The Chicago Farmers Argentina Study Tour 2020

    Twenty-two Chicago Farmers members and guests arrived at Ezeiza International Airport in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the morning of February 9, 2020.  The group was greeted by Gustavo and Alejandra Miroglio, our Argentinean hosts for the following two days. We boarded two comfortable "combies" (coaches) and departed for San Andres de Giles, about two hours northwest of Buenos Aires.  

    After checking-in to the Hotel Bianchi, we had lunch at the hotel’s restaurant and took a break to recover from the 10.5-hour overnight flight, before leaving for the Miroglio's home for our first Argentinean asado (cookout) that evening. Gustavo, Alejandra, their children and their families showered our group with their warm and generous hospitality. After a delicious asado, Gustavo gave us an overview of his farming operation and of the heavily taxed agroindustry in Argentina. Our group had ample opportunity for Q&A with Gustavo.  

    Early Monday morning our busses took us to the Miroglio farm, where we saw first-hand the amazing operation the Miroglios run, growing wheat, corn and soybeans on 20,000 acres, and raising 3.5 million chickens a year. Most of their grain is processed on the farm for feed for the poultry enterprise. 

    Next on the schedule for the day was a bus tour of the Santa Catalina feed lot, neighboring the Miroglio's farm.  A 10,000 head family-run facility takes grass-fed feeder calves and finishes them on mostly grain. They sell the beef locally and to Buenos Aires province.

    Early in the afternoon we all enjoyed a delicious meal at a local Italian restaurant, we thanked and bid farewell to our wonderful hosts, familia Miroglio.

    We arrived in Rosario, our next stop, around 7 pm.  A major river port and one of the largest cities in Argentina, Rosario, Santa Fe province, sits on the western bank of the Parana River, about 180 miles northwest of Buenos Aires. Worth mentioning, Hotel Puerto Norte, where we stayed, is a beautiful, wonderfully comfortable hotel ingeniously and tastefully built within a repurposed grain elevator located at a bend alongside of the Parana River.

    On Tuesday, February 11, we visited the family owned Bertini planter factory. It was founded by Ing. Enrique Bertini senior, who in 40+ years turned this once garage-size one-man-dream into one of the most solid precision-planter factories in Argentina. With 120 employees, the factory produces their machines from design to final product practically without outsourcing. It has a product design and development department, an assembly sector with cutting-edge technology such as laser cutting and robotic processes, and an electrostatic painting department. Recently it added a shed of 22,000 m2 to optimize the logistics. The Bertini planters are sold throughout Argentina as well as in Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia, Belgium, Italy, Spain, England, Finland, Romania and France.  Once more, the warm Argentinean hospitality was at its best as, Ing. Bertini, his wife Mercedes, son Enrique and daughter Vanina fed us a wonderful asado prepared right there at the factory.

    In the early evening we attended an interesting presentation on the Grain Market in Argentina by Patricia Bergero and Emilce Terré, Economists from the Rosario Board of Trade. Their talk confirmed the picture presented by Gustavo Miroglio regarding the heavy taxation on the Argentinean farmers. Considering all taxes paid, including income, value added, property taxes etc., the resulting tax rate amounts to 83%.

    Our visit to Rosario was cut short due to a change of our flight to Mendoza. Early Wednesday morning, February 12, we boarded our flight to Mendoza, via Buenos Aires, instead of taking a river tour of the Port of Rosario. But the long two-leg trip was soon forgotten when we arrived in the beautiful city of Mendoza. We began our stay with a visit to the Antigua Bodega Giol and mansion. Formerly touted as the largest winery in the world in the early 1900s, Bodega Giol boasts a unique and fascinating history that comprises it all, even—as legend has it—champion bull blood in the Giol wines. The tour included a light lunch and our first wine tasting.

    We enjoyed a City Tour of Mendoza on the way to our Hotel Montañas Azules. The city of Mendoza is located on the plain east of the Andes mountain range. Founded in 1561, it grew to be a cosmopolitan city due to the large number of Italian and Spanish immigrants who settled there in the 1800s-1900s. Two of the main industries of the Mendoza area are wine and olive oil. The region around Greater Mendoza is the largest wine-producing area in South America. As such, Mendoza is one of the nine Great Wine Capitals of the world, and the city is an emerging tourism destination and base for exploring the region's hundreds of wineries located along the Argentina Wine Route

    After checking into our hotel, located in the business district of the city, we had enough time to go shopping or just for a walk before dinner.  The group, minus a few, went to La Lucia restaurant, a walking distance from the hotel, and enjoyed a wonderful dinner and some of the great Argentinean wines.

    On Thursday, we boarded our bus and left for Lujan de Cuyo for our tour and wine tasting at Catena Zapata Vineyard and Winery. Arriving at our destination, we were surprised at the large Mayan-pyramid style building in front of us. An Italian immigrant planted his first vineyard here in the Mendoza region in 1902. The winery has remained in the Catena family for over a century and is one of the few family-owned wine industries remaining in Argentinean hands. Now in its fourth generation, the family takes great pride in carrying on the tradition that began over a century ago. We enjoyed a very interesting, guided walk through the main barrel room, the bodega, and an educational tour of the vineyard. The tasting consisted of four high-end wines: Catena Alta Chardonnay, Catena Alta Malbec, D.V. Catena Vineyard Designated La Pirámide Cabernet Sauvignon and D.V. Catena Vineyard Designated Nicasia Malbec. All were excellent, unfortunately none are sold in the United States.

    At noon we headed to Bodega Norton Winery, Perdriel location. A beautifully presented, very tasty and abundant lunch carefully paired with the various dishes was served for our group at the Norton’s Restaurante La Vid.

    After lunch we proceeded to the guided tour and tasting. Bodega Norton has five vineyards spread over the main terroirs* of the province of Mendoza, in foothills of the Andes Mountains. It is not just geographical location that influences the quality of their wines, but the age of the vines. Their vines average age is around 30 years, but they also have many hectares planted  that are more than 80 years old.  Our tour was at Perdriel, the original Norton property, where the winery is located. With a hundred years of continuous cultivation, it consists of 100 hectares almost entirely planted 950 meters above sea level, with vines aged between 30 and 50 years old, which produce aromatic and concentrated white and red grapes, perfect for making powerful and elegant high-end wines. It excels in the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec varieties.

