Illinois Farm Families Blog

Aug 20 2014

What's Cooking Wednesday: Farmer's Breakfast

Makes: 8 to 10 servings
Start to Finish Time: 50 minutes

This egg and potato skillet meal includes salami, mushrooms, and sweet peppers, making it a satisfying main dish for breakfast or dinner.


8 small potatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 tablespoons cooking oil
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
4 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 cup chopped salami or cooked ham
1 small green sweet pepper, chopped
1/2 cup chopped onion
10 eggs, lightly beaten or 2-1/2 cups refrigerated egg product
1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons snipped parsley
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (4 ounces)


Cook potatoes in boiling water about 10 minutes or until just tender. Drain well.

In a 12-inch skillet, cook the potatoes in hot oil over medium-high heat for 5 to 8 minutes or until browned, turning occasionally.

Add the butter or margarine to the skillet. Add the mushrooms, salami or ham, green pepper, and onion. Cook and stir for 5 to 8 minutes or until the vegetables are just tender.

Combine the eggs with the milk and parsley. Season with salt and black pepper. Add to skillet. Reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until eggs are just set but still moist.

Sprinkle with cheese. Cover and cook, without stirring, for 3 minutes more or until eggs are set in the center. Serve hot with toasted bagels or English muffins, if you like. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Reposted from Midwest Living.

Aug 19 2014

A Visit to Our Farmer Pen Pal

In late June, I took the kids to visit my Illinois Farm Families pen pal Cindi Monier on her corn and soybean farm just north of Peoria. Cindi let the boys climb on the farm machinery and feed treats to her horses. She explained that their farm's location so close to the Illinois River makes it easy to offload grain to the waiting barges. It bothers her to watch parking lots cover some of the world's choicest farmland. Getting into farming can be tough. There are huge outlays for capital equipment, seed and other supplies. And the competition for land, which drives prices up, doesn't make it any easier.

We visited a neighboring farm where cattle of various breeds go for finishing--gaining weight before being sold for the market. The cattle feed is a mix of corn and supplements, which calm wilder cattle behavior. We gathered eggs and scared the chickens (and they scared us!) at her friend's nearby chicken farm. (These eggs are so fresh! You should see how high the yolks sit in the pan when I fry them for breakfast.)

I didn't expect the animals to be so aware of our presence--the horses came right up to the fence. They were excited we were coming because they knew they were getting a treat from Cindi. The chickens knew we were unfamiliar and had a fit as we approached. And as I was talking to the cattle farmer, I glanced up only to realize that all the cattle had crowded over to the fence to get a look at us because they were curious. Too funny!

We drove to Lacon where a torrential rainfall soaked us as we ran to storefronts from the car to The Pizza Peel. The staff gave us bath towels to dry off and served some great 'za, including a gluten-free one for Isaac. We joined Cindi's husband Breck and his friend having lunch there. They had pulled an all-nighter as volunteer firefighters taking care of a local blaze. In the video, you can see the staff at Kelly Sauder Rupiper Equipment give the boys a ride around the parking lot while Cindi describes to me how the equipment is used. What an excellent trip! I hope to make it back there in the fall to see their operations during harvest.

My son Peter entering the chicken coop

Nesting chickens and clutches of eggs

The cows were curious as we talked to the finisher and walked over to check us out.

The boys had a great time riding in a combine.

Dina Barron
Oak Park, Illinois

Dina 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.

Aug 17 2014

Food for Thought: Care and Compassion

Do you have questions about food and farming? Check out our FAQ page to learn more, or Ask a Question of your own. And for more Food for Thought posts, visit this section.
Aug 15 2014

Serenading the Cattle with My Trombone

Aug 14 2014

Field Mom Report: Ten Things GMOs Aren’t

A year ago, I didn't know what a GMO was.

On our spring Field Mom tour of Jeschke Farms, a 4,000 acre corn and soybean farm in Mazon, Illinois, we learned about biotechnology. It was explained to us in a positive light; they shared the benefits of biotechnology and also gave us resources where we could go to learn more.

I've come a long way in my understanding of biotechnology in the past few months, but I have a lot more to learn. While I've done a lot of reading on my own, most of the information in this post has come from the Illinois Farm Families and the resources they've shared. The resources are rooted in science and trust in our regulating bodies (USDA/FDA/EPA, as well as global partners in science).

