Illinois Farm Families Blog

Nov 25 2014

Drinking milk until the cows come home

Let me first just say I love milk – and really all things dairy. Be it cheese, butter, yogurt, ICE CREAM - this girl loves her dairy. And I never knew how much dairy I actually consumed, until I had to give it up while nursing because my son appeared to be lactose intolerant. Giving up dairy was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But if it meant I could keep nursing my son, I was going to at least give it a shot. It became easier, but I longed for the days I could devour a homemade bowl of mac and cheese.

That day has come and gone and I’m enjoying my REAL dairy foods again, but now there is all this hype in the media about how milk is bad for you and cows are being mistreated and everyone should boycott milk and dairy products. When you become a mother, it’s very easy to be swayed into thinking that the choices you make, means that you are a bad parent. And thus, I might be guilty of believing articles I’ve read, or at least second guessing what I know to be true and that is “Milk does a body good.” But as an athletic 32 year old woman who has never broken a bone, I’d like to think that statement remains a fact.

One of the biggest things you hear in the news about milk is that dairy farmers are injecting cows with a growth hormone and that these growth hormones are in our milk and causing things such as cancer and puberty in young children. So naturally as a concerned mother, I wanted to learn the truth about the safety of the milk we drink in our household. Hence why I signed up to be a part of the Illinois Farm Familes Field Mom tour where we recently toured a local dairy farm and were able to discuss these hot topics. 

I belong to a “mom’s club” on facebook and the topic of the safety of dairy milk often comes up. You will hear these mothers ranting about these hormones that the cows are being given and the ill effects that supposedly cause – but I bet not one of them actually knows that name of that hormone. I didn’t. But I do now. That hormone is called recombinant bovine somatotropin or rbST. It’s the synthetic version of the protein; bovine somatotropin (bST) which is a naturally occurring protein found in all dairy cattle that helps produce milk. A cow will reach its peak in milk production at about 60 days after giving birth to a calf, so rbST is given to prolong the level of milk production.

So now that I know what rbST is and its purpose, but the bigger question I had was…Is it harming the health of my family. And guess what…IT’S NOT. In fact, several studies have been done and shown that it does not cause any health risk in humans. The reason why: though rbST is a hormone, it is a protein and not a steroid. This means that it is inactive when taken orally and just like insulin, is broken down in the digestive system and has absolutely no impact on our health.

Another myth I’d like to bust for concerned parents is that “Organic Milk is free from Hormones.” That is a false statement. Jim taught us that all milk contains hormones, and the level of hormones is not different between organic, rbST-free, and regular milk. bST is a hormone that appears naturally in milk in very small levels, but those levels don’t increase in the milk of rbST-supplemented cows. And because all three of these types of milks have the same composition, there is no difference in the products that could affect the age at which puberty begins. In fact, Jim pointed out that though we stand comparing milk on the shelves, the only real differences are indeed just the labels.

For those who are still concerned about the safety of milk, I’d like to challenge them to learn about all testing that milk must go through before it hits our tables and all of the federal and state regulations that dairy’s must abide by – all to ensure that consumers are. And really, if they knew the fine dairy’s had to pay if they didn’t follow the safety regulations, they would be shocked. If I were a dairy farmer, one could be sure I wouldn’t just be throwing that money away and at the risk of harming the consumer none the less.  Dairy Farmers are not out to get us. They are not looking to harm cows or people. They are doing what is best and most efficient for their farms to keep up with the ever-growing demand.

Like any mother, I’ve been concerned about the possible harmful effects that milk may have on my family. But after being a part of the Field Moms Dairy tour and I now know that when I feed my son milk every night at dinner, my mind can rest easy knowing that the only way I’m affecting his health is by still providing him the most nutrient filled beverage on the market – cow’s milk. And now I can confidently give other mother’s a little 411 on milk safety – based on the facts.

