The livelihood of livestock farmers depends on the health and well-being of their animals.

Illinois Farm Families Blog

Aug 27 2015

Simply Put, I Trust Our U.S. Farmers

Apparently Chipotle has had a carnitas shortage, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune business section. Even though carnitas, otherwise known as pork, is my burrito filling of choice, I haven’t noticed. I haven’t been too fond of Chipotle’s marketing strategies lately and haven’t eaten there for a while. Chipotle is now using a British pork supplier to provide their customers with carnitas. According to the article, Chipotle founder and co-CEO Steve Ellis states that it’s been Chipotle’s preference to source meats domestically, but the quality of pork that meets their standards is not available right now.

Piglets on a US farmHogwash!

When Chipotle used domestic suppliers of pork, they insisted that their pork be raised antibiotic and hormone free. Just to clarify, all pork sold must be from pigs that have not had antibiotics in their systems for a number of weeks, so our meat does not have antibiotics in it. Many conventional farmers, such as the pig farmers I visited last year, only use antibiotics  to treat sick pigs. And hormones ? They are not used in pork production AT ALL. A pig goes to market in just six short months, and using hormones isn’t practical or worthwhile.

Plenty of pig farmers in the U.S. would be able to meet Chipotle’s demands, but instead, they have chosen a pork supplier in the UK, which  also allows antibiotic use for the health of pigs. This choice seems hypocritical to me!

As I’ve stated before, we’re fortunate that we have so many choices when it comes to buying our food. Having visited a pig farm right here in Illinois, I’m confident in the quality of U.S. pork. Here is one of my favorite pork recipes!

Slow Cooker Carolina BBQ Pulled Pork

  • 2 onions, quartered
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 (4 to 6 pound) boneless pork butt or shoulder roast
  • 3/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • Hamburger buns
  1. Place onions in slow cooker. Combine brown sugar, paprika, salt and pepper; rub over roast. Place roast on top of onions.
  2. Combine vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, red pepper flakes, sugar, mustard, garlic powder and cayenne; stir to mix well. Drizzle about one-third vinegar mixture over roast; cover and refrigerate remaining vinegar mixture.
  3. Cover slow cooker and cook on LOW 8 to 10 hours (HIGH 4 to 6 hours). 
  4. Drizzle about one-third reserved vinegar mixture over roast during last half hour of cooking. 
  5. Remove meat and onions. Drain if desired. Chop or shred meat and chop onions. Serve meat and onions on buns. Use remaining vinegar mixture to drizzle over sandwiches. Delicious! 
Originally posted on Lemon Drop Pie.

Mount Prospect, IL

Christa 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. (City Moms formerly known as Field Moms.)

Jun 22 2015

Old School Skills & Modern Technology

So, I've mentioned on the blog before that I am part of a group of bloggers called the City Moms that will visit local family farms this year and share our experiences. Illinois Farm Families coordinates the visits. A couple months ago we visited a hog farm and last month we all went to the Saathoff Family Farm in Manteno to learn a little about planting season for corn and soybeans.

As we have found on many of the farms our family has visited, farming is a long tradition - that also goes for the Saathoff and Meyer families. Three generations were there on the tour. There have been 5 generations that have lived and worked on the farm.

For family farmers on small to medium sized farms, it isn't that easy to rely on it as your primary source of income. Nick is also a seed representative and his wife is a middle school teacher. They cover 1200-acres on their farm of corn, soybean and wheat. Last year the kids also started a little 3/4 acre pumpkin patch and had a successful season simply by leaving a cart of pumpkins near the road with a can to deposit money in, done on the honor system.

Nick's brother-in-law and his family utilize the farm to raise cattle that their kids show at county fairs and then sell at auction. We got a quick rundown on the difference between dairy cows and beef cattle and an explanation of why its more cost effective to ship the cows off to another pasture over the state line for part of the season rather than sacrifice valuable farm land with rich soil during peak months. There were three parts of our tour and the cattle barn was the first portion.

