LEARNING BY DOING HELPS INDIAN AGRICULTURE THRIVE

On this blog, we talk a lot about agriculture in the U.S. and in Illinois, but we don’t often think about what agriculture looks like in other countries.  I found this article on Indian agriculture interesting.  We have to acknowledge where other farmers are and meet them there in order to raise all farmers to that very important level of sustainability and food security for all.

LEARNING BY DOING HELPS INDIAN AGRICULTURE THRIVE
this article originally posted at Global Farmer Network

Farmers must educate each other: That’s the best way we can learn to thrive, adopting the new technologies and sustainable practices that both conserve resources and improve productivity.

The fate of India depends on our success—and I’m trying to do my part to help from my farm in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

I grow three crops per year on about 50 acres near the village of Ulundhai. I use a common method of rotation, starting with cereals (such as corn), followed by vegetables (brinjal and broccoli), and finally by pulses (green, red, and black gram).

Like most of my neighbors, I’m always in the field with something, even though our climate brings the challenges of drenching monsoons as well as periods of drought.

Despite the hard work, Indian farmers operate at only a fraction of the productivity of farmers in industrialized countries. This means that for India’s population of more than 1 billion, food costs are high—and an unacceptable number of people are malnourished.

When people don’t eat enough, they suffer. This is especially true for children, who are in the formative stages of life. The irreversible damage to their physical and mental wellbeing scars them for life.

These impairments hurt us all. They hold back my entire country.

So we have to do better.

It starts with the sharing of information. I spend a portion of my time training fellow farmers and young people in proper agricultural practices. The main theme of my workshops is: Learning by doing.

People come to my farm and participate in the work. Then they take what they’ve learned and apply it to their own fields.

Books and classrooms are excellent sources of education, but nothing is better than the experience of doing something—and that’s how we approach our farming education here. This is doubly important in my region, where many farmers are illiterate. They can’t read books, so we distribute pictorial pamphlets in the local language that transmit knowledge in simple ways that can be understood and followed.

Mostly, however, we demonstrate. We have to move slowly, taking things step-by-step. At my workshops, for example, I like to say that knowing how to operate a tractor doesn’t mean that you can hop into a Ferrari and drive to the city. Without proper awareness and instruction, you’ll hurt yourself and others—and it won’t be the fault of the Ferrari!

A farmer’s tools aren’t as a fancy as a Ferrari, of course. Some are mechanized, like tractors. Others are made for traditional manual labor. All tools, however, require at least some education so that farmers can learn how to handle devices for seeding, weeding, and fertilizing. I believe strongly that tools will enhance our man-power efficiency. This is an absolute need for a productive farming sector.

Modern farming is a science. We have to analyze the soil for nutrients and balance the fertility levels for specific kinds of crops. We must be careful about where fertilizer is placed, making sure it goes into the root zone for efficient uptake. Then there’s the challenge of pest and weed management, which means defeating insects and invasive plants through the appropriate use of crop-protection products.

Most Indian farmers don’t yet enjoy access to GMO technology, except for cotton, which means that we can’t take advantage of this technology for any of our food crops. Personally, I’d love to plant GMO corn and brinjal. A good seed sandwiched with precise crop production techniques will enhance the yield to its optimum. I am confident it would boost my farm’s productivity and help feed my country.

We’d also have to train farmers in the proper use of this technology. This can be done—it would not be too hard—but we would have to commit ourselves to the project, and once again engage in the strategy of learning by doing.

As I conduct workshops for entrepreneurs, my goal is to present agriculture as a profession, lifting it up from being viewed as a lowly occupation to an industrial activity. If we gain better access to tools and technology and perform the education that must go along with it, farmers will produce more food and consumers will have the means to buy more of it.

All of India would be much better off.

Rajaram Madhavan grows three different crops a year on his farm near Ulundhai Village, Tamil Nadu, India. Madhavan has several patents for farmer-friendly farm tools, conducts workshops that encourage entrepreneurs to take up agriculture as a profession.

DOES YOUR SUMMER BUCKET LIST INCLUDE AG?

At my house, the summer seems like it is going to be over before we even turn around twice.  Sadly, we haven’t even gotten a vacation in!  Between work trips, church camp, the kids’ work schedules, and life, finding a day to just do something fun seems so difficult.

If you’re feeling the same way, I’d encourage you to take a quick minute and schedule a day trip to learn more about agriculture before the summer is over!  A day trip can be the perfect solution to so many problems:

  1. You need a break
  2. Your kids need a break
  3. You want your children to have one happy memory of you over the summer
  4. They haven’t learned anything meaningful since the end of May and it’s about time.

