Illinois Farm Families Blog

Dec 19 2014

Agriculturalists Who Influence: David and Nancy Erickson

For last month's Agricultural Blogging Challenge, Holly Spangler gave us 30 days of Agriculturists who Influence. We'll be sharing some of our favorites on the Illinois Farm Families blog. If you'd like to learn more about the people shaping modern agriculture, please check out the whole series on her blog, My Generation at FarmProgress.com.

Day 4 of 30: Their farm is a true partnership, laced with good people, good advice and good leadership, influencing young friends all along the way.

As young farmers, I believe most of us have farmers we look up to. Someone in the neighborhood – and by neighborhood, I mean anywhere within a generous three-county radius – who we turn to for advice or who we just quietly watch.

For us, that couple has often been David and Nancy Erickson. They farm on the northern end of Knox County, near Altona. We knew them through Farm Bureau in our early days, then at one point they bought a steer from us for their son, Adam. I've done various land stories with Nancy, who operates a farm management firm and in 2003, David was named a Prairie Farmer Master Farmer.

In fact, if I remember right, I shot their Master Farmer photos exactly one week before giving birth to my first child. John and I talked it over before I went and his reasoning went along the lines of: You're closer to the hospital there than you are here and if something happens, they'll make sure you get there. Truth.

Over the years, we've listened to what they've said. We've occasionally called for advice, which they've always given thoughtfully. They've also said things that we've tucked away.

Like years ago, when we were contemplating our first land purchase. I happened to be interviewing David for a story on land trends and he said something I've never forgotten, speaking of land buys: "I've never thought we could afford it, at the time we purchased it."

And isn't that the truth? That farm we ended up buying back in 2004 went for $4,250 an acre. I thought I was going to need a sick day to recover from the auction. But what a steal today. And absolutely the right move. David was right.

This time last year, David and Nancy were embarking on David's run for vice president of Illinois Farm Bureau. We were thrilled that he would consider it, and cheered when he won. Today, he's helping lead the largest farm organization in Illinois agriculture, and the entire organization is the better for it.

David and Nancy represent something else, too: a true farm partnership. She and he work together, making decisions, managing and working. It reminds me of my Dad's advice when I first met John: "You need to be able to work together," he said. He was right and so are David and Nancy: very real examples of a very real agricultural partnership.

Good people. Good leadership. Thoughtful advice, even when they didn't know we were listening. It's what makes David and Nancy Erickson agriculturalists who influence.

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.

Originally posted Nov 4, 2014 on The Prairie Farmer

Reposted with permission.

Dec 18 2014

Agriculturalists Who Influence: Mike and Lynn Martz

For last month's Agricultural Blogging Challenge, Holly Spangler gave us 30 days of Agriculturists who Influence. We'll be sharing some of our favorites on the Illinois Farm Families blog. If you'd like to learn more about the people shaping modern agriculture, please check out the whole series on her blog, My Generation at FarmProgress.com.


Day 25 of 30: He's a farmer with a steak and a story. She's a farmer with an ear of corn and the ear of consumers. Together, they're quiet but inspiring influencers.

Sometimes, influence can come in the least likely scenarios. Or to those who seem least likely to seek it.

Mike and Lynn Martz are farmers. Doing their jobs and doing it well. Inviting a few people out to their farm on the fringes of Chicago now and then. Talking about beef, farming, animal welfare, antibiotics, hormones, steak, CAFOs and more.

Larson Farms is located near Maple Park, Ill., just west of the Chicago suburbs. Mike, Lynn, their son Justin and Lynn's brother Norm Larson run the grain and crop side of the business. Mike and his father-in-law Ray Larson run the cattle finishing operation.

The first time I met the Martzes was on an Illinois Farm Families tour, several falls ago. It was the first trip out to their family farm for the Illinois Farm Families program, and they were showing the place to a couple dozen Chicago moms and bloggers. I sat in their farm office conference room and listened as Mike explained marbling and good fat and bad fat, and what to look for in a steak at the grocery store. The women sat in rapt attention. They asked good, probing questions and Mike answered them all.

He brought up antibiotics before they could even ask, telling them about withdrawal times, USDA meat inspectors and tracking systems for food safety. On why he thinks it's important: "I'm not gonna feed something like that to my family, and I don't want to feed it to yours either," he said.

