It's a passion for farmers to raise these animals with as much care as they would any animal.

Illinois Farm Families Blog

Apr 15 2016

Illinois Farmers Meet Foodies in Chicago

Let's talk about what's on your table

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

Apr 13 2016

What's Cooking Wednesday: Beef Breakfast Pizza Olé

Total Recipe Time: 40-45 minutes

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 recipe Basic Country Beef Breakfast Sausage (recipe follows)
  • 1/2 cup salsa verde
  • 1 package (11 ounces) thin-crust refrigerated pizza dough
  • 3/4 cup diced seeded tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup reduced-fat shredded Mexican blend cheese
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions
  • Salsa verde

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. 
  2. Prepare Basic Country Beef Breakfast Sausage: Combine 1 pound Ground Beef (96% lean), 2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage or 1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon onion powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper in large bowl, mixing lightly but thoroughly. Heat large nonstick skillet over medium high heat until hot. Add beef mixture; cook 8 to 10 minutes, breaking into 1/2-inch crumbles and stirring occasionally.
  3. Stir in salsa verde.
  4. Meanwhile, unroll dough on greased baking sheet. Pat or roll evenly to 14 X 10-inch rectangle, pinching together any tears, if necessary. Bake 8 minutes. Remove from oven and top evenly with beef mixture, tomatoes and cheese. Make four "wells" in beef mixture and crack one egg in each "well." 
  5. Continue to bake in 425°F oven 13 to 18 minutes or until desired doneness of egg is reached. Remove from oven; sprinkle with green onion. Cut into four wedges. Serve with additional salsa, as desired.

Test Kitchen Tips:
Cooking times are for fresh or thoroughly thawed ground beef. Ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F. Color is not a reliable indicator of ground beef doneness.

Recipe courtesy of:

Apr 11 2016

What I Witnessed on an Illinois Farm

As a City Mom for Illinois Farm Families, I’ve gotten a chance to see behind the scenes on several Illinois farms, and I have to say that I learn more with each one that I visit.  This spring, we were given the opportunity to tour the Adams’s cow/calf operation, and to talk with their family as well as other women who work on their own family farms doing similar work.

The thing that stood out most to me on this tour was the human-animal connection. I have a soft heart, and I tend to be very concerned with animal welfare and humane treatment. On this tour, I got a chance to have more informal conversations with the farmers, and in those conversations, the connections that these people have with their animals was obvious.


On the bus, Sarah Prescott, who has a cow/calf operation with her husband in Springfield, IL, was telling us about her typical day with her cows, and she shared with us a story about Trixie. While Sarah admitted that she couldn’t name all 120 of her cows and hope to keep all of them straight, she has a definite connection with Cow 1314, or Trixie, as she and her daughters call her. Trixie is the bovine version of Sarah, me, and I think pretty much any mother these days in some ways. She’s got crazy hair…well, fur, I guess. She’s always going a little crazy looking for her calf, making sure that everything is going right and hustling the little one along. She worries constantly, sometimes even when it’s not her calf that’s upset. In watching Sarah talk about Trixie, there was no doubt in my mind about how much she cares for her animals. 

On the farm, farmer Alan Adams and I were having a side chat about the future of farming, and I was telling him about my daughter, who has dreams of being in some kind of animal welfare field. I mentioned how much she loved watching cows give birth at a farm we visit in Indiana, and we started talking about what a miracle it is. Alan’s face softened as he told me that “helping cows give birth gives you your best days and your worst days”. When farmers are able to help a cow through labor and celebrate a new calf, it’s a joyous occasion every time. But in the times when something goes wrong, Alan says that it ruins your whole day. The loss is heavy and deep. I could see it in his face as he talked about it.

There’s a lot of talk these days about “factory farms” and animal welfare, and I think it’s an important discussion to continue. There may be farms out there that treat their animals as strictly a product for profit or loss, but I can tell you that from all of the farms that I’ve had the chance to visit over the last year as a City Mom, I haven’t seen anything even close to that. I’ve seen farmers somber and quietly grieve while looking at piglet that isn’t thriving like it should, despite their best efforts. I’ve heard them talk about cows like they were relatives in their own families, sharing tales of goofy things they’ve done and teasing them for their quirky habits. I’ve seen that these animals may not physically be in the care of these farmer for their entire lives, but the farmers care for them through the entire process, going so far as to visit the feed lots and processing plants to make sure that their animals will be treated properly and respected throughout their journey. 