Next we moved outside for part two of the tour where we learned a little about corn production and all the uses for corn besides eating it off of a cob. Much of what they grow is used as livestock feed and some is used for ethanol. I was surprised to also learn that a lot of corn grown in the U.S. is exported.

Planting really involves a lot more than putting a seed in the ground. There are so many variables and so much science that goes into so many decisions, like planting locations, timing of planting, crop rotation, soil conditions, etc. Then there's maintaining the fields, harvesting and getting it to the correct moisture level before it goes to market.

The third part of our tour focused on planting and we learned about the GPS programming systems that allow tractors to operate on auto-pilot. Farmers sit inside rigs that steer themselves, which I thought was pretty cool. It was a neat marriage of the ancient art of farming with the benefits of modern technology. Among the benefits of the GPS system are the reduction in human error and a decrease in fatigue in farmers who spend long hours inside the tractors planting row after row.

I was really surprised at how much technology plays into modern farming. On part of our tour we took a look at an iPad with a grid on it that mapped out a farm field, showing how through soil testing and other methods it could be determined if certain spots needed extra attention or if seed placement needed to be modified due to the conditions of that part of a field.

I was also surprised to learn that there are so many specialties within agriculture (one of our speakers after lunch was an agronomist) that I didn't know about and so much research, planning and modification that farming entails. Farming has really evolved in the past century to where it's no longer commonplace for a farmer to raise children who stay on the farm throughout their lives. A majority of the newer generation of farmers are college educated and have left the farm for some time to study in an area of agriculture before returning to work on their family farm or they branch out into agriculture professions.

Our day was another eye opening day of how much work and how many resources go into the food that we put on our tables. It furthered my sense of appreciation of the work that farmers do.

Originally posted on Chicago Foodie Sisters.

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.

Jun 18 2015

Adventures of a City Mom


Early this spring I became a participant in a unique Illinois Farm Bureau program. Developed to introduce non-rural families to agriculture and educate them about farming practices in Illinois, urban and suburban dwelling moms are recruited to participate and have the opportunity to tour several Illinois farms over the course of the season to see firsthand how crops and livestock are raised. Sponsored and coordinated by the Illinois Farm Bureau and Illinois Farm Families, tours are hosted by Illinois farmers and include presentations by a variety of agricultural professionals.

Previously referred to as ‘field moms’, participants have been given the new and appropriate title of 'city moms' this year. When I was contacted with acceptance into the program I was delighted. I was also a bit surprised by my new title. Despite having lived all of my life in cities or suburbs, I've never really considered a city label for myself. Something about growing up in Nebraska just one generation removed from the farm, I suppose. So even my initial acceptance and participant title in the program has had me re-evaluating some of my own views; despite my love of and desire for more time in the country, I am a life-long city dweller. 

As one of the "city moms" I have the privilege of touring Illinois farms with the group. During each tour we are presented with information regarding the farm itself, what products are produced there and given an overview of farming practices and techniques that are employed in the production of food by the hosting farm family. Each tour has included information presented by the farm family members and by other professionals involved in the agriculture industry.  Presenters have included; dieticians, farm bureau representatives, industry representatives and most meaningfully, Illinois farmers themselves.

We have been given an abundance of information and food for thought.  It is clear that there is a lot more going into every decision and practice that occurs on each farm than can be communicated in a short sound bite or one blog post. 

A few of the facts about farming in Illinois that have stood out to me include: 

  • 97% of farms in Illinois are family owned.
  • Many are incorporated like other family owned business'  for legal purposes but continue to be family owned, farmed and operated, often with many extended family members joining in. 
  • Cook County has a farm bureau. 
  • This was really a surprise to me. Cook County itself actually has 8,499 acres being farmed on 127 farms.
  • Illinois is a major producer of pumpkins. 
  • I love knowing the ingredients for my favorite fall recipes are locally grown.