    *Terroirs: the combination of factors including soil, climate, and sunlight that gives wine grapes their distinctive character.

    To end our tour and tasting, we were directed to the Cova where we were given the opportunity to make our own blend by combining varietals and discovering aromas, textures and complexity. We even designed our own label! All had a good time and went home with three or four bottles of our own wines to enjoy at our next group dinner.

    On Friday, February 14, our bus took us to Maipu, Familia Zucccardi. This was a bicycle or “back-of-the -pickup” tour of the olive orchard, the processing plant, and an olive oil tasting.

    Eighty hectares of olive trees are cultivated at Finca Maipú under an organic production system. The cultivation of an extensive varietal collection of more than 90 varieties of olive trees from different parts of the world allows them to research how well each of these varieties adapt to the region, allowing them to obtain quality oils with different profiles and flavors. Extra virgin olive oil is a natural food that we consume in the same original form as it is produced in the olive tree, with all its qualities, aromas and flavors, which is why it is considered an oily juice of olives. Preserving all these natural qualities and attributes requires careful handling at each of the stages of the production process, which consist of harvesting, transportation and washing, grinding and natural separation at low temperatures, ending with filtration and storage.  At the olive oil tasting we tasted Changlot (delicate and complex), Picual (aromatic and fresh), Corantina (intense and herbal) and Arauco, extra virgin (fresh y fruity).

    The tour ended with a magnificent meal at La Casa del Visitante, Bodega Santa Julia, perfectly situated so that guests can take in the scenery of the vineyards and the mountains. The menu was a combination of traditional dishes with perfectly paired Santa Julia wines and varietal olive oils from Familia Zuccardi.

    On our return to Mendoza, we stopped for a visit with the Corporación Vitivinicola Argentina, (COVIAR), the Argentine Wine Corporation, a public-private entity, like our corn and soybean associations in the US. They work to promote Argentinean wine, concentrated grape juice, raisins and table grapes on the domestic and world markets. Worth mentioning is the work that COVIAR is doing in the development of small grape producers to integrate them into the wine and concentrated grape juice business. Another interesting bit of information we learned at this visit was that in 2014, small producers across Argentina came out with a special and unique blend of wine, Todos, to be used by Pope Francisco in the celebration of mass.  Pope Francisco is Argentinean. In the evening, the group enjoyed a relaxed late dinner at Anna Bistró Restaurante, Cuyano- Mediterranean cuisine, a treat by Eric and Maria to celebrate Valentine’s Day and Eric's birthday!

    On Saturday morning we flew back to Buenos Aires to spend our last two days in the Capital of Argentina.  Our bus took us from the airport to the Claridge Hotel and after checking in, we went to Puerto Madero for lunch.  Puerto Madero is a revamped dockside area. Its converted redbrick buildings contain upscale steakhouses and trails that loop around several lakes at the wildlife rich Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve.

    The group scattered in different directions after lunch for a free afternoon in the city.  We met back at the hotel at 6:30 to board the bus that took us to Las Barracas for dinner and to a tango show at Señor Tango. Buenos Aires is widely recognized as the birthplace of tango dancing, so no visit to Argentina’s capital would be complete without watching a tango show. Señor Tango is a spectacular Broadway style show, the biggest in town, with large-scale sets, a live orchestra, professional dancers and outstanding performances that include horses, visual effects, and the latest generation technology.

    Sunday morning was free to relax or to explore the surrounding area, attend a service, or finish shopping for souvenirs. After lunch we met at the hotel lobby and boarded our bus to take a three-hour tour of the city including Plaza Naciones Unidas, Barrio Palermo, Plaza Evita, Avenida Alvear, Recoleta Cemetery, Evita’s Tomb, Barrio El Retiro, Teatro Colon, Casa Rosada, Plaza de Mayo, Barrios San Telmo, La Boca, y Caminito. Then bidding farewell to Argentina our tour bus left us at Ezeiza Airport for our return flight home at 9 that evening.

    We are thankful we made it back home just ahead of COVID-19, which could have really put a damper on an otherwise great trip.

    Maria and I would like to say how much we enjoyed traveling with the Chicago Farmers group. You are a naturally curious group, and you value traveling, not just for its entertainment value, but as an opportunity to expand your knowledge of the world and its peoples. Thank you, all.

    This farm reaches new heights

    Two stories above the intersection of Devon and Glenwood Avenues in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood on the North Side and above first floor Uncommon Ground restaurant sits the first certified organic rooftop farm.

    This unique farm was the site of The Chicago Farmers’ 2018 Summer/Fall Program. The September 22nd date was perfect for a day on this organic farm. Blue skies and moderate temperatures contributed to a fun and educational experience for TCF’s group. Coincidentally, the morning of our visit, the rooftop organic farm had undergone its annual audit by the Midwestern Organic Services Association (MOSA).

    Created by Uncommon Ground restaurant owners Michael and Helen Cameron, the 10-year-old rooftop farm is an extension of the couple’s commitment to care for the environment and to provide their restaurant patrons with chemical-free food that is locally sourced. The rooftop organic farm, built on a floating deck, boasts 150 varieties of 70 crops and has 700 square feet of tillable soil. “It is a productive little area,” said Helen Cameron.

    Before climbing a couple of flights of stairs to the rooftop, we visited the restaurant’s patio area, which is shielded from busy Devon Avenue by a tall wooden fence that serves as a backdrop for planters that surround the patio’s perimeter and are filled with organic herbs and vegetables, all of which make their way into the restaurant’s kitchen. Concord grape vines twist around overhead trellises. The grapes are harvested and are incorporated into cocktails, jellies, and syrups. This fall, Helen said, the menu will offer peanut butter and jelly French toast, which is complemented by grape syrup made from the grapes on site. Red and black currant bushes also grow around the patio. The black currants will be used in the making of Kolsch beer by Uncommon Ground’s Greenstar Organic Brewery that is housed in Wrigleyville with another Uncommon Ground restaurant, said Helen. “We surround our patrons with growing food,” said Helen.