Knowing what I know now about rbST and the safety of milk, I no longer feel guilty about my love for dairy - and will continue to drink milk until the cows come home. 

Niki VanDuzer, GROWMARK

Nov 23 2014

Food for Thought: The Difference is the Price

Nov 22 2014

Get The Gobble Gobble on Buying a Turkey This Year

For those of you that celebrate Thanksgiving you might be making your recipe list and preparing to shop for those ingredients for that special family dinner we all enjoy. Last year I made the mistake of buying my turkey the day before. I walked into Costco with my list and quickly realized my mistake! There wasn't a turkey in sight. I ended up finding one at Jewel but there were slim pickings. This year I started thinking about it earlier. I recently passed a specialty meat store with a big sign out front advertising their "Free Range, Certified Organic Turkeys". I almost started to imagine how much yummier that turkey might taste if I were to go the extra mile this year and give up the extra bucks to buy such a bird. However, I've learned my lesson though on marketing gimmicks and decided to do some research. First lets go over a bit of vocabulary first:

Here are some USDA definitions for some of our favorite labels:

Hormone Free: Did you know that poultry is not allowed to be given hormones?

Hormones are not allowed in raising hogs or poultry. Therefore, the claim “no hormones added” cannot be used on the labels of pork or poultry unless it is followed by a statement that says "Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones."

Fresh: This to me gives the reader an idea that this bird was killed very recently, when actually all it is referring to is temperature.

"Fresh” means whole poultry and cuts have never been below 26 °F (thetemperature at which poultry freezes). This is consistent with consumer expectations of “fresh” poultry, i.e., not hard to the touch or frozen solid.

Free Range: To me this would mean that that animal lives its life outside and has free range of its environment. When in actuality it actually means that producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.

How long and for what percentage of their lives?

The birds must have continuous, free access to the out-of-doors for over 51% of their lives.

This definition sounds amazing actually until you dig a little deeper. Here's a quote from Tom Elko of after he visited a certified organic poultry farm in Michigan:

When I visited an organic free-range turkey producer in Michigan earlier this year, access to the outside was provided by a caged in area attached at one end of the barn, perhaps 40 feet wide and 20 feet deep. Under the barn, ten-thousands toms stood breast to breast.

Certified Organic: There is not an easy 5 sentence definition of this term. There is a long list of detailed regulations that could go on and on. The USDA states,

Before a product can be labeled “organic,” a certifying entity that meets the requirements of the National Organic Program conducts an on site audit for the requesting company and issues approval in the form of an organic certificate. The organic certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. The USDA Final Rule specifically prohibits the use of genetic engineering methods, ionizing radiation, and sewage sludge for fertilization. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.

Here is what I found as the general consensus for an organically grown food is: A food that is safer, more nutritious and tastier!

In actuality here is what is not easily found when researching organic poultry: antibiotic use is permitted to treat infections, up to 20% of animal feed can be from non organic sources, irradiation and genetic engineering are permissible.

The question here is, Is organic food safer, tastier, and more nutritious? According to Stephen Barrett M.D. siting: Newsome R. Organically grown foods: A scientific status summary by the Institute of Food Technologists' expert panel on food safety and nutrition. Food Technology 44(12):123-130, 1990,

Organic foods are certainly not more nutritious. The nutrient content of plants is determined primarily by heredity. Mineral content may be affected by the mineral content of the soil, but this has no significance in the overall diet. If essential nutrients are missing from the soil, the plant will not grow. If plants grow, that means the essential nutrients are present. Experiments conducted for many years have found no difference in the nutrient content of organically grown crops and those grown under standard agricultural conditions.

Tastier? Well that is a matter of opinion, but there have been several blind taste tests and generally, people have no idea they are eating organic, and sometimes even assume the non organic tastes better.

Safer? Here's another quote from Stephen Barrett M.D.

