THANKSGIVING TRADITIONS: DRESSING!

Do I dare travel down the debated path of dressing vs. stuffing? Probably best that I leave it alone or I may be here all day. No matter what you call it, it’s still a staple at the Thanksgiving dinner table. In my case it’s dressing, and it might just be one of the top reasons I look forward to Thanksgiving each year.

family in fieldWhile my family’s Thanksgiving celebration might not be the most traditional celebration, it is in fact an interesting one that we make special in our own way. While many families are tucked indoors sitting around the dining room table feasting on delicious food, my family is standing in the middle of a field bowing our heads to pray for the bountiful harvest and the food (especially the dressing) we are about to consume. Growing up in a farming family I have found that holidays, birthdays, and weddings are no excuse to quit harvest. So we make the most of the time we have and we load up the back of my Dad’s truck bed full of Thanksgiving delicacies, most importantly the dressing, and head off to the field with all the women and kids to meet the men for a feast.

recipeNow, this dressing I have been obsessing over is not just any ordinary dressing, but it’s my Great-Grandmas recipe that my Mom has come to perfect over the years. Although, there are a couple of things that my Mom has slightly tweaked, and that is stuffing the bird, as well as throwing the whole oyster thing to the way side (thank goodness). If you are an oyster fan though, go for it!

To begin you need two to two and a half stale loaves of bread torn into pieces. The tearing can be done ahead of time if the bread isn’t quite stale yet, just make sure it has plenty of time to dry out.

When you’re ready to make the stuffing here is what you will need: the pieces of bread, butter, celery, onion, eggs, fresh dried sage, oysters (if you’re a fan), baking powder, chicken broth, and even an apple for flavor if you would like.

First chop up 2 cups of celery and 1 cup of onion and sauté in 1 cup of butter.

dressing collage

Once those are all buttered up and full of calories you can add the mixture to the bread pieces. Mix it all up and then add 2 beaten eggs. Next, in a separate bowl you will want to crumble up your fresh dried sage and combine with oysters (like I said, optional) and ½ teaspoon of baking powder. Combine the sage mixture with your bread.

After combining you will want to add in some chicken broth, enough to moisten it. In my Grandma’s recipe it says to add in some milk with the mixture if it isn’t quite “sloppy” enough.

The last ingredient is completely optional, an apple. My Grandma would always add it in and my Mom does as well, gives the dressing a great “extra” flavor!

The rest is easy as can be, pop it in the oven at 350° and let it bake for about an hour. My Mom always makes sure to stir about halfway through to make sure it is all the same texture!

final dressing

While this may be a very simple recipe I am here to tell you it still tastes wonderful, even standing in the middle of a dusty field in the chilly fall air. Like they say “simple is better.” If you’re looking to impress at Thanksgiving I hope you try this out, I promise you will be THANKFUL after taking your first bite. Cheers to another safe and enjoyable Thanksgiving!

Shayla GrosenheiderShayla Grosenheider
Illinois State University student

THANKFUL

As we enter the month of November “thanks” is a word heard pretty regularly. The word “thanks” is simply an expression of gratitude. I was very recently asked what I was most thankful for and many things came to mind. Of all of the wonderful things in my life, the gratitude I have for my home is one of the dearest to my heart.

Where I call home isn’t much. In fact, I am not too sure I can even classify it as a map dot. The small village of Hamlet, population 48, is where I am proudly from and where most of my family members still reside, tending our family farm. Being able to grow up in such a small, close knit, community made up by surrounding rural towns has been one of the best things to ever happen to me. That statement may puzzle many of you who are not from a setting such as this. How could living in such a small place with so little going on be so great?

instagram tractor

Let’s talk about work…it’s not often viewed as an enjoyable activity but in this area, working is considered family time. Family farms work with true synergy, accomplishing goals greater than what a singular worker could handle. Families survive by working as a team to successfully plant and harvest crops or raise cattle and hogs. There is an unexplainable, warming, sense of pride found in looking out over what you and your family have built together, knowing that it is not only your work bettering the world but it is your name bettering the world for years to come. I am so grateful to be apart of something I can be so proud of, not just for today but for the rest of my life.

instagram boy                          (Photo Credit @thefarmerswife71 (Susan) Instagram Follower)

We even attend schools that accept and allow missed days of class for things like field work, opening day of hunting/trapping season and the evaluation and showing of livestock, just to name a few. All of which instill skills that lay a foundation that will last a lifetime on both a personal and professional level. In other words, I am thankful to be apart of a community that understands not all lessons can be taught in a classroom or read in a book.