    As we made our way to the staircase, Helen pointed out the hops growing on vines that cover the restaurant’s brick wall. The hops too are organic and are sent to Greenstar. The brewery’s craft beer is available at the restaurants. A quick climb up a couple of flights of stairs took us away from the city sounds and sights to the roof, although a traffic light and the top stories of apartment buildings can be seen beyond the roof and reminds you of your location. Keeping in mind Uncommon Ground’s focus on conservation and care of the environment, Helen pointed out three solar panels that occupy a section of the rooftop and noted that the farm’s deck is made of recycled, reclaimed decking material.

    Helen introduced Allison Glovak-Webb, the city agricultural spot’s farm director. “Allison is in charge of keeping the place beautiful,” said Helen.

    Allison pointed out the garden beds that fill the deck and explained they were 10 feet by four feet with one foot of soil depth. They are watered via a drip irrigation system that comes from below and rests atop the beds, releasing a slow drip of water. Watering of the plants occurs twice a day for 20 minutes in peak season, said Allison. These beds produce about two pounds per square foot of growing area. There also are Earth boxes that are two feet by one foot planters that sit at the ends of each bed. They are watered from below via a water reservoir that is filled by hand from above. The Earth boxes provide about four pounds per square feet of produce.

    Allison went on to say that the planters are amended annually with Purple Cow organic compost. Initially, Happy Frog soil was used to fill the beds, but it is no longer organically approved. Currently, if soil has to be added to the beds, Allison uses Sunshine Advanced #4.

    Plants such as carrots, basil, squash, parsley, peppers, leeks, and edible flowers fill the densely packed beds and vines of beans grow on rope trellises that run along the length of the beds. The rooftop farm and the downstairs patio produce about 1,500 pounds of produce per year, said Helen. In the peak season, the two growing areas produce 10-20 percent of the restaurant’s produce. Annually, they produce two to three percent. Local suppliers supplement the restaurant’s other needs. Grassfed beef, pork, and chicken are sourced from Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

    “No one else was doing this when we started the rooftop farm so there was not a prototype,” Helen said. “We developed a system that works. We need to be sure that it is a cost effective venture and we want to be an example. It was important to determine how to do this without chemicals. We figured out the puzzle to make it work and we hired a great farm director, Allison. We selected the crops we like the best and that add a lot of value. We are able to manage the cost of input and the labor. We also have an organic garden on a smaller scale at our Wrigleyville site.”

    Helen’s one regret is that they are not able to compost the debris from the farm because they are in the city and composting is not allowed. The debris is hauled away, but it is costly to have it returned as compost to Uncommon Ground.

    Allison noted that all of the plants are grown from seed; some are planted directly into the planters and others are started in a grow room in the restaurant’s basement. “Most of our summer crops, such as tomatoes and peppers, are started downstairs,” said Allison. “We source our seeds from several catalogues. Among all these catalogues we have more than 3,000 varieties of tomatoes from which to choose. As a result, our organic farm has a large variety of tomatoes.”

    Allison said that she is able to harvest winter vegetables into the first week of December, weather permitting. When the rooftop plants are finished for the winter, Allison said that hairy vetch is used as a cover crop because it pulls nitrogen from the air and deposits it into the soil. It is a vining plant that helps to hold the soil in the beds. In the spring the vetch is chopped up and turned over into the soil.

    Helen noted that Allison has interns who work with her during the summer on the rooftop and patio crops. At the end of their time at Uncommon Ground they complete a summer project. “The young people are learning about growing and harvesting,” said Helen. “We are growing people who can grow food.”

    We ended our visit with a sampling of appetizers available at the restaurant. It was the perfect ending to our day on the rooftop farm.

    2018 Study Tour Provides an Enjoyable Education on Norway

    By Jim and Jeff Ward

    Our group of 31, the largest study group in Chicago Farmers’ touring history, arrived in Oslo, Norway, on June 10th and began a busy week of gaining an appreciation of a nation filled with a variety of terrain and crops. Our first day after the overnight flight was spent on a tour of the city and arriving at our hotel, which had a ski jump on its spacious grounds.

    Oslo, the capital city, occupies an arc of land at the end of the “Oslo Fjord,” has 670,000 residents, and has access to visiting cruise ships from all over the world. The king has his own private farm located within the city limits.

    On day two, we embarked on a Monday morning tour that took us to the Viking Ship Museum and the Norwegian Folk Museum. The Museum provided a walking tour of typical historic dwellings and a stave-church. A special exhibit of Norwegian knitted mittens delighted my (Jim) granddaughter, Caryn Lantz.

    Our Oslo Hotel Viking Ship Caryn and Mitten Exhibit

    The group’s bus traveled along Mjosa Lake, the largest lake in Norway, to the Hoel  farm near the small town of Nes for lunch and a tour. Relics indicate the farm’s lakeside land has been cultivated since 300 AD.  After being operated by the church, it has been privately owned since 1679.  It now raises 200,000 chickens each year. Of interest is that 98 percent of the feed is locally produced and potatoes are processed for the protein component; no antibiotics are used.

    Our host gave us an overview of farming in Norway.  Only three percent of all land is deemed agricultural.  The largest grain crops are barley, rye, and oats.  These are used to supplement potatoes and hay for feeding livestock. Farmers also use mini-round bales (three feet by three feet) for the many small hay fields.  They weigh about 70-90 pounds and are “unfurled” for feeding.  Smaller utility tractors (20 horsepower or less) can be used for baling on the steep terrain and between rows of other plantings such as apple trees.  Plastic wraps prevent spoilage and eliminate need for storage barns.   In Norway, the number of larger farms has increased, just as it has in the US.  However, the average size of a farm in Norway is 124 acres of arable land.  Norway has a complex system of subsidized pricing of grain and poultry through the Ministry of Agriculture. Norway is not in the EU; it is a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) since it was a founding member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

    Host Explaining His Farming Operation Chicken Barn Barn Exterior

    The group arrived in Lillehammer, the site of the 1994 Winter Olympics, for the night.  We heard of the economic impact that the games provided to Norway as a country and the local area.  The village of 30,000 was packed during the ’94 event and likely resembled the impact on Lake Placid, New York, during the 1980 Olympics.  A number of the facilities have been repurposed for community and educational purposes.

