Illinois Farm Families Blog

Jul 31 2015

A Trillion Meals with GMOs

GMOs and the science behind their research
Jul 30 2015

Flipping a Switch

Did you know that we show cattle?

My friends and family are saying, "duh," as this is all Joe and Anna have done for most of the summer. Chores, brushing, washing, walking, then loading, packing, washing (clothes and cattle), braiding (this is my job), unloading, waiting, walking. I have joked that if I would put a show calf in the basement by the unpacked boxes, maybe we could finally get the last steps of our project finished.

Illinois girl showing her calfHa.

Now, I know very little about showing cattle. Anna has now showed for two seasons. I was a 4Her, but the cattle barns and those kids who showed animals were just strange to me. I didn't get the ribbons in the back pocket. I didn't understand the dirty jeans. Who would want to stand in the heat and scratch a calf's belly? My dad was the livestock superintendent for our county fair, but I only went to see if Uncle Dean had a gold card to get on rides for free and check out some of the cute boys. I know, pretty sad, huh?

Then I starting dating Joe, and let's just say that early on in our dating history, I thought we were going to the State Fair for a corn dog and a few rides. We went to the Simmental show, and I wore flip flops.

Bless my heart, it was a long, dirty day.

We left without a corn dog, but gained a big omen to my future self.

Fast forward to this year, and I'm in year two as a show mom. What I have learned to appreciate and understand as a mom of a cattle shower is that this experience itself is invaluable. Sure the obvious is great: the friendships made in the stalls, the effort, time management, dedication, etc., all that is pretty amazing for especially a 10 year old. This summer, though, the light bulb that has gone off in Anna's mind as a show-woman (girl who shows...I don't want to say exhibitionist! What's the word?).

Illinois girl showing her champion steerThis is fun to watch. She had success in the showmanship division last year, but this year, she gets all of it. She has taken responsibility for her animals care, and while she and her dad have had their share of "discussions" in regards to how things need to be done, her show year has been a fun one. We have an especially good steer this year, but Anna and Joe have taken extra care with his nutrition and fitness, and it has paid off. We have had some opportunities to be in the Championship Drive and have even taken home some hardware in reward for the hard work.

The switch has been flipped. The taste of victory is on her tongue, and my girl, although not obnoxious about it (she gets her normal sense of competitive spirit from her dad, not her CRAZY MOM), is enjoying the fruits of her labor. It's fun to see her look a judge square in the eye and talk about Clyde, her steer. It's awesome to watch ages of kids from 9-19 lead these huge animals around and then genuinely congratulate each other on their successes.

This is a side of the cattle business I never knew existed.

I know! Every day, something new, friends.

While I'm the snack packer, blingy jeans buyer and hair braider, my switch has been flipped as well. I am getting past the basics, and am now seeing (somewhat) what a judge looks for in a winner. Plus, I figure I should learn more, as we did some forward thinking and at one point, we will have (if all want to participate) a 19, 17, 15, 13, and 10 year old twins potentially in the ring.

I think we need a bigger trailer.

And a barn.

And stock in blingy jeans.

Either way, as the summer showing season begins to wind down, I am happy to report that we are experiencing a healthy dose of success and have enjoyed the time spent in the barn.

So, let's move to the basement and have some success there. Ha!

Originally posted on Confessions of a Farm Wife.

Emily Webel
Farmington, IL

Emily and her husband, Joe, raise cattle, corn, soybeans and alfalfa for hay for their animals in Illinois. Together they are raising their six children to be good stewards of the land. Read more from Emily on her blog, Confessions of a Farm Wife.

Jul 29 2015

What's Cooking Wednesday: Garden Herb Strip Steaks

Grilled strip steaksINGREDIENTS

  • 2 beef Strip Steaks Boneless, cut 1 inch thick (about 10 ounces each)
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon peel
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper


  1. Combine Seasoning ingredients in small bowl; reserve 2 teaspoons for garnish. Press remaining seasoning evenly onto beef steaks.
  2. Place steaks on grid over medium, ash-covered coals. Grill, covered, 11 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.
  3. Carve steaks into slices. Sprinkle with reserved seasoning and salt, as desired.

