Illinois Farm Families Blog

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.

Jul 12 2013

City Girl Gone Country

Sitting at a friend’s bridal shower a few weeks ago, I was reminded so much of what my life was like 6+ years ago as I prepared for my marriage to my farmer-husband. My friend, a city girl, is marrying a man who has a full-time job in a near-by city, but who lives in the country, has cattle, grew up on a farm, and loves country life. Soon, she will be trading in her city life, for that of country living. 6+ years ago, I was living in the the city of Chicago above boutiques and restaurants, attending my bridal showers, and preparing to move 2.5 hours to west central IL to my fiance’s farm. At both of our showers, family and friends giggled at the thought of us city girls helping on the farm, learning to cook, tending to a garden, growing our own vegetables, raising our babies in the country, and learning to live away from the busyness of the city.

As I watched her open her gifts, some of which would help her transition to living in the country, two questions popped into my mind: what does it mean for a city girl to move to the country? And, what does it mean for a city girl to marry a farmer?

These questions also came to mind as I spoke to my best friend who has been living in Los Angeles for the past 5 years but has recently started seeing a farmer from Iowa.(How an LA girl met a farmer, that’s a whole different and long story.) While we spoke, she laughed because she has NO idea about farming and country life, other than from what I’ve told her.

After 6 years of being married to my farmer-husband, living on one of the first farms I had ever visited for the first 5 years of our marriage, and raising farm babies, I’d like to share my answers. Disclaimer: these answers are from my experience, and while not everyone’s experience is the same, I can’t speak for all city-gone-country girls. Also, while coming up with my lists I tried to think of things that I otherwise would not have been able to do if I didn’t marry a farmer and instead stayed in the big city. Also, I’ve split answers into two lists because living in the country does not  always mean that you’ve married a farmer, and being married to a farmer does not necessarily mean you live in the country. 

A city girl moving to the country means:
  • We have LOTS of space to grow our own vegetables and create flower gardens, even if we’ve never planted anything before.
  • We have the opportunity to go outside and listen to pure silence with the occasional tweet of a bird and the wind blowing through the trees.
  • While driving in the country, we have time to think about our day, make phone calls to family and friends, admire the country scenery, and my favorite, drive without hitting any traffic.
  • We have an opportunity every night to watch the sunset.
  • We learn how to cook because there are no restaurants, take-out, or delivery food places nearby.
  • We have time to start (and usually finish) projects, whether they be outside or inside. Mine was having time to scrapbook, make greeting cards, and other fun crafting activities.
  • We trade in our high heels for rubber boots and an old pair of jeans or coveralls. I went the old-pair of jeans route, while my girlfriend, who helps with cattle chores, now has her own pair of overalls.
  • We will start to wave at everyone passing by on our country road and those that we pass while driving, and they actually wave back.
  • We quickly learn how the weather can dictate our life. A snow/ice/wind/rain storm can mean not leaving the house for a few days because we actually can’t drive down our road, it can mean not having electricity or running water for a few hours or a few days since we have a well, and it means we load up on the necessities ahead of time if we have warning.
  • Lists are a must: a trip into town means hours of running errands so that we don’t have make the long drive multiple times a week. Lists, in the order of where to stop, help to cut down on driving time.
  • Our city friends and family can come visit us in the country, camp out, go fishing, enjoy the sunsets, shop at farmers markets, enjoy town festival weekends, and get away from busy city living.
  • Our children will have endless land and space to explore.
A city girl marrying a farmer means:
  • We can grow our own vegetables with the help of a husband who knows a thing or two (and actually much more) about growing food.
  • We not only learn how to cook, but we learn how to use endless amounts of meat in the deep freezer from cattle and hogs that were once on one of the family farms.
  • While driving in the car, we start to take note of the passing fields, what’s been planted, how tall it’s grown, water damage, weed control, and all the other things our farmer-husbands also look for in their fields.
  • Our projects usually revolve around the time of year: harvest and planting seasons mean that our husband isn’t home, so we have more time on our own to take up new hobbies and complete projects.
  • Weather dictates our life: our husband’s life revolves around the weather and so that means our days are ruled by the rain/wind/sun/hail, too. Which means...
  • We have an expert weatherman living with us! 
  • We spend countless hours in the tractor or combine visiting our husband, eating meals with him while he plants or harvests the crops, and taking our children to ride with him during the busy times of year.
  • Our house is littered with farming, equipment, and livestock magazines and catalogs.
  • Our husband is also a landscaper, gardener, plumber, builder, handyman, mechanic, etc. that can help us with mostly any project we need done around the house.
  • We now have an understanding of agriculture: what farming entails, where our food comes from, how livestock are raised, etc.
  • That, if life is a mix of hard work and fun, there is hard work done around the farm with fun visits to the city.
  • Our children will be raised with not only the understanding of farming, but helping on the farm, tending to livestock, joining a 4H club, and learning to care and tend to the land that we grow crops on to feed the world.

