Illinois Farm Families Blog

Oct 30 2014

Why Farmers Plant GMOs? Same Question, Different Answer

This won’t be the usual blog post listing all the reasons why genetically modified seed is an important tool to us on our farm. I promise. But it doesn’t hurt to refresh.

Using genetically modified seed has helped us reduce our application of herbicides by half. Fewer applied pesticides means less traffic in the fields, less fuel use and less soil erosion. That’s our experience on our farm. Every farm and farmer is different with different experiences and different reasons for using one tool over another. Genetically modified seed is just one of those tools a farmer can choose to use.

But I digress, because this isn’t going to be that post.

Recently I was asked, “Why do farmers keep planting GMOs if consumers don’t want them?”  A valid question to be sure. Certainly along with soil type, climate, geography, weather, market access and local infrastructure, market demand has something to do with what a farmer plants and why.

In the case of GMOs, there has yet to be a definite swing in demand on the farm side for non-genetically modified grain over a genetically modified hybrid.

The market for non-GMO commodity crops, in spite of what seems like a loud demand coming from the masses, is actually quite small in terms of number of bushels contracted, and is somewhat saturated with farmers already filling the available contracts.

In fact, according to Phil Thornton, Value Enhanced Project Director for the Illinois Corn Marketing Board and Illinois Corn Growers Association, the majority of the non-gm corn grown in the United States is exported. Japan alone imports three million metric tons (120 million bushels) of non-gm corn which is only a fraction of the 15 million metric tons imported annually.

Thornton said that the U.S. market for non-gmo corn, in particular, is small and that many 2015 contracts have already been filled. It is a difficult market for a farmer to break into, especially if looking to gain a premium. Many specialty grains will garner a premium over general market price. The assumption is that because it seems like everyone is debating GMO versus non-gmo, a high premium exists. But, Thornton said, these days with corn prices at $3.00 per bushel, premiums might be as low as $.10 or even a nickel. In other years, when corn prices have been good, premiums have risen to $1.00.

The reality is a farmer’s choice to plant non-gm seed or gm-seed has very little to do with the premium or the market, and everything to do with what is right for his/her farm. Thornton pointed out that much of the non-gmo corn on the market today is not sold for a premium or even marketed with the non-gmo label. For the bulk of the market, both domestic and global, corn is corn is corn.

There will always be specific contracts for non-gm corn, and there will always be farmers growing a crop to fill that market demand. But for us and the decisions we make on our farm, until that demand outweighs the cost of not using a genetically modified seed, we will continue to seek out strong hybrids first and beneficial genetically modified traits second. 

Katie Pratt
Dixon, Illinois

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

Oct 29 2014

What's Cooking Wednesday - Yumsetta

Yumsetta is a Martz family tradition, so when their farm hosted the 2014 Field Moms' tour, they included it on the lunch menu. It got rave reviews and they were nice enough to share the recipe with the Field Moms. We thought we'd pass it on to our readers.


  • 2# ground beef
  • 1 med. onion - chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 can tomato soup
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 16 oz. wide egg noodle
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1-2# shredded orange cheese (could be cheddar, colby, Velveeta or Colby/Jack)


Brown ground meat and onions, adding salt and pepper to taste. Drain. Mix in tomato soup and brown sugar. Set aside.

Cook egg noodles in salted water until tender (not mushy). Drain and mix with cream of chicken soup. Set aside. 

Spray a 9x13 pan with no-stick spray. Layer 1/2 of the meat mixture, 1/2 of noodles and 1/2 of cheese. Repeat.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. 

The Martz Family

Oct 28 2014

2015 City Moms Farm Touring with Illinois Farm Families – Apply Now!

Last year (2013), I had the opportunity to hop along the Field Moms program through Illinois Farm Families. We had a great time exploring farms throughout Illinois and sharing what we learned, what we asked and how the families addressed the tough questions about our food and how its produced. You can see a bit more about one of my farm tour recaps here. One of my favorite elements of these tours is that no question is a dumb one and they are completely open to asking you and provide transparency that is refreshing, especially in this industry. Several times, moms really had asked tough questions causing everyone to thoughtfully consider what we were talking about.

