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Illinois Farm Families Blog

May 03 2016

Gaining Respect for Farmers One Farm Tour at a Time

Last year I thoroughly enjoyed being part of the Illinois Farm Families group of City Moms. The group of ladies from Chicago and the suburbs were taken on several tours last year to help us get to know more about farming and farm life and where our food comes from. Fortunately, we're being invited to more events this year and I was excited to go on the first tour this year to visit a cattle farm in Sandwich, Illinois followed up by a chef demo at the DeKalb County Farm Bureau.

Seven generations have occupied the approximately 1100-acre land of the Adams Farm and to start our visit we gathered in an old barn that was built by the grandfather of our host, Alan Adam. We sipped on hot cocoa and tea and sat on hay bales while Alan gave us a rundown on how things work there where they have about 60 head on their calf farm and then another 900 or so head on their feed lot.


I was impressed at how resourceful farmers are as they work to manage feeding and caring for the cattle (and balancing with maximizing profit) by not just utilizing land unproductive for crop growth as pasture, but by incorporating food waste that is digestible for cattle from different sources, including a local Del Monte vegetable cannery plant. The cob and husk, which instead of being discarded from the factory becomes feed for cattle. We also learned a bit about how durable a cow's digestive system is.

The focus of this tour was on breeding and I was surprised at how complex, yet how simple and natural the process is at Adams Farm. They raise a mix of Angus and Simmental breeds, Angus being the biggest in demand as food trends in recent years have dictated a desire for the high-quality meat they produce. Alan talked a bit about how much farmers need to adapt to meet current demand and how much farming has changed since his career began. Cows are bred by Angus bulls the natural way without artificial insemination. Heifers (first time moms) are, however, impregnated by artificial insemination to help ensure a small calf for their first birth, which is in the best interest of the heifer and the farmer. The timing and control of breeding ensures efficiency as cows are bred in a two-month or so window and then birthing subsequently happens in the same time span nine months later. Like humans, a cow's gestational period runs about nine months. They're able to do much grazing during times when grass is at its peak of growth and they get their water from a stream and spring that runs along the property.

As with every farm I've encountered, it's a family business. Son Ross also filled us in a bit on the first days of a calf's life and what is done early on to ensure that each calf is healthy.

One thing I've learned on these tours is that antibiotics and vaccinations used in meats are something that we need not unnecessarily fear. Antibiotics are used minimally only when needed in the care of sick or diseased cows. And once given there are strict guidelines as to moving those cattle into the food chain after antibiotics have been administered. The vaccinations are not much different from what we give human infants. They are to protect from disease and prevent significant loss of cattle. The calves also get passive immunity through their mother's milk that offers some protection. One example that Alan cited was pink eye, which can be very painful and usually causes total blindness in cattle. It has been eliminated from the farm due to use of vaccinations. He said they haven't encountered a single case in over four years. The three injections they get shortly after birth protect them from at least 15 common diseases.

On each of our tours we have a meeting point and then the group rides to the farm via bus. On the bus we have had farmers ride along to give us a little background on their area of farming and to answer questions. It was during this question and answer session that it became clear how difficult it really is to be profitable and how much work is involved. It really sunk in that farmers never really have a day off. The cattle don't decide not to eat on weekends. They need to be cared for 365 days a year. It's definitely an under-appreciated job, but I've yet to talk to a farmer who would trade it for a 9 to 5 desk job with weekends off and paid holidays. Each tour I take helps me gain more respect for the work a farmer does.


Our day ended with a cooking demonstration where we learned a little about ways to prepare beef and the differences between the various cuts. It was a nice end to the day with a little lesson on use of spices and flavor enhancers and using flavors that compliment one another to present a meal in a new way.

Related posts:
Food Blogger Visits Local Farm
Where's the Beef?
What I Witnessed on an Illinois Farm

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.