Recipe courtesy of:

Jul 28 2015

Not All GMOs are Created Equal

When it comes to GMO s, this 2014 City Mom learned that it’s a mistake to lump all GMOs in the same pot of judgment. There is a lot more to those three letters than most nay-sayers will have us believe. The biggest lesson: You cannot judge every crop by the same standards. If you are going to call yourself a responsible consumer, you need to know more; and that ridiculous acronym is not helpful. “Genetically Modified Organism” tells us nothing about how the plant was developed. I have a small voice, but my plea to those with bigger voices is to change the way we address plant breeding using technology to assist. “GMO” doesn’t work. An engineered corn plant and an engineered apple are two completely different things, engineered differently, for entirely different reasons. 

GMO plant in Monsanto Research CenterIn my book, you are legitimately anti-GMO for one of the following reasons: 

  • It’s against your religion

  • You are joining a battle against big ag and the control of our food

  • You are against sharing genes across species (transgenics)

  • You aren’t sure about man playing God to change plant genetics – even if the end result is the same either way. 

I may not drink your kool-aid, but those are legitimate reasons to question biotechnology. 

GMOs will play an important part in the sustainability of our food future. Not understanding what GMOs are is not an acceptable reason to be against them. The legitimate facts are available and main stream media is picking them up. It hasn’t always been, but it’s getting easier to understand them. 

The latest headline that has splashed on social media is the Arctic Apple approval. Unfortunately, most of the knee-jerk social media posts are in the negative commentary column. It’s a GMO; bad, bad, bad. But, why? Do we know what we’re bashing here? 

I get it if you just simply don’t want plant biologists messing with your food. The image of food engineered in a laboratory has always seemed like more of science fiction and space technology. Frankly, I’m not a fan of the idea of scientists mixing powders in the lab and calling the result food (read, soda or “health” waters). But, this is different. Here’s the thing: plant breeders have been messing with our food since the beginning of food. Different varieties of peaches have been bred to have firmer flesh for canning versus eating one fresh and juicy off the tree. Different varieties of strawberries have been bred to be firmer, as well, to successfully make the journey cross-country from California fields to your breakfast table in New York. The really tasty ones you can plant in your backyard would never make the trip without turning to mush. Those giant strawberries for those special chocolate dipped Valentine delights? Bred to be that way. The beloved Honeycrisp apple? Someone worked really hard for a long time to breed it for our eating pleasure. It takes years, even decades, to develop and breed new varieties of fruits and vegetables without using computers to assist. Breeding in this way, we blindly wait for the DNA switches to get turned on and off by Mother Nature via trial and error. It can take a plant-breeder an entire career to accomplish a new variety. 

Now that we have the computer technology that can assist those same biologists to speed up their understanding of the genetics that play the part in the characteristics of our fruits and vegetables, why are we shunning the outcome? An apple that doesn’t brown? Why not? They’re just turning off a piece of the DNA that is known to be the switch for the browning enzyme. 

If you’re against transgenic GMOs, the Arctic apple isn’t transgenic. They used genes from another apple with a higher resistance to browning to flip the DNA switch. There is no foreign species brought into play with this one. 
Or, perhaps if your GMO fear here is big ag and who controls our food, this isn’t the one, either. This Arctic Apple wasn’t developed in the lair of big ag or a company who controls our food; quite the opposite, it seems. 

We love apples and they are packed with vitamins and nutrients. If they didn’t brown so fast, we would see them at the lunch-time salad bar and packed in the convenience foods we seem to really appreciate. Apples instead of fries for the kids at our go-to fast-food joint? I’d much rather have them without whatever that current spray is that imparts a nasty bitter flavor. Is it the best way to eat an apple? Definitely not. But, when we’re on the go, the convenience wins. At least it’s better than the greasy fries alternative to fill the void of hunger. 