Many "organic" proponents suggest that their foods are safer because they have lower levels of pesticide residues. However, the pesticide levels in our food supply are not high. In some situations, pesticides even reduce health risks by preventing the growth of harmful organisms, including molds that produce toxic substances.

To protect consumers, the FDA sets tolerance levels in foods and conducts frequent "market basket" studies wherein foods from regions throughout the United States are purchased and analyzed. Its 1997 tests found that about 60% of fruits and vegetables had no detectable pesticides and only about 1.2% of domestic and 1.6% of imported foods had violative levels. Its annual Total Diet Study has always found that America's dietary intakes are well within international and Environmental Protection Agency standards.

Most studies conducted since the early 1970s have found that the pesticide levels in foods designated organic were similar to those that were not. In 1997, Consumer Reports purchased about a thousand pounds of tomatoes, peaches, green bell peppers, and apples in five cities and tested them for more than 300 synthetic pesticides. Traces were detected in 77% of conventional foods and 25% of organically labeled foods, but only one sample of each exceeded the federal limit.

So after all this research I started to feel like, our food is pretty safe organic or not! Beyond all this, I would love to go and compare the farms, how bad can a regular poultry farm be? How does it differ in real life from an organic, free range farm? Are there enough differences between these two types of farms to really give a difference. For now my answer is, I don't see enough research in safety and nutrition for my family to justify the added expense.

So go out and be thankful for our countries food safety and buy that turkey at your favorite grocery store without worrying about all that extra labeling in the process. And for any of you looking for food safety tips in preparing a turkey check out this great resource that the USDA puts out here.

Heather Caulfield
Mt Prospect, IL

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

Nov 21 2014

From the Turkey Farm to Your Thanksgiving Table: Understanding the Process by which Turkeys are Raised on the Farm

Ever wondered about the process by which your Thanksgiving turkey arrived at your table? I sure have, and finally, I’ve got a window into the foreign world of turkey farming!

I had the pleasure of interviewing Greg Sinn of Sinn Turkey Farms in Tremont, IL. This 80-year-old family turkey farm was started by father Sinn and is now ran by his two sons.

Greg Sinn was gracious enough to chat with me about how he runs his farm and what to consider when purchasing a turkey. So if you’ve ever wondered how your Turkey get’s to market, here’s a crash course.

About the Sinn Farm

The Sinn Farm is one of few Turkey Farms in IL due to very few processing plants in our state. The majority of Turkeys come from places like Iowa, Minnesota, North Carolina, Indiana and Arkansas. This family farm is unique in that they solely purchase male turkeys because which can grow to be upwards of 50 pounds each, whereas hens (which is typically what is served as our Thanksgiving bird) grow to 30 pounds. The Sinn family delivers their birds live to Hillshire foods in Iowa, and are paid based on turkey weight. Their niche is not in producing turkeys for Thanksgiving, but rather their turkeys are used for deli meats and other turkey products. According to Sinn, the average person consumes 11 pounds of turkey a year, 9 pounds of which are from other means than just Thanksgiving turkey.

From Poults to Purchase

The Sinn Farm purchases their Poults (baby turkeys) at the Cooper Hatchery in IL when they are just a couple of days old.  The Poults are put into a brooder house upon arrival and remain there for nearly 5 weeks. This brooder house is kept very clean and climate controlled to prevent illness amongst the birds. The building is heated to 95 degrees the first week for optimal feather growth and then the temperature is lowered in the successive weeks.

After the initial 5 weeks, the birds are then moved to a Grower house where they remain for 18- 20 weeks until they are large enough to be sold. Throughout their stay, the turkeys are fed commercial feed which consists of corn and soybean meal. In addition, chlorine is added to their water source to keep the water clean and free of disease.

Hormones, Antibiotics and Fresh Turkeys

You know that turkey at your local grocer that’s labeled hormone- free? Well it is hormone free…phew… just like everyother turkey in the cooler (whether it is labeled as such or not). Hormone- free labeling is a marketing ploy to get consumers to spend more for their birds. So don’t “buy” into it (punn intended).

