Can you believe it? It’s already the last day of September. It still feels like summer outside with some of the weather we have been having, but the cool mornings and combines in the fields tell me “IT’S FALL!” This calls for a trip to the apple orchard this weekend!
Apple cider, apple doughnuts, apple pie, apple crisp… BRING. IT. ON.
As much as all of those delicious apple treats make my stomach growl, I should point out that most apple orchards offer so much more than enjoyable treats. I always love to see parents bringing their kids to an apple orchard because it gives those kids (and maybe even some of the parents) their first hands-on experience with farming. Picking your own apples or pumpkins, navigating through corn mazes, climbing on the straw bales, petting zoos… all of these experiences can give people a link to farming.
So many people today have concerns about their food for one very basic reason: they don’t have any connection to farming. This lack of a connection often means a lack of understanding, which, in turn, can create concern about the way their food is grown. Creating a connection to farming can be something as simple as meeting a farmer, walking through a corn field, or even picking your own apples.
Obviously farming involves far more than climbing on straw bales and checking the pumpkin patch, so people aren’t going to gain a comprehensive understanding of what we do on their trip to the apple orchard. But their experience is real, it is tangible. If we can teach a person one thing about farming and they are eager and willing to listen, that is a “win” in my book.
I’m not saying that a trip to the apple orchard will solve the dilemma we face today… but it sure doesn’t hurt! Baby steps, people.
You can find me elbow-deep in the Honeycrisp Apple bin this weekend. I hope you all get a chance to make it to your local apple orchard this fall, too!
Harvest has started in Illinois! Farmers in southern Illinois have been going for a while, with central Illinois farmers starting in earnest this week and northern Illinois probably starting next week.
Grant Noland in Macon County reports that his yields are variable, but 175-210 bpa at 22-30% moisture would catch most of what he’s seeing. Yields in southern Macon/N Christian Co reported thus far have been big. Not hearing anything under 200 bpa. We do believe our home area is better due to additional rainfall.
Interested in more harvest updates? We’ll have many more next week!
In honor of World Gratitude Day, I thought it would be interesting to see what today’s farmers are grateful for. I asked a few friends who have helped out on their family’s farms since they could walk and here’s what I found:
#7 Good Market and Consumers
Farmers are thankful for the demanding market and its loyal consumers that stabilize it. They know that they are not only producing food for their family to eat but others across the state, country and even world. The average American spends 9.5% of their income on food-less than any other country. So return the favor and thank a farmer for their efforts in making healthy food always available.
In order to keep up with the growing population and demand, Farmer’s use of GPS for precision planting and biotechnology for efficiency is something very important and highly valued. Today’s farmers are producing twice as much as their parents did while using less land, water and releasing fewer emissions. They grateful because as the farm is passed down to future generations they are confident that their sons and daughters will have an even better opportunity to produce then they did.
During peak planting and harvesting seasons, farmers are out in the field from dawn to dusk for days on end, sometimes the labor is rigorous and requires extreme concentration. Farmers don’t sleep till the job is done and plan their schedule off the land and weather. Some farmers even pick up other jobs during the winter months such as snow plowing to support their families. So a nice nap, if they have the time, is much appreciated.
#4 Fertile Soil
Before the dinner table, the food we eat grows in the soil and nutrient-rich land is the key to healthy plants. Farmers understand that we have some of the most fertile lands here in the U.S. and more especially Illinois. They are thankful to be given the opportunity to be the stewards of the soil that produces food for so many people worldwide.
#3 Crop Insurance
We all know that natural disasters like droughts, hurricanes, and tornados happen and devastate homes and families. Just like you would want to protect your home from potential loss farmers want to ensure their crops and most importantly their livelihoods. As my farmer friend explained it sometimes all it takes is a bad year to put a family farm out of business and crop insurance secures their way of life for future generations as well.
As Luke Bryan said, rain is a good thing and can influence a farmer’s actions. They evaluate previous years weather patterns and use that to make their decisions for the future. Weather ultimately decides if a crop survives-too much rain can cause flooding that could uproot the plant while too little rain will cause it to die. The right balance of rain and sunshine is crucial to a healthy crop.
