Illinois Farm Families Blog

Jan 26 2015

Got milk ?

In recent years, there has been much debate about the safety of raw milk. So, what exactly IS raw milk? Raw milk, is milk, that has not undergone the heating process known as pasteurization. In essence, it can be consumed straight from the animal source.

Many proponents of the raw milk movement believe, that pasteurization kills off the healthy bacteria found in milk. Bacteria such as Lactobacilli are found in raw milk, and it is believed that these can restore healthy balance in the intestinal tract. That being said, there are many far less innocuous bacteria hiding in your morning dose of dairy. Bacteria such as Listeria, Salmonella, E.Coli and Campylobacter are regularly found in milk that has not undergone the pasteurization process, these bacteria are responsible for many cases of food borne illness. There are documented cases, which have, unfortunately been fatal. Studies show that food borne illness is found in both healthy and immunocompromised individuals, so no one is truly safe. It is also said that raw milk consumption aids in digestion of dairy products, which is important to those that suffer from lactose intolerance. It is important to note that these purported benefits have not been effectively demonstrated.

In dairy farming, cleanliness is TRULY next to Godliness when it comes to the safety of the milk you drink. It is very difficult to predict whether or not raw milk will cause illness, as the bacteria which makes us sick can come from many sources:

Milk contamination may occur from:

  • Cow feces coming into direct contact with the milk
  • Infection of the cow’s udder (mastitis)
  • Cow diseases (e.g., bovine tuberculosis)
  • Bacteria that live on the skin of cows
  • Environment (e.g., feces, dirt, processing equipment)
  • Insects, rodents, and other animal vectors
  • Humans, for example, by cross-contamination from soiled clothing and boots
  • Pasteurization is the only way to kill many of the bacteria in milk that can make people very sick.

When I visited the Mackinson Dairy Farm, in Pontiac,Illinois, on a Field Mom tour, I learned about both the cleanliness of the milking parlor, as well as the importance of milk pasteurization. This is serious business for a dairy farmer. Remember, they drink their milk too. During this tour, I realized just HOW important it is to these farmers, that safe milk is what’s sent to their customers. And mind you, although their milking parlor was SPOTLESS, and every step was taken to ensure that their product remains uncontaminated, remember, it is still possible that the milk can become tainted by one of the factors above. This is why pasteurization is SO very important.

So, for me…..I will stick with what I know to be the safest possible option for my family ,and their health and safety. It’s time for breakfast here at our house….so give me a tall, cold, glass of milk….and make mine pasteurized !!!

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.

Jan 25 2015

Duty calls

Jan 23 2015

Winter on the Asher farm

This last week I visited a farm to get some pictures of bottle calves. I was pleasantly surprised to see these cuties all bundled up for the cold weather we are having. Each dairy calf was anxiously awaiting supper dressed in a blue, red or black blanket. This little gal was running around in her pen excited for some attention and her bottle. Next week she will be introduced to feed and the week after that she will go with the other little ladies her age to a large area where they can run and play.

This week has been a little rough. The temperatures have been under 20 degrees for an entire week. The last few days we have been experiencing the single digits. Despite the cold, work still goes on. We can’t just tell the cows “hey you’re not eating today”, as tempting as that might be on days like today. Pictured here is my husband curling up in front of our gas heater while making a quick phone call and making quick repairs. We don’t normally set up our heater while feeding, but today it was a necessity.

We were beginning to be fed up with the house smelling like manure! Now that we are feeding the cows twice a day, our work coats, boots and insulated coveralls are all bringing the farm odor into the house! We decided that something had to be done. Pictured here is my friend helping me paint the door my husband was installed. We cleaned up the basement, installed a shelf and are now using the basement to keep all our work boots, coats and gloves. We have noticed incredible aroma improvements already!

Rachel Asher and her husband Garret raise corn, soybeans and dairy cattle on their farm near Ursa.

Jan 21 2015

What's Cooking Wednesday

Cauliflower and Aged Cheddar Soup

By Chef Steve Fiore Chiappetti

Winter means soup weather and this rich, creamy soup with the goodness of cauliflower and real cheese will hit the spot on a cold night. If you've never made a blended soup, don't be intimidated. You can easily blend right in the pot with a stick blender or place it in your countertop blender. If you use the countertop blender, you may have to blend it in a few smaller batches.