1. GMOs aren't…

…simple science. Biotechnology is sophisticated and it is abstract. We can't touch it or see it first-hand. Most ordinary folks, like me, may find biotechnology difficult to understand. As we read food biotech articles written by journalists, we need to keep in mind that they were probably not students of science, and are paid to do some research and write on the topic. Their information is only as good as their research. Biotech scientists are not paid to write for us. They spend their time "doing" the science and not talking about it. I like the GMO Answers website because scientists are answering some of our questions in plain English.

2. GMOs aren't…

…the invention of Monsanto. Monsanto is a single company who is capitalizing on biotechnology and enjoys a significant market-share of 20 to 30 percent of the seed industry. GMOs did not originate there and Monsanto is not the be-all and end-all of biotechnology. Monsanto is not involved with all types of crops, nor are they the only research company. There are many other biotech seed companies, such as Dupont, Syngenta, and Bayer Crop Science. Illinois Farm Moms have made a point to tell us that they have many seed companies to choose from, about 150 U.S. companies, in fact. There is a great question and answer on GMO Answers about large versus small biotech firms. There are many small biotech companies and even universities, like Cornell University, creating GMOs.

3. GMOs aren't…

…just about killing bugs and weeds. Food biotechnology is also about plant disease-resistance. The Hawaiian papaya industry was saved in 1998 by a GMO created at Cornell University that was resistant to a devastating plant virus. The Florida citrus industry is currently in danger of collapse from a virus and, similar to the Hawaiian Papaya, biotechnology may be the only long-term solution. The GMO is years from approval, but since it is a genetically-engineered solution, it will likely hang in the balance of consumer opinion. In addition to disease resistance, there are real opportunities to create plant traits with drought tolerance, nitrogen-use efficiency, and nutritional improvement. Imagine the effect on the environment of crops that use significantly less water, our most precious natural resource, or that require less nitrogen. Golden Rice is an example of how a GMO could improve human health. Millions of children in undeveloped nations are vitamin A deficient, which causes blindness and death. Rice, their staple food, could provide them with more of the nutrients they need. A new type of soybean has been planted in the U.S. this year that will produce soybean oil with a lower trans-fat level. We can think of the bugs and weeds resistance as Version 1.0, but Version 2.0 is in the labs and has potential to have an important and sustainable impact on crops, the environment, and human health.

4. GMOs aren't…

…increasing the use of pesticides. Another informative website is called The Facts About GMOs. A global impacts study was done that shows, globally, pesticide use has been reduced by 9% between 1996 and 2011 due to the use of GMO seed. This, alone, stands out to me as an important way biotechnology is having a positive impact on the environment. Each crop has its own very specific handful of pests. On the Jeschke Farm, specifically targeting the worst pests for a particular crop and managing those pests through the modified seed DNA, the use of spray-applied pesticides has been reduced even more than the study reports. That means less input cost to farmers, a safer work environment for farm workers, and less collateral damage to other non-pest organisms, like bees and butterflies. We have concerns about our pollinators, but so far, studies have not proven that the GMO seed plays a part in the very complex problem of honeybee and Monarch butterfly populations. The EPA regulates and reviews environmental testing and there is undoubtedly still much to be learned.

5. GMOs aren't…

…taking a backseat in sustainable agriculture. They are on the front line, but as with just about everything in life, there are trade-offs. Illinois ranks number one in the nation for number of no-till acres. The Washington Post published an article that talks about why no-till is a big deal. This change-over to no-till has been made possible, in large part, by herbicide use and GMO seed. We don’t like putting harsh chemicals on our food plants and into our fertile soils, but if we don’t, we risk losing our crops. In the name of crop protection, we enlist herbicides to kill weeds. Before herbicide was used, tilling was a method used to control weeds, but tilling disturbs the soil. When the soil is disturbed, not only are valuable micro-organisms displaced, but soil erosion can occur and valuable nutrients are lost. This environmental impact of soil erosion has been reduced since farms have started going to no-till. Another benefit of no-till is a lot less tractor time in the fields. This translates to less fuel consumption and lower emissions. It is estimated the reduction of emissions is equivalent to removing over 11 million cars from the road per year.

6. GMOs aren't…

…toxic, but there’s no data to prove they are safe. Are conventional soybeans safe to eat? Apparently, no one has tested them for that. And, apparently, there is no precedent for food safety testing, nor are there protocols or benchmarks. Isn't that sort of shocking in this day-and-age? But, it makes sense. There is no definitive data that tells us conventional foods or GMOs are safe, and probably never will be. Scientifically proving a negative (that GMO foods are unsafe) is very difficult. Governing bodies, including the European Union in their decade-long EU funded GMO research project, concluded “biotechnology, in particular GMOs, are not per se, more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies.” GMO Answers shows that over 1080 studies have been done and the global scientific consensus has deemed GMO foods nutritionally equivalent to non-GMO counterparts. They are independently and heavily tested and regulated. They have been used in our food system for nearly 20 years and there has been no reported link to illness.