Kristen Strom Brimfield, IL

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 at

Jul 09 2013

Things I Learned on the May Tour

The things I really enjoyed learning:

* I was unaware that a GMO corn seed will not reproduce with the same traits from one generation to the next if they’re saved and planted for next year. That’s why corn farmers buy new seed each year. I was informed there are farmers growing corn strictly for seed only. I was surprised to learn Biotech Engineering has farming down to a science.

* While I sat on a Case IH tractor there appeared to be a computer screen with the GPS navigation screen which looked very complicated to operate. It was very high tech. GPS was discovered by the United States military.

* It was amazing to learn that most Illinois farmers do not till their farms, they plant in between the rows of last year’s harvest and they no longer let the land rest every 7th year.

* I was disappointed to hear our government spent one million dollars for each windmill produced and planted into the ground of Illinois farms. We can see numerous windmills across various acres of Illinois Farms. All I can say is Wow.

* After I till my initial garden and use manure, I will plant and space my vegetables accordingly. I will experiment with what I learned. I will not remove my previous plant harvest just to see if there is a benefit to doing this?

* I understand the benefits of using GMO, I am just not convinced that it is 100% safe for human consumption.

I was surprised to learn that the Military discovered GPS technology. It was implemented into the planter so that farmer could navigate as he planted seed in the fields. Now, with high-tech farming, the farmer has a GPS receiver on his machinery, which is connected to a laptop or task computer that already has a stored database of optimal field requirements for fertilization. The computer runs a program that controls the mixing of nutrients—nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium—for fertilization and spreads them as needed as the farmer drives across the field. With GPS, producers can identify the exact places that soil fertility changes. Farmers have farmers insurance for drought, tornadoes, or flooding. Last year, many Illinois Farmers actually filed claims because we didn't have much rain in Illinois. They had a fifty percent crop loss.

There is a big debate regarding GMO's. What is GMO? An organism whose genetic characteristics have been altered using the techniques of genetic engineering. When I asked the question, can you plant the seed from a GMO corn? I was told there are farms strictly used for seed production only because of the way corn is pollinated in the hybridization process! We were told the reason why farmers are using GMO, we were told it’s efficient, it saves money, it’s a responsible way to grow crops. 53 percent of the corn produced is Illinois is for export, 7 percent animal feed, 15 percent processing for other food and products and 25 percent for Ethanol for the gas pump. The United States produces 32 percent of the world's corn.  

Corn is a key ingredient in many food items like cereal,  peanut butter, snacks foods and soft drinks. And candy bars, potato chips, hot dog buns, ketchup, mustard, cookies, bubble gum and even ice cream all include ingredients derived from corn. In the 1990s, the genetic modified crops were cotton, corn and soybean seeds. They discovered farmers were increasing crop yields, reducing the constant need to clear more land for growth. Seeds are resistant to drought and pests especially where crop losses are often severe. I would like some studies showing proof there are no health risks to humans.

Michael Taylor, former Vice President of Public Policy at biotech giant and major GMO producer Monsanto, is now a Deputy Commissioner for the FDA. Members of our Senate as well as our House of Representatives, even Hillary Clinton, they all have ties to Monsanto. I think we should all write our politicians so that a bill is passed labeling GMO on all food products for human consumption. I want to be an informed consumer.