In that vein …

Please enjoy this quick roundup of potential ways to learn more about where your food comes from before the summer is over!

Tour an alpaca farm in Amboy, IL

Alpaca’s are similar to camels, but with more charm and personality says the West Wind Alpaca farm in Amboy.  You can tour their alpaca farm by calling or emailing them.

 

 

Pick blueberries at Valley Orchard in Cherry Valley, IL

The blueberries, red raspberries, and currants are available for picking at Valley Orchard in Cherry Valley.  Your kids will love picking their own fruit, and if you plan ahead, you can schedule a tour of their orchard and learn something about how apples and other fruits are grown.

 

 

Experience the Children’s Farm at The Center in Palos Park, IL

During weekend visits, farm guides invite the public into each animal pen and are ready to supply information about the animals to inquiring visitors. Guests are welcome to touch, pet and groom many of our animals. Our barn animals change seasonally but we often have a variety of chickens, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, pigs, goats, cows, sheep, horses, ponies and donkeys.  And if you’re looking for a longer term opportunity, they even take volunteers to care for the animals!

Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, IL

I learned something today!  Who knew that we had one of the premiere Japanese Gardens in the U.S. right here in Rockford, IL!?  Anderson Gardens is a  twelve-acre landscape of streams, waterfalls, winding pathways, and koi-filled ponds has been rated one of North America’s highest quality Japanese gardens for more than a decade.  Not your traditional agriculture visit, but definitely something to see.

 

Learn about grain marketing at the oldest grain elevator in Illinois

The M.J. Hogan Grain Elevator is the earliest remaining grain elevator built along the Illinois & Michigan Canal. The elevator, constructed in 1861-1862 by John Armour, allowed local farmers to ship their grain in bulk to Chicago markets via the canal, as opposed to transporting each load by horse and wagon.  You can take a tour of this treasure!

 

Experience modern agriculture at Fair Oaks Farms in Fair Oaks, IN

Yes, this one isn’t in IL, but it still might be a possible day trip for you.  And it’s worth it!  This tour isn’t about history of agriculture or what used to be, but instead features the way farmers currently raise cattle, pigs, and how they use technology to do everything better.  This one is worth more than a day if you have the time to spare!

 

Hope you enjoy these fun places to learn more about agriculture this summer!  Please come back and comment if you visited any or have any others we should add!

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

 

TOP TEN FARM CHORES I LOVE TO HATE

TOP TEN FARM CHORES I LOVE TO HATE

Let’s face it – no one enjoys chores. Whether it’s taking out the trash, cleaning dirty dishes, or finding matches to the ever-growing pile of socks, we all have at least one chore we dread doing. Think about living on a farm, where chores are an everyday occurrence… could you handle it? From someone who grew up in a suburban neighborhood to now living on a farm, I’ll be the first to say that farm life was quite an adjustment. However, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Without further ado, here’s the top ten list of farm chores I love to hate:

Filling up Water Troughs: While this may seem easy and painless, dragging the hose from one pasture to another, attaching it to the hydrant, and waiting for each 100-gallon trough to fill can be a struggle. But, seeing the animals stare at me, then snort and run away (because as we all know, hoses are VERY scary) always leads to a good chuckle.

Cleaning Stalls: A daily chore that is easier on some days compared to others, it isn’t the chore to “stop and smell the roses”. At my house, my sister and I clean stalls together. So while some may dread it, that’s the time my sister and I share our days with each other. That sister bonding time means the world to me, even if we are surrounded by “brown roses”.

Unloading Feed/Bedding: This chore isn’t bad, but when the weather is not in our favor, such as this recent spring, it can be dreadful. Good news is, this isn’t a daily chore – once we unload the truck, we are stocked for over a week!

Washing Animals: Animals, like humans, can be moody. So some animals may be a challenge, but I love the smell of the shampoo and the refreshing feeling of water spraying back at me on a hot summer day!

Cleaning Show Equipment: Before and after shows, such as the county fair, it is important to clean all the equipment we take. This is much more fun when there are siblings around to chat with, it makes time fly by!

Holding Animals for the Vet: This can be tough, especially when we can’t just tell an animal to “hold still”. I’ve learned to love this chore because I always learn something new!

Filling Hay Feeders: This one doesn’t take long, but let’s be honest: bales of hay aren’t easy to carry. Once we make our way over to the feeder and hoist the bale up into the feeder, the job is done. The best part about this is when the hungry animals come walking over, they are always happy to see the person bringing them more food!

