As farmers, we get a lot of questions about our passion. Consumers like you are taking a new interest in food and we absolutely love that! We get asked a range of questions almost daily and so our friends at Illinois Farm Families put together FAQs and answers to some of the more frequent questions we get. Use these as a starting point your education!

Are most farms today factory or corporate farms?

Today, the vast majority of farms are still family owned.  In Illinois 97 percent are owned by individuals, family partnerships or family corporations. For these family farms, being stewards of the land and caretakers of their animals truly runs in their blood.

Get to know some Illinois farm families by checking out our Meet the People page.

Should I worry about antibiotics in my meat and milk?

The USDA requires all beef, pork, poultry or milk destined for grocery stores or restaurants be tested and inspected by the Food Safety Inspection Service to ensure there are no antibiotic residues. Farmers also are required to follow strict withdrawal periods for animals given antibiotics.

Read this post from a farmer who breaks down how farmers use antibiotics and how they ensure your food is free of all residue.

Are hormones in food making girls develop early?

There is no science-based research linking food to early development. Higher body weight has been suggested as a contributing factor. You might not realize it, but all living things contain hormones. Watch this video as Illinois farmers talk about hormones in dairy and meat compared to other food items.

Are GMOs safe?

The World Health Association, Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and American Medical Association, to name a few, have all deemed ingredients derived from a genetically modified crop as safe as ingredients derived from crops raised using other methods.

In this video, Paul Jeschke talks about the benefits of using GMO seeds in his fields.

What’s the difference between grass fed and grain fed beef?

  • Grain-finished – Cattle spend most of their lives grazing on pasture, and then spend four to six months in a feedyard where they eat a mix of grasses and grains
  • Grass-finished – Cattle spend their entire lives grazing on pasture

Check out this infographic on today’s beef choices.

Where can I find out more about what labels mean?

Read what this Chicago mom with a Master’s in Public Health learned food labels, or visit the USDA’s website to learn more about label requirements.

Is buying organic worth the extra cost?

While organic and non-organic foods are produced using different farming methods, nutritionally they are no different.

In this blog post, a Chicago mom discovers some of the differences, and similarities, between organic and traditionally grown produce.

Why do farmers use chemicals?

Plants use nutrients in the soil to grow. Fertilizers are natural compounds from the earth including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium that give growing plants the nutrients they need. When farmers need to control a pest or weed problem, they use products judiciously to help protect the plants.

Get perspectives about chemical use from different local farmers here.

Do animals on small farms receive better care than on large farms?

The livelihood of livestock producers – whether large or small – depends on the health and well-being of their animals. Regardless of the size of the farm, caring for animals is a 24/7 job that requires knowledge, patience and the utmost devotion.

Read this blog post from a Chicago mom who toured local farms to witness animal care for herself.

Do farmers have a choice in what they plant on their farms?

Yes, just like consumers have choices in what they buy at the store, farmers choose what they want to plant in their fields. They spend a lot of time researching, reading, meeting and listening to industry experts to determine what’s best for their farms.

Get to know Paul Taylor, an Illinois farmer who grows both GM and non-GM crops and can share his perspective on both.

 What makes food local?

There is no set definition for “local” when it comes to marketing products. Many Illinois farmers sell their products directly to the public and others sell to brands such as DelMonte, Dean’s and Farmland that can be found in grocery stores throughout the state.

What’s the truth behind cow tipping?

The legend of cow tipping is mainly just that – a legend. In this video, Linda Drendel gives ones of many reasons as to why tipping a cow over would be quite the challenge.

This obviously doesn’t even scratch the surface of questions people ask. So to get more answers to your questions, check out Illinois Farm Families.


Does anyone remember learning in junior high science classes that heat rises? Well, I rediscovered that lesson this past September after spending a few hours at Reevert’s farms, the home of the Illinois FFA State Reporter, working in the hay mow.

