If you are a NASCAR fan in the Chicago area …
Or maybe you are just a mom or a wife or a sister that appreciates food …
In any case, make plans right now to join the Illinois Corn Marketing Board at the Chicagoland Speedway on July 21 and 22. Not only are we sponsoring the truck race, “The American Ethanol 250,” but we are also racing our Illinois Family Farmers car driven by Kenny Wallace.
And if you are just interested in food and not so much NASCAR, you will definitely want to stop by the Illinois Family Farmers tent to talk to Illinois corn and soybean farmers about how they grow their food, how they work with livestock farmers to raise cattle and hogs, and how the entire industry really is interested in doing more with less to provide your family safe, affordable, healthy food.
Meet farmers, drive a combine in our simulator, see some real farm equipment and get your picture taken. And that’s just in our booth!
You can’t afford to miss the event. Better go purchase your tickets today!
We’re coming up on the Fourth of July (ack! It’s next week!) and my thoughts have turned to all things patriotic. My American flag is hanging on the front door, my stars are decorating the mantle, and I dug out those red, white and blue plates we bought last year to help us celebrate the season.
Between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, I find myself talking more about what it means to love your country. I take the time to explain to my kids what all those flags in the cemetery mean. I help them understand the enormity of the sacrifice those men in uniform are making for them … for me.
And then, especially when my thoughts turn to the men in uniform and all they are doing for us, I think about fuel. The wars we’re fighting over fuel. The lives we’ve lost over fuel. The selfishness of Americans over … fuel?
It’s silly really. We can produce fuel here. So someone remind me … why are we fighting wars and losing lives over fuel again?
Somewhere along the line, corn got a bad name. Corn became another four-letter word to be feared. And corn-based ethanol went down the tube right along with it. Whether it’s the farmer’s fault for not talking about what they do on the farm, or the fault of the marketing department for Big Oil, or my neighbor’s fault down the street, it happened. And we forgot all the really great stuff about corn-based ethanol.
Number one, we don’t have to fight wars and lose lives to get it. In fact, we make it right here and instead of harming the families of our friends and neighbors, it helps them. Ethanol plants are jobs and money and economic drivers in towns that haven’t seen economic drivers in a long time. Ethanol has been a saving grace for rural America in a time of massive economic downturn for the rest of the country.
Number two, ethanol is better for the environment. Modern biobased ethanol can produce up to 53 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than regular gasoline. The Renewable Fuels Association says that using a little more ethanol in our gasoline, switching from a 10 percent blend to a 15 percent blend, would be the equivalent of removing 6.3 million vehicles from American roadways. Seems like that would be good for America, but what do I know?
Number three, it’s here. America is really good at growing corn and we will always be good at growing corn. We have corn to burn and we will continue to have corn to burn. Why would we not utilize one of our best and biggest resources?
Americans have always been ingenuitive. We’ve always thought about our competitive advantages and used them to better our nation. What I’m confused about is why we’ve let fear and marketing and … selfishness … determine a very big course for our nation.
We have corn. We are really good a growing corn. We can make fuel out of corn and eliminate wars, pollution, and poverty in rural America. What’s the problem?
Illinois Corn is part of the “Illinois Farm Families” group – a coalition of farmers and farm groups that want to re-introduce ourselves to the non-farming public. One of our programs to help us accomplish this goal is the “Field Mom” program. You can read more about it here, but the gist is that we chose some Chicago moms that were interested in where their food came from and we are taking them out to the farm to actually learn more information from the farmers that grow their food.
The follow is one of the Field Mom’s thoughts about her recent trip to the country. Thank you Farrah for your thoughts and for the opportunity to learn more about what is important to you and what farmers can do better to help you feel confident in the food supply we are providing.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- I feel so fortunate to have been one of the inaugural members of the Field Moms program with the IL Farm Bureau. What an incredible experience this has been! Getting to talk with and ask questions of the people at the source of farming and food production in this country is an invaluable opportunity and one that I don’t at all take for granted. We had our third and final farm tour on June 9th and once again I am left with so much gratitude and awe but also some tough questions and things I need to think through. This tour was in western IL, right near the Mississippi River and the Iowa border. Such pretty country!! We had a lovely dinner with some local farmers and their wives on Friday night then headed to the hotel to get some sleep for a full day of farm touring on Saturday. (sidenote: although I didn’t get to sleep very long, I DID get to sleep in a dark quiet room in a hotel bed all by myself… heavenly!)
