiction. I left,feeling more overwhelmed than ever, but now, it was because nearly every argument I had set out to have, had been laid to rest. And really, who likes admitting that they’re wrong?? Certainly, not  ME.

So, where do I start ? How do I begin trying to educate my readers on a topic as hot and explosive as biotechnology ?? How do I break it down to its basics, in hopes that you will keep reading ? Willing to put your opinions aside ? As many have expressed, quite loudly, when I signed up for this tour, I had sold my soul to the devil. I assure, I have done no such thing. I went with an open mind, and I listened, and I talked, and I learned. I sat before four incredibly intelligent women, also Mothers, give me the facts on GMO technology. I set aside my pre conceived notions and embraced the science behind the madness. I went in with a willingness to get both sides of the story. And guess what I heard ? I heard the things no one talks about on the internet, the things that no one reads (even though they ARE out there….check out ) I learned answers to questions I was afraid to ask, I learned that ever so valuable lesson, that NOT everything you read on the internet is true. Who knew?

Our Q & A Panel

SO…let’s get down to brass tacks….shall we ?

What exactly ARE GMO’s ?? Those in the field, prefer the term biotechnology, but tomato, tomAHto…..In essence, GMO’s in plant agriculture in the most basic of terms, means intentionally taking a gene for a trait you want or need from one plant and inserting it into another. Are you asking yourself  BUT WHY ? I did…..and the answer was both complex and simple at its core. It all boils down to what’s best for the farmer : Farmer’s select GMO’s to aid in things such as pest control (this means LESS pesticide is sprayed topically, which means less drift, less use, less impact), GMO’s help to protect from extreme drought, disease and they also allow a farmer to plant more food on less usable soil. Remember, only 1/4 of the Earth has available land and 1/2 of THAT is unusable. So more for less, goes a long way. GM crops also help a farmer with soil conservation by allowing to take a no – till approach, this is important because it takes over 100 years to create 1 inch of topsoil. It simply cannot afford to be lost.

There are only eight crops that are available from GMO seed : Field corn, Canola, Soybean, Alfalfa, Cotton, Sugar beets, Sweet corn, Summer squash and Rainbow papaya. My favorite little factoid ?? Without biotechnology, the papaya would be EXTINCT…no more…gone forever….and I don’t know about you, but man….I would MISS IT. Eating a ripe papaya is like taking a mini tropical vacation with each bite.

GM cotton

You see, genetically modified crops have been around long before a scientist ever thought of gene insertion. 10,000 years ago, yes 10,000….humans began crop domestication using selective breeding, Every fruit, vegetable and grain that is commercially available has been altered by human hands. EVEN ORGANIC. How about that ??

And in the 1700’s farmers and scientists began cross-breeding plants within a species Without crop domestication, Brussels sprouts, Romanesco cabbage, Broccoli, Kale and Bok Choy would not be available for our dinner plates, as these all are genetic relatives of wild cabbage !! It has always been done. It’s just that now, it’s done more precisely.

I truly could go on and on, but at the risk of boring you to tears, I won’t. I promise.

I asked many of you, what questions do you want answered ? And the question that came up most was… ARE THEY SAFE ??

The simple answer….Y E S.

The more complex one: Biotech crops are the same as their non – GM buddies !! Nutritionally as well as broken down to its most basic structures. GMO foods have been in the marketplace for 17 years. They have been found, through repeated testing to be NO different from their NON GM counterparts. GM crops are subjected to more testing than any other new crop variety, therefore, we know more about them than any other crops that have been developed over the past few CENTURIES. GM crops are assessed by two, and sometimes three Federal agencies: the FDA, USDA and EPA. They don’t reach your grocery cart until they have been deemed safe and nutritious.

So, what does biotechnology hold for the future?

It has been demonstrated that this technology can increase the amount and stability of pro-vitamin A, iron and zinc and improve the digestibility of sorghum. What is so important about that ? It is anticipated to benefit Africans who rely upon sorghum, which is normally deficient in key nutrients.

Another example ? Golden Rice.

Golden Rice is another biotech crop which is nutritionally improved. The amount of beta carotene has been increased and could provide half the daily required provide HALF the required pro-vitamin A for a 1 to 3-year-old child. That can save lives.

But the most important example ?? Biotechnology can help us meet the growing demand for food, despite the influences of drought, poor soil, and B U G S. More full bellies.

To me, helping to produce more food, and improve the crops that those in developing countries rely upon, well, that has the power to change the World.

That is worth its weight in science !!

I encourage each of you to read , to research, to ask honest questions and open your mind to honest answers. The future truly is now.

Check it out:

Travel expenses within St. Louis and lunch courtesy of Monsanto.