Not growing up on a farm, I was extremely excited for that weekend feeding calves, hogs, and sheep. At the time, Ryan told me I was going to be putting hay in the mow. I originally thought this meant mowing hay in the field, but in reality, it was putting hay up in the mow. For those that don’t know, the mow is an upper section of the barn where hay is stored. Once we got to the farm, Ryan told me that I was not going to be mowing hay in the field, like I thought. Instead, I was going to be manually moving hay in a hot, sweaty, and cramped environment. Luckily, Ryan’s dad came in to save the day for me and told Ryan that was no way to treat his guest. He told Ryan, “You go up in the mow! Joey didn’t even have a clue what was going on! Don’t be rude!”

In the picture below, you can see Ryan, his dad, and me all posing for a picture. As you can tell, Ryan seems to be more tired than me. That’s because he spent over forty-five minutes in the mow moving hay while my job was putting it on the conveyer belt. Needless to say, I was having the time of my life putting hay in the mow, and so far, my first impressions of daily farm chores were very good.

I learned two lessons from that experience. First don’t trust Ryan and volunteering for farm work, and second, always bring an extra t-shirt.

After that tremendous experience, Ryan told his dad, “go back home! You’re being too easy on the boy! He needs some real work.” Once Ryan’s dad left, we walked over to the pig pen to feed the hogs. Ryan told me, “Get on in there Birrittier. Distract the hogs from the feeder while I fill their feed.”

One thing that Ryan forgot to mention is that his female pigs like to come up and smell the people around them. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t even like it when my dog comes up and smells me, let alone a pig! I suddenly became very scared as these two dark eyes start coming to me closer and closer. Now mind you, it’s dark out now, so all I can see are these two eyes coming right for me. I pin myself into the corner yelling out Ryan’s name. I’m screaming louder and louder until Ryan finally hears me.  He yells back at me, “Quit screaming! You’re going to scare the pigs!” “Scare the pigs!” I replied, “They’re the ones scaring me! Look how close this one is! Help me!” All Ryan could say was, “That’s just Beulah. She just wants to smell you. Relax you wimp.”

Five months later, I still get grief from the Reevert’s family about my experiences with pigs. In my defense, how else would a person react if their first up-close encounter with a pig was it smelling your face?

Although I might have embarrassed myself multiple times, the memories I made that night will last me a lifetime. Not only did I learn to always bring an extra t-shirt to the farm and never overreact when a pig smells your face; I also learned the hard work and dedication it takes day-in and day-out on the farm.

I have a huge admiration for farmers and their families now because of the memories I made at Reevert’s farms.

Joseph Birrittier
Illinois Association FFA President


[Originally published: February 10, 2014]

There are plenty of things a farmer could get his sweetie for Valentine’s Day; chocolate, stuffed animals, jewelry, books. The list of “typical” gifts goes on and on.  What about channeling his resources and going that extra mile?  How about a gift that will keep her warm during the months ahead? What about something that will appeal to his love of the environment and the soil? Or maybe something that would make her smile even when he isn’t there?  Well, I’ve been looking around and found some great ideas that could do just that.  Check out these gifts that would make a farmer’s sweetie feel like one lucky gal this Valentine’s Day!

Carhartt1.       A Carhartt Jacket

We all know that farmers work despite the freezing temperatures we’ve been having. And being outside in anything other than a durable, warm Carhartt jacket would make any kind of work more trying. Just because Carhartt jackets are sensible doesn’t mean they can’t be cute too.  They come in a variety of colors from the classic tan to pink or blue.  I’m sure that a farmer’s sweetie would love that he thought about her staying warm in one of her favorite colors.

Photo credit: Costalfarm.com

Fishing rod2.       A  new fishing rod and reel

Summertime can mean long, lazy days enjoying the relaxing art of fishing so maybe a farmer could help her beat his record for biggest bass with a brand new fishing rod and reel?  Yes, she would have to wait until the weather warms up to use it, but she would be bound to appreciate that he planned ahead and is looking forward to making some great summertime memories with her. I have found a cute one here!

Photo credit: Fishing-tackle-manufacturers.com

tree growing kit3.       A tree growing kit

Although planting a tree means waiting for the ground to thaw, she would love that it could be planted together and it is a symbol of their ever-growing love.  (I found a kit for a dawn redwood here). Enhancing farmland land and being environmentally conscious are just great added benefits for the farmer. The tree could be there for years to come and every time she looked at it she would smile and think of him.  (Even if she’s annoyed that he’s been late to dinner all week because he was plowing the fields).

