Snack time is a delicacy in the eyes of children. It’s a time where they can eat crackers, cheese and drink milk. Snack time can also be a time to teach about different topics such as agriculture.

Hands-on activities help children learn in a new dimension. Creating butter from whipping cream allows kids to learn where a food, that is in about everything, comes from, and no, the answer is not Wal-Mart. This activity teaches kids how butter is made and provides a tasty snack.

small containersFor this activity, all you need is:

  • whipping cream
  • crackers
  • small plastic containers WITH lids
  • marbles
  • plastic baggies.

After passing out the containers, marbles, and plastic baggies to the kids (one per kid), fill each container about halfway full. Once the container is halfway filled, allow the kids to drop their marble in the cream and put the lids on. Then they can put the container into the baggie and close it. Warn them not to shake it until you say to shake it. From my experience, kids will want to shake it after the lid adheres, so I always had to give them a command word when they could start shaking it. Without the baggie, sometimes the lid will move and cream will drip out; the baggie contains the possibility of a mess which will make everyone happy. After the kids snap their lids on and place the container in the baggie, give them the command word to shake the container.

The best motion to shake the container is side to side instead of up and down. A figure 8 is also a popular method.  The shaking should last about five minutes which can be too long for some kids, so assistance may be needed depending on the age. K-2 needed more help than kids 3-5.

When the shaking continues, the cream will become very thick to the point where you can’t hear or feel the marble move from side to side. To disbelief, the butter isn’t done at that point. Once you reach the stage where the cream is very thick, keep shaking until the butter and liquid separate. You will hear and feel the marble moving again. After the butter forms, the kids can pour their buttermilk out in the sink or they can keep it in their container. After all the kids have butter, pass out the crackers. The salt embedded on the cracker will give flavor to the butter just like the butter we buy in the store. The kids can dip their crackers in the containers or you can pass out spoons for them to spread onto the cracker. Enjoy!

Find this activity and other fun ways to engage kids in learning here!

michelle nickrent

Michelle Nickrent
University of Illinois



Don’t be discouraged by the name! This spin on a Christmas classic is only deadly to your calorie count this holiday season! Once you’ve made a pecan pie in a cast-iron skillet, you may never go back to a pie plate. Simply press a refrigerated pie crust into the skillet, sprinkle with sugar, top with the pecan mixture, and bake. Serving it in the skillet is also easy and makes the dish even more Southern.

Don’t forget the farm to table connection!

Be sure to watch this short video featuring Natchitoches Pecans, Inc. based in Louisiana that shows how pecans go from the tree to your pie!


Pecans still on the tree.
Pecans still on the tree.
  • 1/2 (14.1-oz.) package refrigerated piecrusts
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons bourbon*
  • 1 1/2 cups pecan halves


  1. Preheat oven to 325°. Fit piecrust into a 10-inch cast-iron skillet; sprinkle piecrust with powdered sugar.
  2. Whisk eggs in a large bowl until foamy; whisk in brown sugar and next 6 ingredients. Pour mixture into piecrust, and top with pecan halves.
  3. Bake at 325° for 30 minutes; reduce oven temperature to 300°, and bake 30 more minutes. Turn oven off, and let pie stand in oven, with door closed, 3 hours.

*Vanilla extract may be substituted.

Did you know?  More facts about pecans …

  • Pecans are native tree nuts to the United States and North America. Before European settlers arrived, Native Americans widely consumed and traded pecans.
A native pecan tree.
A native pecan tree.
  • “Pecan” is from an Algonquian word, meaning a nut requiring a stone to crack.
  • It takes a magnificent tree to produce a great-tasting nut. Pecan trees usually range in height from 70 to 100 feet, but some trees grow as tall as 150 feet or higher. Native pecan trees – those over 150 years old – have trunks more than three feet in diameter
  • The U.S. produces about 80 percent of the world’s pecan crop.
  • Georgia is the number one producer of pecans in the U.S. followed closely by New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma. In fact, Georgia has been the top pecan-producing state in the nation since the late 1800s.
  • America’s President, food connoisseur and gardener, Thomas Jefferson, was very taken by the flavor of pecans and had trees imported from Louisiana for his Monticello orchards.
  • The pecan is heart healthy and contains antioxidants, 19 vitamins and minerals and healthy fat. One of the mineral components is zinc, which is important in producing testosterone in both males and females.
  • One ounce of pecans provides 10% of the recommended daily fiber intake.

derek rapp

Derek Rapp
Illinois State University




IMG_6272 edit

As part of the Pork Power: Partnering to Fight Hunger in Illinois campaign, the Illinois Pork Producers Association (IPPA), along with the Illinois Corn Marketing Board (ICMB) and the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA), presented $9,050 to provide ground pork to the Midwest Food Bank (MFB). The groups also partnered with Steidinger Foods of Fairbury and Calihan Pork Processors of Peoria in this donation which in total will amount to 12,500 pounds of ground pork donated to MFB.


