Tag Archives: IL Farm Families

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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#GrowYourFood, and then #ThankaFarmer

Do you #growyourfood? It seems to be one of the hashtags of the summer on Instagram, in my feed at least. And I think this is a very good thing for a number of reasons. For one thing, I have never bought a grocery store tomato that tastes as good as my uncle’s homegrown tomatoes. His kohlrabi tastes even better than the kohlrabi I recently bought at a farmer’s market. And the satisfaction of growing your own food is also worth mentioning!

How about my own gardening? Well, let’s just say growing my own food makes me appreciate farmers. Last year, my tomato crop was decimated by tomato-loving squirrels. This year, it looks like I have a bumper crop of tomatoes, and they are still ripening on the vine. Hopefully those pesky squirrels won’t bother them this time.

Gardening can be time consuming, too. I just went outside to capture a photo of my ripening tomatoes, and all of a sudden an hour had passed with weeding, pruning, and watering. Can you imagine tending acres and acres of garden? Even with modern agricultural technology, it’s still a full-time job! Farmers need to be constantly vigilant, on the watch for insects, weeds, and disease. Not only that, but the weather is unpredictable. Many farms in Illinois had a very soggy summer from all the rain we had in June.

harvest screenshot
In this photo, we are looking at the health of a corn stalk.

Tending your own garden can help you realize what hard work producing food really is! While I love growing my own tomatoes and peppers, I know I would never be able to produce enough food for my family to eat. I don’t have much land available or the expertise. Did you know that most farmers major in agriculture in college? All of the information I’ve learned in the past two years as a Field Mom is just the tip of the iceberg! As a teacher, I need to go to classes and workshops for professional development; did you know that farmers are required to receive training on pesticide application? They must renew their certification every three years! Home gardeners like myself don’t need any training to go buy pesticides at Home Depot! (I choose not to use pesticides, however, since my vegetable garden is very close to my pollinator garden. I don’t want to accidentally kill any beneficial insects!)

green pepper
My one and only bell pepper

This year, I accidentally planted my tomatoes on the west side of my raised garden bed. While my tomatoes are growing quite well, the huge plants have been shading my poor pepper plants. I only have one bell pepper, and so far have only grown three jalapeno peppers, when normally I have too many to eat! I need to make a better plan for next summer’s garden. Farmers also spend the winter planning and preparing for the next growing season, and as you can imagine, their planning is much more intense than mine. On our farm tours, some of the farm wives told us how much their farmer husbands love poring over seed catalogs!

Fortunately, my basil plant has been flourishing. Don’t give me credit; basil is very easy to grow!

basil plant

With my tomatoes and basil, I can make this very easy and delicious Caprese Salad. Simply layer tomato slices with fresh mozzarella cheese and basil leaves. Drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette dressing. It tastes as good as it looks!

Caprese Salad

Even though I love eating what I grow, I know I would get sick of tomatoes before long. I’m so thankful for all the farmers that provide fresh produce for us to eat!

Do you grow your own food? What plants have you had the most success (or least success) in growing? Visit watchusgrow.org for more information on farming!

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Simply Put, I Trust Our U.S. Farmers

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

Hogwash!

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

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

two piglets

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

Slow Cooker Carolina BBQ Pulled Pork

2 onions, quartered
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 (4 to 6 pound) boneless pork butt or shoulder roast
3/4 cup cider vinegar
4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Hamburger buns

Place onions in slow cooker. Combine brown sugar, paprika, salt and pepper; rub over roast. Place roast on top of onions.

Combine vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, red pepper flakes, sugar, mustard, garlic powder and cayenne; stir to mix well. Drizzle about one third vinegar mixture over roast; cover and refrigerate remaining vinegar mixture.

Cover slow cooker and cook on LOW 8 to 10 hours (HIGH 4 to 6 hours.) Drizzle about one third reserved vinegar mixture over roast during last half hour of cooking. Remove meat and onions. Drain if desired. Chop or shred meat and chop onions. Serve meat and onions on buns. Use remaining vinegar mixture to drizzle over sandwiches. Delicious!

Field Mom Ambassador

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Read discussions about Chipotle’s pork decisions for yourself.

Dear Chipotle, What Do You Have Against U.S. Pig Farmers?
Chipotle caught in pork hypocrisy
American Pig Farmers Call Out Chipotle and Its British Pork Supplier
Chipotle goes across the pond for pork; allows antibiotics use
Why Buy Pork From Across the Pond, Chipotle?

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.

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Field Mom Corn Acre

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