Photo credit: Gifts.com

Open when...4.       “Open when…” Letters

These letters would be great for her to have when she’s annoyed, frustrated, missing you, sad, or upset and he isn’t there to let her know how he really feels. Some ideas I had for putting on the envelopes are “Open when… you wish I’d come in for dinner at a decent time.” “Open when… yet another one of our date nights was spent in the tractor because it’s harvest season.” “Open when… you’re sick of me tracking my muddy boots through the house.” “Open when… you’re mad that I forgot your birthday because it’s right in the middle of busy season.” “Open when… you’re sick of planning vacations around cattle shows.” Opening these letters would definitely make her happy she’s got a man like him!

Photo credit: GirlCalledJulie, Twitter.com

Finding a Valentine’s Day gift for a farmers’ sweetie may not always be easy, but hopefully, these ideas would help find something meaningful and unique for a farmer’s special girl.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

Ellie SeitzingerEllie Seitzinger
Illinois State University student


Mississippi River, farmersJust as we use many forms of transportation to reach our final destination, whether it be for work, school, or a day in the city, so does the agriculture industry. This industry relies on many forms of transportation to deliver products to reach the ultimate destination: on shelves for consumers to buy. One of these important forms is water transportation. Products such as grain, biofuels and other important agriculture commodities are shipped via the waterways. In fact, in Illinois, we export about 41% of our corn, and the main method of shipping this commodity is on barges.

So why is this important? Well, just as our vehicles require maintenance from normal wear and tear, waterways need the same treatment. These locks and dams are designed to last approximately 50 years before requiring maintenance. Factors such as extreme weather can take a huge toll on these vital routes of transportation. Without proper care, outages occur, causing barges to reroute to an open lock and dam. This extended travel is not nearly as efficient, especially when there is high traffic traveling towards the same area.


Because millions of tons travel through locks and dams each year, it is crucial to understand the importance of the waterway system. Think about the train stations in one of our popular U.S. cities. If one of those train stations was not able to operate and bring people to their destination on a regular basis, then all those passengers would have to find means of transportation elsewhere, likely another station in the city. This leads to increased crowds and potentially long wait times for trains because the flow of traffic is much higher with one less operating train station. This is essentially the issue our locks and dams are facing with the waterways. Agriculture relies heavily on all forms of transportation to carry goods, and when one or more outages occur on the waterways, it impacts agriculture exports and the economic benefits this industry provide for our country.

So how can we help fix this issue? One of the most important things we as consumers can do is stay up to date with news and data shared about this significant issue. Without education, it becomes tough to understand these key issues and how we as consumers are impacted. Check credible sources, such as USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) or the Waterways Council on a regular basis for updates on issues such as this one. The more educated we are, the better equipped we are to advocate and help solves important problems.

Susie Thompson
Illinois State University


Repost from ilcorn.org

Illinois Ag in the Classroom provides teachers important, interesting and even fun classroom curriculum on agriculture for free!  Make sure the teachers in your life have incorporated an Ag Mag into their spring 2018 curriculum and get those requests to your county ag literacy coordinator today!

Ag Mags are 4-page, colorful agricultural magazines for kids. They contain information about agriculture, bright pictures, classroom activities and agricultural careers.

Many Ag Mags are interactive.  They are set up for smart board usage in the classroom and give teachers opportunities to engage their students with various videos, online articles, and real-world applications to help students understand how what they are learning in the classroom makes a difference in real-world discussions.