No Antibiotics is also a buzz phrase for labeling. While, I too can understand the average consumers concerns, regarding the matter, my chat with Greg Sinn about Turkey management put everything into perspective. Here’s the scoop:

According to Sinn, “prevention is everything!” By chlorinating the water, keeping the feed at the right height, keeping the birds and their beaks clean and giving them a good go at life in the brooder house, farmers can prevent illness on their farms. Sinn believes that “keeping things clean is most important.” Hence, antibiotics on their farm is a rarity. If there is an outbreak of some sort, the key is to attack the problem quickly by determining what the illness is and then separating the birds that are sick from the well birds.

If antibiotics are administered there are checks and balances in place to ensure that it doesn’t enter into our food supply. One week before every turkey shipment, the Sinns are required to send a blood sample from their turkeys to the processing plant. That blood is then tested for antibiotic presence before the shipment is even received. Besides, with a big account like Hillshire Foods on the line, would any farmer choose to gamble with that relationship by slipping a tainted bird or two under the radar?

Well, it certainly doesn’t sound like the business practices of the Sinns who walk through their temperature controlled turkey houses with their automated feeding systems and chlorinated water 3-4 times a day to ensure the cleanliness and safety of their birds.

Fresh vs. Frozen Turkey

You’ve seen the advertisements for birds that are sold fresh and may have even ranked that as a priority in selecting your turkey. After all, who doesn’t want a fresh product? I like my french fries fresh and my fruits and veggies fresh, but when it comes to turkeys, Sinn brought up a very important question, “how long has [the bird] been detained in the proper temperature?” Excellent question, Mr. Sinn! A frozen turkey (that has been frozen fresh) stands a better chance of being a safer turkey because it was immediately frozen during processing versus a bird that may have been in varied temperatures before arriving at your grocery store. It’s definitely food for thought.

Now granted the Sinn Farm is just one of hundreds of Turkey farms across the U.S., I do believe that this farm’s practices is indicative of the turkey farming practices across the country. As consumers, it’s becoming more and more important that we understand the processes by which are food is raised and processed, especially given that grocery store labeling can be very misleading.

So with that said, here are a few tips for purchasing your Thanksgiving turkey…and ultimately saving a buck:

1. Ignore labeling for “hormone free.” No birds are administered hormones.

2. Antibiotic Free is just a buzz word. USDA approved foods do not allow antibiotics in the foods we consume.

3. Fresh (in lieu of frozen) isn’t always best. 

4. Cook your bird to 161 degrees F.

5. Now enjoy the extra cash you saved on your bird by splurging on dessert!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Amina Nevels
Chicago, IL

Amina was one of the Illinois Farm Families 2013 Field Moms. Throughout the year she visited Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each tour, the Field Moms shared their thoughts by blogging about what they experienced on these farms, including five takeaways. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago moms meet farmers.

Nov 20 2014

Ractopamine and Turkeys: A Response to FoodBabe

Vani Hari, or Food Babe, as she calls herself, has a large following online. However, she does not garner a lot of respect from the agriculture and science community. Why? Because she is notorious for fear-mongering and spreading misinformation across the interwebs. Forbes published an article called, “Quackmail: Why You Shouldn’t Fall for the Internet’s Newest Fool, The Food Babe” in June and David Gorski, an oncologist who writes for Science Based Medicine calls her “The Jenny McCarthy of Food.

Despite the fact that her claims are routinely debunked by scientists and experts, hundreds of thousands of readers have fallen prey to her deceptive tactics and now live in fear of food.

Hari’s latest erroneous article attacked an American tradition: The Thanksgiving Turkey.

Foodbabe wrote an article about your Thanksgiving turkey, saying that it is full of dangerous chemicals. Although this article has been shared thousands of times on the internet already and has many people questioning their Thanksgiving food choices, I know for a fact that many of the claims FoodBabe made are not only misleading, but are downright lies.