Now, you have an opportunity to do the same! The program which has recently had a name change to City Moms gives moms the opportunity to tour farms throughout Illinois such as touring a soybean and corn farm, hog farm, dairy farm, and beef cattle farm. City Moms will blog and share experience through Watch Us Grow and other social media channels. The deadline to apply is November 15th.

I love following along on these adventures because I find that as much as I have a series of questions, I learn so much more from those around me and just listening to the talks and questions. I really think this is a great way to connect with something that most of us know little about.

What are some farming questions that you would LOVE to have answered?

Samantha Schultz
Indian Head Park

Oct 27 2014

A Glimpse into the Life of an Illinois Beef Farmer

When I picture beef farming, images of cattle grazing on pastures in Texas quickly come to mind. As I toured Larson’s family farm in Maple Park, I was surprised to learn that beef production is increasing in the Midwest. With Illinois close proximity to ethanol plants and the latest scientific studies and technology, Illinois farmers are committed to producing high quality beef and promoting compassionate animal care. 

First, beef farmers are committed to providing high quality and safe food. Beef is one of the most naturally nutrient-rich foods in the meat group. Consumers want leaner beef choices. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture cited that many cuts of beef have 20% less fat and 14 out of the top 20 popular cuts meet government guidelines of “lean” compared to 20 years ago. These leaner results are due to the latest scientific studies and technology that assess the cattle’s diet and meat quality.

Next, beef farmers promote compassionate animal care. The Martz’s barns had rubber mats on the floor for the cattle’s comfort, as well as curtains to keep out the cold during the winter months. The cows have enough room to move around in the barns. The cattle remain indoors due to our variable Midwest weather and lack of pasture. The rest of the farmland is used for growing corn, soybeans, and wheat, which become part of the cattle’s diet. Also, the cattle have access to water, to fresh feed, and to vet care all the time. The family uses curved corrals, designed by Temple Grandin, to reduce stress, panic and injury in animals being led to their feedlot and to slaughter. The family and employees keep meticulous records of each cow, such as nutritionist and ultrasound data.

Thank you to the Larson Farm Family for a great day touring the farm, producing high quality meat, and promoting compassionate animal care. Their combine was vastly different than my grandpa’s combine he operated in the late 1970s. I can’t wait for my family to make and to eat the delicious Yumsetta dish we sampled during our fabulous lunch buffet! Thanks again for a glimpse into the life of an Illinois beef farmer!

Sarah Decker
Grayslake, Illinois

Sarah 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.

Oct 24 2014

Why I Want to be a Face of Farming & Ranching

Over the last 52 years, our 240-acre farmstead has grown to support four families, three full-time family employees, two part-time employees and is cultivating the sixth generation to join our family farm. Today, the farm mainly produces corn, soybeans and will annually market 12,000 pigs, which equates to a lot of bacon! In true diversified farm fashion we also raise cows, goats and chickens. With roots deeply entrenched in 4-H, FFA and youth development, we have 50 sows (momma pigs) in on our pig farm for show/fair pig production, sale and exhibition. This provides not only an opportunity for our own children to learn the joys of showing livestock, but more importantly, the ability to assist in the development of many core character-building values of the youth today.

As with each passing generation, the person in the seat of the tractor continues to become more of a distant memory, and where food comes from becomes a greater question. As a Face of Farming and Ranching, I hope to regain that connection with our consumers and bridge the gap between the millennial and the meat counter. Being able to put a face back to agriculture is extremely important and helps reassure our consumers that we are producing a safe, secure and wholesome product for their families and ours.    

Thomas Titus

To vote for Thomas to be a Face of Farming and Ranching, go to USFRA’s Facebook page. Voting opens Oct. 24 and ends Nov. 2.  

*Top photo: provided by Thomas Titus. Bottom photo: provided by Jeannine Otto/Illinois AgriNews.

