REFLECTIONS FROM A CITY GIRL

I’ve spent 21 years in Illinois. I’ve never left for more than two weeks at a time, and let’s be honest, that Chicagoan dialect that spews out of my mouth doesn’t exactly allow me to assimilate into just any geographic region. Illinois is my home. Specifically, I was raised in Itasca, which is about a 40 minute train ride from Chicago.

Being a Chicagoan (or even a suburbanite) is a lifestyle. The pace at which I walk to work is probably better described as “jogging.” I know what a REAL hot dog looks like, I can direct you to the city’s best Italian beef and don’t even get me started on thin crust pizza. When my boss told me that we were going to volunteer our time to corn picking in Manhattan, I thought he was joking.

The thought of Nicky Hunter picking corn is akin to the thought of a cat swimming laps in a pool. Outrageous. I love sports but hate playing them because I hate to sweat. I’ve never tended to a garden because I don’t like dirt, and I don’t even know what I would do if I found a worm. I’d probably scream and jump up and down, hands waving in acute panic. The great outdoors and I never really got along.

“Sure, I’ll do it,” I replied because I talk a big game. I knew it was for the City Produce Project, which was a good cause. Monsanto, which is a huge company, got behind the project and Illinois Corn Marketing Board also participated in the program, so if such big forces can help out, what was stopping me? Some dirt and sweat? Pathetic, city girl, pathetic.

It would be easy, I thought, because it’s a farm. I thought I knew farms. After all, I’d seen one obnoxious farm comedy after another, I knew the routine. You get up early when the rooster crows and then you do various farm duties until someone rings that little triangle to announce that a large, bountiful dinner was ready. That dinner, of course, was provided by the farmer’s hard work and that was how they survived. That’s all I was exposed to.

Stupid.

What never really occurred to me was that the work that gets done on a farm is a business. The crops that grow on a family’s farm aren’t just exclusively for family meals that would make a Norman Rockwell painting look like child’s play. Once I arrived on the farm, I expected to see machinery going to town on those crops, with volunteers just packing away the corn that the machines left behind. After all, farms are so expansive, there is no way that we would actually be doing the harvesting. There are machines for that…right?

Not in this case. It was all hard work and human labor. It finally occurred to me that the vegetables I eat actually originate somewhere. It was humbling to realize that sometimes I’m just too lazy to get in my car and drive three minutes to the supermarket and pick fresh produce, then come home and prepare it. Instead, I shuffle through my kitchen, mumbling “There’s no food in this house” and chomping on a bag of chips and maybe a cookie, if I’m lucky. I realized that farmers have to plant, nurture and send off all their crops in order to get to the supermarket produce section that I rarely visit because I just don’t have “THE WILLPOWER” to eat correctly.

Spending a few hours on a farm went beyond just opening my eyes to the process. Being involved with the City Produce Project even at the most minimal level has made me aware of the daily challenges farmers face. If the weather is nice on Sunday, farmers are working. Weekend or not, there’s something to do on the farm. If the weather doesn’t cooperate at the right time; game over. The whole field could be washed out and there could be nothing to show for days or even weeks of work. No produce, no profit. No profit, no nothing. Farming isn’t a joke.

I was lucky enough to get to volunteer when the weather, though hot as the Sahara, was relatively good. I was informed that the week beforehand, volunteers trudged through mud in order to get the work done, and not many extra people showed up because they didn’t want to get dirty. The work had to get done, so the farmers spent the entire day in wet mud. They have no choice. That corn had places to be, City Produce Project participants to please, delicious flavors to unleash upon unsuspecting omnivores.

As a suburbanite who spends more than 40 hours in metro Chicago per week, I can say with confidence that I was completely unattached to my food. I don’t know where it comes from, I don’t know how it was grown, and I know even less about who is responsible for its production. If it reached my mouth, I was happy. After spending literally no more than two hours on a farm, I can say that now I appreciate fresh vegetables. They take work. I don’t know if larger areas are handled with machinery or not, because I’m only familiar with the sweet corn used in the City Produce Project. But I do know that regardless of machinery’s role, humans operate them. Humans purchase the seed, humans tend to the crops and humans wouldn’t exist without this kind of selfless dedication.

I feel less like a Chicagoan/Suburbanite and more of an Illinoisan. I am aware of the goings-on in other parts of this vast state, not just the deep-dish pizza feuds and seemingly endless roadwork of Cook County. There are things beyond my hamburger, beyond my debilitating fear of being touched by an earthworm, and beyond my selfish need for food to just appear.