Just like anything else in life, practice makes perfect. With over 75,000 farms in the land of Lincoln alone and each farmer feeding about 156 people, our schools understand the importance agriculture holds and allows practice and learning opportunities in order for the job to be done the right way. As someone in a farming family, I am thankful to be in an area that supports the growth and development of something I am so invested in.

instagram harvest(photo credit Marla Thrall (Instagram follower)

They say home is where the heart is and if that is the case, my home is pretty huge. While the population is small, the heart of rural Illinois is warm, loving and big enough to truly touch the lives of anyone who lives there. It has turned work into a family affair and supported mine along with many generations of families alike to be proud and confident in our meaningful life’s work. I could not have more gratitude or express more thanks to the place I get to call home; Hamlet Illinois, population 48.

instagram small town

Briley lloydBriley Lloyd
ICMB Social Media intern

I VISITED A BEEF FARM AND STILL WANTED A STEAK

Originally posted at www.watchusgrow.org

There they were. Hundreds of them, in roomy pens, air moving freely. They milled, they chewed, the lay down and took rests. All getting ready to be beef, which I enjoy on my plate on occasion.

I had the pleasure of visiting the Larson Farm in mid-October and met four generations of family farmers. Together they manage 6,300 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat and 2,500 head of cattle. Lynn, member of Generation 2 and daughter to the 1st Generation was in charge of the fields while her husband Mike managed the cattle operation. They work together and separately, making a life for their son and his children. They have four full time employees (also a family affair) and one part-timer to help them out. What I gathered that they have most of, is each other.

There are some facts that I really want to share with you that are fascinating.

Hormones – yes, there is estrogen used in the rearing of these all-male beef cattle There are 1.9 nanograms of estrogen per 3-ounce serving of beef that was treated with growth promotants compared to 1.3 nanograms of estrogen per 3-ounce serving of beef from an untreated steer.  There are 225 anagrams of estrogen naturally occurring in the baked potato you set next to that steak.

Antibiotics – yes, there are antibiotics in the feed. These antibiotics are to prevent cows from developing blood in their stool; these antibiotics do not exist on the human side. Antibiotics are given to sick animals that DO exist on the human side. There is a strict regimen followed including a “withdrawal” period, which most farmers will extend out. These do not show in the meat we eat and help keep the animals from sickness.re1.9 nanograms of estrogen per 3-ounce serving of beef that was treated with growth promotants compared to 1.3 nanograms of estrogen per 3-ounce serving of beef from an untreated steer. There are 225 anagrams of estrogen naturally occurring in the baked potato you set next to that steak.

Corn – they eat it. Their food consists of mother’s milk until they are six months old and then a mix of corn, hay, a glutinous mixture of sticky goodness that is the byproduct of processing corn for ethanol or cornstarch, and a small additive in pellet form which contains the antibiotic and a protein supplement.

Meat Grade – this was super cool. Mike ultrasounds the steer between the 12th and 13th rib. From this ultrasound they can detect the fat layer on the back and the marbling of fat in the muscle. They do this ultrasound to determine how many more days they can feed the cow until they go to market, and what the expected grade might be. This is all determined by complex equations calculated in seconds by a specialized computer program. There is nothing they can do to improve the grade other than feeding the cow and they are very careful to ensure the cow is at a healthy, manageable weight – sometimes sacrificing grade.

All of that talk about marbling made me hungry for steak, even after seeing the cows in the pens,  seeing the feed, and looking around what is known as a CAFO or a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation; AKA the devil.

Here is what I can tell you.

The family cares about the welfare of the animals. They care about their use of manure, they monitor their water usage for runoff, and they want the best for us and for the animals. I came away with some questions about how it could be better.

