Farming is more about who we are rather than what we do.

Illinois Farm Families Blog

Nov 27 2015

Let's Go to the Movies

So Joe and I went to the movies yesterday.

No, it wasn't to see Mockingjay, Part Two (which we are both hoping to see. I know, nerds.)

No, it wasn't The Peanuts Movie with the kids (which we are both hoping to also see. Yes, nerds again.).

It was Farmland.

Yes, Farmland. For those of you who did not give birth to twins or have a major home renovation, I'm sure you're rolling your eyes that I, a self-proclaimed advocate for agriculture, had not actually seen this award winning movie yet.

I'm sorry. 2014 was not a year in which I saw movies.

Unless you count movies I listen to as my kids watch them in the car.


I finally sat down to watch Farmland, thanks to the good folks at our county Farm Bureau. You see, this was an outreach event. Joe was to emcee the whole shebang, leading the farmer panel afterward. We headed to Galesburg and the beautiful Orpheum Theater, the one where I graced the stage as a hairlip sister in the musical, Big River, and tap danced (poorly) in Crazy for You.


The Orpheum Theater is a restored theater in the heart of Galesburg, the biggest town in our county. The most urban area our county Farm Bureau could reach. After the Santa Clause parade, the doors to the theater opened up for a free showing of this movie.

Nice, huh?

That's not my point. We are nice people here, but the movie, friends, it is something to behold.

I'm not going to give you a whole review of it, as it just needs to be seen. It is award winning for a reason, and it's not because of its one-sided view on agriculture. Represented in this cast are conventional, production farmers, organic producers, small CSA/Farmer's Market growers, and livestock producers. The verbage is easy for those of us who don't speak "ag," without being insulting. The story follows a growing season, thus makes it a logical conclusion when harvest hits.

What really struck me, and got me misty-eyed was the story. As advocates, we are told to tell our story, tell our story, tell our story. However, telling your story in a "I grow blah, blah, and we do it this way because blah, blah." is, in fact, BLAH, BLAH.

There are few folks who want to hear the nuts and bolts of farming before they know that you have a heart, a soul, and a story. You can feel the heartbeat in this movie. It shows the brothers disagreeing, the son missing his recently deceased father, the rancher welcoming twins (not calves, kids). There's the only child who's mom still makes him a sandwich, and the daughter who set out on her own to farm who's mom thought she was crazy. These are real people with real stories who were given the opportunity to really share.

Friends, if you have questions about ag, this is a good place to start.

To start.

After this, however, I implore you to ask more questions. I loved the farmer panel aspect of the movie viewing we had last night. This is a movie that has no agenda. There's no scare tactic used to lead you to believe that what you're eating is terrible. There's no hidden camera footage, other than the snippets that have been floating around the Internet that we all have seen. For lack of a better term, this movie felt organic, real, truthful.

I urge you to see it, if you haven't already, since it HAS been out for over a year.

Ask questions, seek truths, and enjoy some popcorn while you're at it.

Originally posted on Confessions of a Farm Wife.

Farmington, IL

Emily and her husband, Joe, live on a farm with their six children in Farmington, Illinois. Together with Emily's family, they raise crops and cattle and aim to be good stewards of the land. Read more from Emily on her blog, Confessions of a Farm Wife.

Nov 25 2015

What's Cooking Wednesday: Pecan Pumpkin Pie Dessert


  • 2 (15 ounces each) cans solid pack pumpkin
  • 1 (12 ounce) can evaporated fat-free milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 (18.25 ounce) box yellow cake mix
  • ½ cup unsalted butter melted
  • 1 ½ cups chopped pecans

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups powdered sugar
  • 1 (8 ounce) package ⅓ less fat (Neufchatel) cream cheese, softened
  • ¾ cup heavy whipping cream


  1. Preheat oven at 350 degrees F. Line a 13x9x2-inch baking pan with parchment paper and cover with coating spray. Set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine pumpkin, milk and sugar. Add eggs, vanilla, cinnamon and allspice; beat well. Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle with dry cake mix. Drizzle melted butter over top. Sprinkle with pecans. Bake for 1 hour until golden brown. Cool completely on wire rack.
  3. In large mixing bowl, pour cream and vigorously whip until soft peaks form. Set aside.
  4. In another bowl, beat cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla until smooth. Fold in whipped cream. Invert cake onto a tray and carefully remove parchment paper. Frost cake and store in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Recipe courtesy of:

Nov 23 2015

Local farmers taught me how to pick the best steak at the store

I was never really sure what to buy at the supermarket to make sure I was bringing home the best beef to my family. The kind Martz family has taught me that, if you can, always select certified angus beef.