When you buy beef, I think it’s important to recognize the connection to the animal that meat comes from, to the farms that it grew on, and to the farmers who cared for it. It’s not a job that they take lightly, and as a consumer, I appreciate all the care that goes into getting that meat to my family’s plates. 

Related posts:


Bolingbrook, IL

Ellen 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 08 2016

Farm Update Spring 2016

Cover crops are one tool we use to help maintain the health of our soil on the farm. This cereal rye grass looks a lot like wheat, but it actually gets planted before winter hits and the roots help to add organic matter to the soil and decrease erosion.

We have 8 calves "on the ground" now. It's neat to watch a few of the cows take turns guarding the calves while the others graze.

Related posts:
Greener Pastsures
Our First Calf of 2016 Has Arrived!

Heather Hampton Knodle
Fillmore, IL

Heather and her husband, Brian, both come from multiple generations of farming and continue that family tradition today on their farm in Montgomery County with their four children. They raise corn, soybeans, wheat cattle and goats. Heather and Brian take their role as stewards of the land very seriously and work every day to leave the soil on their farm in better condition than the day before so that it can be fruitful for future generations to come.

Apr 07 2016

Opening My Eyes to the Reality of Animal Agriculture

Just back from a day spent at the Adams farm, a two-part operation with a cow lot and a feed lot.  If you asked me last Friday what the difference was, I probably would has assumed they were the same thing. As with every City Mom tour, the information comes fast and furious and this excursion was no exception.  I did, indeed, learn the difference between a cow lot and a feed lot.  I also learned the difference between a heifer and a cow and a mysterious girl known as a first-year heifer. I also learned the difference between a steer and a bull and that the farmers we spoke with do not enjoy bull meat.  The most important notion I took from the Adams farm is timing.  Everything is timed out to benefit the breeding schedule of the resident cows and to maintain the integrity of the pastures.

Our visit took place during the start of calving season and, apparently, calves were being born with a predictable unpredictability.  Our adventure started in a barn on the Adams farm that was turned into a rustic classroom.  The annual schedule of the food rotation and cow breeding was explained.  The Adams farm attempts to take full advantage of area resources when planning how and when to feed their herd.  Cattle have a fairly rugged digestive system that allows them to utilize the nutritional value in things we would normally see as waste. The farm purchases the byproducts of a nearby sweet corn cannery and a local ethanol plants to subsidize the cattle feed rations and make them a bit tastier.  This symbiotic relationship struck me as a consistent theme in many of the farms we have visited.  By using the “waste” from other local products, farms can become more cost effective while reducing “waste” in their area.


The breeding schedule was explained and we now understand that timing in everything.  The cows are breed in June, and with a gestational duration similar to humans, calving season starts in March and runs through May.  The calves spend the summer with their moms and are weened in the Fall in preparation for departure to the feed lot.  The Adams farm practices humane weening which is made a bit more tolerable with the introduction of feed lot rations.  The calves are quickly taught by their moms how to eat the new rations and are eventually separated over the course of 4 days.  The cow herd on the Adams farm is a hybrid of Angus and Simmental, Angus chosen for its market dominance and Simmental for its superior milk production.  Just another way this farm maximizes its resources.

We did not have time to visit the feed lot portion of the Adams operation, but time was spent on some of our questions, especially those having to do with antibiotic use and the treatment of the animals.  One of the most difficult topics that comes up during these tours is the slaughter of the animals.  Everyone one of us has seen video footage at some point showing animal abuse and cruelty during the slaughter process.  One of my personal reasons for joining these tours is to learn what really happens.  If I choose to purchase meat to feed my family, I will also consciously choose to not close my eyes to this process.  Every tour I have been on proves, and the Adams farm tour is no exception, that the care for the animals extends to the end of the animal’s life.  They are treated humanely with attention and respect paid to their sacrifice.  The Adams farm produces a product and the quality of the product is what sustains their livelihood and feeds their own families.  It makes sense that they would want to create a clean, healthy, and humane environment in which to breed and care for their product.  For those who are offended by animals that are raised for their meat being referred to as product, I ask if you feel the same offense when selecting packaged meat at your grocery store.

