Sunday, November 29, 2015

Native American Cultural Awareness

Call it a unit study or maybe better, just interest based learning because that is how it works for us. We follow our interests and one thing leads to another. Connecting the dots and finding more dots to connect, homeschooling offers us the excitement of discovery.

My daughter's crafting interests led her to the discovery of dream catchers. 

Beautiful examples inspired my daughter, Adah, to learn to make them herself and she began creating her own. In her research to learn the techniques to make dream catchers she encountered more Native American crafts, stories and history. A couple of good reads added to the interest and we had the beginnings of a history lesson. With bits and pieces of what she was discovering connecting to our own lives, by local events and personal history, including my own personal experiences tutoring in Winnebago, Nebraska, we were led right back to our current lives in Illinois.

Visiting a local Pow Wow.

We have the good fortune of living in an area where we have access to an annual fall Pow Wow. It is one of several Pow Wows organized and promoted by the Midwest Soaring Foundation and takes place at the Naper Settlement in Napeville, IL. The Pow Wow includes traditional music and dance, craft vendors, food vendors (some serving traditional fry bread), and exhibits and presentations by SOAR - Illinois (Save Our American Raptors), an organization dedicated to the welfare of native birds of prey. At the Pow Wow we had the opportunity to watch and join in a traditional native dance circle, visit craft vendors and talk with rescuers and trainers of birds of prey.

Pow Wows are a community event and there are opportunities for everyone to participate. The MC calls the dancers into the circle to showcase different groups of dancers. The birthday celebrants dance gave us a special opportunity to join the circle.

A visit inside a tipi included listening to story telling.

Vendors had educational materials available about bison and the successful restoration of a herd in Illinois. The possibility of visiting the herd is yet another opportunity for a "field trip" and first hand experience.

In the mean time, for a close up view, we visited the American Bison housed at a local zoo. We were able to get very close to the bison and to take some wonderful photos. This year there are young ones there, too.

Resources for further study:

Following our experience at the Pow Wow, we have continued learning by reading history, novels and even poetry. We have viewed videos and visited websites for more information. Our knowledge will continue to expand as we find more resources to relate to what we've learned and experienced so far. Our experience at the Pow Wow was a wonderful real life learning opportunity that will continue to inform our ongoing exploration and serve as a touch stone to the fact that we are learning about a vibrant community and culture.

Published resources we've used include books, stories and poetry by Joseph Bruchac. His work and contact info can be found at:

I love his poem Buffalo. You can hear it on his website:

Some of Joseph Bruchac's book titles we have found interesting and informative are:

  • The Code Talkers, This historical fiction tells the life story of a Navaho boy who grows into a man and becomes a marine who contributes to the WWII effort as a code talker.
  • Arrow Over the Door Historical fiction based on the historical meeting of Quakers and Native Americans in 1777.
  • The Girl Who Helped Thunder and Other Native American Folktales Wonderful stories divided into sections geographically, which makes it a convenient resource for relating to other studies. Beautiful illustrations are the icing on the cake in this book.
Other titles to add to the list for discussion
  • Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims by Clyde Robert Bulla  My daughter enjoyed this one but said it wouldn't be her first choice for recreational reading.

Even more resources:

A few more excellent published written resources for advanced readers and those who really want to dig deeper include:
  • Touch The Earth A Self Portrait of Indian Existence Compiled by T.C. McLuhan             This one is a classic. Published in 1971, it includes the words of Native Americans from the 1800s and is filled with the amazingly beautiful photography of Edward Curtiss. (I've owned a copy of this beautiful book since I was a teen, the photos are magnificent and the collected words of wisdom of the first Americans are deeply moving.)
  • Bead On an Anthill A Lakota Childhood by Delphine Red Shirt The author is an accomplished contemporary writer. She shares her unique and very personal view through her work.
  • Black Elk Speaks Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Souix by John G. Neihardt Another classic.
  • Time of the Buffalo by Tom McHugh This one may be more than most want in terms of information about bison, I love it, but then I love anything prairie, plains or buffalo. 
All of the above titles are available on amazon.

Other resources we have found valuable include websites and a few videos on you tube.
There are beautiful photos in these slide show videos including photos taken by Edward Curtiss.

We've looked at the website of the Inter Tribal Buffalo Council whose mission is; "To restore Bison to Indian nations in a manner that is compatible with their spiritual beliefs and practices." Their site includes current and historical information regarding bison, recipes and a few coloring pages for young ones.

A little curiosity goes a long way.