How do I know this? Because I am a turkey farmer.

As a farmer, we have two top priorities: animal welfare and food safety. Every single decision we make that influences either of those outcomes is thoroughly researched by my husband and I and the network of veterinarians, animal nutritionists, and scientists we work with regularly.

Let’s talk about FoodBabe’s claims and I’ll give you a chance to hear the perspective of someone who truly is an expert on the way turkeys are raised: me.

In her article, Hari first brings up animal antibiotic use, saying

“Most conventionally raised (non-organic) turkeys are pumped full of antibiotics, and this overuse of antibiotics is creating a major human health issue.”

I have written about antibiotic use several times. And the bottom line is this:

  • Turkeys are not “pumped full” of antibiotics. We work closely with veterinarians to use antibiotics only when it improves animal health by preventing, controlling, or treating disease.
  • Use of antibiotics on farms is NOT creating a human health issue. All peer-reviewed risk assessments articles to date have shown no significant risk to public health from on farm use of antibiotics. (Dr. Scott Hurd, Hurd’s Health)

But this distorted claim about antibiotics was just a supplement to the real focus of her article: ractopamine.

Hari argues that ractopamine is used on turkey farms and is present in your Thanksgiving turkey.

Before I address whether or not it’s in your Thanksgiving bird, let’s go over some basics.

What is ractopamine?

Ractopamine is a beta-agonist. Beta-agonists are used in human medication to treat asthma, bradycardia (slow heart rate), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart failure, allergic reactions, and hyperkalemia.

Ractopamine is NOT a hormone, steroid or antibiotic. Ractopamine is not a genetically modified organism and it is not manufactured by using genetically modified organisms.

(By the way, there are no hormones or steroids used in poultry or pork production in the United States.)

Why are animals given ractopamine?

Ractopamine is a feed additive that helps animals develop lean muscle mass. Some cattle, hogs and turkeys are given ractopamine.

“In animals, beta-agonists function as what are known as "repartitioning agents." Repartitioning agents signal the muscle tissue to change how it devotes the energy the animal extracts from the feed it eats into muscle vs. fat. Fed for a short term, they can cause animals that have the right genetics to devote more of that nutritional energy to making muscle, which becomes meat, and less to putting down fat. That repartitioning ultimately not only improves the consumer acceptability of the meat cuts, it also improves farmers' profitability by using less feed per pound of animal grown.” (source)

Some bodybuilders use beta-agonists (including ractopamine) to gain lean muscle mass.

Why do farmers use feed additives that promote lean muscle mass?

To maximize how turkeys digest and utilize their feed.

Farmers constantly strive to raise turkeys in ways that use fewer natural resources while also providing the absolute best care and nutrition for the birds. Animals that grow faster with less feed (that is optimized nutritionally for them – the perfect diet, if you will) have a smaller environmental impact. Plus, less feed can cut down on the cost of raising an animal, which means lower food prices for you.

Is ractopamine safe?


“Ractopamine has been approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for use in pigs in the United States since 1999, for cattle since 2003 and for turkeys since 2009. It is similarly approved in about two dozen countries around the world.

”In addition to the FDA and the United Nations (Codex) food safety body, 28 other regulatory authorities globally have accepted the research that says human food produced using the compound is safe for humans. In more than a decade of use, no adverse human health reports have been associated with people eating meat from animals fed ractopamine.” (source)

Why is it banned in other countries?

Dr. Donald Beermann, from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, explains, "Countries that have banned it, the European Union in particular, have come forward and said even though the scientific basis is there to know that the use of these compounds is safe, for other reasons they choose not to approve them.

"The World Health Organization and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization joint expert commission on food additives has on three separate occasions (2004, 2006 and 2010) concluded that ractopamine is safe.

"The global food safety agencies, which would include the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the Canadian Human Safety Division, Veterinary Drugs Directorate, Health Canada, have all come forward and stated ractopamine is absolutely safe." (source)

Is it widely used in the turkey industry?