97% of farms are family-owned, passed down from generation to generation. Farmers are grateful that they have a family to support them during the long days out in the field and also help out on the farm. When I asked my farmer friends what they were grateful for without hesitation each one said family always comes first. They know they’ve learned many values like responsibility and hard work by helping their parents with the farm, and they couldn’t be more excited to eventually be the same role model for their children.
This week, the House is considering a Food Stamp bill – the companion to the farm only Farm Bill passed earlier this summer – that calls for a reduction in the food stamp budget. If the bill passes with the budget reduction, it will pass right along party lines.
The cost of the federal food stamp program has exploded over the past decade, according to the Department of Agriculture. In 2001, the program served 17 million people at a cost of just over $15 billion. By 2012, there were 46 million people enrolled in the program at a cost of a little under $75 billion. Democrats say the program has grown because the economy tanked; Republicans argue much of the expansion is attributed to states giving benefits to people who do not qualify.
Regardless of the outcome of the budget line for this bill, farmers need SOMETHING to pass in order to get the farm programs they rely on passed … and it might be confusing why this is so.
The number of Congressmen who serve agricultural districts is dwindling. This is a direct response to the number of farmers who are also dwindling. Our representation system is designed to work this way, so it should come as no surprise. What isn’t dwindling is the number of people employed and affected by agriculture … though many of them may not even realize that their food is grown and not simply wished into being by the grocery store.
Because the number of elected officials with a direct connection to the farms and rural areas is smaller, and because the people in the urban areas of America don’t understand their connection to the farm, the number of Congressmen who are bought into a farm bill that really works for America’s farmers is small.
Enter the food stamp program.
Though there are several reasons why the food stamp program and the farm bill became legislatively linked over the years, the most important one for our purposes today is that more Congressmen are interested in food stamps than are interested in farm programs. And we need the Congressmen interested in passing a workable food aid program to vote for the bill in order to get a farm program bill passed.
That the House is struggling so much to pass the full farm bill is testiment to our current political climate – which isn’t a ocean we really need to dive into today.
The Senate already passed a more traditional farm bill, which included both farm programs and food aid, and that bill waits for a House version in order to conference a final bill. The House will struggle to get the final portion of the farm bill – the food stamp portion – through this week. Some experts predict they are still 10-12 votes short.
As for the farmers, we will all be on the edge of our seat, praying for the food stamp portion of the bill to pass the House this week so that we can continue to move to conference committee and hopefully end up with a workable farm program for 2014. We’re already too late to acheive this before the current extension expires on September 30.
Sometimes, there’s nothing left to say so I leave you with this:
“If we got one-tenth of what was promised to us in these acceptance speeches
there wouldn’t be any inducement to go to heaven.” ~Will Rogers
I grew up on a fifth generation grain and livestock farm in central Illinois with my dad, mom and two brothers. Our farm has a beautiful white farmhouse surrounded by vibrant red barns, a white wood fence, grain bins, trees, pasture and the acreage. The highest point on the farm is the silo. The silo is a concrete, vertical structure made to hold silage, chopped corn, with iron ladders on the sides. Our silo stands 61 feet tall, and I have climbed the silo only once with the help of my brothers. The view from there was amazing. You can see every inch of the farm right around you to the miles that extend to Christian and Shelby Counties. When giving direction to our friends on how to get to the farm, it was always stated with “Look for the silo!” because it stood out and was the only farm with a silo around us, so it was a landmark for many.
My parents were working parents as my brothers and I grew up. My mom was a full time farm mom. She made sure that meals were on the table and my brothers and I had our homework and farm chores done. She was also a small business owner of Prairie Lady Productions, a business that made her flourish as a well-known agriculture historian allowing her to travel around Illinois singing and telling stories about living in the 1800’s on the historic prairie as the Prairie Lady. I can remember traveling with my mom as she performed at different festivals or churches all over the state. (I also remember dressing up in prairie time period costumes and helping her in a few shows when I became older.) When I was in the first grade she took on another job in Assumption, IL , at an insurance office. At the end of her workday she would head north towards the silo to start our evenings on the farm.
