What farmers would like consumers to know about agriculture

Coming from a small town in Central Illinois, I have grown up around agriculture all my life and have a good understanding of how food, fiber and fuel is produced for our consumption. I was aware that some people did not understand what the farmers’ role is and how they produce food for our consumption. However, I did not fully understand how uninformed consumers were about the agriculture industry until I went to college.

I currently attend Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois, where I am pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture Business with minors in Agronomy and Animal Science. I also work on campus as a Resident Assistant (RA) and as a student worker in the Agriculture/ Engineering & Technology advising office. Through both of  my positions on campus, I have met many people from many walks of life and I find myself constantly hearing some funny and appalling claims about the agriculture industry.

For example: cow tipping is not a thing kids in the country do when they are bored.

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Below I have made a list of a few things I have taught people during my time in college and some basic food labels that are misunderstood.

 

What are GMOs?

GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism.

A Genetically Modified Organism is:

“an organism or microorganism whose genetic material has been altered
by means of genetic engineering.”

While this term carries a negative connotation by some consumers for a farmer it can be a very beneficial tool. GMOs allow us to produce more crops with less land, inputs and chemicals.

Misconception: GMO are not harmful or unhealthy. No scientific evidence has shown negative effects from eating GMOs. They contain the same if not more nutrients than conventional or organic products.

Non-GMO Project

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Non-GMO Project is not regulated by a government agency. It is a third party certification. That means it is not regulated or overseen by a government agency and they have their own set of rules to certify their products as “NON-GMO.”

 

What does “Organic” mean?

USDA Organic means that the crop  was produced by following a list of guidelines that is regulated by the USDA. For products to be certified as USDA organic 95% of the product can not contain GMOs. If the product is a meat item it can not be fed GMO grain.

Misconception: Organic can use chemicals, but they must be natural chemicals. That means the chemical can not synthetically made or made in a laboratory.

For example using manure from an animal instead of a man made spray.

For more information on the USDA Organic guidelines click here.

What does Natural mean?

Natural: USDA defines natural products as those being free of artificial ingredients, coloring ingredients, or chemical preservatives and minimally processed.  Products can be labeled as being made with all-natural ingredients provided a portion of the ingredients are natural, but not all ingredients have to be all-natural to earn that label.

This means that products can be labeled “made with all-natural ingredients” but they can contain artificial ingredients and chemical preservatives.

What does “Free Range” means?

The USDA states in order for an operation to be labeled Free Range:

“Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.”

This simply means that the chicken can go to an outside area at anytime. They are not always outside roaming around like the commercials show.

Why do we farm?

What some people do not understand is farming is a gamble. We plant crops hoping the weather cooperates, no natural disasters hit, pray for rain and a good price at the market. We do not negotiate our prices; we take what we can get and make it work. Many small farms experience tough times and ultimately some sell out.

“The farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything at retail, sells everything at wholesale, and pays freight both ways.” -John F. Kennedy

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Bottling feed a calf with my grandpa.

Our farm has been in our family for generations and farming is something you are born into. The passion, tradition and responsibility is instilled into you at a young age. I am a proud member of the agriculture industry and I love every part of agriculture. I was taught by my grandfather from a young age to love and care for all of God’s creatures and plants. It is our responsibility to watch over the land and take care of it. Our goal as farmers is to produce crops and livestock to the best of our abilities while taking care of the land as best we can. That is why my family farms.

Check out Beck’s Why I Farm campaign for testimonials from other farmer family.

We eat what we Grow

Everything we grow in our fields we eat fresh and preserve some to enjoy later. Farmers would not produce something that is unsafe because their kids and grand kids are consuming that very same product.

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I took this photo last summer. My nephew Wyatt loves his dad’s sweet corn.

About the Author

My name is Stephanie Miller and I am currently a Junior Agriculture Business major with minors in agronomy and Animal Science at Western Illinois University.  I am currently the President of Horticulture club, a member of Ag Council and I love my agriculture family! I am from Manito, IL and my family farms in Mason County. We raise Polled Hereford cattle, corn, soybeans, hay and specialty crops such as green beans and peas. My love for agriculture runs deep and I love sharing my passion.

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Leaders of tomorrow not knowing where food comes from today.

One of the biggest issues facing agriculture is the lack of knowledge consumers have of where their food comes from. When parents don’t know where their food comes from that usually translates to the kids not knowing either. In the UK a survey was taken on around 5000 children ranging in age between 8-14 , 29% of the children thought cheese came from a plant, 10% thought pasta came from animals “Around one in 10 (11%) of 11-14-year-olds and a similar proportion of 14-16-year-olds (10%) thought that tomatoes grow underground”. These number may seem small but in just a few generations the number of people who don’t understand where their food comes from or even how it is produced will increase dramatically.

