Tomorrow is Learn About Composting Day! Composting is an Earth-friendly way to reduce, reuse, and recycle… all in one! It is a natural process that involves the decomposition of waste materials. The decomposition results in rich, fertile compost, which serves as food for the soil, plants, and microorganisms in the ground. It increases the soil’s fertility and water-holding capacity, which supports the growth of plants. And the best part about composting is that YOU can do it in your home!

CompostCycleTo start a compost pile, simply collect vegetable scraps, grains and pastas, fruit rinds and peels, breads and cereals, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, egg shells, paper napkins, and other carbon or nitrogen materials. Carbon and nitrogen are fundamental in composting because bacteria and fungi oxidize the carbon (digest it) and ingest the nitrogen to make proteins. In other words, the carbon acts as food for the microorganisms, and the nitrogen serves as its digestive enzymes. The waste products that make up a compost pile consist of carbon or nitrogen. When adding to the pile, though, one wants a balance of the two, with more carbon materials than nitrogen. The following table outlines which materials consist of carbon and nitrogen to make the process simpler.




table scraps


 add with dry carbon items
fruit & vegetable scraps


 add with dry carbon items


 best when crushed


 leaves break down faster when shredded
grass clippings


 add in thin layers so they don’t mat into clumps
garden plants

 use disease-free plants only
lawn & garden weeds


 only use weeds which have not gone to seed
shrub prunings


 woody prunings are slow to break down
straw or hay


 straw is best; hay (with seeds) is less ideal
green comfrey leaves


 excellent compost   ‘activator’
pine needles


 acidic; use in moderate amounts
flowers, cuttings


 chop up any long woody stems
seaweed and kelp


 apply in thin layers; good source for trace minerals
wood ash


 only use ash from clean materials; sprinkle lightly
chicken manure


 excellent compost   ‘activator’
coffee grounds


 filters may also be included
tea leaves


 loose or in bags


 avoid using glossy paper and colored inks
shredded paper


 avoid using glossy paper and colored inks


 shred material to avoid matting
corn cobs, stalks


 slow to decompose; best if chopped up
dryer lint


 best if from natural fibers
sawdust pellets


 high carbon levels;   add in layers to avoid clumping
wood chips / pellets


 high carbon levels;   use sparingly

While there are a number of materials that can go into a compost pile, one should be aware of what should not go in it. Do not include meat, bones, fish scraps, perennial weeds, or diseased plants. These items will lead to a foul smell and/or large pests. If the compost is going to be used to grow food crops, pet manure should also not be included in the compost. and are two wonderful websites with tips and tricks to composting, including the table above.

Composting is a natural process. To start the process, layer leaves, grass clippings, weeds, kitchen scraps, and topsoil into a compost container or on the ground. If you use a container, make sure it has a tight-fitting lid and is easy to clean. After the pile is layered, water the mixture if it is dry. In order for the microorganisms to begin decomposing the materials, the mixture needs to be moist. If it is too dry, they will become inactive, and the process will cease. If the mixture gets too wet, add leaves. Too wet of a mixture will result in a sour smell. Once a season, the pile should be turned to increase the rate of decomposition.

This natural process helps the environment in a number of ways. It reduces the garbage output to landfills. According to, “More food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single material in municipal solid waste (MSW). In 2010 alone, more than 34 million tons of food waste was generated, with only three percent diverted from landfills and incinerators for composting.”

Food_In_Landfills_GraphRotten food produces methane in landfills. Methane is a greenhouse gas with a significant global warming potential, nearly 21 times that of carbon dioxide. By decreasing the amount of food waste that goes to landfills, we reduce the amount of methane produced. Composting also improves sanitation, reduces the use of pesticides and fertilizers, and it aids in the restoration of natural land.

With all the benefits of composting, one might wonder what the catch is? Will the compost pile smell? Will it attract raccoons or other pests? What about fruit flies or gnats? Too much nitrogen in the compost pile can produce a foul smell. However, there is a simple solution. Do not put bones or meat scraps into the compost pile. If it still begins to smell, simply add more carbon items, like leaves, grass clippings, or mulch to neutralize the odors. See the table above for more carbon materials. As for large and small pests, again, do not include meat scraps or bones in the pile. Enclose the pile in a container with a tight-fitting lid, and cover the entire pile with leaves or grass clippings. Begin a compost pile today. REDUCE the amount of food wastes. REUSE that waste in the compost pile to RECYCLE it into fertile compost, which will support and nurture plant growth.