Originally posted on Three Little Birds and One Messy Nest.

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. (City Moms formerly known as Field Moms.)

Jun 26 2015

Modern Day Farmers

"I kind of had this mental picture of a farmer in overalls sitting at his kitchen table pouring over the Farmers’ Almanac to figure out how he’s going to plan his planting and just kind of haphazardly, and with no conscience, throwing around weed and insect killing chemicals on the plants.  When, in reality, that is not the case.  It’s really making me pause to think about the “truths” that I hold to when it comes to growing food and what I choose to buy at the grocery store." 


Learn more about today's farmers and the technology they use here.

Frankfort, IL

Stephanie 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 City Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers.

Jun 25 2015

Chicagoland Farmers' Markets

As spring turns to summer, my thoughts turn to the beautiful produce and goods found at my local farmers’ market. From fresh vegetables to locally sourced goods such as honey to quality meats and eats, I love visiting these spaces each week with the boys and finding what we need for the week. When you shop this “local” in your neighborhood, you also in turn support farm families. Here are some tips and then some places to find a great Farmers’ Market in the Chicagoland area.

Chicago Farmer's Market

  1. Bring reusable bags. You never know when you might stumble across something you’d like to purchase and having a bag accessible means you won’t have to take on some of the plastic bags. You can also carry your finds a little easier than using a plastic bag that has the potential to break.

  2. Bring cash. You never know if a particular vendor will have credit card capability and having cash at the ready is always advisable.

  3. Walk if you can. Not only will you be getting some great exercise and enjoy this summer adventure, but some farmers’ markets are in parking lots and may have limited parking spaces for non-vendors.

  4. Make friends and build relationships with farmers and vendors that you may see weekly. I vividly remember visiting a farmers’ market in our old community and each vendor remembering my boys and their favorite selections such as apples and homemade doughnuts. It was a special treat that my boys loved to experience with me.

Chicagoland South-ish Farmers’ Market stops

What are your favorite finds at your local Farmer’s Markets? 

Originally posted on The Peanuts Gang.

Indian Head Park, IL

Samantha 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. (City Moms formerly known as Field Moms.)

Jun 24 2015

What's Cooking Wednesday: VERY Chocolate Cake


  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 ¾ cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract

  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips
  • ½ cup heavy whipping cream
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • 2 ½ cups powdered sugar


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a saucepan, bring water to a boil. Remove from heat, add cocoa and mix until smooth. Let cool.

In a large mixing bowl, beat 1 ¾ cups sugar, eggs and vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Alternatively, add dry flour mix and cooled cocoa mix to the sugar mix. Beat until just mixed.

Pour into three greased 9-inch round cake pans lined with wax paper. Bake for 25 -30 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

For filling, beat 2 cups powdered sugar, ¼ cup butter and vanilla until consistency of spreadable frosting. Place first cake layer on serving plate. Spread with half of the filling. Place second cake on top and spread with remaining filling. Top with final cake.

For frosting, in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stir chocolate chips, cream and butter until melted. Slowly stir in 2 ½ cups of powdered sugar until thoroughly mixed. Remove pan from heat and place in large bowl filled with ice. Stir occasionally as frosting cools (about 10 -15 minutes.) Spread cooled frosting on sides and top of cake.

Recipe courtesy of:

Jun 23 2015

Not as Flashy as Silicon Valley

GMOs and biotechnology are among the most asked about topics on Recently, a group of IFF City Moms, who have toured Illinois farms and wanted to ask additional questions about Monsanto, were given the opportunity to visit their Biotechnology Research Center. The tour was provided by IFF,  with additional support from the Illinois Corn Marketing Board. 

Monsanto Research Center

In April, I joined a group of about 20 Chicago-area moms on a trip to Monsanto’s Chesterfield Research Center and World Headquarters in St. Louis, MO. We were invited by Illinois Farm Families (IFF) as alumnae of the City Mom (formerly Field Mom) program. When I was a City Mom, in 2014, my top food issue to learn more about was GMOs. IFF gave me all the resources I have needed to learn the facts from credible sources like university and government websites. This trip to Monsanto was an opportunity I couldn't refuse. It was an opportunity to learn what biotechnology is, to see what it looks like first-hand, and to hear directly from scientists and other people doing the work and be able to ask them questions.

There was so much that we got out of this visit; I can't share everything in one post. So, in this post I will share my perception of the place where biology and technology come together at Monsanto. When we read about biotechnology, we read about how it combines biology and high-tech, but we don't really get an image of that high-tech stuff. What is it, anyway? I was hoping to find out on this tour.