Other general farming information new to me:

  • USDA certified organic does not mean raised completely pesticide and chemical free.
  • The use of GMO seeds reduces the need for the use of pesticides by the grower, actually improving the health of the soil and safety for the farmer and consumer.
  • Farmers continue to produce what the market demands. 
  • Farmers have a wide variety of choices about the practices employed on their farms.

Nick Saathoff, 4th generation family farmer and ‘city moms’ tour host, farms the Meyer- Saathoff farm with his wife, Missy, three children and extended family members. They gave examples from their farm.  Nick plants both GMO and non GMO corn.  He also plants both sweet corn and feed corn. He explained his use of GMO seed and some of the benefits of using it, including the reduced need for pesticides on the GMO crops. He has no reservations about using GMOs but he is making the extra effort to plant non GMO corn, which adds to his many farming considerations, including keeping those crops separated. He plants both because there is a market demand for both crops. Farmers, like any family business, respond to the market to continue to be an economically viable enterprise.

Farmers choose viable (reproducible and sustainable) options for making a living and continuing to do so.  
The farmers we’ve met have communicated their deep concern for the land.  They care about the land and the soil. They have to consider the costs of production and maintaining the means of that production. They cannot use chemicals indiscriminately on their crops because they depend on the continued health of their fields for production. They have to consider the costs to themselves and their land to stay in business.  

Farmers use advanced technology to assist them in food production. Despite at times, having a bit of a techno phobia myself, and despite believing myself to have an excellent sense of direction, I love my GPS. Living in a large urban area it is nearly impossible to know the names of all of the surrounding suburbs, finding ones way to new locations sometimes requires an extensive atlas. Enter GPS technology - I can find my way to a new destination more quickly and so much more safely. Farmers take the use of this technology a few steps further. They use GPS systems for soil evaluation and planting. Theirs GPS system provides details about their fields and landscape equivalent to us having a system that could inform us of a newly developed pot hole on the streets of our daily commute. Smart farming.

Farming is a unique business with only 2% of the population still farming nationally, farmers are unique business people with a myriad of concerns and considerations.  A farm family in 2015 has to consider; soil health, technique choices, advanced technology and market demands.  Along with all of these practical considerations there are the intangibles.

As Nick puts it, "The farm is more than land and crops.  It is our family heritage and future."

The Illinois farm families hosting the city moms program are communicating that sentiment. They are sharing their concern for that heritage and allowing us, the ‘city moms’ to see firsthand how that concern influences their livelihood.  Regardless of the number of generations we are removed from the farm, we all continue to be connected to the land by the food we eat. We are developing a deeper understanding of the work and the heritage, our connection to it and each other.

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.

Jun 11 2015

Five Things That I Leaned About Farming & Technology

I garden.

And what I do is small potatoes compared to some.

I have a plot of land that is 20x30 in my back yard that we grow vegetables in.  It's banked by a few mulberry bushes and some "wild" (as in we did not plant them) black cap raspberries.

My goal, every year, is to grow, harvest and preserve what we will have on our Thanksgiving table and can enough tomatoes to last us one full year.  Some years are better than others.  Last year sucked. 

So, when I had the opportunity to experience how a real farmer plants for production, I jumped at the opportunity.  Because - technology, and COOL! and...wait, I get to sit in a tractor?  SCORE.

My perception of the area farmer, who literally lives about 15 minutes south of me, has been that of lacking technology and rural.  So, yeah, that's my profiling in a nutshell. 

I got to spend the day at the Meyer & Saathoff Family Farm in Manteno.  They are a 1200 acre corn & soybean farm.  This specific farm has been operating, in some fashion, for over 100 years.  Here are some things that I learned regarding farming and technology. 

1) GPS

They are using GPS to plot out their planting, taking into account the soil types and land topography to determine what, if anything, should be planted to guarantee a better crop yield.  Overall this equates to lower food prices.  If field corn is more efficiently grown, then anything that requires it will be cheaper.  We live in the bread basket of the world and food is so accessible and cheap, advanced technology being used in agricultural is one reason why. 