I appreciate corn farmers now, because after two hours I was ready to throw in my sweaty towel and call it a day. That’s not an option for them, and I commend them for dedicating their lives to such an uncontrollable gamble. Without such skilled and charitable farmers, programs like the City Produce Project wouldn’t be possible, and some communities would be left without any resources to combat diabetes because they would have zero access to anything as nutritious as the corn grown in Manhattan.

I think every Chicagoan should experience just a few hours on a farm. It does bring perspective and opens up those smog-weary eyes to a different kind of existence that is only a few hours removed from Chicago.

And would you believe it, this city chick actually had fun on a farm. I touched some bugs, got sweaty and got a paper-cut on my hand (the horror!), but at the end of the day, I did something new for a good cause.

Nicky Hunter

NEW ICMB DIRECTORS AT THE CORN CRIB!

The Illinois Corn Marketing Board elected new officers this weekend!  Pictured are Secretary Larry Hascheider of Okawville, Treasurer Kent Kleinschmidt of Emden, Chairman Scott Stirling of Martinton, and Vice Chairman Bill Christ of Metamora.
We can’t wait for a new year with these four at the helm!

NEW AG EDUCATION EXHIBIT FEATURED AT IL STATE FAIR


Illinois Corn and other commodity groups have a new and improved presence at the state fair. Aimed at occupying the little ones while educating families, the Farmer’s Little Helper exhibit walks visitors thru barns about corn, soybeans, cattle, pigs, horses, poultry, farm safety and more.

I spent the day in the Commodity Pavilion and the Director’s Lawn for Ag Day festivities, but made it a point to visit the Farmer’s Little Helper exhibit. Families were learning about Illinois agriculture, both that it’s supplying a safe and abundant food supply and the hard work, time and energy that it takes for farmers to produce food for our state as well as the world. This is an important connection between farm families and the citizens of Illinois encouraging an open and understanding relationship between the two.

Children that visited the exhibit had many hands-on learning opportunities. Such as: milking a cow, measuring their height compared to a corn or soybean plant, seeing a real live baby chick, and learning where the cuts of meat come from. All of these activities plant a seed of understanding and appreciation for agriculture in the minds of our youth.
In each barn kids played games relating to that industry and their winnings (i.e. eggs, milk, wool, etc) were collected to sell at the ‘market’ at the exit of the exhibit. This miniature scale market helps children understand the real-life business of agriculture. And if there is one thing agriculture needs, it’s for people to better understand who we are, what we are doing, and why we are doing it.
The Illinois State Fair has a long agricultural history, in fact the reason the ISF exists is to showcase premier agriculture products, so it’s certainly encouraging to see this highlighted at the fair again.
While I was walking thru the Farmer’s Little Helper exhibit I was stopped by a woman who was very impressed and enthused to see a quality ag education center at the fair. In her words, “It’s certainly about time we did something for our farmers”.

Indeed it is.

Becky Finfrock
ICGA/ICMB Communications Assistant

FARMER’S DAUGHTERS LOOK FORWARD TO THE FAIR

Many farm kids believe the best part of summer is their county fair. Throughout the year 4-Hers work diligently to perfect their projects in hope of a successful week at the fair. Yesterday, we went to the McLean County 4-H Fair and it brought back sweet memories from our days in 4-H.
Kelsey: The fair that I attended while growing up was the Tazewell County 4-H fair and I was a member of the Tremont Clovers 4-H club in Tremont, Illinois for twelve years. Throughout 4-H I attempted numerous projects taking away something different from each one.

Kristie: My county fair was the McLean County fair, the biggest 4-H fair in the country, and I was a member of the Blue Ribbon Kids 4-H group from Colfax. Although I grew up on a farm, I never showed any animals at the fair. All of my friends had cattle, swine, goats, or chickens, but the biggest animal that I ever showed was my cat Buttercup, who was not the most cooperative of all animals.

Kelsey: The projects I tended to return to included visual arts, photography, tractor safety, veterinary science, and crops. Due to all of my friends showing cattle I usually spent a great deal of time in the cattle barn. I loved helping them show their cow-calf pairs and participating in the beef obstacle course. However, I would have to say that my favorite project was crops. The first morning of the fair my dad and I would get up extremely early to go dig my crops out of the field. Depending on the morning dew and the status of the irrigation system we would usually arrive at the fair completely soaked, and covered in dirt from head to toe!
Kristie: Since I did not have to take the time to show animals, I spent my time doing as many projects in as many categories as possible, sometimes bringing well over twenty projects. I always had projects in multiple arts and cooking categories, I took woodworking projects a few times, I usually had a photography project, and I tried my hand at sewing. My favorite category was the “Clothing Decisions” projects in the Clothing and Textiles division, which was really just an excuse to go bargain shopping with my mom. I always did the Style Revue Show to model my sewing projects, and my biggest sewing accomplishment was making my homecoming dress for my freshman year of high school. My big state fair début was to show my microwave bran muffins, and by the time I had perfected them, my family couldn’t get rid of them quick enough.
Kelsey: In 2007 I was honored to represent Tazewell County 4-H as their queen. During my reign I was able to see the fair in an entire new perspective. I attended nearly every event at the fair, rode in eight parades throughout the county, participated in many 4-H activities, and attended the IAAF Convention as a contestant in the Miss Illinois County Fair Queen Pageant. While agriculture had always been my lifestyle as a farmer’s daughter, it was not until my year as queen that I realized the effect it had on our society and the importance of advocating such an extraordinary industry.