There as several simple things we can do to fix this issue. The first is to educate the children about food production and agriculture, taking the children on farm trips or having an Ag in the Classroom day are easy ways to get them involved and have an understanding of agriculture.

Next we need to educate consumers about the products they are buying and what it contains. Getting consumer interested in the food they eat will rub off on their children and help get the conversation started about food origins.

The final step we can do as an agriculturalist is be open to conversations and promote the methods you use to produce your products. Farmers and ranchers need to open to communicating with the consumer about the products they produce and have a conversation to help consumers understand what goes into the products and how they are made. These simple steps can help stop the children of today who are the leaders of tomorrow from becoming detached from the production of their food. The education of children today will help the generations of people to come.

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Hello my name is Ryan Farmer I am currently a junior at WIU. I am majoring in Agricultural science with a double minor in agronomy and plant breeding. I originate from Monmouth, where I grew up helping on my family farm. I am involved in agronomy club and ag mech club.

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picture https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/behaviour-children-food-and-additives

Barn to Barn: More than a fundraiser.

Last month on Feburary 24th, my family hosted a hole for the 9th annual Barn to Barn Classic. This was the third year that we had the opportunity to do so as the locations change each year.

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Logo courtesy of Barn to Barn

During the tournament teams of four go around to different farms and businesses in Virden, Girard, and the surrounding communities and play putt putt golf. At the end of the night a dinner is served, and an auction is held as well. All of the proceeds from the day’s events are used by the Barn to Barn Organization to support the North Mac Ag program and FFA chapter. Not only did Barn to Barn get the Ag program started, but they have bought classroom materials, helped fund part of the greenhouse, provided scholarships for seniors, and provided funding for National Convention trips, just to name a few of the ways that they support the North Mac Ag program and FFA chapter.

 

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Our Hole
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Hole Sponsors

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Monarch Landscaping and Gardening’s Hole

While we were going through and looking at the other holes the night before, and as people were coming through our own barn during the event, I got to thinking about how different my life would be had the Barn to Barn Organization never been formed.

Growing up I was quite aware of the fact that my high school did not offer Ag and FFA. You see, for me the opportunity to take Ag classes and be involved in FFA wasn’t as much about the fact that I grew up on a farm, as it was about being part of something bigger. I grew up hearing my Dad talk about his Ag classes and FFA adventures, and I wanted so badly to have the same opportunity. But what I wanted the most was to be part of a legacy. I wanted to be able to say that I took Ag classes and was in my local FFA chapter like my Dad and Grandpa Dale were. The fact that this legacy was not available to me was quite honestly devastating. But then in 2010 when our schools consolidated and became North Mac, (short for North Macoupin County) I was finally granted access to that legacy.

My dream became a reality because a group of community members saw the need for an Ag program. In 2009 they began by raising funds to support the new Ag program and FFA chapter. After the program was started they decided to keep fundraising, and the Barn to Barn Organization was formed. Every year since 2009, Barn to Barn holds the Barn to Barn Classic.

Because of Barn to Barn, I was able to take Ag classes and be a four year FFA member. And I can truly say that I am the person that I am today because of this. While in my freshman Intro to Ag class, I realized that I wanted to pursue Agriculture Education in college. I also expanded my knowledge of Ag because of the classes that I was able to take in high school. Through my Ag classes and FFA, I grew from a shy freshman who hated to talk, to someone who can stand in front a crowd and speak. I developed leadership skills, which grew as I became a chapter officer, and carried through to my time at Lincoln Land Community College as well as here at WIU. If it hadn’t been for Barn to Barn, I would have never had the opportunity to walk across the stage at State Convention to

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Kinley Whalen and I at State Convention. Photo courtesy of Monica Foster Whalen

represent my chapter for our POA, and I never would have been able to experience National Convention and grow as an FFA member because of it. 

After Barn to Barn I had the opportunity to talk to some of the senior FFA members and gain their perspective as well. These girls were the little freshmen members when I was a senior, and I had watched them all grow as members and individuals over the past four years. It was obvious when sitting down with the five girls that they each felt that they had gained something important because of having the opportunity to take Ag classes and be an FFA Member. Chapter president Isabel Barnes said that being involved in FFA “…really opened (her) up to public speaking and communication.”  The girls also talked about how just having Ag classes available to them was extremely beneficial. Another common topic the girls brought up was how they grew as leaders and how they were able to grow as individuals because of the experiences that they had through FFA functions.