USDA beef grading is voluntary and paid for by the meat packers, and then, ultimately, the consumer. The grading sets the standard for how flavorful, juicy, and tender the meat is.

  • farmer steakPrime has the most marbling in the meat and that is what will give you the tender, flavorful, juicy meat you want. It is sold to specialty supermarkets and meat markets. It is also sold to fine hotels and restaurants.
  • Choice cuts tend to have a litlle less marbling. Choice is the most widely available grade in the market.
  • Select has the least amount of marbling, making it leaner and a little less juicy and flavorful than the other grades.

The shocking surprise to me was learning that marbling (the small streaks of fat in the muscle tissue that gives it the flavor and tenderness we all enjoy) is actually the monounsaturated fat that is good for us! Who would of imagined that? The thicker fat outside the muscle is the bad (saturated) fat that we should cut away.

The generous Martz family made a barbecue beef brisket for us for lunch that was delish. You can find the recipe on their website.

Here's to Bountiful Delicious Beef Dinners this season and beyond! Thank you Larson Farms for making me an educated consumer.

Carol Cohen
Algonquin, IL

Carol 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.

Nov 20 2015

Deer Crossing

deer in an illinois fieldThe green crops may be gone, but the deer still enjoy grazing through the fields. No doubt they will all be finding somewhere to seek shelter for the winter storm headed our way this weekend!

Fillmore, IL

Nov 18 2015

What's Cooking Wednesday: Espresso-Bourbon Steaks with Mashed Sweet Potatoes


  • 4 beef Tenderloin Steaks, cut 1 inch thick (about 4 ounces each)
  • 2 to 4 teaspoons coarsely cracked black pepper
  • Mashed Sweet Potatoes (recipe follows)
  • Steamed green beans

Espresso-Bourbon Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons instant espresso coffee powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper


  1. Combine all sauce ingredients, except pepper, in small saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered 12 to 15 minutes or until sauce is thickened and reduced by about half, stirring occasionally. Stir in pepper. Keep warm.
  2. Press coarsely cracked pepper on both sides of beef steak. Heat large nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. Place steaks in skillet; cook 10 to 13 minutes for medium rare (145°F) to medium (160°F) doneness, turning occasionally.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare Mashed Sweet Potatoes.
  4. Evenly divide sauce onto 4 plates. Place steak on top of sauce. Serve with Mashed Sweet potatoes and green beans. 
Mashed Sweet Potatoes: Place 9 ounces peeled and cubed sweet potatoes and 1 teaspoon salt in large saucepan. Cover with water; bring to a boil. Cook 4 to 5 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Drain. Combine potatoes, 2 tablespoons butter, 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. Beat until mashed and smooth.

Test Kitchen Tips

To broil, place steaks on rack in broiler pan so surface of beef is 2 to 3 inches from heat. Broil 13 to 16 minutes for medium rare to medium doneness, turning once. 

To grill, place steaks on grid over medium, ash-covered coals. Grill, covered, 10 to 14 minutes (over medium heat on preheated gas grill, 11 to 15 minutes) for medium rare (145°F) to medium (160°F) doneness, turning occasionally.

Recipe courtesy of:

Nov 17 2015

Farmers: Real-life Heroes

Last week during Red Ribbon week at school, my children had the opportunity to dress up as their favorite real-life heroes, career-related.   My oldest son decided to dress up as a farmer, and I couldn’t be more proud.  Here was my city-born-and-raised 7-year-old, not only recognizing the importance of farmers, but calling them his heroes.  Not only does he consider them his heroes, but he wants to be one when he grows up!  How does it happen that a child born and raised in the 3rd largest metropolitan area in America decides he wants to be a farmer?  

For starters, his grandma lives in Iowa and has a friend who owns a dairy farm.  We began to take the kids at a young age to visit Farmer Heath and his cows.  Elijah asks about Farmer Heath and his cows often and visits the farm almost every time we visit Grandma.  

This year, my children have watched me value farmers and what they do by taking 5 Saturdays to visit farms to talk and learn from farmers.  Not once did my children complain that I wasn’t home on a family day.  They discovered as I shared from my experiences that these tours were important to me and, therefore, to our family.  

Perhaps your child doesn’t want to be a farmer or doesn’t even know what he wants to be when he grows up; but I would encourage you to help your child to know that farmers are heroes.   

Below is a list of suggestions to help you and your child recognize the important role farmers have in our society:

Contact your local farm bureau to see what programs they have
Visit your county fair  
Visit the state fair  
Find a farmer with whom to be a pen pal  
Visit a working farm  
Start a garden
Visit the farmer’s market and challenge yourself to cook a meal together as a family with the ingredients you buy 

Nicole Foster
Chicago, IL

Nicole 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.

