Articles

    November meeting offers a primer on the state of the Illinois International Port District

    Clayton Harris III is an enthusiastic cheerleader for the Illinois International Port District (IIPD). As its executive director for the past three years he has made it a priority to make potential customers aware of what the District’s Iroquois Landing and Lake Calumet port facilities, both of which are on Chicago’s Southeast Side and near the Indiana border, have to offer. There are 19 public port districts in the state. Harris was Chicago Farmers’ November 18, 2019, meeting guest speaker.

    “We are the greatest multi-modal facility in North America,” said Harris. “These ports are the logistics hearts and brains of transportation.”

    Harris related that the Iroquois Landing Facility has 190 acres and approximately1,600 acres comprise the Lake Calumet facility. In addition to these sites, the District also includes the Harborside International Golf Center, which was constructed over the old city of Chicago’s dump and filled with refuse.

    “We have connections to road, rail, and water,” said Harris as he displayed a picture of the ports with nearby interstates and rail yards crisscrossing the properties. “The Chicago facilities are within 10 miles of five United States highways, have access to six of the seven North American Class I railroads, and the sites are the only Great Lakes and inland rivers port. We rank number two behind the Duluth/Superior port. The port processes an average of 17.5 million tons of cargo annually.”

    The state’s port system includes 350 private terminals along the Illinois, Kaskaskia, Calumet, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers, as well as Lake Michigan. Three Illinois ports are among the leading ports in the country.

    Harris noted that international ships come through the Chicago sites via the St. Lawrence Seaway; barge traffic comes via the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.

    While the Chicago sites see $37 million in agricultural products at their docks, Harris would like to increase that figure for the facilities and be an economic stimulus for the Chicago area. In 2017, the facilities had total revenue of $1,186,968 and his goal is to increase that by six percent while reducing debt, which he has done during his three years of stewardship.

    Harris said that making the facilities more attractive is a key factor in drawing more traffic. He said the state’s capital budget allocated $150 million for the state’s 19 ports and the Illinois International Port District hopes to receive $50 million from that.

    The Calumet site has the largest grain elevators east of the Mississippi River, but none of them store any grain. “A decision has to be made to either raze the structures at a cost of $14 million or revamp them for $25 million, although we do have two grain bins to store soy,” said Harris. Additionally, a “ghost ship” that has been moored alongside the grain elevators for 20 years will soon be moved showing ongoing progress and change.

    Harris said the IIPD is now involved in a $1 million master planning process that will give it action plans to make the sites more attractive and more cost effective. He added that the District just received $17.5 million that will fund its first capital improvement project since 1981 and include the repaving of Butler Drive, the main roadway through the port district at Lake Calumet, and the raising of rail lines.

    “Our master plan will outline what we should, could, and will be doing,” said Harris. “For example, we plan to add a refrigerated shed to the Lake Calumet site so that we can store fresh food products. I want to engage people in agriculture and learn what we can do for you. I want you to incorporate the state’s 19 ports in your thought process.”

    Inland Sponsor Spotlight

    Dan Wagner, of the Inland Real Estate Group, LLC, a Platinum Sponsor of TCF, from left, Aubrey Kobernus, of Realtor Land Institute, Clayton Harris III, executive director of the Illinois International Port District, and Barbara Clark, past TCF president.

    The Inland Real Estate Group, LLC is the newest Chicago Farmers’ Platinum Sponsor. During the November 18, 2019, TCF meeting, Dan Wagner, Senior Vice President, Government Relations, provided a brief overview of the firm, which has offices in Oak Brook, Chicago, and Atlanta, Georgia.

    Dan explained that the group was founded 52 years ago by four Chicago public school teachers. Over the years it has purchased $47 billion in commercial real estate. In his discussion he focused on the Delaware statutory trust (DST) structure that is used in Section 1031 exchanges. Inland Private Capital Corporation’s counsel worked with the Internal Revenue Service to educate them on the DST structure and Revenue Ruling 2004-86 was issued as a result of the collaboration. Section 1031 of the Internal Revenue Code can provide a strategy for deferring capital gains tax that may arise from the sale of a business or investment real property.

    With a DST, a person could own farmland, an apartment building or another kind of rental property, sell it and then enter into a Section 1031 like-kind real estate exchange through a fractional ownership of a large condominium complex, for example.

    The DST structure allows the investor to continue to exchange real properties until the investor’s death. Upon the death of the investor, the heirs may receive a “step-up” in basis to avoid initial capital gains tax.

    “I have just skimmed the surface of the 1031 Delaware Statutory Trust, but I would be happy to discuss it at length with anyone,” said Dan.

    For more information go to these websites:

    Sustainable farm shares space with a golf course

    The ping of a golf club head striking against a golf ball and the yell “fore” are not sounds usually associated with a farm, but if you are involved in Fairway Farms in Lemont, Illinois, they are common noises that Angelica Carmen, the farm’s manager and Sustainability Specialist, says come with her work location. Angelica was the guest speaker at Chicago Farmers’ October 21, 2019 meeting.

    Angelica manages and developed the farm that is located on the site of a former gravel parking lot at Cog Hill Golf and Country Club in Lemont and backs up to one of the four golf courses that have made Cog Hill famous among avid and pro golfers. The two-year-old sustainable farm boasts 4,500 square feet of planting space, 25 raised beds growing 100 different varieties of heirloom plants and edible flowers that are used in Cog Hill’s banquet facilities, 12 beehives (apiary) whose honey is sold to the community, a pumpkin patch, and a closed-loop composting program that uses kitchen waste mixed with garden refuse to create fertile compost that is used on the farm and, at the same time, mitigates methane-producing landfill waste.  “In the 2.5 years it has been in operation, the farm has diverted over 7,500 pounds of kitchen waste from landfills,” said a proud Angelica.