The second leg of our tour took us to the DeKalb County Farm Bureau for lunch and a guest speaker, Chef Dave.  Wow!  I couldn’t take notes fast enough.  We were given a crash course in basic beef cut choice and cooking preparation.  He discussed simple marinades and meat rubs and I finally understand what braised means.  I’ve apparently been braising in my crock pot for years.  I also learned the word used to describe the taste of savory:  ”Umami."  My husband has subsequently tired of me using the word but greatly enjoyed the steak I prepared using Chef Dave’s marinade and salsa recipe.  Chef Dave gave great tips on cut selection, cooking styles, and food safety.  I now know to cut meat across the grain and when in doubt of grain direction, cut diagonal. 

As always, I truly appreciated my opportunity to participate in this tour.  I learn many new things every time I climb on that bus.  I hope my experience and the information from these tours I share with my family and friends shrinks the divide between our families and family farms.

Related Posts:
Illinois Beef Farms
I Learned a Thing or Two Today About the Beef I Shop for
Hog Farm Tour: A New Perspective

Bridget Evanson
Crystal Lake, IL

Bridget 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 06 2016

What's Cooking Wednesday: Pork Gyro with Peppers and Onions

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
5 Servings

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 POUND NEW YORK (TOP LOIN) PORK ROAST, BONELESS, THINLY SLICED
  • 1 TABLESPOON DRIED OREGANO, OR 2 TABLESPOONS FRESH OREGANO
  • 1 TABLESPOON DRIED ROSEMARY, OR 2 TABLESPOONS FRESH ROSEMARY
  • 1/2 TEASPOON CUMIN
  • 1 TEASPOON GRANULATED GARLIC
  • 1/4 CUP CANOLA OIL, DIVIDED
  • 1 RED BELL PEPPER, CORED, SEEDED AND THINLY SLICED (ABOUT 1 CUP)
  • 1 RED ONION, THINLY SLICED (ABOUT 1 CUP)
  • SALT AND PEPPER , TO TASTE
  • 2 TABLESPOONS PARSLEY, CHOPPED
  • 5 GYRO-STYLE PITA BREAD, WARMED
  • 5 SLICES TOMATOES, HALVED
  • 2 TABLESPOONS FRESH LEMON JUICE
  • 5 TABLESPOONS GREEK YOGURT, FOR GARNISH

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. 
  2. In a mixing bowl, toss together the pork, oregano, rosemary, cumin and garlic and set the bowl aside. 
  3. Meanwhile, make the peppers and onions: Heat 2 tablespoons of the canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the peppers and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to caramelize, 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper; set them aside on a plate. 
  4. Pour the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil into the large skillet and turn the heat up to high. When the oil begins to smoke, add in the pork and spread it out into 1 layer. Without stirring, let it cook and develop a deep brown color, about 2 minutes. Then stir the pork, season with salt and pepper, and then add the peppers and onions back into the pan. Toss the pork and pepper mixture together and continue to cook until the pork is cooked through, about 2 minutes. Stir the parsley into the pork mixture. 
  5. To assemble the gyros, divide the pork and pepper mixture between each pita, topping each gyro with 2 tomato halves, some of the lemon juice, and a tablespoon of yogurt. Wrap in wax paper and serve.

Recipe courtesy of:

Apr 05 2016

Hormones: Love 'Em or Leave 'Em?

Truth be told, I’m not a big meat eater.  I usually cook fish or chicken and occasionally make some all-beef tacos.  But I do love a good steak.  And I wonder as I survey the choices at the meat counter of my favorite grocery store if fear-factor movies like “Food, Inc.” which questions cattle raising practices in our country should justify my lack of confidence in grilling a sirloin for dinner.

That’s why I was excited to visit Alan Adams' family farm in Sandwich, Illinois -- about 2 hours from Lake County.  The farm and its 1840’s homestead has been in Alan’s family for 7 generations.  Alan and his wife run the farm alongside his son, Russ and family. For nearly 60 years, the farm has also been home to beef cattle.

