Tag Archives: Field Mom

A Tale of Two Farms

A cow with her calf at the Adams Farm
A cow with her calf at the Adams Farm

On Saturday, March 19, I had the opportunity to visit another Illinois cattle farm. Illinois cattle farms are not as large as the ranches out west, and they are mostly family farms. This farm tour was the perfect complement to the two cattle tours I have already attended, first to a cattle finishing farm and then to a dairy farm. This third tour was where it all begins in beef production: a cow/calf farm.

Sara Prescott was on our bus for the ride from Arlington Heights to Sandwich, Illinois, talking about her experience running a cow/calf operation of about 100 beef cows. The cow/calf farm is where it all begins in beef production. The Prescott farm breeds cows to have calves, which they sell to cattle finishing farms, and from these farms the grown calves are sold for beef.

Sara talks to a group of City Moms. Photo courtesy of Illinois Farm Bureau.
Sara Prescott talks with a group of City Moms. Photo courtesy of Illinois Farm Bureau.

Prescott Angus & Simmental

Sara isn’t able to walk out of her farmhouse to take care of her cattle. She lives with her husband and three children in town, and their cattle live on farmland rented from various landowners. One farm is a twenty minute drive from her house, the other is 45 minutes away. For a farmer, Sara spends a lot of time commuting!

Since her husband also works full time at a cattle feed company, Sara takes on a lot of responsibility for the cattle. During a typical day, she drops her two daughters off at school and takes her little boy with her to check on the cattle farms. They are lucky to be able to hire someone to help feed and check on their cattle at their farm near Lincoln, Illinois. Their cattle live outdoors year round. They own about 5 bulls to breed with their cows, which is done naturally (without artificial insemination). The cows are bred to have calves that are small in size, and so the cow usually has no difficulty giving birth to her calf. First time mothers sometimes need help bonding with their calf. Sara pays close attention to these cows who are about to give birth for the first time. She wants to see the cow get up and lick the calf right after it is born, to know that the calf is her baby. The calf should stand up about 15 minutes after it is born to nurse.

The calves drink their mothers’ milk for about 6 months. When they are 3 months old, they are introduced to solid food, so that the weaning process is easier for them. After the calves are weaned, they are sold to a finishing farm, where they grow and gain weight before they are sold for beef production.

Adams Farm

We got off the bus at the Adams farm near Sandwich, Illinois. The Adams family have been raising beef cattle for almost 60 years, along with raising crops. Their herd has 59 beef cows. Alan Adams used to think that he didn’t need to communicate with consumers. He was content to raise beef cattle as his family had been doing for years without taking the time to connect with moms like us. He changed his mind, however, and has taken a very active role in the City Moms program as he realized the importance of connecting with consumers. He took the time to talk with us about breeding, antibiotics, hormones and manure management on that Saturday morning.

Alan Adams speaks to us in his family barn. Photo courtesy of Illinois Farm Bureau.
Alan Adams speaks to us in his family barn. Photo courtesy of Illinois Farm Bureau.

Unlike Sara, Alan does live on his farm in close proximity to his cattle. The Adams family has several barns, and the cattle live in the barns during the winter. Around May 1, they are let out to pasture. The cows spend the summer grazing in the pastures with their calves beside them. While the Adams do lease some land, they also own much of their farmland. They use two bulls to breed their cows, and to breed their heifers (first time mothers-to-be), they use artificial insemination. Just as Sara does, they make sure to breed the cows to have smaller calves so that calving goes smoothly.

While farming may look a little different when comparing Sara’s farms to Alan’s, they also have many things in common. They are both caring farmers who have a love for livestock and take care of their animals’ needs to provide quality beef to consumers like you and me.

You can find out more about the Adams Farm here: Meet the Farmers: Alan and Joann Adams

Sara has written a wonderful article about the humane care of animals, along with other information about Prescott Farms. Read all about it here: Raising Families, Food and Awareness.

Moms Tour_Adams Farm 44
Out on the Adams Farm. Photo Courtesy of Illinois Farm Bureau.

Transportation, lunch, and childcare expenses were provided by the Illinois Farm Families and the Agricultural Support Association. No other compensation was received for the writing of this post.

 
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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 these important pollinators. Whether you love veggie gardens or flower gardens, pollinators are what keeps gardens growing!

So exactly who 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 are also 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.

The beginnings of my garden in the spring, 2014
The beginnings of my garden in the spring of 2014

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 will also draw a variety of pollinators. In early spring, my purple salvia bloomed profusely. Bumblebees love this flower!

bee on purple salvia
I took a picture of this buzzing bumblebee very carefully!

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.

butterfly weed
orange butterfly weed, one variety of milkweed

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.

Hummingbird attractors
Hummingbird attractors

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!

Pollinator garden, summer of 2015
Pollinator garden, summer of 2015

I still have some work to do on my garden, but it’s coming along! Do you have a garden? What are you growing?

