Farming is more about who we are rather than what we do.

Illinois Farm Families Blog

Aug 20 2015

It's not a stroke; it's fair week.

I came in the house from pulling weeds this weekend and my 12 year old says, "Where were you? I thought you'd had a stroke! I looked everywhere!"

To which I would say, "Um, I don't think you looked that hard because I was right in front of the house. Pulling weeds."

"But the mixer's on!" she said.

"You mean now?" I asked, vaguely remembering that I was making banana bread at one point.

"Yes!" she said. "We came in and the mixer was on and we couldn't find you!"


I found three old bananas after lunch and started making banana bread. Then one of the kids asked about bringing up a box from the basement so I stepped out of the kitchen to answer. Then John pulled up with the camper, to be cleaned and loaded for the county fair. So I went outside. We got it unhitched and then loaded up the dogs, which John and the kids were taking for a bath (prepping for the dog obedience show on Monday). Then I pulled a couple weeds in the flower bed while they were grabbing some brushes. They left and I was on a roll, so I kept weeding all the way around to the front of the house. Then I realized it was hot and I was dripping with sweat and this was maybe not the best time of day to pull weeds.

So I headed back into the house, where upon I learned Jenna thought I'd had a stroke somewhere because she came in the house and the mixer was running and I was nowhere to be found.

Kids at the county fairSo I guess I can see where she might have thought that.

But here's the thing: It's not a stroke. It's fair week. My brain is addled.

Forgive me if it's quiet around here this week. You can rest assured we're showing and sweating and eating some good fair food, and hopefully no one is actually having a stroke.

And if it's your fair week, too? Best of luck! And don't forget to thank a fair board member.

(Also, the banana bread turned out fine, in case you were wondering.)

Originally posted on Prairie Farmer: My Generation

Marietta, IL

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise their three children. On their farm, they grow crops and raise cattle with John's parents. Holly is also an associate editor for Prairie Farmer magazine, a publication dedicated to sharing information about farm life and farm business.

Aug 17 2015

How to Grow a Pollinator Garden

If there is a buzzword for gardening, the word of the summer is “pollinators.” Gardeners are becoming concerned about the health of bees, butterflies and other pollinators, and are incorporating plants into their gardens to help them. Whether you love veggie gardens or flower gardens, pollinators are what keep gardens growing!

Pollinator GardenSo, who exactly are the pollinators? We all know about bees, of course! Butterflies are excellent pollinators as well. But did you know that moths, beetles, flies, hummingbirds and bats also are pollinators? I never thought about these pollinators until I began to plant my own pollinator garden. I’ve even read that mosquitoes can be pollinators, and with all the rain we’ve been getting, there are plenty of them in my yard. I just fed a couple when I went outside to take some pictures for this post!

I’ve been learning that it takes time to build a pollinator garden. A couple of years ago, we had a large, old willow tree cut down in our backyard. I’ve been using this new sunny space to build our garden. One of the first things I did was visit the “native plant” section of my local nursery. Those plants that I used to see growing in ditches next to farm fields are now much easier to find and are not considered weeds anymore! Black-eyed Susans and purple cone flowers are now deliberately planted in flower gardens to provide a natural setting for our pollinator friends.

Last spring, my plants were very small and vulnerable. The rabbit that lives under our bushes loved eating the new, green shoots, especially the leaves of my English aster! I was worried that all that nibbling would kill my plants, but this spring most of them grew back bigger and stronger than ever.

I’ve been learning as I go along, and here’s what I’ve learned about growing a pollinator garden:

Use plants with a variety of colors and that bloom at different times of the growing season.

Different pollinators are drawn to different colors and scents, so a variety of plants also will draw a variety of pollinators. In early spring, my purple salvia bloomed profusely. Bumblebees love this flower!

Now my orange butterfly weed is blooming, and it adds a nice pop to my garden. The purple cone flowers are just starting to bloom, but the English aster will bloom later this summer. When I first planted these flowers, I left plenty of room between them, and I’m glad I did! This year they are quite bushy and large.

Remember the caterpillars!