Here’s the kicker, I asked around, and I didn’t find any turkey farmers that use ractopamine.

None of the farmers in Iowa that I talked to use the feed additive. And farmers in our neighboring state, Minnesota, which is the #1 turkey state in the US, reported the same thing. They’re not using ractopamine.

So there you have it. FoodBabe has once again proven herself to be a disingenuous promoter of fear-mongering against conventional food. For the truth about what happens on farms, ask a farmer.

Katie Olthoff lives On the Banks of Squaw Creek. She is a former teacher and current farm wife, mom, blogger and writer. She owns a small business and works part time for the Iowa Turkey Federation She keeps herself busy working on their 100 year old farmhouse and trying to figure out how to keep it clean. 

This piece originally appeared in On the Banks of Squaw Creek  and is republished here with the author's permission. 

Nov 19 2014

What's Cooking Wednesday: Cheesy Turkey Lasagna

Cheesy, spinach-y white turkey lasagna from this award winning recipe in the 2004 “Let’s Cook with Turkey” recipe contest sponsored by the Iowa Turkey Federation at the Clay Country Fair, Spencer, Iowa, is a great way to give a new life to your Thanksgiving leftovers.


  • 1 Cup Minced onions
  • 3 Cups Chopped cooked turkey
  • 10 oz Frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and drained, pat dry
  • 4 Cups Grated mozzarella cheese
  • 2 Cups Parmesan cheese
  • 1 Cup Ricotta cheese
  • ½ tsp Rosemary
  • 1 tsp Dried Oregano
  • ½ tsp Pepper
  • ¼ tsp Salt
  • 1 tsp Lemon juice
  • 10 OZ can Cream of Chicken soup
  • ½ Cup Sour cream
  • ½ Cup Milk
  • 9 Lasagna noodles


  1. Wash hands.
  2. Sauté minced onions with 1 T. olive oil.
  3. Mix onions together all remaining ingredients except noodles.
  4. Put 3 noodles on the bottom of 9” x 13” baking pan/dish and top with a layer of the mixture.
  5. Repeat 2 more times alternating with noodles and mixture.
  6. Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees.
Recipe courtesy of 

Visit their website for more great turkey recipes.

Nov 17 2014

I Visited a Beef Farm and Still Wanted a Steak

There they were. Hundreds of them, in roomy pens, air moving freely. They milled, they chewed, the lay down and took rests. All getting ready to be beef, which I enjoy on my plate on occasion.

I had the pleasure of visiting the Larson Farm in mid-October and met four generations of family farmers. Together they manage 6,300 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat and 2,500 head of cattle. Lynn, member of Generation 2 and daughter to the 1st Generation was in charge of the fields while her husband Mike managed the cattle operation. They work together and separately, making a life for their son and his children. They have four full time employees (also a family affair) and one part-timer to help them out. What I gathered that they have most of, is each other.

There are some facts that I really want to share with you that are fascinating.

Hormones – yes, there is estrogen used in the rearing of these all-male beef cattle There are 1.9 nanograms of estrogen per 3-ounce serving of beef that was treated with growth promotants compared to 1.3 nanograms of estrogen per 3-ounce serving of beef from an untreated steer.  There are 225 anagrams of estrogen naturally occurring in the baked potato you set next to that steak.

Antibiotics – yes, there are antibiotics in the feed. These antibiotics are to prevent cows from developing blood in their stool; these antibiotics do not exist on the human side. Antibiotics are given to sick animals that DO exist on the human side. There is a strict regimen followed including a “withdrawal” period, which most farmers will extend out. These do not show in the meat we eat and help keep the animals from sickness.re1.9 nanograms of estrogen per 3-ounce serving of beef that was treated with growth promotants compared to 1.3 nanograms of estrogen per 3-ounce serving of beef from an untreated steer. There are 225 anagrams of estrogen naturally occurring in the baked potato you set next to that steak.