Oct 23 2014

Talkin’ About Field Meals

Yesterday, before heading to teach class at ISU, I stopped by the grocery store on my way into campus to pick up a few last minute ingredients for the field meal I planned to make later in the day for our farmers. I had twenty minutes to grab the things I needed and head to class. While I was in the dairy section, an older gentleman re-stocking the shelves talked to me about the beautiful weather we were having and how it was going to be short lived because of the harsh winter we are predicted to have according to the Farmer’s Almanac. “I always follow that Farmer’s Almanac because every year it seems to be right,” he said. Then he added, “I just heard on the radio that someone said this warm fall weather we are having is a prediction that it’s going to be a mild winter this year. But I don’t know. I think I still believe that Farmer’s Almanac!” I proceeded to tell him that my husband is a farmer and says it’s going to be a harsh winter again this year, and that actually I was picking up food to make dinner for the farmers tonight. And yes, the weather yesterday was just beautiful and I hope we got more of it this week. He asked me if they were picking beans, I told them that this week was a big bean week and that tonight I’d be finding them in one of their bean fields. I wished him a nice day and went off to finish shopping.

At check-out, I asked the ladies to keep the cold items together since I’d be putting them into a cooler in my car. They seemed a bit confused, but I didn’t want to explain. The same gentleman saw me as I checked out, and announced, “This lady is headed straight to the bean field with a delivery.”

I added, “Actually, tonight I’m making our farmers dinner and bringing it to the field later. That’s why I need some of the food to stay cold since I won’t be home for a while before I start cooking.” They seemed amused, asked me a few questions about bringing them dinner, and made more small talk about the tractors they’ve seen harvesting recently.

I went on my way, packed my cold items in the cooler I brought with me, and drove to class. As I walked into my building, a graduate organization was having a bake sale in the entry. Knowing that I should probably deliver my field meal with dessert, I scoped out the selection on the table. I asked if they had a bag because I wanted eight of the peanut butter rice krispies treats. “Whoa,” someone said, “that’s a lot of dessert! Make sure you don’t eat them all at once!” I then explained that I was going to be feeding some hungry farmers dinner tonight, and of course, I needed to bring them dessert.

A colleague working the bake sale added, “Gotcha! One less thing you need to make tonight!”

“Exactly my thoughts!” I said smiling. “I just hope they are yummy!”

I took my bag of desserts to class and proceeded to make my students a bit jealous (and hungry) when they saw my bag. One student asked hopefully, “What are you doing with all those treats? Are they for us?!” I then explained that no, I they weren’t for them, but that I was making dinner for our farmers tonight and that this was going to be their dessert.

Within a hour, I explained making field meals to over three groups people, totaling over 30 individuals. Even though we may see farmers harvesting this time of year, many of us don’t think just how those farmers eat throughout the day and into the late hours. Growing up in the Chicago suburbs, it wasn’t something I ever considered when I would drive on the interstate through Illinois on my way to/from college when I’d see the bright tractor lights in the fields at night.

Growing up, I always heard that farmers work from sun-up to sun-down. However, many work until the very late hours of the night if the conditions are right. When do they stop? There are a number of reasons: 1) If the dew comes in, the crop and soil gets wet, so farming becomes much more difficult, 2) They finish a field and are at a good stopping point for the night, 3) Equipment breaks down and requires either new parts and/or a lot of work, and/or 4) They are just plain tired. So, our farmers need to eat to keep their minds and body alert and awake while many of us are tucked into our beds at night.

Last night, my kids and I brought our farmers a field meal that was warm and right out of the oven. (I even made a bit extra to drop at my neighbor’s house who is due to have a baby next week and proceeded to tell her that I was headed out to the field to bring our farmers dinner. Her family enjoyed my field meal in their own home.) A few weeks ago, I stopped at Subway and delivered a field meal consisting of sub sandwiches, chips, and brownies because that’s all I could manage with the time I had. Most nights, my mother-in-law with the help of my sister-in-law take turns feeding our farmers. My field meal last night was a success, the rice krispies treats were delicious (thanks to the ISU classmate who made them), and we got to spend a little bit of time with my husband while he sat in our car to eat with us. There were no tractor or combine rides last night, which disappointed my son, but we assured him that tonight when Grandma takes him to the farm while I’m at a night class, he would get a ride while bringing our farmers another dinner. What a lucky kid, and what well-fed farmers we have!

