Illinois Farm Families Blog

Oct 20 2014

Images of Harvest: Amber waves

Danelle Burrs of Dixon captured this beautiful field ready for harvest. 
Oct 17 2014

It’s YOUR turn…..

Have you ever stopped to wonder how your food goes from farm to table ? Have you ever read a story in the newspaper regarding the safety or ethics of food and farming ? As a Mom and a consumer, and as someone who LOVES to eat… I did. So I made it my mission to research  those things I often wondered about. Things like antibiotics in our meat, GMOs, farming as a business AND a passion.  No matter how much I read, and wrote, and learned, I still felt as if I never received both sides of that proverbial coin. I had questions, I had concerns, but I had no way to get those answers I craved.  Little did I know, fate was about to step in….

A friend and I were talking about what our plans were for the upcoming year and she told me she was about to embark on an amazing journey meeting farmers and learning about the food we feed our families. That was ALL I needed to hear. I KNEW that I had to be a part.  I sent in my application to become a City Mom (then known as Field Moms) for the Illinois Farm Families. And so began my love affair with farming.

As a child who grew up in the city, as a Mom who was raising her children in the city, I knew it was my responsibility to teach them about where their food comes from. After all, my middle daughter once saw a chicken at a park district barn, and was completely bewildered when I told her THAT was how we got eggs, and her beloved chicken tenders. There was a definite disconnect somewhere along the way. A disconnect I felt the need to repair. I wanted my children to know, that food doesn’t just appear, wrapped in plastic, onto our local grocers shelves. Someone, somewhere, gave their time and their passion to provide for us.

Now, I had never visited a farm, and I was by no means in any position to teach what I simply didn’t know. So this amazing opportunity that had been handed to me, was a gift that would go far beyond my own four walls. I knew, that my responsibility was to educate as many people as I could, about the many topics I now had the means to discuss. I was thrilled to know that I was going to get the chance to sit down face to face with farmers of today, and ask them all of those questions I had been carrying.

My vision of farming was one of times past. What I was immersed in, went far beyond my wildest dreams. Technology is now at the forefront of modern day farming. But the backbone of farming is still the farmers’ love of their land. Farming is an amazing world that allows modern day conveniences to intersect with proud traditions at the perfect crossroads. To be a part of a harvest, riding in a combine powered by GPS, is pure magic.  I was part of a community, if even for that moment, that I knew nothing about.

I learned much more than what I had set out to. I learned about both science and conscience. I learned about both profit and providing. But mostly, I learned the value of hard work.

I hope that any Moms who may be reading this blog, will seriously consider becoming a CITY MOM. It was an experience I will build upon forever. Get out there, get your hands dirty and get your questions answered.

Shake the hand of a farmer.

Pass it on and pay it forward.

If you are interested in becoming a 2015 CITY MOM follow the below link for the application :

Katie Grossart, 

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.

Oct 16 2014

Images of Harvest: Throw back Thursday

Michele Aavang of Willow Lea Stock Farm shares this picture of a corn harvest from 1955.
Oct 15 2014

What's Cooking Wednesday: Black Bean Chili

Perfect for game night, or any night, this slow cooker chili makes it easy to put a hearty meal in front of your family even on a busy day.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 7 hours, 30 minutes
Servings: 4


  • 1 1/2 pound boneless sirloin pork roast, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 15 1/2-oz cans black beans, drained
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 1 cup yellow bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup salsa, thick and chunky
  • 1 15 1/2-oz can diced tomatoes, do not drain
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • sour cream, garnish
  • Cheddar cheese, shredded (garnish)

Cooking Directions

Combine all ingredients except garnishes in 3 1/2-quart slow cooker. Cover and cook on low heat setting 7 to 8 hours. Top individual bowls with sour cream and Cheddar cheese.Serves 4

Serving Suggestions

Basic ingredients that go together easily. Let slow cook during the day and come home to a hearty chili. Serve with tortilla chips and a green salad.

