Bring it Home: Real questions and real answers from Illinois farmers.
Organic and Conventional – there’s a lot of common ground.
There’s a lot of common ground between these two farming methods, and there’s a place for both. And for a farmer, it’s not about choosing the one style that’s best, because one isn’t inherently better. It’s about choosing what works best for the farm while still producing safe, healthy food. And just like different factors might impact how you select groceries, farmers look at geography, weather, soil type, end market, type of crop, labor and equipment –
all variables that make a farm uniquely different from the next one.
Organic farming is overseen by a USDA National Organic Program-authorized certifying agent, following USDA organic regulation. Organic farming methods use only substances from an approved USDA list called The National List and organic food is produced without excluded methods such as genetic engineering.
GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms)
GMOs are organisms (plants, animals or microorganisms) that the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination. GMOs are used in conventional farming methods.
In the U.S., only 10 foods are commercially grown from GMO seeds. So, if you see “Non-GMO” on a food label and that product doesn’t contain one of these items in any way, that label is misleading. Many GMO crops are used in processed ingredients such as sugar or cornstarch in food products in your local grocery store. Only some varieties of papaya, potatoes, squash, sweet corn and apples may be available in the produce aisle.
- Apples (food): non-browning trait
- Potato (food): reduced bruising & black spots, non-browning, blight resistance
- Corn (field and sweet)
- Field Corn (animal feed, ethanol, corn syrup, corn oil, starch, cereal, alcohol, industrial purposes): insect resistance, herbicide tolerance, drought tolerance
- Sweet Corn (food): insect resistance, herbicide tolerance
- Canola (cooking oil, animal feed): Herbicide tolerance
- Alfalfa (animal feed): Herbicide tolerance
- Soybean (animal feed, aquaculture, soybean oil, fatty acid, biodiesel fuel, soymilk, soy sauce, tofu, adhesives, printing ink, industrial uses): Insect resistance, herbicide tolerance
- Rainbow papaya (table fruit): Disease resistance
- Cotton (fiber, animal feed, cottonseed oil): Insect resistance, herbicide tolerance
- Sugar beet (sugar, animal feed): Herbicide tolerance
- Summer squash (food): Disease resistance
All of these crops can also be grown from Non-GMO seeds. In the U.S., farmers decide whether to grow GMO or Non-GMO. It is important to note none of the crops we grow today were created by nature alone. Over time, people have altered all of our crops through selection and plant breeding for taste, yield, disease resistance or other desirable traits.
In the end, there is no rule against buying conventional one day and organic the next. Whether you’re buying food for your family at a small farm stand, the local farmers market, Jewel, Trader Joe’s, Target or Costco – know there’s a farmer at the other end who made choices, too. There’s no wrong answer!
For more information on Organic and Conventional farming practices, click here.
You’ve probably seen the label claim “responsibly raised” – but what does it mean? To farmers, it’s an uncompromising commitment they take on every day. And, at the core of it all, it’s every farmer’s responsibility to raise safe, healthy food for your table – label or not.
People involved at every level of farming are encouraged to use best farming practices in caring for animals and managing their farms. Farmers recognize the importance of education and training programs to advance better methods for the industry and better for the animals, the environment and consumers.
And, it’s not just about housing. Farmer’s work very closely with veterinarians and nutritionists throughout each stage of their animals’ lives. Just like people, animals get sick from time to time. Veterinarians work alongside farmers to decide the best course of action to get them healthy again.
If you have more questions about how animals are raised, click here.
Making sense of food labels -- From the farm to the grocery store, we all have choices!
We all want to purchase the safest and most nutritious food for our families. Packaging labels, with their many marketing claims, have left some consumers overwhelmed and confused.
How can you make the best choice?
The nutrition label on the back provides more information than the labeling claims on the front. Watch for simple ingredients and other contents that fall within your family’s food guidelines.
Below, we break down some common food label claims.
CONVENTIONAL: a method of farming where using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides is allowed.
BEST IF USED BY: date recommended for best flavor or quality; not a food safety indicator.
CAGE-FREE: birds who don’t live in a cage, but may not have access to the outdoors.
CONVENTIONALLY GROWN: a method of farming where using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides is allowed.
FARM-RAISED: fish raised in tanks, irrigation ditches, and ponds.
FREE-RANGE: chickens who spend at least part of their time outdoors, but without a unifying standard for the label. Designation has no relevance to a chicken’s diet.
GRASS-FED: refers to meat from cattle that eat mainly grass throughout their life.
GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISM (GMO): covers any living form whose genetic material has been altegreen through genetic engineering. In the food world, the term applies mostly to crops that have been grown with the objective of adding or eliminating certain characteristics.
LOCALLY GROWN: food grown on nearby farms – no standardized distinction in the actual distance.
NATURAL: existing in or caused by nature.
NUTRITION FACTS: panel found on food packages and containing a variety of information about the nutritional value of the food item.
ORGANIC: a method of farming where food is raised without synthetic pesticides or chemical fertilizers, but does allow inputs of plant or animal origin.
SELL BY DATE: tells the store how long to display the product for sale.
USE BY DATE: the last manufacturer-recommended date to use the product while at peak quality.
WILD-CAUGHT: fish that come from seas, rivers and other natural bodies of water.
For more information on Label Lingo, talk to a farmer.
Illinois agriculture goes far beyond corn and soybeans. Illinois has good soil and a favorable climate, among other factors, making the state a top grower of several specialty crops as well. Many people don’t realize that foods like pumpkins, peaches, apples, grapes, horseradish and melons are grown on Illinois farmland. In fact, more than 64 vegetables and 15 fruit and nut crops are grown in Illinois and produce nearly $500 million in sales for farmers.
What are specialty crops?
Specialty crops are defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as “fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture.” To really see the distinct variations, check out this complete list of specialty crops from the USDA.
Specialty crops are diverse and can vary in the type of market in which they are sold. In fact, specialty growers and their crops are gaining in popularity and in consumer demand. Specialty growers’ market through a variety of ways, and are often featured in their communities. Growers can sell their fresh products at pick-your own farms, roadside markets, farm stands, farmers markets, community supported agriculture (CSA) programs, or directly to wholesale stores.
Farmers markets are also growing in popularity. Farmers markets serve as links between urban, suburban, and rural communities, affording farmers and give consumers the opportunity to come together. Consumers enjoy shopping for unique ingredients sold directly from the farm, and the pleasure of buying familiar products in their freshest possible state.
Illinois is 3rd in the Nation for the number of farmers markets. More than 8,000 farmers markets across the country offer consumers farm-fresh, affordable, convenient, and healthy products. Visit the Illinois Farmers Market Association to find farmers markets near you. Make sure to download the what’s in season app to find produce that's in season.
Why are Specialty Growers so important?
Together, we can help support the Illinois specialty crop industry and our local communities.
When purchasing locally grown produce, an additional 32 cents per dollar stays in the community. So, next time you visit the grocery store or your local farmers market you can be proud to support your local grower and local businesses.
Illinois Farm Bureau and Illinois Specialty Growers Association (ISGA) work together to promote and develop the Illinois specialty crop industry. Through their leadership and with the support of specialty farmers, they establish a united voice that ensures the success of the industry and creates a more sustainable market for specialty crops. ISGA also strives to improve market opportunities and production quality for specialty crops grown in Illinois. Visit Illinois Specialty Growers Association to learn more.
Visit our Shop Local portal to help you shop and support your local community.
For more uplifting stories from our specialty farmers and their unique journeys visit our #CultivatingOurCommunties website.
The family farm may seem like a idyllic relic of the past, but today, 96 percent of farms right here in Illinois continue to be family-owned and operated. These farming families are involved in your community – they are your children’s classmates; your co-workers; your township board representatives; members of your church family. And they share your priorities when it comes to feeding and nurturing their families: access to an abundance of nutritious, affordable food options at the local grocery store. Visit https://www.watchusgrow.org/farmers/ to meet local farmers and learn about Illinois agriculture.
For hundreds of years, scientists and consumers have sought reliable alternatives to petroleum-based fuels and have found solutions growing in local fields. Today’s biofuels – corn-based ethanol and soy-based biodiesel – are renewable products grown right here in Illinois and available at the pump today as you fuel your vehicle. Biofuels result in cleaner-burning engines, less pollution, and are even supported by health advocacy organizations like the American Lung Association.
Illinois farmers are proud to use the products they grow in their vehicles and farm equipment. Biofuel blends are a great environmentally friendly alternative for your family’s vehicles while being easy on the pocketbook in comparison to conventional petroleum-based fuels.
Learn more about how Illinois farmers are growing and using biofuels and which biofuel blend is right for your vehicle at https://www.watchusgrow.org/innovation-grows-here/#Biofuels.
Brought to you by the Central Illinois Regional Advertising Group.