These are a few of the places and resources learning about dream catchers has led us to. It has been an Native American and crafting adventure that is also leading my daughter to the idea of her own Etsy store for her creations. As a homeschooling mom, I never quite know where our learning will take us but that is the welcomed adventure of learning together!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

'City Moms' Fall Harvest and Beef Farm Tour

With celebratory rides on combines the 'City Mom'
2015 tour season comes to an end.

The Illinois Farm Families 'City Moms' went on the last of this season's farm tours in October. Despite my increased awareness of the extensive winter work that continues behind the scenes, every year, on every farm; from my perspective as a city mom, we ended the season appropriately, with a harvest tour.

Invited to complete our season with the opportunity to ride in the combine and the grain wagon, this was an exciting and somewhat celebratory tour. I am sad to see the season come to an end. We have met so many amazing Illinois farm families. I've had such a good time and learned so much on each tour, much more than I've yet been able to integrate completely into my food purchasing, preparing and serving of meals to my family.

The Larson Farm

Our last tour was of the the Larson Farm in Maple Park, IL. The Larson family farm produces beef and grain. Three generations participate in farming on the Larson farm. Mike and Lynn Martz partnered with Lynn's parents in 1979. Their son Justin and his wife joined them in 2008. Several employees contribute to farm operations and are an integral part of the farm. With several generations represented in the family and inter-generational employees on the farm there is a strong sense of extended family and community overall at the Larson farm.

Larson Farms

The crop production side of their farm is managed by Lynn and includes corn, soybeans and wheat grown on 6,350 acres of land. They also raise and finish beef cattle, Mike's domain. They have the capacity to house up to 3,500 head of cattle and finish 7,000 head each year. These cattle are delivered via semi-truck to the Larson feed lot where upon arrival, they are allowed ample time to rest and recover from the stress of travel. The feed lot houses and cares for the animals of other farmers and finishes them for the market.

Animal Well Being

Every animal is observed on a daily basis at the Larson farm. Technology contributes to the assessment of each animal's well being and development. Ultra-sound technology is used in determining fat content, marbling and readiness for the market. Facilities for the cattle on the Larson farm were designed by the well known consultant to the livestock industry, Temple Grandin.

Antibiotics are only used on sick animals and following any antibiotic treatment, there is a required withdrawal period before that animal can be taken to market. There is oversight and inspection by government regulators and ample testing required to insure that there are no residual antibiotics in the meat. Mike Martz also presented information regarding the use of hormones in beef production. Hormones naturally occur in cattle (and other organisms). Any additional hormones are given to assist an animal in utilizing their feed to promote growth. A farmer may choose to use additional hormones to improve efficiency and reduce the environmental impact of raising cattle. Useful comparison information regarding hormones to consider includes the fact that a 3 oz. cut of treated beef contains 1.9 nanograms of estrogen compared to 1.3 nanograms in a 3 oz. cut of untreated beef (that's a .6 nanogram difference), a potato contains 225 nanograms, a 3 oz. serving of peas contains 340 nanograms, a 3 oz. serving of cabbage contains 2,000 nanograms and one birth control pill contains 35,000 nanograms of estrogen. (Source below.)

For the source and more information regarding the specific amounts of naturally occurring hormones, please read the article from the University of Nebraska:

Back to the Farm

There is an amazing amount of work to be done and managed on the Larson farm. Our visit coincided with the fall corn harvest. We rode on the combine on the 27th day of consecutive 15 hour work days for those driving the equipment. Despite the timing, we were met with enthusiastic and talkative field guides as we watched the harvesting of the corn from the combine cab.

To get your own glimpse into work and life on the Larson farm, view the video;!city-moms-2015/p5br6

So Much to Learn

We have been presented with so much information and have had the opportunity to have an inside look at farming on each and every farm tour that it is hard to readily absorb and process it all. Visiting the Larson family farm was no exception and we were once again treated with warm hospitality and straight forward honest answers to every question.

For me the big picture takeaways from the Illinois Farm Family 'City Moms' tours were:

  • Illinois Farmers are dedicated hardworking people with the best interests of their land, their animals and their consumers at heart. 
  • They offer high quality products to consumers. 
  • They care. 
  • They are regulated. 
  • They respond to the market.
  • They want consumers to be healthy, informed and to have choices in their food purchases.

The Illinois farmers we met this season are committed to informing consumers about farm production. They have been more than generous in sharing their time, knowledge and their farms with us.

Whether it is through a program like the one offered by Illinois Farm Families, by visiting your local farmers market or just asking questions of the managers of the grocery store where you shop, I urge you to find and get to know the farmers who produce your food. You will increase your knowledge about the food you eat, gain confidence in your purchasing choices and meet amazing people.