Alan said the cattle earned their way onto the farm because they were able to feed on land that was either too fragile or too rough to raise crops on.  To run a farm, efficiency and sustainability are key.  That means a farmer needs to utilize all the resources available to him.  A cow’s stomach is unique in that it’s like a big fermentation tank, breaking down products that would normally go to waste.  In addition to grass, Alan’s cows eat byproducts of vegetables from the local Del Monte cannery and husks of corn from the nearby seed corn plant – products that would normally be wasted.  Alan mixes these with a vitamin/mineral supplement and tops it with molasses to make it, well, yummier.  The way he explained it reminded me of the smoothies I make for my kids -- chock full of delicious fruit but hiding nutrient-packed green veggies inside. . . Shh!

Because Alan both breeds and sells his cattle for market, I was curious about the use of hormones on his farm.  He said hormone injections are given to cattle twice during the growing process, once at 3 months of age and again shortly after.  The hormones influence the pituitary gland to grow faster, thereby increasing the cow’s chance of growing to a healthy weight.   This means the cow can better avoid illness that might be due to slow growth and avoid the use of antibiotics.  Cows cannot be sent to market with antibiotic residue in their systems.  So, in addition to reducing the need for antibiotics, hormone use on the farm is a method of resource management and sustainability.  Each cow eats approximately 1 acre of grass each week and drinks tons of water in its lifetime. Those are resources that would be wasted if a cow became sick or died.  Keeping cows healthy is an important way that Alan stewards his land resources responsibly.   

But, as a 40-something mom of rising teenagers, I spend more than enough time with hormones -- and not in a good way.  Should I be concerned about adding even more hormones to my life?  According to a recent report from the University of Nebraska, the amount of estrogen remaining in a 3oz piece of beef by the time it arrives at the grocery store is 1.9 nanograms -- only slightly higher than the amount of naturally occurring estrogen from a cow that was not given hormones, 1.3 nanograms.

In fact, many of the foods we commonly eat contain even more estrogen than meat from cattle – even those that receive hormone injections:

Sources: Food and Drug Administration; Hoffman and Evers; Scanga et al.; FSIS-USDA; Dr. Harlan Ritchie, Michigan State University; NCBA

Below is a great visual from Joan Ruskamp who blogs at FarmMeetsFood.com. She uses M&M candies to show the difference between hormone treated cattle and other naturally occurring estrogen sources.

According to her visual, the average person has 13 times as many hormones as a 3 oz. serving of cabbage just to regulate his/her body functions.  And a woman of childbearing age has 178 times this many nanograms occurring in her body helping her function.

So clearly I need to limit my cabbage consumption if I’m concerned about increased estrogen exposure (Not a problem!) But do I need red meat in my family’s diet?  According to Jodie Shield, Med, RDN author of “Healthy Kids, Healthy Families,” red meat is high in protein, Vitamin B12, Calcium, Vitamin D, and Iron – important nutrients that help build strong bones and muscles, fight infections, and produce energy.  But what about the link between red meat consumption and high cholesterol, heart disease, obesity and colorectal cancer by the World Health Organization?  According to the USDA’s Food Guide Pyramid, our biggest dietary concern should be the amount of dietary fat we consume daily.  Choosing lean cuts of red meat and following the serving size guidelines of 2-3oz per serving, while incorporating a wide variety of other protein sources into our meal plan, helps address these concerns and keep our meals interesting.  

So now I’m much more confident that my beef is safe and that farmers like Alan Adams and his family are doing their best to use land and animal resources in a sustainable way.  I’m far less confident that I’ll be able to fire up the grill or stick to that 2-3 ounce serving size recommendation, but that’s a blog for another day.   

Grayslake, IL

Genevieve 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.

Apr 01 2016

Greener Pastures

This morning as we loaded the girls onto the trailer they were very vocal about taking a trip. Little did they know that their day was about to become perfect with a pasture full of green grass to feast on. As we pulled into the pasture their eyes lit up with excitement and, since then, they have been pretty darn quiet, mostly because their mouths are full of yummy grass. If cows could smile they would be grinning from ear to ear! Happy munching girls.



Learn more about how farmers care for their animals here.

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.
Mar 31 2016

Illinois Beef Farms

When I hear the words beef cattle, I picture ranches in Texas. As part of the City Moms program, I had the opportunity to visit the Adam’s beef farm in Sandwich, IL.  From this tour, I learned about cattle breeding and animal care.

