Illinois Farm Families Blog

Feb 26 2015

My path to becoming an Illinois Farm Families City Mom

I’m your typical child of the 80s in most ways. Acid wash jeans, Trapper-Keeper, neon scrunchies and processed foods. Despite the fact that I grew up in a family of immigrant parents and ate traditional South Indian food for dinner almost every night, most everything else was the usual. My parents rarely put restrictions on our food, and most of my friend’s parents were the same way. We generally drank pop at meals and had whatever snack was considered ‘cool’ at the time. The commercials that played during “Who’s the Boss?” and “Growing Pains” usually touted how quickly whatever packaged or boxed food could be prepared. There was no talk about organic, low sodium and healthy foods.

As an adult, I quickly fell into the same routine as my childhood. I preferred convenience over smart or clean eating and it quickly paid a toll. You just don’t rebound as quickly as an adult when you make those poor food choices. After 2 kids, just 15 months part, I was overweight, sluggish and short tempered. It wasn’t until exercise and nutrition came together in my life that I realized how integral clean eating and healthy food choices were, not only to my physical well-being, but my mental as well.

I lost 25 pounds in a year and haven’t looked back. I recently turned my own weight loss successes into a mission to help others (especially new moms) get on track with their nutrition and fitness. I have a blog and public Facebook page to try and share clean recipes and motivation. I realized very quickly, however, that I am still overwhelmed by all the labels at the grocery store. How can I share important information about making proper food choices when I am still overwhelmed with all the options at the supermarket? What is better? Organic? Locally grown? All natural? Hormone free?

What better way to learn about food but go straight to the source? I came across a post on Facebook about the City Mom program and knew I had to be a part of it. It is such a unique opportunity to give those of us urban and suburban moms, who would otherwise probably never step foot on a working farm, a chance to see how our food is produced.

Our first meeting was at the Mariano’s in Wheaton. We had the opportunity to meet with a nutritionist, walk around the store to discuss labeling and packaging and introduce ourselves to each other. We were accompanied by Michele Aavang, a crop and beef farmer, and Pam Janssen, a pig farmer. It was so wonderful to get their perspective and share our concerns as mothers that are trying to provide the safest foods to our families.

One thing I found of particular interest was the new measures that Mariano’s, in particular, was taking to help consumers navigate the store and make the most educated decisions. Mariano’s health keyTM is a color coded system to identify key attributes in foods such as organic, gluten free, whole grain, no lactose, sodium free and many more. It is one way that stores are making strides in assisting their customers navigate the often difficult to decipher labeling.

I am so looking forward to the upcoming year and farm visits and bringing those experiences home to my family and community members.

Swapna Gigani
Downers Grove

Swapna 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 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.

Feb 25 2015

The comfort of a warm meal, a full belly, and a happy family

Family meals mean everything in our house….a time to reconnect, to talk and to laugh. In a household with three kids and two working parents, that time is more valuable than gold. We take time to savor both the food and the company we keep. Often though, we need to plan ahead in order to make the most of those moments….I would rather spend time connecting than cooking. That is where the best wedding present we received becomes the star of the show !! I love my crockpot, almost as much as I love my husband. What ? I said ALMOST !! I love putting fresh, wholesome food in, and getting a hot, healthy meal out. One of our favorite meals to come home to, is Irish Pot Roast !! The perfect combination of tender beef and healthy vegetables, all wrapped up in a delicious gravy. That, combined with some fresh bread, makes a stick to your ribs meal that pleases even the pickiest of our kids !!! 

During my time as a Field Mom, we visited Larson Farm, and were hosted by Mike and Lynn Martz, who educated us on the process of raising cattle to be sold for food. We learned about the various cuts of beef, and we learned about which cuts lend themselves best to certain recipes. It was a very different experience going shopping afterwards, having been educated as to how to choose the perfect cut ! Now, when I scan the sale papers, I can build our weekly menu based upon the cuts that are the least expensive. So,the next time you see bottom round on sale,sit your family down for some warm conversation and a good hot stew !! Trust me…..your family will love it !

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.

Round Cuts: Cuts of beef from the round or hind leg section are less tender than the loin, sirloin or rib. They can, however, offer the best combination of texture and flavor for many steak lovers. The cuts from the round include: Top Round, Bottom Round, Round Tip, Rump Steak, Eye of the Round



  • 1 beef Bottom Round Rump Roast or Bottom Round Roast (3 to 3-1/4 pounds)
  • 2 packages (24 ounces each) fresh pot roast vegetables (potatoes, onions, carrots, celery)
  • 2 packages (.75 to .88 ounces each) mushroom or brown gravy mix
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup beer
  • Chopped fresh parsley (optional)