Again, rapt attention.

Then he spoke about hormones: "The baked potato sitting next to your steak, which may or may not have come from a steer treated with growth hormone? It has way more hormone in it than the steak."

Again, eyes opened. More than once.

I looked around the room that day and thought what a beautiful thing it was. Consumers, on a farm, asking questions, getting answers, and a farmer with a gift for telling it like it is. He influenced their perceptions of agriculture that day, and likely changed the way many of them feed their families. It wasn't flashy. There weren't any lights or smoke or soundtracks.

Just a farmer with a steak and a story.

From there, we went over to the cattle handling facility, where he showed off their Temple-Grandin-designed facilities. The women loved that, and it showed that Mike and Lynn and their families were concerned about animal welfare, well before it was trendy to do so. Influence, again.

Later, Lynn talked to the women about fertilizer and GPS, about how they raise corn and manage harvest. She described GMOs and the choices they make in planting crops. Lynn is a farmer and she knew her stuff, and the women asked her about a million questions.

I would nearly guarantee that Mike and Lynn Martz didn't start out their farming career to influence anyone. They started farming because they love raising food. Along the way, they began to communicate what they do. They opened their doors. People listened. Mike and Lynn influenced. People came back.

And along the way, they served their agricultural community at the state and local levels, and raised a family that's put another generation back on the farm. It's all part of what makes this farming team true agriculturalists who influence.

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.

Originally posted Nov 25, 2014 on The Prairie Farmer

Reposted with permission.

Dec 17 2014

What's Cooking Wednesday

Peppered Ribeye Roast with Garlic Sauce


Ingredients

  • 1 beef Ribeye Roast boneless, small end (about 4 to 6 pounds)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 teaspoons coarse grind black pepper
  • 2 medium heads garlic
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 cup reduced-sodium beef broth
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Chopped fresh parsley

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine 1 tablespoon parsley and pepper in small bowl. Press evenly onto all surfaces of beef roast.

Place roast, fat side up, on rack in shallow roasting pan. Insert ovenproof meat thermometer so tip is centered in thickest part of beef, not resting in fat. Do not add water or cover. Cut about 1/4 inch off top of each garlic head, exposing cloves. Remove outer papery skin, leaving head intact. Place in center of 12-inch square heavy-duty aluminum foil; drizzle each with 1 teaspoon oil. Bring two opposite sides of foil over garlic; seal with double fold. Fold in open ends to seal. Place alongside roast in pan. Roast beef in 350°F oven 1-3/4 to 2 hours for medium rare; 2 to 2-1/4 for medium doneness. Roast garlic 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hours or until very soft and golden brown; set aside.

Remove roast when meat thermometer registers 135°F for medium rare; 145°F for medium. Transfer roast to carving board; tent loosely with aluminum foil. Let stand 15 to 20 minutes. (Temperature will continue to rise about 10°-15°F to reach 145°F for medium rare; 160°F for medium.)

Meanwhile, squeeze garlic cloves from skins into small bowl; mash with back of spoon. Combine garlic, broth and sherry in medium saucepan; bring to boil. Cook 10 to 11 minutes or until reduced by half. Add half-and-half; reduce heat and bring to a gentle boil. Continue cooking 4 to 6 minutes or until sauce is reduced to 1 cup, stirring occasionally. Keep warm.

Carve roast into slices; serve with sauce. Garnish with additional parsley, as desired.

Nutrition Information

Nutrition information per serving (1/12 of recipe): 196 calories; 8 g fat (3 g saturated fat; 3 g monounsaturated fat); 82 mg cholesterol; 159 mg sodium; 2 g carbohydrate; 0.2 g fiber; 26 g protein; 10.3 mg niacin; 0.6 mg vitamin B6; 1.4 mcg vitamin B12; 1.8 mg iron; 30.9 mcg selenium; 4.8 mg zinc; 2.9 mg choline.

This recipe is an excellent source of protein, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, selenium and zinc; and a good source of iron.

Recipe Courtesy of Beef. It's What's for Dinner. Check out their website for more great beef recipes and tips on buying and preparing beef.

Dec 15 2014

High-Tech on the Farm

The Illinois Farm Families took us to four farms this year. All four farms grow corn and soybean crops to either feed their livestock, sell as a commodity, or both. We learned about the different forms of technology they use and the ways in which it helps them to be more productive and efficient.