Nov 16 2015

Milk tastes even better after a local dairy farm tour

I loved this tour because I looove milk.

Dairy provides us 9 essential nutrients; I did not realize it was that many. Calcium, vitamin D, protein, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin B12, riboflavin, niacin, and phosphorus. That's one powerful drink MILK!

I learned lowfat chocolate milk is the best post workout drink. I never would have imagined that! I look forward to that now at the end of a long walk.

I've always wondered if hormones cause early puberty, but it is actually obesity that causes it. There is no such thing as hormone-free milk. Somatotropin (bST) is a naturally occurring protein hormone present in all milk and it is broken down completely by the human body. rbST has been tested and proven safe. 

There are differences between conventional, organic and raw milk that I was not aware of either: 

  • Raw milk has not been pasteurized and is not safe to drink, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Raw milk can harbor dangerous microorganisms that can pose serious health risks to those who drink it.
  • Organic milk and regular milk have no nutritional differences according to research studies. Organic milk is simply another choice in the dairy case of many choices.

A healthy maintained Cow produces 7 to 8 gallons of milk a day; that's 12,000 lbs per year. Anytime antibiotics have to be used, the cow is taken out of the milk making process for a set period of time so that it does not get in the supply chain to the consumer. That sure puts my mind at ease.

I now enjoy my milk so much more seeing how hard our local farm families are working to bring healthy milk to their table and ours.


Carol Cohen
Algonquin, IL

Carol 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.

Nov 13 2015

7 Things Great Farmers Do Every Day

1. Wake up and never complain

Every farmer that I know wakes up at 4:30 in the morning to feed their cattle or milk their cows and I never hear them complain.  They know their life could be a lot worst but they are optimistic about life.  The farmers are happy to have their cattle and family so they continue to be joyous everyday.

2. Volunteer in the local community

Local firefighter.  School board member.  Farm Bureau board member.  4-H club leader.  These are all of the hats that a farmer wears plus being a full time farmer.  Farmers love giving back to their community.  They were raised to be polite, well mannered people, and always give back.  One way a farmer gives back is by donating their time and money back into the community that they live in.

3. Take environmental safety very seriously

There are many groups believing that farmers are dumping gallons of pesticides and herbicide on their land just because they can.  This video proves that wrong.

Let’s put the cost of applying fertilizer and pesticide to a real world example.  Let’s say that a farmer has an 80-acre field. 1 acre is the size of a football field without the end zones attached.  The cost to apply 1 acre of pesticides is $60 and 1 acre of fertilizer is $148.  That is $208 an acre.  If you multiple 80 acres by $208, that is $16,640!  A farmer does not want to apply anymore fertilizer than they have to because would have to spend more money.  Farmers care for the land.  They want to preserve it because they need to use it year after year.  The farmer wants to make sure that the land with be healthy for themselves, their children, and their grand children.

4. Use the safest modern techniques to provide food for the world

If you every see a field with straight rows, we can thank GPS for that.  Many old farmers claim that their rows will always be straighter but GPS helps farmers be more productive.  With the use of a GPS, farmers that spray pesticides on crops use the technology to apply the accurate amount pesticide on the crop.  The technology allows the farmers to drive through the field and allow them not to over apply the spray on the crops.  This saves time and money for the farmer. 

5. Bring life into the world everyday

Farmers get the opportunity to watch cows, ewes, and sows give birth on a daily basis.  The farmers assist them if they need help with the birth process and love them everyday after they are born!  There are some that believe that farmers beat their animals and treat them inhumanly.  This is absolutely incorrect.  If a farmer wants their animals to grow big and strong, they need to treat them with tender, love, and care and THEY DO!

6.Feed us everyday

From the orange juice you drink in the morning to the beeryou have at the bar, you can thank a farmer for that.  Farmers allow you to eat everyday and at anytime of day.  Next time you see a farmer, say thank you!

7. Educate everyone on their farming practices

One of the greatest things farmers do is educate consumers about their farming practices and tell them how their food starts at the farm gate and ends at the dinner plate.  There is a lot of confusion on the agriculture practices that farmers use but if someone has a questions about it, GO ASK A FARMER! Most farmers are willing to take someone on their farm and and show them around.  I have even seen farmers advocate about their practices on the streets in Downtown Chicago.  They are willing to educate consumers really about anywhere.

Originally posted on Corn Corps.