  1. Prepare pot roast vegetables: cut potatoes in half (or into quarters if large), onions into 1/2-inch wedges, and carrots and celery into 2-inch pieces; set aside. 
  2. Combine gravy mixes, flour, salt and pepper in large bowl. Add vegetables to bowl; toss to coat well. Remove vegetables from flour mixture and place in 5 to 6-quart slow cooker. Add beef roast to bowl, turning to coat evenly with flour mixture. Remove roast and place in slow cooker in center of vegetables. 
  3. Whisk beer into remaining flour mixture until smooth; add to slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW 10 to 11 hours, or on HIGH 6 to 7 hours, or until beef and vegetables are fork-tender. (No stirring is necessary during cooking.) 
  4. Remove roast and vegetables. Skim fat from gravy. Carve roast into thin slices. Serve with vegetables and gravy. Sprinkle with parsley, if desired.
Recipe courtesy of

Feb 23 2015

This Land Was Made for You and Me

What do you get when there are conventions for the American Farm Bureau and Wild Turkey Federation held at the same time in Nashville?

A parking lot full of pickup trucks, a whole lot of cowboy hats and boots, and the most camouflage you've ever seen. (Insert turkey call here!)

This past weekend, Nashville hosted the American Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers convention and the National Wild Turkey Federation convention at the Gaylord Opryland Resort. When we pulled into the parking lot, we couldn't believe the amount of pickup trucks parked at the hotel. This is similar to when we attended the Illinois Farm Bureau annual meeting in downtown Chicago; we pulled into a parking deck and it was full of trucks- probably the most pickup trucks (and farmers) Chicago had ever seen at one time.

All weekend, farmers, ranchers, and turkey enthusiasts filled the halls with live country music playing in the background (and the occasional random turkey call). Nashville seemed like the perfect place to host a national convention until an ice storm hit the final day. The Farm Bureau had planned various tours around Nashville for the last day, but due to the weather we had to stay in the hotel to wait out the storm. Some farmers and ranchers left early to avoid the winter weather but most of us stuck it out. Instead of going on the tours, we gathered in the large auditorium to view Farmland. I saw the preview for the documentary last year and was really excited to watch it since I knew it was supposed to portray the real story of farming.

As a city-turned-country girl one of the first things in the documentary that stood out to me was when farmers talked about the public perception of a farm: a red barn, silo, and chickens- typical farms portrayed in children’s storybooks. When I first visited my husband’s family farm almost ten years ago when we started dating, I also assumed there would be a red barn, a white picket fence, and animals running around. Instead there were huge white barns and sheds, tall grain bins, a small white fence, and no animals in sight. I also thought I would be cute and show up wearing a cowboy hat, but instead I got the response, “I’m a farmer not a cowboy” which caused me to quickly take it off. (However, after this weekend, I really think I’m going to try to make cowboy hats and boots on our farm stylish!) Having only ever driven by farms in central Illinois on the way to college and having visited an old family farm as a child, I had the perception that farmers and farms all looked the same (and I really didn't know or understand what actually happened on farms).

Watching Farmland made me proud to now be part of a multi-generation family farm. These past ten years I have learned more than I ever thought there was to know about how our food is grown and livestock is raised. And I continue to learn something new all the time. Knowing what I know now, I can’t believe the disconnect there is between the urban population and the farms that grow our food. But at the same time, I can believe it because before I met my husband I was unaware of how my food was really raised or about the farm operations that helped make it possible for me to be able to eat. This is also very true of many people who live in urban areas. Growing up in the suburbs, I didn't need to know where my food came from. I went to the grocery store with my parents to buy food and some years we grew a few vegetables in a small backyard garden. And occasionally my mom sent me on a walk to the nearest store to pick up a gallon of milk. I had learned as a child that milk came from cows, our meats came from livestock, our vegetables were grown in fields, and in order to get food we went to the grocery store or a restaurant. After living on a farm and learning how farms operate, I realize the importance of educating others on the real story of farming and farm families so that the public perception is not clouded by false truths of the industry that are currently being told. This seems to be a prevalent theme of agriculture meetings, organizations, and conferences these days: educating the public on what really happens in agriculture. Farm families need to tell their stories so that consumers know where their food really comes from and understand that farmers and ranchers all around our country care about their livestock and the crops they take great care to tend.

If you have an hour, Farmland is definitely worth your time. Many images from the documentary have become familiar to me after marrying into a farm family: images of farmers taking care of their livestock, tending their fields, talking about business choices, worrying about mother nature, involving their children in farming and livestock work, and caring for family and community. A farmer states at the end of the documentary, “You have to love what you’re doing because it’s hard work.” Having become part of a farm family, I have learned that farmers are some of the hardest working people in the world as they work day and night to grow and harvest food to feed our growing population.

