Illinois Farm Families Blog

Apr 19 2015

Farm Families do more than put food on your table...

"Farm families are doing much more than putting food on our tables. They are raising well-rounded, modern-day problem-solvers, who are not afraid to get their hands dirty. We need more young people like that in our country." 

Alicia Gonzalez
Chicago, IL

Alicia 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.

Apr 17 2015

Fact or Fiction: 3 Ways to Uncover the Truth about the Food YOU Eat

You need only to look as far as Facebook and Twitter to see an excessive amount of misinformation regarding farming and food production. Just recently, I stumbled across a post that inferred that farmers were pumping their chickens with fluid to make them bigger. The person who posted it on her timeline concluded that she couldn’t trust anyone as a result of this discovery. The source of the article was a health food blog.

Similarly, earlier this year a blog post resurfaced via MSN on January 15, 2015 and began cycling its way through Facebook post shares and eventually landed in my news feed. The heading read “Finally! The FDA Admits That Nearly Over 70% of U.S. Chickens Contain Cancer-Causing Arsenic,” giving the impression that the FDA had been hiding the test results from the public. The article also gives the impression that the drug is primarily used to unnecessarily enhance the appearance of chickens sold at your local grocers.

Sure…reading information like this is enough to make you want to purge, but before allowing paranoia and fear to set in I decided to do a little fact checking. I went to the FDA website and typed in the drug in question and voila! The drug in question, 3-Nitro (Roxarsone), had indeed been removed from circulation in 2011 (around the time the above article was originally posted). After further research, I uncovered that the drug was approved back in 1944. Its main use was to prevent Coccidiosis, a parasitic disease that affects the intestinal tract of poultry and can lead to its death. In addition, it does improve the pigmentation and size of the animal.

But why would the FDA approve an arsenic compound in the first place you ask?

Well according to the FDA “until recently, scientific evidence indicated that animals exposed to organic arsenic rapidly excrete the compound in its original form–as organic arsenic. FDA approved the product at doses and withdrawal times that, based on this available information, allowed for the safe and effective use of the product when used according to the label directions.”

So essentially not adhering to the appropriate dosage and withdrawal times can lead to the large amounts of arsenic compound found in the poultry livers.

Which lead me to further investigate its use on the farm…

I reached out to a veterinarian in the field to ask questions about the product and how it is used and she confirmed much of what was disclosed on the FDA website. It’s important to note that veterinarians work very closely with farmers to ensure the health and safety of animals. They help to diagnose illnesses, provide medicine (as needed) and monitor the animals progress. This vets response to the above was as follows:

My suspicion is that [the amount of the drug added to feed] is minuscule and safe, as long as it was used at approved dosages.  Perhaps the recalled meats are from animals where an unapproved dosage was given??  There seems to be a lot we don’t know about the details of this situation.  I am not aware of anyone that has ever gotten sick from eating this amount of arsenic in meat; if that did happen I’m sure the media would jump all over it and we would know about it! 

While it may seem that at every turn there is something new to be concerned about, it is comforting to know that the FDA is operating on the consumers behalf when research presents itself, and that there are farmers and veterinarians working together to ensure the safe handling of the food that comes to market.

So before you panic and share the next piece of farming/ food production information that pops up on your newsfeed do a little digging to confirm or disprove the findings by using these 3 easy steps:

  1. Read with a discerning eye- How much of the article is fact based and how much of it is opinion? For example, the author of the aforementioned article stated that the chicken she’s been eating tasted “weird and stringy” as if she knew it was a side-effect of the drug in question. This acknowledgement is definitely more opinion than fact.
  2. Check out the FDA website- It’s as easy as googling your favorite actress! Type in the drug in question and watch the screen populate with answers. In fact, click here to get the FDA’s run-down on the 3-Nitro (Roxarsone) drug.
  3. Talk to an expert in the field- It has become even easier to access professionals in the farming industry. Contact your local farm bureau or better yet, find a farmer or veterinarian on Facebook. The farmers I’ve met have all accepted my friend requests…just be friendly.