Kristie: My 4-H experience was much different from my friends’, but I would never say that I missed out on anything. I learned many different skills that I continue to use today, and 4-H allowed me to try out as many skills and ideas that I wanted so that I could figure out which things I was good at and what I liked the most. If it weren’t for 4-H, I wouldn’t have been able to make the decorative throw pillows and oil paintings for my new apartment, I never would have found my passion for cooking or learned how to wire a trouble light or turn a wood lathe, and my stressed out cat probably wouldn’t have lost as many years off of his life.

Kelsey: I can imagine that showing a cat is considerably harder than showing a cow. You have my sympathies.

Kristie: Thanks, but I don’t envy you walking around the fairgrounds in heels.

Kelsey: Still, 4-H is such a valuable program because it has something to offer every kid in every walk of life. Like Kristie said, these are experiences you always remember, family memories that you would never want to forget, and life skills that you take with you when you grow up.

Kristie: The fair is the culmination of all those activities. When you bring your hard work from the fields or the sewing machine and have it evaluated, you feel a sense of accomplishment, but you also learn to appreciate constructive criticism.

Kelsey: So from two farmer’s daughters that spent the afternoon at the fair yesterday and can’t wait to get back, get involved in 4-H and participate in your county fair. You’ll never be sorry that you did.

Kelsey Vance
ICGA/ICMB Summer Intern
Illinois State University student

Kristie Harms
ICMB/ICGA Summer Intern
University of Missouri student

SURPRISE! FARMERS HAVE TO FEED AN EXPONENTIALLY GROWING WORLD POPULATION!

I find it interesting that this is “breaking National news.”

Are there any readers that were under the assumption that food was just going to magically appear in your refrigerator? Did any of you think that world population was decreasing?

Of course farmers need to work smarter in order to grow safe, affordable, wholesome food for a world population that is growing exponentially. That’s why growing more with less is exactly what we’re doing.

“Maintaining adequate food production levels in light of increasing population, climate change impacts, increasing costs of energy, constraints on carbon, land degradation and the finite supply of productive soils is a major challenge,” said Dr. Neil MacKenzie says in the article.

That’s why corn farmers are facing that challenge head on.

They’ve decreased the amount of land needed to produce one bushel of corn, the amount of soil lost per bushel of corn, the amount of energy used to produce one bushel of corn, and the emissions per bushel of corn.

The article also quotes Ms. Wensley, a former Australian ambassador for the environment, who said scientists have an important public advocacy role in the face of “growing disconnect between food production and consumption on our heavily and increasingly urbanized planet.”

And I guess that statement is exactly why the fact that we need to grow more food with less is breaking National news. It’s not that farmers aren’t able to meet the challenge. It’s not that corn farmers aren’t ALREADY meeting the challenge. It’s that consumers don’t understand what actions corn farmers are taking and that we actually have a challenge in the first place.

That’s where you come in.

Have you connected with important ag media outlets to get good tidbits of information to share with your friends? Have you made an effort to connect your friends with those same outlets?  Check out Agricultural Everyday on Facebook.  Encourage your friends, neighbors, and acquaintances to do the same.

Start talking about agriculture. Let’s make the awesome job that farmers are doing the next national headline.

Jim Tarmann
ICGA/ICMB Field Services Director

COMMON SENSE SHOULD PREVAIL – WILL IT?

“We respect efforts for a clean and healthy environment, but not at the expense of common sense.”

If we had an awards show for things elected officials say, (why not? Everyone else has an awards show!) this quote about the EPA would win in my book, hands down.

And to what issue is the quote referring? The EPA is now considering regulating dust as a harmful pollutant.  If this isn’t some sort of indication that we’ve let the EPA go a little too far, I don’t know what is.

I leave it to you to figure out how exactly the EPA will regulate farm dust … perhaps they will fund replacing all those dirt roads and driveways with pavement? Perhaps they will loosen the reins on our water supply so that we can spray everything down? Perhaps they will just decide that they would rather go hungry?

When did common sense become … well … less common?

Becky Finfrock
ICGA/ICMB Communications Assistant