Field Mom Ambassador

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Making Our Food Choices Personal

In 1991, I moved to DeKalb, Illinois, to teach in a small farming community 17 miles southwest of DeKalb. In the years since then, it’s been easy to see that farmland is disappearing. New housing developments have cropped up around DeKalb and more strip malls are being built. The Chicago suburbs are expanding farther and farther west. Is this progress? Perhaps. Yet all these outlet malls, auto marts, and huge new houses are swallowing up some of the richest farmland in the world. The flat farm fields of Illinois may not look like much to the naked eye, but farmers will tell you that the dark rich soil of Northern Illinois is perfect for growing crops.

Disappearing farmland should be a concern to all of us. When the year 2050 comes around, we’ll need to feed 9 billion people on approximately the same amount or less farmland we currently have. This is more important than the fight between organic and conventional foods. There isn’t just one solution. By using a variety of farming techniques, including organic and conventional farming, we can succeed in feeding the world.

Monsanto greenhouse corn
A Monsanto greenhouse

The conversation about food is difficult. It shouldn’t be, but it is. Among suburban moms, it is “fashionable” to buy only organic foods. We are making the topic of food choices too personal. I have been told (not by a doctor) that I should eat only grass fed beef because of my medical history. When I wrote on Facebook that I was was going to visit Monsanto, one person unfriended me. When my husband became interested in what Monsanto does and liked their Facebook page, a member of the family asked him, “You don’t really like Monsanto, do you?” Social media has done a good job of spreading fear and mistrust of GMOs and the companies that produce them. Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll find that one of Monsanto’s executives agrees with using organic and GMOs to help feed the world. It can’t just be one or the other.

The farming community is opening their doors to City Moms. Farmers are talking about why they farm the way they do. They are open to discussing GMOs, use of pesticides, and how they treat their livestock. They have many choices, and Monsanto seed is only one of their choices. They also have the responsibility of providing enough food for everyone as our population keeps growing. It takes courage for the City Moms to have open minds and to listen to what they are telling us, even when our friends are telling us not to listen.

Monsanto greenhouse
City Moms learning about growing GM corn.

I had no idea when I became a City Mom that I would be learning so much about agriculture and the food we eat. I didn’t know I would develop a passion to learn more. I also didn’t realize that I would not only be learning about the food on my dinner table, but also about feeding billions of people in the future. I now read farm blogs and agricultural reports, along with scientific articles about our food supplies. I’m personalizing my food choices by learning more about my food.

Field Mom Ambassador

Field Mom Corn Acre

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Visiting Monsanto

Just for a moment, put aside all that you think you know about Monsanto and GMOs.

Currently, Monsanto’s focus is on agriculture. They deliver agricultural products that support farmers all around the world. Through my role as a Field Mom Alumni for Illinois Farm Families, I was invited to visit Monsanto at the end of April.

Monsanto's Chesterfield Research Facility
Monsanto’s Chesterfield Research Facility

I’ve been learning a lot about modern agriculture and was very excited to be able to tour Monsanto’s Biotechnology Research Center. I was among a group of about twenty women from the Chicago area, and we all had a lot of questions. Our group of women was very diverse and we had a variety of opinions about the topics of the day: GMOs, honeybees, pesticides, and more. The one thing that we all have in common is the desire to feed our families healthy, wholesome foods.

Monsanto’s primary objective is to support farmers around the world in a variety of ways. In order to produce seeds for agriculture, Monsanto uses biotechnology and traditional plant cross-breeding techniques. Not only does Monsanto provide corn and soybean seed to farmers, Monsanto has a large vegetable seed division. They sell their seeds to organic farmers as well as conventional farmers.

Insects are one of the biggest challenges farmers face. They need to protect the potential of crops from pests that will destroy them. If you look at the numbers, they are staggering. There are up to 4 million insects per acre (approximately the size of a football field). That’s a lot of insects!

Insects poster

One of the ways farmers can combat insect pests is by using Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and bioengineering. This bacterium is a natural pesticide that has been used by organic farmers safely for years. It is also the key ingredient to certain genetically modified organisms (GMOS) designed to resist insect pests.

How do GMOs work? Let’s take a look at Bt corn seed. The desired trait from Bt, a protective protein code, is placed into the DNA of corn. The corn then produces this protein as it grows and uses it as a natural pesticide. Insects can’t tolerate this protein and die soon after they eat the roots or leaves of the corn. Why is this safe for us to eat? Insects have an alkaline system, and we have an acidic digestive system. If we were to ingest any of the Bt proteins, our stomachs would break down the protein safely in a matter of hours. Other GM crops may be modified using other desired traits, such as the disease resistance in the Rainbow Papaya. (More about this papaya below.)