Could the operations be smaller? Lynn tells me that the smaller operations, say 300 head of cattle, are not regulated in the same way, all livestock operations are regulated, but the bigger they are the tighter focused the microscope gets.

Could the pens be bigger, and could the cows roam? They could. I can pay more for that at the grocery store and if enough of us do, then things will change. Farmers are always responding to the fluctuations in consumer preference. If we, the consumers, want cattle to be treated or raised in a different way then we argue that point with our checkbooks, and we will pay for it. This is our choice and the farmers are ready to accommodate.

But what I am trying to tell you is that these animals looked good and healthy to me, in this large operation in my home state. I trust that they are not only safe to eat, but that the farmers are being responsible about their overall health management, the environmental conditions an operation like this produces, and the desires of the consumer.

Am I comfortable eating meat? Yes, I was before and I am now. I feel like I know a little more about antibiotics and hormones and I cannot wait for steak night.

Sara McGuire,
Chicago, IL

Sara 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.

THANKSGIVING DECEPTION: A BUYER’S INFORMATION GUIDE

turkeys

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I wanted to let you in on the Grocer’s Turkey secrets! Popular to common belief, not all turkeys are created equal and not all consumers are educated before making their poultry decisions! Before you purchase your prized bird for your family feast, make sure you know these 6 turkey labels to look for!

AntibioticFreeMeatNo Antibiotics: This term signifies a producer’s demonstration of animals being raised without antibiotics. However, whether or not the bird was fed antibiotics, there is a law that the animals must go through a “withdrawal” to allow traces of antibiotics to leave the turkey before it is slaughtered, to ensure the complete absence of antibiotic residues in the bird. So whether your label reads “No Antibiotics” or not, come time to eat, your bird will not contain any antibiotics.

No hormones in poultry porkNo Hormones: Producers use this term to trick you into thinking that other turkeys that are not their brand are filled with nasty hormones. FALSE! By law, Hormones are not allowed in raising hogs or poultry. In order to even use the “No Hormones” label, it must be followed by the statement “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.”

So far we have learned that ALL turkeys in the grocery stores are able to be served up at your Thanksgiving Day feast without any antibiotics or hormones, thanks to the laws in place.

  • Three other labeling tactics are the Organic, Natural, and Free range labels.

Organic uses those generic No Hormone, No Antibiotic labels, as well as labels that express that their turkeys will have been raised organically on certified organic land that has outdoor access and fed certified organic feed. This is nice except for the fact that although they have access to the outdoors, how many turkeys actually get outside? For this Organic label you will likely be paying 6X more at the grocery store.

Organic pricing

All NaturalNatural: Natural was the most truthful label I have seen so far. Natural means minimally processed and contains no artificial ingredients. The turkeys are fed animal by-products, which wild turkeys are accustomed to. No notation of the diets or living conditions is needed for this label.

Free RangeFree Range is another deceptive label. Free Range labeling does not require a producer to have a set allowance of outdoor time in the wind and sun, the minimum requirement that they have is to have outdoor access (sound familiar).  Being labeled “Free Range” does not necessarily mean better or worse living conditions.

So what have we learned? As you can see marketing ploys are all over your Thanksgiving packaging, from how the turkeys are raised to what is in the meat you purchase. This Thanksgiving make sure you are educated about your purchases and if you have farming friends, ASK questions or ask right here in the comments! These labels are out there to make money, not to tell consumers the truth! Don’t be fooled by marketing this season.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at IL Corn!

amy k

Amy Kuhlmann
Illinois State University student

WHY FARMERS NEVER GET MARRIED IN THE FALL

When fall rolls around many of us are excited to enjoy the pumpkin treats, scents, and apple cider. But to some of us who are farmers, that means harvest is just around the corner. Long hours, hard work, and little sleep is what every farmer knows to be true during this season. So with that said, a farmer simply cannot get married during the fall. Here are the Top 5 Reasons Why Farmer’s Never Get Married in the fall:

1. Very few of your family and friends will be able to attend.

wedding crowd
Courtesy of Brendan Bullock Photography

Literally, everyone will be in the field harvesting their crops before it is too late. Many are on a time crunch, so getting the crop out at the right time is really important. I don’t know about you, but I would like for my wedding to be filled with tons of people!