A few hours after viewing the documentary, our final evening event in downtown Nashville at the Wild Horse Saloon continued as planned. Farmers and ranchers from around the country lined up to get on buses to head to Broadway for a final celebration of agriculture, new friends, and live country music. As I watched the hundreds of farmers and ranchers enjoy each other’s company and light up the dance floor with their impressive dance moves, I was reminded of the closing minutes of the documentary we viewed earlier in the day. One of the final farmers featured in the film proudly states, “I’m living my dream,” as the song lyrics begin, “This land is your land, this land is my land, from California to the New York Islands...”. Watching the farmers and ranchers from around the country come together to celebrate agriculture made the lyrics even more meaningful to me. I distinctly remember learning the song in elementary school and singing it at the top of my lungs throughout my childhood. Little did I know that I'd be married to a farmer who is part of a community of farmers and ranchers that take great care of the land that “was made for you and me”. (And little did I know that an ice storm in Nashville won’t stop farmers and ranchers from having a great time!)

Kristen Strom
Brimfield, IL

Kristen is a city-turned-country girl after marrying her farmer husband, Grant. You can find her tales of country living at

Feb 16 2015

Are you ready for GMO apples?

On Friday the USDA approved two new apple varieties that were developed using biotechnology to be resistant to browning. In 2013, we shared an interview with Neal Carter, the CEO and founder of the company that developed the "Arctic Apple". It probably won't be on the shelves of your local grocery for a few years, but if the USDA decision has you wondering about how non-browning apples work and how they were developed, here are the answers:

Q&A - The Lowdown on GMOs With a Biotech Firm

Fourat Janabi

 Greetings and salutations my fellow readers. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride publishing the last two posts on GMOs, so I thought to myself, where should I go next? Dive further into the rabbit hole (making myself ever more unpopular), or switch topics? I have an interview with a scientist, check! With a farmer, check! Biotech firm? Bingo! An opportunity thus presented itself, so down I went further down the rabbit hole.

So, to round out—and conclude—my trifecta (or triumvirate—a much cooler word that makes me sound smarter than I am) of posts about GMO, I have just finished up an email Q&A with the CEO and founder of Okanagan Specialty Fruits (OSF), Neal Carter, whose company makes Arctic Apples (apples that don’t brown). In my two previous Q&As— with a scientist here and with a family farmer here—I had commentary and concluding thoughts; this time, I prefer to let their positions stand on its own two feet, as it is more than capable of.

Do note, however. I am not trying to convince anyone to not eat organic food, or to eat GMO food, so don’t get your knickers in a twist.


1) What prompted your company to create a GM nonbrowning apple? Why not, for example, try to do the same with hybridization?

Our motivation for developing biotech apples, and all our other projects under development, is to introduce value-added traits that will benefit the tree-fruit industry. We have chosen to focus specifically on nonbrowning Arctic® apples as our flagship project for a number of reasons. One of the chief ones is that apple consumption has been flat-to-declining for the past two decades and we are confident the nonbrowning apple trait can create a consumption trigger while also reducing food waste throughout the supply chain.

Another key motivation is ever-increasing demand for convenience. Arctic apples are ideally suited for the freshcut market, which is expensive to enter because of the browning issue. We often refer to the consumption trigger that convenient “baby” carrots created – they now make up 2/3rds of all U.S. carrot sales!

As for why we use biotechnology to achieve this, it’s because we knew we could make a comparatively minor change safely, relatively quickly, and precisely. We silence only four genes, specifically, the ones that produce polyphenol oxidase, which is the enzyme that drives the browning process. We do so primarily through the use of other apple genes, and no new proteins are created. If we were to attempt to breed this trait conventionally, we could easily spend decades trying with no guarantee of success.

2) What benefits will the Arctic apple bring to the food market? Are there quantitative studies that can predict how effective it could be?

In addition to addressing stagnant apple consumption and tapping into the underutilized freshcut and foodservice markets, Arctic apples offer plenty of other benefits throughout the supply chain.

For growers and packers, nonbrowning apples can help significantly reduce the huge number of apples that never make it to market because of minor superficial marks such as finger bruising and bin rubs. So much of the food produced today is wasted purely for cosmetic reasons. This extends to retail where the nonbrowning trait can have a big impact on shrinkage and making displays more attractive while also offering exciting new value-added apple products.

Consumers will also benefit from throwing away far less fruit at home – how many apples get bruised up on the way back from the grocery store or in kids’ lunchboxes? Our goal is helping consumers, especially kids, eat healthier and waste less food. Last year, one grade 2 teacher wrote about how excited she is for nonbrowning apples, explaining she sees countless perfectly good apples and apple slices thrown out by her students due to minor browning and bruising. Consumers will also enjoy other tangible benefits like new opportunities for cut apples in many cooking applications.

As for quantifiable evidence showing the value of these benefits, food waste has been a major issue over the past year with recent estimates from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization suggesting around one-third of food produced is wasted. The numbers are even worse for fruit, where around half of what’s produced never ends up getting eaten.