Once this apple has grown and been sold, we will still have a choice. As a consumer, I don’t have to buy the Arctic Apple. I will be able to choose my favorite Honeycrisp if that’s what I crave. The Arctic variety will serve a specific purpose and I can see it being useful to reduce food waste in the process. I wish we could all learn to be a little more patient and optimistic about the good and meaningful possibilities that will come out of the marriage of biology and technology. 

Here are a few good resources for learning more about GMOs:

Heather Guido
Oak Park, IL

Heather is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2014 Field Moms. Throughout the year she visits Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each visit, the Field Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers(City Moms formerly known as Field Moms.)

Jul 27 2015

Monsanto – Should I love or hate them?

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

Chicago moms tour Monsanto to learn about GMO foodsIn April, I was invited to take a tour of the Monsanto research facility in Chesterfield, MO with a group of City Moms from Illinois Farm Families. I was thrilled!  I feel like the general public mostly hates Monsanto these days. You hate them because you think they are an evil empire trying to coerce farmers into using only their seed. Or you hate them because you think GMOs are going to make us all sick. I just wanted to know why they do what they do, what motivates them to keep going when they get such negative press and why people seem to hate them more than love them.

Here’s a crazy thing that I found out: They make their products because it helps farmers and the farmers ask for it. Shocking, I know. Monsanto makes something that is helping, not hurting? Monsanto is making something that farmers want and continue to buy year after year? That’s not the media portrayal these days! 

Through my farm visits with Illinois Farm Families, I’ve met multiple farmers who tell me that Monsanto is just one of many companies trying to sell seed. Some buy from them, some don’t. No one feels like they are pressured to use Monsanto seed – they shop for seed the way we shop for things. What fits this year, what’s going to give me the most bang for my buck (well, maybe that’s just how I shop for a shirt; I’ve never been a farmer shopping for seed). Some use a portion of Monsanto seed and then use seed from other companies, too. They use the seed that works best for their farms. They want something that keeps insects from eating and ruining their crops so they can get paid for their harvest. They want a product that allows them to spend less time spraying and weeding, helps minimize soil erosion and uses less chemicals (you heard me correctly; farmers are using LESS chemicals now than ever before thanks to advances in technology across the farm with seed, soil testing and electronics).  

That’s right; Monsanto seed allows farmers to spend less time worrying about some of these negative things and more time harvesting a healthy crop that ends up on our table. That’s not so bad, is it?

If you want to take a peek into the world of Monsanto, their doors are open to you, too! Just call to make an appointment for a tour and they will very happily walk you through so you can educate yourself on why they do what they do. Then, you can make the choice on if you love them or hate them based on your own experience, not just what you might be reading or hearing about them.

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

Deer Park, IL

Jill is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2014 Field Moms. Throughout the year she visits Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each visit, the Field Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers. (City Moms formerly knows as Field Moms.)

Jul 25 2015

Farming is a Complex Science

farming is hard work
Jul 24 2015

What is Fair Week?

If you follow any farmer bloggers, I would venture you’ve been reading a lot about fairs – 4-H fairs, FFA fairs, county fairs and state fairs. Fairs are the quintessential summer activity giving us funnel cakes, lemonade shake-ups, corn dogs, and fried . . . anything. Carnivals, pedals pulls, pageants. Ribbons, trophies, rodoes – some intentional, others not so much.

For fair families, fair week is one of the more chaotic times of the year. Project details are finalized at the. Very. Last. Minute. No joke. One year I pulled an all-nighter finishing a crossstich. My dad was adamant. You paid the entry fee, the project goes.

Dinners are relegated to a bowl of cereal, slice of cold pizza or 11 p.m. spaghettio’s (a friend posted that dinner pic with the caption, “It must be fair week.”). And as well-intentioned as most fair moms are – slicing fruit and veggies late at night, packing a cooler with water, homemade sandwiches and Grandma’s cookies – by day three, corn dogs and nachos fill a hungry kid just fine.

A fair family hopes to make it through day one without an epic meltdown. Meltdowns are standard on day four and completely excusable, but on day one . . . you’ll be getting sympathetic looks from the other fair moms.

