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!

 

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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)

Impact of USDA on School Lunches

Have you ever thought about the times a child might eat a meal away from their family? How many of those times could be at school? This can add up to hundreds of meals during the school year. Should this be a cause for any concern? Is the federal government to involved? Are local districts not involved enough? Should parents have more accountability?

Government’s role in school lunches

The federal government has been involved for a long time in school lunches. If it’s setting minimum nutritional requirements or providing subsidies to schools so that each child can be fed regardless of ability to pay. These are all good things that can likely be best regulated from the federal government level.  Over the years there has been an attempts from the federal government to improve the quality of school lunches. It could be the quantity of food or the quality of the lunch or how these impact the student health and their ability to make healthy choices later in life.

The Healthy,  Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010

In 2010 the federal government increased their reach into the local school lunch programs. Many of the changes were based on the following statistics: over 31 million children receive school lunches, 17 million children live in households with food insecurity issues, and one in three children in America are not considered overweight or obese.

With the new Act of 2010 came funding, revised standards, improved access, and greater governance.  With the revision of standards one of the initiatives was to create more farm to school networks and create school gardens to provide that more local food was being used in the school lunch setting.  All of this came with 4.5 billion dollars of additional funding.

2017

It’s now 2017 and the impact of the 2010 Act has taken most local school districts out of the school lunch business all together. Sure, they still have cafeterias full of kids eating lunch but the actual business of planning, preparing, and serving school lunches has been outsourced to a management company with it’s headquarters states away from our local districts. This has been caused in large part by increased cost of implementing the 2010 Act.  School lunch programs are now driven by economies of scale making it very difficult for a single district to act independently.

The most important fact for us to remember is that parents have the ultimate choice and responsibility to their children. We need to be educated and make the most informed decisions we can. There is always the option to send your child with his lunch in his favorite Star Wars lunch box.

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Courtesy of Rebecca Schelkopf

 

My name is Sean Schelkopf and I live in Morton, IL with my beautiful wife Rebecca and 3 children, Tess, Ryan, and Grant.  And yes, everyone in this group get to eat school lunch every once and a while.

 

I Wasn’t Raised On A Farm But. . .

I wasn’t raised on a farm, but that hasn’t stopped me from achieving knowledge in the agriculture industry.

You see, I was raised in Monmouth, IL. A city that is made up of approximately 10,000 people. Although it’s surrounded by corn and soybean fields, I was completely oblivious to agriculture when I was growing up. Looking back at how ignorant I was to the agriculture industry as a whole truly opened my eyes.

My first experience with this great industry, was when I was introduced to the world of showing livestock. Although I had a late start in the game, beginning at age 14, it never hindered my experiences or successes. I quickly caught on to feed rations, animal handling, show etiquette, and the whole nine yards. Just when I thought I had it all figured out, I was challenged to compete in showmanship. For most, this wasn’t scary. They’ve been showing their whole life, why would this be a hard task? Just like anything else, I dove in head first and told myself ‘the worst thing that could happen is I get last .. right?
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WRONG! Within 5 minutes in the show ring, the judge began asking us questions. I’m sure you can picture the look on my face.. Priceless. After waiting the longest 3 minutes of my life, the judge finally approached me. He asked a simple question, but I always seem to over think things and make them worse than they actually are. I paused for a minute and began to digest the question, “if you had to choose one issue the Boer Goat industry is facing, what would it be?” A million things came to mind, but only one thing came out of my mouth. “Communication.” It hit me in that moment that the biggest challenge the livestock industry is facing is communication. Not just in the goat industry, not just cattle or swine. As a whole, communication is lacking and it could be the solution  to so much.

Once I had ‘mastered’ the show ring, I moved on to other challenges. The summer was coming to a close and my Sophomore year of high school was about to start. We were on our way home from a livestock show when Chris and Linda (my mentors in the livestock industry) talked to me about joining FFA. I wasn’t quite sure what FFA entailed or where I would fit in.. but Linda isn’t the type to take “no” as an answer. Before I knew it, I was shaking the hand of the agriculture educator and FFA advisor of Monmouth-Roseville’s chapter. I introduced myself to Mr. Kilburn, and explained that I had a new found passion in agriculture and I loved to talk (surprise, right?). He told me he’d find a place for me and he couldn’t wait to see me in class. Little did I know that hand shake would open so many doors for me.

Within the first few weeks of class, we had learned about record books. I was starting to question what in the heck Chris and Linda signed me up for. Just when I was questioning if I truly belonged, I signed up for my first public speaking contest. Naturally, I chose the topic of Animal Welfare. This was the largest misconception I knew of, and I was so passionate about it I knew I wouldn’t have any issues talking their ears off. I left that contest feeling empowered and confident, and all I knew was I wouldn’t find these opportunities anywhere else. I began enrolling in every contest our chapter participated in. Public speaking, parliamentary procedure, livestock judging etc. I was taking in every little bit of knowledge, and the more I learned the more I realized this industry wasn’t as corrupt or portrayed as everybody makes it out to be.