As far as the potential to create a consumption trigger, the produce industry is full of examples of how making fruit more convenient, especially for the foodservice industry, results in huge consumption boosts. We mentioned how baby carrots now make up two-thirds of carrot sales and reports tracking major fruit and vegetable consumption trends frequently emphasize convenience. One example explains one of the most prominent, ongoing trends “is a consumer demand for foods of high and predictable quality that offer convenience and variety.” Arctic apples satisfy all these requirements.

For apples, specifically, there’s lots of attention given to how various chemical treatments can slow browning and plenty of attempts to conventionally breed low browning varieties (though this is quite different from being truly nonbrowning). For instance, a notable 2009 publication from the Journal of Food Engineering discusses how “the market for fresh-cut apples is projected to continue to grow as consumers demand fresh, convenient and nutritious snacks”. Yet it also explains that the “industry is still hampered by-product quality deterioration” because when “the cut surface turns brown; it reduces not only the visual quality but also results in undesirable changes in flavour and loss of nutrients, due to enzymatic browning.” Again, Arctic apples address these issues.

Finally, some of the most convincing evidence that the nonbrowning traits will provide substantial value – both apple producers and consumers have told us so! In 2006/07 we surveyed a number of apple industry executives, 76% of whom told us they were interested in Arctic apples. In focus groups, we have found that over 80% are positively interested in Arctic apples and 100% of participants wanted to try them. Even more encouraging, when we surveyed 1,000 self identified apple eaters in 2011, we found that their likelihood to buy Arctic apples continued to increase the more they learned about the science behind them!

3) How many, and how intensive, were the studies performed to show Arctic apples are as safe as other apples? Were the studies peer-reviewed? If so, by whom? (You may wish to discuss what was and/or wasn’t changed.)

Before getting into the specifics, it’s important to put things in perspective to show how rigorous the review truly is; particularly arduous for a small, resource-tight company like ours: (See timeline)

So Arctic apples, our very first project, still haven’t been commercialized 17 years after we were founded and over a decade after we proved the technology and planted them! That means we now have over ten years of real-world evidence that Arctic trees grow, respond to pest and disease pressure, flower, and fruit just as conventional trees do.

Over this time, our apples have likely become one of the most tested fruits in existence. This makes detailing all of the specific tests impossible here, but we encourage anyone interested to view our extensive, 163-page petition on the USDA’s website, which provides full details.

Quickly highlighting some of the key ones: 

  • Trees were closely monitored by a third-party horticultural consultant for any difference in their response to pests
  • Agronomic data including how fast trees grow, how much fruit they produce, etc. was recorded by a third-party
  • Experiments were completed to monitor pollen spread and potential for cross-pollination, resulting in two peer-reviewed papers
  • Nutrition and composition of mature fruit was tested and deemed equivalent to controls
  • Possible presence of novel proteins tested and confirmed none present

These tests were performed by a variety of reputable groups and individuals, some third-party, some in-house. Our field trials were monitored and data was collected by independent horticultural consultants and an Integrated Pest Management specialist.

Of particular importance is the fact that there are no proteins in Arctic fruit that aren’t in all apples. This shows there’s nothing “new” in our apples that will affect consumers. This is expected as we silence the genes that cause browning, rather than introduce new attributes. To give an idea of how sophisticated the tests used to prove this are, they would be able to detect a single penny amongst 100-250 ton coal-sized rail cars! We are confident Arctic apples are safe, and soon, we anticipate FDA’s confirmation of this.

So what has all of this extensive testing taught us? Exactly what we thought it would – Arctic trees and fruits are just the same as their conventional counterparts until you bite, slice or bruise the fruit!

4) Can you name a few of the misconceptions — if any — that people associate your company with, or accuse your company of, when they find out you’re a biotech company? If there are misconceptions, why are they wrong or miss the big picture?

Absolutely – just as there are countless misconceptions about biotech foods in general, there are also plenty of myths about our company and Arctic apples. In fact, one of our most popular blog posts ever is titled “Addressing common misconceptions of Arctic orchards and fruit”.

We invite readers to visit that post and explore our site in general for more details, but the two most common misconceptions about Arctic apples are:

  1. Arctic apples will cross-pollinate with other orchards, causing organic orchards to lose organic certification: No organic crop has ever been decertified from inadvertent pollen gene flow. Even if pollen from an Arctic flower did pollinate an organic or conventional fruit, the resulting fruit is the same as the mother flower….not that of the pollen donor. Additionally, we are implementing numerous stewardship standards to ensure cross-pollination won’t occur, including buffer rows, bee-hive placement, and restricting distance from other orchards.
  2. Because Arctic apples don’t brown, they will disguise old/damaged fruit: The opposite is true! Arctic apples won’t experience enzymatic browning (which occurs when even slightly damaged cells are exposed to air), but the decomposition that comes from fungi, bacteria and/or rotting will be just the same as conventional apples. This means that you will not see superficial damage, but you will see a change in appearance when the true quality is impacted.

