FFA girls, career fair

Last week, young women from all over the state met women who are working in the agricultural industry during the Illinois Agri-Women’s Women Changing the Face of Agriculture event.  The event seeks to guide young women into agriculture by helping them network with ag women, focusing them on math and science mentors, and exposing them to the range of possibilities for careers in agriculture.


Christina’s on-farm experience blog was originally posted at www.watchusgrow.org where other urban mom’s have written about their experiences as well.  Go check it out!

The Illinois Farm Field Moms had the wonderful opportunity to tour a Hog Farm at the Old Elm Farms in Sycamore, IL (February 23, 2013).

Give them a label-Not a name

“Don’t get attached, the hogs are our income and food.” This is the advice Steve Ward, president of Dayton Farms of Sycamore, IL, gives his two children Sarah and Dayton, when a new litter of piglets are born.

It’s in the Marketing

Of course it’s in the marketing. Marketing is key; it is what sells the product. So from that said did you know that hog producers never give hormones to their hogs, EVER! So why does that packaged pork you just picked up today at the grocery store say NO Hormones Added? To clarify Steve Ward and other hog farms like his just are the wean to finish farms and have nothing to do with the label you see in the grocery store. The final destination (or grocery store) of each of Steve Ward’s hogs is unknown to him. The big companies who sell the finished product may add that “No Hormones Added,” label. According to the Ward family this is just a marketing scheme to make the buyer believe they are getting a healthier piece of pork for their family.

To Market to Market

To buy a fat pig. Two hundred and eighty pounds that is.  Free Range, Barnyard, Organic Pork? You might want to re-think this option next time you buy your pork at a grocery store especially if you are on a budget. Tim Maiers who works for the  Illinois Pork Producers Association questions what exactly makes that choice of pork healthier. Tim, along with Steve Ward and his father John Ward, president of Old Elm Farms, described the possible uncleanly conditions of hogs raised in the outdoors and the added cost of grain needed to keep the hogs warm in the winter(hence the markup in price at the supermarket). We learned that these hogs have to share their living space with other rodents and birds that may carry diseases. Hogs raised inside such farms like the Ward Family Farm provide a more controlled environment which means less grain is needed for consumption since it is all climate controlled. The hogs living conditions inside the farm are very clean and the hogs definitely have more roaming room then I previously envisioned. However, what this all comes down to are choices for the consumer. Steve and Tim stress nutrition-wise, free range or not, they are both the same.

Five Key Observations

I’d like to recap my experience with five things that I learned and found to be very interesting.

  1.     The children who are born and raised on the farm willingly take on the responsibility at an early age to help their parents with much of the work on the farm.
  2.        The hog manure never goes to waste but instead is plowed into the corn fields.
  3.         Farmers recycle almost everything.
  4.         Hogs are killed by means of gas.
  5.         Old Elm Farms got its name from the oldest living Elm tree in Illinois. It lived to be 375 years old until it was cut down due to Dutch Elm Disease.

Christina Lee
LaGrange Park


cornbelters, season opener 2013You can always tell “CEFCU Opening Night” (Tuesday, May 21) is getting closer and closer when the Heartland Community College baseball and softball teams start utilizing The Corn Crib again, and we put our individual game tickets on sale to the general public (Saturday, March 30).

We’ve had a very busy off-season to date.  Our internal motto has been “change is good!”  Immediately following the 2012 season, we secured a new coaching staff!  That staff’s led by NEW field manager Brooks Carey, who served as our pitching coach in 2010 and 2011.  We also began re-signing players from last season and adding NEW players!  Tyler Lavinge, Pat McKenna and Steven Felix are a few of the returning fan favorites, while Jose Trinidad, Romulo Ruiz and Matt Wright are some of the new faces looking to make an impression.  In addition, we announced NEW home jerseys, road jerseys and hats.  You can check them out at:  http://www.normalbaseball.com/news/229-normal-cornbelters-unveil-new-threads/.  Busy, busy, busy.  Yet, we’re not done with NEW announcements just yet…