MeganQuigleyMegan Quigley
University of St. Francis


In the second installment of a two-part series, Julie Gunlock of the Independent Women’s Forum discusses the anti-pesticide agenda. She looks at the group makeup of this movement and the motivations thereof, along with the reasons that their stories receive coverage in the media.

Julie argues that the modern news cycle favors anti-pesticide hysteria rather than science and fact. She suggests that scare tactics play well to the media, which are geared towards making stories out of scary sounding studies whose news cycle ends before the studies are ultimately proven incorrect. She suggests that the NGO tactics are particularly geared towards mothers, while the ultimate agenda is the enactment of regulations based on that fear.

Rick Eberstadt
Green State TV


Just in time for grilling season, you will start seeing some changes to how meat at the grocery store is labeled. The USDA has approved this new labeling system (created by NCBA and the National Pork Board) that aims to make meat perusing in the store easier for customers. For the past 40 years or so, meat labels have been anatomically based- describing where that cut is located on the animal’s body. So, for those customers that didn’t grow up on a livestock farm or enroll in a meat science class in college, how does knowing where a cut of meat came from help them know what they are getting or how to cook it?

The new labeling system will identify species, whether the meat is from the chuck, loin, rib or round, the retail cut name, and provide cooking instructions to the buyer. The biggest change is expected to be in pork chop labeling. Thanks to modern pork production methods, trichinosis is no longer a problem so the cooking temperature of pork was lowered in 2011. This means pork chops can be cooked similar to steaks now, so they will be naming different pork loin cuts more similarly to beef steak cuts (i.e. ribeye, sirloin, New York, etc.) Hopefully, this information will be helpful to customers when browsing meat at the grocery store.


This article explains in greater detail the changes that we can expect to see on meat labels:

I think this is a good idea based on consumer research done by the National Pork Board and the NCBA Beef Checkoff program. As we learn more and more about what our urban consumers are not understanding and the importance of communicating with all of our customers, it is changes like this that are going to help everyone be on the same page. We should start seeing label changes this summer, so it will be interesting to see everyone’s reaction to it!


Rosalie Sanderson
Membership Administrative Assistant


teachingWhen I graduated from college, my roommate gave me a present. With my degree in Education, student teaching behind me, and a job secured to start in the fall—I opened the gift to find a coffee mug, with ‘3 Reasons to be a Teacher….June, July and August!’

As we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week  (this week May 6-10) and National Teacher’s Day (today, May 7), I wonder if those are the three reasons resonate with the 172,000 teachers instructing the over 2.3 million students across the state.

It is kind of a rough time to be a teacher in Illinois right now. With the current state funding crisis, where in March 2013, the State was behind in payments to local districts to the tune of $768 million, combined with the pension funding crisis currently being debated along with the upcoming transition from Illinois Learning Standards to the new Common Core Standards for Language and Math, you have to wonder, are the three months in the summer worth it?

As a former teacher, I don’t know teachers that take off 3 whole months. In addition to the opportunity for summer jobs, professional development (like our own Ag in the Classroom Summer Ag Institutes), and preparing for the next school year…it isn’t a vacation!

Shortly after graduation, my roommate and I were involved in a discussion about his company and what was the acceptable recall rate, or unsatisfactory rate, that his company would tolerate. It was acceptable to the company that only 70 percent of the product he delivered would be at 100 percent. There were tradeoffs in efficiency and dependability. Yet as a teacher, I didn’t have the luxury of ‘discarding’ any of my product. My product wasn’t a ‘widget’—I was working with students.

This became even more apparent, as I became a parent. Although every parent is their child’s first teacher, when you send those kids off to school, you want and expect your kids to be of primary importance to the teacher. Your local and state taxes fund this form of education, and you deserve it!

Ironically, I now have 3 children, and my oldest will graduate from high school in just a couple weeks. I am grateful for the teachers that have had such an impact on all of my kids. The three reasons I continue to encourage folks to be teachers and to constantly hone their craft are my kids–Lena, Eliza, and Parker.