Butterflies need places to lay eggs, and the caterpillars need leaves to eat. The butterfly weed pictured above is one kind of milkweed where monarch butterflies can lay their eggs

Don’t use pesticides.

I’m also not going to use pesticides. Last summer, one of my plants was infested by white flies. All I did was spray the plant with a strong jet of water a few times, and the flies were eliminated. There are other friendly ways to take care of pests without removing the bugs you want to keep!

Have a source of water.

Right now, I have some natural water sources in my yard. The ground has been saturated during our wet and rainy June! I would like to get a birdbath for the hot summer months. The edges should be shallow and sloping for the pollinators to be able to get a drink without falling into the water.

To learn more about growing your own pollinator garden, Pollinator Partnership  is a great resource. Some of my other City Mom friends are growing gardens with their eyes on pollinators. See how Natasha’s garden at Houseful Of Nicholes  is growing food for her table. Katie is preparing for an abundance of zucchini from her garden, and has some great recipes at Three Little Birds and One Messy Nest

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

Aug 03 2015

Mustard and Turnip Greens

There is something amazing about being able to go to your backyard and pick dinner. Literally. We got to do that tonight with our greens that we planted three months ago. It’s kind of weird to say that since July will be over tomorrow evening, but it’s the truth. Before leaving for Malawi, my turnip greens weren’t even bushy yet. However, when I came home, they were fully formed. It was such a rapid growth that Mr. Houseful thought that they were weeds. My mustards were all flat leaves, and hadn’t started getting their familiar curly edges yet. I’m not sure if I was anticipating coming back home to a garden that seemed to burst from the seams, but I was excited at what greeted me when I did get here. 

Mustard greens from my gardenThis is how my mustard greens looked when I got back into the country. It’s amazing how they look at the moment. Well, after we’ve harvested them now, they don’t look so hot, but they are going to grow more leaves, so I’m not worried about that just yet. I mean, I’m practically a master gardener after watching a ton of YouTube videos and whatnot. 

Just look at those mustards! They are so beautifully curly and perfect for picking! These were easier to pick than the turnip greens. The nasty cabbage worm loved being in those as well. In the form of some white fuzzy caterpillar. After we picked them, and while we were cleaning them (thoroughly I might add) a couple of rogue caterpillars ended up in the sink. I tell you, gardening leafy green vegetables isn’t for the faint of heart. Remember my post Farming Is Hard, Yo! Yeah. That. 

The BEST part of picking from your backyard garden is eating. We cooked up the greens this evening for dinner, and while I don’t have a finished plate to show you – they disappeared too fast, I DO have a recipe! We cleaned several times before even thinking about cooking, and by cleaning, I mean, filling a sink up with cold water – do NOT use hot as you will wilt your greens – and a bit of blue dawn soap. Yes, I clean my greens with a bit of soap. It helps to get those cabbage worms and any other bugs out of their hiding places, and makes me feel better about not eating another helping of protein. 

These are the freshly picked and washed greens. You can store them after cleaning for up to five days in the refrigerator. You just need to make sure that they are wrapped in a wet paper towel so that they don’t go yellow on you. 

Cooking mustard greensTo start my greens I always start with a smoked meat. Usually turkey tails, but you can use ham hocks, smoked turkey, smoked bacon, anything that your heart desires. I saute a medium-sized onion and a couple of cloves of freshly minced garlic in butter  (yes, butter) before adding the smoked meat to pull out flavor. After the meat has had a chance to simmer a bit, I add  two cups of water.  You don’t want to add too much water because the greens are going to let off quite a bit. This is an 8 quart dutch oven that I’m using. 

After the flavor of the garlic, onion and meat have had a chance to marry, I add the greens. Alternating between mustards and turnips until the pot is full. In the picture above, it looks like there are too many greens for the pot, but trust me, after wilting down, these didn’t even fill half of the pot. I cooked them on a medium simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour, and while they were cooking, I prepared a batch of skillet cornbread. I’m going to save that recipe for another post, so that I can get great photos for you. Tomorrow, we’ll probably have the cabbage that I pulled out of the garden before the cruddy worms ate too much of it. 