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Photo courtesy of Isabel Barnes

When asked what they would say to the Barn to Barn Organization, as these were the people that made it possible for us to even have Ag classes and an FFA chapter, their response was unanimous. Jennifer, Laura, Emily, Jessie, and Isabel all agreed that simply saying thank you could never be enough.

 

“I don’t know what else there would be to say to be able to thank them enough.”

– Jessie Haworth Chapter Sentinel

Words can not express how grateful I am that this group of community members came together and decided that an Ag program was needed for our new school district. But it’s not just them who deserve thanks. It’s our community that has supported the Ag program and FFA chapter through the years, and the individuals who participate in the Barn to Barn Classic in an effort to raise the funds to support the Ag program and FFA chapter.

I can now proudly say that I am part of a great legacy. Not just the legacy of Ag and FFA, but the legacy of Millburgs that were involved in FFA. I am forever grateful for everything that I gained as an Ag student and FFA member, and I am humbled knowing that I now share this experience with my Dad and Grandpa. No one will ever know how much it means to my sister Laura and I, that we can now proudly hang our FFA jackets next to our Dad and late Grandpa Dale’s. ‘Thank you’ will never be enough for that. IMG-0294

“From the bottom of my heart thank you, because I would not have grown to be the person I am today without FFA.”

– Laura Millburg Chapter Treasurer

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Hello! I am Emily Millburg, a junior Agriculture Education major. I grew up on a grain farm in Virden IL, where we raise corn and soybeans. In high school I was an active member of the FFA, which with my Ag classes, led me to pursue Ag Ed. After high school, I attended Lincoln Land Community College where I obtained by Associates of Science Degree. I am now currently attending WIU to finish my Bachelors. At WIU I am active in CFFA, PAS, and Ag Ed club. When I am not at school I enjoy reading and going to tractor pulls.

 

Benefit of Being a Commuter Student

 

Instead of going straight into college like many high-school students do, I took a different route to get into higher education. When I was 18 I joined the military and went through selection in order to become a member of the U.S. Army Rangers, a member of the special operations community. After making it through selection I became a machine gunner in the unit for four years traveling the world serving my country.

After making the decision to separate from the military I decided that returning to our family farm and pursuing higher education with the benefits the military offered would be a smart decision. After looking at many colleges, including Iowa State University and the University of Illinois, I decided that Western Illinois University would be the optimum choice. With its location just 50 miles from my family’s farm and a decorated Ag program I did not think that I needed to go any further from home. I could commute from home to the school everyday, dodge expensive rent costs along with any dorms (the army barracks had been enough of the dorm style life for me), and help my father and grandfather out on the farm. I talked to my brother in law who had done the same thing and created a strategy with my academic  adviser in order to get my class schedule to accommodate my work hours. Which allowed me to go to school in the mornings and work every evening and on weekends. Even with my daily 2 hour commute and going to school full time I was still able to log in over 40 hours a week on the farm which drastically lightened the load on my family.

Currently, I am a senior at Western while being involved in every facet of production on our corn and soybean farm located near Warsaw, Illinois. Although being a student and a farmer keeps me very busy, I enjoy getting to reap the benefits of being both a student and professional in the field. For example, yesterday I went straight from taking a lesson on crop insurance to purchasing it in a meeting with my local provider. After becoming a member of the Ag Business club I realized that using the professional contacts that I made on the farm could be utilized to bring in professionals to speak to the club. I then helped to organize several professionals in to talk to university students including; a crop insurance salesman, a grain merchandiser, a hog confinement manager, and a human resources manager at a large chemical sales firm.

Anyone looking at attending W.I.U. as a potential commuter student should know that the university is very accommodating to your needs. Lastly I would happily testify that the benefits of commuting largely outweigh the drive!

20161110_162225Hello readers, my name is Nathaniel Kerr. I am currently a senior at Western Illinois University majoring in agricultural business. I will be graduating in May of 2018, after which I will be pursuing a career on our family corn and soybean farm located in the Warsaw Bottoms. While I have always looked at agriculture as work I enjoy the opportunities that it presents me with and trace many of my successes and positive attributes back to lessons learned on the farm.

Don’t Wait, Study Abroad!

When you think of earning credits towards your degree, do you think of beaches, tourist attractions, and different countries? I never did, but I do now! I had the awesome opportunity to study abroad with my peers from the WIU School of Agriculture to Costa Rica for 10 days. We were able to learn about the different types of agriculture commodities they have in Costa Rica, along with great learning experiences at EARTH University and stay in the dorms where the local students live. It was incredible to see how hard these students work and how hands-on all their work is compared to ours.