So, picture a football field.  Lets pretend that we are going to plant some corn on it.  But wait, there is a water shed area that runs through the field.  That's not a great place to plant corn, the water will wash the seed away or expose it for an animal to eat it.  But, we don't want to leave it bear.  We will loose all of the top soil.  Ah, lets plant some grass there.  It'll keep the top soil intact and slow the water run off when it rains. 
The GPS devise on the tractor can take that into consideration and then plant the corn seeds for maximum yield.

2) Isolation

The farm that we visited planted soybean and field corn for use in animal feed.  I got to touch the seeds and see them in the planting hoppers on the back of the tractor. Visually, I likened the colorful seeds to comparing a regular aspirin to one that is coated to not hurt while it's dissolving.  It's coated with "stuff" for a reason.  By coating the seeds prior to planting farmers are managing their crop for the whole season.  They are encapsulated with fertilizer and nutrients, and pest and weed prevention is done at the planting level, not across the field by randomly spraying.

The process of crop production starts 18 months in advance of planting.  What will be planted and which seeds will be used.  The goal of the farm we visited was for 250 bushels of corn to be produced per acre.   

By taking care of the soil health on the farm crop production can be managed through genetics and technology.  Application of anything to the plant is specific and isolated.  This allows less chemicals being applied to the soil for GMO crop production. 

3) Precision

Taking the soil makeup into consideration (is it too loose here, a little harder here) the seeds are planted at exactly the right depth around April 15th so that harvest can happen around Labor Day. Root production and plant growth are taken into consideration when doing this.

This precision can also be seen by the fact that soil samples are taken to produce a "report card of the soil" for effective production of crop and application of nutrients and fertilizer.
Again, this idea of a farmer being sloppy, ignorant or haphazard in spray application is being nullified for me. 

4) GMOs (why?)

Well, at this specific farm the farmer, Nick, said "Farmers have the weather and the stock market left to chance.  GMO sees are "insured" with propagation rate to guarantee a crop."

We learned that GMO seeds are being produced not just for pest resistance, but for crop production through environmental issues (think drought). 

It's this specific topic, about GMO seeds, where I kind of hit a wall.  I understand everything that I'm learning about GMO's, but I still question - just because you can, should you?   ...and, I don't know.

I do know this, though. There are currently only 8 crops commercially grown from GMO seeds in the US: corn (field & sweet), soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya and squash. 
*amending to note that I was informed that there are two additional crops that are also grown from GMO seeds, Arctic Apples and Innate Potatoes (5/28/15)*

Now, I want you to pause for a moment, you know all those labels at the grocery store that are saying they are GMO free?  Weren't they to begin with?  This is not as an extensive of a list as I thought.  Is what you and I are seeing in the grocery store advertising or nutritional information? 

5) Advanced Technology

So, farming went from feeding the farm, or back when the Constitution was written you needed something like 19 farmers to feed their families plus one more person. To a time when farming and ranching is at about 2% of the population, and it's now a global market.  Obviously, technology has played a real role in this progress. 
There is a real need for passion in the field of technology and wanting to help farmers utilize it.  Nick had mentioned how cool it would be to use drones in agricultural.  Not only to monitor crop production, but also to spot apply nutrients and pesticides.  The ability to micro manage the fields is being sought. 

What I left with after this tour was a desire to learn more about the need for agricultural technology and how important technology is in farming.  The fact that farmers are using IPads and GPS to help them better manage their fields totally shoots my idea of some guy in overalls reading the Farmer's Almanac to figure out the right time to plant. 

It was a very educational and enlightening experience. It was interesting to really see how many "hats" a farmer wears and what really goes into managing a farm.  But, at the root of it all that "(this) farm is more than land and crops.  It is our family heritage and future."  There is something comforting to me in this statement.

Originally posted on Stephanie's blog, Educational Anarchy.

Frankfort, IL

Stephanie 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.