Originally posted on Houseful of Nicholes.

Natasha Nicholes
Chicago, IL

Natasha was one of the Illinois Farm Families 2013 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, including five takeaways. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers. (City Moms formerly known as Field Moms.)

Jul 09 2015

My Basket Runneth Over... with ZUCCHINI

Well, summer has been of to a VERY slow start here in the Midwest. The good news? I haven’t had to water ANYTHING. The bad news? I haven’t had to water anything!!! We have been lacking a little in glorious summer sunshine, and that ain’t good for my garden… and it ain’t good for ME (improper English intentional!!!)  I shouldn’t have to take Vitamin D supplementS during the supposed heart of summer!! Am I right?

So, what does this have to do with my tiny plot of eventual food? Without proper heat, and perhaps just a TAD too much rain, my growing season is moving at the pace of a turtle running through peanut butter. But yet, every day I check on my green growing babies, and every day I sit in my garden to gently nourish and encourage my seedlings to look into the light (when it’s around) and GROW. I hold on to optimism for my garden, much as I do for life…it’s just how I’m made.

So, as another storm rolls over the top of our humble abode, as I sit and listen to the raindrops battering the windows and doors, I look forward to the days when I can pick fresh and cook fresh, straight from my own backyard.

Upon my daily walk through my little garden of eatin’ today, I noticed a lot of yellow flowers vining their way up the trellis I am using to gently encourage the zucchinis tiny tendrils vertical. With great hope, this means that soon, I will have an abundance of squash gracing our table. The first few are always so exciting – so fresh, still warm from the heat of the sun – you can practically sit right down and eat them raw, though I prefer them with garlic and olive oil and some italian herbs for good measure! But as the dog days roll around, after we have eaten approximately 100 of the courgettes, I have to come up with some new an inventive recipes. If for no other reason than to keep my family from boycotting the fruits of my labor. Believe me, it could get ugly.

I have decided, to share some of my favorites, for both your delight  and your safety on my blog. Check them out here. And don’t forget, winter will be here before we know it, let’s relish in the delights of the now.

Originally posted on Three Little Birds and One Messy Nest.

Katie Grossart
Chicago, IL

Katie 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 16 2015

Farming Is HARD Yo!

Before I left on a crazy whirlwind travel month this month, I transplanted those seedlings that I grew into my backyard, and prayed that they would take. I came back from Africa amazed that my turnip greens had become these big bushy leaves, and that everything else was coming along wonderfully. We harvested two super small, but super sweet strawberries at the end of the month, and then, we got into the mode of having to wait. 



And wait some more. 

I can honestly say that I don’t remember waiting this much with our container gardens are the previous Nicholes’ Manor, but I guess we did wait. Or maybe, it was the fact that cabbage worms ruined my broccoli, and we never got a chance to harvest the crown. We got okra, sun sugar tomatoes, even regular tomatoes (the variety escapes me,) sugar snap peas,  and enough arugula to make one family sized salad and that was it. I tried to grow spinach, and it didn’t take. I tried to grow cilantro and it bolted too fast. I tried growing onions, and just didn’t know the proper way to space to allow for maximum root spacing. 

In other words, farming is hard, yo! I have to give it to the farmers that spend an entire season trying to figure out the best way to grow their crops for the next spring, summer and fall. Spacing, rotating plots, and figuring out how much of what to plant. Here I am with my little backyard garden (that I’m SUPER pleased with, by the way) and I’m freaking out at the fact that I planted watermelon in BETWEEN some stuff. Probably not my best planning ever, but we’ll make it work. I think. I hope. I’m not sure. 

Either way, it leads me to the fact that farmers are just REALLY in a space where I don’t think that I could be year round. If my entire income depended on proper rain, sun, and harvest times, I’d be up a creek. I mean. I’ve been pretty successful with what I have planted, but I do have some moments of where I want to rip the entire garden bed to shreds. Especially with those tomatoes. Those vines produce such a stinky quality, but the fruit of them is so wonderful! I even have the nerve to have nine plants going in my backyard. I want to get more, and put them in a raised bed if I can. 