Kristen Strom
Brimfield, IL

Kristen is a city-turned-country girl after marrying her farmer husband, Grant. You can find her tales of country living at

Oct 22 2014

What's Cooking Wednesday: Pumpkin Pancakes

Regular readers will know that agriculture is a major part of the economy of Illinois, but did you realize that Illinois is the number one pumpkin growing state in the U.S.? When you pick that portly squash for fall decorating or open a can of Libby's for Thanksgiving pies, you're probably using a product grown and processed right here in our state. Pumpkin is low in calories and high in antioxidants like vitamin A. Here's one more way to enjoy fall's favorite flavor:

Pumpkin Pancakes

These pancakes can be prepared Butternut Squash, Hubbard Squash or other variety of winter squash. Use canned pumpkin puree, freshly prepared puree, or frozen puree which has been thawed. Cold leftover pancakes are an appetizing snack.


  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 2 cups pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup molasses or maple syrup
  • 3-4 tablespoons buttermilk or milk
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine, melted
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans or hazelnuts, optional
  • Powdered sugar for dusting


  1. In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and pumpkin pie spice. Set aside.
  2. In another bowl, beat egg slightly. Add pumpkin or squash puree, molasses or syrup, milk or buttermilk and melted butter or margarine. Mix until smooth.
  3. Blend in the dry ingredients all at once. Mix until batter is smooth. Allow batter to rest for 30 minutes or more.
  4. Stir nuts into batter, and add additional tablespoon of buttermilk or milk if batter is too thick.
  5. To make pancakes, spoon a heaping tablespoon of batter onto a lightly greased preheated griddle or heavy skillet. With the back of the spoon, flatten batter to about 1/2-inch thickness. Cook slowly until bubbles appear on top and bottom is golden brown. Lift edge to check. Turn and cook until other side is golden brown.
  6. Place on a platter and set platter in a warm oven. Continue making pancakes until all batter is used. Makes about 24, 3-inch pancakes. Serves 4 to 6 people. Garnish with powdered sugar or serve with corn syrup, maple syrup or your favorite pancake syrup.

Recipe courtesy of the University of Illinois Extension Service. Find more great pumpkin recipes on their Pumpkins and More website.



  • 2 cups complete pancake mix (such as AUNT JEMIMA® Buttermilk Complete)
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2/3 cup LIBBY'S® 100% Pure Pumpkin
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • Lite pancake syrup, if desired


  1. COMBINE pancake mix, water and pumpkin in medium bowl. Stir just until moistened. Batter may be lumpy. 
  2. SPRAY griddle or large skillet with nonstick spray. Heat over medium heat. Pour 1/4 cup batter onto hot griddle; cook until batter bubbles begin to burst. Turn and continue cooking for 1 to 2 minutes or until golden. Repeat with remaining batter. Serve with syrup.

Makes 6 servings, about 12 pancakes total

Recipe courtesy of Very Best Baking by Nestle, the parent company of Libby's Pumpkin. Find more pumpkin recipes at

Oct 21 2014

Modern Farming Myth: Seed company contracts force farmers to plant GMO crops

There's a lot of information and misinformation out there about modern farming, and it may be hard to tell the facts from the exaggerations, half-truths and straight out nonsense. We're collecting some of the myths we hear time and time again and asking our farm volunteers to explain how things really work on their farms. Krista and Brett Swanson are both farmers and seed dealers, so we asked them to explain how seed contracts work. Here is their answer:

Just like you choose what brand and type of toothpaste to buy, farmers can choose their seed. Contrary to the misconceptions floating around, farmers can choose from many seed companies offering different brands of seed, and a selection of GM and non-GM seed hybrids or varieties within those brands.

As a seed dealer we are linked to a single seed company and only able to sell that brand of seed, but even we, as farmers, are not bound to plant only that brand on our farm. In fact, we do buy seed of other brands to plant in plot comparisons in different locations so we can continuously monitor how our products compare to products of all our competitors. Obviously, it is beneficial for our farm to support our seed business, and we want to plant the products we sell on most of our acreage, but nothing prohibits us from purchasing any brand or type of seed we feel is the best choice for our farm.

