Illinois Farm Families Blog

May 22 2015

Brought to you by Biotechnology

"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."

Susan Herold
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.)

May 21 2015

Mama Mania

While I would LOVE to breath a sigh of relief, that is not going to happen. Calving is almost done, we have about 10 more cows to go, and we have started planting! Actually I have disappeared for awhile due to crazy hours in the fields. We are almost done with our corn planting and then we will be onto soybeans. For the time being I have a moment to sit down and tell you about the scariest part of my job… the mama cows!

While I dearly love the time with our calves, I wouldn’t exactly call this time of year cute and cuddly. Actually I pray more during calving than any other time of the year. I mainly pray for safety. Sometimes you just never know what you are getting into. The job should be simple right? Catch the calf, move the mom and baby over to the pasture, give the calf some bling (ear tag) and check gender. This could take 5 minuets or an hour depending on the mom cow. While we have many friendly mothers who know the routine, there are others that just kinda freak out. I have never held the glare of a 1500 pound animal as she angrily stares into my soul until this year. The only thing between us was the ATV and I’m pretty sure she was considering jumping it. This is the part where I say a quick prayer… multiple times… plus a few more… and consider that things can get bad very VERY quickly. We trust that our Lord and Savior will keep us safe, maybe send some guardian angles or something, but let me tell you, not every day is a piece of cake.

There are a few stories I can recall from this last calving season. We had two crazies, as we call them, this year. I don’t think they even cared about their baby, they just like to try and run us over. Both times my prayers were answered and the cows would go from trying to charge to a moment of confusion where they literally just turned around and ran off in just enough time for us to get the calf and do our thing.  My husband had to park next to a hut and clime on top of it in order to even get off of the ATV as the cow would try to get him the moment he stopped. Usually they leave you alone on the ATV, but this one was different. I have walked into the barn to feed and had two more cows literally charge the fence. Great way to start the day! While it would be so much easier to just leave the cows and calves alone, it is necessary to check the calves.  We make sure they are nursing and healthy. This is the price we pay. After everything is checked and good, we move the two where the calf can have shelter and we can ensure water and feed every day for the cow.

As you can see, there seems to be a pattern with things happening in pairs of two here, but needles to say, while calving is the most precious time of the year, it is also the most dangerous. I don’t know the statistic, but more people die from cows every year than deer. On the contrary, like I said before, most of our cows are very gentle. We even had one cow that waited until we drove up with the ATV and cart, she moved over by the ATV to wait, we got the calf and as soon as we shut the door on the cart she came back around to follow. We got out of the pen and she led us to the pasture. She stood out of the way while we worked the calf and then nuzzled her with love when we were done. (Fun fact, if you read my blog last year, this was Buddy’s mom! Buddy lived in our basement for a week.)

I have said it and I will say it again. This is my favorite time of year! I love to watch the calves as they grow, play and interact with the others. Yes they still kick hard, some can be rambunctious, and the mothers are not always the best, but to be part of a new life coming into the world and doing everything in your power to help it grow and thrive is the best feeling in the world!

Originally posted on Dare to Dream with Rachel.

Rachel Asher
Ursa, IL

Rachel farms with her husband and his family in West Central Illinois where they raise cattle, pigs, corn and soybeans. You can learn more about Rachel and her farm on her blog: Dare to Dream with Rachel.

May 20 2015

What's Cooking Wednesday: Butterfly Pork Chops

I have the privilege this year being one of a group selected by the Illinois Farm Families to serve as a City Mom Blogger. Throughout the year, I have the opportunity to visit several farms and hear from the experts and see first hand where our food comes from.

Although I live in a bustling burb, I adore farm life. My husband and I often joke that he missed his calling of being a farmer. He loves the outdoors, gardening, yard work, fresh produce, tractors and getting up with the chickens. We've been to a number of farms over the years with our sons, from living history farms to U-pick fruit farms to a modern dairy farm. We make an annual trek to a festive pumpkin farm. We've stayed at a farm bed & breakfast where the kids gathered chickens for breakfast and looked on as the Amish neighbors at the neighboring farm did their chores.  We've spent time on my cousin's soybean and feed corn farm in central Illinois where the kids had tons of room to roam. 