Best of all, Ag Mags are designed to meet specific learning standards.  As an example, the Corn Ag Mag includes the following note:

This Ag Mag complements, and can be connected to, the following educational standards:

Common Core State Standards:

  • ELA-Literacy – RI.4.2; RI.4.4; RI4.7; RI.4:10; W.4.7-4.9; SL.4.1; SL.4.4; L4.1; L4.6
  • Mathematics – 4.MD; 5.MD
  • Next Generation Science Standards:
  • Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems: 3-LS4-3; Energy: 4-ESS3-1; Structure,
  • Function, and Information Processing: 4-LS1; Structure and Properties of Matter: 5-PS1-3;
  • Structure and Properties of Matter: 5-PS1-4

IL Social Science Standards:

  • Human-Environment Interaction: Place, Regions and Culture: SS.G.3.4; Human Population: SS.G.3.4;
  • Exchange and Markets: SS.EC.2.4; Causation and Argumentation: SS.H.3.4

There are tons of other free resources available to teachers to incorporate agriculture education into their classrooms AND meet state learning standards.  For more information, check out the Ag in the Classroom website here.


Originally published on Illinois Farm Families

In a world filled with choice, a food label can be like a beacon of fluorescent light in the middle of a grocery aisle. Nutritional content, ingredients – this is information that helps. But then there are labels that mislead or confuse rather than clarify, hindering your ability to pick out healthy, nutritious food for you and your family – no matter the claim.

We want to help you wade through the words. So when labels lie, you know the facts behind how your food is grown and raised.


[Originally published: May 18, 2017]

As farmers and agriculturalists, we do things a little differently. We work long hours, we work extremely hard, and we aren’t afraid to get our hands dirty. And when it comes to fashion, well, we’re in a league of our own.

We always have something on our boots. Sometimes it’s mud, sometimes it’s manure. And sometimes, we aren’t really sure what’s on our boots. But it will rub off soon.

Photo Credit: Forbes

We all have those jeans that are worn in just the right amount. They’re faded, rough around the edges, and the most comfortable jeans we own. Don’t be surprised if we wear them for a week.

Just like our jeans, we all have a favorite hat. It may be a brand hat or your family’s farm’s hat, but we all have one that fits better than the others. Whether we’re 5 or 50, we just love that hat.

Sometimes we work all day and still have errands to run in town. We are not afraid to stop into the bank or the local grocery store. And if we smell, we’re sorry. It’s just a part of the job.

Some people carry bags, but farmers carry side cutters or pliers. You just never know when something is going to need snipping or tightening.

In the cold winters, our livestock still needs feeding. Coveralls are the perfect solution. Our clothes underneath stay clean and we stay warm. They are a fashion statement of farmers everywhere.

Some colleges with equine programs will have riding classes during the day. You will be able to hear me coming down the hall with my spurs. Hopefully, it isn’t too disrupting!

Some of the brands we wear are unknown to a lot of people. We love the look and the quality, unfortunately, if we outgrow them, it makes it hard to sell to someone!

Many people I know, myself included, have gone off the beaten path when it comes to music. Walking into a livestock show or traveling to different states, you see many different band t-shirts you may have never heard of. Jason Isbell, Cross Canadian Ragweed, William Clark Green. You may not know them now, but you should. You won’t be disappointed.

A must-have for livestock girls everywhere is the Miss Me jean. It’s very rare to go to a livestock show and not see bling!

If you’re walking around a livestock show, you will see hundreds of pairs of Twisted X boots. They are original and they are comfy. It also makes it easy to spot a livestock kid on campuses, allowing for easy start up conversations.

T-shirts, hats, and sweatshirts are full of different logos. Some are John Deere, some are Case, but others are not as recognizable. Every farm has a logo, and we wear the heck out of them. Most people don’t understand it, but when we see one we recognize, we feel a little pride.

Every farm kid has that old beat up t-shirt that they didn’t want to get rid of. So, they cut the sleeves off and made it more breathable and easy to work in.

When we go out, we channel our inner George Strait. Sometimes, our dress clothes and work clothes look the same. The dress clothes are a touch cleaner and not so rough.

Not everyone chews Skoal, but those that do usually have a ring left on their jeans. It always goes right back to the same spot, and if it isn’t there, you notice it.

Photo Credit: Wild Wyoming Woman

Our back door is full of different kinds of boots. A couple of pairs are the same because we loved the first pair so much. Some pairs are nice and some are worn in. But each pair has a purpose and we can’t live without them

Our clothes may be different, our way of life may be different, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t relatable. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation. You’ll be surprised how much we can learn from each other.