For the Soup:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 leek, white part only, medium dice
  • 1 bay leaf, halved
  • 2 heads cauliflower, broken into florets
  • 1 cup Chardonnay wine
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 1/2 cups (10 ounces) Wisconsin aged cheddar cheese, shredded

For the Garnish:

  • Olive oil for sautéing
  • 4 slices firm bread of your choice, crusts removed and cubed for croutons

Cooking Directions


Heat olive oil in heavy stockpot and add the diced leek. Sauté until translucent and flexible and the leek releases its sugars. Add bay leaf halves and the cauliflower florets. Stir until cauliflower releases juices. Add the wine and reduce liquid by half or three-fourths. Stir in chicken stock and bring to boil. Continue to boil until cauliflower is tender. Add heavy cream and bring back to boil. Remove from heat. Remove and discard bay leaf halves. Blend soup to a fine texture.

Return to stove over low heat. Gradually add shredded cheddar, whisking until fully incorporated.


Heat small amount of olive oil in a heavy skillet. Add the bread cubes and sauté until golden. Drain on paper towels.

Ladle the hot soup into serving bowls and divide croutons evenly to garnish. 

Recipe courtesy of:

Checkout their website for more great cheese recipes. 

Jan 19 2015

Taking My Learning About Food OFF the Farm

I will say, when I get enthralled with something, I get REALLY enthralled with it. I mean, I want to know all about it, the good, the bad, the ugly. While participating in the Illinois Farm Family program last year, I started looking at events that I could go to, ask questions, and not get weird looks. The great thing about that last fact, is, I was able to go to a place, that I had visited last year as a winner of tickets, but this time with a different frame of mind. The Good Food Festival that takes place here in Chicago in the UIC Pavillion in March.

At this festival, vendors from all over the Midwest, gather together to show how their farming works, and there are various classes that you can take. Those include things like composting, starting a mini-garden (or farming) of your own, raising livestock or poultry, and so much more. Canning, and preserving were offered as well, but I have a handle on that, or so I think.

One of the things that I was super interested in this year, and will probably be for years to come, is identifying the best cuts of beef for my family for the price. We talked about that briefly during a visit to the Martz Family Farm in Maple Park, IL. We were told that you wanted marbling in your beef because that was flecks of flavor, which also helps when grilling because it provides the fat that makes your steaks and burgers juicy.

Seeing how my mother purchased a half of a cow along with my uncle last year, and it lasted for almost half a year for her, I’m even more sold on the fact that we need to be grateful to cattle farmers and the great care that so many of them give to their livestock. Below are some of the cuts of meat and parts of cattle that can be offered in grocery stores or from your local butcher. I do prefer to get my meat from a butcher or at least make sure to shop local when I can via a grocery store. During the summer months, I love treating the family to meat from Faith Farms here in Illinois. While I do recognize that the meat per pound is a bit more expensive, it makes me feel good to know that I am supporting a farmer and her family. Plus, she just provides such great product!

The Good Food Festival also provided some forms of being able to visit beekeepers which lots of farmers rely on. They are an important aspect in agriculture, and while I didn’t stay for the class, I will say that I am looking forward to learning more, and cross referencing the farmers that I do have contact with. I’d like to know how they may or may not use or rely on bees in their day-to-day routines. Until then, I’ll enjoy all of the flavors of honey that I can get my hands on.

Until next year, I encourage you look at the rest of the Illinois Farm Families website, and get some information for yourself, and if you can, to try to reach out to one of your local farmers, or Farmer’s Markets, or SOME agricultural service to learn more about the food that finds its way to your table.

Natasha Nicholes 
Chicago, IL 

This blog originally appeared in Natasha's blog, Houseful of Nicholes, on  Dec 27, 2014.

Jan 16 2015

Twelve Words that Mean Something Completely Different on the Farm

Only two percent of Americans are farmers. Several more work with the industry while a few more simply live in rural areas. For all those people, these dual meanings might be second nature, but for the rest of us, talking to a farmer can be really confusing!

Clear up your confusion below!