Hard work, knowledge, and motivation paid off and I eventually received my State FFA Degree and my American FFA Degree.

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Just as everything else had successfully fallen into place, I decided to choose Western Illinois University. Being as I found a strong passion for agriculture, and I knew the importance of communicating knowledge, I felt it was only right to study Agriculture Education. Most find it rather ironic and unique that somebody without an agriculture background would be intrigued to teach agriculture someday. However, I know it was what I was born to do and I wouldn’t be guided on this journey it I wasn’t meant for it.

I knew the consumer side, and I now came to educate myself on the production side of things. You would be amazed how much easier it is for me to communicate to consumers and those who have a lack of knowledge in agriculture. I came from that side of the fence, and I understand their concerns. I know I am apart of a large solution to the misconceptions, and Western has helped me notice that.

Within my studies, I have learned how to communicate with all sorts of consumers. I now know that knowledge and experience is key, and whether we have either of those or not, we are all still human at the end of the day. We all have different beliefs, passions, and motivation. If we didn’t, the world would be bland and we’d never learn anything new or gain new opportunities. The agriculture industry is very diverse, which makes sense, because the world is composed of agriculture wether you like to admit it or not.

Farmers are open to communicating if you’re open to listen. More often than not, the knowledge and answers you’ve been pondering have been in front of you the whole time. It’s all up to you to gain the correct knowledge, and you would be amazed where it will take you. The agriculture industry is filled with endless possibilities, and I am living proof of that. You don’t have to be raised on a farm to understand the practices and measures being taken every day by farmers and livestock caretakers. At the end of the day, we all want to live in a safe and efficient environment.

Just don’t be afraid to communicate. You never know what you’ll learn.

 

 

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My name is Morgan Lemley and I am a junior at Western Illinois University from Monmouth, IL. I am studying Agriculture Education, and I look forward to inspiring young minds and educating them on the field of agriculture. I hope you enjoyed my blog!

What is Really in Your Thanksgiving Dinner?

Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 2017, most Americans will be sitting down to a giant, delicious, and wholesome meal. They will be spending time with their loved ones and possibly developing a so called “turkey coma”. With all this food being consumed in one day, it makes me wonder if anyone ever thought of where and how Thanksgiving dinner got from the farm to their plates. Growing up on a family farm in northern Iowa I have always valued this time of the year the most because the holiday is focused on time with my family and homemade food. Being from the midwest our Thanksgiving dinners mainly consisted of turkey or ham, homemade bread, sweet corn, green beans, tater tot casserole, mashed and sweet potatoes, gravy, stuffing, grandma’s chili, and pumpkin pie. This has led me to do a little more digging on food’s journey from farm gate to dinner plate. 

In agriculture today producers are increasingly being criticized about how to produce the commodities in their farming operation. With an increasing number of the population being under educated about how, where, and why farmers produce food. In a Thanksgiving dinner that includes meat for example, more and more people are opting for the labels on birds, beef, or swine marked “organic,” “cage free,” or “free range,” not really knowing that most of these food labels are part of the marketing strategy to get them to pay a higher price. The same goes with other produce in the dinner such as the potatoes, beans, bread, sweet corn, and pumpkin filling. Which raises the question, what about conventional modern farming practices and the people that use them? According to croplifeamerica.org, “More than 90 percent of farmers today embrace using the most innovative practices and growing techniques to produce enough food, fuel and fiber for a growing world while at the same time minimizing their environmental footprint.” and to me on a first hand basis that number seems to be increasing. Those farmers work hard too, the amount of work put into food and other resources is not your typical 9-5 job. According to agweb.com , A poll of 1600 famers in a Dec. 4 Farm Journal Pulse, “Around 75% of farmers report spending 10 hours or more a day on farm work.” Those hours add up quickly, that is why it is safe to say that farmers use their time efficiently to ensure that the commodity they are raising is taken care of with the crops and animals wellbeing in mind. 

So back to your delicious dinner, where did it all come from? (For the sake of simplicity the food is going to be sourced 100% from the United States.) 

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Photo Credit: USDA

Well, starting with your turkey it probably came from North Carolina or Minnesota, whom leads the nation in turkey production. Most people would be surprised that the state that grows the most pumpkins for pumpkin pie is Illinois.  Then the ham is more than likely from Iowa or Illinois, the wheat from the bread could have come from any state but most likely North Dakota, Kansas and Montana. With those few examples a person can imagine how much goes into the food we eat. 