    A graduate of Loyola University Chicago, Angelica holds a degree in communication and environmental advocacy and leadership. She has had agriculture internships with Uncommon Ground, which has the first certified organic rooftop farm in the United States, and Loyola’s Urban Agriculture program. Aspiring to be a chef one day, Angelica said her internship with Uncommon Ground taught her how to grow sustainably and to grow for restaurant chefs. Loyola taught her how to manage a sustainable operation.

    Fairway Farms does not have electricity or mechanized equipment, does not use herbicides, irrigates from trenches dug under the fairways and a nearby pond, uses mulch that is composed of downed trees from the golf course, and creates its growing materials by recycling things no longer used by the golf course and adapting the items for growing use; for example, old golf cart beds have become planters and wooden turf pallets are turned on their sides to display hanging planters.

    “Golf courses can be positive stewards of the environment,” said Angelica. “The golf course has cut its use of fungicide and insecticide by 60 percent as a result of its connection with the farm and our sustainable processes. Additionally, the farm has saved the kitchen roughly $9,000 in produce costs annually.”

    Today, a wildflower berm that backs up to the golf course supports the apiary, which produced 140 pounds of honey this season. While most of the honey is sold to the community, some honey goes to Cog Hill’s kitchens when needed for recipes.  The farm has a partnership with Pollyanna Brewing Company and grew basil varieties to brew Dubs Delight Blonde Basil Ale. The farm also has planted a lavender bed dedicated to the brewery for Cog Hill’s 2019 ‘Par for the Course American Pale Ale,’ which is available in the golf course’s dining areas.

    Pollinator gardens, “Monarchs in the Rough,” dot the golf courses and bluebird houses and bat boxes, constructed by area students, are erected throughout Cog Hill.

    Prior to developing the farm, Angelica worked with Cog Hill’s Director of Grounds Operations, Chris Flick, who wanted to delve into sustainability and spearhead a sustainability program for on and off the golf course. Angelica’s job was to grow the culinary farm on a golf course and that she has done.

    “We have partnerships with a number of area restaurants and Pollyanna Brewery and we are reaching out to schools,” said Angelica. “Our mission is to educate. Sustainability is giving back more than you take. We are enhancing the ecosystem and reusing as much as we possibly can to to reduce harmful emissions. Fairway Farms grows without any chemicals or synthetics and I see biodiversity strengthening from year to year.”

    To increase people’s awareness of Fairway Farms and its sustainability, Cog Hill and its farm were the hosts of two Farm to Table dinners that were held on grounds overlooking one of the golf courses.  The produce used on the menu came from the farm and was served.

    “Our first dinner served 50 people in August 2018 and the second dinner this September had 70 people,” said Angelica. “Ninety percent of the menu was sourced from the farm. We plan to increase the number of dinners to three or four each year because they are great showcases of our programs and inspiring to people.”

    There will be several Farm Dinner events open to the public held throughout the 2020 season, with official dates coming soon. Event information is available on Cog Hill’s website, www.coghillgolf.com/growing-green.

    Written by Denise Faris, The Chicago Farmers Newsletter Editor

    It’s been an unusual year

    Dr. Gary Schnitkey, agricultural and consumer’s economics professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, opened the Chicago Farmers’ 2019 season to a large audience at the September 9th meeting with a discussion on 2019 farm income and cash rents and what the future holds.

    “It’s been one of the most unusual years that the Illinois Corn Belt has experienced,” said Dr. Schnitkey, referring to 2019. “The ‘prevent plant’ program and the trade situation dominated the year’s discussion. Northern Illinois, South Dakota and Ohio were the hardest hit by prevent plant.”

    He went on to say, “It is surprising how much corn actually did get planted and, in most cases, the corn looks good. However, it is late in development. In a normal season, we would be harvesting corn now, but it is more likely that the harvest will be in October and November. With the late development of the corn crop and the possibility of frost prior to harvest, we could be on a collision course.”

    Dr. Schnitkey pointed out that the trade situation with China worsened in May, but President Trump tweeted that MFP (Market Facilitation Program), which was offered in 2018, would continue in 2019. In Illinois, the MFP rates per acre for planted corn ranged from $53 to $87. He said that half of that payment has been received or will be soon by farmers. The remainder is not guaranteed. If the remaining funds do come, they could appear as late as January. “I think the payments will happen,” he said.

    Dr. Schnitkey noted the average MFP payment this year is $20 to $30 higher than last year. People involved in the prevent plant program, received $15 an acre. “The ad hoc Disaster Assistance Program has allocated $3 billion for MFP and targets prevent plant acres,” he added.

    The MFP was critical this year for farmers’ revenue, as were the ARC (Agricultural Risk Coverage) payments. Dr. Schnitkey advised farmers and landowners to postpone signing up for these programs now and consider doing so in November or December when it is clear which program will have the highest payout.

    Crop yields will be lower in 2019 for Illinois, he said. The USDA projected 180 bushels of corn per acre and 55 bushels of soybeans per acre.

    “We have had phenomenal yields since 2013,” said Dr. Schnitkey. “No one is predicting the same yields as last year.”

    He noted that the trade dispute with China hit the U.S. soybean market hard in May. Since then soybeans have been below $9 per bushel and could go as low as $7. The futures prices are at $8.80. Corn is continuing below $4 per bushel.

    “Corn prices could go higher through lower yields,” he said. “I don’t see how soybean prices could go above $9, even if the trade issue is resolved.”

     He related that the swine flu in Asia and Africa is reducing herds by 20 to 40 percent, which affects the need for soybean meal to feed the stock, and there is a large carry-over of soybeans. Dr. Schnitkey said that 2019 probably is not going to be a good year and 2020 looks like another scraping by year.

    Cash rents

    Dr. Schnitkey said that cash rents in Central Illinois ticked up slightly in 2019, but that is not projected for 2020.