    We started our third day with a visit to the ski jumping hills that can now be used year-round due to artificial snow surface. The next stop was the nearby Mailhaugen Farm Museum. Guides described farming practices of the 1800s and early 1900s, and our group toured buildings and saw equipment used for irrigation, threshing, grain storage and livestock.

    Olympic Ski Jumping Hill at Lillehammer Sod Roofed Barn at Mailhaugen Farm Museum  Mailhaugen Farm Museum 

    The bus then lumbered up a mountain road to the Brimi Soeter farm near Randen for lunch and fiddle music. The farm, located on a high mountain plateau, had livestock that included pigs, cattle, and turkeys.  The farmhouse’s basement also served as a cheese curing location.

    Mountain Farm Grazing Slope Cheese Storage

    The day ended with a short ride to the town of Lom and the Fossheim Hotel.  Besides the nearby Jotunheimen National Park, the small town is noted for one of the largest remaining stave churches. 

    Stave Church at Lom Skiers at the Top of the Mountain Pass Waterfall Seen on Flam Train Ride

    During our fourth day, bus driver Jon Janson demonstrated his skills on the morning drive from Lom to the highest mountain range in central Norway on a road that is normally closed from November to May due to snow.  A brief stop at the top of the mountain pass allowed the group to see the still snow-covered peaks with cross country skiers venturing out onto trails between lakes.

    The bus traveled on a historic western route towards the Hardanger fjord with one ferry crossing to arrive at Flam.  The afternoon was spent on the Flamsbanen train ride up to Myrdal and back again with a stop at its famous waterfall.  The group spent the night at the classic Brakanes Hotel located on the banks of the Hardanger fjord in Ulvik.

    On the fifth day, we traveled from Ulvik farther up the Hardanger fjord to a (salmon) fish farm.  Following a salmon lunch, the group heard about the fish farming industry, which is a more modern Norwegian export to supplement the historic “fish stock” (dried cod) product from the northwestern coast in the North Sea.  The Hardanger Akvasenter fish farm has two tanks, each with 5,000 fish.  They take 14-22 months to grow to a mature weight of 5.5 kg (12 pounds).  Norway has responded to potential criticism of aquaculture practice and since the 1990s regulates the amount of fish-space in pens as well as organic vegetable and non-antibiotic feed. 

    The afternoon was spent at the Hardanger Juice and Cider Factory.  The owner explained the processes of making must (freshly crushed apple including “pulp” with its cloudy appearance), various types of cider, and apple brandy.  The orchard uses four varieties of apples (Gravenstein, Summer Red, Aroma, and Discovery) and plants trees using the “espalier” technique for growing on wire trellises on the steep sides of the fjord.   We viewed his mechanized processing equipment and saw the cold room, distillery, and storage of aging barrels.

    View of Hardangerfjord from Ulvik Hotel Fish Tanks and Support Building Apple Orchards

    The bus traveled west on our sixth day past the major city of Voss, which was heavily involved during WWII, towards Norway’s second largest city of Bergen.  Near Bergen, the group stopped at the Dale woolen knitwear factory for a tour and shopping. It was established in the town of Dale in 1879 with access to both local Norwegian sheep and hydroelectric power.  They have been the producer of active wear for Norwegian winter Olympians.

    Cider Processor Aging Barrel Storage Antique Wool Scale

    After checking into the Thon Hotel in Bergen, the group had lunch (fish soup, reindeer “burgers” and waffles) at the Bryggeloffet & Stuene restaurant. Presentations were made to our guide, Nils, and our driver,  Jon. Having been both a travel agent and a farmer, Nils was perfectly qualified to help us understand his country. Jon has relatives in Wisconsin and wore his Green Bay Packers tie that he picked up on one of several visits to the US.

    Nils led a walking tour of the Bergen city center and harbor, including the fish market and historic fish stock export center.  The walking tour then wandered through residential areas and city center parks.  Of note was the beginning of the Edvard Grieg Festival with many musical events to celebrate their hometown composer’s 175th birthday.

    Our Guide Nils Statue of Edvard Grieg, Famous Norwegian Composer Bergen City Markets

    Following breakfast and some last-minute shopping on our seventh day, the group journeyed to the new Flesland Airport for departure.   Some of the travelers extended their trip with a week in Iceland prior to returning home, while others visited Denmark and Paris before returning to the US. We were all unanimous in our belief that we had a new appreciation of Norway.

    An outdoor history museum in Naperville welcomes The Chicago Farmers

    The Chicago Farmers were transported back to the mid-19th century when Summer Tour 2017 took the group to Naper Settlement in Naperville, Illinois. A perfect summer day, delicious lunch, and charming Naper Settlement staff members showed TCF what industry and agriculture were like in the area the last 180 years.

    Our hostesses for the day were Debbie Grinnell, Vice President, Advancement and Campus Development, and Donna Sack, Vice President, Community Engagement and Audience. Ms. Grinnell noted that she and Ms. Sack had attended Chicago Farmers meetings over the last year and very much they enjoyed them. They also participated in TCF’s visit to the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences last summer.

    “We wanted to be able to offer something in return to The Chicago Farmers and we thought a visit to our site would do that,” said Ms. Grinnell.

    She noted that Naper Settlement sits on 12 of the 212 acres donated to Naperville in the 1930s. Caroline Martin Mitchell, the daughter of George Martin, a successful 19th century businessman, deeded the acreage and the Martin family Victorian mansion that was built in 1883, to Naperville with the understanding that the property would be put to good use for the community and that the mansion would become a city museum. Hence, a hospital, schools, river walk, cemetery, municipal buildings, and Naper Settlement now sit on the property that at one time was the Martin’s farmland and rock quarry pit. Today, the Martin mansion and 30 buildings and ancillary sites features “allow Naper Settlement to tell the story of an agrarian community that transformed into a technoburb,” said Ms. Grinnell.

    And, indeed, there is an audience for the story. Thirty-five thousand teachers and students from 12 rural, suburban, and urban counties in Illinois annually visit Naper Settlement in addition to the many other visitors that are split evenly between Naperville and other suburbs.