Clipping Animals: Most of us have that specific haircut we prefer. Animals have certain haircuts too, especially in preparation for a show. This is the perfect opportunity to play hairdresser and treat the animals to a fresh haircut!

Fixing Fences: Depending on the size of the farm, this can go really quick or really slow. However, it’s always a bad day when you see a cow walking down the road. So, fixing fences is a chore to prevent those bad days!

Stacking Hay: My number one chore I love to hate. In the summer heat, unloading hundreds of hay bales weighing about 50 lbs. each, this is not appealing to the average Joe. But, this is a GREAT way to get a workout! Go ahead and skip the gym after stacking hay, you deserve it!

Farm life may be filled with chores, but from personal experience, I can say I wouldn’t have it any other way. There is always something to be done, keeping me occupied and entertained 24/7!

Susie Thompson
Illinois State University

HOW MY INTERNSHIP EXPANDED MY KNOWLEDGE OF FOOD

Throughout this semester, I have been exposed to a new perspective on food. I have always been interested in the health aspect of it, as well as what goes on inside our bodies after we ingest it, but this internship influenced me to focus more on the source of it, as well as the work behind the entire process.

While I had a decent understanding of common misconceptions, such as people being against biotechnology and food that is inorganic, I began to learn that many of us do not truly understand the reasoning behind making these food choices. Throughout the internship, I would talk to some of my friends, or catch them in moments at the grocery store when they would say “wait, but choose the organic one,” and after asking why, it typically resulted in an answer along the lines of  “it’s healthier” or “I don’t know, it’s better for you.” There have been many examples of consumers purchasing an item merely because it contains the words “vegan, organic or gluten-free.”

My very first post on the Instagram Gate2Plate highlighted the craze about GMO-free water. After reading a few articles, it became evident that companies try to take advantage of the knowledge gap between consumers and their willingness to pay a higher price for a “premium” product. While the water bottle does look fancier and more official, in the end, there is no true difference in the quality or safety of that water, but there is in the price. Gate2plate contains a multitude of fun photos that include facts, tasty meals, artsy recipes, and more, and it has helped me and many others expand our knowledge of all the different realms of food.

Through my experience with this internship, I learned about food insecurity and programs created to fight it, such as Food Corps. I have also learned that there are so many fun food holidays, and they are almost every single day! I have also learned the details that go into many of the intricate processes of creating certain foods, such as whey protein, beef, and coffee. While I have always followed basic trends of eating in season, I learned a lot about why it’s important, such as more flavor and nutrition, the fact that it helps you save money since the food is at the peak of its supply, and it is also better for the planet because eating within the seasons helps reduce the number of miles our food has traveled, hence reducing amount of fuel used to get it to us! Overall, I have learned that the process that comes before our food reaches our plate involves so much dedication, knowledge, patience, and hard work, and it is a step in the process that should be known and recognized by everyone because we would be nowhere without it.

Sammy Gorlovetsky
University of Illinois

FIVE TEACHER GIFTS THAT CELEBRATE AG

It’s the end of the school year and time to pull together that amazing gift that lets your child’s teacher know just how much you appreciate everything she’s done to help her students this year.  But what?

Well, consider thanking your teacher AND helping him incorporate ag into next year’s classroom with these five fun gifts!

Nothing says “agriculture” like gifting your teacher with a live plant at the end of the year.  Beef up that gift with some pumpkin seed packets and a lesson plan on pumpkins and your teacher is set for a fun, interactive lesson next fall!

 

 

 

How about a beautiful book mark like this one from etsy wrapped around an ag friendly book or two?  The Beef Princess of Practical County by Michelle Houts and Little Joe by Sandra Neil Wallace are two of our favorites for young readers.

 

 

 

I love the idea of a Starbucks gift card (which EVERYONE likes), along with a free dairy ag mag from your local county farm bureau.  Many teachers don’t even realize the free ag resources at their fingertips!

 

A thumbprint bee coffee mug or planter could be a fun way to get your student in on the action.  Make this up with some quick yellow paint and a black sharpie … and share these amazing pollinator classroom resources!

 

 

And if you really REALLY liked this teacher, invite her to your farm or set up a summer appointment to visit the farmers market together!  These farmer invitations are adorable and seeing your little munchkin is sure to brighten her summer!

EVERYTHING RUNS ON HOMEGROWN CORN

Ok, not everything.  But a lot of things that you probably haven’t thought about depend on corn grown right here in Illinois.