Essentially, I just want to thank farmers. No matter what is being said about seeds that they use, or practices that should or shouldn’t be happening, they keep moving. They like the mothers of America keep it moving no matter if they stand on the side of GMO seeds, or Non-GMO. They continue to provide for the people, organic, or otherwise, even while trying to provide for their families. I’m simply trying to provide some great sides for my six person family, and I’m completely humbled by the aspect of doing so. Sometimes it takes going back to look at all of the photos that I’ve posted since starting the journey. 

Less than a month ago, the garden looked like this. It’s marvelous what can grow from a seed, isn’t it? I’m still learning about thinning and not feeling bad for doing so, can you imagine having to thin an entire field? Do farmers have to thin entire fields? That would be a great question to answer in next month’s post about farming, and eating from farm to table, don’t you think? 

I’m not too sure that I could handle a farm so large that I needed a combine to harvest either. That just seems like a little more work than I am willing to give. I mean, harvesting with three little people underfoot is hard enough. Can you imagine ME driving a huge combine? They’re a pretty massive piece of machinery. I got to ride in one a couple of years ago while it took in corn cobs, and the amount of work it can do in a couple of hours allows farmers to spend more time with their families instead of having their families spread out to harvest. Plus it ensures that all cobs are harvested. I STILL have to go behind tiny hands, and even my own to make sure that we get everything that we’re supposed to. 

Now, for my small factoid of the day. Did you know that when you harvest broccoli, you send your plant into shock, and because it wants to survive it sends out more crowns of broccoli? So you can eat nicely for a bit of time. Of course, with all of those good veggies and fruits that you’re getting it’s nice to have time and energy for a sweet snack. Checking out my friend Samantha’s blog, and I saw this Brownie S’Mores Pie that she created, and I think after a long afternoon in the garden, this may just be what we need for dessert. Of course, we can always balance it with fresh strawberries, right? Right. Annnnnd that’s how you end a blog post guys! Stay tuned for some more gardening posts as I continue to share about farming in the midwest – especially Illinois as part of the Illinois Farm Families initiative. 

Originally posted on Houseful of Nicholes.

Chicago, IL

Natasha was one of the Illinois Farm Families 2013 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, including five takeaways. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers. (City Moms formerly known as Field Moms.)

Apr 23 2015

Spring has SPRUNG... Time for bed(s).

Well, I am pleased to announce, I have made it through another Midwest winter with most of my sanity intact. No small feat. And one thing that always helps arrive at the days of green and color, is planning my summer garden. It’s like a magical tincture to chase away the winter doldrums.

I have always been a garden bed kinda gal, just dig in the earth, plant your seedlings, pull some weeds and give some water and……PRESTO……FOOD !!! But then……we MOVED. And at our new home, in our new yard, well, the soil is less than spectacular. In particular, the draining (or lack thereof) of the soil. My plants were NOT happy with their very wet home.

So this year, we are going to do something different. Something new. Something I should have done YEARS ago. We are going to garden in raised beds. Gardening in beds is going to do a few things for me this year, it is going to increase my yield, and save my back. Both of which sound pretty good to me.

Do you absolutely NEED to garden in raised beds ? Nope, but if your soil is not ideal, or if you want to grow deep root crops such as carrots, it is the way to go. And if you REALLY dislike hunching over your garden plot for several hours a week, causing you to walk around like the bell-ringer at Notre Dame, trust me…’s worth it.

But are there other benefits ? YES !! They keep pathway weeds from your garden soil, prevent soil compaction, provide good drainage and serve as a barrier to pests such as slugs and snails. The sides of the beds keep your valuable garden soil from being eroded or washed away during heavy rains. In many regions, gardeners are able to plant earlier in the season because the soil is warmer and better drained when it is above ground level.

Raised beds are NOT garden planters. Planters are elevated containers which have bottoms to prevent the soil from falling out. Planter bottoms usually are slatted, with some type of semi-permeable cloth barrier which permits drainage. Raised beds, however, do not have bottoms; they are open to the ground, which offers the benefit of permitting plant roots to go further into the ground for available nutrients.