Monsanto Researach Lab Building

We landed in St. Louis and, coming from Chicago O’Hare, we knew immediately we were in a different place. The airport was quiet and we seemed to be the only ones there at 10 AM on a Saturday morning. The group of us, which also included two farm moms from the Illinois Farm Families, met our Monsanto leader, Janice Person, and boarded a bus for a short ride to the Monsanto center. When we left Chicago, the leaves on trees had not popped open yet, and when we arrived in St. Louis, we found everything was green and in full bloom. The campus was nicely landscaped with small trees and spring flowers. It was a peaceful walk between buildings.

Monsanto rooftop greenhouses

When we arrived at Monsanto, our bus went through a security gate and drove along a curving entry drive. As we looked out the windows, we were impressed by the large brick buildings off in the distance with giant green houses up on top. It brought a new meaning to the term roof garden. I wondered to myself if we would have an opportunity to go see those, I hoped so. We wound around some buildings and stopped in front of a building with a formal entry titled, Monsanto Research Center. We were at the visitor’s building and we learned that Monsanto offers tours to the public, similar to the one we were on, Monday through Friday.

One thing I wondered was, if this is open to the public, is what we are going to see the actual stuff that happens here or at least a representation of it? It seems unusual to me that a company would give tours to the public. The reality is that biotechnology with regard to food has suffered from consumer opinion and misinformation. One thing they can do is let the consumer inside to see for themselves what is going on. 

I believe what we saw on our tour was at least a representation, perhaps more in some cases. I felt that the things we saw were generally how they do what they do at this place. It was all very much "hard wired." There may not have been critical work going on in the spaces we were taken into (that is my assumption, at least), but that's okay with me. If that's true, the spaces were representative of the spaces where real work is being done. 

Monsanto Growth Chamber corridors

I was surprised by what I saw. For whatever reason, I expected high-tech to be synonymous with a state-of-the-art, high gloss, flashy place like Silicon Valley that is depicted in magazines. Instead, I saw a lab building, which is a working facility, with a mix of low-tech, hands-on science equipment as well as equipment that is probably considered by some to be high-tech, but appears banal. It was very clean and the floors were polished, but it wasn't the high design of Silicon Valley - a very different kind of high-tech. There were computers in some rooms and most spaces were climate-controlled for the plants, most likely controlled by computers located remotely. It was a building specifically designed to grow plants in controlled environments, growth chambers and greenhouses, then study them in labs. The growth chambers appeared to be self-contained units (not unlike a walk-in freezer) installed one after the next in a line down a corridor. They are impressive on their own, then to know that there are so many is fascinating. To be sure, the mechanical engineers who design this type of building have quite a task coordinating all of the mechanical and electrical requirements.

Monsanto Visitor Center

I learned the campus was built about twenty years ago and while we walked through the building called the visitor’s center which had a few flashy interactive kiosks for us to read while we waited, our tour was in one of those brick buildings with the greenhouses up on top - a lab building.

My overall impression of the lab building (we walked one floor, inside a couple of roof greenhouses, and a little more) is that they are very practical for the purpose of providing what plant breeders (scientists) need in order to do their work and not much more.  I was expecting that flashy and state-of-the-art facility. The one we visited simply is not flashy. Floors are VCT tile, there are no ceiling tiles in the corridors because mechanical ducts and electrical trays take up too much space. Everything visible is a necessary piece of equipment to make the labs function. If I had to describe the feeling I had as I walked through, it would be "clinical." If we were there on a Monday through Friday, I could imagine people in white lab coats quietly walking the corridors. Incidentally, on this Saturday morning, we didn't see anyone working.

Monsanto Growth Chamber GMO Soybeans

The floor plan of the lab building we were in was posted on the wall where we were walking. We were told there are 124 growth chambers in that building. A growth chamber is a very small room, maybe 8 ft x 10 ft at the most, that is sealed off and completely climate controlled – air temperature, humidity, and lighting are set to a particular place on the planet. The one we stepped into was growing soybeans for a location in Brazil. Even the soil in the pots replicates the soil conditions at that location being studied. As we stood there, with the door wide open, letting all of the hot/humid air out, I thought to myself, this particular experiment must not be too critical; otherwise it wouldn't be on the tour. This is why I felt our tour was a representation. A public tour of actual working experiments would be too disrupting to the work of the scientists. With that said, I believe we saw a fair representation of the facility and work that is actually done.

Monsanto GMO Lab

Other than growth chambers at the interior of the floor plan, the only other rooms on this floor are laboratories, mainly at the perimeter. The laboratory is essentially the plant breeder's (scientist's) work room. We walked by one that had a typical lab table, lots of storage space, and low-tech equipment and tools for their work, like a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer for mixing soils, measuring cups and colored masking tape.

