ORGANIC OR CONVENTIONAL?

Are you one of so many moms that can’t decide which food is best for her family?  Do you burst the grocery budget to buy organic because it’s healthier or safer?  Or do you stick to the budget and buy conventionally grown food and splurge taking the kids to the pool?

The fact of the matter is that both choices are good choices.  Both foods are safe for you and your family.  But if you’d like to hear a farmer break it down for you, you’ll definitely want to check out this video:

And when you’re done, look for more resources about organic and conventionally grown foods, straight for the farmers, right here at www.watchusgrow.org.

Or, watch one of our Illinois farmers apply a herbicide and some fertilizer to his growing corn in a cool 360 degree video.

Enjoy!

APPLES TO ORANGES: WHY CROPS THRIVE WHERE THEY DO

Jennie is a Maryland farmer. She is also a registered dietitian who speaks about food and farming systems, sustainability and family farms.

[Originally published on CommonGround]

Drive through the Midwest and you’re likely to see field after field of corn and soybeans. Head down South, there’s cotton as far as the eye can see. And of course, Florida is synonymous with oranges and other citrus groves. Why are certain crops most prevalent in certain areas? And how do farmers decide what crops to plant on their farms?

The first is often dictated by climate and season length. Crops require a certain number of days before they reach maturity and are ready to harvest. Citrus fruits, for example, need more days of warmth and sunshine, which suits them well for states like California and Florida, while crops like corn can thrive in places like the Upper Midwest, where the days get shorter and colder in early fall.

America in Miniature

My home state of Maryland is sometimes called “America in miniature” because of our diverse ecology. From ocean to mountains, we have it all, along with a typical climate that’s somewhere between that found in the north or the south. We also have well-drained soil that’s not too dense, making it good for many crops. You see a wide array of crops grown throughout Maryland – just about everything, with the exception of citrus fruit.

As I write this blog, I’m in the middle of harvesting my twenty acres of wine grapes. You may equate wine grapes with places like Napa Valley, but grapes also thrive in Maryland, New York and elsewhere in New England. We have some great wineries! We often say that grapes don’t like wet feet, meaning they thrive in soil like mine that dries quickly and where the water table isn’t high. This keeps the roots from wet soil. In addition, on our farm we grow barley, wheat, tomatoes, green beans, corn and soybeans – which we harvest in that order, from June to October.

Climate and soil type aren’t the only factors that help farmers decide what crops to grow – things like infrastructure also play a large role, and I’ll talk more about that in my next blog. But if you’ve ever wondered why there’s a Corn Belt across the U.S. and orange groves in the South, you can bet that Mother Nature is the primary reason.

Amy Erlandson
CommonGround

AG CAREER PROFILES: COOPERATIVE BOARD MEMBER

Sam Deal is a local farmer in the Danvers area and serves on the Board of the Danvers Farmers Elevator (DFE) cooperative. A cooperative is a business where a group of farmers comes together to buy and sell crop inputs and commodities in bulk to obtain the best prices. Farmers make the decisions for each cooperative by electing members to their local board. Sam is one of the many farmers who serves on cooperative boards to help run the business.

DFE Cooperative is full-service cooperative with a retail business of agronomic products such as seed, fertilizer, and crop protection products. The business provides grain marketing services and grain storage for members of its business.

Cameron: What is your role as a member of the DFE Cooperative Board?

Sam: I serve on the board of the cooperative and help run the business. I help hire the general manager for the cooperative, who oversees the business. I also examine quarterly financial statements to ensure the business is profitable. From those statements, I help make decisions to spend less money or grow the business. I also have a unique role on the board where I am the Secretary. With that job, I oversee keeping the minutes of the monthly meetings of the board.

Cameron: Why did you choose to be in this role on the DFE Cooperative Board?

Sam: Serving on the board of a local cooperative allows me to help make decisions that are better for my operation, as I am a member of the cooperative itself. Additionally, it allows me to help out my neighbors by listening to their problems and fighting for changes on the local level to help their farming operation out.

Cameron:  Can you tell us how the DFE Cooperative impacts the farmers it serves?

Sam: Farmers across Central Illinois utilize DFE Cooperative’s services for agronomic and grain resources. For over 100 years, the business has helped farmers get the best prices, service, and knowledge of their farming operations. Additionally, the cooperative’s grain advantage allows the business to offer higher prices for corn and soybeans due to larger amounts of commodities being sold.

Cameron: What role do you see cooperatives playing in the future of agriculture?

Sam: Cooperatives provide an outlet for farmers for their grain to get a higher price, something that will be needed as the price to a produce a bushel of corn and soybeans rises. I see the cooperative, not only DFE, but all others grow and get bigger to stay competitive.

Cameron Jodlowski
Iowa State University Graduate

GRILLING WEEK:GRILLED CITRUS SEASONED TILAPIA

As we officially head into summer, enjoy the recipes of grilling week!  We’ll be featuring opportunities for you to get more delicious pork, beef, and chicken into your diet and sharing some fun facts about livestock farming in Illinois & and the U.S.!