Our first stop on Saturday was the Twomey Company/CGB Enterprises. They are a company that farmers hire to provide chemical fertilizers and herbicides and spray them in the farmers’ fields. The fertilizer they make is a mixture of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) which are all elements found in soil naturally. Twomey just adds stabilizers to keep the nutrients in the soil longer and mixes them at precise concentrations depending on the needs of the specific farmer and his soil. I know that “chemical “is a trigger word for most of us. It is for me. I am leery of any chemicals that are sprayed on my food or the soil my food is grown in as I don’t want them to end up in my body or my children’s. But these are the same ingredients in any manure a farmer may use as fertilizer, just a little more precise and specialized. They do use anhydrous ammonia during the production of the chemicals which is a little concerning to me. I’m not thrilled about something that is potentially harmful to your skin, eyes, mucous membrances, etc.. if you are exposed being used to fertilize the food we are eating. But Twomeyand the farmers promise that it is safely metabolized by the plant during the growing process and is no longer present in any final food product of the plant. I believe them, truly. But I need to sit with this one for a little more before feeling totally secure.
Before moving to the next part of our day, they drove us to their barge loading facility (where grain corn gets shipped to all over the country and the world) on the Mississippi River and it was just beautiful. For reasons I am not totally sure of, seeing the river made me miss the beach. Part two was a visit to Ron and Deb Moore’s farm in Roseville, IL. There they grow corn and soybeans and raise some cattle. We got to see our “Field Moms Acre” of soybeans which they are documenting and using to teach us all about the process of growing and harvesting soybeans. The biggest take-away lesson for me from the Moore’s farm was learning about all their soil conservation efforts. They have built tow wall structures to prevent erosion and improve water quality. On a hay wagon tour around their property, we learned about the grass waterways and filler strips and other major projects they built with some cost-sharing assistance from the government conservation reserve program. All these things are intended to preserve the land they love and create improved homes and water quality for all the wildlife in the area and the human residents too. It was truly impressive and inspiring to see how much effort/time/money they have put into giving back to land that is their source of life and income.
After an amazing lunch of ribeye steaks (you don’t get much fresher than eating a delicious grilled steak on site at a cattle farm!), we headed off to the Monsanto Learning Center and research fields and Monmouth,IL. We have all heard of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and probably have strong opinions either way. I tried to go in with an open mind, anxious to hear what they had to say and to learn about their role in this whole picture of where my food comes from. At Monsanto, they specialize in hybrid breeding of seeds. They call it “genomics”- genetic marker assisted breeding in order to increase crop yield and crop quality. Their goal is to be able to produce the same amount of food using less land and less resources and less water. And they do this by creating plants that can withstand stress better: insects, drought, wind, etc… They are using scientific knowledge gained through research to help the farmers in the fields grow better, stronger crops so that they in turn can produce healthy, high-yield crops used to feed America and people around the globe.
A specific example of their work: the Monsanto researchers have taken BT (Bacillus thuringiensis), a bacteria found in soil that is toxic to the root worm, a common pest to corn plants, and found a way to incorporate this bacteria into the corn plant itself. This “GMO” corn is now resistant to this pest and can grow stronger and healthier in the field. According to them, BT is non-toxic to mammals due to our acidic stomach so any amount (which they say is minimal) that we ingest when eating this corn is insignificant. They are doing things like this with almost any crop you can think of- improving they way the seeds grow and use resources so that the farmer can get higher yields and we can get better food.