So, when I paid a visit recently to Gould Farms in Maple Park, Illinois as part of a day dedicated to pork education with the City Moms, I loved being out in the rural area even if it was a chilly spring day and we spent most of it inside.

The day included a tour of the farm, an introduction to the Gould family's history, mission and operations, a presentation by a representative of Hormel and a demonstration from Country Store & Catering in Sycamore. 

The Country Store & Catering prepared lunch for our group with butterfly-cut pork chops, baked beans, steakhouse potato salad and pasta salad. Everything was made from scratch using all-natural ingredients and no preservatives and was quite good. The pork chops were huge, but I went ahead and put one between two fresh rolls, slathered it with some zesty barbecue sauce and ate as much as I could.

For our demo by Tom Ulrich from the Country Store, we learned a little about how to prepare pork and learned a few tips of the trade. Here are a few bits of the pork 411:

  • Tom makes all his products on a charcoal grill - his favorite method of cooking pork.

  • He recommends seasoning a day or two before to allow it to work its way into the meat.

  • Rubbing pork with 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil and a teaspoon of lemon juice opens up the pores to allow the spices to penetrate. 

  • Cozzini knives are a favorite of butchers.

  • Cut a slit in a pork roast and stuff the center with herbs or cheeses.

  • For a big pork loin, cook just to a 145 internal temperature as the temperature continues to rise after removed from heat.

  • Mix beef and pork and boil with pepper and onions then simmer for 3 hours for a great shredded meat sandwich.

  • Make a lattice pattern with bacon as a topper for a pork roast.

  • Once cut, it's best to use pork within 3 to 4 days. You can extend that by a few days by using seasonings and salt.

I also learned that if you purchase a big pork loin, you can separate it to use it several different ways. One pork loin can be converted into a pork roast, country ribs, pork chops and cubed stew meat. The demonstration was a great way to finish out our day.

Originally posted on Chicago Foodie Sisters.

Carrie Steinweg
Lansing, IL

Carrie 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.

May 19 2015

Nature vs Man

This may seem like a strange comparison, Nature vs.Man, but that is how I tend to think of many decisions.  What does that mean?  Simply that my default setting about decisions that affect human health is to fall on the side of those found in nature (i.e. real whole foods, herbs, essential oils) instead of items that have been created by man to satisfy a need (processed foods, pharmaceuticals, chemicals).  This was the perspective I took with me last Saturday when entering Monsanto Research and Development headquarters in St. Louis,MO.  My premise was that I was aware of the dangers of GMO seeds and that corporate greed was endangering many people's health unbeknownst to them.  It was an easy conclusion to arrive upon when my fear lead me to believe that a group of board of directors was driven by material desire for maximizing profits and GMOs were the result of that effort.  It seems like an effortless conclusion to assume that plants as found in nature are in fact providing a benevolent service to people in the way they nourishes our bodies.  Nature vs. Man....divinity vs. materialism...that's a win for nature. What I found out after spending the day touring the facility, meeting with employees and engaging in a lively panel discussion with Monsanto's top toxicologist, biochemist and PR representatives was quite surprising. 

While touring with other women as part of the Illinois Farm Families City Mom's group we learned that a substantial portion of Monsanto's business model is devoted to cross breeding of different plant species.  For example, corn seeds found in India have evolved with different traits than those found in Indiana.  The seeds in India have drought resistance qualities because of the environment with which its survival of the fittest model adopted (nature) and seeds in Indiana may in fact have a superior size and taste preference.  Monsanto has been able to track the DNA structure of these seeds to identify where beneficial components are found and then cross breed literally thousands of seed variations each year.These seeds are studied and designed to maximize yields in hundreds of different locations.  New technology of cross breeding (man) allows farmers to determine based on the soil mineral content, temperature, expected moisture accumulation and such which seed will yield the most effective crop fortheir land.  Speaking of maximizing crop yield, in addition to staying profitable as many multi-generational farm families strive to do, the increased demand for corn and soybeans in particular riseevery year as world population expands.  At Monsanto we learned that the percentage of land devoted to agriculture on our planet is about 37% with 11% being used for crops.  This is a small portion considering world population is expected to reach 9 billion before 2050.  Nature vs. Man...seems like a little synergy provides a win/win, no artificial technologies and expedited the process of evolution...I'll call this one a tie. 

