From our farms to your table, all food has a story.

Illinois Farm Families Blog

May 11 2016

What's Cooking Wednesday: Fiesta Burgers con Queso

Recipe time: 35 minutes
Serves 4


  • 1 pound Ground Beef
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, minced
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup shredded Chihuahua cheese, divided
  • 4 small tortillas, warmed or hamburger buns, split, toasted


  • Thinly sliced lettuce 
  • Chopped tomato
  • Avocado slices
  • Salsa
  • Sour cream
  • Guacamole


  1. Combine Ground Beef, onion, jalapeño, cilantro and 1/4 cup cheese in medium bowl, mixing lightly but thoroughly. Lightly shape into four 1/2-inch thick patties.
  2. Heat large nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. Place patties in skillet; cook 10 to 12 minutes turning occasionally, until instant-read thermometer inserted horizontally into center registers 160°F, turning occasionally. About 3 minutes before burgers are done, top evenly with remaining 1/4 cup cheese.
  3. Place burgers in tortillas or buns; season with salt and black pepper, as desired. Top with desired toppings.

Related posts:

Recipe courtesy of:

May 09 2016

What Exactly Is That Byproduct?

I don’t know about you, but I have to admit that when I heard that farmers feed their cattle byproducts I really didn’t understand what that meant. All I knew was that it didn’t sound good to me, especially if that byproduct came from an ethanol plant! When I hear the word ethanol, I think of gasoline so I was really confused on what the byproduct was.  However, while on a tour at the Adams Farm in Sandwich, IL, I was pleasantly surprised to learn what these byproducts actually are and how they were used to feed cattle. 

The byproduct from ethanol distilleries is known as distillers grains (often referred to as DDGS). When the corn is used to make ethanol they only use the starch portion of the grain, so the byproduct is the corn germ, oil, and the outer seed shell. The fermentation of the grain in the ethanol production process makes the byproduct a high-protein, high-fat and high-fiber product that cattle like. The farmer uses this much like we put sugar on cereal.

Another byproduct used in feed is from a local Del Monte vegetable plant and a seed corn plant. After the sweet corn is harvested and the kennels are removed, both the cob and the husk are left over. This sweet corn byproduct is mixed with the leftover husks from a seed corn plant and then it ferments in a bunker silo. This fermented mixture is used as part of the cattle’s feed ration.

A third type of byproduct used in cattle feeding comes from a sugar refinery in the form of molasses, which is mixed with a vitamin/mineral supplement that the cattle receive.

All of these byproducts would normally just go to waste, but the cow’s unique digestive system allows a farmer to utilize it for feed in addition to the grass that the cattle graze on in the pasture. With the human population increasing and the amount of land available for grazing decreasing, I think this is a clever way of utilizing the resources that are available.

Related posts:
Dairy Sustainability Made Me Rethink Being Vegan
Meeting the Animals and the Farmers
What I Witnessed on an Illinois Farm

Anita Mann
Naperville, IL

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

May 05 2016

Illinois Farmer Q&A: Have you ever gone above and beyond to ensure the health or safety of your 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.

Have you ever gone above and beyond to ensure the health or safety of your animals?

"The cattle almost always come first. The kids have to feed their calves before we eat supper at night. During the winter, if there's times where it's going to be really cold, we'll give them a little extra feed, and we've also put their hay in the shed during snowstorms. Frozen drinkers can also be an issue in cold weather. I've carried hot water out to thaw drinkers in well below zero temps. It's not much fun working with water in those temps, but the cattle can't go without it!"

Lori Engel

"We have walked through whiteout blizzard conditions to check on cows who are 3 miles away 3 times a night before they are expected to calve, and then worked with the cow from midnight to 1 a.m. to convince it to get into the chute so we could help pull the calf that is not able to make it out on its own. Then, from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m we had to get the pulling equipment secured around the calf’s legs without hurting it, yet with the ability to pull it gradually without hurting the cow either. Finally, we pulled a slippery, gangly calf that weighed more than 100 pounds up over a fence to help fluids drain from its nose and mouth. All of this was followed by several days of milking sessions with the cow and calf to help them both figure out how it’s supposed to work. To a cow-calf producer, that might be considered going the distance.  To someone else, it might be considered above and beyond."

Heather Hampton Knodle

"When the power has gone off on our farm, we will stay with our animals until the power comes back on.  We will check on the animals to make sure they are not too hot or cold and have plenty of food and water."

Brent Scholl

"During calving time (January - March), we are constantly paying close attention to the weather forecast.  It is important to make sure that baby calves have a place to get in out of the weather when temperatures are really cold.  There are many times that we have gone back outside during the late hours of the night to put cows and calves into a pen in the barn to make sure that they stayed out of the weather.  Contrary to some people's beliefs, cattle are very well suited for the climate in Illinois.  Generally speaking, the cold & hot temperatures (within reason) do not affect them like some would think.  Most cattle are intelligent enough to go to shelter when it's cold, shade when it's hot or a pond or creek when it's hot. It is important to provide those necessities to our cows so they can stay as comfortable as possible."

Alison McGrew

Related posts:
May 04 2016

What's Cooking Wednesday: Picadillo-Style Beef Stir-Fry


  • 1 pound beef Top Sirloin Steak Boneless or Top Round Steak, cut 1 inch thick
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
  • 1 large all-purpose potato, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 can (15 ounces) tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup raisins


  1. Cut beef steak lengthwise in half, then crosswise into 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick strips. Combine beef strips, cumin and oregano in medium bowl; toss to coat.
  2. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add 1/2 of beef; stir-fry 1 to 3 minutes or until outside surface of beef is no longer pink. Remove from skillet. Repeat with remaining beef and additional 1 teaspoon oil. Season with salt, as desired; keep warm.
  3. Heat remaining 1 teaspoon oil in same skillet over medium heat until hot. Add potato, onion and pepper. Cook and stir 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce and raisins; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 15 to 18 minutes or until potato is tender; stirring occasionally. Add beef; cook until heated through, about 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt, as desired.
  4. Serve beef mixture in tortillas or over hot cooked rice topped with almonds, cilantro and sour cream, as desired.
Related posts:
What's Cooking Wednesday: Grilled Pizzas with Herbed Pork

Recipe courtesy of:

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


  • 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


  • 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


  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.