1) Combine

What it usually means: To unite or merge – like you would combine the flour and baking soda in a recipe

What it means on the farm: A machine which moves down the grain field removing the seeds from the stems of ripe plants of grains

2) Elevator

What it usually means: A platform or compartment housed in a shaft for raising and lowering people or things to different floors or levels, i.e. “Take the elevator to the penthouse and look around.”

What it means on the farm: A building or terminal where grain is elevated and transferred to an alternate mode of transportation (e.g. truck to rail, rail to ship)

3) Chick

What it usually means: A young woman – sometimes called out from a construction site as an attractive lady walks by

What it means on the farm: A baby chicken

4) Head

What it usually means: The upper part of the human body typically separated from the rest of the body by a neck, and containing the brain, mouth, and sense organs

What it means on the farm: The “scissors” of the combine – there is actually a “corn head” and a “bean/wheat head.”

5) Pen

What it usually means: An instrument for writing or drawing with ink

What it means on the farm: A stall for an animal

6) Pod

What it usually means: A group of prison cells 

What it means on the farm: The container for seeds on a legume plant

7) Weed

What it usually means: The most commonly used slang word for marijuana

What it means on the farm: A plant that is not valued where it is growing and in competition with cultivated plants

8) Stalk

What it usually means: To harass or persecute (someone) with unwanted and obsessive attention, i.e. “Quit stalking me!”

What it means on the farm: The trunk or stem of corn

9) Field

What it usually means: An area of level ground, as in a park or stadium, where athletic events are held

What it means on the farm: An area of open land, especially one planted with crops or pasture, typically bounded by hedges or fences

10) Hybrid

What it usually means: A car with a gasoline engine and an electric motor, each of which can propel it

What it means on the farm: Seed produced by cross-pollinated plants; one of the main contributors to the dramatic rise in agricultural output

11) Sprout

What it usually means: A vegetable that you cook with; usually a topping on a sandwich

What it means on the farm: When a crop begins to grow; shoot forth, as a plant from a seed

12) Maze/maize

What it usually means: A series of paths that are designed as a puzzle through which one has to find a way.

What it means on the farm: The scientific term for corn.

Elizabeth O’Reilly
ICMB Communications Intern
Illinois State University student

This blog originally appeared on June 24, 2014 on

Jan 15 2015

Illinois Farm Families Generosity Shines

Each year, Illinois Farm Families designates a one-acre plot of land as the “Field Mom Acre.” That acre of field is planted in corn and soybeans and the Field Moms are updated monthly, from planting until harvest, with news of how the field is growing, weather conditions that have had an impact, fertilizing, and any spraying that was done to control weeds or insects. After harvest, the profits from the acre are tallied and that money is used to make a donation to a local food pantry.

Once again, the corn and soybean crop in this area of Illinois was record-setting. The spring weather, although it pushed a little later planting, turned out well; the summer weather was nearly ideal for growing with just enough rain and not many severe storms. The fall harvest weather cooperated and harvest was mostly dry.

Our Field Mom acre this year was planted on the Jeschke Farm in Mazon, Illinois. When we were at their farm on our spring planting tour in May, the corn had already been planted and was just coming up through the soil and the soybeans had not yet been planted. We had hoped to join them in the planting, but weather didn’t cooperate. In fact, two nights before our visit, there was snow on the ground in some places. We were told the beans needed a little more warmth with a lower risk of frost, as well as the ground needed some drying out before their planting.

Through Donna and Paul Jeschke’s monthly updates, we got a good glimpse into the growing season of a corn and soybean crop. Everything went smoothly this year. However, there were a couple windy and rainy mid-summer storms that blew across Illinois. We saw on social media some of the localized damage to crops near our farm families. Our Farm Mom friends told us that most of their crops had been spared the wind and rain damage we saw in pictures. It reminded us that our farmers are dependent upon - and at the mercy of - the weather; and how quickly, in just a few minutes of a bad storm, the high hopes and optimism for a good crop can be diminished or flattened to nothing.

In October’s harvest update, we learned that harvest was progressing very well and the yield on the Field Mom acre was 68 bushels (per acre) of soybeans and 225 bushels (per acre) of field corn. In total, that was enough profit to purchase an outstanding 1,000 pounds of pork which was donated to the Northern Illinois Food Bank in November.

Thank you Illinois Farm Families for sharing updates of the Field Mom Acre with us throughout the growing season and also for so generously sharing your bounty with other families who will benefit from your hard work this past year.