Other accusations we hear somewhat frequently from a vocal minority who oppose all biotech foods are “we don’t know what the effects will be down the road” or that we’re “messing with God/Mother Nature”. Regarding the first claim, the science tools we now have are truly amazing and we have an unprecedented level of precision, control and analysis when developing biotech crops. They must be meticulously reviewed before approval and around three trillion mealswith biotech ingredients have now been consumed without incident. As to the messing with God/nature charges, biotech-enhanced crops are really just one more advancement in a long history of human-driven food improvements – and even the Amish and the Vatican support these advances!

5) As an insider, you are privy to the goings-on and workings of the biotech industry, what do you envision the future of biotech to be? What new seeds are coming down the line and what potential advantages or disadvantages might they bring?

We foresee biotech continuing to be the most rapidly adopted crop technology ever, as it has been for the past 17 years. We also anticipate already realized benefits from biotech crops to continue, such as those highlighted by a fifteen year study including increased net earnings of $78.4 billion for farmers (mostly from developing nations), a reduction of 438 million kg of pesticide spraying and the equivalent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as removing 8.6 million cars from the road for a year. Two major categories in particular where we’ll see further advancements are in environmentalsustainability (reduced pesticide use, carbon emissions, food waste) and higher crop yields under adverse conditions (from pest resistance, drought-tolerance, etc.).

Another major trend you’ll see is the increased presence of biotech foods with direct consumer benefits, particularly nutrition. We will see many new projects following in the footsteps of crops like Golden Rice, which is fortified with beta-carotene; a precursor to Vitamin A. The World Health Organization has identified that around 250 million children under the age of 5 are affected by Vitamin A deficiency, which can cause blindness and death. Biotech crops like Golden rice can potentially save millions of lives by helping address this, and efforts are already underway to produce other Vitamin A enhanced crops including bananas and cassava.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, though, as there are many other exciting developments on the way including many other nutrient-enhancements for cassavanumerous drought-resistant cropsblight-resistant potatoes and many more. I actually highlighted some of these crops in a TEDx talk I gave in October 2012 on the value of agricultural biotechnology, which is available to watch online.

6) As a biotech company, do you bear the brunt of the anti-GMO backlash nominally directed at Monsanto and DuPont? If so, how has this affected you? Please be specific.

All companies who develop biotech crops have to deal with a certain level of backlash from the vocal, emotional minority who oppose biotechnology.

We are quite unique because when consumers discuss biotech companies, names like Monsanto and DuPont, as you mention, are the first ones that come to mind, rarely small companies like ours. Using Monsanto as an example, they have approximately 22,000 employees – we have 7. Because most organizations in this industry are pretty massive, they do get the lion’s share of attention. That being said, if we were to create a ratio of media attention to company size; ours would be through the roof!

One key reason we likely get more than our fair share of attention is that we’re dealing with apples. When we’re talking about something as popular and iconic as the apple (e.g., “an apple a day”, “American as apple pie”), it’s going to get people emotionally charged. Genetically, our enhancement is relatively minor compared to the majority of crops out there; yet even so, when our petition was available for public comment along with 9 other biotech crops in the U.S., wereceived around three times as many comments as all 9 of the other petitions combined!

In terms of how all this attention affects us, we can dictate that to some extent. On one hand, we could simply choose to ignore it. The review process is evidence-based (and rightfully so!), meaning we could keep our heads down and let the science speak for itself and not worry about what people are saying. That’s not how we operate, however, as we believe in the benefits and safety far too much to keep quiet. We want to do our best to make sure accurate, evidence-based information is out there to counter-balance all the myths and misinformation. This may mean that we spend more time and resources on education than others might, but it’s too important of an issue not to.

We’ve made a concerted effort so transparency is the core of our identity. We know we have a safe, beneficial product and we’re happy to explain the truth around previously mentioned misconceptions. We make it a priority, no matter how busy things get, to keep active on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn, maintain a weekly blog, make timely site updates, respond to every single sincere email we get and invest in delivering presentation such as last year’s TEDx talk

We believe everyone in the science and agricultural industries have a responsibility to help educate the public on the facts of biotechnology. Sometimes that results in more backlash, but it’s worth it.

7) Some scientists state that the anti-GMO backlash has cemented Monsanto’s grip upon the market because only they can afford the regulatory burden, do you find this to be true in your experience? And how does this affect the greater biotechnology field?

Well, we’ve touched on how rigorous the review process is and how much smaller we are than the big industry players, so yes, it is tough for smaller companies to bring a biotech crop to market. It’s challenging to raise funds, produce needed data, spend the resources providing education, and it’s just a much bigger overall risk.