Fair week, however, takes on a different meaning when your family is not only a fair family but a fair board family.

A friend who sits on our volunteer fair board of directors lamented early last week, “If only people got ‘fair week’.”

Because along with regular life stuff, fair board members are spending countless hours – literally, we can’t keep track –preparing for the onslaught of people, animals, questions, concerns, tractors, cars, pork chop dinners and wayward storms.

My Farmer and I are both fair board members along with an eclectic group of former 4-H members, community folks, 4-H leaders and guys who made the mistake of attending a board meeting. Now they are official fair officials.

Our fair week started yesterday. Holly Spangler wrote an Ode to Fair Board Members.  She includes this: “Oh, the fair board member. Answerer of endless calls and balancer of ever-slimmer budgets. Answerer of questions relating to everything from electricity to fair queens. They are the people who figure out how to keep decrepit buildings standing, to get another year out of the beef barn, to run another water line. They are the ones who debate adding a beer tent or closing the fair, because the money just isn’t there. They organize exhibits, move tractors and maintain grounds, and even more, make peace between the horse people and the cattle people.”

And that pretty much sums up fair week. Yesterday my farm princess was answering the landline, “Lee County Fair. My mom can help you in a minute”, as I was on my cell calming the nerves of a new 4-Her who was pretty sure she forgot to enter her dozen eggs in the poultry department.

Today, we are packing the car with materials for Kids’ Korners, Kiddie Carnival, Ag Olympics and the Corn Boil. My farm boy asked, “When do my projects get to go?”

Illinois 4-H Fairgrounds Lee County

My great grandfather was a founding member of the board who established the Lee Co. 4-H Center. The white fence that flanks our front gate bears my grandfather’s name. It is a memorial to him and other dedicated fair believers. My dad spent my 4-H years on the fair board.

And now it is my turn. Fairs, like farms, are generational. And our commitment to them is just as strong.

Thank you fellow fair board members – fair family members. We may not like each other by week’s end, but we’re in this together and for that I am grateful!

(The Lee Co. 4-H Fair & Jr. Show is July 23-26 at the Lee Co. Fairgrounds near Amboy.  It is the perfect throwback county fair! For more information find us at or on facebook!)

Originally posted on Rural Route 2: The Life & Times of an Illinois Farm Girl.

Katie Pratt
Dixon, IL

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)

Jul 22 2015

What's Cooking Wednesday: Easy-Peasy Pizza Dough

With our newest Nevels member on the scene, we’ve got Giordano’s and Lou Malnati’s pizza on speed dial. Now the beauty of pizza is that it is one meal that I don’t have to persuade our picky toddlers to eat, but the tragedy is that these girls eat a lot of pizza. We’re easily dropping $40+ on just a one topping pizza! Needless to say, our bi-weekly pizza splurges were starting to break our piggy bank and this frugal Momma was compelled to take action.

Up until recently I’ve been too intimidated to make my own pizza from scratch. Sure I’ve tried the pre-made flatbreads, but those certainly pale in comparison to freshly made pizza dough. So how did I conquer my insecurities? I turned to Betty Crocker and my trusty stand mixer. The recipe instructions are outlined so simply that I even let little Miss Jada join in the fun.

Pizza dough from a Chicago MomINGREDIENTS

  • 2 1/2 to 3 cups all-purpose or bread flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 package regular or quick active dry yeast
  • 3 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 cup very warm water


  1. In a large bowl, mix 1 cup of the flour, the sugar, salt and yeast. Add oil and warm water. Beat with electric mixer on medium speed 3 minutes, scraping the bowl frequently. Stir in enough remaining flour until dough is soft and leaves sides of bowl. Place dough on lightly floured surface. Knead 5 to 8 minutes or until dough is smooth and springy. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest 30 minutes.

  2. Heat oven to 425 Fahrenheit. Grease pizza pan with oil and divide dough in half.

  3. Helpful Tip: For a crispy crust bake dough for 7-8 minutes before adding sauce, cheese and additional toppings. After adding toppings cook for additional 8-10 minutes.