Originally posted January 3, 2015, 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.

Jan 12 2015

From Farm to Table: Milk’s Journey

Did you know that it only takes 48 hours for milk to get from the cow to the store?

This fall, I was able to see the entire process of how milk travels from the farm to the store. We always grab a gallon of milk when we are grocery shopping. I love drinking milk! As a milk drinker, this farm tour was fascinating! I visited with Dale and Linda Drendel in Northern Illinois and was able to see the whole milking process.

The Drendels have dairy farming in their blood; both of their families have been farming for generations. Their dairy farm, Lindale Holsteins, has mostly Holstein cows. They are the black and white cows you may think of when you think of a dairy cow. A cow needs to have a calf before she is a milking cow. Her milk production peaks 40 to 60 days after a calf is born, and then her milk production slowly decreases.


The Drendels milk their cows twice a day; early in the morning, and then at about 4:00 in the afternoon. The cows are trained to go into the milking parlor. They line up outside the door, quietly waiting their turn to be milked. Once the cows walk to their spot in the milking parlor, the farmers clean the cows’ udders, and then place a milking machine on the cows’ teats. Dale had me put my thumb in one of the milkers; the suction was very gentle on my thumb. The milk is collected in large glass containers and sent to a cooler through stainless steel pipes to be cooled down to 38 degrees as quickly as possible.

A refrigerated tanker truck picks up the milk from the cooler and takes it to the milk processing plant. At the plant, the milk goes through several tests before it is even allowed to leave the truck. These tests include screening for bacteria and antibiotics. The milk is then put into a refrigerated raw milk silo. I was lucky enough to be able to visit a Dean’s processing plant in Huntley, Illinois, to see milk being prepared for its trip to the grocery store. (I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures inside the plant, due to security reasons.


At the processing plant, several things happen to the milk. A very important step is pasteurization. There are several different forms of pasteurization, and most of the milk we see in the store is heated to 168 degrees for 25 seconds. This kills harmful bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria. Think about that temperature for a second. I steam my vegetables at a higher temperature and for longer than 25 seconds, and yet I don’t lose all of the nutritional value vegetables have to offer. Most of the nutrients in milk are not affected by the pasteurization process. One vitamin that is affected by pasteurization is Vitamin C. However, milk is not a good source of Vitamin C anyway. Milk provides plenty of other nutrients that are important for our bodies. Not only does milk provide calcium, it also provides Vitamin D, riboflavin, phosphorus, protein, potassium, Vitamin A, Vitamin B12, and niacin. The milk is also fortified with extra Vitamin A and Vitamin D.


During the homogenization process, the milk fat is broken up into tiny particles and spread evenly throughout the milk. Homogenization keeps the cream from rising to the top of the milk as it sits in your refrigerator, and does not affect the nutritional value of milk.


At the Dean’s processing plant, they make the plastic jugs right on the premises. After the milk is put into the gallon jugs, it is trucked directly to stores such as Jewel and Walmart. Milk has a short shelf life of about 16-20 days, and so the sooner it is on the shelves, the better it is for us as consumers.

We love to have milk in our cereal or to drink it out of a glass. I use milk for cooking and baking, and one of my favorite snacks is popcorn and milk! Does your family drink milk? What part of the milking process would you like to know more about?

Originally posted on Lemon Drop Pie.

Christa Grabske
Mount Prospect, Illinois

Christa was part of the Illinois Farm Families 2013 Field Mom class. Throughout the year she visited Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago moms meet farmers. Read more from Christa on her blog, Lemon Drop Pie.

Jan 09 2015

Advice for the Winner of ABC's The Bachelor from a Former City Girl

It was a cold and wintry afternoon when I noticed the light on in the garage. When I entered the garage I was perplexed at what I saw; potting soil, seed packets, and cups scattered about, and my 4 year old daughter’s dirt, smudged face staring at me. I asked her, “What is going on?” Big blue eyes looking up at me, pleading in her voice, hands raised in exasperation, “I just NEED to grow something!” It made me laugh then, but that was the moment I realized the different ways people can love farming.

My daughter and husband have been raised on a farm. The love of farming is in their blood. At times they can’t describe it or explain it. They have a desire within them to work the ground, to grow crops, and care for animals; to them it’s as normal as breathing. Their love for farming is like the love a mom has for her baby, a natural love.