A field in spring 2014, farm buildings and grain bins beyond

It may come as no surprise that large farms in the U.S. rely heavily on computer technology. Farmers have always made informed decisions, but today’s technology gives them access to more data and analysis than ever before. Technology is being used to solve problems as well as conserve energy and resources.


Showing Field Moms how technology 
is applied on the Jeschke Farm

Of course, the computer updates come at a price, but most farmers find the benefits worth the cost. As you’d expect, the larger the farm, the fewer years it takes for the technology to pay for itself. It may take a large farm just two or three years to make up the cost of the investment.

There are several different forms of tech and gadgets that we learned about. The first is GPS guidance, which is used for steering control guidance, as well as field mapping. The second is hardware and software that is used for data collection, specifically harvest/yield data and soil data. A third is equipment that is designed with variable-rate technology, which enables very precise applications of fertilizers and pesticides, as well as unbelievably precise planting - with spacings measured in tenths of an inch!

They also use desktop and laptop computers, in-tractor monitors, tablets, and smart-phones equipped with programs or apps linked to their data. They monitor and evaluate weather data using this hardware and real-time weather apps, as well. They are also starting to use drones, or UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), to monitor the crops during the growing season.


Matt Boucher demonstrating how a UAV
is used for crop monitoring

The GPS system enables farmers to create a map of their field, collect data referenced to the map, and then put that data to work to save energy and resources and be as productive as possible.


GPS unit atop a tractor cab

One feature of the GPS guidance is that, with the flip of a switch, the tractor operator can let the tractor drive itself. This is particularly useful, when driving thousands of acres, to keep rows nearly perfectly straight and allow the farmer to turn around to monitor equipment, like a planter, for example. As I rode in the combine, during corn harvest, we were riding on auto-pilot guided by GPS for most of the row.


Field, mapped by GPS, gridded for soil test

Every two or three years, a testing agency tests the farm soils. A grid is over-laid on the field map and samples are taken in the field from each quadrant of the grid.


Field map showing soil organic matter levels

The report comes back to the farmer with colorful maps detailing each of the nutrients and recommendations based on what crop will be grown thereafter. The report informs the farmer on the questions of soil health and fertilization needs. It may also influence the questions of planting - what, where, why, and how.


Image of in-cab sprayer monitor
showing pesticide application

The most surprising aspect of all the technology we saw was the variable-rate technology that is used with the sprayers and planters. As the name implies, it has allowed them to get away from blanketing fields with fertilizer or pesticide and they can, instead, control the flow rates with amazing precision.


Sprayer on the Jeschke Farm

The hardware is sophisticated so that each nozzle is independently controlled by the computer technology. The farmer only puts fertilizer or pesticide where it is needed, saving costs. It also contributes to sustainability efforts which include using fewer resources and lessening pollution of our waterways.


The planter on the Jeschke Farm

On the Jeschke Farm, a particular corn spacing was 6.1 inches. Planting is very precise and that is important for reasons that were explained to us.

Along with soil data, farmers collect yield data. The combines have on-board computers that collect real-time harvest yield data and immediately upload it to the cloud.


Real-Time Yield Data (corn harvest 2014)

The photo above is actually a tablet in the farmer’s hand as we sat in his pick-up truck near the field. He was using an app to pull the real-time harvest data from the cloud so that we could look at what the combine, in the field, was doing in real-time. It was fun to watch. This same exact screen image is also in the cabs of the combine and auger tractor where the operators watch the data as it is collected.


Combine & Auger Trailer on Martz Family Farm

In October, I rode along with Chris Gould in his combine as he was harvesting corn. Watching the corn stalks get sucked into the combine is a little repetitive after not too much time, so I was pondering what it would be like to do this all day, and I asked him, “when you’re up here in the cab, is there anything in particular you are looking for as you drive through the field?” He said that most commonly they look for pest damage, often rootworm, and explained what that might look like. Just a few minutes later, we came to a rather large swath that was knocked over, just as he described. He pointed out on the computer monitor how big of an effect that swath had on his yield. The swath went from green to yellow on the screen and the bushel count dropped significantly. To a farmer who is always trying to make each field as productive as possible, that is a let down. It’s wasted time and resources with little or no return on investment.