I am excited to learn that NASCAR has been using E-15 in all their race cars. E-15 in NASCAR is a fuel made from corn based ethanol. NASCAR is "going green" by using a renewable fuel. Processing plants make soy oil, which goes into soy bio diesel fuel, which can do what other fuels can’t. Bio diesel is non-toxic and is clean and safe for the environment. Illinois corn farmers invest in the Illinois corn checkoff program. Among other things, this program pools money for the the stadium for the CornBelters in Normal, Illinois.

My mother’s philosophy, it’s better to pay more for better quality! My children could attest to Kraft mac and cheese is better than store brand so, I believe this holds true for many items we purchase at the grocery store. The best time to buy sweet corn is between July 4th through July 15th. On Jeschke’s farm, they can plant one acre of field corn in 2 minutes, 30 acres in one hour. They plant 15 different varieties of corn and they never plant more than 20 percent of any one kind of variety of seed. (One acre is equal to a football field or 4,840 square yards.)

If you plant seeds in damp soil the seeds could rot. Most farmer's use John Deere planter which is green, Case IH which is fire engine red or a Kinzie planter. I was surprised to learn Illinois Farmers do not till the land like their predecessor farmers. If they planted corn, they will plant soy the following year. Soy needs 113 days until ready for picking. In the past, they would let the soil rest every 7 years. They use Round Up to kill the weeds. 

On the farm, we learned that organic food doesn’t necessarily mean that there is less risk.  Paul mentioned a tragic event in Europe which occurred in 2011 where 3,950 people were affected and 53 died, including 51 in Germany from risks involving the E. coli risk in raw bean sprout production. A rare strain of Escherichia coli O104:H4 bacteria caused a serious outbreak of foodborne illness focused in northern Germany. The illness was characterized by bloody diarrhea, with a high frequency of serious complications, including hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), a condition that requires urgent treatment. A handful of cases were reported in several other countries including Switzerland, Poland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, the UK, Canada and the U.S. Essentially all affected people had been in Germany or France shortly before becoming ill. 

My biggest concern when I purchase fruit and vegetables for my family that I am very careful with clean utensils to avoid cross contamination. Due to what occurred on Aug 17, 2012 – The outbreak traced to the cantaloupe began in early July and was traced to a Colorado farm and killed 30 people across 11 states last year.

It is always important to rinse your fruits and vegetables especially your melons with dish soap. Pest control substances can harbor harmful bacteria or chemicals. Also, avoid cross contamination, abide by correct cooking procedures, refrigeration and freezing.

Amazing Soybean Facts

It can be planted in May or June, in rows of 7 to 30 inches apart. Fertilizers are used to provide additional nutrients to the soil. Roundup is used to control weeds. It may be 3 feet tall. Flowers appear producing pods, the flowers can be pink, purple or white. Beans take 30 to 40 days. Each pod contains two or three beans. Generally, they are ready for harvest in September or October. Farmers either sell directly to commercial elevators or store in their bins until ready to sell. After the soybean is harvested, it can be processed into soy flour, soy concentrates and soy isolates. Soy flour is a high protein for baking goods. Soy concentrates are found in protein drinks, soups and gravies. Soy isolates are found in cheese, milk and nondairy frozen desserts.


Helen Kolodynski, Chicago

Jan 24 2013

"Down Time"

Did you have the day off of work Monday?

Since my "boss" lives in one of our upstairs bedrooms, there was no day off here in our little white house on the prairie.

But at least I don't have a morning commute...and I get to wear my sweatpants to work...and the boss takes a two-hour nap every day which allows for a little down time. (Just between you and me, when she's not around I drink iced coffee and plan my spring time assault on our garden and landscaping. When I'm feeling really crazy, I also watch Friends re-runs...Shhh.)