Corn – they eat it. Their food consists of mother’s milk until they are six months old and then a mix of corn, hay, a glutinous mixture of sticky goodness that is the byproduct of processing corn for ethanol or cornstarch, and a small additive in pellet form which contains the antibiotic and a protein supplement.

Meat Grade – this was super cool. Mike ultrasounds the steer between the 12th and 13th rib. From this ultrasound they can detect the fat layer on the back and the marbling of fat in the muscle. They do this ultrasound to determine how many more days they can feed the cow until they go to market, and what the expected grade might be. This is all determined by complex equations calculated in seconds by a specialized computer program. There is nothing they can do to improve the grade other than feeding the cow and they are very careful to ensure the cow is at a healthy, manageable weight – sometimes sacrificing grade.

All of that talk about marbling made me hungry for steak, even after seeing the cows in the pens,

 seeing the feed, and looking around what is known as a CAFO or a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation; AKA the devil.

Here is what I can tell you.

The family cares about the welfare of the animals. They care about their use of manure, they monitor their water usage for runoff, and they want the best for us and for the animals. I came away with some questions about how it could be better.

Could the operations be smaller? Lynn tells me that the smaller operations, say 300 head of cattle, are not regulated in the same way, all livestock operations are regulated, but the bigger they are the tighter focused the microscope gets.

Could the pens be bigger, and could the cows roam? They could. I can pay more for that at the grocery store and if enough of us do, then things will change. Farmers are always responding to the fluctuations in consumer preference. If we, the consumers, want cattle to be treated or raised in a different way then we argue that point with our checkbooks, and we will pay for it. This is our choice and the farmers are ready to accommodate.

But what I am trying to tell you is that these animals looked good and healthy to me, in this large operation in my home state. I trust that they are not only safe to eat, but that the farmers are being responsible about their overall health management, the environmental conditions an operation like this produces, and the desires of the consumer.

Am I comfortable eating meat? Yes, I was before and I am now. I feel like I know a little more about antibiotics and hormones and I cannot wait for steak night.

Sara McGuire,
Chicago, IL

Sara 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.

Nov 15 2014

A Trucking Dilemma

If you are expecting a tattooed masculine looking lady, I couldn't be further from that image. I’m in my early twenties, I have long blond hair, I love nail polish, I love to get all dressed up and I do not have one tattoo. Funny thing is, this is not an uncommon image during harvest season. Farmers tend to rely on the help of those they trust, usually close family members. Wives, daughters, sisters and mothers are all recruited to help drive grain trucks during this time of year. I used to think that driving would be an absolutely terrifying experience, but it is really not that bad! I just have to stay focused, don’t make sharp turns and be patient when stopping and going. Let me be honest, I never in my wildest dreams ever thought I would be the chick in a big grain truck. Yeah, I’m a trucking woman!

My mom, a registered nurse and teacher, also helps transport grain. She and my mother-in-law both drive Semi trucks for the family farms. This last month I was at my hair dressers’. In the middle of my cut she gets a phone call from her husband asking her to take a loaded truck to the grain elevator. Now I know what you are thinking! What?!!  This was probably your first response, so let me answer your questions. Yes these are all very feminine women. Yes they are all attractive, not masculine at all! Yes they are wives and mothers. Yes they have other things to do, but they still help out on the farm anyway.

It is more efficient to keep the combine running during harvest. If a farmer has to combine until he/she is full of corn, unload the corn into a grain truck, get out of the combine and drive the grain truck to a elevator or personal grain bin, then repeat this process over and over, it is really hard to get much done. If a farmer has someone to drive the truck, he or she can keep combining until they are full, then dump and the truck driver will empty the truck while the combine driver can keep doing his/her job. I look at it this way, if I want a nice vacation this year, it is in my best interest to help get the crops out before they lose their value.