Are you taking the time to educate or frighten yourself when it comes to farming and food issues?

Originally posted on Momma Mina.

Amina Nevels
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.

Apr 16 2015

My Day at Goulds Pig Farm

We were bused off to the Gould Family Farm near DeKalb, Illinois  where Three generations of the Gould family generously opened their home and farm business to help educate the City Moms about pigs and farming. 

The Gould’s farm grows corn, soybeans and wheat, in addition to the  750 sows (female pigs) that they care for. Their farm focuses on the breeding, gestation, and farrowing (birthing) of piglets. They raise 16,000 piglets annually to be sent on to finishing farms. These pigs are owned by corporations and contracted to finishing farms where, when the piglets are weened from their mother and ready to eat solid food (18 days), they are grown to market weight of about 280 pounds each. Then they are sold to Harvesters (slaughter houses, in my day) who process and package the meat to be sold in the markets and grocery stores. 

The Goulds use the “gestation crate” method at their farm. There  are rows and rows of sow mammas in “hog slats” that had litters of 10-12 piglets text to them under heat lamps (piglets like it hot - 85 degrees). The moms could stand up, lie face forward, but barely lie on their sides and could not turn around or move around anywhere in the “crate”. This seemed so uncomfortable.

It was explained, by the Goulds, that these crates were the safest for the piglets. The piglets could not get squished by mom , Gould could implement proper feeding portions for each sow, health status conditions could be constantly monitored (they had personal chart cards for each animal they owned), and they could secure the general safety of the sows from other sows, - no fights. 

But this raises the question - IS IT HUMANE? I believe that this  comes down to personal choice. None of the animals were dirty, didn't look “unhappy” and were very safe and secure. I believe that, if enough people choose not to purchase and eat pork that has been raised in a gestation crate, it will force the farms to transition which will come with a price to the farmers and then eventually to the consumer. It will cost more for the farmers to group the sows into gestation groups according to what they eat, their behavior, etc. You can read more about this at look under the Management to Control Aggression in Group Housing article. 

Everyone wants to feel that they are purchasing pork that has been  raised as “Happy Pigs”. But really - how is it possible to be “happy” when a sows whole life’s purpose is to mass produce piglets? Let’s face it, these animals are raised for food, they are not our pets. It’s choice of how we feel would be the best environment. For the Goulds, they choose gestation crates because they feel that is the most cost effective, clean, safe controlled environment that they can create in order to do THEIR Job of producing piglets. 

Europe has banned the use of gestation stalls since 2013. Public pressure is the driving force behind outlawing the crates. Tyson Foods and Smithfield Foods, harvesters, are encouraging farmers to transition away from the use of crates due to this pressure. 

Therefore, like I said, it all comes down to personal choice. Farmers and Harvester and Producers of pork are doing what they feel is the “right” choice to produce the best product they can. Their families rely on their business to raise their families and supply food. 

Personal Choice - I didn't eat the pork for lunch - did you? (The rest  of the family loves Ham!!)

Kyle Cooper Rogel
Gurnee, IL

Kyle 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 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.

Apr 15 2015

What's Cooking Wednesday: Pork Loin Tortilla Wraps


  • OIL


For the pan roasted vegetables:

On the stove top in a heavy skillet at high heat, add 1 tablespoon oil and pan roast vegetables in 3 batches. Stir lightly as vegetables caramelize. Season each batch with salt and pepper to taste, about 5 - 8 minutes per batch, depending on the size of skillet you use.

For the Citrus Mint Dressing:

In a blender at medium speed, puree all ingredients, except oil. Next, while blender is running at medium speed, add oil to blender very slowly. Adjust with salt and pepper.