Apr 29 2016

Farmers of Illinois: Sara Prescott

Get to know more local farmers on Instagram. #FarmersOfIllinois

“You know, farming is one of the toughest jobs in the world. I think it’s also one of the most rewarding. Everybody’s life is full of ups and downs, and raising cattle is no different. We take great pride in what we do every day, and ideally we can pass this all down to our kids. Agriculture has always been a huge part of our lives, and I feel we’re extremely blessed to be raising our children with the same values and traditions we enjoyed in our own childhood.”
 

Related posts:


Sara Prescott
Lincoln, IL

Sara and her husband, Michael, raise cattle on their farm in central Illinois. They hope to one day pass the farm onto their children, Madison, Emma, and Carter. For now, they are working on raising their children with the values they believe in and involve the kids in the process of raise cattle from the time they are born until they leave the farm.

Apr 27 2016

What's Cooking Wednesday: Asian Pasta with Flaming Tofu

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 package firm tofu
  • 2 T Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 lb. tri‐colored pasta
  • 1 8oz. can sliced water chestnuts
  • 1 8oz. can sliced bamboo shoots
  • 2 green onions
  • 1 cup sugar snap peas

Sauce

  • 1 T grated fresh ginger
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 T lime juice
  • 1 t sugar
  • 1 ½ T soy sauce
  • 2 T water
  • 1 t cornstarch

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Crumble the tofu and mix with chili sauce; marinate for at least 6 hours.
  2. Cook pasta in boiling water and rinse. Sauté the vegetables in the olive oil until they begin to soften; about 5 minutes. 
  3. Add pasta to vegetables and heat through; keep covered. 
  4. Combine all of the sauce ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until thickened. Add the tofu to the pasta and coat with sauce.
Related Posts:

Recipe courtesy of:

Apr 26 2016

Why the meal in the field?

As I write this, I have delivered my first meal to the field this spring. It was nothing glamorous, but still signifies that it has begun. We are rolling.

The pace will not slacken from here on out. From now till November, there exists the possibility of the last-minute phone call: “Can you bring supper?” See also: “I’m gonna need a lunch.”

And my very real confession is that while I may grumble (sometimes), deep down, I really like taking meals to the field. I like nourishing my people when they’ve worked so hard. I like planning out what I can take and how to serve it. I like a slow cooker with a locking lid. And I like dishing up meals in Styrofoam to-go containers, a trick I picked up from fellow farm wife Katie Pratt. Wrapped with a rubber band, a napkin and a fork. Grab a bottle of water. Deliver. Done.

The fall days are my favorite, when everyone tends to be in the same field and we can all eat out of the back of my SUV, or the tailgate of the pickup. We’ve had days of tossing footballs at the end of the field, of my very small children clutching pork chop sandwiches and waving for another ride, of Monicals on the tailgate. There was Memorial Day Weekend 2009, when John planted most of our corn crop in three days. It’s one of the very few Sundays in 18 years that he’s ever skipped church to farm; we took a picnic lunch to the field, sitting under the trees of his grandpa’s farm as we ate and the kids entertained him.

I’ll remember those days forever. They were not easy days – herding three small kids while making dinner for a dozen people, loading it into the car, keeping it warm, getting to the right field, serving it up, helping the children, cleaning them up, cleaning the food up, carting it all back home, bathing the small children, doing the dishes and collapsing in exhaustion. But they are good days.

May we all have lots of good days this season.



Originally posted on Prairie Farmer: My Generation.

Related Posts:

Holly Spangler
Marietta, IL

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise their three children. On their farm, they grow crops and raise cattle with John's parents. Holly is also an associate editor for Prairie Farmer magazine, a publication dedicated to sharing information about farm life and farm business.

Apr 25 2016

Where's the Beef?

March weather in Northern Illinois is far from predictable, and although we had a warmer then usual spring day for our visit to the Adams family farm, it was still a bit chilly. When we arrived, the 'City Moms' gladly huddled into a warm barn to hear what Alan Adams had to tell us about his family farm. Alan welcomed us into the barn with pleasure and more then a little bit of pride. We were gathering into the shelter of a family heirloom. The cozy building was constructed with beautiful oak beams by his grandfather in the 1940's.