Greenhouse GMO Corn and Soybeans

GMO Cotton Plant

The greenhouses on the roof, of course, depend on the natural light of St. Louis, but there was supplementary LED lighting, as well.  We saw mainly corn stalks growing here. Another greenhouse that we went into was mostly empty, except a few corn stalks, but it had some sugar cane stalks growing and also a cotton plant. The cotton plant was interesting. It was sitting on a table next to an ornamental pepper. We learned that the ornamental pepper had been brought in to host the pirate beetle, which will eat undesirable/damaging insects on the cotton. 

The highlight, for me, in the greenhouse, was seeing the plant that biologists consider to be the first corn plant, teosinte. I will save what we learned about plant breeding for another blog post.

Teosinte Origin of Corn Original GMO

Overall, my impression of "the place" is that it is where a lot of very bright people go to work every day to breed, care for, and study plants (mostly corn and soybeans). It was impressive and fascinating; however, it is, quite simply, very hands-on work, a lot of which is still low-tech. Even though computers are used to control environments, rapidly analyze data or research databases, largely what I saw was a workplace that requires human hands to pollinate, make observations and adjustments, and record results. Those human hands are connected to some very bright people - the scientists who we met on our tour. I'll share more about those people in another blog post, as well.

Travel expenses within St. Louis and lunch courtesy of Monsanto.

Originally posted on Field Mom Journal.

Heather Guido
Oak Park, IL

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(City Moms formerly known as Field Moms.)

Jun 22 2015

Old School Skills & Modern Technology

So, I've mentioned on the blog before that I am part of a group of bloggers called the City Moms that will visit local family farms this year and share our experiences. Illinois Farm Families coordinates the visits. A couple months ago we visited a hog farm and last month we all went to the Saathoff Family Farm in Manteno to learn a little about planting season for corn and soybeans.

As we have found on many of the farms our family has visited, farming is a long tradition - that also goes for the Saathoff and Meyer families. Three generations were there on the tour. There have been 5 generations that have lived and worked on the farm.

For family farmers on small to medium sized farms, it isn't that easy to rely on it as your primary source of income. Nick is also a seed representative and his wife is a middle school teacher. They cover 1200-acres on their farm of corn, soybean and wheat. Last year the kids also started a little 3/4 acre pumpkin patch and had a successful season simply by leaving a cart of pumpkins near the road with a can to deposit money in, done on the honor system.

Nick's brother-in-law and his family utilize the farm to raise cattle that their kids show at county fairs and then sell at auction. We got a quick rundown on the difference between dairy cows and beef cattle and an explanation of why its more cost effective to ship the cows off to another pasture over the state line for part of the season rather than sacrifice valuable farm land with rich soil during peak months. There were three parts of our tour and the cattle barn was the first portion.

Next we moved outside for part two of the tour where we learned a little about corn production and all the uses for corn besides eating it off of a cob. Much of what they grow is used as livestock feed and some is used for ethanol. I was surprised to also learn that a lot of corn grown in the U.S. is exported.

Planting really involves a lot more than putting a seed in the ground. There are so many variables and so much science that goes into so many decisions, like planting locations, timing of planting, crop rotation, soil conditions, etc. Then there's maintaining the fields, harvesting and getting it to the correct moisture level before it goes to market.

The third part of our tour focused on planting and we learned about the GPS programming systems that allow tractors to operate on auto-pilot. Farmers sit inside rigs that steer themselves, which I thought was pretty cool. It was a neat marriage of the ancient art of farming with the benefits of modern technology. Among the benefits of the GPS system are the reduction in human error and a decrease in fatigue in farmers who spend long hours inside the tractors planting row after row.

I was really surprised at how much technology plays into modern farming. On part of our tour we took a look at an iPad with a grid on it that mapped out a farm field, showing how through soil testing and other methods it could be determined if certain spots needed extra attention or if seed placement needed to be modified due to the conditions of that part of a field.

I was also surprised to learn that there are so many specialties within agriculture (one of our speakers after lunch was an agronomist) that I didn't know about and so much research, planning and modification that farming entails. Farming has really evolved in the past century to where it's no longer commonplace for a farmer to raise children who stay on the farm throughout their lives. A majority of the newer generation of farmers are college educated and have left the farm for some time to study in an area of agriculture before returning to work on their family farm or they branch out into agriculture professions.

Our day was another eye opening day of how much work and how many resources go into the food that we put on our tables. It furthered my sense of appreciation of the work that farmers do.

Originally posted on Chicago Foodie Sisters.

Lansing, IL

Carrie 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 City 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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