Jess Manthe
Iowa State University


[Originally published: October 16, 2017]

Corn husks and dust flying around in the air, the fresh smell of soil being turned over, and farm machinery is being spotted on every highway and backroad. If you haven’t guessed already, harvest time is in full swing. Sometimes it is quite easy for us to overlook what a day in the life of a farmer is like, especially during this time of year. As an individual that is not involved in the agriculture industry, it may be easy to not see how much a farmer’s life can vary compared to the average business person’s, particularly throughout the fall.

The average business person spends their eight hour work day sitting in a cubicle working on their computer. Mounds of paperwork lay on their desk just waiting to be completed. They eat lunch with their boss and wear office clothes all day long. The typical business person also talks on a phone throughout the day. After work, they may head home to their own spouse and kids to sit down for a family dinner. A non-farmer may even sit down with their kids and help them with their homework at the kitchen table. They may also go to different recreational events, such as a pumpkin patch or a football game, on the weekends and enjoy their time off of work.

Meanwhile, the average farmer watches the sun rise and set every day from the seat of a combine, tractor or semi. During a twelve or more hour work day, a farmer uses a computer in the cab of his or her farm machinery while wearing jeans and a shirt that are meant to get covered in dirt and grease. Lunch for a farmer is usually simple and easy to eat while continuing on with harvest. The most common type of communication used by a farmer throughout the day is a CB radio that allows them to easily talk to other people that are helping harvest the crop. As the day gets closer to the end, a farmer will enjoy a nice meal with his or her family on a tailgate. A farmer’s child may even climb up in the cab and ask to drive or simply just ride in the “buddy” seat. A farmer may also take their child for a ride in the semi as another load of grain gets taken into the grain elevator. There are no weekends off for a farmer during harvest unless Mother Nature calls for a rain delay, but even then a farmer will still find something that needs to be done.

Although their days may fulfill similar tasks as the average business person, a farmer makes several sacrifices to assure that the job of feeding the world is being accomplished. So, as you are driving to work or running errands make sure to wave and share the roads with every farmer that you see. Being involved in production agriculture isn’t an easy task and a lot of behind the scenes actions get overlooked. As you sit on the couch and watch TV tonight, remember that 2% of the population is just clocking out and getting ready to do it all again tomorrow.

Sierra Day
Lake Land College


[Originally published: October 17, 2017]

When I was growing up, I was told I could be anything I wanted to be. A doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, an astronaut…  But only a few kids ever mentioned being a farmer.

Prior to 1990, most farmers and ranchers were under the age of 45. As the years go on, most farmer and ranchers are OVER the age of 45, with less and less new blood coming in. The problem we are facing is we have an aging farming population. If left unchecked, this could threaten our ability to produce the food we need.

So why is it that the younger generations are not wanting to come back to the farm?

  • Youth want to be better educated to get good jobs.
  • Farming is mentally and physically exhausting.
  • Changing norms.
  • “It’s too expensive and risky.”

Farming has become a very risky business. There are many costs a farmer has to pay before receiving a check. The price of land has gone up, equipment prices are always on the rise, input prices have gone up, and commodity prices have been seeing ups and downs. Not to mention there is always that chance of droughts or floods.  It is hard work being a farmer.

The ups and downs of farming are nothing new. Young people just do not want to gamble all of their time and money into something that involves such great risk.

Like President John F. Kennedy once said, “The farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything retail, sells everything wholesale, and pays freight both ways.” It was a true statement then, and it certainly is a true statement still today.

Right now we are facing a growing population around the world. The current population of 7.3 billion is expected to hit 8.5 billion by 2030 and 9.7 billion by 2050. We need more young men and women coming back to the farm more now than ever. Small farms are what grows America!

  • What if a college graduate comes back to the farm, with student loans and can’t make enough money to pay them back?
  • What if a young farmer loses his farm because he cannot afford to pay his bills?
  • What if young people quit coming back to the farm?
  • What if we don’t have enough food to feed the growing population?

Sara Pieper
Western Illinois University