Alan began his informal lecture by sharing childhood memories of the space in which we gathered. Barns and haylofts were fun and wondrous places to visit. His recollections brought to mind some of my own childhood memories of farm visits. Unlike my own family though, Alan's has retained ownership of the farm and passed down the family tradition of farming as a livelihood. He shared his pleasure of having his young grand-daughter, the seventh generation of their family, living on the farm.

Alan continued his presentation by sharing some of his extensive knowledge of raising high quality, nutritious beef. He explained the classification of cows as ruminants and their ability to digest cellulose (grass). The cow's four compartment digestive system gives her the ability to process grass and vegetable products that cannot be broken down and used by most other animals, creating the opportunity to make hard to till land productive through grazing.

The importance of the inter-connectedness of the people, the animals and the land is emphasized on the Adams' farm. The interdependence of the three is continually taken into consideration as choices are made for creating a high quality product and a sustainable business. Alan discussed past and current practices in raising beef and predicted more extensive use of DNA testing by farmers in the near future to inform their choices in cattle breeding. While every farming family, their knowledge and the track of land they farm is unique, for a farmer to continue a viable family business, learning about and understanding the beneficial uses of new technology in farming is necessary.

Science and technology have improved the outcomes for agriculture in ways many of us aren't even aware of. Alan's first hand day to day experience and his long term view from a life time of farming have given him an understanding of the many benefits of using of science and technology in farming. Some of the evidence based practices bringing benefits to farmers and consumers that he discussed include selective breeding, vaccines, antibiotics when needed, and the use of hormones for more efficient beef production.

Selective breeding contributes overall to the cattle raising process. Beef quality is one aspect, so is the temperament of the cows. Ever watchful the cows are bred and prized for their mothering instinct. Two calf-cow pairs were brought in from pasture, to provide the 'City Moms' an up close view of these beautiful animals. A curious calve isn't ever far out of his mother's sight. These cow-calf pairs are typically in the pasture grazing and utilizing otherwise hard to farm pasture land.

The efficient production of beef that satisfies consumer demand, maintains the health of the animals and provides enough profit for a family farm business, necessitates the integrated use of science and technology. Alan Adams' acquired knowledge is being passed on to the younger generations of his family, but he is also clearly open to new research and evidence based approaches. He was also, like all of the farmers introduced to the 'City Moms', eager to share with us the hows and whys of the choices he makes on his farm. He wants consumers to know the facts and is willing to be transparent about the farming practices he utilizes to increase non-farmers understanding. 

The Adams family has a long history of farming. They incorporate a love and understanding of the land on which they live and extensive knowledge about the animals they raise. They continue to learn about and apply new evidence based information to create the best possible outcomes for their business and the consumers they serve.

Participating in the Illinois Family Farm program has not, by any means, made me an expert in farming. Even as a consumer, I still need to do more of my own research, but my grocery buying choices are far more informed then before participating. Truly being marketing savvy demands a deeper look from a variety of angels for all of us. While my consumer education will continue on my own, I am truly grateful for the hospitality and sharing of information provided to me by the farmers who opened their gates and barns to me as a 'City Mom'.

More informational resources for digging deeper:

For an in depth discussion regarding the use of antibiotics by a brilliant and experienced ranch woman (first hand knowledge wins) read: The Misunderstood

Also, a more thorough look at the use of hormones in beef production can be found in the following article from the University of Nebraska, it offers more evidence based information: Worried About Hormones?

Related posts:
Knowledge is Power: Farm Tour Recap
What I Witnessed on an Illinois Farm
Opening My Eyes to the Reality of Animal Agriculture

Angie Runyan
Brookfield, IL

Angie 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.

Apr 21 2016

Hitched to the Universe - Earth Day 2016

I love this quote from John Muir, particularly as Earth Day 2016 is upon us and folks everywhere are taking a step back to assess their place on the planet.  