The next phase of our tour focused on the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) technology that is so widely debated.  First, I'll give a little background on GMOs and my particular concern about how it potentially impacts human health.  A GMO seed is one that has been genetically modified to include an additional Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) protein in the DNA structure of the seed.  There are only a handful of seed in which genetic modification takes place currently and the two most predominant types are corn and soybean.  This is a natural insecticide that is produced by the bacterium Bt and has been used as a way to control insects.  Let me repeat that, Bt originates from a natural bacterium (nature).  This bacterium literally explodes the digestive track of insects that consume it because the insects do nothave adequate digestive enzymes to break the amino acid structure apart.  My concern about the insertion of Bt protein into the seeds that humans consume (man) is that as this bacterium has been proven to destroy tiny organisms like insects, it seems reasonable that Bt would also have the capability to destroy tiny microorganisms in our gut, many of which are essential for healthy balance of our human microbiome and strong immune function.  Science now proves strong immune function is the key to combating virtually all chronic health concerns.  Luckily, I was able to highlight this specific concern to the Monsanto panel.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn from Dr. Donna Farmer that the area of amino acid protein structure has been tested for over 12 years.  In addition as new medical scientific evidence emerges Monsanto is required by federal regulation to continuously test for safety every few years.  Next year in fact there is an extensive immunological study that will be completed pertaining the effects on the human microbiome.  These studies show that mammals have a digestive enzyme that enables the Bt protein amino acid structure to be broken down and therefor threat of killing our good gut flora is removed.  Where does this leave the nature vs. man count?  At face value this seems like another win/win....natural Bt insecticide (nature) combined as a biotechnical mechanism promoting crop efficiency (man).  More on this later. 

Another aspect of the tour at Monsanto was very fulfilling for me to experience in person.  This was the passion and authenticity of each employee that we met. It was obvious to me that these people feel strongly about their role in offering creative solutions to meet the increasing demand for our world'sfood supply.  Also, the authenticity that someone who has spent over 30 years in the medical and toxicological fields of study is in fact completely comfortable eating GMO foods herself and for her family speak volumes.  Interacting with Monsanto employees provided a tremendous shift from my assumptions of corporate greed to one of compassionate motivation for a cause.  These people had passion about their contributions to agriculture.  It was amazing to experience how my feelings of fear had lead me to conclude negative intentions on the part of Monsanto and that once I applied conscious and reflective intention to educate myself, that fear was diminished. 

After the tour was complete I have been reflecting on the information learned and how it assimilates to me.  One aspect of the GMO discussion that I believe has potentially serious implications, is in the instances when a person has a compromised lymphatic system.  You see the science behind the safety of GMOs is reliant on the fact that humans have a digestive enzyme that is capable of breaking apart the Bt protein amino acid structure.  However many people’s lymphatic system does not function optimally, so even though humans do contain this enzyme if it is not being released into the digestive system and therefore able to neutralize the effects of Bt on healthy gut flora, the cycle of negative immune function begins to cascade into a myriad of health conditions. The good news is this is all within our control!  By making empowered decisions to choose whole veggies, legumes and fruits as a large staple of our nourishment we are automatically boosting healthy gut flora, promoting detoxification and lymphatic support and aiding our digestive systems all in one conscious approach. However, the reverse is also true, when a person is not reflective in their choices about diet the tendency is to turn to convenience processed items.  Unfortunately these items are the ones that have a disproportionate amount of GMOs (soybean oil, high fructose corn syrup, canola oil, etc), are destructive to healthy gut flora, diminish the detoxifying ability of lymphatic system and suppress the immune system.    

Overall, I feel blessed that I was given the opportunity to lean into my fear about GMO safety and learn more information.  This reinforced a message that has become so instrumental in my life today....take a moment to provide conscious thought regarding your choices in life and strive for balance.  As noted above a balance between nature and man when applied with intention seems to be a win/win in life.  

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

Amanda Hinman
Mt. Prospect, IL

Amanda 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.)

May 18 2015

What I saw on a hog farm

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit the Gould Family Farm with The Illinois Farm Families’ City Moms Tour.  The Gould Family’s farm is considered a farrow to wean hog farm, which means they care for sows during pregnancy, birth, and through the piglets weaning period.  The Gould’s care for about 750 sows that produce 16,000-17,000 piglets a year!  