While the regulatory burden is heavier for small biotech companies, I think we’re an example that it’s still possible for the little guys to make it through, but it’s not easy. Not only do you have to successfully develop a fantastic product, but you must be focused, persistent and very patient. There is no rushing the review process, but here we are a decade after first planting Arctic trees and we expect to achieve deregulation in the U.S. later this year.

Even though we’re helping demonstrate it’s possible for small companies to commercialize a biotech crop, the high regulatory burden certainly does affect the industry as a whole. With such an intimidating outlook in terms of high investment, both in time and resources, there will obviously be far less small, entrepreneurial companies than would be ideal. In a field in which innovation should be embraced as much as possible, we are missing out on many potential innovative companies and value-added products because the barriers are so high.

Really, what it comes down to is the regulatory process is (and should be) extremely rigorous, but it is indeed possible for companies that aren’t multinationals to accomplish commercialization. Ideally, once biotech crops add further to their exemplary track record of safety and benefits and the scientific tools continue to improve; these barriers will gradually be lessened.

8) Lastly, what is your relationship to the government and governmental agencies. It has been alleged that agencies like the FDA are in the pocket of big biotech organizations and are willing to look the other way. Do you find any truth in those statements? If not, why not?

If we had to select one word to describe the multiple regulatory bodies we’ve dealt with over the past few years (USDA, APHIS, FDA, CFIA) it would be “thorough”. There’s certainly no looking the other way and nothing casual about the review process. If these government agencies were in the pocket of biotech companies, we wouldn’t still be awaiting deregulation more than ten years after we first developed Arctic apples!

Some people will see that some of the agencies have former members of biotech companies and immediately distrust the whole system; this misses the point. Of course they will have some former industry employees. These companies have thousands and thousands of employees and plenty of them are well-credentialed with first-hand experience in multiple facets of agriculture. In most fields, movement between private and public spheres is common, and most working aged citizens will have at least 10 different jobs before they turn 50. Some overlap is inevitable.

The truth is, you will hear a very wide range of arguments from those who don’t like biotech crops and this is just another one on that list. Luckily, there is more than enough evidence to show that biotech crops are indeed safe and beneficial, including over 600 peer-reviewed studies, around one-third of which are independently funded. The best advice we can give to consumers is to do their own research, but always with a close eye on the credentials and reputability of the sources!

For more information on OSF or Arctic apples, please visit

Neal Carter is the CEO and founder of OSF. Thank you for your time Neal. I am, well, me; a curious fellow trying to make sense of the world (and I just released the 2nd edition of Random Rationality: A Rational Guide to an Irrational World for Kindle). It’s working out so far, and quite fun too.

So, would you eat an Arctic Apple?


Fourat Janabi is a writer, entrepreneur, photographer, explorer, and idiot. So, he likes to think he's important. He has worked in Baghdad while a war was raging, in Bahrain while the Arab Spring was in full sw?ing, and in Saudi Arabia where women don't exist. He wrote a book called Random Rationality, which you can buy for Kindle. You can follow his thoughts on his blog of the same name. Originally published on April 3, 2013 in at Reprinted with permission from the author.

Feb 12 2015

My first week as an Illinois Farm Families 'City Mom'

I just began my year as a City Mom with Illinois Farm Families. This is a program that helps moms like me learn more about where our food comes from, how it is produced, and how it gets to our table. I was interested in the program because I want to make sure I am feeding my boys nutritionally.

Our first meeting was a visit to a grocery store, where we learned about how they source their produce, seafood and meat; an orientation of the program; and a meeting with a registered dietician. There were many things to take away from this day, but here are a couple of the things I found the most interesting:

  1. I learned 97% of Illinois farms are family farms – that is, owned and operated by families – not large corporations. The amount of land farmed is similarly divided. I found this to be astonishing information. There is so much in the media these days about how corporations own all the farmland, and are doing horrible things with it! I was interested in what the percentage was across the US, and I found ( that 87% of farms across the US are family owned, and that percentage goes to 95% if you count partnerships. So, in other words, across the US, as in Illinois, the vast majority of farms are family owned and operated. Beyond the obvious “aha” of learning a statistic that seemed counter to what the media has to offer, I am heartened to know families are making food for my family. Why does this matter? Because those families have children and extended communities just as I do, and they don’t want their children eating bad food either! They are motivated to put healthy food on their table just like me. 
  2. Did you know the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables for every person is 9-12 servings A DAY? Not a week, but a DAY! WOW! I’m missing the mark here, and so is my family. I plan to find more ways to incorporate these important foods into our daily regimen.

There was a lot, lot more that I learned, and I hope to share more with you in the coming weeks. I am excited to be a part of City Moms this year, and cannot wait until our next outing!

Amy Wagliardo

Lake Bluff, Illinois

Amy 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 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.

Feb 11 2015

What's Cooking Wednesday

Southwestern Beef Breakfast Nachos

Surprise your sweetheart with something spicy for breakfast on Valentine's day.