    Naper Settlement, which serves as an outdoor history museum, operates on a $4.5 million budget; $3 million of which comes from the City of Naperville with the remaining $1.5 million raised by the Naperville Heritage Society. This fundraising arm was created in 1969 when a group formed to save St. John’s Episcopal Church in downtown Naperville from demolition. The church held its first service in 1865. The group raised enough funds to salvage the wooden Gothic Revival church and have it moved to the grounds of the Martin Mitchell Mansion. The church was renamed Century Memorial Church and has been restored to look as it did in the 1870s.

    After lunch, our group left the visitor center, which houses a temporary exhibit reflecting on the Naperville community’s agricultural roots on the first floor and a permanent exhibit on Naperville’s settlement and town development in the lower level. We then went outdoors to tour the museum and view the historic buildings that dot the Naper Settlement site. A blacksmith, the Naperville Clarion Print Shop and Paw Paw Post Office are among the first buildings that are encountered as visitors begin a leisurely stroll around the grounds. “Interpreters” educate visitors on the work of the blacksmith, relate how a newspaper of 1869 printed the news, and share details about the early days of the postal system and the fact that Naperville was a stop on the stage coach route. Young teens and children dressed in period garb can be seen around the post office playing games that children of that era would have played.

    As the walk moves on, visitors continue to be transported back in time and immersed in history. A stop at an 1830s log cabin that originally stood in Jonesboro, Illinois, allows visitors to interact with two children performing children’s tasks of the 1800s – churning butter and carding wool to prepare it for the spinning wheel. The adult “interpreter” talks about farming of the period. He noted, for example, that the 19th century farmer would produce 30 bushels of corn per acre and sell it for 30 cents a bushel, which would be $30 today. Similarly, the farmer produced about 24 bushels of wheat per acre and sold it for 80 cents per bushel, $80 in today’s terms.

    The walk along winding paths takes visitors past a Conestoga covered wagon that transported pioneers westward in the 19th century, a reconstructed one room school house from the 1840s that originally stood at Route 59 and 83rd Street, an 1843 home known as the “halfway house” because it stood halfway on the route between Naperville and Aurora, and the beautifully restored Martin Mitchell Mansion. But there is still more to see: a farm cellar, smokehouse and windmill from the 1900s, the Century Memorial Chapel, the Murray Building, which was a residence and business dating from the 1840s in downtown Naperville, and more.

    While there is much to see at Naper Settlement today, the history museum has plans for the addition of an Agricultural Interpretive Center in the near future, Ms. Sack told TCF’s group. Currently, Naper Settlement is in the process of collecting artifacts, stories and funds for the $4 million center.

    “There is a story to be told about how Naperville shifted from an agricultural base to suburbanization as it welcomed industry and a more diverse population,” said Ms. Sack. “There is so much more to tell. Our goal is to continue to focus and enhance our conversation about the importance of history, social studies and civics.”

    The 5,000 square feet Agricultural Interpretive Center addition to Naper Settlement will be located close to the half-way house and will tell the story of agriculture from 19th and 20th and centuries in the context of agriculture today. It will show agriculture’s innovation through displays of past and present farm implements, facilitate discussions about the business side of agriculture and the skills that are needed to be successful, provide an ag-science learning lab for interactive activities, experiments and experiences, and the center also will include the story of women in agriculture, Ms. Sack said.

    “We want to excite children about working in agriculture and agriculture related professions,” said Ms. Sack. “Agriculture is a huge business in Illinois and the center will show that. The center will provide data that will inform conversations about the evolving science and business of food production today, and how agriculture will feed the world’s population of tomorrow.”

    TCF member Ray Brownfield is a long-time resident of Naperville and an ardent supporter of Naper Settlement and its plans for the Agricultural Center. “I have spent time talking with representatives of Naper Settlement about agriculture and where it is going,” Ray shared with TCF’s group. “We have talked about growing crops, GMOs and organic farming. I’m a stakeholder here. I believe the Agricultural Interpretive Center can become a destination for people to learn about agriculture. It is a very exciting endeavor.”

    Austrian Study Tour Sets a Record High with Traveler Count and Alpine Altitude

    By Jim Ward, Chicago Farmers Travel Chairman

    Chicago Farmers and the three generation Austrian farm family.

    Twenty-five Chicago Farmers members and guests spent the week of April 22nd to 29th learning about the diverse agriculture and historic cultural features of Austria. The group traveled 777 miles in a comfortable motor coach and a short distance by cruise ship on the Danube River with the leadership of our charming tour guide, Silvia.

    Our Austrian Airlines 777 delivered us to the Vienna airport on schedule, and Silvia and driver Tomas took us to Graz, Austria’s No. 2 city, with a lunch of pumpkin seed soup and Austrian pancakes on the way. Graz was not bombed during World War II, so historic buildings were in their original condition.

    Next morning, the group headed for Piber, the site of the famous Lippizanner stud farm and training stables. Our guide expressed the Austrian people’s gratitude to General Patton for rescuing the Spanish Riding School’s horses from the food shortage of post World War II. We saw 40 new foals with their mothers. They are born black and turn white as they age. Also on display were new riders in training.

    A short drive through Austria’s “fruit basket” area revealed that most orchards use a technique whereby trees are trained/pruned to grow on trellises, which allows high production and easy harvesting. The evening was spent at a country inn.

    In the afternoon, we drove west to the mountain area to visit an Alpine dairy farm. The Kettner family’s hillside home faced the snow-capped mountain peaks and looked over a sloping pasture. It was a perfect setting for our group photo with three generations of the family. Their modern dairy barn houses a 70 cow herd of Brown Swiss and Holsteins, with modern self-service robotic milking equipment. Haying steep mountain grassland and moving heifers to high summer pastures were part of the routine.

    Like U. S. dairy farmers, the Austrians have the problems of low milk prices and government regulations. The Kettners work with other farms, forming a cooperative to own expensive farm machinery. They also lease pasture land from a nearby church in the valley.

    By Tuesday, we had reached Salzburg and were ready to tour the “Sound of Music” city with our guide leading the bus in songs from the romantic musical. We began the day with the Mirabell gardens and moved through the various sites chosen to tell the story of the von Trapp family’s adventures. A side trip to the lake village of Mondsee allowed viewing the “wedding church” used in the movie. We had the evening on our own, and some of us chose to hear a Mozart style musical presentation with costumed singers. The setting was in an old abbey with vaulted ceilings and sparkling chandeliers.

