THANKS AND GIVING: HISTORY

So fun to be guest blogging today at the Corn Corps! I’m in the midst of a month-long series at Prairie Farmer called Thanks and Giving, and when the good folks at Illinois Corn invited me over, I couldn’t resist. Today…giving thanks for our agricultural history.

During the fall of 1998, Mike Wilson sent me out on a photo shoot at an old grain elevator in Atlanta, Illinois. It turned out to be the J.H. Hawes Grain Elevator, and it was on the National Register of Historic Places and it had just gotten a fresh coat of barn red paint. It was a photographer’s dream. The photos wound up being my first-ever cover, and Mike even took me to Pontiac to watch it roll off the printing press. And this one here won the top prize in the AAEA photo contest that year. As a fresh-out-of-the-gate ag journalist, I was giddy.

I love this photo in a very large way – large enough to print it on canvas and hang it where everyone who walks in my house will see it. In part because of the red paint and the majestic lines, but also because of the history it holds. I’m a sucker for a little heritage and a good farm history lesson, and the folks at the J.H. Hawes Grain Elevator Museum are some of the best teachers you’ll ever meet. First, you must check out their website. Don’t skip the intro. I always skip the intros, but not this time. Very cool.

Anyway, you can get the full lesson from the website, but in short, the elevator was state of the art when it was built in 1904. It was abandoned in 1976, and ready to be torched for firefighter practice in 1988. Local citizens stepped in, and saved the building.

What I love, though, is how the thing was built in the first place. In the early 1900s, prairie farmers were producing more and more corn each year, as distant grain markets expanded. Greater trade led to the development of a bulk system for inspection, grading and storage in giant bins, instead of individual sacks. All this made storage facilities along rail lines quite necessary. Mr. Hawes simply took a look at the map and noted that Atlanta was the intersection of two major rail lines – Chicago to St. Louis and Peoria to Decatur. And that’s where he put his elevator.

We have a lot to be thankful for in Illinois agriculture, from perspective to opportunity to time. And on the lighter side, we’ve got farm boys and barn kittens and a cold drink. But it’s our history that will sustain us, and that’s worth being thankful for.

Holly Spangler
Prairie Farmer

TELLING YOUR STORY AT ILLINOIS COMMODITY CONFERENCE!

I know you’ve been hearing more and more talk of late about social media and why you should get involved. Sure you understand what the issues are, you even understand how we got to this point, but do you really understand how social media can help fix them and why you should be a part of the solution?

This year’s Illinois Commodity Conference will help you navigate through the muddy “social media” waters and point you in the right direction. The theme is Telling Your Story which means that we will focus on getting you engaged in telling YOUR own story and encouraging you to utilize social media to its fullest potential. Why? Because it couldn’t be any easier to do. Conversations are already occurring and all you need is your knowledge and a smart phone to join in!

http://www.youtube.com/v/lFZ0z5Fm-Ng?fs=1&hl=en_US

Research tells us that the non-farm public doesn’t understand us. We are also finding out that consumers want to hear the truth FROM FARMERS. Farmers are considered trustworthy sources of information about farming and food production so we are our own best story tellers. Farmers MUST get engaged. We are less than 2% of the U.S. population. There aren’t enough of us to wait around for the neighbor to do it!

We hope that this conference will leave you feeling motivated and educated to participate in the discussions happening all over the web. The non-farm public does not want to hear from associations or trade groups, they want to hear from you. So your associations are now working together to tell you how to get involved.

If you are not already registered, don’t worry it’s not too late! Click here for a brochure or you can register on site on November 23. Stay tuned to the Illinois Corn’s Facebook page this week as well. You might get lucky enough to win a free registration!

A lot of hard work has gone into this conference and while we hope you have good time learning, we also know that it wouldn’t happen without the help from our sponsors. So I’d like to end with a thank you to our biggest corporate sponsors: Syngenta, Pioneer, and Monsanto!

Becky Finfrock
ICGA/ICMB Communications Assistant

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FAMILY FARMERS, FRONT AND CENTER
WE MUST UNITE TO ADVOCATE OUR INDUSTRY …

ILLINOIS CORN FARMERS WENT TO THE RACES WITH KENNY WALLACE

With Danika Patrick there, the famous opening line was tweaked a bit, but the resulting roar was just as satisfying…”Drivers! Start your engines!”
That’s all it took to turn this girl into NASCAR’s newest fan. That’s right, add me to the other 75 million Americans the racing giant counts as its constituency.
I was already a Kenny Wallace fan. Sure, I’m a “Johnny come lately” as they say, but I recently met the man who represents the heart of racing to many. He’s one of NASCAR’s most beloved drivers. To me, he’s a genuine guy with a genuine interest in the things that make America great. We have that in common. That, you see, is why I took to him immediately. He saw in me a common love of laughing and (sometimes) ornery behavior.
It was an opportunity made it heaven. Since I count myself as one of farming’s biggest agvocates, my work with Illinois corn farmers was going to be extra special and even more heartfelt than usual this time. We were going to reach an entirely new audience, with a (pardon the pun) entirely new vehicle for that message.
And this (see the picture below), my friends, is that vehicle. But despite how absolutely fantastic it is, the car isn’t what our partnership with Kenny Wallace racing was about.
nascar kenny wallace IL corn farmers
The promotional partnership struck between the Illinois Corn Marketing Board (called Illinois Corn Farmers outside of farm circles) and Kenny Wallace Racing was about the people. In this case, those people include Kenny Wallace, NASCAR and Kenny’s fans (see the people waiting for his autograph?), and Illinois corn farmers.
nascar wallace IL farmers ethanol