    Land Productivity         2019 cash rent              2020 cash rent (expected)

    Excellent                      $302                            $298

    Good                           $261                            $254

    Average                       $212                            $205

    Fair                              $170                            $167

    He noted that the USDA would release the cash rent numbers for the state’s counties during the third week of September and the information would be posted on Farm Doc.

    In response to a question, Dr. Schnitkey said there is a growing percentage of variable cash rent arrangements. These are primarily used by professional farm managers. He said that variable cash rents are involved in about seven percent of land in Illinois. He said the trend is to move from share rent to cash rent. “The trend is a move to cash rent because farmers and landowners want simpler leasing arrangements,” he said.

    Dr. Schnitkey noted that most farms are still in strong financial positions.  He said, “I believe farmers are thinking there will be better prices in the future and they are going to hang on to their land. They believe that once they let go of their land, they will not get it back.”

    He said that it is projected that farmers’ debt to asset ratio will increase; working capital will decline. Additionally, the fall fertilizer prices are holding steading and not decreasing. This also is true for seed and pesticide costs.

    “Farmers will have to cut costs in the machinery area or in cash rents. However, if new machinery is not brought on, it could mean more money toward repairs,” Dr. Schnitkey remarked.

    In response to a question from the audience, Dr. Schnitkey said he did not see yields slowing too much because technology was in place to increase yields. “We know how to farm more acres,” he said.

    Regarding digital technology, he noted that it is being used by farmers in one form or another, but it’s what they do with it that makes the difference.  Dr. Schnitkey said, “I think there is a lot of data that are collected and people wonder how to use it.”

    He added that consumers have changing views on food. They are not only concerned about lower prices, but they want more amenities in their food. They care how food is produced. For example, they are focused on the production of more non-GMOs.

    “This will change Ag production, we will see more non-GMOs. But the consumers’ demands are fickle. Today it is non-GMOs, but what will it be in 10 years? It is a moving target,” said Dr. Schnitkey.

    Denise Faris, Chicago Farmers Editor

    A little bit of planning will help in a long way in succession strategies

    Vasili Russis, of Kelleher and Buckley, LLC, was the guest speaker at The Chicago Farmers’ May 13th annual meeting at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. A lawyer and a CPA, Russis related that he has found himself dealing with many litigation cases in recent years when “estate plans go south.” His goal was to help the May audience members avoid these kinds of situations when they are involved in estate planning.

    “In many of the instances, parents gave farmland property outright to their children,” said Russis. “When several surviving children are involved, it only takes one to have a problem.” He noted that the only one who benefits from these disagreements that end up in litigation is the attorney.

    Russis said, “A little bit of planning will help in a long way in passing on property.”

    He noted that there was no established centralization in these inheritance situations. “We look at setting up an LLC (Limited Liability Company) so that there is centralization,” Russis said. “Normally, one person manages the LLC. It could be a family member who best understands farming or someone outside the family who is trustworthy. The family comprises the membership of the LLC. These family members are the investors.”

    Russis said that an agreement as to who should be the manager is needed and it is best to cover this when the parents are alive.

    The benefits of an LLC, which is more effective than a corporation, include:

    • Eliminates partition threat (a sale of the property can’t be forced)
    • Provides litigation protection
    • Allows a key person from the next generation to serve as manager. The patriarch or matriarch could serve in this position until he or she is unable and then a person from the next generation could step in
    • Provides a shield for individuals against creditors; contracts are with the LLC, not with the members of the LLC


    Russis pointed out that the fiduciary duties of the LLC fall upon the manager. It is the manager’s responsibility to ensure that the property is being properly administered, that fair rents are collected, and that the owners are aware that there is a potential buyer for their property. The manager also would ensure that the LLC would file the 1065 tax form in a timely manner.

    “The manager has to be someone you can count on, who is trustworthy and transparent,” said Russis.

    Russis said that setting up an LLC in Illinois has been more attractive in recent years since the state has changed its laws that pertain to this structure. Filing in Illinois is a cost savings rather than having to file in either Nevada or Delaware.

    Regarding asset protection strategies, he noted that a multi-member structure gives protection against outside creditors. “An outside creditor who deals with the farm operation does not have any rights regarding the members of the LLC,” Russis said. “There also are ‘poison pill’ provisions that can be part of the LLC that make the property unattractive to outside creditors.

    He said that trusts can be a good asset protection vehicle. A self-settled trust (which is created by the parents) will not protect parents, but protects future beneficiaries because it becomes an irrevocable trust upon the death of the parents. The trust owns the property.

    A spousal limited access trust also can be established as an asset protection vehicle. The trust involves each parent and it allows them to deed property to an irrevocable trust. The parents are protected from creditors in this trust.

    Russis said another vehicle is the power of appointment support trust (POAST). It is useful when aging family members and younger generations own real estate and there is a low basis property with a high fair trade, which results in capital gains. The property is transferred to an irrevocable trust and the older generation is a beneficiary and given a power of appointment. The transfer of the property to the trust allows for a future step up basis so that the unrealized gain is eliminated on the death of the older generation family member holding the power of appointment and in turn reduces gain in the future due to the step up in basis.

    Russis said that caution has to be taken with the POAST because the current landowner can’t be a beneficiary if it is a newly established trust; however, an added power of appointment in the trust may allow the property to be given back to the landowner.

    Regarding tax deferrals, Russis noted the like kind exchanges, known as 1031s. The 1031 can only be used for real estate, farm equipment is no longer eligible. He said that the property one wishes to buy in this exchange must be identified within 45 days and it must be purchased within 180 days. The basis of the new property carries over to the basis of the relinquished property.