In order to prevent insects who become resistant to the Bt protein from mating with each other, farmers are required to plant 5-10% non-GMO corn in a field along with GMO corn. It’s all about “insect sex,” as one farmer in our group said! The majority of insects that live in the field will be eating the non-GMO corn, and if there happen to be some insects that are resistant to the Bt corn, they will mate with the non-resistant insects and their offspring will also be non-resistant. This mix of non-GMO seed and GMO seed is called “Refuge in the Bag.”

non-GMO soybean plant on the left; GMO soybean plant on the right. Both are being exposed to the Soybean Looper and the Velvetbean Caterpillar.
Non-GMO soybean plant on the left; GMO soybean plant on the right. Both are being exposed to the Soybean Looper and the Velvetbean Caterpillar.

 

Monsanto is not the only company that develops GMOs. Other seed companies, such as DuPont, Bayer, and Syngenta all sell genetically modified seed. Researchers at several universities are also involved in genetic modification of seeds for many reasons. For example, the papaya ringspot virus almost decimated the papaya on Hawaii, until researchers from Cornell University and the University of Hawaii developed the genetically modified Rainbow Papaya.

The term “genetically modified organism” seems scary, doesn’t it? This label came about from other organizations, not Monsanto, but the phrase has stuck. Therefore, Monsanto uses the terms “biotechnology” and “GMO” interchangeably. They want to become more transparent and gain a greater level of trust among us as consumers.

Soybean growing chamber, simulating a hot, humid environment.
Soybean growing chamber, simulating a hot, humid environment.

There are only eight crops commercially available from GMO seeds in the U.S. Just a few days ago, I watched a video on Facebook that implied that there were GM strawberries. No GM strawberries exist! These are the only GM crops: Rainbow Papaya, corn (field corn and sweet corn), canola, soybean, alfalfa, cotton, sugar beets, and summer squash.

Why should we trust Monsanto about the safety of GMOs? Monsanto does its own research on the safety of its GM products. There is also a large database from third party researchers, including research in European countries, which proves that GM foods are safe.

During my visit to Monsanto, I felt that our tour guides took our questions seriously and answered them openly. The people who work there were genuinely delighted to show us around and explain the technology and lab research to us. I learned more about Monsanto and agriculture than I can share in just one blog post! Look for another post during the next month.

Monsanto has an excellent website, where they also answer questions from consumers like us: Discover Monsanto. Did anything about my tour surprise you?

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Travel expenses were subsidized by Illinois Corn Growers. Travel expenses within Missouri and lunch was provided by Monsanto. All opinions are my own. In our conversation about agriculture, organic and GMO foods, please be respectful.

 

Could the Use Of GMOs Help Our Environment?

We are very fortunate to live close to our elementary school and I pick up my daughters after school every day. We walk in any kind of weather; rain, snow or shine. As we walk, we pass a long line of cars waiting for children to come out the doors when the bell rings and–this annoys me–their engines are running the entire time. All I can think about are those noxious fumes going into the air.

walking to school

Ever since my parents bought me my first copy of Ranger Rick, I’ve been interested in preserving our environment. So it was very interesting to me when I learned that organic farming, something we think is good for the environment, actually has a larger carbon footprint than farmers who use genetically modified crops. Why? The simple explanation is that organic farmers need to go over their fields more often to till up weeds.

Sometimes, even when we try to make the right choices, we don’t completely understand the environmental impact our choices have. Yes, organic farming is good for the environment because it uses more natural pesticides and herbicides, but it also uses more gas to run the tractors over the fields more often. Every time a farmer tills the ground, nutrients and water are released into the air. Tilling can also lead to water run-off and fertilizers may enter the water system. Even natural fertilizers can cause problems in our waterways. Nitrogen and phosphorus that help crops grow also cause algae to grow. The algal bloom in Lake Erie last summer affected the drinking water of thousands of people.

Many farmers are protecting our environment, the soil and the water by using the no-till method. Genetically modified crops enable farmers to use this method. As I research genetically modified crops, I have become more excited about the technology and science behind GMOs. It seems counter intuitive, doesn’t it? How can I consider myself to be an environmentalist and also be excited about the possibilities GMOs offer?

Field Mom Corn Acre

On Saturday, I have the amazing opportunity to visit Monsanto, a company well-known (and vilified) for producing GMO products. One of the questions I will be asking is how GMOs affect the environment.

I’m glad we live in a place where we have a variety of farms and so many food choices. Do I buy organic food? Not usually. When I gave up my career to stay at home with my children, I also became very budget conscious. Organic foods usually don’t fit into that budget. Part of the luxury of working part time, however, is being able to buy less processed food and make more meals from scratch.

Do I support your choice to buy organic food? Absolutely! I’m not going to try to convince you otherwise. It’s good to be skeptical and to search for answers. I believe that the key word here is to search, and not rely on just one source or one point of view. In the next few farming posts, I’ll tell you about my search process, including my trip to Monsanto.

Be honest with me. What do you think about GMOs? What questions do you have about GMOs?

 

Field Mom Ambassador

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In our discussion about organic foods and GMOs, please be respectful. Any comment that is inappropriate or inflammatory may be removed.

 

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