My dad was a full time farmer, part-time livestock trucker and sale barn employee. I remember going on short cattle hauls with my dad and taking the livestock to the sale barn to be sold. The sale barn is where hay or straw can be taken to be sold and where livestock is sold to another farm or slaughtered for our food. Every Tuesday during my summer breaks I would go to work with him at the sale barn. He would work in the back with the livestock and I would work in the café, either as a waitress or dishwasher (depending on what needed to be done). When I was in high school my dad took a job as the assistant road commissioner where he would help maintain the roads and bridges in the township. He also was in charge of plowing snow in the winter and picking up debris after severe thunderstorms. The entire township that he helped to maintain could be seen from the silo.
It wasn’t until I was older with a job of my own and farm responsibilities that I truly understood how much time my parents dedicated to work. My parents worked both outside of the farm and on the farm to help provide for the family. To most that would be two jobs, to our family it was a job and a way of life. They would leave work to head home to the farm to work more. In the evenings after school, my brothers and I would help Dad around the farm working on equipment, with livestock, or just doing regular daily maintenance on the farm, while Mom would be inside making a meal. My mom always valued eating one meal during the day as a family. On typical nights like these when we were around the farm, it was easy for my mom to simply ring the dinner bell for us all to come in for family dinner. However, during the Spring planting or the Fall harvest, a family meal meant Mom and I taking the meal to the field so we could all be together. Even though the dinner table was now a tailgate, what truly mattered was that we were all together with the silo still in view.
Illinois State University Graduate Student
I just watched Chipotle’s latest marketing scheme … an attack on modern agriculture that they hope will bring more millennials to their big, all natural burrito table. It might work. It might not. What happens to their sales doesn’t really concern me.
What makes me sad – and I mean seriously sad to the point that I have tears welling up in my eyes – is that people who have lived in the city all their lives, who have never experienced a farm firsthand, will believe what this video is telling them.
I grew up on a farm just like Chipotle is attacking. My dad raises crops on a couple thousand acres. Our farm isn’t huge; it isn’t small. But we grow GMO crops. We use synthetic fertilizers and pesticides when needed. We don’t raise livestock anymore, but when we did, we gave them antibiotics when they were sick and used farrowing crates to keep the piglets safe and the moms healthy.
Our farm is beautiful. I feel emotional when I think about the way that the tall grass sways in the wind, or the trickling and bubbling of the creek as I would walk along the rock lane to pick up the mail. I feel sad when I think that I won’t be there to smell the scent of harvest or hear the whirl of the combine bringing in the crops behind our house.
My mom will email me pictures of deer eating from the apple tree outside what used to be my bedroom window. I remember the feel of the fresh turned earth underneath my bare feet on the night that we plowed up the garden in the spring.
I had a happy childhood here. I’m bummed that my kids won’t.
When I tell people about our farm, about the way I was raised and my memories of agriculture in central Illinois, they always tell me that *our* farm isn’t the sort of farm that they are against. But what they don’t get is that our farm *is* 95 percent of the farms in America.
Farms in America are vibrant places where children are growing up with grass between their toes and the sounds of tractors and the calling of livestock intertwined. They aren’t exactly the same image of a farm that we saw in the 1950s, but the spirit of that farm still remains. Farms have gotten better – more technology, more efficiency, more food – but they still have a core of ethical values, environmental preservation, and giving back to the community. Those things don’t change … won’t change.
You don’t have to believe me, but as a person who has lived in rural Illinois, grown up with the farmers you are unsure about, and still works with them today, it’s true.
And it makes me so sad to think that as a non-farmer, this is not the perspective you are offered. You don’t get to see the love, the connection with the land and the animals, the closeness to God that farmers and their families have on their farm. Instead, media and businesses use marketing ploys to scare you into thinking that what’s true, isn’t really true. That farms are just big business, manufacturing your food, and chasing the dollar.
Take it from me, Chipotle’s latest video isn’t the truth. It’s marketing. The truth is that farmers are people, just like you. They own and operate most of the farms in America and they do so with integrity. They are educated – most have college degrees – and they are not blindly farming the way that someone tells them. They are making informed choices that benefit their own families and the families eating their food.
My heart begs you to believe me. If not, you are missing out on the reality of one of the first and best occupations that God ever provided.
If you’re confused about what the title “farm bill” refers to, what is in the bill, and more generally why it exists, then welcome to the club. See, certain groups have a vested interest in the farm bill not passing. These groups use the misleading and incorrect information to confuse the general public. If you have a family and a job, it’s crazy to think you have the time to go searching for unbiased information. This blog entry is your simple and straightforward guide to understanding what the farm bill is and why America needs it.