With those statistics in mind I hope to sit down at the table this week and be thankful for all the things in agriculture that worked together to create the meal in front of me. I will also be thankful for the time I get to spend with my family because of that food. Thomas Jefferson once said, “Agriculture … is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals & happiness”, and so far this quote has held true to everyone that I know and love. With this it is my hope that consumers and producers will come to this conclusion as well. Then maybe we will agree on the future of agriculture, and everyone will have a happy Thanksgiving. 

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Photo Credit: Colonel Rock III “Rocky”‘s Facebook Page

My name is Dakota Brouwer, I am an Iowa native and an Illinois transplant, growing up in both states. I study Agriculture Business with a Minor in Agronomy at Western Illinois University. I also have a passion for livestock growing up on a cattle operation and I grew up riding horses with my family.  I appreciate your time reading my blog. 

Benefits of Growing up in Agriculture

Agriculture. Many hear this word and it goes in one ear and out the other. To some, like me, it’s a word that has become a part of who I am and what I live for. Dirty boots, long hours, constant work, and no excuses were daily occurrences around the farm I grew up on. Our focus on the farm was row crops and showing/raising cattle. Agriculture has been my family and I’s way of life since I was in diapers. Growing up around agriculture taught me many things starting at a young age, things that have shaped me into a hard-working, honorable, and selfless young man. I didn’t always think it was “fair” that I couldn’t go out after the Friday night football game or sleep in late on a Saturday morning, but in agriculture, there’s no time for staying out late or enjoying a Saturday morning. Those rare instances happened when the cows were fed, stalls were cleaned, and the farm was taken care of. Fair? No. Building character. Yes. To explain this lifestyle to someone who isn’t familiar with it, is difficult, but that’s what we’re here to do, make people aware and knowledgeable of how this word, agriculture, changes all of our lives daily.
Through living a life on the farm and around agriculture, I have learned many life lessons that I will carry with me for years to come. Strong work ethic, responsibility, open-mindedness, and knowledgeable are a few of the most important life lessons I have learned. In this industry you become aware very quickly that you are not only working hard to benefit yourself, but you are responsible for benefiting people far beyond your imagination. No pressure.
Knowing this, having a strong work ethic is one of the most important lessons learned almost immediately. Being someone who has a strong work ethic means that you will not stop until the work is done, which is the essence of farmers and livestock owners around the world. Raising and showing livestock was not for the weak. You had to be disciplined, you expected your animal to be disciplined, so you had to lead by example. Responsibility plays right into having a strong work ethic. I was responsible for helping with working ground, getting equipment ready, and hauling crops to the elevator. While showing cattle, I was responsible for feeding, working, and training my show calves. These responsibilities came alongside school, extra-curricular, and just regular life responsibilities. It’s tough, but you learn to work through it and be the best you can be.
Agriculture has such a broad standing, that the new methods and equipment are always surfacing. Let’s face it, no one wanted to continue farming like we did back in the “good ol’ days.” There methods were good, but we’ve reached a whole new multitude of people to provide for. Being open-minded is an essential skill in being in this industry. Everyone will do things in their own way and have their own processes when it comes to their crops, and feeds, and equipment used, but if we all keep an open mind and listen to one another, we can learn a lot. From personal experience, I have acquired skills that have led me to have better organization, problem solving skills, and ability to be innovative. These skills go along with the saying “You have to deal with the hand you were dealt.” There are good harvests and there are not so good harvests, which means that not all of us have the newest, most high tech equipment, around, but will make do with what they have. This is how I was raised. We had what we needed and it got the job done, both on the farm and in the ring.

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Continuing to learn and grow is one of the most priceless life lessons I have learned. Agriculture has allowed me to have a better understanding of where, how, and why most of my food that I eat makes it to my plate. Many people try to avoid this topic of where our food comes from and how it makes it from Point A to Point B, because quite frankly, it scares people to know the truth. Now, this is another topic that I won’t dive into today but the reason I brought it up is because this is where growing up in agriculture allows a person to have a deeper understanding of raising and harvesting food that people are going eat. It lets them know why we treat animals with antibiotics to fight against illnesses and diseases. It allows them to know why we spray our crops to do the same thing as we do with animals which is fight off diseases that the plant could come in contact with. The end goal is to produce a plentiful amount of product and a very high quality product for the consumers. Yes, people have an idea of this process, but the only way to take it one step closer and really understand is to do and see what goes on.
Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.” Agriculture is the backbone of our nation. Many may think it’s easy, but come take a walk alongside me or another amazing farmer one day, and we could teach you a thing or two (we might even learn something from you, too)!

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My name is Logan Johnson, and I am a senior with a major in Agricultural Business with a minor in Animal Science. Before coming to Western, I spent two years at Lakeland Community College. I grew up in the small town of Heyworth, Illinois. This is where my family laid our roots and we raised and showed cattle. Along with the livestock my family farmed a few hundred acres of row crops. It’s who I am and what I live to do. Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.