One of the best aspects of farming is taking both full responsibility and full pride in whatever happens in my fields.

Illinois Farm Families Blog

Nov 23 2015

Local farmers taught me how to pick the best steak at the store

I was never really sure what to buy at the supermarket to make sure I was bringing home the best beef to my family. The kind Martz family has taught me that, if you can, always select certified angus beef.

USDA beef grading is voluntary and paid for by the meat packers, and then, ultimately, the consumer. The grading sets the standard for how flavorful, juicy, and tender the meat is.

  • farmer steakPrime has the most marbling in the meat and that is what will give you the tender, flavorful, juicy meat you want. It is sold to specialty supermarkets and meat markets. It is also sold to fine hotels and restaurants.
  • Choice cuts tend to have a litlle less marbling. Choice is the most widely available grade in the market.
  • Select has the least amount of marbling, making it leaner and a little less juicy and flavorful than the other grades.

The shocking surprise to me was learning that marbling (the small streaks of fat in the muscle tissue that gives it the flavor and tenderness we all enjoy) is actually the monounsaturated fat that is good for us! Who would of imagined that? The thicker fat outside the muscle is the bad (saturated) fat that we should cut away.

The generous Martz family made a barbecue beef brisket for us for lunch that was delish. You can find the recipe on their website.

Here's to Bountiful Delicious Beef Dinners this season and beyond! Thank you Larson Farms for making me an educated consumer.

Carol Cohen
Algonquin, IL

Carol 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.

Nov 10 2015

Technology on the Farm: What's new? What's better?

Let's Talk Analytics!

No, really, let's talk data sets and analytical analysis.  

I shared about agricultural technology when I went on the Spring Planting Tour, and I'm going to share a bit more about technology in this post as well...but, also data sets.  

I know - thrilling!

Also, really?  Farming. Agriculture. Data Sets??  Yes!

I have to qualify here, my husband is a data scientist.  Our dinner table conversations revolve around data use and analytics and dash boards and plot graphs and all that jazz.  I find this particularly interesting from a PR and marketing standpoint.  How can I take that data and market growth or positive output with what I do?  

But, farming and THAT?  

Like I've shared in the past, my mind is being blown open with the technological advances that farmers are using to help better run their operations. And, where my mind opened a bit more on this past trip to Larson Farms, a feed lot (or "Hotel") in Maple Park where they are in charge of the daily care of cattle and grain farm, was when Linda (of Larson Farms) said "This is a Family Farm, it's a business."  It's a business - of course it is and also, there's nothing wrong with that.  I know that I can attest that when I think of farming and business in the same sentence my visual is often warehouse like farming where little to no care is being contributed to the animals and it's about "more" - more animals, more meat, for more profits..and however that needs to be accomplished. That's not the case, though.  And, it has not been the case on any of the tours that I've gone on this year with the Illinois Farm Families.   It definitely was not the case at Larson Farms.

Let's Talk Tech, ... first

cattle ultrasoundLarson Farms has utilized Temple Gradin's designs for their ultrasound barn.  I knew of Temple Grandin from my subscription to Mother Earth News Magazine as she was a speaker at one of their tours.  I note this only to illustrate that Mother Earth News isn't all that into animal cruelty and harming the, if a farmer is implementing the barn designs of a noted professor of animal science who is known for her stance on animal welfare, then I kind of think that this farm (and many others) care about the livelihood of their animals

What the ultrasound allows Larson Farms to do is determine back fat and marbling in their cattle. The genetics of the animal (as in what breed of cattle it is) determines the meat grade cut.  Prime is top, then Choice, then Select. Since Larson Farms is a cattle feed lot, the middle point of the beef cycle, individualized care of the cattle is what's being stressed, and technology allows that to happen because everything is computerized.  From what the cattle are fed, when and how much, to checking the cattle for marbling prior to harvest via the ultrasound.  This ensures that nothing is wasted, whether it be feed or resources...or manure.  Larson Farms is a self contained farm.  Their barn has an 8 foot basement where manure is collected and then used on their grain crops.  The application of manure on the crops allows for less chemical applications.

Let's Talk Data Sets  

On the grain side of Larson Farms, trucks of corn are brought in from the fields where the corn is tested for moister (prior to being dried) and the truck load is weighed to determine how much product is being brought in.  

About 25% of what is being harvested is being used on the feed lot. Everything else is being sent to an ethanol plant to ship overseas.

Everything that is happening on this farm is not only computerized, but also being filtered into software to produce data sets so that variances can be managed and to determine what needs to be done the following year.  Not only is data being generated and analyzed, but its findings are being applied on the farm to make sure that cost-benefit analysis is utilized to drive the family business, which is farming  

What's new, what's better?

This was the very first time that I was told "if you have an idea, please let us know because we may utilize it here."  The fresh eyes, people who are seeing the farm from a different perspective, we were being encouraged to contribute in an effort to help them.  Not only were we encouraged to ask any questions while there, but to be told that our input was encouraged?  That was fascinating to me. 