2. Anniversary?  What anniversary?

Not only does your hardworking husband (or wife) have to get out of the field for a day, but you’d be lucky if they remembered at all about the whole anniversary thing. During harvest, many farmers are constantly thinking 24 hours a day about their job. There is very little room for time to think of an anniversary, let alone planning a getaway for a weekend.

 3. No, I can’t register at Target with you.  I have to be sure the combine is ready.

For many farmers, harvest is a yearly salary they cannot live without. Instead of getting paid every two weeks, farmers are paid once a year … and we all know planning a wedding is really expensive. So, when your groom (or bride) is at the wedding, they are not going to have their full attention on the detail of the day. Instead, they will be thinking “is it going to rain tomorrow?”

4. Is it really good luck if it rains (or snows!) on your wedding day?

This will most likely make your farmer very unhappy. Depending on when your crops are ready to be harvested, snow could be a problem (yes – even in October) and rain and wind is not a girl’s best friend when she has done her hair and make-up and basically arranged the entire wedding to be a sun-filled day. If you want your farmer to be happy, do not chose a month in the fall where any slight change of weather could send anyone into a panic.

5. Hold on, I have to take this call …

While you may think you got your farmer for the entire wedding day and honeymoon to yourself, think again. He will be called for questions or needed to check out a part on the tractor that isn’t acting right. The stress from your farmer will be so high; you’re going to wish you wouldn’t have scheduled a fall wedding right in the middle of the harvest season.

Amy Follmer 11_cropAmy Follmer
Illinois State University Student

CORPS CLOSES THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER

barge

2014 is turning out to be a record corn harvest year.  Farmers in Illinois are forecast to harvest an average of almost 200 bushels per acre – when the 2013 average was only 178 bushels per acre.

You might also remember that more than half of Illinois corn leaves the state for export, much of it floating down the Mississippi River.  Which makes a 14 day river closure – right now in the thick of harvest – one of those things that makes you go hmmmmmmm.

At this point in the year, a 14-day lock closure could have catastrophic consequences.

Read this to learn more about the Army Corps of Engineers and their surprise river closure during harvest!

FARMING FOR DUMMIES: CASH RENT VS. CROP SHARE

Thousands of you wanted to know: Are farmers rich?  And after you read that post, you had more questions about some of the ideas I mentioned within the post – namely, what exactly is cash rent?

Well, hang on to your hats because I’m about to boil it down for you in the simplest terms I can muster.  Read on to the end – even through the hard stuff – because if you want to understand farming, this is a concept you must grab hold of.

CornFieldWHO OWNS THE LAND?

The average farmer does not own all the land he farms.  He probably owns some of it, but the farmer who owns every single acre he farms is rare.  Honestly, this hasn’t changed much over the years – farmers have never owned a majority of the land they farmed – but the move to an “absentee landowner” might be relatively new.  This change has happened over time, as older generations pass away and leave the farm to their three (or ten) children in equal parts and then not all children remain on the farm.

Around 75 percent of the land in Illinois is owned by a landowner who is not a farmer.  Most of that ground is farmed by a family farmer who is renting the ground or farming it in a crop share agreement.

A CASH RENT AGREEMENT

farmers talkingCash rent is really a pretty basic concept.  The farmer bids on the ground, the landowner makes a decision on the farmer she trusts the most who will also give her the highest price per acre, and a rental agreement is signed.  The landowner now has nothing to do with the farming that occurs on that acre, except that they get a set amount of income every year for its rental.

This is really no different from renting an apartment or leasing a car.

The landowner DOES have a responsibility here.  Just like the property owner cares about how you treat their apartment and the car dealership is interested in the condition of your leased vehicle, a landowner must consider the farmer they rent to very carefully.  If they rent to a farmer who is not careful and environmentally conscious of the quality of the land and water they own, they actually lose value on their property.  But the landowner does not have to truly understand the ins and outs of farming under this scenario.

