In a world filled with choice, a food label can be like a beacon of fluorescent light in the middle of a grocery aisle. Nutritional content, ingredients – this is information that helps. But then there are labels that mislead or confuse rather than clarify, hindering your ability to pick out healthy, nutritious food for you and your family – no matter the claim.
We want to help you wade through the words. So when labels lie, you know the facts behind how your food is grown and raised.
It’s the day after Christmas and we’re already thinking about the next farming season. Want to know what goes into a farming season in just a few short minutes? Check out virtual video series on farming!
#360Corn is a series of 360-degree videos featuring our own Illinois corn farmer, Justin Durdan. Justin lets us plant corn with him, spray for pests, fertilize those little baby corn plants, and even harvest and sell his crop – all while we can look 360 degrees around the tractor cab, the farm and even the field.
Rhubarb is a perennial vegetable but is usually used as a fruit in dishes such as pies, crumbles, and tarts. It naturally has a tart, mouth-puckering, taste but can be quite sweet when sugar or fruit juices are added. The conditions in Illinois are preferable for the plant and thrive in home gardens. Their stalks are the only edible part of the vegetable because the leaves actually contain a poisonous toxin called oxalic acid. Many people combine other fruits with the rhubarb in dishes such as strawberries. It is actually very low calorie due to it being 95% water. Usually, deeper red stalks are more flavorful and medium sizes stalks are more tender than larger ones.
Rhubarb pie has made its appearance lately on thanksgiving spreads due to its tart flavor which breaks up the typically creamy, rich, and heavy tastes the rest of the meals are known for.
4 cups sliced fresh or frozen rhubarb, thawed
4 cups boiling water
1-1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon quick-cooking tapioca
1 large egg
2 teaspoons cold water
Pastry for double-crust pie (9 inches)
1 tablespoon butter
Place rhubarb in a colander; pour boiling water over rhubarb and allow to drain. In a large bowl, mix sugar, flour, and tapioca. Add drained rhubarb; toss to coat. Let stand 15 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk egg and cold water; stir into rhubarb mixture.
Preheat oven to 400°. On a lightly floured surface, roll one half of the pastry dough to a 1/8-in.-thick circle; transfer to a 9-in. pie plate. Trim pastry even with rim. Add filling; dot with butter. Roll remaining dough to a 1/8-in.-thick circle. Place over filling. Trim, seal and flute edge. Cut slits in top. Bake 15 minutes.
Reduce oven setting to 350°. Bake 40-50 minutes longer or until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Cool on a wire rack. Yield: 8 servings.
The Today Show recently featured a story on how Libby’s Pumpkin products are produced, starting with the farm. This in-depth leaves no step of the process to the imagination as you the journey from the farm to store shelves. This transparency is something we welcome in the agriculture industry and hope that through this video, consumers will have a better understanding of how food gets to their tables.
An Illinois farm likely grew both your Halloween pumpkin (known in the industry as ornamental) and the prime ingredient in your Thanksgiving pie (called processing pumpkins).
When it comes to pumpkin production, Illinois smashes the competition. Prairie State farmers grow more ornamental and canning-type pumpkins than any other state. In fact, Illinois produced more than twice as many pumpkins in 2012 as second-ranked to California.
“I doubt if the average person in Illinois realizes the impact of pumpkin growing in this state,” says John Ackerman, owner of Ackerman Farms near Morton. He, his wife, Eve, and their children grow both ornamental and processing pumpkins.
The state’s farms harvested a record 16,200 acres of pumpkins in 2012, according to the Illinois Agricultural Statistics Service (IASS). Most of those were processing pumpkins, the best type for canning and cooking. More than 90 percent of the nation’s canning pumpkins grow in Illinois, says Mohammad Babadoost, a plant pathologist and professor at the University of Illinois.
Illinois earns the top rank for several reasons. Pumpkins grow well in its climate and in certain soil types. And in the 1920s, a pumpkin processing industry was established in Illinois, Babadoost says. Decades of experience and dedicated research help Illinois maintain its edge in pumpkin production.
Two pumpkin processing facilities exist in Illinois today – Nestle Libby’sin Morton and Seneca Foods in Princeville, both located near Peoria.
Meanwhile, ornamental pumpkins offer entertainment value for Illinoisans. People enjoy pumpkins, farms and the autumn agritourism destinations surrounding them.
“We have limited recreation opportunities,” Babadoost says. “We don’t have oceans. We don’t have mountains.”