Corn Harvest 2014 on Martz Family Farm

After they've collected the yield data and put it together with the soil data, they use the technology to evaluate what seeds are working where, what soils may be lacking nutrients, what areas are problems – maybe with insect pests or weeds, what worked and what didn't, and then the cycle starts once again as they plan for the next planting season and create their prescription maps for fertilizing, planting, and crop-protection.

Heather Guido
Oak Park, Illinois

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


Dec 13 2014

10 Most Fascinating People in Farms & Food, 2014 - Part 3

Along with Christmas trees, holy nights and candy canes, top 10 lists are making the rounds. Even though last year was supposed to be Barbara Walters’ last 10 Most Fascinating People, she’s got a new list coming in a week. So, I thought I’d put together another list as well. Here are my thoughts on the 10 Most Fascinating People in Farms & Food, 2014. Keep in mind fascinating means interesting and or charming. Who would you add?

3) Mr. Petitt, my agriculture teacher

Mr. Petitt represents the old-school high school ag teacher and FFA advisor, spending every hour in his class with his students teaching lessons not found in books. He was my teacher and one reason why I can’t stop talking about agriculture today. Although farms and food are in the spotlight, agriculture education is disappearing from our schools, not necessarily because of lack of funding or interest but because we can’t find the teachers. #TeachAg is the national campaign designed to showcase the value of a career teaching students the facts of farms and food in order to refute the fiction. Ag teachers are a dedicated bunch. I was lucky enough to learn from one of the greats. Thank you, Mr. Petitt.

2) Farmers who share their stories

Sharing the why and what of farming isn’t too difficult. Farmers & ranchers are doing so in droves, adding blogs, Instagram feeds and twitter handles to the social media universe. They share about tractors, seeds, cows and pigs. They talk about soil, business partners, pesticides, growing seasons and investments. In general, farmers and ranchers have peeled back the veil and opened the gates to every inquisitive mind.

But farmers are more than their fields and livestock. They have lives peppered with challenges that link them to their “city cousins” more than anyone may know. This year, several ag bloggers shared deeply personal stories about themselves and their families. They opened their hearts and reminded us all that in spite of our labels we share so much. Here are a few that caught my attention.

  • Kelly at Country Nights, City Lights tackled bi-polar depression in the wake of Robin William’s death. In Your Darkest Hour touches on her own struggles and shares resources for those who need them.
  • Debbie at Of Kids, Cows & Grass put a rural face to organ donation when her son needed a liver transplant.
  • Nicole at Tales of a Kansas Farm Mom deciphers the medical speak regarding dyslexia and ADHD. She has shared an amazing amount of resources and hope for other families asking the same questions.
  • Katie at The Pinke Post, has shared often her personal parenting story and did so again this fall as it related to a ballot measure in North Dakota. It takes courage to put the most challenging of days out for public consumption and then deal with the backlash.

1) My Dad

Whether baling hay, feeding pigs, working calves or crawling across a field in a tractor, time spent with Dad was golden. He worked hard from sun up past sun down to give our family the life we enjoyed. He served the school and community on a number of boards. He split time as a fair volunteer and 4-H parent. One 4-H show day, a passing steer struck with its hind leg, its hoof connecting with my thigh. I remember thinking don’t cry; don’t let the boys see you cry. But it hurt, and Dad suddenly appeared to help hide my tears. He is the man who cultivated my deep love for agriculture, showed me how to do right without saying a word, and taught me that a person is only as good as his/her work. He continues to pass the farming legacy to my brother and the six grand-kids who call him Papa. My dad is a farmer, and farmers are fascinating.

Katie Pratt
Dixon, Illinois

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

This blog originally appeared in Katie's blog, Rural Route 2.

Missed Part 1? Click here for entries 10-7

Missed Part 2? Click here for entries 6-3

Dec 12 2014

10 Most Fascinating People in Farms & Food, 2014 - Part 2

Along with Christmas trees, holy nights and candy canes, top 10 lists are making the rounds. Even though last year was supposed to be Barbara Walters’ last 10 Most Fascinating People, she’s got a new list coming in a week. So, I thought I’d put together another list as well. Here are my thoughts on the 10 Most Fascinating People in Farms & Food, 2014. Keep in mind fascinating means interesting and or charming. Who would you add?