While we realize “change is good,” we also realize our fans have come to love some of the more established aspects of CornBelters baseball.  That’s reflected in our weekly promotions for the upcoming season.  Tuesday home games will continue to feature kids running the bases following the games, fans are still encouraged to bring their dogs with them to the ballpark for every Wednesday home game, “Thirst Quenching Thursdays” are not going anywhere and Sunday home games will again be highlighted by post-game autograph sessions on the field with the team.  Plus, by very popular demand, we’ve brought back “CEFCU Fireworks Fridays!”  Feel free to view all of our upcoming promotions, starting in May, at:  http://www.normalbaseball.com/upcoming-promotions/?month=5&year=2013&m=#markerdown.

Another aspect of CornBelters baseball our fans have fallen in love with is the affordability of our tickets.  Somehow, we’ve found ways to make them even more affordable and beneficial!  Full season tickets, mini-plan packages and group outings are available now.  Fans can become package ticket holders for as little as $30 per-seat!  Also, beginning March 30, individual game tickets will go on sale for as little as $5.00 per-ticket!  Plus, although fans are still more than welcome to sit in the lawn, we’re no longer offering Lawn Seats.  As a result, for the same low price, every fan receives a FREE upgrade to Reserved Bleachers with Backs!  To secure your tickets for the upcoming season, simply stop by the Mid-Illini Credit Union Box Office, or call (309) 454-2255 (BALL), during normal business hours.  You can also purchase tickets on-line anytime at:  https://www.ticketreturn.com/prod2/team.asp?SponsorID=4098.

If you have the chance, please visit us on March 30 beginning at 10 a.m.  Not only do our individual game tickets go on sale, but we’ll also be having a merchandise sidewalk sale (featuring unreal discounts!) and hosting the Town of Normal Easter Egg Hunt (over 2,500 people attended last year!).  There’s no better way to make sure you’re prepared for the quickly approaching season!

kylekregerKyle Kreger
General Manager, Normal CORNBELTERS


“40 Facts About Ethanol” is a quick and entertaining overview of the American ethanol industry. Learn more about the growth of the ethanol industry over time, ethanol’s success in lowering America’s dependence on foreign oil, numbers of jobs created and supported across the economy, ethanol production and livestock feed, new efficiencies that save water and electricity, ethanol’s winning energy balance, and cellulosic ethanol. The future is bright!


A year ago, I would have not known anything about peanuts past the point of making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Today, while celebrating National Peanut Month, I have a better understanding of not only the national peanut market but also the global market as well.

Over winter break, I traveled to Sierra Leone to work for USAID and World Vision interviewing farmers and villagers in rural areas. What I found was a huge culture sustaining on a traditional African dish—groundnut stew.

groundnut stew

Outside of Bo, I met a woman named Rosie that taught me how to make the dish that consisted of ground peanuts, tomato paste, peppers, eggplant, onions, and chicken or fish. In order to make “peanut butter” in Sierra Leone, the women took peanuts, laid them on a flat rock, and rolled them under a cylinder until they were the consistency of a paste. By doing all the work by hand, the women could sell the product in the market to others who needed it for groundnut stew.

Whitney pounding pepper in Sierra Leone in preparation for groundnut stew
Whitney pounding pepper in Sierra Leone in preparation for groundnut stew

After surviving off of this stew for almost a month, I had a huge respect for peanuts and the farmers that produced them. It made me curious about the industry when returning home to a place where peanut butter just comes out of a jar.

In honor of National Peanut Month, I did a little investigating on the United States’ peanut market. According to the National Peanut Board, 15 states are proud to grow peanuts commercially. These peanuts are planted in April and harvested about 140 days after. Peanuts are unique in the fact that they flower above ground, btractorut fruit below the ground.

They are also very dependent on water. Peanuts need about 1.5 to 2 inches of water per week to thrive. The harvesting of peanuts occurs in a two-stage process involving digging and combining. When over half the crop has reached maturity, the peanuts are dug up and turned upside down by a tractor.  They are then left to dry for 2-3 days. A combine is then used to separate the peanuts from the vines they grow on, leaving the vines and taking the peanuts.