But Illinois has tons of pumpkins. In fact, farms throughout the state grew more than 278,000 tons last year, according to IASS. That translates to millions of pumpkins.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PUMPKINS YOU EAT AND PUMPKINS YOU CARVE
Jack-o’-lantern pumpkins can be eaten. Processing pumpkins can be carved. But for best results, stick to the pumpkin’s intended purpose.
Ornamental pumpkins possess decorative appeal. They exhibit bright orange, smooth flesh with heavy handles. A few varieties offer uniquely colored flesh or warty texture.
Some Illinois farms sell decorative pumpkins wholesale, including to major retailers such as Walmart, Babadoost says. Many ornamental pumpkin growers, like Ackerman, invite customers to their farms to pick pumpkins in person. More than 2,000 schoolchildren and an unrecorded number of other visitors come to Ackerman Farms each fall.
Processing pumpkins are bred and selected to be canned. They have pale flesh, meatier insides and a more palatable flavor. The production of these pumpkins has increased with the growing public demand for pumpkin-flavored products, Babadoost says.
Pumpkins grown for consumption pack a nutritional punch of antioxidants, fiber and vitamin A. As a result, home cooks use pumpkin to flavor soups, pasta dishes, cookies, breads, pancakes and more. Even some dog foods contain the healthy power of pumpkin.
HOW PUMPKINS GROW
Pumpkins take about 120 days to grow from planting to harvest.
Nestle Libby’s and Seneca Foods each contract with farmers within their region to grow processing pumpkins. Farmers plant seeds in April and May for a harvest that starts in late July and lasts through November, Babadoost says. Farmers plant ornamental pumpkins in May and June for harvest closer to the beginning of fall.
The sprawling plants grow and cover fields with vines up to 30 feet long. The vines contain flowers that bees pollinate to become pumpkins. Disease presents the biggest challenge during the growing season, Babadoost says. Warm and moist conditions increase those concerns.
Farmers use machines to harvest processing pumpkins. One farm machine moves the pumpkins into rows, while another elevates them into trucks. Then the crop travels to the facility to be washed, chopped, processed and canned.
In contrast, farmers harvest ornamental pumpkins using good old-fashioned manpower. These decorative gourds must be gathered by hand to avoid bruising and damage. Ackerman and about five employees pick up thousands of pumpkins on his 30-acre farm. One year, he estimated selling more than 30,000 pumpkins off the farm.
“We love what we do,” Ackerman says. “I don’t think you could do this if you didn’t enjoy it.”
As an Agriculture Communications major and not having much of a background in agriculture, let me tell you how much I am learning about this incredible industry, and more importantly, the leaders of this industry.
One big lesson that I have learned is that some of the most accepting and loving people come from the world of agriculture. Many people have their special talents but I’ve learned that it’s farmers that are my superheroes!
These are just some of the ways farmers are different than superheroes:
They don’t wear their underwear on the outside of their pants.
2. They don’t have an alter ego to hide their superhero-ness-they just own it. Farmers aren’t anybody but themselves and they’re proud of it!
5. Their mode of transportation doesn’t fly but has four-wheel drive. Farmers need four-wheel drive to pull and load heavy farm equipment
6. Farmers work past bedtime to make sure the day’s work is done. Being a farmer is a lot of hard work! A farmer works around the clock to make sure daily chores are accomplished. This isn’t no nine to five job!
7. Their kryptonite is the battle to choose between red or green. Will it be John Deere or Case International? Which one is better?
8. Farmers don’t wear tights they wear fashionable flannel.
9. Their idea of a vacation is coming back with a farmers tan. A farmer’s tan refers to the tan lines developed by a working farmer regularly exposed to the sun. The farmer’s tan is usually started with a suntan covering only the arms and neck. It is distinct in that the shoulders, chest, and back remain unaffected by the sun.
10. Their partners in crime may cluck or moo but they will always be there for you. There is no greater bond than an animal and its caretaker!
Farmers are so much more than just superheroes. They are one of a kind. I have so much respect for these men, women, and families who work around the clock to provide each and every one of us food, and other vital resources. Where would we be without these producers?
Fun fact: Did you know that for every acre of land harvested provides food for 122 people?
Next time you see a farmer thank them for all the hard work that they do!
Illinois State University student
If you give a farmer a request, he is going to follow through. In 1985, If You Give A Mouse A Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff was published and detailed the endless track of chores that might occur if you gave a needy mouse a cookie. This trouble is not quite what ensues when you give a farmer a request, but you can almost guarantee your requests might become endless of him. Here are a few requests we all have asked of farmers over the years.