To start, it’s important to understand the farm bill is nothing new. Back when a lot of American’s were farming, the Great Depression really hit rural families hard. To lend a helping hand, the Federal Government passed the first farm bill known as the “Agricultural Adjustment Act”. The bill helped American farmers get through a very rough patch and provided America with enough food to win World War II.
A lot has happened between now and then. The agricultural economy continues to develop. Over time, fewer kids chose to stay on the farm. When fewer people farm that means that there are fewer people who understand what it means to farm. That’s another way of saying, these days not a lot of people don’t know what happens on the farm. When people don’t farm and they don’t know what it means to farm, this disconnect leads to people not understanding where their food comes from and the process it went through to make it to their plate.
As I brought up above, outside groups abuse the complexity of modern-day farming and manipulate the “facts” for their own benefit. If fewer people are farming and today’s farmers are usually located in rural areas, then non-farmers outside of rural places don’t regularly interact with farmers. Instead of asking farmers what they do, most people today get their information from non-farmers. Instead of hearing from the very people that work the land, much of the debate about the farm bill today is being done by people in offices and cities.
Over time, these third parties began to fill the disconnect between farmers and non-farmers causing much of the confusion we have today. While most of the country understood while the first farm bill was an absolute necessity, many people question why we still need a farm bill today. As I’ve shown, farming isn’t really popular anymore and despite what you’ve heard, farming isn’t a particularly wealthy job. Upwards of 30% of a farmers income comes from non-farm activity. What that means is most people that farm doesn’t make enough farming alone to support their family.
See, 95% of farms are family farms. That’s a fact a lot of people who don’t like farming today forget to mention. They also forget to mention that farming is unlike other jobs: It’s dependent on the weather, on the climate, and on the earth. Few other jobs deal with such unpredictable variables. Farming today certainly isn’t simple to understand, but its people with an agenda that are making it hard for farmers to get a farm bill that they and the American people can’t live without.
Recycle. Eco-friendly. Byproducts. Biodegradable. Repurpose. “Green”. Compost. Emissions. All of these words are relatively new to our modern vocabulary, and are changing the way people think about the waste that they produce on any given day. Have you ever thought about how farmers recycle and reuse the products that they use for their operation? They are the original recyclers!
Farmers are growing very conscious of all of the byproducts they create while running a successful farming operation. Livestock farmers have found that the manure their animals create is great fertilizer for their crops, and have been spreading this on their fields for hundreds of years! Talk about a smelly recycling project! This picture is of a modern day small-farm manure spreader.
Cattle farmers have also found a new feed that can be fed to their cattle, that is a byproduct of ethanol! DDG, or dried distillers grain, is leftover from ethanol processing, which is high in energy, protein, and easy to digest, perfect for cattle! It is also a low-cost product, making it easier for the cattle companies to make a profit.
Crop farmers also have a new system that conserves the soil, while adding vital nutrients and plant material. When a farmer harvests his crop in the fall, he will leave all of the leftover plant material in the field, such as corn stalks or bean stubble. Instead of working the leftover plant back into the soil, they leave it as is. This prevents wind and water erosion because of the root system that is holding the soil in place. Also, when the plant finally breaks down, all of that organic matter goes back into the soil. Such a great way to reuse plant material that otherwise would be wasted!
Does all this talk of recycling and reusing make you want to repurpose something of your own? Check out the IL Corn Pinterest page for amazing ideas of how to repurpose old farm equipment and items into something beautiful for your home! We love finding new and creative ways of using old farming gear to make something new! Check out this side table made from old farmhouse shutters!
What about that old fence that won’t keep the cattle contained anymore? Make a cute key and coat hanger for your entryway!
Use farm items to dress up the outside of your house too! We love these metal watering troughs made into container gardens for a small yard, such a great idea!
And this is one of my all time favorite ideas for a farm item in your home…your very own candy dispenser made from a chicken feeder (clean..and never used of course!) How cute!
So whether you are a famer conserving the land by reusing nature’s byproducts, or a homemaker creating works of art for the home, everyone can repurpose! And just remember, reduce, reuse, recycle, and rethink!