First, the Adam’s beef cattle are crossed between two breeds, the Angus and Simmental. These two breeds produce the best calves in Alan's opinion. Angus are known for their carcass quality and Simmental for their superior milk production. The breeding season starts in late June. The Adam’s family uses two Angus bulls that are turned in with the cows for 60 days and pulled out in late August. The calves are born in early spring. In the spring, the mother cows and calves reap the benefits of the high quality pasture grass. The pasture is divided into nine areas. Every week the cattle are rotated between the pastures to control the grazing of the cow. The mothers and calves spend time grazing together on the pastures. The heifers, or first time mothers, are bred using artificial insemination with bulls that produce low birth weight calves. This is to prevent problems in the delivery of the calves. After 3 months, the Adam’s family begins the early weaning process. The mother cows train the calves in how to eat at the feed trough. The calves can then transition easily to the farm feed lots. When the calves are separated from their mother, they are in the pen right next to their mother. This is the lowest stress situation for mother and baby. The cows continue to graze in the pastures until late winter. Afterwards, they remain indoors until they have a calf and pasture is ready in early spring. 

The Adam’s family, like the majority of farmers, provide compassionate animal care. They have taken classes and are Beef Quality Assurance Certified to administer vaccines to their animals. Alan Adams stated that their three injections of vaccinations inoculate their cattle from fifteen diseases. Many diseases, such as pinkeye, are rarely seen and antibiotic usage is greatly reduced thanks to the development of vaccines. When antibiotics are warranted, they are used as prescribed by the vet. On the Adam’s farm, calves are implanted with hormones at 3 months and at 6 or 7 months. The hormones influence the cow’s pituitary gland to increase the growth rate of lean beef production of fat, as opposed to fat production. Also, it helps the animal’s body use their feed the most efficiently. The Adam’s family emphasized that we consume foods that naturally produce these hormones in far greater quantities. Why would they consume their own beef that had the hormone plants if it was unsafe? There is no scientific evidence showing safety concerns with hormone implants. 

Furthermore, just as farmers provide compassionate care and low stress environments to their animals, the meat packing plants provide a calm environment and humane death. One half of all plants in North America use equipment and the five key measure audit system (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point type audit) designed by Temple Grandin, a woman with autism and an expert on animal behavior. Many large plants are audited, using Grandin’s standards, by restaurant chains. Temple believes that providing a calm stress free environment at the meat packing plant is just as important as providing a quick, painless death. Animals have a greater fear level and lower pain threshold compared to people. 

When I hear the words beef cattle, I now picture the Adam’s farm. I learned about cattle breeding and compassionate animal care. Thanks again to the family and the City Moms program for this informative and enjoyable opportunity. 

Related posts:
I Learned a Thing or Two Today About the Beef I Shop For

I Visited a Beef Farm and Still Wanted to Eat Steak
Food Blogger Visits Local Farm


Sarah Decker
Grayslake, IL

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. (City Moms formerly known as Field Moms.)

Mar 30 2016

What's Cooking Wednesday: Asiago Beef Pinwheels

Start to Finish: 30 minutes
Makes 72 Pinwheels

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 package (16 to 24 ounces) fully-cooked boneless beef pot roast with gravy
  • 1/2 cup shredded asiago cheese
  • 1 package (17.3 ounces) frozen puff pastry (2 sheets), defrosted
  • 4 green onions, cut in half lengthwise, then cut into thin long strips

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Heat beef pot roast with gravy in microwave according to package directions. Remove pot roast from container; discard gravy. Shred pot roast in large bowl with 2 forks; stir in cheese. Set aside.
  2. Heat oven to 400°F. Spray 2 metal baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray. Unfold each puff pastry sheet onto lightly floured surface.
  3. Cut in half with sharp knife or pizza cutter to make four 10 X 4-3/4 inch rectangles.
  4. Working with 1 rectangle at time, place a long side in front of you. Place 1/4 of the beef mixture onto pastry, leaving a 1/2 inch border on the long side closest to you. Lay 1/4 of the green onion strips lengthwise over beef mixture. Roll up pastry jelly-roll fashion starting with long side opposite you. Brush water along border and seal pastry. Repeat with remaining pastry, beef mixture and green onions.
  5. Cut pastry rolls crosswise into 1/2-inch thick slices, forming pinwheels. Arrange 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake in 400°F oven 15 to 17 minutes or until golden brown, rotating pans halfway through baking. Transfer pinwheels to wire rack; cool slightly. Serve warm.
Recipe courtesy of: