AG WOMEN FIND COMMUNITY IN CONFERENCE

When someone thinks of a farmer, they often conjure up the most stereotypical Ole’ McDonald image: overalls, older, pitchfork, and a man. However, women put on farmer hats, as well, and take on many other roles within the agriculture industry.

Did you know that 44% of FFA members are female? That’s almost half of all FFA students! And we sure hope they stick around to continue to serve America’s farms within the ag industry. So in a traditionally male-dominated profession, how do ag women translate their passion for ag into a career?

Today, women in ag roles is nothing new or earth-shattering. There are numerous resources for women to explore and to network within the industry to find where they fit and to meet like-minded ladies. One such resource is the Women Changing the Face of Ag conference. According to WCFA:

“The Women Changing the Face of Agriculture conference is designed for young women in high school and college who are interested in a career in agriculture. Group registration is available for collegiate groups, FFA chapters, and 4-H clubs.”

Organized by Illinois Agri-Women (IAW)*, the Women Changing the Face of Agriculture conference is “an investment in the future of agriculture. This outreach project gives all women the opportunity to explore different career paths offered in the agriculture sector.  Our goal is to help attendees receive accurate information first hand from actual women agriculture professionals.”

Additionally, the conference has 200+ presenters that offer looks into careers that span the spectrum of ag, including:

  • Ag Business
  • Ag Education
  • Agronomy
  • Animal Science/Veterinary Medicine
  • Communications
  • Engineering
  • Environmental Science
  • Food Science
  • Law
  • Marketing
  • Natural Resource Conservation
  • And more!

So, if you’re a female ag enthusiast who just isn’t sure where her place in ag should be, we’d encourage you to learn more about this conference. Not only do you have the potential to find a future career, you might even meet some new lifelong friends along the way.

To learn more about the WCFA conference, visit the website.

*IAW is a grassroots organization of farm and agri-businesswomen promoting a better understanding of agriculture and the family farm system.  Our organization consists of members from across the state of Illinois who volunteer to promote agriculture.  To learn more about Illinois Agri-Women visit their website.

CORN PHOTO CONTEST WINNERS

Did you know that every year there’s a corn photo contest nationwide? Every year, National Corn Growers Association invites its members to submit their best farming pictures in the Fields of Corn photo contest. Our farmers are mighty good at their job, but they’re not too shabby at snapping pictures either. You can view the winners of 2017 below.

LET’S TALK ABOUT WHAT’S ON YOUR TABLE

As farmers, we get a lot of questions about our passion. Consumers like you are taking a new interest in food and we absolutely love that! We get asked a range of questions almost daily and so our friends at Illinois Farm Families put together FAQs and answers to some of the more frequent questions we get. Use these as a starting point your education!

Are most farms today factory or corporate farms?

Today, the vast majority of farms are still family owned.  In Illinois 97 percent are owned by individuals, family partnerships or family corporations. For these family farms, being stewards of the land and caretakers of their animals truly runs in their blood.

Get to know some Illinois farm families by checking out our Meet the People page.

Should I worry about antibiotics in my meat and milk?

The USDA requires all beef, pork, poultry or milk destined for grocery stores or restaurants be tested and inspected by the Food Safety Inspection Service to ensure there are no antibiotic residues. Farmers also are required to follow strict withdrawal periods for animals given antibiotics.

Read this post from a farmer who breaks down how farmers use antibiotics and how they ensure your food is free of all residue.

Are hormones in food making girls develop early?

There is no science-based research linking food to early development. Higher body weight has been suggested as a contributing factor. You might not realize it, but all living things contain hormones. Watch this video as Illinois farmers talk about hormones in dairy and meat compared to other food items.

Are GMOs safe?

The World Health Association, Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and American Medical Association, to name a few, have all deemed ingredients derived from a genetically modified crop as safe as ingredients derived from crops raised using other methods.

In this video, Paul Jeschke talks about the benefits of using GMO seeds in his fields.

What’s the difference between grass fed and grain fed beef?

  • Grain-finished – Cattle spend most of their lives grazing on pasture, and then spend four to six months in a feedyard where they eat a mix of grasses and grains
  • Grass-finished – Cattle spend their entire lives grazing on pasture

Check out this infographic on today’s beef choices.

Where can I find out more about what labels mean?

Read what this Chicago mom with a Master’s in Public Health learned food labels, or visit the USDA’s website to learn more about label requirements.

Is buying organic worth the extra cost?

While organic and non-organic foods are produced using different farming methods, nutritionally they are no different.

In this blog post, a Chicago mom discovers some of the differences, and similarities, between organic and traditionally grown produce.

Why do farmers use chemicals?

Plants use nutrients in the soil to grow. Fertilizers are natural compounds from the earth including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium that give growing plants the nutrients they need. When farmers need to control a pest or weed problem, they use products judiciously to help protect the plants.

Get perspectives about chemical use from different local farmers here.

Do animals on small farms receive better care than on large farms?

The livelihood of livestock producers – whether large or small – depends on the health and well-being of their animals. Regardless of the size of the farm, caring for animals is a 24/7 job that requires knowledge, patience and the utmost devotion.

Read this blog post from a Chicago mom who toured local farms to witness animal care for herself.

Do farmers have a choice in what they plant on their farms?

Yes, just like consumers have choices in what they buy at the store, farmers choose what they want to plant in their fields. They spend a lot of time researching, reading, meeting and listening to industry experts to determine what’s best for their farms.

Get to know Paul Taylor, an Illinois farmer who grows both GM and non-GM crops and can share his perspective on both.

 What makes food local?

There is no set definition for “local” when it comes to marketing products. Many Illinois farmers sell their products directly to the public and others sell to brands such as DelMonte, Dean’s and Farmland that can be found in grocery stores throughout the state.

What’s the truth behind cow tipping?

The legend of cow tipping is mainly just that – a legend. In this video, Linda Drendel gives ones of many reasons as to why tipping a cow over would be quite the challenge.

This obviously doesn’t even scratch the surface of questions people ask. So to get more answers to your questions, check out Illinois Farm Families.

MY WEEKEND AT REEVERT’S FARMS

Does anyone remember learning in junior high science classes that heat rises? Well, I rediscovered that lesson this past September after spending a few hours at Reevert’s farms, the home of the Illinois FFA State Reporter, working in the hay mow.

Not growing up on a farm, I was extremely excited for that weekend feeding calves, hogs, and sheep. At the time, Ryan told me I was going to be putting hay in the mow. I originally thought this meant mowing hay in the field, but in reality, it was putting hay up in the mow. For those that don’t know, the mow is an upper section of the barn where hay is stored. Once we got to the farm, Ryan told me that I was not going to be mowing hay in the field, like I thought. Instead, I was going to be manually moving hay in a hot, sweaty, and cramped environment. Luckily, Ryan’s dad came in to save the day for me and told Ryan that was no way to treat his guest. He told Ryan, “You go up in the mow! Joey didn’t even have a clue what was going on! Don’t be rude!”

In the picture below, you can see Ryan, his dad, and me all posing for a picture. As you can tell, Ryan seems to be more tired than me. That’s because he spent over forty-five minutes in the mow moving hay while my job was putting it on the conveyer belt. Needless to say, I was having the time of my life putting hay in the mow, and so far, my first impressions of daily farm chores were very good.

I learned two lessons from that experience. First don’t trust Ryan and volunteering for farm work, and second, always bring an extra t-shirt.

After that tremendous experience, Ryan told his dad, “go back home! You’re being too easy on the boy! He needs some real work.” Once Ryan’s dad left, we walked over to the pig pen to feed the hogs. Ryan told me, “Get on in there Birrittier. Distract the hogs from the feeder while I fill their feed.”

One thing that Ryan forgot to mention is that his female pigs like to come up and smell the people around them. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t even like it when my dog comes up and smells me, let alone a pig! I suddenly became very scared as these two dark eyes start coming to me closer and closer. Now mind you, it’s dark out now, so all I can see are these two eyes coming right for me. I pin myself into the corner yelling out Ryan’s name. I’m screaming louder and louder until Ryan finally hears me.  He yells back at me, “Quit screaming! You’re going to scare the pigs!” “Scare the pigs!” I replied, “They’re the ones scaring me! Look how close this one is! Help me!” All Ryan could say was, “That’s just Beulah. She just wants to smell you. Relax you wimp.”

Five months later, I still get grief from the Reevert’s family about my experiences with pigs. In my defense, how else would a person react if their first up-close encounter with a pig was it smelling your face?

Although I might have embarrassed myself multiple times, the memories I made that night will last me a lifetime. Not only did I learn to always bring an extra t-shirt to the farm and never overreact when a pig smells your face; I also learned the hard work and dedication it takes day-in and day-out on the farm.

I have a huge admiration for farmers and their families now because of the memories I made at Reevert’s farms.

Joseph Birrittier
Illinois Association FFA President

NOT ALL FARMS HAVE LIVESTOCK

When many of us encounter someone who lives on a farm, the first question that tends to pop into our minds is, “What kind of animals do you have?” To the surprise of many, not all farms raise livestock. Not every farmer is comparable to Old McDonald.

Let’s dive into history for a minute and take a look at farms existing about 100 years ago: the year 1918. Many more farms existed because each operator had less land to tend and care for. Because of this, more farms had livestock and were able to be more diversified. However, fast forward to present day, in order for farms to be successful, farmers must pick and choose specialties to focus on for their operation. For example, when students select what major they would like to pursue at a college or university, they likely combine their interests and career goals to choose a career path. By combining interests with job outlook in a certain career area, students are essentially specializing their education to best fit their desired job. Farmers have a similar process; they select one or two specialties for the sake of best-combining resources to meet production needs.

So what kinds of farms do we have here in Illinois? I’m glad you asked. According to the National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS), a farm is classified as an operation that makes $1,000+ each year. Taking this classification into account, in 2016 Illinois reported having 72,200 farming operations. Illinois had 11.6 million acres of planted in 2016. That’s more than any other commodity grown in our state. The runner-up to corn was soybeans, coming in at 10.1 million acres planted. Those two grains were on more farms than all other commodities combined.

Now, just because many of our operations have grain does not mean no livestock exist. We had over 300,000 beef cattle (used for meat production) and over 5 million hogs as well. But aside from grain and livestock, we have some really unique farms in Illinois that stand out from the norm. For instance, Illinois had 1,200 acres of peaches, 45,000 acres of oats and 7,000 acres of potatoes planted in 2016.

This goes to show we are really diversified here in this mid-Western state. While many of us may not realize it, Illinois features a wide array of farms that bring great significance to our agriculture diversity. So the next time we bump into someone that owns or operates a farm, strike up a conversation with him or her. But before we ask more details about what the farm’s specialty is, remember: not all farms have livestock.

Susie Thompson
Illinois State University

WAYS YOUR FOOD IS KILLING YOU

The saying “you are what you eat” really goes a long way when you realize how much food influences your daily life. Here are some ways that food can actually be hurting us.

  1. Not eating more fruits and veggies because they aren’t organic.

Fruits and vegetables have an abundance of essential vitamins, minerals, plant chemicals, and fiber that are all vital to our health. While organic foods have their benefits, nonorganic foods have just as many – more consistency in taste, texture, and quality, they are cheaper, and sometimes they may even have less pesticide residue than organic fruits and veggies. Just because something is not organic does not mean it is any less nutritious, and avoiding fruits and veggies can do more harm than avoiding non-organic foods.

  1. Larger portions of “safe” foods do not equal good-for-you.

Just because the food you are eating is healthy, it does not mean that you can eat an unlimited amount of it! For example, fruit is extremely healthy and good for us, but a lot of it has loads of sugar. To put it into perspective, one mango has 50 grams of sugar, whereas one can of soda has 39 grams. Even the healthiest food options are best when eaten in moderation, and an extra intake of calories will end up getting stored as fat.

  1. Choosing Reduced fat/fat-free products

Making reduced fat and fat-free products involve adding many unhealthy ingredients and increasing other unhealthy components such as sugar and carbohydrates. In most cases, low-fat products are very high in carbs, contain trans-fats, and still have a high-calorie count. Trans-fats are very detrimental to our health, especially for our heart and cholesterol. There are many healthy fats out there, choosing the natural option may be the best way to go!

  1. Using Aspartame as a replacement for real sugar

Aspartame is a zero-calorie sweetener that is found in many low-calorie or zero calorie drinks. While it is a nice alternative that helps reduce your sugar intake, there are many controversies about potential ailments that may be caused by it, ranging from mild side effects such as headaches and digestive symptoms to potentially chronic illnesses such as cancer.

  1. Some vegan meat substitutes

Vegan and plant-based diets are extremely popular right now, and for many great reasons, but some vegan or vegetarian meat substitutes are often made in very unhealthy forms. Many substitutes have a lot of added sodium, and excessive sodium intake is often linked to high blood pressure and risk of heart disease. Also, just because it is vegan does not mean it is not deep fried, loaded with unhealthy sauces, and prepared as a junk food, such as vegan chicken nuggets or burgers.

It is our job to be aware of the reality behind the food we eat, so do your best to stay up to date with nutritional news so you can be the healthiest version of you!

Sammy Gorlovetsky
University of Illinois

LOVE & FAMILY ARE THE BACKBONE OF AG

When I think of family I think of the agriculture industry. Just like when you say a TV show that is all about family I also think of This Is Us. Family is a very big part of agriculture and has helped shaped the direction of the industry today. There are many ways you can relate agriculture to This Is Us, because, in the end, we all face the same challenges.

It is best to roll with the punches! Randall is the one who struggles with this the most on the show. He tends to be more uptight about things, especially his family. When Kevin came to move in with Randall and his family we could all see how stressed he was with Kevin coming and not telling him. In agriculture, we have to be flexible with what is happening currently. Everyday something will change and with that, we have to be able to move right with it. Even though Randall is the brains in this family, it is not always great to be like him.

Family does not always mean blood. When a crisis occurs on the farm, it takes everyone to fix it. You can count on people you may not know at the time to become your family. Many times when a farmer has a health issue or family accident right in the middle of harvest you can count on those people who are not blood to help you. Agriculture is one big family and it always brings a smile to my face when I see how close we all become. On This Is Us, they adopt a son when their twins are born and they become the big three! Bringing a new life into their home that was not their blood but became their family. It is all about the people who are there for you when you need them the most.

Some days you wake up and just do not want to get out of bed for work. There are freezing cold days when you think “Can I spend a few more hours in bed and feed the cows later?” untimely the answer is no sadly. Farming is not an easy job to be up doing things all day but someone has to do it. There were many days when Kevin was working on the ManNY and nothing would go right. Each take wasn’t right and he just kept having everything go wrong. When bad days hit you have to make the most of them and keep going, like Kevin you can get back into your groove.

Agriculture is a family industry and just like in This Is Us you can always feel the love no matter how rough a day is.

Alison Heard
Southern Illinois University