Raised garden beds are available in a variety of different materials, or they can be made with relative ease.

After doing a lot of research, I am ready to build and more than ready to GROW. So, let’s take a look at how we can make this happen :

Our family has decided to go with traditional wood beds, as we happened to have it at our ready, and one of the only thing that compares with my love of gardening, is my love of all things frugal. SCORE !!

Building a standard 3-ft x 5-ft garden bed with wood is typical; however, you also can use blocks, pavers, stone, or a pile of soil. For this project you will need 2 x 4s, a 4 x 4 post, tape measure, pencil, square, drill with bits and screw-driving bits, a circular saw, work gloves, soil, landscape fabric, shovel, hoe, level, utility knife, sawhorses, soil, wheelbarrow, and a soaker hose. You’ll also need the flowers or vegetables of your choice.

Select a location with plenty of sun and access to both sides for easy upkeep. Mark the outline of the garden bed on the ground and dig up the sod without disturbing the soil underneath. Check the ground with a level to make sure the base is even.

Lay the landscaping fabric down and cut to cover the bare soil with about 6 inches extra along each edge. Cut the 2 x 4s and 4 x 4 s to length, screw the ends of three longer 2 x 4s to a pair of 4 x 4s with the edges and ends flush to form panels. Then screw the shorter 2 x 4s to the 4 x 4s to form the box.

Position the box on the landscape fabric and check that it’s level. Cut any excess landscaping fabric and add soil or compost, or BOTH. Next, which is my favorite part, plant your vegetables or flowers by pulling back the dirt. You can also add an irrigation “system” by running an irrigation, or drip hose between plants, but I prefer to water by hand, as I find it therapeutic !!

Now….get out there…..get dirty….and embrace these days of spring, as the dog days of summer will be here before you know it. And nothing tastes better than salad you’ve grown yourself !!

Chicago, IL

Katie 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.

Apr 10 2015

Backyard Farming

As announced yesterday, it looks like Spring may actually stay around Chicago for a while. Meanwhile, I’m praying that the seedlings that we planted last week continue to flourish enough to get ready for the season of backyard farming. We picked up cabbage, cucumbers (pickling and salad,) carrots, sugar snap peas, pole beans, broccoli, tomatoes (sweet and heirloom,) sweet corn, sweet peppers, watermelon, okra and a multitude of other seeds. I haven’t planted everything just yet because I didn’t buy all of the potting pellets that I needed. Blame it on winter brain. I’m anxious to get started, and I want to take tons of Instagram pictures and overshare what I grow and pick. 

With being a part of the City Moms farm tour, through Illinois Farm Families,  two years ago, the get up that I needed for starting a home garden was given to me last year, and we successfully planted and harvested tomatoes, arugula, sugar snap peas, and okra. My broccoli kind of went a bit crazy on me, and I wasn’t able to harvest it properly, especially since the cabbage worms got to it. That wasn’t totally backyard farming, more of tote farming, but I think we’ll have totes again this time around as well. 

I’m looking forward to transferring the seedlings next month, and eating off of our harvest all summer long. I’m also hoping that we get TONS of pickling cucumbers so that I can pickle a bunch and have them to eat on throughout fall and winter. They are pushing through the soil awesomely, and I’m hopeful that we’ll get a good bounty. 

Another portion that I’m looking forward to is the cabbage that we planted as well. It’s purple cabbage and all I can think of is trying to recreate the Yankee Cole Slaw created by one of my favorite restaurants on the west side of Chicago. I’m guessing all of the leaves will be nice and purple too, and that makes me happy. I’m thinking about doing strawberries sometime too, so that I can have some other color out there other than green. 

Let’s not ignore the fact that I planted SWEET CORN! I learned that sweet corn is only 1% of the corn planted EVER, and I kind of had a tiny violin moment. So I figured, I’d bring my own sweet corn to the back yard, and hope that we get at least twelve ears of it this season. If we do, I’ll plant more if we decide to do a community garden next spring. We’re going to do raised boxes, and I’m so excited! 