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Not only is the Study Abroad program at WIU a fun spring break getaway, but you have an opportunity of a lifetime that you will never be able to get once your out of college. Even if $3,000 sounds like a lot of money, you can’t even begin to imagine how beneficial this is for the rest of your agriculture career. I think it is very important to learn about agriculture in different countries, and this is by far the best way to do just that. During my experience I was able to tour a sugar cane mill, a NASA space shuttle lab, a homestead farm, the University farm, coffee plantation, and so much more. Everything we did was a little different than the last and was so interesting to learn about since we never get to see most of these products in Illinois.

Another part that made it an incredible trip was the bond that our group built throughout the trip. At first we were a little quiet, but by the end we were always joking around and having a great time together. Our tour guides were fun too, so we spent a lot of time with them. Even after we got back from the trip I still talk to most of the people I traveled with on a regular basis, and I even have the opportunity to live with one of my travel partners, Paige!

Paige Skinner is a sophomore studying agriculture science/pre-vet at WIU and was able to go on the study abroad trip to Costa Rica too. Paige and I have known each other since grade school, so being able to share this experience with her was special to me.

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“I really enjoyed my time in Costa Rica learning about how they deal with their livestock. I didn’t expect it to be that different, but now I have that experience to share with people when I got back. It was also really fun to build a relationship with the whole group and hanging out every night after our long day, which we usually included Victor (the travel guide) in on it too!’

My last word of advice for you is to spend the extra cash and study abroad with WIU School of Ag. I promise you will not regret it, and this is something you can cherish and share with others for the rest of your life. Dr. Bacon is the man to talk to at Western Illinois University and he was a great leader for my trip. I hope you can take advantage of the study abroad program and enjoy yourself as much as my group did! Pura Vida!

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Hey guys! My name is Katelyn Muhlenburg and I am a senior studying agriculture business with a minor in finance at Western Illinois University. Throughout my time at WIU I have gained many great relationships with faculty and students, as long as taking on some leadership positions in the School of Ag. I am the President of the Agribusiness Club, a member of the AgVocator team, and I recently joined the agriculture sorority Sigma Alpha. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, bowhunting whitetails, kayaking, and camping. I recently accepted a grain merchandising position with Archer Daniels Midland which will begin in June. Go Leathernecks!

 

Macomb High School Ag Is Back With A Bang

Agriculture has always been a fundamental part of the livelihood here in Macomb. However, for the last few decades the town has failed to give Ag that same appreciation in the classroom. From 1987-88 til 2015 there was no Ag program at Macomb Senior High School. Instead, students would have to travel to the next town over to receive the course at West Prairie High School. Time constraints along with scheduling conflicts made it nearly impossible for kids with a curiosity for agriculture to fully get engaged in that field of study. If you were not from a production Ag background or fully committed to studying Ag in college, you did not really have the time to risk trying a course and not liking it. Kids already had enough on their plates with friends, studying classes, extracurricular activities, and most importantly, graduating on time! Something needed to give. How were we going to waste an opportunity to educate our youth about one of the major pillars of Macomb’s existence? In 2015, the Macomb School District with the help of the Macomb Agriscience Association found the solution.

After gathering the proper amount of money and support from the local community, Macomb High was finally able to bring back the Ag program. I was personally excited to see this change occur because I was one of those very kids who all through elementary and high school wondered what it would be like to be an Aggie but never thought I would be able to find the right fit for me. Sure my father was an Ag professor, but I did not grow up on or really around a farm unless I went to visit family in Missouri. When I graduated high school and registered for Western, I declared Ag Business as my major. However, since I had no prior production Ag experience, I had no idea if this was going to be what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It just so happened that it was the best decision I have ever made it my life, and all I want is for the future kids behind me to be able to realize their love for agriculture at a much younger age and can already begin to make their own impact long before they reach college. Macomb High bringing back Ag has done just that for the younger generation of kids like my two younger brothers, who are or were active members, and my little sister in the near future.

Aside from allowing curious adolescents the opportunity to experience production agriculture in the classroom, it also gives students plenty of other opportunities such as developing leadership and public speaking skills, compete in local and national contests, and also allows some of the students to attend the National Ag Convention. Now these courses were brought back in 2015, so what is the Macomb chapter up to? I, like most in town i’m sure, watched closely to see if it was just a one and done program, or if Ag would stick around. This year my questions were answered when the high school cut the ribbon on a brand new greenhouse for the high school.