Going into the tour, my greatest concern was the idea of the gestational stall.  A gestational stall is the method in which a sow is kept during the farrowing (birthing) and nursing period.  The sow is kept fairly stationary without the ability to turn and 100% indoors.  I was very concerned as to whether this is a humane way to keep the animal.  I was pretty sure I was going to be upset with the living arrangements that I was about to encounter, but I was wrong.  To be very honest, I did not even notice the gestational stalls at first.  What I did notice was the incredible size of these sows!  They are huge, and their babies are small, and their litters are large.  Together this make for a menacing problem, the sows can smash the babies.  When I saw the function of the stall, which allows the sows to lie down and nurse their litters without the risk of overlaying, I was relieved.  These stalls suddenly seemed humane, as opposed to inhumane.  The sows did not behave as though they were stressed and the piglets sure seemed happy.  The Gould Family discussed a bit about the history of hog farming and why their animals are kept indoors.  It is in the best interest of the hog.  The sows are given all the nutrition they need, carefully looked over, and protected from the elements.

I left the Gould Family Farm feeling better about hog farming than before.  After watching their interaction with the animals, and listening to their story, I know that their animals are being raised respectfully and humanely.  

Vicky Webb
Des Plaines, IL

Vicky is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2015 City Moms. Throughout the year she visits Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each visit, the City Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers.

May 17 2015

Local Food Marketing

Learn more about your food and local Illinois farmers here.

Ellen Krasin
Bolingbrook, IL

Ellen is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2015 City Moms. Throughout the year she visits Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each visit, the City Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers.

May 15 2015

Farm Photo Friday: When the weather cooperates but the tractor doesn't.

Not a good day when the weather is nice but the tractor quits running. Had to tow it home and call for service. Doesn't seem to bother Bert though.

Photo courtesy of Willow Lea Stock Farm.

Gary & Michele Aavang
Woodstock, IL

Michele and her husband, Gary are full-time farmers raising corn, soybeans, alfalfa, wheat and oats in northern Illinois. Gary has been farming his entire life, while Michele grew up in the Chicago suburbs and became a "farmer by marriage." Learn more and stay up to date with farm happenings on their Facebook page.

May 14 2015

Curiosity Turns Into Knowledge on the Hog Farm

I wasn’t really sure what to expect for my day on the hog farm tour as a City Mom with Illinois Farm Families but I was very curious. As I thought about it, I realized about the only thing I knew about pigs were that I liked pork and the slogan out there that calls it  “ the other white meat”, I also realized I had images of Charlotte’s Web in my mind and secretly hoped I got to hold a baby pig!

The Gould Family Farm that we visited raises about 16,000 piglets annually and specializes in the breeding, pregnancy and birthing of piglets. As the day progressed my curiosity turned into knowledge that I am so thankful for. I learned so many things it would be hard to fit it into one blog post but my biggest take away from this day was how passionate these farmers are about the health, care and comfort of their hogs as well as the safety of our food supply.

I had never heard the word biosecurity before this tour but learned that it is a protocol to follow to prevent the spread of disease among the herds.  Before we could enter the barn, we had to put on special coveralls, hair nets and plastic boots and upon entering the barn stepped into a disinfecting boot bath. This prevents the herd from be exposed to anything we might bring into the barn.   

The pigs are housed inside in a climate controlled environment, which even has a back-up generator so the pigs are always comfortable, even in the event of a power outage. Pigs that are outside are susceptible to predators, disease and the elements. On this farm, pigs are housed in gestational stalls where they have constant access to clean food and water, are safe and their health can be individually monitored. Just before a sow gives birth she is moved to a farrowing stall which helps prevents her little piglets from being accidentally crushed and gives the piglets access to extra warmth.

The only time a pig is given an antibiotic is when it is sick and needs it to get better. A pig that has been given an antibiotic will not go to market until that antibiotic is clear of it’s system.

I was also impressed by the fact that a company like Hormel actually does studies and implements protocols to make the process of going to market as stress free as possible for the pigs.

So I walked away that day with a new appreciation for and understanding of all that a hog farmer does to ensure we have healthy, high-quality pork. And if you were curious, yes, I did get to hold an adorable baby pig!