By the way, I’ll be off next month to visit the Monsanto factory to learn a little bit more about the company that seems to be in the crosshairs of so many people. I’m curious about lots of things, and I’m looking forward to the trip. I’m hoping that the people who read this blog can participate in some thoughtful discussion and we can respect each others choices. Until then, I’ll keep you updated on the gardening, and what we harvest! 

Originally posted on Houseful of Nicholes.

Chicago, IL

Natasha 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
Jun 23 2014

I Plant GMOs In My Fields, Not In My Garden

Back in early February, I sat in my kitchen in front of my laptop preparing to Skype for the first time. I know, I know. My lack of techy-ness is shining through. I use my computer for work, my phone to talk to people and the TV to watch. Old school.

On the other side of my computer screen sitting in a studio in L.A. was Larry King, – as in TV-host, journalism legend Larry King – a panel of celebrity “experts” and one scientist.

Ensuring Skype worked properly sent my anxiety levels through the roof, even more so than facing off with Larry King about the hottest topic in food and farming . . . until I realized who was asking the questions and how much they didn’t know.

The topic was none other than GMOs and the panel of “experts” included celebrity chef Curtis Stone, actress Mary Lou Henner and former NBA-player John Salley. The scientist was Dr. Bob Goldberg from the department of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology at UCLA. He knows science and biotechnology.

During the hour long show the panel spoke to numerous guests and bantered amongst themselves about the value of biotechnology in agriculture. I did not hear any of that though, as I waited in my kitchen for the notification bell to ‘ding’ on my computer. I thought when that happened I’d be able to see who I was talking to and hear their conversation prior to my interview.

When the bell ‘dinged’, I saw just me on my screen. Uh oh. Then, I heard Larry ask, “Let’s start with why you use gm-seed on your farm?”

I didn’t expect this to be a friendly interview, (i.e. Mary Lou’s first question, “Do you feed your children these crops?” referring to our acres of field corn.), but I did expect if folks were going to be on a webcast they’d be somewhat up on the facts. Not the case.

When Chef Stone in so many words called me a hypocrite because I plant genetically modified seed in our fields and not in our gardens (He said I plant organic seeds. I do not buy seed labeled organic.), I realized who I was talking to – another uninformed food consumer.

This doesn’t make Chef Stone a bad person. In fact of all the panelists I thought he was pretty nice. But I wonder if he hadn’t taken Mary Lou’s advice to “google it” to find out about biotech and agriculture. After all, if it’s on the internet, it must be so.

Only eight crops have commercially available genetically modified seed – corn, soybeans, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya, squash, and cotton. As a back-yard gardener, I can’t plant a genetically modified squash seed in my garden, because I am not a commercial grower.  A tomato labeled non-gm is labeled as such because you can’t grow/buy it any other way. A head of lettuce labeled non-gm says so because no gm-lettuce exists.

As Chef Stone pointed out approximately 70 percent of processed food may contain an ingredient derived from a genetically modified crop. However, the science states that these sugars, starches and oils are no different compared to their counterparts derived from non-gm crops. Even more arguments speak to the genetic make-up of said ingredients – can a sugar really be genetically modified when a sugar is chemically a compound with no genes to be found?  I know that high school junior year chemistry, Mr. Simpson’s class.

I've pondered this interview quite a bit while weeding my garden and plucking beetles (already!) off the plants, wondering if that gm-squash seed would kill those buggers so I don’t have to. GM-squash is disease resistant. No help to me.

This interview still irritates me, which is why I haven’t shared it until now. I’m all for robust discussion challenging what we hold to be true, but posing as an expert and sharing an opinion as fact isn't right.

You can watch the full Larry King Now episodes here (see below). It is a two part series and I do recommend watching both pieces in their entirety; however, for shameless self-promotion kicks, my less than stellar performance is after the first break in Part 2.

Larry King Now: GMOs, Part 1 
Larry King Now: GMOs, Part 2 

Originally posted June 23, 2014 on Rural Route 2.