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Ribbon Cutting At Macomb Senior High School (photo from KHQA)

In October of this year, the Macomb Ag program took another step forward in its comeback to campus by erecting and opening a brand new greenhouse to be able to support the horticulture classes that the school would like to begin offering. When I asked my dad, who played an important role in bring these courses back, about what this would mean for the kids he told me this. “Drew you were one of the new kids to Ag. You know that it is much harder to learn about something new, especially soil and plants if you don’t get in there with em and get your hands dirty. I think this is exactly what kids need.” After just two years of being back in town, Macomb Ag has already accomplished something people said might take as long as 5-10 years before anything would get done. With an estimated value of around $50,000, the 30 foot by 60 foot structure was made possible by several local businesses like DuPont Pioneer and Ayerco along with the Tracy Family Foundation that granted most of the money needed for the project. Now with upwards of 80 active students, new horticulture classes, and a brand new greenhouse, I could not be more proud to say that I see Ag being an instrumental part of Macomb High as well as our town for years to come.

My name is Drew Baker and I am a Junior at Western Illinois University majoring in Ag Business. With my degree I look to move out of state to pursue a career in Sales or Marketing.

 

 

From the Windy City to Corn Fields

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Finding my Purpose

As you can probably tell from the title I am originally from Chicago, Illinois. I spent the early years of my life in Austin, Chicago, but due to the increase in violence within my community, my parents decided to move my two brothers and I to a suburb called Oak Park- a place that I’ve grown to love and proudly call home. The change in environment helped guide me to my passions and this was where I discovered what I wanted to do for the rest of my life—help animals. As a young boy, I loved all types of animals. Not having a pet, like many other people I knew, didn’t seem to stop me in the least bit from interacting with one every chance got. I remember many occasions where I would bring home stray or lost animals, adopting them as my own (my mom would look at me crazily while she dialed the numbers on the dogs’ tags). A specific moment that helped me discover my passion for helping animals was on my way home from elementary school. As I got off the bus, there was Great Dane just sitting there by itself. Instinctively, the first thing I did was approach the dog to pet it. Time must have slipped from me because before I knew it, I had been sitting there for hours trying to keep the dog company and safe. Eventually, a man approached us and began to praise me for finding his lost dog. At first, I was disappointed because, as far as I was concerned, the Great Dane had become mine through those couple hours… but in the end, I did cave and returned the dog to his rightful owner. Even as a young boy, I felt the need to sit with the lost dog and help him in any way I could. This experience made me realize not only that I couldn’t resist a cute dog, but that I’ve always had an instinct to help animals, therefore my goal was to make it my purpose in life.

 

My Experience at WIU

Some of the few reasons that drew me to Western Illinois University was that I knew people who previously went to school here and that I wanted to go somewhere further away from home but close enough so that I could still visit frequently. To be honest, I  had no intention of pursuing agriculture here at W.I.U. and was quite unaware that Pre-Veterinary Science was under the umbrella of the Agriculture program. Upon finding that out, I assumed the next four years here a WIU weren’t going to be fun because I had no background in agriculture, nor did it even appeal to me. I imagined that because of my lack of experience in agriculture, I was going to be an outsider… Man was I wrong. The exact opposite ended up happening; everyone, from the teachers like Professor Hoge and Professor Bernards, to the students made me feel very welcomed and all my worries seemed to have been for nothing. To my surprise, I even looked forward to class at the farm because of the hands-on learning it gave me. Never in my life did I think I would be herding cattle but I did it here at Western. agriculture has provided me with a level of experience that I don’t think would have been provided elsewhere. This program has not only taught me more about animals, but has opened my mind to new things as well as allow me to have some of the best experiences of my life.

 

What I plan to Take Away From This

Being introduced to agriculture has really helped in my veterinary studies. The introduction to livestock really helped me deal with animals outside of the norm. I’ve also gotten to meet people who love what they are learning, which is something that I admire. I always hear people say, “I went to college for 4 years and I learned nothing”, but that’s not something I believe to be true for me. Everything that I’ve learned in class I plan on continuing to apply- not only when I go to veterinarian school, but even as I start to treat animals as a practicing vet. Even though my journey here has been totally unexpected, I believe I ended up in the perfect place in pursuit of my career— something I’ll never take for granted.

 

Background

My name is Markus Allen and I am a student at Western Illinois University studying Pre-Veterinary science as my major and Chemistry as my minor. Thanks for taking the time to read my Blog. (By the way that is me holding the piglet)