This spring-y-ish weather has really given me the gardening itch. My garden catalogs have started rolling in by the mailbox-fulls and they are starting to resemble my daughter's Toys R Us catalogs around Christmas time, dog-eared pages that are full of thick red magic marker circles. Truth be told, I already have an order prepared for everything from sunflowers to cilantro.

Pioneer Seed Corn

Matt and his cousins, Jack and Christopher, have been spending their winter "down time" helping local farmers do exactly the same thing. Only instead of sunflowers and cilantro, they are placing orders for corn and soybeans.

In modern agriculture, filling out your spring seed order isn't as easy as choosing between corn or soybeans. Genetically modified or non-gmo? Drought resistance? Food grade? Disease tolerance? How many acres of corn are you planning to plant? What about soybeans?

When farmers are paying an average of $260 PER BAG of corn and $50 PER BAG of soybeans, it's not a decision that one should take lightly.

Just as a point of reference, one bag of soybeans will plant just over one acre (1.1 to be exact) and one bag of corn will plant 2.3 acres. If a farmer plants just one 80-acre field of corn, his seed bill will be just a shade over $9,000.

Eeesh. That's like 45+ grocery trips.

Seed Corn Storage

I'm no math whiz, but I'm not sure that my $100 off any order of $200 or more coupon from Gurney's seed and nursery would get anyone very far. But for those farmers who really have their ducks in a row this winter, the earlier the seed order is submitted the larger the discount.

While my "boss" gives me my own daily dose of education on every subject from what's in Dora the Explorer's backpack to the finer points of proper princess tea party etiquette, Matt, Jack, and Christopher are spending their winter "down time" attending Pioneer seed meetings to learn about different varieties of seed corn and beans so they can better help farmers prepare for the fast-approaching spring planting season.

When the boys aren't attending meetings, they are visiting with local farmers, preparing seed information, organizing the seed shed, and training our seed shed watch cats to be fierce guardians.

I think they aren't spending as much time as they should on that last part.

Roganne Murray

Roganne is a farm wife, mother to a spunky two year-old and all-around farm girl. She and her husband Matt live in a white house on the Illinois prairie, and you can follow their adventures raising what they hope will be the sixth generation of Murrays to farm in Champaign county at White House on the Prairie.

Sep 14 2011

Back to School & Snack Time Rules

Katie PrattLast night was Back-to-School Night at my son’s elementary school.  Families crowded through the doors to visit classrooms, the library, the gym, and the science room – by far the most popular with Buttercup the hamster, two aquariums of fish, two parakeets and the guinea pig Violet and her new baby.  Teachers passed out important papers about homework, the new report card, parent-teacher conferences and school snacks.

School snacks.  According to the handout I brought home the state requires school districts to form a wellness committee that focuses on “health and nutrition education as well as physical activity for students”.  In that effort, our district has mandated all snacks and birthday/holiday treats be store-bought and individually wrapped in order “to protect students with food allergies, prevent spreading illness and foster better nutrition.”  The handout listed suggestions of “healthy” snacks like packaged apple slices, fruit cups, baby carrots, and the list goes on.  

My reaction was this:  Now our children, many who do not have any connection to our food production system, will learn that an apple comes sliced in a sealed plastic bag with a little tub of caramel dip on the side.  That carrots are deep orange in color, uniform in size and shaped like a mini-hot dog. Think that’s a stretch?

 What color of cow produces chocolate milk?  I’ve been pen-paling with students through the Farm Bureau’s Adopt-A-Classroom program for six years, and I’ve heard the sincere answer, “A brown cow.

That is no fault of the child or his/her parents whose lives may not include a direct connection to food production.  I don’t know that it can be blamed on any one thing or person; however I do believe in our societal effort to combat childhood obesity; our school’s wellness ways could actually hinder the movement to healthy living.

I don’t have any founded research on which to base my argument that growing your own food will foster healthy eating.  I’m a mom of two (ages 6 and 4) and have learned their willingness to eat broccoli lies in their connection to the food.  Every spring we plant a vegetable garden.  The kids help – to the best of their ability – to plant, water, dig, weed, mulch and squish bugs who like our veggies as much as we do.  This summer, my personal reward came when I sent them to the garden to harvest broccoli for dinner.  Normally, not a vegetable voluntarily touched at the table, their excitement over displaying the product of their hard work trumped any upturned noses.   Broccoli was eaten with pride.   There is something to be said about literally having a hand in growing our food.  