CROP SHARE AGREEMENTS

Crop share – also called tenant farming – is an agreement where the landowner and the farmer work together to grow and harvest a crop on an acre.  When a farmer and a landowner enter a crop share agreement, the farmer and the landowner split the cost of the inputs for that acre (remember how expensive that was?) AND split the income or loss from that acre. The landowner is giving the acre, the farmer is giving the labor and equipment, and the two share in the profits or losses.

In this sort of scenario, the landowner must have at least a basic understanding of the agricultural industry.  He is paying for a portion of the fertilizer, chemical, seed, etc that is going onto that acre.  He will then receive his percentage of the harvest and would market the grain himself to earn the maximum net profit on his ground.

(It is important to note that these agreements can vary widely.  Some agreements might be a 50/50 split on cost and income, some might be 70/30 or anything in between.  Some agreements might have the farmer marketing all the grain and just splitting the income, some might have the landowner marketing his own grain.  Each contract is what works out best for this particular landowner and farmer.  The point is, they do it together.)

WHICH AGREEMENT IS THE BEST?

11-19-12 FarmerHopefully, though these descriptions are brief, you can see pros and cons to each sort of agreement.  Farmers can benefit in either.  In a crop share agreement, farmers benefit in a bad year because they share a portion of the loss with the landowner, but they also share a portion of the gain in a good year.  In a cash rent agreement, farmers benefit in a good year because the landowner does not get a percentage of the gain, only a flat fee.  In a bad year, cash rent agreements are a doozy for farmers.

And then sometimes in a crop share agreement, farmers find it difficult to work with a landowner that maybe doesn’t understand much about the farm business, yet has to understand and review every decision.  If the cash rent is low enough, maybe the farmer feels it is in his best interest to absorb that risk and eliminate the necessity of reviewing every decision with the land owner.

Different farmers prefer different agreements.  There is no right or wrong answer.

Statistically, the two agreements are used in about equal proportion in Illinois.  In some regions, cash rent is more common and in other regions, crop share is preferred.

Each of these agreements manifests itself in so many different forms that we couldn’t really understand them all here.  As an example, farmers can enter into a Variable Cash Rent agreement where the rent they pay for an acre varies on the profit they are able to make in a given year.  This allows the farmer to manage some risk, but allows the landowner freedom from understanding every decision.  Of course, landowners may prefer to have a guaranteed income they can budget for instead of a fluctuating income that depends on profit margins so for some, this just doesn’t work.

WOW.  THESE DECISIONS ARE INTENSE.

Listen, I’ve been preaching it for years, but farming is an incredibly complex way to make a living.  Farmers are businessmen who are weighing these decisions every day.  Many farmers have college degrees in economics or agribusiness to help them wade through an overall understanding of all the complexities they will have to deal with as farmers.

It’s really so much different than going to work and getting a paycheck every two weeks which is how most of us live.  Having an awareness of that alone will change the way you view the family farmers that grow your food.

Lindsay MitchellLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

 

Have any other questions?  Make sure you leave them in the comments!!

 

 

A COMMENT ON PATRIOTISM …

During a recent cemetery walk in Bloomington (’tis the season for cemetery walks as you probably know), I learned a little more about Adlai Stevenson than I previously knew.

He was a Bloomington native, a800px-Adlai_Stevenson_gravend grandson of Vice President Adlai Stevenson on his dad’s side and Jesse Fell, a comrade of Abraham Lincoln, on his mom’s.  He served as Governor of Illinois from 1949-1953, lost three runs for President, and was the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations from 1961-65.

I feel confident that Stevenson’s feelings of patriotism described in the following were a direct result of his central Illinois, Corn Belt, rural America ties.

patriotism Adlai Stevenson

Agriculture is the economic backbone of Illinois.  Though the state is famous for the city of Chicago (built on the cattle industry – thus “The Bulls”) and for a corrupt political system that elects and convicts governors one after another, farmers and farming are the silent foundation upon which Illinois is built.

Slow and steady wins the race on these farms.  Their owners toil and sweat, make a few bucks, sleep with a clear conscience and do it all again the next day.  In the process, they have literally created wealth – from one seed comes many and from many seeds come jobs, dollars spent, and new industries created.