“When you try to remove one single thing, you find it’s hitched to everything else in the universe.” – John Muir, founder Sierra Club, advocate for national parks and conservation. 

On our farms and ranches, Earth Day is every day and is never about one single thing. Our livelihoods, our farms, our businesses are directly linked to the health of our natural resources – on our farm that refers to soil and water.  

On our farm, we use the latest in “tractor technology” to bolster our efforts in soil and water care.  For example, our John Deere 2630 Display is a touch screen computer that holds the maps and information about every field we farm. Each piece of equipment has its own screen.  The computers ‘talk’ to each other sharing information about our fields.  The homepage shows a map of the fields, its boundaries and the location of any waterways and fencerows. 


The equipment runs on RTK, which stands for real-time kinetic.  It uses satellites and a base station, which acts like a cell phone tower, to guide the equipment through fields with “sub-inch accuracy repeatability”.  Fancy terminology that means when my husband comes back to this field to cultivate, plant, fertilize and harvest, the equipment will follow the same paths within centimeters.  The same path can be repeated next year and the year after and the year after.  In this way we are essentially farming each square foot individually vs. treating the whole 80 or 100 acres as one unit.  We can control the amount of fertilizers and or pesticides applied, the number of seeds planted, and even learn how many bushels came from that tiny space.  

But all the tractor technology in the world won’t save soil or conserve water.  So we combine this with no-till and minimum till, cover crops and our new efforts to track soil moisture.  Soil probes placed in various fields wirelessly transfer information back to our computers giving us real-time guidance to our irrigation decisions.  All these things come together to give us the best opportunity to improve upon yesterday.  No single thing creates success on a farm.  Everything is most certainly hitched together.

Katie Pratt
Dixon, IL

Katie and her husband, Andy, are seventh generation farmers. Together they raise two adorable farm kids and grow corn, soybeans and seed corn in Illinois. Katie's family still raises pigs, cattle, goats and horses only a few minutes away. Katie was named one of the 2013 Faces of Farming and Ranching by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA). Read more from Katie on her blog, Rural Route 2.


Apr 20 2016

What's Cooking Wednesday: Grilled Pizzas with Herbed Pork

Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Serves 8

INGREDIENTS

HERBED PORK

  • 1 POUND BONELESS PORK CHOPS, ABOUT 3/4-INCH THICK
  • 2 TABLESPOONS EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
  • 2 TABLESPOONS FRESH OREGANO, CHOPPED, OR 2 TEASPOONS DRIED OREGANO
  • 2 CLOVES GARLIC, MINCED
  • 1/2 TEASPOON SALT
  • 1/2 TEASPOON PEPPER

HOMEMADE PIZZA DOUGH 

  • 3 CUPS FLOUR, PLUS MORE AS NEEDED AND FOR ROLLING OUT
  • 2 1/4 TEASPOONS INSTANT YEAST, OR BREAD-MACHINE YEAST (1 ENVELOPE)
  • 1 TEASPOON SUGAR
  • 1 TEASPOON SALT
  • 2 TABLESPOONS EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL, PLUS MORE FOR BOWL
  • 1 CUP COLD WATER, AS NEEDED

PIZZA TOPPING

  • 3 CUPS ITALIAN FONTINA CHEESE, FONTINELLA CHEESE, SHREDDED (12 OUNCES)
  • 6 TABLESPOONS PARMESAN CHEESE, FRESHLY GRATED
  • CHOPPED FRESH OREGANO, FOR SERVING (ABOUT 1 TABLESPOON)
  • HOT RED PEPPER FLAKES, FOR SERVING (ABOUT 1 TEASPOON)
  • STORE-BOUGHT BALSAMIC GLAZE , FOR SERVING (OPTIONAL)

BRUSSELS SPROUTS

  • 1 TABLESPOON EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
  • 12 OUNCES BRUSSELS SPROUTS, ENDS TRIMMED, THINLY SLICED IN A FOOD PROCESSOR OR BY HAND (ABOUT 4 CUPS)
  • 1/2 TEASPOON SALT
  • 1/4 TEASPOON PEPPER