6) The Food Babe

Another shudder. I have to hand it to Vani Hari (a.k.a. The Food Babe). She chewed on a yoga mat (why???) and never looked back. She re-fus-es to engage in dialogue with individuals who take issue with her brand of pseudo-science. Instead, she plays the victim when mainstream media decides that the personality they created is taking things too far. It would be so easy for agriculture to dismiss the outrageous claims leveled by The Food Babe. But we’ve done that before and now we’re playing catch up. I’d like to believe the woman who is Vani Hari is well intentioned, curious about food and interested in learning. Unfortunately, her alter-ego isn’t much for any of those things except for, well, ego.

5) Norman Borlaug

In March, the agriculture community celebrated Norman Borlaug’s 100th birthday by revisiting the “Green Revolution” and exploring the future of farming, world hunger and food security. Mr. Borlaug’s work is well-known, well-criticized and well-celebrated. But his mission cannot be refuted: “I personally cannot live comfortably in the midst of abject hunger and poverty and human misery, if I have the possibilities of–even in a modest way, with the help of my many scientific colleagues–of doing something about improving the lives of these many young children.” – Norman Borlaug

4) California Farmers and Ranchers

In 2012, the Midwest experienced a drought. We prayed heartily watching the clouds with fierce intensity, daring Mother Nature to storm on our parched fields. And finally, it rained. That was one growing season.

Farmers and ranchers from Texas to California have been dealing with drought for much longer. This year I couldn’t look away as California farmers fallowed land, ranchers sold their herds and everyone watched as rivers, lakes and streams just disappeared. On top of losing generations worth of work, farmers and ranchers were again defending their livelihood as the conspiracy theorists leveled claims that this drought was the government’s doing or Big Ag’s creation. The Faces of the California Drought shares the heartbreaking stories of farmers, ranchers, students, families and communities. Orchards uprooted, food lines wrapped around the block, no grass found in a playground, and yet in each story there is strength; belief that relief will come one drop at a time.

Katie Pratt
Dixon, Illinois

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

This blog originally appeared in Katie's blog, Rural Route 2.

Missed Part 1? Click here for entries 10-7

Come back tomorrow for entries 3-1

Dec 11 2014

10 Most Fascinating People in Farms & Food, 2014 - Part 1

Along with Christmas trees, holy nights and candy canes, top 10 lists are making the rounds. Even though last year was supposed to be Barbara Walters’ last 10 Most Fascinating People, she’s got a new list coming in a week. So, I thought I’d put together another list as well. Here are my thoughts on the 10 Most Fascinating People in Farms & Food, 2014. Keep in mind fascinating means interesting and or charming. Who would you add?

10) Buck Marshall

Chipotle barely let 2014 begin before launching the first missile of the food wars in the form of Farmed & Dangerous, “a Chipotle original comedy series that explores the outrageously twisted and utterly unsustainable world of industrial agriculture.” The character line-up included Buck Marshall, the head of a fictional agriculture organization representing industrial farming, factory farmers and Big Ag. Oy! Laden with labels Farmed & Dangerous, according to Chipotle, supported their effort to find “food with integrity.” Integrity means the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. Chipotle’s burritos are being served with a side of something and integrity is not it.

9) Derek Klingenberg, farmer

This Kansas farmer has spent hours perfecting his parody talents churning out hits like Do You Want To Drive My Tractor? Ranching Awesome and What Does The Farmer Say?" My personal favorite, We Are Farming showcases the amazing diversity of farmers from around the world. However, his simple serenade to bring in his cows fascinated the world and got people talking about farmers and what they do. My dad calls his cows with a low tonal, “come bawwwsssss.” And they come, but only for him. It’s something farmers do.

8) Robb Fraley, Monsanto

My Farmer and I met Robb Fraley, executive vice president and chief technology officer at Monsanto, two winters ago in Hawaii. During that brief conversation, I sensed I’d met a man who didn’t have time for the drama plaguing discussions about agriculture. 2014 found the World Food Prize Laureate stepping forward to challenge that drama. I find it refreshing that an agribusiness leader is joining the ranks of farmers and ranchers who have been focused on telling agriculture’s story.  The farm story is a book with many chapters. Farmers have one, but agribusiness has more and that voice needs to be heard.

Most recently, Mr. Fraley joined panelists at Intelligence Squared to debate GMOs. It is worth the watch.