    “It is important to find the replacement property ASAP,” said Russis. “It is possible to do a partial exchange, but there will be a slight tax liability on the gain. Additionally, when the LLC is selling the property, it has to reinvest in the new property. If not all members of the LLC want to reinvest, the LLC must be liquidated and a new one would be formed with the members wishing to buy the property.” For a liquidation, Russis mentioned the liquidation should be planned well in advance of a sale.

    Russis noted that if an LLC does not have the funds to buy out a member, financing could be arranged or the party could be given a promissory note from the LLC.

    TCF’s annual election names 2019-2020 officers and directors

    Among the officers and directors for the 2019-2020 year are, standing, from left, Barbara Clark, past president; Jennifer Filipiak, director; David Oppedahl, director; Jamie Cox, director; and Sarah Heck, director. Seated are Andy Holstine, vice president, left, and Alan Gunn, treasurer, right.

    Election of officers and directors was held during The Chicago Farmers’ annual meeting on May 13, 2019 at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Officers for the 2019-2020 year are Mark Thorndyke, president; Andrew Holstine, vice-president; Barbara Clark, past president; Kay Whitlock, secretary; and Alan Gunn, treasurer.

    The directors are:

    Serving the first year of first two-year term:

    • Jami Cox
    • Jennifer Filipiak
    • David Oppedahl


    Serving the second year of first two-year term:

    • Sarah Heck
    • Ryan Tracy


    Serving the second year of second two year term:

    • Landon Frye

    Here is what you need to know about today’s farmland values

    Both Todd Slock, regional manager appraisal at Compeer Financial, and Eric Wilkinson, accredited farm manager, real estate broker, and auctioneer at Hertz Farm Management, Inc., agree that farmland values have changed little during 2018 and they see a similar situation going forward. The two men were the guest speakers at The Chicago Farmers’ April 8th meeting. Compeer is a Platinum Sponsor of TCF and Hertz is a Gold Sponsor.

    “There has been little change in farmland values in 2018,” said Wilkinson, whose territory covers the northeast quadrant of Illinois. “Excellent quality land is up about one percent, and good quality is down about one percent. The data show average quality land up eight percent, but that is because larger, better quality land with more irrigation sold in 2018 than in 2017. We’ve seen that the primary buyers of good farmland during 2018 were current farmers. Recreational land is up seven percent, with land values highest for plots near metropolitan areas. Transitional land values are spotty and there is a wide variety of values.” The majority of Wilkinson’s information was provided by the 2019 Illinois Land Values and Lease Trends Report by the Illinois Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers.

    Regarding sale prices per acre, Wilkinson said that excellent farmland had an average sale price of $10,722; good farmland, $8,200; average farmland, $7,400; fair farmland, $5,000; recreational land, $3,500; and transitional land, $11,000 across the state of Illinois.

    A long-term view on land sales indicates an increase in the value of average and fair quality land, said Wilkinson. He added that overall, more sales of higher quality property sold in 2018 versus 2017. “We sold a number of bigger farms,” he noted. “A lot of the value comes from the larger, more efficient farms.”

    Wilkinson observed that some investors are seeking second tier and third tier quality land because excellent quality land does not always post the best returns. “These investors believe that the lower quality land can generate a better return on their money in the long-term,” he said.

    Among the buyers involved in the sale transactions, survey results indicate that 59 percent are local farmers, 12 percent are non-local farmers, 15 percent are local investors, and seven percent are institutions.

    Regarding the sellers, 55 percent are estate sales, 13 percent are retired farmers, 14 percent are individual investors, 11 percent are active farmers, and seven percent are institutions.

    “The reasons for selling vary,” said Wilkinson. “Many are settling estates. Some use the money for things other than farming, while others pay down debt with the proceeds. It remains to be seen if active farmers in 2019 will be involved in sales to pay down debt.”

    He said a lot of people are interested in buying farmland, but not as many are interested in selling, unless they are forced into a situation, such as an estate sale.

    “Farmland is a great diversification tool in a portfolio. It is a great long-term, conservative asset class that is difficult to mimic. There is uncertainty in paper assets, but land is tangible and it produces yearly,” said Wilkinson.

    He went on to say that factors that contribute to the current stability of farmland values are farmers and investors willing to compete to control land that is near them or touching their land and they are willing to pay a premium; buyers’ confidence on yields; and the Market Facilitation Program, the federal government’s aid to farmers to help cover losses caused by the trade wars. “A lot of money went to farmers this year through this program,” Wilkinson added. “Farm income increased slightly in 2018, which propped up the land market.”

    Wilkinson shared that survey results show a slightly higher lease turnover rate due to retirements. Overall, operators are willing to take some losses in the short-term to grow their operations in the hopes that something will turn the corner, he said.

    “For land owners and tenants, we suggest avoiding long-term leases so that you are able to capture the current market,” related Wilkinson. “If you are not getting the rent up front, secure a second payment with some kind of irrevocable letter of credit or UCC-1.”

    Slock, whose area includes northern Illinois and parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota, noted that Compeer tracks the benchmark farms that it appraises each July 1st. He said that farmland values have aligned with corn prices. He noted that from 2010 to 2014, the peak in land values was driven by low interest rates and strong commodity prices. From 2016-2018, the benchmark farms range from an increase of 17 percent in land values to a decrease of seven percent. There are 19 benchmark farms in Slock’s Illinois territory, one of which is recreational land.

    In discussing cash rents per acre, Slock noted that on Class A farms, they range is $240-$350; Class B, $220-$328; and with Class C, $215-$300. “We anticipate these ranges to be fairly consistent from last year to this year,” said Slock.

    While land values did not surge ahead during 2018, Slock said prices were fairly steady from 2017 into 2019. “A lot, of course, depends on location,” he said. “Additionally, commodity prices will keep downward pressure on land values in 2019. There was an increase in interest rates in 2018, but this had a minimal affect. Generally, things were not as bad as we had anticipated.”