I heard on this tour that "fear trumps science", and this has been true in my case.  Being someone who works in marketing I know how words can be used to sell things, like food.  What I have learned over and over again on these tours is that farmers want to answer my questions regarding what they do.  They are transparent.  There is nothing to hide.  They do the best to produce what we consume because they, too, are consuming it.  Advances in agricultural technology allows for a more streamlined approach so that this can be achieved, better.

Originally posted on 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.

Nov 03 2015

Farm Tour Recap: Got Milk?

As a cheese maker, a mom, a consumer and a 2015 Illinois Farm Family City Mom, I was delighted to be invited to tour the Dean Foods and one of their suppliers, Lindale Holesteins’, a local, family owned Dairy Farm.

The Lindale Farm is located about an hour and a half from my home outside Chicago.  It is amazing how quickly city life and strip malls are replaced by rolling fields and livestock.  The farm is beautiful and looks just like you wish all farms would look.  There is no sign of factory farming here.  The animals are in open air pens with plenty of room to move around and bedding deep enough to lose little boy blue.  The animals are let out to pasture twice a day, and they looked pretty content cozying up to each other.  Children and dogs are running around and most of the family is involved in the operation.  There is also a veterinarian on staff that manages the feed and health of the animals.

The actual milking takes place twice a day and it takes 3 1/2 hours each time.  That is 7 hours a day, 365 days a year.  What a responsibility!  Although they have state of the art milking equipment, it is still a hands on operation.  The cows are led into the milking parlour.  Their udders are cleaned by hand and they are then hooked up to the pump.  Once the flow subsides, the pump automatically disconnects from the udders and the cows are sent back out of the parlour. The milk is stored in tanks and never touches human hands or the air.  Once it gets to Dean’s, it will be pasteurized.

This visit to a family owned dairy farm was wonderful.  The animals are treated well and the family takes pride in providing our community clean, safe milk.

Originally posted on Mama Grows.

Jill Niewoehner
Oak Park, IL

Jill 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.

Oct 15 2015

A City Mom's Day on the Farm

Gracious and generous hosts, Linda and Dale Drendel welcomed the Illinois Farm Family 'City Moms' to their farm to share a bit of their extensive dairy farming knowledge with us. With 40 years of dairy farming experience, they have more to share than we could possibly absorb in our afternoon visit. Linda talked about their champion Holstein cows and the meticulous care given to their animals. She is passionate about dairy farming and the well being of the cows.

The Holsteins on the Drendel farm are monitored and cared for regularly by veterinarian Brian J. Gerloff. Brian has years of experience with dairy cows. He grew up on a dairy farm and began his vet practice caring for dairy cows in 1985. He has witnessed the number of dairy farms in Northern Illinois decrease substantially since he began his practice.

Brian showed us the feed and described how feed is selected for the best nutrition for the cows. What I remember is that a total mixed ration (TMR) is created to address the nutritional needs of the dairy animals. One of the ingredients is made from the whole corn plant (corn silage), another ingredient is hay. Another fun fact is that cows have four stomachs.

Despite the lovely weather on the day we visited, the cows chose to stay inside. There was an open gate on the side of the barn for them to exit at will, but they remained in the barn. Silly cows.

Seeing the young ones of any species is usually a treat. The calves were all really beautiful, each with their own distinct markings. They were also generally very friendly.

baby calf on the farmBaby mammals are born with the survival instinct to suck. These calves will be fed their mother's colostrum and milk, but long term, they will not be getting their nutrition directly from the cow themselves. A calf will be separated from the cow approximately 6 -8 hours after birth due to safety concerns. The cow can pose a physical danger to the calf by her size and potential for laying on the calf. A calf in open pasture can wander off and get itself into trouble. The separation of the calf from the cow, also allows for better monitoring, by the farmer, of the health of the calf and its food intake.

Each of the 'City Mom' farm tours has been a delight for me. With the opportunity to meet the farm families, each tour has served as a reminder of just how easy it has become for most of us to buy and consume safe, high quality nutrition for our families. I am grateful for the hard work and dedication of the farmers that goes into making such a wide range of healthy food available to the rest of us.

The fun continued discussing the dairy tour on radio. Following the farm tour, I  had the opportunity along with Marla Behrends, from the Midwest Dairy Association, to join radio hosts Rita Frazer and DeLoss Jahnke on R.F.D. Illinois radio to share my experience as a 'City Mom' visiting the Drendel farm. Thanks, Rita and DeLoss, fellow Runza fan, for the opportunity; it was a pleasure talking with you both. 

For a lovely cookbook with great recipes containing dairy, plus a brief introduction to the different breeds of dairy cows, checkout; A Dairy Good Cookbook.

Originally posted on Run Ran Fam.

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.