Fun Fact: Globally, aquaculture supplies more that 50 percent of all seafood produced for human consumption – that percentage has been and will continue to rise.  Conventional wisdom holds that traditional fisheries are producing near their maximum capacity and that future increases in seafood production must come largely from aquaculture.

Today’s Tip: Use a grill for foods that might fall through the grill rack or are too cumbersome to turn over one by one (vegetables, fish, tofu, fruits, etc.).

Today’s Recipe: Grilling Week: Citrus Seasoned Tilapia

What You Need:

What To Do:

  1. Mix butter, juices, seasoned salt, parsley and pepper in small bowl until well blended. Place fish fillets in center of large sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil or grill pan. Brush with butter mixture.
  2. Grill over medium heat 12 to 15 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Sprinkle with additional seasoned salt, if desired.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

GRILLING WEEK: GRILLED CHICKEN SANDWICHES WITH PESTO, BRIE, AND ARUGULA

As we officially head into summer, enjoy the recipes of grilling week!  We’ll be featuring opportunities for you to get more delicious pork, beef, and chicken into your diet and sharing some fun facts about livestock farming in Illinois!

Fun Fact: A poultry farm worker who separates chicks into males and females is known as the sexer, and can separate 1,000 chicks per hour with almost 100% accuracy.

Today’s Tip: Even on a clean grill, lean foods may stick when placed directly on the rack. Reduce sticking by oiling your hot grill rack with a vegetable oil-soaked paper towel: hold it with tongs and rub it over the rack. (Do not use cooking spray on a hot grill.)

Today’s Recipe: Grilled Chicken Sandwiches with Pesto, Brie, and Arugula

What You’ll Need:

1 pound thin cut chicken cutlets
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

8 slices crusty sourdough bread
1/4 cup basil pesto (may use purchased)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large tomato
4 ounces Brie, thinly sliced
1 cup packed baby arugula (a good handful)

What You Do:

  1. Combine all ingredients for marinade and pour into a plastic Ziploc bag. Add chicken, seal, and marinate for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Heat grill on high. Add chicken, grill for 2-3 minutes, turn, and grill for another 2-3 minutes or until chicken registers 160 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove and reserve.
  3. Spread each piece of bread with 1/2 tablespoon of pesto. Slice the tomato into 8 slices. Place chicken on four of the bread slices. Top chicken with Brie slices, arugula, and 2 tomato slices. Top with prepared bread slices, pesto side toward the tomato.
  4. Brush the outside of each sandwich with about 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil. Place on grill, reduce heat to medium, and grill for 2-3 minutes per side or until bread is nicely toasted with grill marks. Cheese should be melted.
  5. Remove from heat, cut each sandwich in half, and serve. Serves 4.

Nutrition Information, Per Serving:
940 calories; 38 g fat; 11 g saturated fat; 99 g carbohydrate; 6 g sugars; 52 g protein

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

GRILLING WEEK: FLAT IRON STEAKS WITH GRILLED CORN AND CUMIN LIME BUTTER

As we officially head into summer, enjoy the recipes of grilling week!  We’ll be featuring opportunities for you to get more delicious pork, beef, and chicken into your diet and sharing some fun facts about livestock farming in Illinois!

Fun Fact: Three out of four American grillers say they grill beef the most often (over chicken or pork)!

Today’s Tip: Preheat your grill 15 to 25 minutes before you start cooking to make sure it reaches the right temperature (and to kill any bacteria). Your grill should be 400-450°F for high, 350-400°F for medium-high, 300-350°F for medium and 250-300°F for low heat. A properly heated grill sears foods on contact, keeps the insides moist, and helps prevent sticking.

Today’s Recipe: Flat Iron Steaks with Grilled Corn and Cumin-Lime Butter

What You’ll Need:

  1. 4 beef Flat Iron Steaks (about 8 ounces each)
  2. 6 ears fresh sweet corn, in husks
  3. 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  4. 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
  5. 1 medium poblano pepper
  6. 1 small red finger chili (cayenne) pepper or serrano pepper
  7. Lime wedges
  8. Salt and ground black pepper\

Rub

  1. 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  2. 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  3. 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  4. ½ teaspoon freshly grated lime peel
  5. ¼ teaspoon ground red pepper

What You Do:

  1. Pull back husks from corn, leaving husks attached. Remove and discard corn silk. Bring husks back up around corn; tie in place with kitchen string or strips of corn husk. Soak corn in cold water 30 minutes or up to several hours.
  2. Combine rub ingredients. For Cumin-Lime Butter, combine 2 teaspoons rub mixture, butter and lime juice in small bowl; set aside. Press remaining rub evenly onto beef steaks. Cover and refrigerate steaks 30 minutes.
  3. Remove corn from water. Place on grid over medium, ash-covered coals; grill, covered, 20 to 30 minutes or until tender, turning occasionally. About 15 minutes before corn is done, move ears to outer edge of grid. Place poblano and finger chili pepper in center of grid; grill poblano pepper 10 to 15 minutes and chili pepper 5 minutes or until skins are completely blackened, turning occasionally. Place peppers in food-safe plastic bag; close bag. Set aside.
  4. Place steaks on grid over medium, ash-covered coals. Grill, covered, 10 to 14 minutes for medium rare (145°F) to medium (160°F) doneness, turning occasionally.
  5. Remove and discard husks from corn. Cover and refrigerate 2 steaks, 2 ears corn and grilled peppers to use in Steak and Grilled Corn Tortillas. Carve remaining 2 steaks into slices. Squeeze lime wedges over beef, as desired. Spread Cumin-Lime Butter over remaining 4 ears corn. Season beef and corn with salt and black pepper, as desired.