The best part of this recipe is that I didn’t have to run to the store for any ingredients. I already had the ingredients for the dough on hand. I was also able to involve a very curious toddler in the dough prep (measuring and pouring) and the kneading process (think edible play dough) which culminated into some quality mother/daughter time (two birds and one stone). Not to mention, for once I felt like I was ahead of the game. Instead of fretting over what to cook for dinner and how long it would take, I had a yummy pizza locked and loaded in the oven in just minutes.

So ditch the pre-made flat bread and give this a go! You won’t regret it.

Originally posted on Momma Mina.

Chicago, IL

Amina was one of the Illinois Farm Families 2013 Field Moms. Throughout the year she visited 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 takeaways. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago moms meet farmers. (City Moms formerly knows as Field Moms.)

Jul 21 2015

Monsanto: Monster or Maternal?

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

As Mother's Day came and went, I considered all that moms do for us throughout life. They protect us, teach us, help us when we need it, problem solve ways to patch up our hurts and listen to all our hopes and dreams. When they hear our hopes and dreams they do everything they can to make sure we achieve those goals guiding our every step.  

Chicago mom visits Monsanto to learn about GMOsI was privileged to take a trip to St. Louis to visit Monsanto. This opportunity was presented to me as an alumnus of the Field Mom (now called City Mom) program through Illinois Farm Families. I have thoroughly enjoyed learning more about where our food comes from and meeting face to face with the people growing our food and now the people who produce seeds for the farmers growing our food. So, on my visit to Monsanto I realize many people call this company a monster, but I tend to think of them as more maternal.

To farmers, Monsanto is not a monster; instead, Monsanto acts much like our mom would in day-to-day life. All farmers are working toward sustainability and in my opinion Monsanto is one partner in that plan to achieve this goal. Like a mom who protects their children, Monsanto has devised ways to protect the farmers’ precious crops from weeds and insect pests as requested by the farmers directly.  I observed that the people at Monsanto gave a compelling presentation that shows they are working in the best interest of farmers and food growers, and it would not benefit them to go forward with production of their product if they had any idea that there could be harm done to consumers. 

During my visit, I wanted to understand the science behind GMOs and how they differ from plant grafting from years ago. GMOs, or biotech plants, are different from the plant selection or grafting of the past because genetic modification is more precise. With biotechnology, they are able to alter the plant at the DNA level. Hence the name “genetically modified.” A protein is inserted into a plant in order to kill insect pests or to strengthen the plant against drought or herbicides. The way this new protein is inserted in the plant is accomplished by using a natural bacterium already present to deliver the new protein to the organism or plant. This new protein makes the plant able to withstand being sprayed by Roundup or it has a protein called BT inserted to kill specific bugs. (These are just two examples of biotechnology in plants.)

Another way Monsanto is painted as a monster and not maternal is through inflammatory claims in the media. Specifically, I wanted to know if GMOs are being banned in Europe or other countries. Actually we found out that GMOs are required to go through rigorous testing by our FDA, USDA and EPA, but also 28 jurisdictions throughout the world need to approve the biotech ology due to the fact that trade will occur all over the world. They test to see that the plant is the same and test to see the food is safe.  

What about the claims that GMOs are so new that we can't know what the long-term effects might be? Are there any instances where people can show that GMOs are the cause of something harmful? Many cite that there are no long-term studies, but one of the panel speakers answered that question definitively by enlightening us to the fact that GMOs have been around for 17 years and we don't see any link to health issues caused by GMO use. In fact, the studies show no trace of the added proteins in humans after a 14-day study or a 90-day study, so it doesn't make sense that they continue to study this long term. They have proven that the inserted protein breaks down with all of the acid in our stomach and is not present in our system even after a 14-day study. This research can be repeated and found to have the same results by several agencies. Like a good mom, a very thorough mom, they have done their research. They have even eliminated all the variables in order to be so thorough; they should be seen as a company with integrity. Seventeen years is a long time to research, refine, study, listen to farmers and their needs and refine products to be the best they can be. Sounds like GMOs are close to voting age to me .