For Wraps:

Lay out tortillas and spread cream cheese on top half of tortilla; place lettuce leaves on lower half so that entire tortilla is covered. Next, combine the roasted vegetables and the pork. Pour Citrus Mint Dressing over the mixture and toss. Evenly divide the pork and vegetables over the lettuce on the tortillas. Next, carefully roll the tortillas to opposite end. The cream cheese will serve as an adhesive to keep the wrap rolled tight. Store in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Makes 4 wraps.

Recipe courtesy of:

Apr 14 2015

Tornado Aftermath for Illinois Farmers

Last Thursday, an EF4 tornado ripped through 20 miles of my community in northern Illinois. My farm and family were lucky enough to receive very little damage. Many of our friends and neighbors, however, were not so lucky. As you can see in the picture below, the path of the tornado left the town of Fairdale devastated, but stayed on an otherwise rural path tearing through farms and fields.

So, what does the aftermath of this storm look like for those farmers?

First and foremost, we help our friends and neighbors any way we can to rebuild our community. If a farmer wasn't directly affected by the tornado themselves, you can bet they have every family member and piece of equipment they own at a neighbors house helping to sort through the rubble. This morning, for example, the town of Fairdale is trying to get some of the rubble hauled away so they can continue to sort through what is left of their homes. Every truck and tractor driver helping in Fairdale this morning is a farmer from our community. 

Next, we have to think about planting. As farmers, we are pretty used to Mother Nature running the show, but this year she threw us quite a curve ball. Over the past few weeks, most farmers have been preparing their equipment to begin planting season. If your field was anywhere near that tornado, though, you have some pretty serious clean-up to do before that field is safe for your equipment to be driving through.

The biggest issue is that so much of the debris is large pieces of metal and tin from the buildings that were destroyed. We are also seeing fence posts that are stuck into the ground so far you will need a tractor to pull them out. It is likely that we will be finding debris from this storm for the next 3-5 years, but we need to do the best job we can getting it cleaned up before we can plant anything this year.

At this point, everyone affected by this storm is just hoping for a few weeks of good weather so that we can get as much clean-up done as quickly as we can. So far, the help we have seen through donations and volunteers has been astounding. Farmers are driving here from up to 200 miles away to help run equipment in Fairdale or pick up debris in fields, donation centers are full, and monetary support for the families that lost everything is gaining great momentum thanks to Go Fund Me accounts. 

The sense of community in a small town is always great, but after an event like this, it is even greater. Thank you to everyone who has come forward so far to help however possible- every little bit is appreciated. Even though the news crews are packing up their vans and moving on to other stories, our work here in northern Illinois isn't anywhere close to being done. Hopefully, Mother Nature gives us a little break and we are able to salvage what we can and get our crops into the ground for a successful growing season.

Trent Sanderson
Clare, IL

Apr 13 2015


In the midst of calving season and really any other time of the year – the dairy industry is often the focus of consumer questions and concerns.  The beef industry often flies under the radar.  With the buzz word being TRANSPARENCY, flying under the radar is not always ideal.

I love taking pictures, especially pictures of my cattle (cows, bulls, and calves alike) and, of course, my kids!  A picture is worth a thousand words and this picture below is no different.

This little black-white faced heifer calf was born outside on a sub-zero February morning.  Her mother, a first time mother no less, showed no signs of being close to calving the night before (hence the reason she was born outside).  Right off the bat, during morning chores and calving checks, my husband noticed her.  I was inside getting ready to go to work and I hear the truck back up to the door and moments later I had a newborn calf on my kitchen floor.  And just like that my super soft, but worn out king size sheets were being used to warm up this little icicle of a babe.  My blow dryer that was on it’s last leg was getting a workout.  Her little ears were frozen and just like humans – 5 minutes in sub-zero temperatures – can become frostbit.  I dried, my daughter dried, I dried again and we kept taking turns.  After about an hour inside, this little sweetie was back in the barn with her mother & ready to take on the world. She needed a little extra help nursing for the first time and getting that ever so important colostrum into her system.