Sep 21 2015

A Different Kind of Skyline

A different kind of skyline for a lot of us City Moms. Big thanks to the Drendel's for the hospitality!

farm skyline

More from the Dairy Farm Tour coming soon!

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.

Sep 14 2015

I Visited a Beef Farm and Still Want to Eat Steak

There they were. Hundreds of them, in roomy pens, air moving freely. They milled, they chewed, they lay down and took rests. All getting ready to be beef- which I enjoy on my plate on occasion.

Beef farm tour I had the pleasure of visiting the Larson farm and met four generations of family farmers. Together, they grow corn, soybeans and wheat and 2,500 beef cattle. Lynn, member of Generation 2 and daughter to the 1st Generation, was in charge of the fields while her husband Mike managed took care of the cattle. They work together and separately, making a life for their son and his children. Even with all of that, from what I gathered, the thing they have most of, is each other.

I learned a lot on my tour and there are some facts that I really want to share with you that I find fascinating:


Yes, there is estrogen used in the rearing of these all-male beef cattle. There are 1.9 nanograms of estrogen per 3-ounce serving of beef that was treated with growth promoting hormones, compared to 1.3 nanograms of estrogen per 3-ounce serving of beef from a steer that was not given extra hormones.  To give you some perspective, there are 225 anagrams of estrogen naturally occurring in the baked potato you set next to that steak.


Yes, there are antibiotics in the feed on this particular farm. These antibiotics are to prevent cows from developing blood in their stool; these particular antibiotics do not exist in human medicine. Antibiotics are given to treat sick animals that DO exist in human medicine, however, there is a strict regimen followed including a “withdrawal” period, which most farmers will extend out. Because of the withdrawal periods, antibiotic residues do not remain in the meat we eat.

The family cares about the welfare of the animals.

I trust that these farmers are not only providing me with meat that is safe to eat, but that they are being responsible about their overall health management, the environmental conditions an operation like this produces, and the desires of the consumer.

Am I comfortable eating meat? Yes, I was before and I am now. I feel like I know a little more about antibiotics and hormones and I cannot wait for steak night.

Sara McGuire
Chicago, IL

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.

Aug 31 2015

How NOT to Prepare Your Child For a Trip to the Dairy Farm

It’s almost that time of year when little ones will be  hitting the petting zoos, picking apples and selecting the perfect pumpkins, but are parents really helping their children to connect the dots between farmers and the fun they’re  having at their local farms and orchards?

Unfortunately, I unsuccessfully attempted to do just that for Zoe and Jada this summer. We had the privilege of visiting a dairy farm on the campus of University of Illinois, Urbana- Champaign. I prepped the girls for our trip by stating that we were going to see the cows that give us milk, and they echoed the news with simultaneous “MOOOs”!  It was going to be a great visit, right…wrong!

We pulled up to the school’s dairy farm and as I unloaded the girls onto the gravel walkway they acknowledged that their glittery shoes were now smeared with mud. This visit was nothing like the manicured paths that we’d frequented at our local Zoo. We proceeded to the barn and the girls grew even more apprehensive. Why wasn’t the barn red? And where was the crowing rooster to complete the scene? It became clear to them that this wasn’t Old MacDonald’s Farm, this was a real working farm with very large animals.

We slowly navigated our way through the barn and passed the milk cooler just as it was revving up! Zoe leaped 10 feet and Jada wrapped her arms around my neck…twice! What were these sounds on the farm? Why was there such large machinery? Why were the cows so BIG?

Illinois dairy farm tourThe girls weren’t even considering a move closer to the cow that we were granted permission to milk, instead they kept a distance of 10 feet away. Little Miss Jada continued to back away only to find herself lined up perfectly beneath the rear of a cow that was lifting its tail to relieve itself.

She was whisked away not a moment to soon.

We left the farm shortly thereafter and the girls were promptly asleep. Apparently our farm excursion was a little too adventurous for my tots, but here’s how I would have prepared them differently. Before our next farm visit, I plan to  read the girls books like “The Milk Makers” by  Gail Gibbons so that the girls will have a realistic interpretation of what to expect on today’s farm. Also the book “From Cow to Carton” by Aliki has received rave reviews as a resource for teaching little ones about dairy farms.

As adults, sometimes its easy to assume that our kids “get it,” when really they’re just along for the fun. But when they don’t know what to expect, a fun adventure can turn into a really scary one. And while it’s tempting to read some of the more cartoon-like books with smiling cows hand delivering cups of milk, it’s more effective to provide realistic views of the world around us.

I do plan on taking the girls for another farm tour, but next time they’re getting the real picture!

If you’re looking for some additional farm friendly approved books, there’s a great list provided by the Illinois Farm Bureau on Amina’s original blog post here.

Amina Nevels
Chicago, IL

Amina was one of the Illinois Farm Families 2013 Field Moms. Throughout the year she visited 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 takeaways. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago moms meet farmers. (City Moms formerly knows as Field Moms.)

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.