Jun 04 2015

Cultivating Work Ethic

Our corn and soybean tour was on a cloudy, humid, warm day in early May. We visited the Meyer and Saathoff Farm and were greeted by several members of the extended farm family, including Nick and Missy Saathoff, the owners, both of their sets of parents, Missy’s brother, his wife and their children. In their introductions I was surprised to hear that everyone had jobs outside of their farm work. Nate is also a representative for a seed company, Missy is a teacher, her brother is a banker, and his wife works in a laboratory. Everyone in the family was taking on so many ‘additional’ farm responsibilities on top of their ‘day’ jobs. This work ethic and motivation was also clearly seen in the children of this farming family. 

While the farm is primarily corn, soybean, and wheat they maintain a small number of cattle, both beef and dairy as a ‘hobby’ to help with grazing of pasture and development of fertilizer for the fields. The beef cattle and heifers are show animals which are cared for primarily by the children. They take on a great deal of responsibility in maintaining these animals. As one of the girls, who was 16 years old, was telling me about her heifer, it was obvious that she takes a huge amount of pride in her work. They show these animals and auction them for a fair amount of money. Even the younger children have some sheep that they help take care of so that they can learn before they move on to the larger animals as they get older. 

I was impressed at the level of independence and responsibility that the children I met on the farm tour demonstrated. Farming is more than food production; it is developing a strong work ethic in the next generations.  

Jyotsna Jagai
Grove, IL

Jyotsna 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.

May 25 2015

From Charlotte's Web to a Real Pig Farm

This past weekend, I was a part of the City Moms group that visited the Gould family farm. It was an amazing opportunity for this city mom who has never stepped foot on a working farm before (unless a Pumpkin Farm in the fall counts). After learning about who works on the farm and what their jobs are like, we got the rare opportunity to go into the pig barns and see their homes. After gearing up in jumpsuits, hairnets and plastic booties (for the pigs’ safety), we stepped into the stinky, but clean barn. 

We first got to see where the sows were held. This massive room of over 600 sows was the first stop for the pigs on the Gould farm. This was the breeding and gestation room. Yes-they were kept in individual pens, but it was clear why. These ladies were huge! I can see why keeping them in larger pens would be much more difficult and much less efficient for the farmers. Next we saw the rooms where the mama’s came to give birth and nurse their piglets. Here they were in farrowing stalls- a controversial method in the farming community. I was unaware of the controversy behind farrowing stalls, but that was mostly because I had no idea they even existed before this tour. Again, these crates were a deliberate choice for the overall health and safety of the moms and piglets. When a mama wants to lay down, she throws all 300+ pounds of herself down. These crates keep the 10+ piglets safe from their mom. The piglets have plenty of room to run around their mom and nurse whenever they want. 

Finally, we saw where the family of pigs is moved to allow those piglets to grow a bit and finally be weaned off of their moms. What struck me about all of these rooms with all of these pigs was the record keeping. Everything that went on with all of the pigs was carefully documented. Every ailing or sick pig was looked after by a veterinarian and treated accordingly. The temperature was carefully controlled and backed by a generator (the family home was not!) Other than that, they were left to do their own pig thing. 

Now, being a city mom with knowledge about farms that doesn’t much go past Charlotte’s Web, I was a little bummed to see the pigs in pens. But I do now understand why. No decision at a farm is ever come to lightly. All of the decisions are backed by farming best practices and science with the best interest of the pigs in mind. It makes more sense to me now why big open fields of pigs and piglets would not be the best choice. How would they know who might be sick? Who was getting enough to eat? Who was pregnant?   How would they keep disease spread by birds out? Intestinal parasites they pick up from the ground? What was abundantly clear at the Gould’s farm was that this system ensures the consistency, safety and quality of the pork being produced for us, the consumers. 

Sarah Deitch
Park Ridge, IL

Sarah 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.

May 18 2015

What I saw on a hog farm

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit the Gould Family Farm with The Illinois Farm Families’ City Moms Tour.  The Gould Family’s farm is considered a farrow to wean hog farm, which means they care for sows during pregnancy, birth, and through the piglets weaning period.  The Gould’s care for about 750 sows that produce 16,000-17,000 piglets a year!  