    Wednesday was our busy day with a fruit farm visit, with our host walking us through his row-on-row blossoming orchards of pear and apple trees. Some of the trees were 300 years old dating back to Hapsburg ruler Maria Theresa, who promoted educational, commercial and agricultural reform in the late 1700s. Then to his inn’s dining room where he served us samples of a spirit he had aged and distilled from the fruit, followed by a generous luncheon.

    Next, we were on to Melk and a visit to the imposing Benedictine Monastery overlooking the Danube. It wasfilled with great art treasures and the business manager explained about their role in farming and forestry. They are one of the largest land owners in Austria and income from the property and tourist admissions sustain the maintenance of the aging structure.

    The evening was spent in a charming inn on the banks of the Danube at Emmensdorf. Thursday morning, we met with the Monastery’s business manager at his farm headquarters and inspected some of the giant equipment for row crop production (potatoes, sugar beets, soybeans, and canola) that also is used for logging the forest property. Wood chips are used to heat the Monastery and local municipal buildings.

    Next came our river cruise on the Danube, with castles on the shore and terraced vineyards on the river bank. Our guide told us they were originally built by the Romans, hundreds of year ago.

    On our way to Vienna, Austria’s capital city, we passed the golden blossoms in the rape seed fields. The crop would be harvested to produce canola oil. Friday was a bus tour past Vienna’s many attractions, including the State Opera, the Belvedere Palace, Parliament, and many museums. We had the afternoon on our own.

    As luck would have it, our drop-off point at the center of the city was near the Spanish Riding School!  Several riders had the beautiful white stallions posing for a photo shoot, so we did some photo shoots of our own and stopped in at the School’s gift shop. An afternoon of museum visiting finished off our sample of Vienna’s wonderful attractions. Austria is a well visited country; forty percent of the country’s national income is attributed to tourism.

    Our farewell dinner featured a generous serving of wiener schnitzel and sacher torte for dessert. The private dining room provided music by a local pianist. Our guide surprised us with the gift of a torte cake to take home as a remembrance, which we shared at the May 8th Chicago Farmers luncheon.

    We were up early on Saturday to board our Austrian Airline 777 and had sunshine all the way home. Another Study Tour and the improvement of our knowledge of farming around the world and a benefit for our Scholarship Fund had come to an end.

    Click here to see photos from the trip!


    By Jim Ward, TCF Travel Chairman

    A record breaking 25 travelers embarked on Iberian Airlines for a Study Tour of Central Spain in late September, enjoying perfect weather and a blend of farm visits and historic places. The week-long visit was capped by a “farewell dinner” at the Café de la Opera with performances by local singers during the meal.

    Our walking encyclopedic guide “Gari” took us to Toledo for our first stop. The city is known for its production of steel blades, so we toured a workshop noted for its swords and knives. The next day we moved to the country, and stopped to photograph a lineup of Don Quixote windmills. Next we went on to a Saffron Cooperative, learning about this rare crop in the group’s museum.

    By mid-morning we visited a Manchego cheese factory. The cheese has a unique flavor due to its sheep’s milk origin. For our lunch we stopped in Villa Castilla for a generous meal of local dishes. Next, back to Toledo for a walking tour of the historic city, noted for its cathedral and castles.

    Wednesday morning we were on the road again to visit the world famous Osborne winery, a 200 year old firm that is family owned, yet has an international reputation. They showed us the complete cycle of production and offered us a generous sample of their production.

    After a hearty lunch at a local restaurant, we saw one of Spain’s largest cattle ranches, visiting a Charolais beef breeder. The host’s prize bull had just returned from a Festival in Southern Spain with the runner up ribbon. The rancher’s daughter was on hand and introduced her three sons, who are learning the ropes on the ranch. The rancher also was a big game hunter and invited us to a tour of his trophy hall, a separate building housing his mounted big game trophy heads and show awards. When asked what animal was hardest to bring down, he answered, “A wild buffalo.”

    On the road again Thursday morning, the other side of the cattle business was our morning stop—a bull fighting training ranch owned by a retired (at age 35) matador and his brother. We were given a ride in a tram and driven to the pasture. One of his cowboys whistled for the herd and they came running for feed pellets as we watched from the safety of the tram. The “novice” bulls were not aggressive and some ate the pellets from the cowboy’s fingers.

    Back at the ranch complex we toured the practice bull ring and presented our host with the traditional Chicago Farmers’ cap as a souvenir of our visit.

    Nearby we stopped at a wheat, barley and rape seed farm, with most of the grain crops already harvested. The farmer was proud of his well-maintained equipment that enabled him to farm his acreage all by himself, and, he explained, “365 days a year.” He does have some extra hands during the peak seasons.

    We stayed overnight at the ancient town of Vallodolid and headed out on Friday to visit the Planasa Corporation, one of Europe’s biggest horticultural firms. Their role is to improve the quality and quantity of plant and vegetable production by supplying seeds for growers around the world. We visited their fields and vineyards and were impressed by their techniques.

    Our luncheon stop was just outside the walled village of Gomezerracin. A camera crew was shooting a TV commercial against the town’s wall and we had to pass their security to enter the restaurant! Inside we were served the unusual delicacy of roast suckling pig with flan custard for dessert.

    Next stop Segovia, noted for one of the surviving Roman Aqueducts, as well as for their ancient city wall and cathedrals. Then back to our starting place, Madrid. It is Spain’s largest city and famous for its many museums and the nation’s palace.

    On this final day of our study tour, our city guide gave us a compressed visit past the major attractions from our tour bus seats. We stopped at the Palace and saw the colorful changing of the guard ceremony. During the afternoon we toured on our own, many choosing to visit the world famous Prado Museum.

    The Café de la Opera restaurant was the place for our group picture, with a colorful mosaic wall as the background. During the four course meal we were serenaded by four local opera stars and selections from classic operas.

    On Sunday, we were off to the Madrid airport and the Iberian flight back to the United States, leaving mid-morning and arriving home mid-afternoon as we chased the sun west. It was another successful International Study Tour and a generous contribution to the Chicago Farmers Scholarship Fund.