    During a panel discussion moderated by David Oppedahl, a TCF director, Slock and Wilkinson responded to questions posed to them by audience members. Their responses included:

    • If there is an increase in the real estate tax rate, which has been discussed, it could put land values under a lot of pressure.
    • Both Slock and Wilkinson said that the occurrences of farmland auctions are down. They noted a lot of emotion is involved in the auctions and a straight real estate sale dealing with one buyer is preferred. They saw a downward trend for auctions in 2019.
    • The value of turbines on farm property varies on how the leases are structured. The income is derived from the turbines and can range from $6,000 to $12,000 per year. If the wind turbine does not adversely affect production on the land, then there is minimal impact on the land value. The size of the access lane could be an issue.
    • Regarding trade with China, anything that disrupts the United States’ relationship with China will have an impact on commodities. China will seek cheaper soybeans, which South America can provide. More influx of cash for American farmers from the Market Facilitation Program is not expected. On the other hand, there are other markets for U.S. soybeans and the demand is still there, which is why prices are not significantly lower.
    • Regarding the aging of the American farmer, Slock said there was an even trend in estate sales of farmland; he did not see a significant shift. However, the age of the average farmer is increasing and it is harder for younger people to get into beginning farmer programs. Wilkinson commented that the floodgates of available land could open eventually through estate sales and the concern is that there will be a greater supply of land that can be handled.
    • In discussing the recent legal battles involving Round-Up, it was noted that Round-Up does not have the impact on farming that it once had due to the appearance of many resistant weeds. If unable to use Round Up, progressive farmers would work around it, although it could be a concern for some farmers because of their wide use of the product.
    • A question regarding drainage was addressed. It was noted that tile contractors are busier than ever. “It is not hard to see how one can improve a farm and pick up gains by properly draining the property,” said Wilkinson. Added Slock, “Tiling and irrigation systems are very cost effective because you are spending money on something that will add bushels to your production.”

    Purdue student receives Chicago Farmers’ scholarship

    Purdue University student Hunter C. Christner is a recipient of a Chicago Farmers’ scholarship. Hunter transferred to Purdue in the fall of 2017 after completing double associate’s degrees at Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming. He is completing his bachelor’s degree in agronomy at Purdue.

    Hunter is originally from Shipshewana, Indiana, where he enjoyed singing, playing baseball, hunting, fishing, and living on a lake. Following high school graduation with academic honors, Hunter worked for a construction company. After a year, he traveled to Pinedale, Wyoming, where he explored the Rocky Mountains as a backcountry ranger for the Forest Service in Pinedale and attended school in Powell.

    He wrote in a thank you note to TCF, “During the summer between my freshman and sophomore years I discovered my passion for agriculture. I worked on a cattle ranch in Cody, Wyoming, watching 350 head of Black Angus cows in the outskirts of the Yellowstone Mountains. I got to see a lot of wildlife, including some close encounters with grizzly bears. I was able to adventure in the mountains for another year through school.”

    Hunter said he is very interested in working for the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) or another division of the USDA where he can assist people in making natural resource management decisions on farming and ranching operations. He wrote, “I have a wide range of passions and could also succeed in a wildlife management or biologist position. I desire to help people steward the gift we call nature. I am very excited to see what the Lord has for me in the years to come and this scholarship is one aspect of making this adventure possible.”

    Hunter was married last May and when he completes his education at Purdue, he and his wife will move to either Wyoming or Montana. He wrote in his letter to TCF, “I am very grateful for the Chicago Farmers’ scholarship of $1,500. Thank you so much for your support and investment in my college career at Purdue. This generous gift will be used to pay for my tuition fees, books, and other living expenses, as I am going to be living off campus.”

    McDonald’s rolls out the red carpet for TCF

    McDonald’s sleek new headquarters on Randolph Street in the Fulton Market district was the setting for The Chicago Farmers’ March 11th meeting. TCF visited McDonald’s to learn about the important role that sustainability is playing in the company’s operations. The visit was in order because TCF had presented its Distinguished Service to Agriculture award to Ray Kroc, McDonald’s founder, in 1979.

    In 2018, McDonald’s kicked off its “Scale for Good” program, which addresses sustainability, said Townsend Bailey, of McDonald’s North America Sustainability. He served as TCF’s co-host along with Tess Mattingly, of McDonald’s U.S. Public Affairs. “The value that McDonald’s offers is high quality food at affordable pricing that is accessible to the public,” said Townsend. “We are able to do this due to the efficiency of our system and how we work with our franchisees and suppliers.”

    Townsend pointed out that this is not a fad, but has been part of McDonald’s focus since its inception. Making this point, Townsend played an audio portion of a presentation given by Kroc in 1957. At that time, Kroc said that McDonald’s had to be “ethical, truthful and dependable.”

    Townsend added that Kroc’s focus was restaurants that served safe food and were litter-free and clean. Over the years McDonald’s has maintained this focus and eliminated such things as styrofoam containers and replaced them with paper. The Alaskan Pollock fish used in the fish sandwich is caught wild and meets the standards for sustainability. The double cheeseburger? The only ingredient is beef, with salt and pepper added as it cooks.

    Townsend said, “There are a lot of efficiencies that come with being big. McDonald’s has 37,000 restaurants in more than 100 countries and these restaurants serve 69 million people per day. We are using our scale for good.”

    The Scale for Good program was built on answers from consumers to McDonald’s question: What issues are important to society? The answers:

    • Beef sustainability
    • Commitment to families
    • Packaging and recycling
    • Climate action
    • Youth opportunity

    McDonald’s has adopted the concept that sustainability means to continue into the future indefinitely in ethics, the environment and the economy, said Townsend. The roof of the downtown headquarter building features a vegetable garden and composting. Crops from the garden are donated to charities.