Up to this point, this whole process may sound very similar or almost identical to a dairy operation!  Our beef cattle operation is called a cow-calf operation.  Point in case.  A cow is a female bovine that has birthed a calf.  The cows on our farm range in age from 3 – 15 years old.  The goal of our operation is for our cows to produce calves that will yield high quality meat cuts that are in demand in the marketplace.  We keep the top 10% of our heifers for replacement heifers – replacing older cows or cows that have slacked off on raising a calf.  While providing our customers with high quality beef is very important to us, it is equally important that the animals we raise are done so humanely and live a quality life on our farm.  When explaining to others how we go through our “heavy bred” pen every night during calving season to determine which cows need to be put in the barn for the night, some may say that we are babying them.  Some statements made have been such as, “A good cow that is bred right should be able to have a calf unassisted” or “if you help them all the time they will never try to have a calf on their own”.  My immediate response to these comments is always that every operation is different and every producer can run his/her operation the way he or she sees fit! Which is exactly what we do.  My husband and I both have full-time jobs off the farm, therefore our operation is more like a hobby.  It takes up just as much time as our jobs do, but we love every second of it. One calf makes a HUGE difference!  Hence, the reason why we put cows that are close to calving inside at night.

We typically wean our calves when they are between 6-8 months old.  This is different than a dairy operation.  Dairy operations maintain only females on the farm and cows must continue producing milk even after having a calf.  For the safety of dairy calves, they are weaned off within 3-10 hours after calving for safety purposes.  This is where beef operations and dairy operations are different.  In order for beef cattle to grow and eventually produce high quality meat cuts, they must thrive as a calf still nursing, begin consuming small amounts of feed as they get older and then eventually be weaned when they are old to “take care of themselves” and strictly consume grain and/or forage!  A beef calf that is older than 9 months old and still nursing from it’s mother is really doing more harm to the cow than good!  Cows still nursing older calves will begin to lose weight and their overall body condition is poor because that calf is essentially “sucking the life out of them”!  It will take longer for that cow to get back to her optimum body condition after nursing a calf for too long.

Long story short, CATTLE operations – dairy or beef – have one goal in mind…care for animals in a humane and ethical fashion and, of course, feed the world! As always, if you have questions about how your food is produced, please Ask the Farmers!

Originally posted on Ask the Farmers.

Alison McGrew
Good Hope, IL

Alison was born and raised on a grain and livestock farm in Central Illinois and now resides on a farm where she, her husband and their two children own and operate a beef cattle farm. Alison and her husband both have full-time jobs off the farm that are directly related to agriculture. Alison is a former high school agriculture, as well. You can learn more about their farm on Alison's blog Outside the Ag Room.
Apr 12 2015

Reservations About the Treatment of Animals

"I went on the tour with an open-mind but with the thought that if I had reservations regarding the treatment of the animals, it wouldn’t be hard to totally eliminate pork from my family's diet... I made stuffed pork shells this week for my family, so I guess that answers that question."

Bridget 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.

Apr 10 2015

Backyard Farming

As announced yesterday, it looks like Spring may actually stay around Chicago for a while. Meanwhile, I’m praying that the seedlings that we planted last week continue to flourish enough to get ready for the season of backyard farming. We picked up cabbage, cucumbers (pickling and salad,) carrots, sugar snap peas, pole beans, broccoli, tomatoes (sweet and heirloom,) sweet corn, sweet peppers, watermelon, okra and a multitude of other seeds. I haven’t planted everything just yet because I didn’t buy all of the potting pellets that I needed. Blame it on winter brain. I’m anxious to get started, and I want to take tons of Instagram pictures and overshare what I grow and pick. 

With being a part of the City Moms farm tour, through Illinois Farm Families,  two years ago, the get up that I needed for starting a home garden was given to me last year, and we successfully planted and harvested tomatoes, arugula, sugar snap peas, and okra. My broccoli kind of went a bit crazy on me, and I wasn’t able to harvest it properly, especially since the cabbage worms got to it. That wasn’t totally backyard farming, more of tote farming, but I think we’ll have totes again this time around as well. 