    Chicago Farmers visit Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences

    Students from Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences (CHSAS) have attended The Chicago Farmers’ meetings numerous times. As recipients of TCF scholarships, the students are always welcome and enjoyable to meet. On August 11, it was our turn to visit their school for TCF’s summer program. TCF has visited in the past, but we learn something new each time we visit and we meet students we have not previously met.

    Located on the far Southwest Side of Chicago, CHSAS educates 720 students in freshman through senior years. It receives 3,000 applications each year for 180 freshmen seats, according to Bill Hook, principal at CHSAS. Students are selected through a random lottery and hail from all parts of the city; some from nearby neighborhoods and others from the far North Side with one-way commutes as much as 1.5 hours.

    “The University of Illinois receives the majority of our graduates, but all of the land grant colleges are popular destinations for our students,” said Hook. “Thirty percent of our students become ag majors in college and two-thirds don’t pursue agriculture as a study. However, 100 percent of our students are well served by the program at CHAS. They learn important skills and become responsible young adults. We thank The Chicago Farmers for their scholarships and it is great when our students attend your meetings. They offer discussions about current events and wonderful topics that we connect with our curriculum.”

    Hook went on to say, “CHSAS has a 92 percent graduation rate and 83 percent of our students continue on to college. CHSAS is everything that is good about education.”

    Opened in 1985, CHSAS and its fields sit on 78 acres, of which 38 acres are farmed. The site has been owned by Chicago Public Schools for 100 years and was leased by a family that farmed it until 1980. Although CPS had decided to sell the land, the neighborhood urged the system to keep the farm and build a school. Hence, CHSAS was built, one of only two such schools in the United States.

    A short video narrated by Max Armstrong gave us an overview of CHSAS before we started out on our tour. “The school takes urban students and makes them aware of agribusiness and where food comes from,” related Armstrong. Following the video, we divided into groups and hooked up with a pair of tour guides. The guides were seniors and included Jennifer Ventura, Shane La Faire, Danielle Wood, Carleton Johnson, Caitlyn McFadden, and Emily Neeson. Each student had either spent the summer in an internship at a U.S. university or traveled abroad for an internship.

    CHSAS offers a unique approach to education, said Hook. It has college prep education and ag courses. After sampling the six pathways offered by the school (Ag Education, Horticulture, Ag Finance, Food Science, Animal Science, and Ag Mechanics) during freshman and sophomore years, students rank the pathways in order of their preference and then pursue one of them during junior and senior years.

    The livestock, which includes horses, cows (students built a shelter for the cows), pigs, goats, chickens, and turkeys, provide hands-on experience for students. The horse manure serves as fertilizer for the school’s crops, which are sold at the school’s farm stand that students manage. Lettuce raised by students was sold to Cooper’s Hawk Restaurant. Students in the Horticulture Pathway mount exhibits for the annual Chicago Garden Show at Navy Pier in March. Half of the honey produced at the school is sold at the farm stand and the other half is sold to Eli’s.

    Caitlyn McFadden, who is studying in the Ag Education Pathway, kept us informed along with her partner guide, Shane LaFaire, who is in the Horticulture Pathway. Caitlyn is considering attending the University of Tennessee, where she completed an internship this summer, and Shane is looking at either the University of Iowa or Iowa State University. “I picked CHSAS because it is a good school, but I ended up falling in love with ag,” said Caitlyn.

    In addition to learning about and caring for animals, students have the opportunity to learn about honey production, hydroponic farming and the raising of fish (tilapia) that are sold to DiCola’s, a local seafood shop. Caitlyn noted that a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) program is being added this year. Baseball, football, soccer, and water polo (the school has a pool) are offered.

    The day culminated with lunch that featured student baked zucchini bread and hamburgers and Italian sausage that were made with the meat from the cows and pigs raised at CHSAS.

    “This is an inspirational place,” said Barbara Clark, TCF president, as the day was wrapping up. “CHSAS is a good news story about Chicago’s public schools. It was a great opportunity to be here today.”

    2015 Summer Tour of Fair Oaks Farms

    Respect for animals, environment take center stage at Fair Oaks

    By Denise Faris

    Our contingent of Chicago Farmers was on its way to tour Fair Oaks Farms, a consortium of family dairy and swine farms in northwest Indiana, on a day that promised sunny skies and 90 degree temperatures. With that in mind, wide brimmed hats and sunscreen were musts for the trip.

    The 36 members of our summer field trip soon learned that these items were not necessary because Fair Oaks ferries its visitors to its swine and dairy facilities via an air conditioned, bio-secure bus. Additionally, while getting good views of the animals, there is no direct contact with any of the animals so that there is little chance of animals being contaminated by germs or diseases that humans might inadvertently bring with them. It is an odor-free and dirt-free visit that is highly entertaining and educational.

    Fair Oaks Farms, a 75 mile drive from Chicago in northwest Indiana, opened its doors to the public in January 2004. Initially showcasing dairy farming, Fair Oaks was created to educate the public about farming operations and how dairy cows are raised and milked. The pig facility opened in 2013 and allows meaningful interaction with the animals under a controlled environment.  A crop education building, sponsored by Land O’ Lakes, is under construction and will open in 2016. John Deere has plans to open an equipment museum at Fair Oaks, also in 2016, and the poultry industry will become a part of Fair Oaks with a laying facility in 2016. Negotiations are under way for a hotel on the grounds.

    “We wanted to be proactive and let the public see our farming operations,” Gary Corbett, CEO of Fair Oaks Farms, told us during our luncheon break at the Farmhouse Restaurant, which opened at Fair Oaks last year. He later noted, “Only one percent of the U.S. population makes its living from agriculture. We think it is very important for farmers to reach out to the other 99 percent and begin to help these people understand the wonderment that is 21st century agriculture.”

    Nine dairy farm families purchased the original 15,000 acres of land in 1998 from Prudential Insurance, which had accumulated the acreage with the thought that it would be used as a third airport for the Chicago area.  Presently, Fair Oaks covers 32,000 acres. The same families that purchased the site are farming the ground and milking the cows today, said Corbett. There are 92 dairy farm families that own the dairy education facilities.

    Sitting on either side of Interstate 65, Fair Oaks Farms is highly visible and easy to reach by car. Some 350,000 people a year visit it. Corbett said the vast majority of Fair Oaks is a non-profit 501C3 organization. Recently, Cargill and Farm Credit donated funds for a dining area for the 75,000 school children that visit Fair Oaks Farms during the school year and summer.