    The Scale for Good program includes commitments such as:

    • By 2025, 100 percent of McDonald’s packaging will come from renewable, recycled or certified sources
    • By 2025, all McDonald’s restaurants will recycle guest packaging (Townsend noted that this is challenging because every municipality has different regulations and infrastructure, but McDonald’s plans to be a part of the solution and help influence powerful change.)
    • Continue on its food journey

    *McDonald’s USA is committed to only using eggs from cage-free chickens

    *by 2022, 50 percent of Happy Meals will be 600 calories or less, 10 percent of the calories will be saturated fat, will contain 650 milligrams of sodium, and only 10 percent of the calories will be from sugar

    • In further commitment to families and in support of education, McDonald’s has distributed 370 million books in its Happy Meals
    • To further beef sustainability, McDonalds will engage with the beef industry, NGOs (non-government organizations) and the U.S. Roundtable (The vast majority of McDonald’s USA’s beef comes from North America, said Townsend.)

    Townsend went on to say that many of McDonald’s suppliers have been with the company since 1955. He noted, “If a supplier doesn’t meet our expectations on foundational aspects, it is out; however, our position has always been to partner with our supply chain on our shared goals.”

    Following the presentation, the attendees were divided into groups and led on a guided tour of the McDonald’s facility. The nine-story glass and steel building, located at 1045 W. Randolph St., was designed by Gensler Architects and developed by Sterling Bay. It was designed to blend in with its surrounding buildings, which were largely meatpackers at one time. McDonald’s leases its space from Sterling Bay. While a McDonald’s restaurant is on the ground floor, there are no large golden arches, just signs bearing small golden arches.

    About 2,000 people are employed at the site, although the number varies daily because each employee is given the opportunity to work from home one day a week. When at the Randolph Street location, employees work in open spaces. They are not assigned a specific space and may move around to a different location each day. This is called “hoteling.”

    As our guide, Megen DiSanto, of McDonald’s Public Affairs, led us through the building she pointed out the wall of toys from Happy Meals of bygone days, displays of McDonald’s memorabilia such as the original malted milk equipment that captivated Kroc and the packages of food items that are no longer on the restaurants’ menus,  the Quiet Rooms that are located on each floor for employees to work in silence, sans cell phones, and the culinary lab where McDonald’s employees are able to use old and new equipment and create and taste test new recipes. Hamburger University is onsite for the training of owners/operators.

    The building also houses a Work Café on the sixth floor for global presentations and includes a dining area in conjunction with a McCafe. A feature of the Work Cafe is a stadium-like seating area that is designed to inspire more collaboration among employees, Megen explained. It faces a wall of windows with a stunning view of Chicago. Another gathering spot for employees is on the ninth floor and provides socializing and after-hours cocktails on select evenings that can be purchased by the employees. A terrace adjacent to the space has seating in nice weather and is available for short vitamin D breaks. McDonald’s also offers a gymnasium for fitness classes. In summer months, yoga classes are conducted on the terrace.

    Denise Faris, Chicago Farmers Editor

    Martin family builds on its stewardship of the land

    Chicago Farmers Member and past president Jeff Martin has long been an advocate of planting techniques that contribute to soil health. His sons, Derek and Doug, are following suit. This excerpt from a recent article posted on the AgWeb, which was written by Chris Bennett, Farm Journal Technology and Issues editor, gives one an idea of Derek Martin’s and his family’s commitment to sustainability, decreased erosion, healthy soil, and increased yields.

    Derek Martin steps off a tractor and walks across rich, black soil teeming with life. He moves out of the field and passes between machine shed doors, pulls up a stool beside a vat filled with a biological brew, and peers into the lens tube of a microscope. With the conviction of a soil health evangelist, Martin, alongside his brother, Doug, and father, Jeff, has transformed a 6,000-acre operation from an input-guzzling leviathan to a profit-per-acre force: “Over the last 100 years our soils have been fed a strict, constant diet of NPK. That’s like a human eating a Big Mac over and over and expecting to be healthy.”

    To learn more, go to https://www.agweb.com/article/illinois-farmer-paves-road-to-profit-with-soil-health/

    Denise Faris, Chicago Farmers Editor

    Colleen Callahan named director of natural resources

    Colleen Callahan, Chicago Farmers’ member and past TCF president, was named director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources by Governor J.B. Pritzker. Callahan was president of The Chicago Farmers from 2008-2010. 

    “I appreciate the opportunity to work again in public service.  It’s exciting to be a part of working together to help bring change to people and places,” said Callahan.

    According to the PrairieFarmer website, Callahan spent 32 years as a Peoria-area farm broadcaster and served as Illinois director of Rural Development during the Obama administration from 2009 to 2016. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is staffed by more than 1,000 people, and it oversees 35,000 acres of DNR-owned farmland. DNR is responsible for state parks, fishing and game law enforcement, coal mine regulations and research into soil, water and minerals.

    The PrairieFarmer also noted that Callahan co-chaired Pritzker’s Agricultural and Rural Development transition team with John Sullivan, who was appointed director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

    Callahan told the PrairieFarmer that when she returned a recent phone call from the governor he answered right away and said, “You called me governor. I’d like to call you Madam Secretary. I’d like to ask you to lead our Department of Natural Resources.” Callahan said, “I accepted.”

    The PrairieFarmer website went on to say that Callahan said her first mission on the job will be to ask questions and learn all she can about a department that has, much like the Agriculture Department, been underfunded and suffered a loss of employees. 

    According to Callahan’s website, she grew up on a purebred Hampshire hog, Angus cattle and grain farm near Milford, Illinois. While attending Milford High School she took agricultural classes, but was not permitted to be a member of the National FFA Organization because women were not admitted into FFA until after her high school graduation. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications from the University of Illinois, Colleen became the first woman Agribusiness Director for WMBD Radio and TV in Peoria. After 30 years there, Colleen started her own communications firm. She continued farm broadcasting at WGFA Radio in Watseka, IL, until April, 2010.