Nutrition Information

Calories: 446 calories
Protein: 47 grams
Fat: 9 grams
Sodium: 654 milligrams
Cholesterol: 85 milligrams
Saturated Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 44 grams
Fiber: 14 grams

Recipe courtesy of Pork Be Inspired

Oct 14 2014

Images of Harvest: Almost done

Andrew Bowman, Oneida
Oct 13 2014

Top 10 things I love about October

October in my book, is one of the best months of the year. And with the help of our Pinterest page, here is why:
  1. Pumpkins – This seems to be one of those things that people either love or hate. I’m on the love side here. Pumpkin bread, pumpkin donuts, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pie, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin cheddar mac & cheese, the list goes on and on and on. How could you NOT like pumpkin, it’s so versatile! 
  2. Pumpkin farms – We are lucky to have an amazing pumpkin farm right down the road from our office and I take my daughter there every year. Rader Family Farms is fun for all ages, it’s especially great for those families that aren’t from farm. They get a chance to spend the day on a farm and learn a few things while having fun.
  3. Cooler Temperatures – While I love summer, it’s just not as great as fall. When the temperature drops and you can wear jeans and a sweatshirt while sitting around a campfire – nothing beats it.
  4. S’mores and Cookouts – Cooking over a campfire makes some of the best food and it’s just downright fun. Kids can even get involved by roasting hot dogs and s’mores! What kid doesn’t love a s’more?
  5. Soup – What goes great with lower temps? Soup of course. It’s not very appetizing to me to eat a blazing hot bowl of soup when it’s also blazing hot outside. But when it’s nice and cool out? Oh yes, bring on the soups!
  6. Fall Decorations – Indian corn, burlap, pumpkins, squash, acorns, pine cones, the list goes on of great decorations.
  7. Halloween – It doesn’t matter how old you are, get dressed up and have fun on Halloween! Who needs a costume party? Put on your best mummy or witch makeup and scare the neighborhood kids as they come to your front door for treats! And I would be remiss if I left out Halloween candy here. Eat as much as you want, it’s the one time of year that candy is fat and calorie free… right?
  8. Bow-hunterBow season – October 1st marks the beginning of bow season! There really is no way to feel closer to nature than sitting in a tree stand as the sun rises and waiting for the perfect deer to come across your path. Filling your freezer with enough meat to get you through the year is a nice perk as well.
  9. Piles of Leaves – Come on, do I even have to explain this one?
  10. Harvest – Of course, I saved the best for last…. Such a great feeling comes with harvest. It’s the time when all of a farmer’s hard work is coming to fruition. The sights and smells of harvest are the best of the year.

Did I leave one of your favorites off? Tell me what you love most about October!

Becky Finfrock
ICGA/ICMB Communications Assistant

This blog originally appeared on Corn Corps, the Illinois Corn Farmer's blog.
Oct 12 2014

Food for Thought - What's in Milk?

Oct 10 2014

What I wish people knew about pig farming

Recently, I participated in an online video discussion with an Animal Welfare class from an eastern U.S. university. The purpose of the class was to give class attendees a farmer’s perspective on pig issues concerning animal welfare. There were two of us, myself and another farmer from Indiana. We were given a few questions ahead of time, but we also answered questions directly from the class. By the end of the class period, it was apparent there was a definite flavor of animal rights views within the classroom. Later, as I pondered about how the class discussion went, I thought very hard about the animal right’s perspective and agenda. I really wanted to “see” animal welfare issues through their eyes. I struggled and frankly, I just don’t get it. I think what is most frustrating for farmers is how do we communicate our experiences so others also feel the same experiences and compassion we feel. Thus, this is what I wish people knew about pig farming

I wish people could experience the things we experience. I wish they could see the fights that sows have which are a natural response to their innate social hierarchy that determines who is the “king” sow. The fights that result in injuries such as bites to body parts including ears, snouts, legs and vulvas. And sometimes these injuries are lethal. I wish people could hear the ear piercing screams we hear when a sow is attacking another. No, we don’t rush to grab our phones to videotape the pig attacks. Instead, we attempt to break up the fights, assess and care for the injuries, all while hoping not to be injured ourselves.

I wish people could see the utter contentment sows experience when they are housed in gestation stalls. I wish they could see how pigs respond when they no longer fear for their lives and are safe. I wish people could see the “night and day” difference between sows that are housed outdoors and sows that are housed in gestation stalls because we can give them specialized individual care.

I wish people were on our farm to see the looks on our faces after the drowning of newborn piglets who were savagely placed there by another pregnant sow. The horrified looks when we discovered a total of 10 baby piglets laying at the bottom of a mud puddle, a mud puddle created by a recent thunderstorm. I wish they could experience our heartbreak as we removed each baby pig from the mud puddle. And I wish they also had my memory as I still remember it like it was yesterday. Or the frustration when an unruly sows bites at her newly born pigs or accidentally lays or steps on one. I wish people understood this is why sows are housed in farrowing (birthing) stalls to prevent these heartaches. And, yet, the animal rights agenda thinks farrowing stalls are cruel. They honestly haven’t seen cruel until they see deaths that could have been prevented.