If you ask a farmer for a tow, he is going to pull you out. Whether is it getting pulled out of snowy road bank or a muddy road, a farmer will be quick to lend a hand with his truck or tractor. Last time I got my dad’s jeep stuck on the dirt road, I had a list of people I was ready to call before my dad ever had to know.
If you ask a farmer for a for a ride, he is going to give you a lift. To the next town, down the road, or the field to pick up your truck, a farmer will do what he can to help you out. The only stipulation is that he might expect you to return the favor. I know I have had a neighbor or two knocks on my door and ask if I have time to take him to his truck in the field down the road.
If you ask a farmer for advice, he is going to give you a wise word. Whether you need advice on what crops to plant in a field or how to make up with a friend over a conflict, a farmer will always lend his wisdom. Farmers are often wiser than their years because they have been caring for other animals and plants that depend on them for life. In my life, rarely have the wise words of a farmer led me astray.
If you ask a farmer for a hand, he is going to lend on. Farming is not only an industry that revolves around family but community. Whether it’s finishing up harvest in time or volunteering to cook at a school fundraiser, a farmer will always lend a hand. In anything I am doing, I know my farmer support system is just a phone call away.
If you ask a farmer to feed you, he already is. Farming feeds the world. Farmers produce that feed with all the energy and love that they put into feeding their own family. I have watched these men and women work their days and nights away doing what they love and I know there is no job more underappreciated but more rewarding than a farmer.
As the agriculture industry becomes more diverse the need to gain the most knowledge and the best products has become a very tempting business. Many people across the world, specifically people in China, have been caught trying to take away research and ideas in order to progress their work. The FBI warns of “agricultural economic espionage ‘a growing threat’ and some are worried that biotech piracy can spell big trouble for a dynamic and growing U.S. industry.”
Recently a group of Chinese scientists traveled to Hawaii for business. On their way back to China, U.S. customs agents found rice seeds in their luggage that were not supposed to be there. Because of this offense, at least one of those scientists is going to be finding a new home in the federal prison system.
Sadly, this is not the only time one of these offenses have taken place. At Ventria Bioscience, scientists figured out how to “genetically engineer rice to grow human proteins for medical uses.” After hosting a meeting of scientists from the Chinese crops research institute it was found that Weiqian Zhang had rice seeds in his luggage. He is currently awaiting his sentencing in federal court.
Another issue that has occurred was back in 2011 where a field manager for Pioneer Hi-Bred International found Mo Hailong, a man with ties to China, digging up seed corn out of an Iowa field. In January 2016 he pleaded guilty to stealing trade secrets involving corn seed that was created by Monsanto and Pioneer.
But why do they do this?
According to the assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa, Jason Griess, “There are countries in this world that are in dire need of this technology and one of the ways you go about obtaining it is to steal it.” With a huge population in China, they are very interested in getting better access to seeds and technology to grow and feed their growing population.
In a recent News Watch, the Food Production Industry was called to increase their transparency. It pointed out that while the population wants to know more about what is going into their food, there is no one group that helps wholly responsible for this effort.
It’s no secret that consumers are becoming more and more interest in the makeup of their food. A trip to the grocery store once involved choosing between the name and generic brand now involves sifting through a collection of letters and symbols placed on the food all in an attempt to learn a bit more about what is going into their body. This transparency is a right consumer have, but who is ultimately responsible? And who should be making sure the consumers understand the labels in front of them?
One must remember that the average consumer has very little knowledge of how their food is produced. It is easy to blame their lack of knowledge on an absence of effort in finding answers. They don’t spend their days in a field and their nights and weekends discussing yields with their neighbors. Their chosen profession is just as foreign a concept to a farmer.
When an average consumer hears the phrase “all natural” they honestly believe it is better for them, and why wouldn’t they? Farmers use chemicals with names that are hard to pronounce for reasons that a consumer can’t understand. If there is a safer way to get the job done, why isn’t it being done the way? This is where transparency is the job of the agriculture industry.
Increasing industry transparency should be a top priority for producers globally. Agriculture has nothing to cover up. Safe food is produced that feeds a growing population. With the evolution of technology, questions can be answered and experiences can be shared at a much larger speed than ever before.
Americans and the global population want to trust farmers. These men and women represent the heart of the values that are held near to the hearts of the people. They are the foundation and how the country became what it is today. Each and every farmer is responsible for the life of 155 people.