    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.

    Why I Teach about Food and Agriculture

    Why I Teach about Food and Agriculture
    By Beth Christian

    I grew up on a fifth-generation family farm in Bureau County. My siblings and I learned hard work and collaboration at a young age. My family raised corn and soybeans as well as wheat, oat, rye, and hay, most of which was used to feed our livestock.

    Growing up, my sisters, brother, and I were members of 4-H. 4-H is a nationwide program that offers young people the opportunity to learn through hands-on projects in areas like health, science, agriculture and citizenship. 4-H members are encouraged to take on proactive leadership roles and are given the guidance and mentorship they need to be successful. Even today, 4-H programs are in every county and parish in the country- even Cook County- through in-school and after-school programs, school and community clubs and 4-H camps.

    With eager anticipation to put some space and concrete between my farm background and my life, I relocated to Cook County. Despite the distance, my farm background followed me all the way to Oak Park/River Forest.  

    In my classroom, I was an advocate for project learning, inquiry-based discovery, and developing the curriculum-assessment cycle central to the interests of the child. As part of this teaching style, I’d ask parents to join us and serve as our “Project Experts” during our discovery of a topic. Once, a parent joined us for cupcake baking. The parent kindly brought the ingredients and introduced each item to the students. She proudly brought out brown eggs and stated they were brown because they were organic, not bleached, like white eggs. What she didn’t realize was that different breeds of chickens lay different colors of eggs. The chickens being raised used organic growing methods does not change the color of eggs that the chickens lay.

    I quickly realized that there was a considerable amount of mis-information or lack of information that we, as parents and teachers, unknowingly were giving our children. I believe that providing accurate information is my responsibility as a teacher. So many children don’t know where their food comes from and unfortunately, as our population has gotten more urban, many teachers and parents don’t know much about the sources of their food.

    Having grown up on the very same farm that my brother and father still farm, I sought help from the Cook County Farm Bureau’s Agriculture in the Classroom program (AITC). AITC works to ensure that Cook County teachers have the resources to enable them to incorporate agriculture into their existing curriculum and to provide agricultural opportunities for students in Cook County.

    Cook County Farm Bureau® is the county’s largest general farm organization and is dedicated to bridging the gap between farmers and urban consumers. Through education programs targeting youth and their parents and programs designed to connect farmers with potential consumers, Farm Bureau members are actively engaging in conversations about food and the shared values between farmers and consumers.

    Farm Bureau and AITC allowed me to share my love of the farm with students and enabled me to learn more about the care of animals and plants, farmers’ attention to sustainability using technology, and the shared values of farmers and consumers.

    Teaching about agriculture is in everything I teach. I have become a better early childhood, special education, and collegiate professor through the Cook County Farm Bureau.

    Pete Petges is Plowman of the Year

    Pete Petges received the 2018 Plowman of the Year award from outgoing President Barbara Clark during the May 14th annual meeting.

    During The Chicago Farmers’ annual meeting on May 14th, outgoing President Barbara Clark presented TCF Member Pete Petges with the Plowman of the Year award for the important contributions he has made to the group over the years.

    “The Plowman award is given to a member of the Chicago Farmers who has contributed significantly to the organization over time,” related Barbara. “With this in mind, the 2018 award goes to Pete Petges. He served on the board from 2010 until 2016 with three years as treasurer. He gave unstintingly of his time and energy in that role as well as to the Farmland Forum over the years. Most recently he was heavily involved in our 2018 Farmland Forum, interacting with the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, our event site, on details ranging from meeting space to insurance to lunch for participants. Pete joined Mat Rund and George Heck on the Farmland Forum committee.”

    Pete earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Ag Econ at the University of Illinois. After a tour with the Peace Corps in Kenya, he worked for 37 years for Farm Credit, now known as Compeer Financial, one of The Chicago Farmers’ platinum sponsors.

    Outstanding In Their Field

    By John Kiefner, Chicago Farmers member

    I recently took a day off from work. I hope it will be one of many in the next 10 years as I try to slide gracefully into retirement. The USDA states that the average farmer is 58.3 years old. That means if I want be an above average farmer I have 4.1 years to go. Can I make it that long? Following is some background.

    A few years ago the price of scrap steel was insanely high. It was a good time to haul many old pieces of machinery to the scrap yard to be melted and reused. First I called my son to see if there was any chance he would be the fourth generation in the family to farm. I was fairly certain what the answer would be, but I wanted to verify it. His answer was honest and quite frank.

    My son was several years out of college at the time and climbing the corporate ladder. His reply to the query about whether he considered becoming a farmer was, “Not a chance, and remember, when you and mom die, we are getting dumpsters.” Perhaps I should have called my daughter and asked her instead.

    My son’s honesty has helped me to decide how to finish out my life as the last farmer in the family. There is no legacy of passing it on to the next generation. No need to build the business or desire to buy the newest technology.

    For my day off I traveled to Chicago to tour the office of The Climate Corp. This company is on the cutting edge of data collection for weather, yields, fertility, plant health, and equipment functions and, well, about anything you can imagine. The information that is gathered will be analyzed, sometimes instantly, and used by farmers to increase yields while reducing inputs, protect the environment and reduce waste. One would also expect that those who adopt and succeed with these technologies would also be more profitable, while lowering the cost of food even more.

    This technology is above my intellect. It was mentioned that the farmer of the future might very well be a computer scientist or agronomist. We were asked to sign a confidentiality agreement to be allowed to tour the offices and labs. That is remarkable, because I could barely comprehend the concepts displayed, let alone appropriate any of the cutting edge technology.