I get what they are doing. And I even get why they are doing it. The folks at Monsanto, along with EVERY OTHER PERSON I have met during this Field Moms gig, are very concerned with the task before them to provide enough food to feed 9billion people by the year 2050. The average farm today feeds 155people for a year compared to 26people/year in 1950. But that’s not enough. They have to do more, and often times be able to produce more with less resources. The farmers and everyone involved in the business of agriculture are always busy at trying to improve their processes, increase their gains, produce more food using less resources. All with this goal in mind of being able to keep up with the growing global population. They are mindful growers, not just farmers. No one is simply throwing some seed on a field and hoping for the best. They are analyzing every step to see how they can improve and do what they do better and safer and more economical. And you cannot help but look at all that goes into farming (soil, seed, animals, research, business, …) and be amazed at the passion and skill with which they do their jobs. It is awe-inspiring and everyone needs to know how lucky we are that we have them behind the scenes doing all that they do.
But the other side of the story is this- while I am deeply grateful for how mindfully they grow/produce food for my family and for the world, I too am mindful. I am very mindful of what I eat and where it comes from. And there are things that people are afraid of because they don’t know about them and there are things that we should genuinely be concerned about. And in all honesty, I am not 100% sure where this whole GMO thing lands on that spectrum. I think I can truthfully listen to the folks that make the fertilizers and herbicides that are sprayed on the crops and be a little concerned but mostly feel content with their explanation of the needs of a healthy plant and why what they do is both best for the plant AND safe for my family. I can listen to the presentation by the researchers at Monsanto and understand both the heart and the goal of what they do and appreciate both for their sincerity. They are good people with good goals. But at the end of the day, I have to mindfully consider all I have heard and make the best choice for my family. And I am not sure exactly what that is yet, but being willing to hear without judgement is the first step.
That is what this program has been all about. It has been my opportunity to take my questions about hormones and chemicals and GMOs to the source- to the farmers and researchers themselves- and give them the chance to answer honestly and dispel any myths that may be running rampant amongst us non-agricultural people. And then it is my job to bring what I have learned back to my community and tell honestly the truth that I learned and my reaction to it. We should not be afraid simply because we don’t know. And we should never let rumor or one person’s side make up our mind on anything. We have to give the farming community back their voice in all this debate over the safety of our food. And from what I have seen this year, our food is not just safe. It is amazing. And these farmers are amazing. Do I still have some questions and reservations about different things?? Yes. But if this Field Moms program has taught me anything, it has taught me that being a mindful eater means finding out the truth from the source and not listening to hype. I am a mindful eater who appreciates the hard work and the fruits of the efforts of the mindful growers that I have been blessed to spend time with.
Farrah Brown, Field Mom
If you are reading this blog, you already know about and are participating in social media. Chances are you are also aware of how popular social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogging (to name a few) have all become. But what can we do, as representatives of the agriculture industry, to make our use of social media more effective in reaching more diverse demographics and creating a positive image of the industry that we are all so passionate about?
Today, I watched a Ustream video on U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance’s website Food Dialogues. The live video stream today was called “Hollywood and “Vine”: The Intersection of Pop Culture and Food Production” and included representatives from both the agriculture and media industries. The discussion was largely based on how agriculture and the media need to work together to bring real facts and honest stories to the consumer. It was mentioned that the next generation of kids will be able to operate an iPad or laptop without any problem, but they won’t have a clue about where there food comes from. Examples from current “educational” cartoons were depictions of bulls with udders and an understanding that “if it has horns, it must be a bull.”
Most of you reading this (I hope) understand that those things are not true, but how are we ensuring that our kids know and understand these concepts? Another suggestion in the Food Dialogue was that agriculture needs to be a source for these materials. If we are making the cartoons and other informational outlets, we have control over the messages and information being presented to kids in our schools.
There is one thing in particular that stands out to me from the video stream: Social media is NOT a “magic cure-all” for agriculture’s challenges today. It is a tool, and if used correctly, it can make a big impact. When it comes to reaching a large and diverse audience and getting them to listen to your message, there is a right and a wrong way to use social media. Jeff Fowle, one of the panelists today, is a farmer/rancher who knows how to use social media effectively. He is one of the founders of the Ag Chat Foundation, which has this mission: “to empower farmers, ranchers and foresters to share their stories effectively through social media platforms.” More recently, he began the Just Farmer blog with a few other colleagues. This is a social media platform for dialogue between consumers and producers that has seen a lot of success.