PLANTThe patriotism of the farmer is inherent and inherited.  When Chicago corporate employees can pack up and leave due to high taxes or corrupt government – when family businesses can relocate to other states or corporations move their headquarters to other countries – farmers can’t move the land.  They stay.  They try to make the state and the country better with the tranquil, steady dedication of a lifetime.

Farmers literally own a piece of America.  We all do, I guess, and we are all a line in the story of this great country, but with their dirty hands and honest hearts, farmers care for her rolling prairies, her wooded knolls, her bubbling creeks.  They work with her and toil alongside her to create the backbone of a nation that celebrates loud, boisterous characters on TV with opinions that undermine everything they believe in.

Still, they proceed.  They are dedicated to the life their great-great-great grandfather’s began before Illinois became a state and calm in their pursuit of the greatest promise America offers to them: the pursuit of happiness.
Christ digging in dirtThey find joy in that black dirt.  In the promise of life in the spring.  In the hope of a harvest in the fall.

I’m convinced that Mr. Stevenson was thinking of the Illinois farmers he knew when he described the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.  It perfectly describes the farmers I know, and farmers just don’t change that much from their fathers and grandfathers before them.

This Election Day, focus not on the frenzied burst of emotion, but on the dedication of a lifetime that makes a patriot a patriot and America the greatest nation in the world.

Thank you, Mr. Adlai Stevenson, for such a lovely comment on patriotism and a nod to farmers that built America that will endure forever.

mitchell_lindsayLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

FIVE WAYS HAVING LIVESTOCK BRIGHTENS A BAD DAY

Some days when you wake up in the morning and go out to do the chores you never fully know what you are going to find… and if it’s too quiet you start to get suspicious. Raising livestock always keeps you on your toes, but in the end the animals are always a bright spot on even the worst day.

1. Farmers and Livestock have a mutual love for each other

Hog farmerMany farmers are close with each animal they raise. Every animal is cared for to the farmer’s best ability, and with care there is love. Whenever I have to hop over the fence to get a trough for the hogs, I never get out without getting a rub on my legs from each hog, and then I normally end up scratching their backs and watch them do a little dance because they like it.

 

2girl hugging cow. A Built in Friend on the Farm

Whether you own a dog, horse, duck, cat, or cow you can always count on having a friend on the farm. If you’re lucky you’ll have a friend from each animal on the farm! My brother has 3 calves and whenever he goes out to feed them he will get in the pen and play tag with them for a little bit, and they will all run around in the pen together and get a good laugh out of it (as well as a little winded).

 

 

3. They Come Running to Greet You – or just to Eat

cows eating at feederWhen you notice the hay bale getting low for the cows out in the pasture every farmer knows to hop on the tractor and get another one for them before they finish it or else they will be chasing cows all over the county! When my dad and I take a bale out to the cows, and they hear the tractor coming up the hill you see all of the cows migrate over to the feeder and start calling for the little calves to come over because supper is ready. The cows appreciate all the time and work my family did to get them these hay bales so that they are well fed.

 

4. Always a Life Lesson

litter of pigs with momSometimes when you’re out on the farm taking attendance of your livestock you notice that one may not be present, and if so, a search party (the whole family) gets called to help find the missing animal. This normally happens on my farm when a cow or sow is about ready to have a baby(s). If dad counts someone missing, everyone is sent to the pasture to find the animal, and if you’re the lucky one you will get the sweet reward of finding a the new life of a baby calf or a litter of baby pigs curled up next to their mama; healthy and happy as they could be and it can turn any day into great day.

 

5. Livestock are loyal to their farmers

farmer and dogOne thing you must know about livestock is that they are loyal. Back at home, we have four dogs and each one shows their loyalty in different ways. When I am home, my dog is always by my side. He always helps me with the chores and goes out with me in the pasture to walk the fence and check the animals.

 

Raising livestock isn’t easy, but the pros outweigh the cons. Every day farmers care for their livestock in the best way possible, and in return, each day is a little bit brighter having shared it with the animals.

ellen childressEllen Childress
Illinois State University student