I grew up in the city with no farming background. I married a farmer and discovered that farming is real and hard, consuming at times. I have had to call a cheer coach and say we would be late to practice because the cows were out and we had to tend to the cows before anything else. I have rushed from a game with my children, niece, and nephew to help put up hay before it rained. I have seen sunsets sitting on a truck tailgate, enjoying a meal with my family in the fields. I have worked beside my husband and daughters to plant, cultivate, and harvest a crop. I have also worked beside my husband and daughters to plant and cultivate the land to see that due to the weather there would be no harvest; I have wiped away the sweat and tears and known that we would try again next year. It is like the love a husband and wife share. As the years come and go the love grows stronger and deeper until I won’t be able to recall not feeling this way. That is how I love farming.

 As I have grown from a city girl into a farm mom this is my advice to the bachelorettes and the bachelor farmer; farming is hard, but so are most things that are really worth doing. Just as being a mother/father or wife/husband is hard work. Farming is not just an occupation it is a way of life. Be patient with each other and willing to grow together.

Sherri Kannmacher
Martinsville, IL

Sherri and her husband Mark grow beef, grains, hay and four daughters. Mark is the fourth generation of his family to farm in Illinois. When they met, Sherri was a California city girl. She fell in love with him and then with farming. Now she's proud to call herself a farm mom. In fact, in 2012 she was the Midwest Farm Mom of the Year.

Jan 08 2015

The Most Important Person on the Farm is not the Farmer

“I knew we could make it.” My father-in-law motioned to his wife and two sons. We were sitting around the table at the annual year-end meeting with our ag lender, running the numbers from 2014 and discussing the future of the farm.

My father-in-law then pointed to my sister-in-law and me. “They’re the ones who will determine how successful we’ll be.”

It was the second time in a week that he had said in no uncertain terms the future of the Pratt farm depended on his daughters-in-law.

Why so much attention? Family business consultant, Jolene Brown writes: “A daughter-in-law often marries into a generations-old family business with literally hundreds of unwritten rules and an unexpressed code of conduct. Her issues range from trying to understand her husband’s interactions within the family and business to finding a role for herself. Maybe she’s given up her job and home to live in a more rural setting and now faces expectations, uncertainties, loneliness, and a wish that she could just fit in.” (Full article here.)

Even with a farming background, joining another farm family isn't easy. Just as the daughter-in-law struggles to find her place, so to are the other family members. Will she be a sign-on-the-dotted-line business partner? Will she be the silent support at home? Will she love the farm as does the family, or one day up and leave?

So with daughters-in-law on my mind, I watched pieces of the premiere of ABC’s The Bachelor and wondered about the future daughter-in-law for this farm family.

The Bachelor is Chris Soules. He is a fourth generation farmer raising 6,000 acres of corn and soybeans with his family near Arlington, Iowa. He was one of the finalists on the last season of The Bachelorette, until he admitted he had no intention of leaving the farm. So the bachelorette left him.

This time around I hope Soules is upfront with his plans. However, he is quoted in a People Magazine article, “My goal in being The Bachelor was to find someone I first could just fall in love with and think and hope and believe she is my soul mate . . . compromise is the next thing to focus on.”

As a farmer’s daughter-in-law, I can say the time to compromise comes shortly after the falling in love part and not after the final rose is given. When a woman marries a farmer, she also commits to the farm and the attached family.

The Farmer’s Wife

As I chose him 

I chose this land, 

This Life 

and always knew that as his wife 

midst labors never done, 

by love we three were wed; 

we and the land are one.

My father-in-law gave this to my sister-in-law and me on our respective wedding days. With each anniversary as My Farmer’s wife, I understand the message more and do hope that amid all the tears, dream dates and fantasy suites, The Bachelor (and his farm family) finds a woman who can do the same.

Katie Pratt
Dixon, Illinois

Katie and her husband, Andy, are seventh generation farmers. Together they raise two adorable farm kids and grow corn, soybeans and seed corn in Illinois. Katie's family still raises pigs, cattle, goats and horses only a few minutes away. Katie was named one of the 2013 Faces of Farming and Ranching by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA). Read more from Katie on her blog, Rural Route 2.

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