If you see farm equipment on the road this harvest season, please be polite. It might be a mother, daughter, sister or wife. She may not even be comfortable in what she is driving, but any form of patience and kindness is much appreciated! 

Rachel Asher,
Ursa, IL

Nov 14 2014

Find out how food goes from farm to table with Illinois Farm Families.

Farming is a lot like wearing pants.

Some elevate the ordinary, and others are just ugly.

The same applies to the practices and processes that take our food from farm to table.

Farmers just outside Chicago are growing, raising and harvesting the dairy, meat, and produce we serve our families every day, and through the Illinois Farm Families City Moms (formerly Field Moms) program, are sharing no-holds-barred access to their farms.

Three years ago, I had the opportunity to be part of the year-long flagship program that was just planting seeds in the social media sphere in an effort to answer the questions parents-as-consumers have about real food, GMOs, organics, and technology in farming.

I learned what prime, choice, and select grades mean when it comes to meat (it’s a ranking from highest to lowest); that the Market Day Ranch Steaks we order every month come from a packing plant in Aurora, IL, which includes meat from some of the very cattle I saw firsthand on a farm tour; and that farmers and veterinarians are working to reduce antibiotic use in cattle by focusing on good nutrition and the use of vaccines in comprehensive preconditioning programs before they get big enough for us to eat.

Our group toured a dairy farm, hog farm, cattle farm, and got a front row seat during the corn harvest. In a combine. We saw piglets being born, visited Monsanto, talked to experts in the agricultural field, and heard from generations of family farmers.

As a result, I can make more informed decisions at the grocery store, better understand all things USDA, and share what I’ve learned with other food-curious parents.

Consider learning more about farms by applying to the 2015 City Moms program, and be sure to check out farm tour recaps from current and alumni moms at

Pilar Clark
Lisle, IL

Nov 13 2014

My year as a field mom

With three kids ages 9, 11 and 14, life can seem like a bit of a time warp sometimes. My fellow moms come from so many different walks of life.  There are the ones who can whip up a hearty taco dinner for fifteen teenagers with a 30 minute notice.  There are the ones who always have a cooler full of fruit and granola in their car for the entire Cub Scout troop.  And there are the ones who balance babies on their hips and mix organic mac and cheese while waiting for the school bus.

But, in the midst of all this motherhood, we all wonder what to feed our masses.  Because, let’s face it, kids have to eat.  Food brings us together.  The family meal is one of those times when calm settles over us all and we can reconnect and rejuvenate.

So, when I started hearing words like organic, raw, hormone-free, cage free and non-GMO (to name a few) among my mom friends, I wondered if I was still doing what was best for my growing brood.  I’d been so wrapped up in soccer practice, homework and school book fairs that I hadn’t really thought much beyond a balanced diet AND my limited budget.  Soon I took note of these labels in the grocery store . . . and the higher prices attached to them.  I wondered, “Is it really worth it?” But, the more people I asked, the more confused I became.

That’s when I decided to become a Field Mom and visit Illinois farms, talk to farmers and learn about how food is processed.  After all, who else could answer my questions better than the people who grow it? Since joining the Field Moms, (henceforth known as ‘City Moms’) I’ve visited a corn and soybean farm, cattle farm, dairy farm and seen behind the scenes at the grocery store.  I’ve talked to seed company representatives, farm families, veterinarians, members of the growers association, and nutritionists.  And you know what? I finally know exactly what my family needs to eat and why.  I’ve had ALL my questions answered — and then some.  I’ve learned that other people’s choices are simply that:  other people’s choices.  There’s no one way to shop, and there’s no one way to eat.  Fortunately, our marketplace offers enough options for everyone.

If you are confused and looking for facts about food production and labeling, become a 2015 City Mom by completing an application at by November 15.  You will not regret this opportunity.   Visit the farms.  Talk to the farmers — then, tell your friends!

Genevieve O'Keefe

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