If healthy snacks are on schools’ menu, then I propose we till a small school-yard garden, plant some carrot seeds and maybe an apple tree.  I have a hunch those snacks would satisfy so much more than a child’s appetite. 

Katie Pratt
Grand Prairie Farms

Aug 31 2011

Welcoming Farm Visitors

Welcome to our farm, our home…

My husband Paul and I farm together with my brother and sister-in-law, near Mazon, IL.  Our farm is located about 75 miles southwest of Chicago, which is a perfect location because we are close enough to enjoy all the opportunities Chicago has to offer and far enough away to enjoy the more solitude life rural America can provide.  We have two sons, Stephen and Thomas.  Stephen, our daughter-in-law and our 5-month-old granddaughter live in Chicago…the most important reason to visit the city often! Our younger son lives on the farm although, currently, his job involves living in Decatur during the week.  Off-farm jobs keep the boys busy but they are still involved in our family farm, spending free weekends helping whenever they can.
Paul and I love to have friends, new and old, visit the farm.  Living so close to Chicago has given us the opportunity to welcome many folks to our family farm from all over the world.  Just Monday, we had eight visitors from Japan.  All of these men and women work with farmers and companies that help to provide food for the Japanese people.  It was most interesting learning about their lives in Japan.  We took them to the fields to see corn and soybeans growing.  We showed them the machinery that we will use to harvest the corn and beans, beginning in September.  We talked about walking through the fields to “scout” or check for diseases and insects that may harm the corn and soybeans. They told us about working with farmers in Japan who grow cattle and pigs and chickens.  One man was a professor at Rakuno Gakuen University.  He works with Japanese farmers who raise dairy cows for milk and cheese.   After two hours of walking around our farm, our guests joined us for a supper of Italian Beef, chicken, baked beans, broccoli and cauliflower salad, tomatoes from our garden, fruit salad, and chocolate cake.  We visited another couple hours and then our new friends had to return to Chicago, where they are staying until they fly home on Wednesday.  It’s always fun and interesting to meet new people.  I hope through the Illinois Farm Families Blog, I can get to know a little more about you.  And you about me.  And I look forward to answering, or at least, trying to answer all of your questions about how we grow your food.  Or anything else you may wish to ask a farmer but didn’t know a farmer to ask!

Remember, we are only a short drive from the city.  We would love to sit on our porch and have a conversation with you anytime!

P.S. In case you were wondering, none of our visitors today lost family members due to tsunami issues.  One young man said his family lived close to the nuclear power plant that was affected but that all his family is now safe.

Donna Jeschke

Mazon, IL
Jul 20 2011

Proud to eat what we grow

I am always happy when my whole family can sit down for dinner at theBrent Scholl, Illinois Farm Families same the time.  First, it never seems to happen with a college graduate looking for a job and a college sophomore just home for a while before he goes back to school. 

The other thing that makes me happy is when we can eat food that we have grown on our farm.  I take a lot of pride in that.  When my family has a meal that has pork, beef, or lamb as the main course and the sides are grown in our garden, now that is a meal!

While most of the animals go to market, we also fill our own freezer with the animals we raise on our farm. I treat all our animals with the same care and have pride in the animals that go to market.  The meal just seems to be more satisfying when I know how much work went into the meal, and it sure does taste great!

My dad has always had a large garden.  He probably got that from his father, my grandfather, as I can remember as a child; my grandfather would put out 6 dozen tomato plants and what seemed like miles of potatoes.  Also my grandfather started at a young age planting melons and my father has continued that on our farm. We have grown “Scholl” melons for 103 years, by saving back seeds from the best melons each year.

Our family likes to grow plants and animals because we enjoy having great things to eat!

Brent Scholl
Polo, Illinois