I’m looking forward to transferring the seedlings next month, and eating off of our harvest all summer long. I’m also hoping that we get TONS of pickling cucumbers so that I can pickle a bunch and have them to eat on throughout fall and winter. They are pushing through the soil awesomely, and I’m hopeful that we’ll get a good bounty. 

Another portion that I’m looking forward to is the cabbage that we planted as well. It’s purple cabbage and all I can think of is trying to recreate the Yankee Cole Slaw created by one of my favorite restaurants on the west side of Chicago. I’m guessing all of the leaves will be nice and purple too, and that makes me happy. I’m thinking about doing strawberries sometime too, so that I can have some other color out there other than green. 

Let’s not ignore the fact that I planted SWEET CORN! I learned that sweet corn is only 1% of the corn planted EVER, and I kind of had a tiny violin moment. So I figured, I’d bring my own sweet corn to the back yard, and hope that we get at least twelve ears of it this season. If we do, I’ll plant more if we decide to do a community garden next spring. We’re going to do raised boxes, and I’m so excited! 

By the way, I’ll be off next month to visit the Monsanto factory to learn a little bit more about the company that seems to be in the crosshairs of so many people. I’m curious about lots of things, and I’m looking forward to the trip. I’m hoping that the people who read this blog can participate in some thoughtful discussion and we can respect each others choices. Until then, I’ll keep you updated on the gardening, and what we harvest! 

Originally posted on Houseful of Nicholes.

Chicago, IL

Natasha 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
Apr 08 2015

What's Cooking Wednesday: Pot Roast Soup


  • 1 beef Shoulder Roast Boneless (2-1/2 pounds)
  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 1 can (14-1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes with green peppers and onions, undrained
  • 1 cup frozen hash brown potatoes (cubes)
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups broccoli slaw
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas


  1. Cut beef roast into 12 equal pieces. Place in 4-1/2 to 5-1/2-quart slow cooker. Add onions, tomatoes, potatoes, broth, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. Cover and cook on HIGH 5 to 6 hours or on LOW 8 to 9 hours or until beef is fork-tender. (No stirring is necessary during cooking.)

  2. Stir in broccoli slaw; continue cooking, covered, 30 minutes or until broccoli slaw is crisp-tender. Turn off slow cooker. Stir in peas; let stand, covered, 5 minutes.

Recipe courtesy of:

Apr 07 2015

What does it mean to be a farm family?

Our City Mom visit to the Gould Farm on a beautiful spring-like day earlier this March began with a warm welcome by several members, indeed generations, of the Gould Family. That warm welcome and that up-close encounter with the family is what has stayed with me most about the hog tour. While many of my colleagues are much more interested in and well-informed about food safety and animal welfare, I have to admit I am always much more interested in the human side of things. 

What does it mean to be a farm family? I think the Goulds are the perfect example. Along with Eldon and Sandy, the patriarch and matriarch, their son, Chris, and his wife Dana, as well as their kids, ranging in age from high-school to college, it seemed like the whole family is involved in the farm in some way or another. This is important because running a modern-day farm requires a multitude of talents and knowledge, from using computer technology and sophisticated software to monitor breeding and average litter size to actually handling the animals and feed. 

During our visit, Chris` teen-age son handled a huge boar, as Chris demonstrated the artificial insemination process to us. As a high school teacher, I am always drawn to how teenagers think, how they learn and how they grow. Meeting Chris and Dana`s kids that day was so refreshing. They are regular high school kids who play sports and take AP classes, but also obviously know hands-on how to run a farm. 

Based on my very limited encounter with the Goulds that day, I can`t help but observe that farm families are doing much more than putting food on our tables.They are raising well-rounded, modern-day problem-solvers, who are not afraid to get their hands dirty. We need more young people like that in our country. 

Alicia Gonzalez
Chicago, IL

Alicia 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.
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