And as it happens, the corn gods evidently smiled upon us. Because the day after we announced our partnership, NASCAR publicly announced their intention to move the entire NASCAR series of races to E15 starting in the 2011 season.
Illinois Corn Farmers…NASCAR…fans…Kenny Wallace…ethanol! That’s Good Clean Fun and Good Clean Fuel!

Now, not only can Kenny talk about the family corn farmers of Illinois and ethanol, but he can talk about it in the venue of NASCAR and racing. He did just that at this NASCAR press conference the day before the race at Gateway.

Kenny talked about corn farmers, their crop, and corn ethanol in all his television and radio appearances. He filled his twitter feed and facebook pages with great information about all of you corn farmers. And people responded in the positive.
So did our partnership yield a nicely painted up, sharp looking, eye catching car? You bet. Did we have signage at the track, viewed by the 30,000 people in attendance and the millions on television? Of course. Did we get one-on-one conversations with people visiting the track? More than we could count. Did we get a car that ran in the Top 10 most of the race and finished in the Top 15? Oh ya. How about media coverage? ESPN, Speed TV, AP, local news…yup, they were all there.

But the best thing we got out of this partnership was a new spokesperson and advocate.

You see, what all the research we’ve undertaken here recently at IL Corn has indicated is that despite the issues, it’s the people that matter. You can dispute someone’s facts, but you can’t dispute their feelings. That is a lesson that we in agriculture need to take close to our heart. People carry messages. And we have some of the best people in the world, right here in our midst.
So yes, I’m a new fan of Kenny Wallace.

I’m a new fan of NASCAR.

And I’m a fan of Illinois Corn Farmers.

We reached countless people over the weekend with Kenny Wallace. As a checkoff contributor you can feel proud of that.
Illinois Corn Farmers are in the driver’s seat. Where will you take the opportunity to have a conversation?

nascar ethanol wallace

Tricia Braid
ICGA/ICMB Communications Director

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WHAT DOES A FARMER LOOK LIKE?

What does a farmer look like?  Something like this?

Or maybe more like this?

We’re exploring these answers and more in our research about the image farmers have with the general consumer.  You might be surprised to know that consumers think most Illinois farmers are the big, bad, corporate sort … but to see these photos, they’d agree that they like these farmers and have something in common with them.

Interested in this sort of research?  Contact Illinois Corn to find out more!

WHY ARE FARMERS SO LAZY?

A woman asks a farmer’s wife, “Why are farmers so lazy?” The farmer’s wife replies, “What do you mean?” The woman says, “Well, every year they wait for the corn to get brown and die before they pick it!”

This is in fact a true story and it goes to show just how uninformed most people are about agriculture. It is important for everyone to know where their food comes. If you ask a child where their food comes from they will more than likely say the grocery store, not a farm. Because consumers are so removed from their food source these misconceptions, like farmers’ laziness, are created.

A recent study conducted by The Illinois Corn Marketing Board, Illinois Beef Association, Illinois Pork Association and Illinois Soybean Association set out to understand public perceptions of farmers. They found that the trust between farmers and consumers is greatly diminishing. Consumers also have very negative opinions of large scale farming. The study also found that moms are the most concerned about where their food comes from. The bottom line is that consumers want trust-worthy farmers growing healthy, safe food in an environmentally conscious manner. Now that the negative public opinions have been identified it’s time to restore the image of agriculture.

As most of us know farmers are not lazy, in fact they already have several jobs but it’s time to add one more; public educator. Negative views on the agriculture industry are readily available and it’s up to us to change that. The public would like to maintain the image of a small family farm that milks a cow and collects eggs but we know this is no longer viable. We need to maintain the family aspect of farming while promoting the benefits of modern agriculture. Farmers need to be ambassadors of the agriculture industry so the public can see that farmers are not lazy, instead they are hard-working, caring people who provide consumers with a safe, healthy food supply.

Sarah Carson
University of Illinois student
& a farmer’s daughter

ENTERTAINING AND INFORMATIVE: IS THIS THE WAY TO GO?