INSTRUCTIONS

To make homemade pizza dough: 

  1. Pulse flour, yeast, sugar and salt in food processor to combine. Add oil. With machine running, gradually add enough water through feed tube until dough forms a rough ball that rides on top of blade. (Feel dough, and add 1 tablespoon flour if too wet, or 1 tablespoon water if too dry.) Process for 45 seconds to knead dough. (To make by hand: combine water, oil, yeast, sugar and salt in large bowl. Gradually stir in enough flour to make a stiff, sticky dough. Turn out onto floured work surface and knead, adding more flour as needed, until dough is soft, supple and slightly sticky, 8 to 10 minutes.) 
  2. Gather dough into a ball. Place in oiled medium bowl and turn to lightly coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/4 hours. (If desired, let covered dough rise in refrigerator for 16 to 24 hours. Bring to room temperature before using.) 
To marinate pork: 

  1. Combine oil, oregano, garlic, salt, and pepper in one-gallon sealable plastic bag .Add pork, close bag, and coat with marinade.
  2. Refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before grilling. 
To cook Brussels sprouts: 

  1. Heat oil in large skillet over high heat.
  2. Add Brussels sprouts and cook, stirring often, until lightly browned, about 4 minutes.
  3. Add 2 tablespoons water and cook until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes more. 
  4. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl and let cool. 
Prepare outdoor grill for direct cooking with medium-high heat (about 400 degrees F.).Brush grill grates clean.Remove pork from marinade, shaking off excess oil.Grill, with grill lid closed, turning once, until the internal temperature reads between 145 degrees F. (medium rare) to 160 degrees F. (medium) on a digital meat thermometer, 6 to 8 minutes.Transfer to carving board and let cool. Chop pork into a 1/2-inch dice and transfer to a bowl. 

To grill pizzas: 

  1. Cut 5 squares of parchment paper about 9 inches square each. Punch down dough and cut into four equal pieces. Shape dough into balls, place on work surface, loosely cover with plastic wrap, and let stand 10 minutes. On very lightly floured work surface, roll and stretch each dough portion into 7- to 8-inch rounds (makes 4 pizzas). Place each round on a parchment square.Stack rounds on paper on large baking sheet. Loosely cover with plastic wrap. 
  2. Brush grill grate clean. In batches if necessary, transfer dough rounds from parchment onto grill, discarding parchment. Grill, with the lid closed, occasionally rotating rounds, until underside is seared with grill marks, 2 to 3 minutes. Adjust heat as needed – do not burn the dough! 
  3. Flip dough rounds and top with one-quarter each of Brussels sprouts and pork, followed by the Fontina and Parmesan cheese. Cover and continue cooking with the lid closed, occasionally rotating dough rounds so they don’t stick, until undersides are golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes more. 
  4. Remove from grill. Sprinkle with oregano and red pepper flakes, drizzle with balsamic glaze, if using, and serve immediately. 
Other recipes you might like:

Recipe courtesy of

Apr 19 2016

Illinois Farmer Q&A: What steps do you have to go through before administering antibiotics to sick animals?

You have questions about how animals are cared for on farms, and Illinois farmers have those answers. We asked local farmers your questions about animal welfare so you can get your answers straight from the source. Let's talk about what's on your table.


What steps do you have to go through before administering antibiotics to sick animals?


  • "Pass Pork Quality Assurance training on proper use of antibiotics
  • Receive prescription and training from vet
  • Follow label on medication
  • Document administration of antibiotic
  • Follow withdrawal times on label
  • Maintain all records for at least one year”
Chris Gould

“Our veterinarian prescribes any antibiotics that are administered to our cattle and goats.  After the prescription, we give the shots or apply salves in the case of a hoof treatment.  However, when we had a calf born that could not figure out how to nurse in the first few days, we made sure we bottle fed it a colostrum mix that provided it with the same natural antibodies that cows provide in the first few days to boost the calf’s immunity.  While we fed the calf the “formula”, we also milked the cow to make sure she would produce when the calf was coordinated and strong enough to nurse on its own.  On a related but distinctly different note, Goats need to be wormed with different wormers on a regular basis because of the variety of things they will eat that could cause them to ingest worm eggs.  So we have given them a variety of oral, subcutaneous and feed-based de-wormers. Cattle do not require as much maintenance when it comes to deworming.”