Anita Mann
Naperville, IL

Anita 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.
May 13 2015

What's Cooking Wednesday: Slow Baked Beef Ribs

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  • 4 pounds boneless beef short ribs
  • 1 tsp kosher sale
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 2 Tbl liquid smoke
  • 1 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup minced onion
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 3/4 cup Bacon BBQ Sauce
  • 2 Tbl cornstarch
  • 2 Tbl water


  1. Preheat the oven to 300F with a rack in the middle.
  2. In a medium sauce pan over medium heat, add the ketchup, liquid smoke, brown sugar, minced onion, garlic powder, bacon bbq sauce and mix until combined.
  3. Cook until thick and bubbly; stirring occasionally. ~10 minutes.
  4. Season the short ribs all over with salt and pepper
  5. Place in a 13x9" glass baking dish. This will be a tight squeeze.
  6. Pour about 1/2 cup over the short ribs.
  7. Using tongs, flip the ribs over and spoon another 1/2 cup of the sauce over top. Reserve the remaining BBQ sauce to spoon over the cooked ribs.
  8. Cover the pan with foil and roast for 2 1/2 hours.
  9. Remove the foil and gently flip the short ribs.
  10. Cook for 30 minutes more, until the meat is tender and browned.
  11. Transfer the short ribs to a serving platter.
  12. Baste the short ribs with some of the reserved BBQ sauce.
  13. At this point you can discard the cooking liquid or you can pour it into a fat strainer to allow it to separate. (This is what I did)
  14. Pour the juices into a medium sauce pan leaving the fat greasy part behind.
  15. Add in about 1/4 cup bbq sauce and bring to a boil.
  16. Make a slurry of the cornstarch and water and whisk into the liquid to thicken.
Recipe courtesy of The Kitchen Whisperer
May 12 2015

My understanding of farming changed after I met farmers

I am a food science and human nutrition major with an AAS in culinary arts that had previously served almost 9 years in the US Navy. Even with all of that, I had absolutely no idea about production farming. Everything that I knew about farming was whatever I had read or seen on the internet or TV. This of course includes movies like Food Inc. My perceptions of farmers were that they were only nice farmers if they were organic farmers and bad if they weren’t. I assumed that because of what I had seen, via various forms of media, that enormous multinational corporations owned the majority of farms in the US. I thought farmers were exactly the way they are often depicted on TV, simple characters lacking any kind of sophistication without any regard for the environment or animals. This was not something that I thought was specific to any region, I just thought all farmers were this way. In the case of Illinois farmers, well, I just thought they really liked corn and soybeans. 

I had no idea. I suppose the reason for this is that I had never really been on a farm, nor did I know any farmers, except for the inner-city hipster, “strictly organic” variety. This past semester all of that changed when I decided to enroll in a class on “farm, food and environmental policy.” The whole point of the class was to compare and contrast the differences between farms and farming practices in California to those of Illinois. Our class toured farms and talked to farmers in both states and I can tell you that everything I thought I knew about farmers was what someone else wanted me to think. After going to meet and talk with these fine men and women, I was finally able to make my own decisions and come to my own conclusions.

I found myself to be completely wrong about my assumptions. Farmers are very sophisticated. The technology that farmers use is mind-blowing to me! I found out that they use GPS navigated equipment to get within two inches of accuracy when applying fertilizer and planting seeds. They use drones to survey their fields, which allow them to detect soil issues and identify weed species. To accommodate the needs of their customers, they use different varieties of seeds and are involved in commodity trading. Farming is neither a yokel’s business nor some large industrial machine. Illinois farms are, I have learned, for the most part (97%) family-owned businesses. In talking to these farmers, I have realized that their way of life is something that has been passed down to them by their elders from generation to generation and that they have an intense interest in conservation. For them, taking care of their land and animals means that they will have something to give to their children. This way of life is a source of pride for them. 

The biggest take-away that I’ve gained from this experience is that misinformation about these people and their businesses spreads through conventional media, and especially social media, like wildfire. I believed it and so do many others. I’m not sure what exactly motivates all of this misinformation, but I would highly recommend to anyone that’s interested in learning about their food go to a local farm and ask for a tour. Talk to your local farmers. Ask them questions, get to know them and find out what they do. I’m sure you will be pleasantly surprised.


Originally posted in Farm Week.

Regina Cortez
Chicago, IL

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