Decades ago farmers could save seed each fall and replant in the spring instead of buying new seed. When plant breeding methods escalated in the 1990s, companies made huge investments in seed technology and began patenting the seed they developed. Just as a computer company patents their products, seed companies use patents to ensure they are paid for their products and the investment needed to develop the products. The protection of patents also encourages privately-owned companies to pursue and re-invest in innovation. Again, the same principals apply to privately-owned companies in other industries.

Regardless of whether the seed is GM or non-GM, and regardless of the seed company producing it, almost all seed is now patented. Even if the seed does not contain GM traits, it still has valuable, top-notch germplasm resulting from the company’s investments in conventional breeding methods.

When farmers purchase patented seed, again regardless of brand/seed company, they sign a “technology use” agreement. In this agreement the farmer pledges they will not save and replant seeds. Period. There is absolutely no mention of requirements for purchasing that brand of seed in the future. Farmers are smart businessmen and women who research the selection of seed products available every year and make the best selection for their farm.

Our customers are more than willing to sign the agreement. They understand the purpose of the agreement and the fact that purchasing seed annually allows companies to continue making investments in research. All of us – farmers and consumers – benefit from the resulting selection of seed and therefore, the variety in types of food we can choose from.

Krista Swanson

Oct 20 2014

Images of Harvest: Amber waves

Danelle Burrs of Dixon captured this beautiful field ready for harvest. 
Oct 17 2014

It’s YOUR turn…..

Have you ever stopped to wonder how your food goes from farm to table ? Have you ever read a story in the newspaper regarding the safety or ethics of food and farming ? As a Mom and a consumer, and as someone who LOVES to eat… I did. So I made it my mission to research  those things I often wondered about. Things like antibiotics in our meat, GMOs, farming as a business AND a passion.  No matter how much I read, and wrote, and learned, I still felt as if I never received both sides of that proverbial coin. I had questions, I had concerns, but I had no way to get those answers I craved.  Little did I know, fate was about to step in….

A friend and I were talking about what our plans were for the upcoming year and she told me she was about to embark on an amazing journey meeting farmers and learning about the food we feed our families. That was ALL I needed to hear. I KNEW that I had to be a part.  I sent in my application to become a City Mom (then known as Field Moms) for the Illinois Farm Families. And so began my love affair with farming.

As a child who grew up in the city, as a Mom who was raising her children in the city, I knew it was my responsibility to teach them about where their food comes from. After all, my middle daughter once saw a chicken at a park district barn, and was completely bewildered when I told her THAT was how we got eggs, and her beloved chicken tenders. There was a definite disconnect somewhere along the way. A disconnect I felt the need to repair. I wanted my children to know, that food doesn’t just appear, wrapped in plastic, onto our local grocers shelves. Someone, somewhere, gave their time and their passion to provide for us.

Now, I had never visited a farm, and I was by no means in any position to teach what I simply didn’t know. So this amazing opportunity that had been handed to me, was a gift that would go far beyond my own four walls. I knew, that my responsibility was to educate as many people as I could, about the many topics I now had the means to discuss. I was thrilled to know that I was going to get the chance to sit down face to face with farmers of today, and ask them all of those questions I had been carrying.

My vision of farming was one of times past. What I was immersed in, went far beyond my wildest dreams. Technology is now at the forefront of modern day farming. But the backbone of farming is still the farmers’ love of their land. Farming is an amazing world that allows modern day conveniences to intersect with proud traditions at the perfect crossroads. To be a part of a harvest, riding in a combine powered by GPS, is pure magic.  I was part of a community, if even for that moment, that I knew nothing about.

I learned much more than what I had set out to. I learned about both science and conscience. I learned about both profit and providing. But mostly, I learned the value of hard work.

I hope that any Moms who may be reading this blog, will seriously consider becoming a CITY MOM. It was an experience I will build upon forever. Get out there, get your hands dirty and get your questions answered.

Shake the hand of a farmer.

Pass it on and pay it forward.

If you are interested in becoming a 2015 CITY MOM follow the below link for the application :

Katie Grossart, 

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

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