The three reasons for the coffee mug have certainly changed. Take a minute today, or this week, and think back about the teachers that played a major role in your life. Think about the teachers that impact your children today or have impacted your children in the past. Take a minute and thank those teachers… you will be glad you did!

Kevin Daugherty
Education Director
Illinois Ag in the Classroom


Franklin, IL farmer Bill Long sent us these pictures of his planter FINALLY running in the field.

bill long planting

Corn planting is behind schedule this year, though we won’t really consider it late until after May 15 and crop insurance doesn’t really consider it late until after the first week of June.

spring planting 2013

In this area, corn planters are out, planting a field or two to make sure the equipment is running smoothly, but not really moving too much due to the predicted rains and colder weather coming in the next week.

corn planting may 2013

In retrospect, one of our last really successful years was 2009 when planting was also significantly delayed.  We still had a great crop, but the summer was mild and cool and the corn wasn’t trying to pollinate in extreme temperatures.  If mother nature can keep this cool weather up through the summer, delayed planting won’t really effect the corn crop TOO much.  Of course, delayed planting will cause delayed harvest which can be a whole other issue on its own!


It’s the constant “get to know you” question.

Depending on the circumstances of the meeting, it might follow “Which kids are yours?” or “How long have you gone to church here?” or even “So, how do you know John?” if John has just introduced us.  But inevitably, the conversation arrives at “So what do you do?”  And that’s a question I love answering.

Because I honestly, legitimately love what I do.

It’s a sad fact of life that there are MANY who do not love what they do.  Some who are living the majority of their lives in a cubical when they’d rather be outside; some that despise driving and are forced to drive hundreds of miles every week.  But for me, aside from the inevitable pain of waking up too early on a Monday morning, I actually enjoy going to work.

For starters, I enjoy writing.  I have a creative mind (which always seemed at odds to me with my animal science degree) and even my free time is spent crafting, sewing, crocheting, and writing.  Coming to work every day and writing is second nature for me.

Secondly, I love the people I work with.  Yes, every group of people has its problems, whether it’s the local softball team you play on or the small group at church.  Our office is no different.  But at the end of the day, I actually find myself wanting to spend time with the people in my office AFTER WORK.  I like them that much.  And I’m no fool; I realize that this is a rarity.

But mostly, I just love farmers.  I love agriculture.  I love the feeling of being a small part of the fact that people all over the world are eating because of our industry.  I love the idea that this industry actually creates something from nothing using only the soil and water and air.  Think about it … you plant one kernel of corn, and through some miracle, you get hundreds.  It’s a little bit like experiencing all the miracles of having a baby every single year without the morning sickness or the swollen ankles.

The farmers that I work for are good people.  Honest people who believe in work ethic and treating people right and preserving their heritage.  They appreciate old farmhouses and they work in the barn that their great-grandfather built.  They wear dirt and oil and grease with pride because they understand the value of blood, sweat, and tears.

They stop in at our office just to say hello (and we’re actually happy to see them!)  They bring their granddaughters and grandsons along because they decided on an impromptu lunch date with the next generation.  They leave here with the said grandchild on their lap, letting them steer the vehicle out of the parking lot before strapping them into the car seat behind.

Our farmers get stressed, but they are faithful people and they all understand that God has their back and that they WILL live to farm another day.  And when it’s stressful in the office, it’s usually because we realize that 99 percent of our job is to deliver for them and make sure that they DO live to farm another day.

They toil and sweat and work and stress over each little plant.  Over the water and whether there’s enough or too much and are they keeping it clean?  Over the soil and their farming methods and are they doing the best they can so that their kids can farm?  Over new technologies that are hard to understand but are in the best interests of the future generation.  So they toil and sweat and work and stress some more.

In the fall, they pray for bounty.  For the fruits of their labor.  They yearn for the smell of harvest, for a glass of iced tea in a mason jar, for retired farmers who stop by in a pickup truck to watch and chat and relive the miracle, again and again, every year.

Who doesn’t want to be a part of this miracle?  The miracle of life and nature, of bonding with the earth and the next generation, of knowing where true value in this life lives.

I love farmers.  I love this industry.  I love my job.  And I’m grateful.

Lindsay MitchellLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director