It seems that those milk producers are always on the cutting edge.  Here in America, we all realize the popularity of the “Got Milk” ads.  They are almost collectables!  But in Europe, there’s a new breed of dairy farmer and they are hitting television screens for the first time in their new video for Yeo Valley.

http://www.youtube.com/v/qLySx6wSSmo?fs=1&hl=en_US

Intro

The sun is up, the milk is chilled, it’s gonna be a good one, yo yo

Farmer 1
Yo I’m rolling in my Massey on a summer’s day
Chugging cold milk while I’m bailing hay
Yeo Valley’s approach is common sense
Harmony in nature takes precedence
My ride’s my pride
That’s why you’ll never see it dirty
And I love it here man
That’s why I’m never leaving early
I’m so girt
In my cap and my shirt
I’m representing for west
So hard that it hurts

Farmer 2
We make this look easy
Cause we’re proper modern with this farming believe me
Wind turbines they’re shining baby
And solar farming no buts no maybe’s
Ye, when we’re down with the soil association
And we do lots of what, conservation
Sustain, maintain it ain’t no thing
We set the bar
Real leaders by far

Chorus
Yeo Valley Yeo Valley
We change the game, it will never be the same
Yeo Valley Yeo Valley
Big up your chest and represent the West

Farmer 3
This isn’t fictional farming
Its realer than real
You wont find milk maidens
That’s no longer the deal
In my wax coat and boots
I’m proper farmer Giles
Now look
You urban folk done stole our styles
I’m not a city dweller,
Me I like to keep it country
The air is clean and
All those cars will make me jumpy
It’s different strokes
For different folk, my man
Just enjoy the results
Of what we do on the land

Farmer 4
Check out Daisy she’s a proper cow
A pedigree Friesian with know how
Her and her girls they have there own name
We treat them good
They give us the cream

Chorus
Yeo Valley Yeo Valley
We change the game, it will never be the same
Yeo Valley Yeo Valley
Big up your chest and represent the West
Big up your chest…
Represent the West…

Interesting that these European farmers are addressing exactly the same questions we’re trying to address.  They mention that they are sustainable and environmentally conscious … and that they treat their cattle well.  Also, I love the line “Different strokes for different folks, Just enjoy the results of what we do on the land.”

Are Illinois farmers ready to get out there and do something like this that is entertaining and informative?  Does this push the bar too far or just far enough?  Is this the way to get consumer attention and give them permission to get farmers farm?

What are your thoughts?

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

IT’S SUCH A GOOD IDEA, WE HAVE TO JOIN IN!

She’s Country, a Facebook page that we follow here at Illinois Corn, proposed an interesting question today.

In your own words, what is a “family farm?”

She’s Country is right, there is no universally accepted definition.  And I think that if forced to write down a definition, you might just find that a family farm is exactly what you thought it was and maybe even something more.

Visit She’s County, become a fan, and add your thought to the mix.  This is an interesting exercise in realizing what we have, what makes us strong, and why we all love to be family farmers.

CITY PRODUCE PROGRAM PROVIDES NUTRITION, EDUCATION, AND UNDERSTANDING

Over the weekend, I was lucky enough to visit one of our partner sites in the City Produce Program, the Cook County Jail.

It was exciting to see all the fresh produce being gathered which will then be distributed to families without access to fresh veggies in inner city Chicago.  It was equally exciting to see the inmates at Cook County Jail learning about horticulture, becoming certified Master Gardners through the University of Illinois Extension program, and adding a trade to their resume to use as they rebuild their future.

But I’m interested in the new connections being built between urban and rural citizens of Illinois.

This project is about nutrition and goodwill towards our neighbors, but its also about awareness.  How often do the farmers in Illinois consider those without access to a grocery store other than the local gas station convenience store?  I can guess that its not often.

Likewise, how much do Chicago residents understand about farming as an occupation?  About the ups and downs of the market, the vulnerability of the weather, the long hours and sneaky insects that equal risky paychecks?  Not much, I’m sure.  And through this program, volunteers that simply want to contribute to the fresh vegetable access are seeing first hand what it really is to be a farmer.

There is a gap right now between the reality for urban Illinoisans and the reality for rural Illinoisans.  That gap causes distrust and confusion because of a mutual lack of understanding between the two.  What the Chicago Produce Project seeks to do for Illinois corn farmers is create understanding.

Become a Facebook fan of the City Produce Project, Illinois Corn, and Monsanto (all partners in this effort) so that you can learn more about the good we are doing in urban Chicago.  Check out Crain’s coverage of the project here.  Consider getting involved.

Rodney Weinzierl
Executive Director, ICGA/ICMB

AROUND THE FARM, GRANDPARENTS DAY MEANS …

Yesterday was Grandparents day.

Around the farm that might mean a lot of things … because it’s nearly harvest time, it probably means working along side your grandparents (if you are fortunate to have healthy grandparents) or visiting them in the evening after a long day of work (if you aren’t.)

For certain, it means remembering the values and ethnics handed down from your grandparents, to your parents and then to you. 

Farming is a family business.  Farming usually entails working the same piece of ground that your ancestors settled when they immigrated to America.  It represents your heritage in a way that a treasured piece of jewelry or pocketwatch might to non-farmers, except much, much bigger because this piece of land fed your family over the course of 100 or 150 years. 

Farming means that nearly every square foot of the property you work on carries the memory of a person, a lesson, or a moment that you relive in the fall and the spring as you plant or harvest that ground.

This legacy is one that farmers live every day, whether they are small or large farmers, organic or conventional.

Family farmers don’t really need Grandparent’s Day, I guess.  Every day is a celebration of heritage, family and tradition.

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