7) Dr. Oz

When creating a list about farms and food certain names might illicit a shudder, but the conversations created in their wake are fascinating. In the Kingdom of Dr. Oz, truth comes with several caveats. Weekly he calls out the horrors of another food group, preaches the next weight loss miracle and misrepresents the American agriculture community. There is no charm here, but an amazing amount of interest that a doctor can blatantly lie on television and not be held accountable. Congress tried, but what resulted was a slight hiccup in the Dr.’s march to dominate food based conversations. Note: He has yet to invite a farmer to the table.

Katie Pratt
Dixon, Illinois

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

This blog originally appeared in Katie's blog, Rural Route 2.

Come back tomorrow for entries 6-3

Dec 10 2014

What's Cooking Wednesday

Bacon Baclava

Ingredients

  • 1 pound sliced bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4 inch strips
  • 1 1/4 cups butter (2 1/2 sticks)
  • 1 2/3 cups hazelnuts, chopped 
  • 2/3 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 40 9X14-inch sheets phyllo dough (about one 1-pound package) thawed.
  • 1 1/2 cups Nutella chocolate hazelnut spread
  • 3/4 cup cocao nibs
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup

Instructions

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon, stirring occasionally, until crisped, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a strainer set over a bowl, separating the cooked bacon from the bacon fat. Set both aside.

While the bacon is cooking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Arrange the hazelnuts and walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until toasted and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool (leave the oven on).

Also while the bacon is cooking, in a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Set aside.

Set aside 1/2 cup of the bacon. Brush another large, rimmed baking sheet with butter. Top with a sheet of phyllo and brush the phyllo with butter. Repeat, using 20 sheets of phyllo and about half of the butter. Spread about 2/3 of the Nutella on top, then sprinkle with the toasted nuts, cocoa nibs, and remaining bacon. Top with the remaining Nutella and set aside.

Cover a work surface with a 12x16-inch piece of plastic wrap and brush it with butter. Top with a sheet of phyllo and brush the phyllo with butter. Repeat, using the remaining 20 sheets of phyllo and butter (you might not need all the butter). Pierce the phyllo stack all over with a fork, then use the plastic wrap to help lift the pierced phyllo stack off the work surface, placing the stack on top of the Nutella. Bake the baklava until golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the honey, water, corn syrup and bacon fat and bring to a boil. Set aside.

When the baklava comes out of the oven, slowly and evenly pour the honey mixture over the top. Set aside for several hours to let the syrup soak in.

Cut into 20 pieces and serve garnished with the remaining bacon.

Serves 20

Recipe courtesy of

Dec 08 2014

Frankly my dear I don't give a beef

I started this journey wondering many things: 1 of them was “Should I pay more for naturally raised, free range, non-hormone added beef? Is it worth the extra $$ per lb? Am I being an irresponsible parent to NOT want to pay the extra money in feeding my kids?

Last week, at Larson Farms I got my answer.  Just how many hormones do they add? Their cows end up having about 33% more hormones than one with no added hormones. – that sounds like A LOT. But it is 33% in nanograms and a finished cow that was given estrogen has 11 nanograms (vs 8 in a naturally raised animal) , BUT a potato has 225 nanograms– and that pill – 30K – and I took them for years with no knowing affect to my health. Let us not argue the validity of that long term. 

When I came home I read a little more and here is a GREAT article from UNL:

“When hormones are eaten, they are digested, broken down and largely neutralized, so they don’t act as hormones anymore. Even if they did, the 1.9 nanograms of estrogen in implanted beef seems miniscule when we consider that a child’s body produces around 50,000 nanograms of estrogen per day. An adult female (non-pregnant) will produce 480,000 nanograms of estrogen per day on its own."

 Maybe that pill won’t hurt me after all. 

Also, in my opinion, it is way less environmentally friendly to eat naturally raised beef. Jude Capper, a professor of animal science at Washington State University, recently compared the energy input for the two kinds of beef. She found that grass-finished cattle require about two-and-a-half times as much energy to produce as grain-fed ones. It is said that it takes 3 acres of land for a grain fed cow vs nine acres for a grass fed one." 

There's also a disagreement on methane, the powerful greenhouse gas that cows belch (and excrete, but to a lesser extent). Capper believes that a corn diet and a shorter life span results in one-third the methane output of a grass-fed cow. Other researchers, however, have suggested that grass's ability to sequester carbon may compensate for the difference. 