GMO plant vs non-GMO plantWe go to our moms when we are hurt or someone has destroyed our property. Well, farmers turn to corporations like Monsanto (and they are not the only ones using biotechnology) to help when they have fields ravaged by weeds or insect pests. When you see the huge difference between the GMO and the non-GMO plant as it is shown in this picture below, you can only imagine the happiness the farmers must feel to know that their plants are protected with the biotechnology provided by Monsanto. By using the GMO seed they don't have to see a whole field of plants destroyed by pests.

Monsanto appears to be this horrible corporation when you look on Facebook or read some blogs that have a definite agenda to incite fear and anger toward a large corporation. However, what I saw was a class act corporation that is mindful of the environment and has tirelessly looked for and developed innovative ways to help farmers on a global level. It seems to me that they have been made to look like villains due to their request to be paid for their proprietary biotechnology. This request not to save seed to use next year is no different than the music industry asking us not to make pirated copies of the music we buy, or Microsoft insisting we buy a new copy of their program each time a new release comes out – much like a mom who teaches you not to steal. They have a right to get paid for their innovative technology.

Farmers are accustomed to this idea of not saving seed. Even before GMO seed they would not save hybrid seeds or others because the benefits are spent from the seed after its use. It is uncertain that the seed produced by the plant will have the same performance. Ever since the 1920's, most farmers want to buy the best seed for the best performance in their fields. Monsanto improves the seed three times over in a year as they refine and improve traits of the seed over the worldwide growing season. Growing in the North and then moving farther and farther South, Monsanto tracks the performance of their seeds and tweaks the performance so that when the farmer buys the same seed the next year, it is better than the growing season before.

Monsanto can give a farmer a product in their seed that is guaranteed pest protection, drought resistant, as well as a guaranteed germination rate. They can't guarantee the production of the plant, but all the other items sure do put the odds in the farmer's favor. They are smart with their science because they send the farmer a specific mixture of seed that is non-GMO as well as GMO so that upon planting there will not be resistant bugs. The treated bugs that survive mate with the untreated bugs and therefore the heredity will not produce super bugs that are resistant to the biotechnology.

Monsanto has worked hard to help farmers be more efficient and good stewards of the land they farm. Working at the DNA level allows them the opportunity to test a seed to see if it has all the characteristics a farmer wants to see in a plant. Monsanto has even come up with a way to take a small chip of the seed without harming the embryo portion so that they can test the DNA of the seed and the seed will still be able to be planted and grown. In the past the seed producer would have to plant all the seeds and see what comes out of the fully grown plant. Then they would select the best products and continue to make seeds with the best plants. With this method of seed chipping, Monsanto provides more efficient precision agriculture to afford the farmers the best production in the least amount of space. They conserve energy, time and resources by providing only the best product in the market. They give the farmer a great deal of information about the seed they are buying and the optimal conditions that will make it grow and produce. If we as moms could provide this precision research to grow our children, we would take care of them the same way Monsanto takes care of the farmers and ultimately us as consumers.

This leads me to the realization that we, as consumers, have many choices. If you prefer organic or non-GMO foods, then that is your prerogative. It is a choice, just like people choose one grocery store over another. However, practice discernment as you make those choices. It doesn't make it better or more nutritious if it is more expensive. It doesn't make it true to say things over and over again on social media with no real science to back up your claims.    

In my limited research, I found nothing that would show any definitive research that links GMOs to health issues. I was surprised to find that GMOs have been used for 17 years, so you would think that there would be some definitive proof of health issues if they were to surface. I found many articles with speculation and claims that can not be proven with real scientific facts. I caution consumers to use discernment and consider the source of what they are reading. Just as organic does not mean a more nutritious product, non-GMO does not mean a safer alternative in food production. Consider the amount of alternative pesticides and herbicides that need to be used to protect those organic and non-GMO products. (Organic farmers need to rid their farms of pests, too, or they wouldn't have any product.) It isn't better – just a different method of growing food. That is the beauty of living in America; we have so many choices and have the freedom to choose what we buy and put on our table.  