7. GMOs aren't…

…brand new. Genetic research with respect to food has evolved from genetic knowledge that is thousands of years old. GMOs as we know them today were born in biotech labs in the mid-1970’s. The very first GMO food to go on the market was the Flavr-Savr Tomato in 1994. It was unpopular and under-funded and was removed from the market in 1997. Also in 1994, a virus-resistant yellow crook-neck squash was approved for market and is grown today, but not widely available. The development of the virus-resistant Rainbow Papaya is a great story and there is a good video from GMO Answers that explains how GMOs are created using the example of the papaya. From the mid-1990s, GMO corn, soybeans, cotton, sugar beets, alfalfa, and canola crops have been approved, widely planted, and have benefited from GMO seed engineered to resist insect damage and herbicide. There are just eight commercially grown crops using GMO seeds, which are those I've listed in bold green print above.

8. GMOs aren't…

…widespread among fresh produce. Less than 25 percent of the national fresh market sweet corn crop is GMO. GMO squash, like sweet corn, is not widespread either. About 80 percent of Hawaiian papaya is virus-resistant and a GMO. GMO Soybeans are widely planted. I can’t say that I've seen edamame (soybeans) in the fresh produce aisle, but I suppose it could be there in certain markets. Field corn, soybeans, sugar beets, canola and cotton (cottonseed oil) are not sold fresh, but are processed and used in one form or another in most of the processed foods we buy.

9. GMOs aren't…

…allowed in products displaying the USDA Certified Organic label. This does not mean other un-labeled (non-organic) food necessarily contains GMOs. But, if you are looking for non-GMO products, you should look to the USDA Certified Organic label.

10. GMOs aren't…

…going away. To some, the discoveries leading to food biotechnology in the early-1970s were as ground-breaking as putting a man on the moon. To others, it was man playing God. Consumer opinion may hold back the winds of change for a time, but food biotechnology is too important to the environment, global food supply, global economics, and human health. Eventually, it will be accepted. As a consumer today, I am trying to be forward-thinking and open-minded so that I can learn about it, understand it better, and figure out how it fits into my daily life and the lives of my neighbors who may be someplace else on our globe. What IS going to happen when our global population grows to a point where we have no more land to utilize for increasing food production? Or when today’s developing nations are rich and eating a diet as rich as ours? How far off is that? Will it happen in my lifetime, my boys’ lifetime, or maybe in the lifetime of my future grand-children? We are hearing many folks claim that by 2050 there could be 2 billion more people to feed and their diets will be meat-rich like ours. Biotechnology is just one tool, but as I’m seeing it today, an important one.

Generally, the Illinois farmers we've talked with don’t like how one side of the GMO labeling debate leans toward abolishing GMOs. Paul Jeschke and his wife, Donna, are down-to-earth people and passionate about their work. I will end this post with something that Paul said to us before our day at his farm ended because his words have resonated with me. Paul told us he has been in Africa, as a missionary with his church, and has seen first-hand, a mother who doesn't know if her child is going to have food that day. He told us, (to paraphrase) ‘There will always be niche markets for those who want to pay more for organic or non-GMO or whatever. If we want it, there will be a farmer to grow it for us.’ But, he asked us to ‘please be fair to those who are not rich, like we are, and allow me, and other farmers like me, to farm in the way I choose, to be able to help the people who don’t have the choices we have.’

Heather Guido
Oak Park, Illinois

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

Aug 13 2014

What's Cooking Wednesday: Beef Sliders with Chipotle Yogurt Sauce and Cheddar Cheese

Don't let their size fool you. These mini burgers pack a powerful punch!

Servings: 6
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 15 mins


For Sauce:
1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
1 to 2 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, chopped
1 teaspoon adobo sauce
¼ teaspoon ground cumin

For Sliders:
1 pound ground beef chuck
6 whole wheat slider buns
1½ slices mild Cheddar cheese, quartered


For sauce, in a medium bowl, combine yogurt, chipotle pepper(s), adobo sauce, and cumin. Stir until well blended. Cover and chill to allow flavors to blend.