Heather Hampton Knodle


“When we have a sick animal, our vet will prescribe an antibiotic. Most medications are given either in the muscle, referred to as intramuscular (IM), or just under the skin, sub-cutaneously (sub-cu). Every time an animal is treated, I record the dosage and drug name on a calendar, because there is a withdrawal period I must adhere to before an animal goes to market, meaning I can't harvest an animal for a set amount of days after the last treatment. This allows time for the antibiotic to clear the animal's system. I actually add a week, just to be doubly sure."

Lori Engel

“We mark the animal if given antibiotics and keep them in a “sick pen” until they are healthy, before we would put them back in with the rest of the pigs.”

Brent Scholl


“The first and foremost thing we must do is make sure is that the animal is actually sick enough to warrant antibiotics.  We do not ever make that call on our own.  Our veterinarians assist us with making the decision to whether or not the animal should be treated.  If an antibiotic must be given, we write it down in our cattle recordbook. I also add it into my calendar on my iPhone, which then syncs to my husbands calendar as well.  If this  animal ever needs to be sold, then we know exactly when the withdrawal period is over.”

Alison McGrew


Related posts:
Apr 18 2016

The Good Steward

When you stop to think about it, a consumer hears a lot of negativity regarding farming whether it is animal welfare, the impact on the environment or the use of antibiotics. What I wished consumers would hear more about is what a good steward the farmer is.  I’d like to share with you just a few examples of this stewardship in action on the Adams Farm in Sandwich, Illinois.

The Adams raise corn, soybeans, alfalfa and cattle.  Their farming philosophy is “to raise cattle that provide safe, nutritious, wholesome beef products to consumers while using humane treatment of each animal and production practices that conserve and enhance the soil and water resources.”

Let’s first look at animal welfare. The Adams recently had a new barn built with the cattle’s comfort in mind.  This barn’s design has a light funnel which helps provide heat in the barn all winter long, it has a shade curtain which provides shade in the summer, it is also designed to provide constant air flow and the floor has rubber mats to help prevent foot and leg injuries. They select bulls, which are known to produce small calves, to breed with their heifers so their heifers will have an easier time calving. They also vaccine their herd which greatly reduces the likelihood that their cattle will become sick and need antibiotics.

I also feel the Adams use good stewardship by using the resources available to them to feed their cattle. They subdivide their pastures into units so they can control the grazing habits of  the cattle to maximize the growth of the grass. The cattle are rotated every three to four days into a new pasture to graze. In the fall, once the crops are harvested, the cattle graze in those fields and the Adams are also able to utilize byproducts from ethanol plants, seed corn plants, sugar refineries and a Del Monte vegetable plant. These byproducts would normally go to waste but can now be utilized to meet the cattle’s feeding needs.

The Adams also determine the size of their cattle operation based on the amount of manure they can use on the farm.  The cow manure is used to fertilize their fields. It is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium and therefore cuts down on the need for chemical fertilizers.

There are a lot of variables to manage on a farm and these are just a few examples of how the Adams are living out their farming philosophy and, in my opinion, are being good stewards.

Related posts:
Fascinated with Fertilizer
Dairy Sustainability Made Me Rethink Being Vegan

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.

Apr 15 2016

Illinois Farmers Meet Foodies in Chicago

Let's talk about what's on your table

.

Illinois farmers headed to Chicago for the Sensory Overload event hosted by #Foodiechats and Chicago Tribune in April to meet with Chicago foodies and talk food and farming. If you have questions for a local farmer, you don't have to wait for an event like this one to get in touch with one! Just submit your question here and a local farmer will be in touch soon to answer your question.