It is wrong to deceive consumers by claiming inflammatory ideas not backed by science or fact.  Monsanto is finally standing up to the bullies, just as our maternal instinct would kick in if our child were bullied or subjected to slander. Please consider the source when reading or partially reading articles on social media flanked with disturbing images designed to evoke an emotional response and sway you to their agenda. Make informed decisions that work the best for your family but don't judge others who choose a different option. There are two sides to every story. Believe the best and look into the other side of the story and make a choice for your family with all the information.  Here are some sites where you can learn more:

Here are a few more of the fun facts I learned on this trip:

  • There are really only eight products with biotechnology (GMO) right now: Corn (field and sweet), soybeans, sugar beets, summer squash, papaya, alfalfa, cotton and canola. When you see labels on other products that say they are GMO free that is because they never had biotechnology to begin with. Use discernment when you shop and don't fall for the marketing ploys.

  • GMOs could be a way to make plants more vitamin rich. “A serving of golden rice could provide half the required daily intake of pro-vitamin A for a 1-3 year old child.”

  • The wild mustard plant gave birth to modern kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage and kohlrabi. Without the wild mustard plant and plant breeding (the precursor to biotechnology) we would not enjoy these foods today.  

  • One-third of the food on your plate relies on pollination! Bees are important to our crop sustainability.

  • The reason GMOs were developed was to help farmers use less space for more fruitful crops. The goal was to eliminate the two largest pest issues for farmers: weeds and insects. There are 600 known species of insects that are pests for plants. It allows them to help with erosion by giving them an opportunity to not till as much. They are able to leave some corn stalks to decompose back to soil and add nutrients. This saves on the need for weed killer, helps with erosion of topsoil and provides nutrients for the soil – providing the added benefit of not needing as much fertilizer.

  • Where did this idea of BT to kill insects come from? This was a commonly used pesticide that would be sprayed topically on plants. It would be sprayed and therefore more harmful for the farmer as well as the area surrounding the sprayed field. By using the biotechnology plant with BT inserted, there is much less product used and it is placed exactly where needed. No BT in the air from the spray. The BT makes the pest sick but does not make anyone else sick. Similar to the way we can eat chocolate but your dog would get very sick.

  • The Roundup Ready GMO plants are not bad the way they are painted in the media. When Monsanto tested the Roundup product, there was a petunia plant that didn't die in the field. They studied the plants DNA and isolated the protein that allowed the petunia to survive. The protein that is inserted in the Roundup ready plant is the protein found naturally in the petunia plant. This naturally occurring protein that they insert into the plant allows it to stand up to the spraying of Roundup in order to rid the field of weeds. It is not a toxic chemical inserted into the plant but a protein that breaks down in our digestive system and has no affect on humans.

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

Rolling Meadows, IL

Susan is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2013 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, including five takeaways. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers. (City Moms formerly known as Field Moms.)

Jul 20 2015

20 Things You Didn't Know You Wanted to Know about Milk

There is little more American than a glass of ice cold milk. In fact, the average U.S. milk-drinker downs almost 25 gallons a year.

Dairy farmers just outside Chicago are producing the dairy foods we serve our families daily, and through the Illinois Farm Families City Moms (formerly Field Moms) program, are sharing unrestricted access to their farms.

Four years ago, I had the opportunity to be part of the year-long flagship program that was just planting seeds in the social media space in an effort to answer the questions parents-as-consumers have about the processes that take their food from farm to table. (Better yet, the learnathon continues for alumni, resulting in an ongoing dialogue between farmer and consumer.)

And when it comes to milk production – organic vs. non-organic, pasteurized vs. raw, health benefits and risks – it turns out there’s more to milk than something to wear as a mustache.

20 things you didn’t know you wanted to know about milk:

  1. Thanks to 19th century French biologist, Louis Pasteur, the milk we drink today contains little or no harmful bacteria. Pasteur initially applied his bacteria-killing technique, known as pasteurization, to beer.