I wish people could see the realities of disease. Diseases that cause nearly 100% mortality of newborn pigs for 4-5 weeks. I wish people could walk in barns and see nothing but dead baby pigs and knowing there is absolutely nothing you can do about it and the despair that follows. I wish people were on my farm that Thanksgiving Day when my determined husband was going to save newborn pigs who were doomed for an imminent death because of a virus. A virus with no vaccine or a treatment drug. Only to realize his heroic efforts went to waste. I wish people could see the look on his face upon the realization that he didn’t succeed, and yet, managed somehow to look forward to the next day because “it will be a better day.” Farmers live in reality, not ideology.

I wish people realized that “natural” behaviors are not always best for pigs. “Natural” that can result in bullied animals, injuries and death. But animal rightists look past and turn their heads to the painful consequences when pigs are allowed to exhibit their “natural” behaviors towards each other. In their eyes, natural is best. Natural is not always best. Comfortable and content pigs are what is best.

It’s easy and feels good to reach for ideology. It’s pleasurable to visualize the sunny 70-degree days where pigs roam pastures under trees and never hurt one another. You know, the whole Charlotte’s Web scenario. Who wouldn’t love a world like that? But we don’t live in Charlotte’s Web’s book, we live in reality.

As a farmer, our main goal is to eliminate or reduce stressors in a pig’s life. Stressors such as thirst, hunger, disease, unsafe environment, temperature extremes, weather conditions, unclean air and pig behaviors. Our challenge is to create a balance where we reduce/eliminate as many stressors as possible that results in making a pig’s life as comfortable as possible. That is real pig farming.

I think it’s easy for outsiders to tell us and insist on how we should or shouldn’t raise pigs. But the problem is most of these people do not experience the same things we do. They do not see what we see. They do not hear what we hear.

And it’s particularly frustrating when large corporations, who use pork from our farms in their stores, also tell us how to raise pigs. Evidently, they also think they “know better” than we do, but until they experience, see and hear what we do, they really don’t “know better.”  

Farmers raise pigs in many different ways. One way is not better than another. I truly believe pig farmers raise pigs in the way that works best for them. And we need every pig farmer.

Farmers work diligently to improve their farming practices continually. We take better care of our pigs than we did yesterday. And tomorrow, we will do better than today. Are we perfect? Not by a long shot, but we really do care about what we do.

Despite what others may say.

Wanda Patsche is a wife, mom and grandmother. She and her husband grow about 1000 acres of corn and soybeans and raise about 4400 hogs a year on their farm in Southern Minnesota. They use modern farm technology to improve farm efficiencies. Wanda is passionate about agriculture and rural life living.  Her ultimate goal is to give an accurate picture of today’s farms and rural Minnesota living by telling her story and connecting with consumers. Follow her on her blog, Minnesota Farm Living, on Twitter @MinnFarmer or on Facebook.

This post originally appeared on Minnesota Farm Living, and is reprinted with the author's permission.

Oct 09 2014

Images of Harvest - Reflecting on harvest

Karen Kenny-Oles captured this reflection of the corn harvest near Dixon.
Oct 08 2014

What's Cooking Wednesday - Pumpkin Spice Cookies

It’s October! You know what that means- the season of pumpkin spice everything (literally everything). I’m definitely a fan of pumpkin spice lattes and my pumpkin spice candle, but the pumpkin spice M&Ms and pumpkin spice Oreos take things a step too far.

Here’s a recipe for an acceptable pumpkin spice-flavored snack: pumpkin spice cookies with cream cheese frosting.

Pumpkin Spice Cookies


2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup butter or margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 8-oz package of cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 teaspoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups powdered sugar


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, beat granulated sugar, brown sugar, butter or margarine, and vanilla until well blended. Add eggs and pumpkin and beat until well mixed. Stir in flour, salt, baking soda, and spices.

Drop dough by heaping tablespoons 2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes, or until no indentation remains when touched in center. Move cookies from baking sheet to cooling racks immediately.

Allow cookies to cool completely before frosting.

Prepare frosting by beating cream cheese, butter or margarine, milk, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Once smooth, add powdered sugar 1 cup at a time. Beat until smooth and spreadable.

Once cookies are completely cool, spread frosting on cookies. Refrigerate cookies and any remaining frosting. Recipe makes 3 1/2 to 4 dozen cookies.

Happy baking!

Gracie Weinzierl


A farm girl about to launch her career in agriculture communications and leadership, Gracie is a 4-H alum, Sigma Alpha sorority member, proud owner of two adorable kitties and senior at Illinois State University. Follow her blog at A Farm Kid’s Guide to Agriculture.

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