So either way if all beef was grass fed there isn't enough land in the U.S. to accommodate it. We can all do our part by just adhering to the “All in moderation” and so for me, I don’t think the extra strain on resources is worth it. 

So now I know – and for me the answer is NO. There is no way I am paying extra. For me it will be about the cut, not the hormones. 

Which leads me to another question I had. Does Angus matter or is it another marketing ploy. Well that one isn’t as cut and dry. So the conclusion I come to was sort of. Select meat is still select meat and USDA inspected means NOTHING – ALL MEAT is USDA inspected. So if it is Angus select for the same price as non-Angus Choice – go for the better cut. But Angus has put a lot of research into their meat. So if it is Angus or Non-Angus– At least the Angus should be consistent. 

In the end, when it comes to added hormones in my beef, “Frankly my dear I don’t give a beef.”

Lynn Prehm
Naperville, IL

Lynn 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.


Dec 05 2014

Hey, Cher! Iowa Farmers Don’t Torture their Pigs!

In case you haven’t heard, Gov. Chris Christie has been under fire recently for vetoing a bill that outlawed the use of gestation crates in pork production in his state.

Super stars know pig farmers best?

Cher.. Who obviously knows a lot about pork production made a comment about it on Twitter. (By the way, that was sarcasm. I know that’s hard to pick up through writing. If you know me personally, this does not come of surprise to you to know that I’m a sarcasm enthusiast.)

Farmers know Farming Best

Let me tell you why we “torture” pregnant pigs on our farm.

We use gestation crates to protect the pregnant pig (sow) from hurting other pigs and more importantly the farmer.

I’m betting Cher didn't know that a pregnant sow can get pretty feisty and fight with other pigs. Did you know that a sow is only pregnant for 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days? Our sows are only in their stalls during gestation for around 6 weeks.

I’m also guessing she didn’t know that if a group of pregnant sows is housed together, and the farmer somehow gets knocked down to the ground, the sows can overtake the farmer and cause injury or even death.

So not only is the gestation stall protecting the sow from hurting other sows, it’s protecting the farmer from a possible injury.

Healthy diet, healthy pigs

We also use gestation crates to monitor their diet. Sows need different diets than baby pigs, or gilts (gilts are girl pigs before they have babies). Much like a human, a sow has to have optimal nutrition to nurture it’s unborn babies in the womb.

The gestation stalls have their own little trough (dinner plate) for that specific sow. They get their own feed and don’t have to fight other pigs for it. (Because pigs can and will fight for feed.)

By using gestation crates we are able to monitor the sow throughout her pregnancy for safety and for her health.

The crates are also used after the pigs have their babies. Sows have a social disorder where they are very territorial and after having a litter of piglets they are very aggressive. The time after having piglets in the gestation crates allows the sows to return to their normal body condition after the stress of having the babies.

Using gestation crates decreases the stress on the sows. When sows get stressed they can miscarry their litter. Essentially by using these crates we are creating a safe haven or environment for the sows to have a calm and healthy pregnancy.

Our Way of Life

Farming isn't an occupation. It isn't something you can clock in at 9 and clock out at 5. Farming is different for every farmer. But for mine, it means leaving the house at 6AM and not getting home until 7PM, and during the harvest of our crops, it’s more like 9PM.

Farming is our way of life, and quite frankly Cher… I don’t appreciate you accusing my family of “torturing” our pigs. Because you did accuse my family. We ARE the Iowa farmers you were talking about.

We ask doctors questions about our health. We ask dentists questions about our teeth. Let’s try this… Let’s ask farmers about our food. (They are the professionals in how your food is raised, you know?)

Let’s quit listening to the people who don’t grow your food, tell you about your food.

Farmers do the best they can with the resources and technology they have. They aren’t perfect, nobody is. But, we (my family and many others) have never “tortured” our pigs.

I bet Cher wishes she could, Turn back time… If I could find a way to take back those words that hurt you…

Have more questions about how we raise your pork? Turn to me, or your local pig farmer for answers!

Love to all- Nicole

Nicole is a married, 20 something farm girl with a city day job. Her loves are food, beauty and farming. This piece originally appeared on her blog, Farm Girl Facts of Life, and is reprinted with permission. 

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