    Am I a dinosaur about to become extinct? Am I a relic, a holdout of farmers long gone? Retirement is going to come very soon for my equipment and me if these technologies evolve swiftly. That may please the realtors and developers that cannot wait to bulldoze the black dirt I have tried to save from erosion for most of my lifetime and build warehouses or subdivisions on my farm. Can I last long enough to become above average?

    The Climate Corp tour was in the West Loop, about two miles from where I met my wife for the train ride home. Ironically, in the middle of Chicago, there was a wheat mill right behind The Climate Corp office. I walked to the train and admired dozens of buildings under construction on Fulton, Lake, Randolph, Washington, and Madison Streets. Is it possible that any of my recycled steel was in the beams being erected?

    Upon my retirement or death, my remaining equipment will be reused somehow. The farm’s fate is uncertain. When I die, I hope they bury me and do not put me in the dumpster.

    Editor’s note: John Kiefner is a member of The Chicago Farmers. He farms 525 acres of corn, soy, wheat, oats, hay, and straw.  His farm, which also has a smattering of animals, including bees and laying hens, is 45 miles southwest of downtown Chicago and on the fringe of urban development.  The southernmost Metra rail station is only one mile from John’s farm.  

    John noted, “I wouldn't say that I am sad or depressed about urban encroachment, but I hope to make people think of what is the best way to grow cities and preserve quality farmland.  I originally lived and grew up right next to the Joliet Junior College Houbolt Road campus.  I remember when they built it next door to the farm my dad grew up on.  We have always had bulldozers working close to the farm.” 

    2018 Report Card for Illinois Infrastructure

    The Illinois Section of American Society of Civil Engineers recently released their 2018 report card about Illinois’ infrastructure.  We all depend on infrastructure for our lives and livelihood. Click here to read the report.

     

    Eric Rund Named Plowman of the Year

    The Chicago Farmers presented Eric Rund with the 2017 Plowman of the Year Award for his many contributions to the organization during the September 11 meeting. Eric served two terms as president of TCF. He also served as vice-president, treasurer and as a director.

    Eric and his wife, Maria, operate their ancestral family farm that is located south of Champaign. The farm produces corn for Frito-Lay and seed beans for Pioneer using strip-till and no-till. The Runds also grow the perennial biomass crop miscanthus. It was planted for cellulosic ethanol, but today the Runds sell it for poultry and livestock bedding. “Eventually, we believe it will be used as a biomass fuel replacing LP gas,” said Eric. “To demonstrate the practicality of this, we sold and installed a multi-fuel biomass boiler at the University of Illinois’ energy farm, where anyone can see how it works.”

    He went on to say, “My years with The Chicago Farmers have been rewarding. This unique organization has given me opportunities to listen to viewpoints from the consumer side of agriculture as well as the production side and from the landowner side as well as the tenant’s side. If farmers are to be successful, we have to know what our customers want and respond to that need. If customers want abundant, safe and inexpensive food, then they must become informed consumers and learn the facts and the science behind food production. The Chicago Farmers, like no other farm organization with which I am familiar, provides these learning opportunities to its members. I have met many intelligent and influential people while attending our meetings over the years, all of whom I have learned something from and many of whom have become lifelong friends.”

    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.”

    Jeff Martin receives Distinguished Service Award

    By Andy Holstine, Past President

    Jeff Martin has been associated with the Chicago Farmers for nearly twenty years.  During this time he has been very active, serving as a director, president and in nearly every other voluntary role.  He hosted the summer picnic on his family farm in Mt. Pulaski and spent fifteen years as co-chair of the Farmland Forum.  In short, his efforts to make our organization better have been enormous. 

    But Jeff’s energy and contributions extend well beyond the Chicago Farmers and his industry leadership and service made the recognition of the “Distinguished Service to Agriculture” award well-deserved.  The Chicago Farmers first created this award in 1977 and you can find the list of past winners here.  You will find that past recipients of the award include the founder of McDonald’s, captains of agribusiness, leaders in academia and research, prominent media , and a Secretary of Agriculture.  While Mr. Martin may describe himself as “only” a farmer, the impact of his life’s work has contributed greatly to the evolution of farming practices employed across millions of acres each year.

    Jeff started farming with his father in 1976.  As he recounted when accepting the award, early in his career he watched a dust storm destroy their fields.  For Jeff, who had grown up listening to his grandfather extoll a belief that the land they lived on could provide for their family forever, this experience galvanized a belief in the importance in taking a long view valuing conservation as central to good stewardship of the land.  This mindset led him to continually examine existing farming conventions and practices, explore new technology and share techniques that improved the land and added worth. 

    Jeff was a very early adopter of no-till farming, initially building his own equipment and culminating in an award as the no-till innovator of the year and recognition in 2016 as one of 25 “no-till legends.”  After seeing the benefits of setting aside CRP acres on his farm, he started a business that has since planted more than 1,000 acres of trees and prairie grass.  He was at the vanguard of the use of cover crops and research he conducted on his fields was published in an industry magazine.  Jeff was appointed member of the Federal Reserve Agriculture Advisory Board for several years.  He has also been recognized as the Illinois wildlife landowner of the year, received the corn growers’ environmental action award, named the AgriNews farmer of the year, and his family has been featured in numerous publications over years.  Jeff has farmed with his grandfather, father, brother and now has both sons farming with him full time, maybe the greatest measure of success and a life well-lived. 

    I view Jeff as a remarkable example of doing well by doing good.  When accepting the award, he remarked that the Chicago Farmers was one of the best groups he had ever been a part of.  Speaking for the Chicago Farmers, I would like to express how fortunate we are that Jeff chose to contribute so much over the years and congratulate him again on an award truly earned.

    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!

    RECORD NUMBER VISIT SUNNY SPAIN ON FARM AND CULTURAL STUDY TOUR

    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!