After harvesting, the peanuts are shelled to clean them and remove unwanted material.


Two-thirds of the peanut production in the United States goes to making peanut butter (one of my favorites), whole peanut food product, candied peanuts, and roasted peanuts. The other third is used for peanut oil, seed to grow more peanuts, or animal feed.

Some products of peanuts that you might not expect are soaps, medicines, cosmetics, and lubricants. Also, the vines of the peanut plant can be used as a protein source for animal livestock. Who would have known?

Next time you bite into a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you can now know more about the product you are consuming and a little more about how it got to your plate. For more detailed information, go to the links below!



Whitney Lynch
University of Illinois Student


Are you a teacher or a parent looking for something fun, and educational for your kids to do? The world of agricultural science offers a variety of experiments for children of all ages.  Whether this be Kindergarten students or high-schoolers, incorporating chemistry or biology, these agricultural science experiments allow students to explore science by applying it items they see every day.  Below are a few my favorites:

Oobleck: The Corn Starch and Water Experiment

science, corn starch, slimeOobleck is a “slime”-like material made out of a corn starch and water mixture that is not quite liquid and not solid.  Actually, it defies Sir Issac Newton’s idea that ALL liquids flow at a consistent, predictable rates.  This is why it is known as a “non-newtonian fluid”. Pressure is what causes the goo to become solid, but it will quickly turn back to liquid once the force is removed. This is a great activity for elementary, junior high, and even high school students!



Science Topic: Chemistry


  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • about ½ cup water
  • Mixing bowl
  • Spoon
  • Pie plate
  • Food coloring (optional)

Strawberry DNA Extraction Experiment

DNA, scienceIf you are looking for an activity that is a little more challenging, check out this experiment with strawberries. This activity works well with high school students, and can easily be incorporated into any biology class.  By using everyday materials, students will be able to extract and observe the DNA found in strawberries.  This lab experiment includes pre-lab and analysis questions to help students understand what happens to the strawberry while extracting the DNA.

Science Topic: Biology & Genetics


  • Heavy-duty Ziploc bag
  • 1 strawberry
  • 10mL DNA extraction buffer (soapy, salty water)
  • Cheesecloth
  • Funnel
  • Popsicle stick
  • 20 mL rubbing alcohol

Let’s Make Cottage Cheese: Catalysts and Enzymes Experiment

science, acid, chemistryWould you rather to an activity where the students can eat their experiment after they’re finished? In that case, the “Let’s Make Cottage Cheese” activity is definitely the right choice for you!  This lesson helps students understand the role of catalysts and enzymes by breaking down milk with an acid (lemon juice or vinegar) in order to make cottage cheese. The best part is that the students can actually eat the finished product after they’re done!

Science Topic: Chemistry & Food Science


  • 1 pint 2% milk
  • 1 tablet rennet (found in baking aisle of grocery store)
  • 1 strong rubberband
  • Lemon juice or vinegar
  • Cheese cloth
  • Clear gallon container
  • Hot plate
  • Thermometer

You probably want to go digging through your house to find the materials to do these activities, don’t you?  Science and experiments take place around us every day, especially in the agricultural industry.  These agricultural science experiments, and many others like them, allow students to take the concepts that they learn in the classroom and apply them in a hands-on setting.  The context of the household items used allows students to better understand the topic being learned because “slime”, strawberries, and cottage cheese are all things that children enjoy and see every day. So what are you waiting for? GO TRY ONE! Happy experimenting!

Liz HarfstLiz Harfst
University of Illinois


Gary Hudson, illinois corn, vice president, delegatesIllinois Corn Growers Association Vice President Gary Hudson debated policy during “Corn Congress” at the Commodity Classic going on right now in Orlando, FL.  Commodity Classic is the national annual meetings of the National Corn Growers Association, the American Soybean Association, the National Association of Wheat Growers, and the National Sorghum Producers.

At this yearly meeting, Illinois delegates (and those from other states) offer statements reflecting what corn farmers will support and oppose for the coming year.