Katie Pratt
Dixon, Illinois

Katie and her husband, Andy, are seventh generation farmers. Together they raise two adorable farm kids and grow corn, soybeans and seed corn in Illinois. Katie's family still raises pigs, cattle, goats and horses only a few minutes away. Katie was named one of the 2013 Faces of Farming and Ranching by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA). Read more from Katie on her blog, Rural Route 2.

Mar 11 2014

How NOT to Obsess about Food Safety

A few years back, my family planted a garden. We dreamed of a bountiful harvest. We spent a summer watering, weeding, watching and waiting. Then we joyously rallied around our harvest . . . four beans and a pumpkin.  

Now, I don’t know about yours, but my family of five won’t last long on four beans and a pumpkin! In fact, after we devoured the beans (and saved the pumpkin for Halloween) we drove to our local grocery store and loaded up on fruits and vegetables born of another person’s labor. And let me tell you, I’ve never been more grateful for the produce section.

Because, let’s face it, growing food is hard work. My family of five eats three meals a day. We run and jump and play and learn and we. do. not. stop. We need energy to keep going, and we need good healthy food to give us that energy. As nutritionist, Jodie Shield, M.Ed., R.D., L.D.N, author of “Healthy Eating, Healthy Weight for Kids and Teens” noted; the US has the safest food supply in the world. So, the question on the table (so to speak) isn’t about food safety:  It’s about choice.  

A few years ago, my family experienced some health issues seemingly related to an overconsumption of wheat and dairy products. Not caused by wheat or dairy, but closely associated to eating too much of it.  So, as the family meal planner, I chose to reduce the amount of wheat and dairy in our diet for a while.  And guess what?  Everything improved. That was strong enough evidence for me to make a change away from breads and pastas to more fruits, vegetables and low-fat meats. That’s what my family needed.  I was glad the grocery store offered the gluten-free, dairy-free choices that helped ease our transition, and I realized then that every family’s needs are different. But every family needs choices.

As a society, we seem to have less and less time to eat together. We rush from home to school to work and back again. Yet, advertisers and marketers beg us to question whether our food is healthy or even safe. They tell us that “good moms” buy food labels that say things like ‘organic’, ‘natural’ or ‘cage-free’.  That we should worry about the way our food is grown and the very seeds it comes from. But “good moms” have to make lots of choices within the limitations of our family’s needs. We have to choose between time spent helping with homework and time spent cooking. We have to choose between preservatives when they’re necessary and organics when they’re affordable, or vice versa. That’s just what we do.  

One Spring Break, my family and I went hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains. We stopped at a grocery store before entering the park and chose enough food to pack two backpacks with meals for a day.  They were foods made to last without refrigeration, to be eaten without spoons or forks; to give us the energy we needed to make it up and down the mountain, all while being economical and gluten- and dairy-free. (Whew! What an order!)  We walked for what seemed like hours. We got so tired we almost turned back. But then we saw it:  a huge waterfall, made even bigger by the melting snow on the mountaintop. The water rolled past our feet and crashed below us in a rising mist that enveloped the trees and held us frozen in wonder and amazement. In that moment of awesomeness, I heard the voice of my 5 year-old saying, “Mom, I’m hungry.” And in complete isolation at the top of a waterfall in the middle of a great forest, we were able to eat with abundance. And it was the best meal EVER.  

Do I worry about food safety?  Sure, especially when my child sneezes into the stir-fry I’m serving for dinner. Am I concerned that my local grocery store might stop carrying the foods my family needs to stay healthy? Yes, but a recent visit to Ultra Foods in Wheaton taught me that a shopper can actually request specific food items and management will stock them. Do I worry about unnecessary colorings and preservatives in my family’s food? Yeah. Sometimes. But not when I’m sitting at the top of a waterfall. 

Genevieve O'Keefe
Grayslake, Illinois

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.

Sep 07 2013

Veggie Tales


Each summer, I look forward to eating fresh vegetables that I have picked myself from my own garden. After planting vegetable seeds and plants in the spring, I eagerly await the arrival of seeing the first signs of fresh produce. I continue to check on my plants throughout the summer as they grow, mature, and eventually bloom. Then, when the first signs of a vegetable arrive, I anxiously await the day that the vegetable is ready to be harvested by my hands. 