For sliders, shape beef into 6 patties about 3 inches in diameter. Cook beef on an outdoor grill or a grill pan over medium heat until center registers 160°F with a quick-read thermometer, turning once during cooking. Remove from heat.

Spread 1 tablespoon, divided, Chipotle Yogurt Sauce, on top and bottom of each bun. Transfer each beef patty onto a bottom bun. Add a cheese quarter and top bun to each slider. Serve warm.

Recipe Variations:
Instead of Chipotle Yogurt Sauce and Cheddar cheese, top with Creamy Guacamole and Havarti, Provolone or smoked Gouda; or with Pimiento Cheese, sliced tomatoes and lettuce leaves.

Originally posted on Midwest Dairy Association.

Aug 12 2014

Combine in Action

Illinois Farm Families Field Mom Dina Barron talks with farmer Cindi Monier about everything combines can do, including how to auger swings out from the machine for unloading the grain after it has been harvested. Most people may be surprised at how big the machine is, how fast the grain can be both harvested and unloaded or how much technology is inside the cab of a combine.

Aug 11 2014

State Fair 1968 Memories

The Illinois State Fair was the best way to end the summer for 4-Hers and farm families when I was a kid! Although you could join 4-H when you were 10 years old, you had to be 14 years old to show your project at the fair and stay in the 4-H dorms on the fair grounds. Of course, every 4-Her hoped to have their projects win the county 4-H fair to be eligible to compete at the State Fair! Together with our 4-H Leader and a fellow 4-Her, I (left in this picture) am ready to model my sewing project at the 1968 Illinois State Fair. Yes, it was rather hot in August to wear wool dresses! However, when we finished the classes and judging events (of course, required for all 4-Hers), that meant free time to visit and help friends who brought their animals to the fair, late nights on the rides in Happy Hollow, and drinking lemon shake-ups! It was a great time. No cell phones then so no checking in with Mom on a daily basis… but, you did have to report to your 4-H leader in the dorm by curfew! For a 15-year-old it was an experience with forever memories!

Donna Jeschke
Mazon, Illinois

Aug 10 2014

Food for Thought: Cows are Social Animals

Do you have questions about food and farming? Check out our FAQ page to learn more, or Ask a Question of your own. And for more Food for Thought posts, visit this section.

Aug 09 2014

Summer in the City

Chicago is one of the most beautiful cities in the summer. Holding our fears of winter back and coping with swarms of tourists, urbanites flock to the bounty of summer while we can. Beach dates and picnics, and one of my favorites, Farmers Markets!

We have not lived here all of my life, but for most of my adult life my husband and I have been urbanites, travelling by EL and dealing with the food we can find at our local grocery store. When I had kids, I wanted more. Buying directly from the farmer is a unique experience. You can ask someone how to prepare something you’ve never seen before, and sometimes you get a wink and a nod telling you “we picked these berries this morning, you’ll love them.”

I take my girls with me to the Market and give them a bit of an allowance to spend on anything they wish. On our first trip, to the Evanston Farmers’ Market, they bought flowers.

We are lucky to have so many options right in our neighborhood. Check out the closest one to you!

Because some Farmer’s Markets (the ones easily accessed by us) are not available year round and so our family has explored other options. One of the wonderful things we do is receive a weekly box from Farmer Tom’s CSA ( Each week we receive organic and often local produce hand-picked and packed for our family. CSA is Community Supported Agriculture, and our part in the communal effort is to pay a yearly fee for our share of the produce. Then each week we pay for our box of lovely, delicious, organic vegetables. Many of these come from family farms and support our local economy. My kids have been able to learn they love mushrooms and the wonderfulness of fresh green beans. We get a half-share, mostly because that is what my fridge can handle. Pictured is the bounty of just one week. You can see there are staples such as lettuce, tomato, onion, carrots and potatoes and surprises like golden beets and plums! What I like too is that we can customize, my family doesn't eat peppers so we ask not to get them. Easy!

To supplement our vegetables we go to many different grocery stores, but our favorite is what my girls call “The Vegetable Store” Or True Nature Foods in the Edgewater neighborhood. ( A family run store with the neighborhood in mind, we can supplement our produce and pick up local meat and eggs.

There are so many ways that an urban family can support local farmers and feel good about the food on the table. We are lucky to live in a place where so many worlds converge, a fantastic world class city surrounded by hard-working farmers. Check out your own local places, markets and stores – you may be surprised just how close to the farm you are right in your own neighborhood.

Sara McGuire
Chicago, Illinois

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.

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