    Our day at Fair Oaks began at the Pork Education Center where you can read numerous pig facts written on the walls of the facility (e.g., pig heart valves have been implanted in humans since 1975, one pig produces 475 strips of bacon) and enjoy interactive displays. We then departed on our tour bus for the Visitor Center, which is the entry to the pig facility.  All of the manure from the Pig Adventure is piped to the methane digesters at the dairy (more about this later). As a result, there is no odor. Additionally, the visitors’ galleries, which allow you to view the pigs through large windows, throughout the facility have a completely separate ventilation system.


    Our guide, Marie, discussed the bio-security that is in place at the facility. She noted that farmers who work at the site must shower every morning before entering the facility, don work clothes that are provided for them, and shower when leaving for the day. We took a virtual shower to get the idea.

    Our first stop was the Growing Barn where the female pigs or gilts (females that have not had litters) are viewed in the barn’s free roaming pens through large windows that run along a hallway overlooking the barn. The young pigs are acquired from Fair Oaks’ sister farms. The pigs are separated in the pens by age and range from three to four weeks to six to seven months, when they become sexually mature. A Chinese Meishan boar resides in one of the pens because the breed emits a highly odiferous pheromone that helps to bring the gilts into heat. A partnership with PIC, a pig genetics company, allows Fair Oaks to enhance its breeding standards through artificial insemination. Once pregnant, the pig is moved to the Gestation Barn.

    In the pens in the Gestation Barn, the pigs are marked on their backs with color markers to indicate their progress in the gestation period, which is three months, three weeks and three days. The sows produce 2.5 litters a year, with about 14 piglets per litter. Visitors are able to view births through viewing pods overlooking the farrowing crates, which provide room for the sow and the nursing piglets but inhibit the sow’s ability to turn over and possibly crush the young pigs. These crates are kept warm for the piglets, which need 103 degree temperatures after birth, while a fan above the sow keeps her cooler.

    As we watched the sows and the litters, a team of farrowing technicians moved along the rows of crates to check every 20 minutes on the sows that were having difficulty giving birth. If there was not a birth, the technician put on a plastic glove over her hand and arm, slipped it into the birth canal and retrieved a piglet.  The technicians also stopped at each crate to count the pigs in a litter, weigh the litter, note the genders, administer iron shots, and clip the piglets’ needle teeth. It takes about three to five hours for the birth of an average litter. We were able to get a close up view of a piglet born earlier in the morning when a farrowing technician brought it to a viewing area behind glass.

    Litters are weaned off the sow after 21 days and moved to a nursery that focuses on their health and well-being. They are then sold. After weaning, the sows are moved to the gestation pens where the reproductive cycle begins again. At three to four-years-old, the sows are sent to market.

    Our bus then transported us to the Farmhouse Restaurant for a buffet luncheon. Our next stop, via bus, was the dairy operation. But, first, a short walk to the Birthing Barn where we watched from an amphitheater two cows, behind glass, in the process of giving birth. A few of the pregnant cows are brought to this facility so visitors can be a part of the birthing experience.

    Our bus took us to one of the several dairy farms that are part of Fair Oaks. The dairy side of the farms began production in February 2000. Free stall barns were configured so that each cow was not confined to one stall. The dairy operation we visited had 3,200 head of cattle while across all of the farms there are 37,000 head. Veterinarians and animal scientists are part of the dairies’ staff. As we neared the barn, we passed large mounds of chopped corn silage that was fermenting under plastic tarps. Harvested from the acreage at Fair Oaks, the silage will become feed for the cattle. Each cow consumes 17 tons of feed per year.

    Our bus entered the dry cow barn where we viewed cows from the bus windows that were waiting to give birth. Overhead sprinklers kept the cattle cool. The barn has sand beds for the cows because it is inorganic and won’t support bacteria growth that would infect the cow’s udder. Maternity technicians check the expectant mothers, who have been artificially inseminated, every hour to monitor their progress. It takes one to two hours for a birth, with about less than five percent of the cows needing assistance. After birth, the calf is fed colostrum, which is produced by the cows, four times on the first day.  It is moved to a small hutch outside of the barn shortly after birth.

    Next bus stop, the milking parlor. After we disembarked from the bus, we were led to a glassed in viewing area that overlooked a rotating milking station that accommodates 72 cows at one time. There are 11 such “merry-go-rounds” in operation at Fair Oaks. While the cows are seen contentedly chewing cud, dairy technicians are busy below the rotating platform sanitizing teats, attaching milking units, taking samples of milk to ensure that nothing is abnormal, sanitizing the teats again and attaching the milking unit to harvest the milk. Following the milking, which takes about five minutes during an eight and one-half minute rotation and has left the cow 20 to 30 pounds lighter, the teats are disinfected and the cow serenely backs out of her station and follows the cow ahead of her back into the barn. “It is the herd mentality,” our guide noted. “The cows know when to exit.” The milk produced at Fair Oaks is transported to the southeastern United States and sold to Kroger and Dean Foods.

    Following our tours, we watched a short, light-hearted 4-D film that provides education about dairy farms and their operations.

    While Fair Oaks is concerned about its livestock, it also is a good steward of the environment. When the cows leave to be milked, the waste in their stalls is sucked up through a vacuum and directed to underground anaerobic digesters where microbes are busy at work breaking down the manure solids. 

    The methane that is generated is scrubbed of CO2 and becomes fuel, compressed natural gas, for the dairy trucks that transport the farms’ milk to market. The accumulation of the manure is done in a timely manner, noted Corbett, so there is not sufficient time for the atmosphere to interact with it or for flies to be attracted to it. The manure solids also are converted into top soil by the same process and used in Fair Oaks’ fields.

    A presentation by Bob Divers of United Power Company, which operates the renewable energy system for Fair Oaks, gave our group an overview of how Fair Oaks creates and uses the biomass and a glimpse of things to come. Plans are in progress to operate a greenhouse at Fair Oaks to grow lettuce using the CO2 that is scrubbed from the methane.

    After a full day, there still was time to shop in the Fair Oaks Gift Shop for dairy products and the delicious cookies we had for lunch!