Perry Harlow
Illinois State University

Nov 11 2015

What's Cooking Wednesday: Blackberry Sage Pork Tenderloin

pork tenderloin with blackberry wine sauceINGREDIENTS





  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. 
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat with 1 tablespoon of olive oil or ghee. Pat the pork tenderloin dry with a paper towel and season liberally with salt and pepper. Brown pork on all sides for 1-2 minutes until a nice golden crust has formed. 
  3. Slice the shallots and place on a baking sheet with the sage and thyme. Sprinkle with salt and place the pork on top. Place in oven and roast for 20 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads the internal temperature to be between 145 to 160 degrees F. Remove and let sit for 5 minutes. 
  4. Over high heat in the same pan that you seared the pork in add in the wine and scrape up any bits stuck on the pan. Add in the blackberries and sage and simmer 5 minutes. Add in butter and transfer to a blender and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to your taste.
  5. Slice the pork and drizzle with the blackberry sauce. Serve with roasted potatoes, a green salad, or your favorite side!

Recipe courtesy of Lauren Lester from Wicked Spatula.

Nov 10 2015

Technology on the Farm: What's new? What's better?

Let's Talk Analytics!

No, really, let's talk data sets and analytical analysis.  

I shared about agricultural technology when I went on the Spring Planting Tour, and I'm going to share a bit more about technology in this post as well...but, also data sets.  

I know - thrilling!

Also, really?  Farming. Agriculture. Data Sets??  Yes!

I have to qualify here, my husband is a data scientist.  Our dinner table conversations revolve around data use and analytics and dash boards and plot graphs and all that jazz.  I find this particularly interesting from a PR and marketing standpoint.  How can I take that data and market growth or positive output with what I do?  

But, farming and THAT?  

Like I've shared in the past, my mind is being blown open with the technological advances that farmers are using to help better run their operations. And, where my mind opened a bit more on this past trip to Larson Farms, a feed lot (or "Hotel") in Maple Park where they are in charge of the daily care of cattle and grain farm, was when Linda (of Larson Farms) said "This is a Family Farm, it's a business."  It's a business - of course it is and also, there's nothing wrong with that.  I know that I can attest that when I think of farming and business in the same sentence my visual is often warehouse like farming where little to no care is being contributed to the animals and it's about "more" - more animals, more meat, for more profits..and however that needs to be accomplished. That's not the case, though.  And, it has not been the case on any of the tours that I've gone on this year with the Illinois Farm Families.   It definitely was not the case at Larson Farms.

Let's Talk Tech, ... first

cattle ultrasoundLarson Farms has utilized Temple Gradin's designs for their ultrasound barn.  I knew of Temple Grandin from my subscription to Mother Earth News Magazine as she was a speaker at one of their tours.  I note this only to illustrate that Mother Earth News isn't all that into animal cruelty and harming the, if a farmer is implementing the barn designs of a noted professor of animal science who is known for her stance on animal welfare, then I kind of think that this farm (and many others) care about the livelihood of their animals

What the ultrasound allows Larson Farms to do is determine back fat and marbling in their cattle. The genetics of the animal (as in what breed of cattle it is) determines the meat grade cut.  Prime is top, then Choice, then Select. Since Larson Farms is a cattle feed lot, the middle point of the beef cycle, individualized care of the cattle is what's being stressed, and technology allows that to happen because everything is computerized.  From what the cattle are fed, when and how much, to checking the cattle for marbling prior to harvest via the ultrasound.  This ensures that nothing is wasted, whether it be feed or resources...or manure.  Larson Farms is a self contained farm.  Their barn has an 8 foot basement where manure is collected and then used on their grain crops.  The application of manure on the crops allows for less chemical applications.

Let's Talk Data Sets  

On the grain side of Larson Farms, trucks of corn are brought in from the fields where the corn is tested for moister (prior to being dried) and the truck load is weighed to determine how much product is being brought in.  

About 25% of what is being harvested is being used on the feed lot. Everything else is being sent to an ethanol plant to ship overseas.

Everything that is happening on this farm is not only computerized, but also being filtered into software to produce data sets so that variances can be managed and to determine what needs to be done the following year.  Not only is data being generated and analyzed, but its findings are being applied on the farm to make sure that cost-benefit analysis is utilized to drive the family business, which is farming  

What's new, what's better?

This was the very first time that I was told "if you have an idea, please let us know because we may utilize it here."  The fresh eyes, people who are seeing the farm from a different perspective, we were being encouraged to contribute in an effort to help them.  Not only were we encouraged to ask any questions while there, but to be told that our input was encouraged?  That was fascinating to me. 

I heard on this tour that "fear trumps science", and this has been true in my case.  Being someone who works in marketing I know how words can be used to sell things, like food.  What I have learned over and over again on these tours is that farmers want to answer my questions regarding what they do.  They are transparent.  There is nothing to hide.  They do the best to produce what we consume because they, too, are consuming it.  Advances in agricultural technology allows for a more streamlined approach so that this can be achieved, better.

Originally posted on Educational Anarchy.

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.