To prepare on gas grill, preheat grill according to manufacturer’s directions for medium heat. Place vegetables and steaks on grid as directed above. Grill corn and poblano pepper, covered, 15 to 25 minutes, or until corn is tender and skin of poblano pepper is completely blackened, turning occasionally. Grill finger chili pepper 5 to 10 minutes or until skin is completely blackened, turning occasionally. Grill steaks, covered, 12 to 16 minutes for medium rare (145°F) to medium (160°F) doneness, turning occasionally.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

GRILLING WEEK: HONEY JALAPENO GRILLED PORK CHOPS

As we officially head into summer, enjoy the recipes of grilling week!  We’ll be featuring opportunities for you to get more delicious pork, beef, and chicken into your diet and sharing some fun facts about livestock farming in Illinois!

Fun Fact: Illinois ranks number #4 in the nation in pig farming!  We raise more pigs here than in the other 46 states!

Today’s Tip: The age old debate over whether charcoal or gas grills are best still lives.  Many people prefer the smokier taste of a charcoal grill, but for those of us that are environmentally conscious, a gas grill burns cleaner and is better for air quality.

Today’s Recipe: Honey Jalapeno Grilled Pork Chops

What You’ll Need:

  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 2 jalapenos, sliced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 4 bone-in pork chops

What You Do:

  1. Combine all ingredients (except chops) in a small bowl.
  2. Place chops in a shallow dish with a cover, or in a large zip-top plastic bag, and cover with the marinade. Place in refrigerator for at least 2 hours (or as long as overnight).
  3. Grill the marinated chops over direct medium heat until an internal thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat registers 145 to 160 degrees, about 4 to 6 minutes per side.
  4. Transfer cooked chops to a platter and tent with foil. Let meat rest about 5 minutes before serving.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

TOP POSTS OF 2016 #4: 6 THINGS ABOUT FARMING I DIDN’T LEARN IN SCHOOL

[Originally published: February 23, 2016]

We all love our teachers, but looking back there are things we wish somebody had told us. Here are six things about agriculture that I wish were taught in school.

  1. Food is not easy to grow.

farmer in fieldOn TV you always see farmers portrayed as a bunch of uneducated hillbillies, but that is not the case! There is a lot more to growing food than most people realize; farming is a science. Farmers have to be masters of chemistry, agronomy, physics, mathematics, economics, and meteorology. In fact, there are over 70 colleges across the country that offer degrees in Farm Management. Who knew?

  1. Most of the corn we see in the fields isn’t sweet corn.

There are several different types of corn grown in the US, but the main type is field corn, also called dent corn. This corn is used for animal feed and also processed into ethanol, corn syrup, and other products like makeup and plastic. Less than 1% of the corn grown in the US is sweet corn! Check out this math lesson teachers could use to teach students about corn.

  1. Dirt is not the same everywhere you go.

soilHave you ever wondered why Arizona soil is so much redder than the dark black soils we have here in central Illinois? It turns out there is much more to dirt than meets the eye. All soil is made up of a combination of three components: sand, silt, and clay. The way a soil looks, feels, and even how well crops can be grown in it can all be predicted by looking at the age of the soil (some soils are thousands of years old!), mineral composition, topography of the land, and what the native vegetation was. There are even people whose whole job is studying soil!

  1. Hamburgers and milk don’t come from the same place.

eat mor chikinEveryone has seen the Chick-fil-a commercials where the black and white cows are telling you to eat more chicken, but besides being a cute marketing strategy it doesn’t actually make sense. Holsteins, like the Chick-fil-a cow, are one of hundreds of breeds of dairy cattle that are milked to make cheese and ice cream, but very rarely used for meat. A more accurate commercial would have a Black Angus because they are the most common beef breed in the US. These are the cattle that are raised for their meat to be processed into steaks, roasts, and burgers.

  1. Farmers do care about the environment.

The media is always pointing its finger at the agriculture industry for polluting the atmosphere or causing global climate change, but farmers really do care about the environment. In fact, they are affected even more than the rest of us by global climate change. As the climate patterns change over time, new pests invade our fields that they are not equipped to handle. This in turn lowers their yield and actually costs them money!

  1. There are chemicals in your food. Gasp!

Pyridoxine, Natamycin, and Carboxymethylcellulose, oh my! Find out what these chemicals are. Just because something has a long name doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, all food is naturally made out of chemicals called vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. A chemical-free diet would mean that you couldn’t eat anything!

elizabeth brownElizabeth Brown
Purdue University