These benefits to the Illinois economy are just the foundation; the building blocks of corn’s contribution to our state are found in the clean air we breathe, the steak and bacon we enjoy, and the tires, cleaners, diapers, and plastics we use.

And let’s not forget the whiskey.

Find out more at www.watchusgrow.org/corn

AN UPDATE ON GMO LABELING

It’s been awhile since we’ve chatted about food product labels and what they mean. As we prepare for our favorite Easter Sunday meal, let’s refresh our knowledge and chat about the different labels we see on our food.

GMO: This term, often tied to negative feelings, stands for a genetically modified organism. Essentially, this means the genetic makeup of product has been altered to better the product for us, the consumers. We have the capabilities to pinpoint the exact gene we want to be changed, to help ensure our food is healthy and grows correctly. This opportunity has been ground-breaking for agriculture and is imperative to providing a safe and sufficient food supply to our growing world population.

Check out this video from our neighbors in Iowa and see real farmers’ perspectives on GMOs!

As shared in the video, GMOs have been in our food supply for 25 years. These products don’t just appear out of nowhere – each genetically modified item goes through a rigorous series of tests to meet approval from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA). By testing these products, we are ensuring they are indeed safe for consumption. Farmers feed their children the same food we as consumers buy at the store. They want a safe and healthy food supply for their families too. That’s why GMOs are such an important part to our food supply.

So what about labels? As many of us may have seen, labels on food products are now changing. This is part of a movement through the FDA to ensure consumers understand what they are eating and the science behind it. It is extremely important to be educated on what we eat and why we eat it. The FDA explains why genetically modified foods are safe to eat in a factual article here, check it out!

Most of us are aware that genetically engineered products are a hot topic and have been promoted, both positively and negatively, over the news and social media. How can we know if you are eating food with genetically modified contents? Some producers have voluntary labels sharing this information. Despite the labels, it is important to educate ourselves on the importance of a sustainable and healthy food supply, and how producers are working hard to feed our growing world. Different tools producers use include GMOs because it’s a way for farmers to grow more on less land. Therefore, more food can be produced to help feed us, the consumers.

So on Sunday, while making Easter dinner, ask a family member what they know about GMOs Maybe they haven’t heard anything, or maybe they’ve kept up with this hot topic via social media. In either situation, take a minute to find authentic and scientific facts, such as the article from the USDA. Sharing education means sharing a wealth of knowledge. By doing this, we can share the scientific facts about GMOs and ultimately continue to support our farmers.

Susie Thompson
Illinois State University

A GUIDE TO FOOD APPS

MyFitnessPal: A free app that tracks diet, exercise, micros, and macros, charts your own personal data, and utilizes your own personal goals to motivate you. You can type in food manually and it breaks it down for you, or you can simply take a picture of the barcode!

MyPlate: An app that helps consumers improve their diets by providing tools for dietary assessment, nutrition education, and more. It focuses on variety, amount, and nutrition, and it provides the ultimate food options such as food and beverages with less saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars. On top of it all, it allows consumers start with small, comfortable changes and lets them set the pace.

Dirty Dozen: This app will let you know which products are the lowest in pesticides, as well as which ones are the highest. It helps you decide on the best time to look for an organic option (food that does not have any antibiotics or growth hormones) for a certain food.

Good Guide: This app uses science to help find the best products out there. It provides ratings of the highest rated products on the market, ranging from a wide variety of products. 

 

HowGood: Similar to Good Guide, HowGood assesses products for environmental, health, and trade impacts, and it provides ratings to help shoppers gauge which option is best.

 

Farmstand: This app makes it easier for you to eat local! Eating local is better for the environment, economy, and your health. It lists more than 8,700 farmer’s markets, and lets users post pictures of markets and vendors, share good finds, and browse valuable information posted by others who shop at markets as well!

Locavore: Locavore makes finding local, in-season food easy! It shows nearby farmer’s markets and farms, and it also has loads of great seasonal recipes! It also allows users to tag local sellers, share reviews, and post new findings.

 

HarvestMark Food Traceability: This app allows shoppers to scan the code on their food, obtain detailed harvest information, and provide feedback. It allows food producers to connect with their customers, and it exposes consumers to the process of food production on a much more in-depth level.

Seasons: Seasons provides data on natural growing seasons and local availability of many different products. When a product is in season, that means the harvest or the flavor of that product is at its peak! It features data on fruits, vegetables, lettuce, herbs, fungi, and nuts, and all entries have a photo, short description, and seasonal data.

Sammy Gorlovetsky
University of Illinois