  • 12 ounces cooked beef (such as roast, steak or pot roast), cut into bite-size pieces or shredded
  • 3 cups frozen shredded potato nuggets
  • 1 cup green enchilada sauce
  • 2 eggs, scrambled
  • 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup shredded reduced-fat or regular Monterey Jack cheese
  • Chopped green onions or parsley (optional)


Place potato nuggets in single layer on rimmed baking sheet and bake according to package directions or until browned and crisped.

Push potatoes close together in single layer so edges touch slightly. Evenly layer with beef, enchilada sauce, eggs, bell pepper and cheese. Return to oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until ingredients are heated through and cheese is melted. Garnish with green onions, if desired.

Recipe courtesy of

Feb 09 2015

Why Farmers Incorporate Their Farms

You hear the term corporate farm tossed around, but do you know what it really means? Holly Spangler explains why some of the 97% of Illinois Farms that are family-owned are also corporations.

Year end. It's a good time on the farm. (Please read with sarcasm.) Always followed, in terms of popularity of course, with tax season. Given that farm taxes are due March 1, we're now in the thick of the tax preparation season. Again, good times. 

Christmas on the farm isn't all gently falling snow and presents. For farmers, it's also the time of completing our year end books. A time when the rush and flurry of Christmas preparations meets the rush and flurry of number crunching, of cash flows and balance sheets and meeting with the accountant.

This year, our accountant tacked on an extra meeting: legal advice regarding incorporation. Over the years, we've batted around the idea of forming a corporation. Is this the year? Will it save us anything? What about liability? Are the tax benefits substantial enough to offset the extra fees and hassle? What I'm saying is, it's an ongoing conversation, for a lot of farm families and for a lot of reasons.

For some of us, we're looking to save on taxes. If we were to form an S corporation, we would be employed by the (farm) corporation and would therefore, not be subject to self-employment taxes. In our current structure, as a sole proprietorship, we pay both self-employment taxes and income taxes. Plus, of course, property taxes on every acre we own; in Illinois, our property taxes fund a significant portion of our schools.

What we're saying is, we pay a lot of taxes. And, we pay taxes once a year, not quarterly or taking it out of each paycheck (because we don't get a paycheck every two weeks). Not counting property taxes, we typically pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $30,000 a year in taxes. And we are a very average-sized farm, farming in partnership with my husband's parents. They will pay a similar tax bill.

The other benefit of a corporation (or a corporate tax structure, like an LLC) is to limit liability. Farmland values are still high. If you own, for example, 1,000 acres of farmland valued at $12,000 an acre, you have $12,000,000 in assets. That doesn't count equipment, buildings and livestock, which can add up significantly. Say you also operate a trucking business on the side (maybe a half dozen semis to haul grain for local farmers), or a hunting business (bringing in hunters to harvest wildlife on your non-tillable ground), you have a business that could incur liability and you would want to protect your assets from that liability. No one wants to lose their grandfather's farm because an accident has occurred and a team of lawyers have gotten involved. To avoid that scenario, many farmers will create LLCs or corporations to limit the liability or to protect their farmland from liability.

So there are a lot of reasons why a farm might use an LLC or a corporate structure. During the years that I've written for Prairie Farmer magazine, I've done story after story with farm families who have incorporated the farm.

I'd emphasize that again: farm families are also corporations.

I think there's a bit of a misconception that farmers and corporations – or "Big Ag," as I sometimes hear – are these two very different things. In fact, farmers are good business operators, who often use corporate structures to run their businesses even better. This helps them use their assets better, and frees up income to use on land improvements, like conservation practices and tiling. Many farmers formed C corporations back in the 1970s and '80s, and they were known as some of the most progressive farmers of their day; they created a business structure that made it possible for my generation to come back to the farm.

Many of the corporation stories I've done involved farms with complicated family structures: perhaps grandma and grandpa, plus their two sons and their wives, plus a grandson and his wife. Or a father and son with a livestock business, and a hunting operation, and a land LLC. Farming is rarely a simple business structure, when you consider multiple generations – which is exactly what we want to see in agriculture. We want to see young farmers coming back to the farm. We want to see diversified farm businesses.

In our particular case, we're not looking to incorporate until we have to. Corporations bring added fees (Welcome to Illinois!) and added paperwork. We don't have a side business that might generate undue liability. Our attorney recommends incorporating when your tax Schedule F earned income reaches a certain level and with lower grain prices in 2014 and predicted for 2015, we decided we weren't there yet.

2014 – nor 2015 – will be the year to incorporate our farm. But you can bet it's a conversation we'll continue to have.

Holly Spangler
Marietta, Illinois

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois growing crops and producing cattle as well as raising their three children. Holly is an associate editor for Prairie Farmer magazine, a publication dedicated to sharing information about farm life and farm business.

Read more from Holly on the Prairie Farmer blog.