Check out some of these organizations and ideas to learn more about how you can make better use of you social media skills to start more discussions about food production! My generation has already accepted and flocked to social media, now all you have to do is find a way to keep their attention and tell them your side of the story!
Every year for the past four years, a coalition of fourteen states and the National Corn Growers Association has brought the Corn Farmers Coalition (CFC) Campaign to Washington, DC. It’s a fun campaign, featuring our farmers that we all know personally and love dearly, and facts about corn farming that most people probably didn’t know.
Did you know that 95 percent of all corn farms in American are family owned? Did you know that American corn farmers grow 20 percent more than any other nation? Did you know that the energy used to grow a bushel of corn decreased 37 percent thanks to family farmers’ use of technology?
Some of these things I intrinsically knew even if I didn’t know the exact data. But I bet if you’re an urban dweller, you didn’t have a clue. And you know what? Most elected officials and their staff don’t either.
CFC has resulted in more than 150 million positive media impressions in the first three years on a very targeted Capitol Hill Community. We believe that it’s working. We believe that non-farmers are starting to really understand that corn farmers aren’t working for the devil … they are working to feed their families, and yours.
If you’d like to follow more about what the Corn Farmers Coalition is up to, you might follow our twitter hashtag – #corncoalition – and maybe consider checking out the website at www.cornfarmerscoalition.org
And read what others in DC are saying about us here!
From June 11 through June 16, The Normal CornBelters, brought to you by the Illinois Corn Farmers, celebrated Ag Week at the Corn Crib. Each day had a special event offering fans of all ages the opportunity to enjoy great tasting food and to learn all about agriculture in their community.
June 11 was Illinois Corn Growers Association Membership Appreciation Night. Illinois Corn Growers Members were invited to come out to the ballpark to watch some exciting Cornbelters baseball courtesy of the Illinois Corn Growers Association! Fans also had the opportunity to mingle with real farmers who grow corn in Illinois.
June 12 was Illinois Pork Producers Night, where fans were invited to dive into some freshly made pork 3-ways burgers. All over the concourse, you could see fans enjoying DaBurgers and to talking to hog farmers about all things pork!
June 13 took on another meat product, beef! For Illinois Beef Producers Night, farmers who raise cattle were at the ballpark to answer questions and to serve local beef products. After trying one of their tasty samples courtesy of Bloomington Meats, fans couldn’t help but to get one of their burgers!
June 14 was Prairie Farms Night! Prairie Farms gave away free ice cream sandwich bars to the first 500 fans that entered the Corn Crib. They also made the night extremely special for two lucky fans. One got to throw out a first pitch and receive an autographed Ron Santo ball and another won a game worn Cubs Jersey! The Midwest Dairy Association was also in attendance with fun trivia and even taught kids how to milk a cow! Once again, farmers were there to share their philosophy, this time about dairy farms.
June 15 was Salute to 4H Night as well as Pioneer Night. Members from 4H in the area came to the ballpark to offer information about their group to fans who were interested in getting involved! It was also Pioneer Night. Employees of Pioneer were invited to watch a night of CornBelters baseball and 500 lucky fans walked away with a Pioneer/ Illinois Corn baseball!
Public/Media/Community Relations Coordinator
To celebrate, I think every American ought to revisit the Flag Code. There are SO MANY PEOPLE who (I assume) unknowingly violate the code everyday and I think it would benefit all of us to re-read it every now and then.
As an example, did you know that the flag should never be worn as clothing, bedding, or drapery? I think this means that any realistic images of a flag on a shirt are technically against the flag code.
Also, when at a parade and the flag comes by, all non-military citizens should stand and place their hand over their heart as a salute. Men with hats on should remove their hats and hold the hat over their left shoulder with their hand over their heart. So many people don’t do this!
Review the Flag Code for yourself and make sure you are being as respectful to the flag as you should be as an American citizen!