Going into the tour, my greatest concern was the idea of the gestational stall.  A gestational stall is the method in which a sow is kept during the farrowing (birthing) and nursing period.  The sow is kept fairly stationary without the ability to turn and 100% indoors.  I was very concerned as to whether this is a humane way to keep the animal.  I was pretty sure I was going to be upset with the living arrangements that I was about to encounter, but I was wrong.  To be very honest, I did not even notice the gestational stalls at first.  What I did notice was the incredible size of these sows!  They are huge, and their babies are small, and their litters are large.  Together this make for a menacing problem, the sows can smash the babies.  When I saw the function of the stall, which allows the sows to lie down and nurse their litters without the risk of overlaying, I was relieved.  These stalls suddenly seemed humane, as opposed to inhumane.  The sows did not behave as though they were stressed and the piglets sure seemed happy.  The Gould Family discussed a bit about the history of hog farming and why their animals are kept indoors.  It is in the best interest of the hog.  The sows are given all the nutrition they need, carefully looked over, and protected from the elements.

I left the Gould Family Farm feeling better about hog farming than before.  After watching their interaction with the animals, and listening to their story, I know that their animals are being raised respectfully and humanely.  

Vicky Webb
Des Plaines, IL

Vicky 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.

May 14 2015

Curiosity Turns Into Knowledge on the Hog Farm

I wasn’t really sure what to expect for my day on the hog farm tour as a City Mom with Illinois Farm Families but I was very curious. As I thought about it, I realized about the only thing I knew about pigs were that I liked pork and the slogan out there that calls it  “ the other white meat”, I also realized I had images of Charlotte’s Web in my mind and secretly hoped I got to hold a baby pig!

The Gould Family Farm that we visited raises about 16,000 piglets annually and specializes in the breeding, pregnancy and birthing of piglets. As the day progressed my curiosity turned into knowledge that I am so thankful for. I learned so many things it would be hard to fit it into one blog post but my biggest take away from this day was how passionate these farmers are about the health, care and comfort of their hogs as well as the safety of our food supply.

I had never heard the word biosecurity before this tour but learned that it is a protocol to follow to prevent the spread of disease among the herds.  Before we could enter the barn, we had to put on special coveralls, hair nets and plastic boots and upon entering the barn stepped into a disinfecting boot bath. This prevents the herd from be exposed to anything we might bring into the barn.   

The pigs are housed inside in a climate controlled environment, which even has a back-up generator so the pigs are always comfortable, even in the event of a power outage. Pigs that are outside are susceptible to predators, disease and the elements. On this farm, pigs are housed in gestational stalls where they have constant access to clean food and water, are safe and their health can be individually monitored. Just before a sow gives birth she is moved to a farrowing stall which helps prevents her little piglets from being accidentally crushed and gives the piglets access to extra warmth.

The only time a pig is given an antibiotic is when it is sick and needs it to get better. A pig that has been given an antibiotic will not go to market until that antibiotic is clear of it’s system.

I was also impressed by the fact that a company like Hormel actually does studies and implements protocols to make the process of going to market as stress free as possible for the pigs.

So I walked away that day with a new appreciation for and understanding of all that a hog farmer does to ensure we have healthy, high-quality pork. And if you were curious, yes, I did get to hold an adorable baby pig!

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 12 2015

My understanding of farming changed after I met farmers

I am a food science and human nutrition major with an AAS in culinary arts that had previously served almost 9 years in the US Navy. Even with all of that, I had absolutely no idea about production farming. Everything that I knew about farming was whatever I had read or seen on the internet or TV. This of course includes movies like Food Inc. My perceptions of farmers were that they were only nice farmers if they were organic farmers and bad if they weren’t. I assumed that because of what I had seen, via various forms of media, that enormous multinational corporations owned the majority of farms in the US. I thought farmers were exactly the way they are often depicted on TV, simple characters lacking any kind of sophistication without any regard for the environment or animals. This was not something that I thought was specific to any region, I just thought all farmers were this way. In the case of Illinois farmers, well, I just thought they really liked corn and soybeans. 