Feb 06 2015

Why Do We Have Strawberries in the Winter?

I was really disappointed when I opened my daily news email theSkimm this morning. There’s always a feature at the end, which often defines a common acronym. GMO is a pretty commonly used acronym and many can’t explain what the letters stand for, so it was bound to come up some time.

Here’s the definition from theSkimm on February 5:

And here’s a more accurate definition:
GMO: Stands for “Genetically Modified Organism.” A GMO plant is bred as a result of plant scientists identifying one desirable trait (like natural resistance to a certain insect) and breeding it into another species of plant. Do you like papayas? You can thank GMOs.

Unfortunately, theSkimm didn’t exactly hit the definition on the mark. In fact, they probably unintentionally confused a lot of people about what a GMO really is.

Here’s the low-down on GMOs:
  • There are only 8 species of plants that have been genetically modified and are commercially available: corn, soybeans, alfalfa, papayas, sugar beets, cotton, squash, and canola.
  • Natural pest resistance helps plants fight off pests on their own. This means that fewer pesticides are needed. And when they are used, they are sprayed on crops in the amount of ounces per acre. Read more about why farmers use pesticides.
  • This pest resistance means that there is less damage to crops throughout the growing season, which means higher yields.
  • GMO plants aren’t injected with genes. These genes (also referred to as “traits”) are bred into the plant’s existing DNA.

For more information, check out

So why do we have “freakishly red and big” strawberries available in the winter months?

Strawberries, along with many fruits and vegetables, are grown in warm climates. So in the colder months, grocery stores have them shipped from warmer climates. This could be from another state or another country.

In fact, most of our fruits and vegetables year-round come from other states and countries. Some places are better suited to growing certain types of crops than other places. For example, lots of oranges come from Florida rather than Michigan because Florida has the warm environment year-round that orange trees like. Those trees wouldn’t survive a Michigan winter.

Check out my blog post Keeping It Local if you want to learn more about why all food isn’t grown locally.

Now you know why we have bright red, delicious strawberries in the winter. It’s always great when mainstream media talks about what’s going on in the agriculture and food industries, and I’m looking forward to more ag and food definitions from theSkimm in the future. : )

Originally posted on A Farm Kid's Guide to Agriculture.

Gracie Weinzierl

Feb 04 2015

What's Cooking Wednesday

Lean Homemade Sausage

Foodies are saying that homemade and artisanal sausages may be the next big restaurant trend. You can get in on the ground floor with this kid-friendly recipe for pork sausage. The flavors do need time to mingle, so mix them up tonight for tomorrow's breakfast. Little cooks can mix seasonings and spices into the pork by hand (make sure hands are washed well before starting). Do not overmix. Serve patties with pancakes or in a breakfast sandwich.




Combine all ingredients; mix well. Place in an air-tight container. Chill in the refrigerator 4-24 hours to allow flavors to blend.

Shape into 1/2-inch thick patties. In skillet cook patties over medium heat about 4-5 minutes on each side, or until done.

TO BROIL: Place patties on an unheated rack in broiler pan. Broil 5 inches from heat about 5 minutes on each side.

Serves 8

Recipe courtesy of 

Feb 03 2015

What Drives Your Food Choices

I stressed at the end of December that health was becoming a much bigger priority for my family. Asking the right questions about our food and how it’s produced is important not only from a household perspective, but also from a global perspective. The more we learn, the more we grow and develop new perspectives. One of the biggest ways that I've started to do this is through my connection with farms and trying to learn more about the agriculture industry.

Starting with the fact and understanding that agriculture is actually even more than just food!

Whether you are shopping strictly with your health in mind or driven by your pocketbook, understanding a bit more about this industry is oh so important. Some of the things that I have recently started to consider:

How much meat is my family consuming and how important is this to our overall health?

What recipes can I make that facilitate more incorporation of veggies and how can I ensure that my boys will like those enough to consume said veggies? {haha}

What kind of cost are we willing to invest in when it comes to our food consumption?

Organic or conventional?

What are the appropriate seasonal times for particular fruits and veggies to ensure optimal freshness?

When it comes to chemicals, what are we consuming and how much do they play a role in our food production?

When it comes to GMOs, what do I need to know, what does it entail and how can I become more proactive in learning about these?

These are just a few of the questions that I’m looking to answer through my research and investigation. Documentaries can be a great place to start, but I encourage you to find your own research and readings. Be sure that you are investigating all sides of a particular issue so that you can ensure that you are informed and educated. In April, I’ll have the opportunity to ask big questions about my food. I’ll be sure to keep you posted about that so you can follow along!

What are some of the questions you ask when it comes to the food your family is consuming? What is the driving force behind the majority of your food choices?

I’m excited about continuing my journey with the Illinois Farm Families and the ability for me to make informed choices about what my family consumes.\

Samantha Schultz, Indian Head Park

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