  2. Milk comes from seven main breeds of dairy cows: Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Holstein, Jersey and Milking Shorthorn. (A seventh, Red and White, is a variation of the Holstein breed.)

  3. Milk has 9 essential nutrients for human health: calcium, potassium, phosphorus, protein, niacin, vitamin A, vitamin B 12, riboflavin and vitamin D.

  4. Dairy farmers and workers follow several steps to assure the sanitary collection of milk from dairy cows. Human hands never touch the milk as it travels from cow to consumer.

  5. Veterinarians help dairy farmers administer antibiotics effectively when they are needed to treat and cure an illness. When antibiotics are used, the treated cow’s milk is discarded and does not enter the human food system. Antibiotics are not used routinely for dairy cows or added to their feed or water, and strict protocols are followed. Every tanker load of milk is tested for commonly used antibiotics at the processing facility, and, in the rare event that a tanker tests positive, the entire tanker load of milk is destroyed and never reaches the consumer.

  6. Despite its creamy texture, milk is actually 85-95% water. The rest of its volume comes from a vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates and fat.

  7. The average cow produces 90 glasses of milk each day, or about 200,000 glasses of milk during its lifetime.

  8. There are approximately 340-350 udder squirts in a gallon of milk.

  9. To absorb the same amount of calcium as you get from one cup of milk, you would have to eat either 10 cups of raw spinach, six servings of pinto beans or three cups of cooked broccoli in one sitting.

  10. In terms of quality and nutrition, there is no real difference between organic and regular milk. (Skim, 1%, 2% and whole milk all have the same calcium and nutrient content.)

  11. Milk can only be labeled organic if it meets the requirements of the USDA’s National Organic Program, is from cows that are exclusively fed organically grown feeds, whose housing meets specifications, are allowed periodic access to the outdoors and direct sunlight, and are not treated with hormones or antibiotics. Here’s the thing. Every dairy farm uses antibiotics when necessary for a prescribed time to treat specific illnesses. If cows on an organic farm are treated with antibiotics, the milk from those cows never reaches the food supply, and the treated animal must then be removed from the herd.

  12. Reduced Fat and Low Fat Milk (also know as 2% or 1% milk) have the same amount of calcium, protein, vitamins and minerals as whole milk, just less fat and fewer calories.

  13. Fat-free milk (also called non-fat and skim milk) has no fat, but it provides the same powerful nutrient package of calcium plus eight other essential nutrients.

  14. Lactose-free milk is regular milk with the same nine essential nutrients, just no lactose, a sugar naturally present in milk.

  15. Raw milk (not pasteurized or homogenized) has become a trendy alternative to regular milk. And while there are supposed nutritional benefits to drinking “unaltered milk,” raw milk may carry dangerous bacteria like Salmonella, E. Coli, Campylobactor, Listeria and Norovirus, making the sale of it illegal in many states.

  16. Drinking milk can protect your smile since it reduces the level of acidity in the mouth, combats plaque formation and reduces the risk of cavities.

  17. Adding a pinch of salt to your quart or gallon of milk keeps it fresh longer.

  18. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics show that U.S. dairy farmers are producing almost three times more milk with about half the number of cows compared to 1960, thereby reducing the total amount of feed, water and space needed, resulting in less manure.

  19. Dairy farmers have a long history of commitment to sustainability. They use a variety of recycling practices and on-farm efficiencies to reduce their environmental impact. Compared to 1944, producing a gallon of milk today requires 90% less cropland, 65% less water and has a 63% lower carbon footprint.

  20. Dollar for dollar, dairy is one of the most economical sources of nutrition in the grocery store. At around $0.25 cents for a glass, milk is America’s No. 1 food source of calcium, potassium and vitamin D – three nutrients that people fall short on the most.

Originally posted on Dearest Geeks of Earth.

Lisle, IL

Pilar is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2012 Field Moms. Throughout the year she visited Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each visit, the Field Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers. (City Moms formerly known as Field Moms.)

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