I had no idea. I suppose the reason for this is that I had never really been on a farm, nor did I know any farmers, except for the inner-city hipster, “strictly organic” variety. This past semester all of that changed when I decided to enroll in a class on “farm, food and environmental policy.” The whole point of the class was to compare and contrast the differences between farms and farming practices in California to those of Illinois. Our class toured farms and talked to farmers in both states and I can tell you that everything I thought I knew about farmers was what someone else wanted me to think. After going to meet and talk with these fine men and women, I was finally able to make my own decisions and come to my own conclusions.

I found myself to be completely wrong about my assumptions. Farmers are very sophisticated. The technology that farmers use is mind-blowing to me! I found out that they use GPS navigated equipment to get within two inches of accuracy when applying fertilizer and planting seeds. They use drones to survey their fields, which allow them to detect soil issues and identify weed species. To accommodate the needs of their customers, they use different varieties of seeds and are involved in commodity trading. Farming is neither a yokel’s business nor some large industrial machine. Illinois farms are, I have learned, for the most part (97%) family-owned businesses. In talking to these farmers, I have realized that their way of life is something that has been passed down to them by their elders from generation to generation and that they have an intense interest in conservation. For them, taking care of their land and animals means that they will have something to give to their children. This way of life is a source of pride for them. 

The biggest take-away that I’ve gained from this experience is that misinformation about these people and their businesses spreads through conventional media, and especially social media, like wildfire. I believed it and so do many others. I’m not sure what exactly motivates all of this misinformation, but I would highly recommend to anyone that’s interested in learning about their food go to a local farm and ask for a tour. Talk to your local farmers. Ask them questions, get to know them and find out what they do. I’m sure you will be pleasantly surprised.


Originally posted in Farm Week.

Regina Cortez
Chicago, IL

May 11 2015

Family Run Hog Farm is Producer of Choice Pork

There’s something about a farm that is just so calming and relaxing. I had the opportunity to spend a recent Saturday with a group of fellow City Mom bloggers on a farm tour. The sun was shining brightly in a clear, blue sky as a cool breeze flowed across the fields. It was a serene scene as our bus pulled in for our visit to Gould Farms in Maple Park, Illinois.

Our introduction to pork production came from Chris Gould, a member of the third generation of Goulds to work at the breeding and farrowing facility that houses about 750 sows. He explained the size of their operation, the gestational timeline from inseminating to weaning and what types of food products result from their efforts.

Having toured a large scale pig farm last year, I had a bit of an understanding of the process of the pigs being artificially inseminated, giving birth in gestational crates and being kept in an indoor facility. While there are critics of the method in favor of hogs living a free-range environment, the benefits and advantages of such an operation are clear. An indoor climate-controlled environment creates cleaner, safer, less-stressed animals, which, in turn, leads to a better product. Many of the piglets born at their farm become tenderloin and other choice cuts.

With my previous pig farm tour being a big operation, I was pleasantly surprised that this one, which Gould's father, Eldon, described as a "medium sized" pig farm is a family operation and one in which the Goulds take great pride in. Over 3,000 acres of the farm are also used for growing corn, balance soybeans and wheat, as well. A fourth generation of the Gould family is now working there and everyone has their niche (i.e. Gould's sister is a veterinarian who helps to provide care to the animals and his mother works in the office tracking each sow and piglet on paper.)

The family was so welcoming and accommodating, opening their home to us, serving up homemade goodies after lunch and even giving us a parting gift of hand made soap using goat's milk from a neighboring farm. 

Although the day was all about pork and how it gets from a farm to our table - and everything in between - my biggest takeaway of the day was the notion that behind the food products we purchase in grocery stores, there are still family farms run by good people like the Goulds that are alive and well and thriving.

Originally posted on Chicago Foodie Sisters.

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.