If you didn’t hear, the EPA announced the final RVO (Renewable Volume Obligation) numbers yesterday.  The numbers indicate the amount of ethanol we have to use in 2014, 2015, and 2016.  In reality, the RVO numbers are a bit more complicated than that, but for the sake of simplicity, we’ll move on.

The numbers the EPA released still fall short of the numbers Congress approved in 2007.  For those that don’t understand, it might feel like the EPA knows something you don’t know – like that ethanol is really bad for the environment or that ethanol hurts American pocketbooks.  

That couldn’t be further from the truth.  

Read on to my previously posted “Why Ethanol Mandates” to help you understand the politics behind the EPA’s decision.  


Most Americans don’t like mandates.

As Americans, we typically believe in capitalism and a business model that sends products out into the world and asks them to stand on their own two feet or die trying.  Yet, farmers have continuously asked for ethanol mandates and I know that’s confusing.

It’s a complex issue – aren’t they all?  You’ll have to stick with me, but I know we’ll come out at the end much smarter …

1. Gas Stations are largely owned by or on contract with “Big Oil.”

rfs lowers costs at the pumpThere are a few locally owned gas stations – in Central Illinois a company called Qik N EZ is popular and those stations do not apply here – but most stations are owned or on contract with the big oil refiners like BP, Shell, or Mobil.

BP, Shell, and Mobil have a significant interest in petroleum-based fuels.  I think we can all agree on that.  And if they don’t own the station, they spell out the terms in a contract that ties the hands of the local owner and doesn’t allow him to make all his own decisions regarding the fuels he can offer.

2. “Big Oil” wants to protect its market.

Of course.  This makes sense.  If I’m a company in the business of refining and retailing petroleum-based fuel, then I obviously want to protect my market and continue making money off petroleum-based fuel.

No one begrudges the oil industry for their self-preservation.  It’s the American way and exactly what we’d expect any other industry to do.

FYI – Exxon Mobil made $4.9 billion in the first quarter of 2015 for reference.

3. But “Big Oil” has little interest in the ethanol industry.  Anything more than 10% ethanol is a competitor.

In a different world, if we were writing a different story, the oil industry would have seen the potential for corn-based ethanol and invested heavily.  If that were the case, we’d be fighting some other battle right now because “Big Oil” would want to see ethanol succeed.  But that didn’t happen.

As it stands, we have a corn-based fuel and a petroleum-based fuel fighting for market share.  Cost of production and cost to the consumer ends up being a huge player in who will succeed.

Ethanol is cheaper and cleaner with better performance so we are poised to win.  But …

4. All those gas stations are owned or contracted with “Big Oil” so they won’t allow ethanol* to be sold.

flex fuel pumpYou know what?  This makes sense too.  It’s sort of like asking Kroger to sell Wal-Mart products out of the goodness of their heart when we all know that the Wal-Mart prices are going to be cheaper.

Selling cheaper corn-based fuel is not in the best interest of the oil industry who wants to protect its market and profit, even though selling corn-based fuel is in the best interest of Americans who want to save money, protect the environment, and not send their sons and daughters overseas to fight for oil.

5. Here’s where the mandate comes in.

It’s not the best option, but America isn’t a Utopian society.  Since selling ethanol* doesn’t make sense for the oil industry and they won’t do it just to be nice (who would?), we have to make them sell it because it’s better for the country.

By the way, the “mandate” is more commonly referred to as the RFS – the Renewable Fuel Standard.  It’s a piece of legislation that forces retailers to sell increasing amounts of ethanol every year because Congress understands that ethanol is good for America.

6. And all those negative things you hear about ethanol?  Those are stories spun by a very wealthy oil industry that doesn’t want to lose market share.

Questions?  Comments?  Let’s chat in the comments …

Mitchell_LindsayLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Manager



*beyond 10% blends