Early morning, after a sweaty workout and before my toddlers are awake for the new day, I head out to check on my vegetable plants, hoping that there is something for me to pick, place in my grocery sack, and take inside to wash. Some mornings I return with an empty sack because the vegetables just aren’t quite ready. Other times, my grocery sack is overflowing with large zucchini and tomatoes.  Each year and each day is different. One year, my in-laws couldn’t grow zucchini from any of their plants while I had them overflowing on my kitchen counter. Other years, my pepper plants produced not one pepper, while this year I have a steady flow of them each week to pick. Rain, sun, heat, bugs, weeds, the large size of neighboring vegetable plants, unexpected frost, etc. are all determiners, in my experience, of the amount and size of the vegetables my plants produce.

As a little girl, I experienced planting and harvesting vegetables with my Great Uncle who planted a large vegetable garden in the backyard of his suburban home. Growing up on a farm himself, he brought his farmer roots with him to the Chicago suburbs, set aside a plot of land in the middle of his backyard, and planted vegetables every year. This was not typical in the suburbs, and I have yet to see a large vegetable plot in anyone’s  backyard. He’d invite me over on the days he’d plant his carrots because that was my favorite to harvest. Pulling the gigantic carrot out of the ground was one of the coolest mysteries I experienced as a kid. I still have memories of what it felt like to take a hold of the green top, pull as hard as I could, and sometimes with his help, uncover a long, orange carrot that had been hidden under the soil. He’d let me take home anything I picked. I even have memories of sneaking out of my bed at night, going downstairs, opening the refrigerator, quietly opening the bottom drawer, and taking a bite of one of the carrots I picked with my own hands. (I wish my own kids loved eating vegetables like that!)

In high school, my father started planting tomato and herb plants wherever he could find space in his yard. In one house, he used a small area behind his garage that received direct sunlight, in another house, he had to use pots. The Italian that he is, the tomatoes and herbs were used in his delicious pasta meals. He’d teach me the smell of different herbs and how to use them in cooking. Whenever there was a tomato ready to be harvested, we’d pick it, wash it, slice it, sprinkle it with salt, and sink our teeth into its juiciness. Now, I find myself doing the same thing. A juicy tomato is one of my favorite things to eat before dinner.

When I moved from my apartment in the city of Chicago to my husband’s farm once we were married, growing my own vegetables was something I looked forward to. However, I didn’t know much, other than I had to plant seeds and watch them grow. With the help of my mother-in-law that first spring on the farm, she taught me how and when to plant each type of vegetable. Throughout growing season, she’d remind me of what to do, when to do it, and how to deal with certain weed or bug problems. When it was time to harvest a particular vegetable, she’d tell me what to look for and when to pick it.  I was so new at gardening that when she told me the potatoes were ready, I was really confused: I didn’t see any potatoes above the soil that needed to be picked. With a laugh, my husband revealed that the potatoes were actually underground and I had to dig them up. (No way!! Just like those carrots!) I brought that revelation to my dad, who couldn’t believe it either. That next spring, he planted his own potatoes in his small suburban garden behind his garage and enjoyed discovering them in the soil when it was time for their harvest.

Moving to the country has included many new experiences for this city-gone-country girl. Growing my own vegetables is something I’ve loved from the beginning. Whether you live in the country, the city, or the suburbs, it’s something we can all experience if you have a sunny spot of soil. Urban gardens are popping up in various cities, and it’s fun to see how city dwellers are learning about and experiencing growing their own food.  On our own family farm, my husband and I look forward to teaching our children about where our food comes from and how to provide safe, healthy food for our community. And wherever you may find yourself, give it a try sometime; you may be surprised at what will grow (above or below ground)!


Kristen Strom, Brimfield

Kristen is a city-gone-country girl after her marriage to her husband, Grant, who is a full-time farmer.  You can follow her stories and adventures on her blog, Farm Notes from Little Dahinda, IL.