Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Making Connections in Pilsen - A Local Field Trip

One of my favorite things about homeschooling is having the opportunity to visit interesting places in our community and beyond at times when it is most convenient for us. We have wonderful museums in Chicagoland and it is great to visit them on "off" days when there is less traffic (people and cars) to negotiate. 

We recently visited the National Museum of Mexican Art located in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago. The Pilsen neighborhood has historically been a neighborhood of immigrants. The Mexican population of Pilsen grew in the 1980s and the National Museum of Mexican Art was founded during that decade.The museum is a beautifully curated museum with more art, culture and history than can be absorbed in one day. 

With two students currently studying Spanish and an exchange student from Mexico staying with us this year, the museum offered a local opportunity to share cultures. Touring the museum with our exchange student allowed us to expand our connection in a unique way. Despite a full nine months of living together, it seems we are all still just beginning to incorporate our understanding of the deep cultural connections between our two countries.

Museum gift shops are the best!
The National Museum of Mexican Art gift shop
was a delightful part of the visit. 

Photos were a part of our own artistic
response to the Pilsen neighborhood.
Making connections is what learning is all about.

Gotta eat lunch,
so we sampled the local cuisine.

In our family, every field trip requires a meal. We sampled the local cuisine in the neighborhood and were not disappointed. Sharing a meal brings people together and sharing cultures includes food. The way to a man's (or woman's) heart.... 

Making connections through art is less immediate and perhaps a little more intellectual then a meal but one that can also contribute to bringing us closer together. Despite our different backgrounds, our universal interests in food, art, sport and music have a way of bringing us together. Expressing diverse ideas can happen more easily and naturally over a mutually enjoyed interest. Sharing unique aspects of our own cultures within the framework of our common interests can be some of our most enjoyable experiences with each other.

Avo and Sammie performing with students
at DePaul University
Though we didn't have an opportunity for a shared musical experience on this trip, it did bring us full circle back at home with the opportunity to listen to Latin inspired music and percussion.

The Pilsen neighborhood includes an important connection in our family for my husband, Avo. We saw the area that is referenced in an album written and produced by Avo, and his friend Sammie Torres, "Passing Through Pilsen". Sammie grew up in Pilsen and was influenced and taught by several generations of talented musicians living there. Avo and Sammie have a shared enthusiasm for percussion that transcends and celebrates both of their diverse immigrant Chicago backgrounds. Hopefully, our next visit to Pilsen will include live musical art, as well as, the visual and culinary. Until then we'll be listening at home. And I'll be providing the mandatory motherly embarrassment by dancing!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Where's the Beef?

'City Moms' Early Spring Farm Tour to the Adams' Family Beef Farm

March weather in Northern Illinois is far from predictable and though we had a warmer then usual spring day for our visit to the Adams family farm, it was still a bit chilly. When we arrived, the 'City Moms' gladly huddled into a warm barn to hear what Alan Adams had to tell us about his family farm. Alan welcomed us into the barn with pleasure and more then a little bit of pride. We were gathering into the shelter of a family heirloom. The cozy building was constructed with beautiful oak beams by his grandfather in the 1940's.

Alan began his informal lecture by sharing childhood memories of the space in which we gathered. Barns and haylofts were fun and wondrous places to visit. His recollections brought to mind some of my own childhood memories of farm visits. Unlike my own family though, Alan's has retained ownership of the farm and passed down the family tradition of farming as a livelihood. He shared his pleasure of having his young grand-daughter, the seventh generation of their family, living on the farm.

Read more about Illinois' family farms at watchusgrow.org

Alan continued his presentation by sharing some of his extensive knowledge of raising high quality, nutritious beef. He explained the classification of cows as ruminants and their ability to digest cellulose (grass). The cow's four compartment digestive system gives her the ability to process grass and vegetable products that cannot be broken down and used by most other animals, creating the opportunity to make hard to till land productive through grazing.

Maternity ward.
Calving soon.

The importance of the inter-connectedness of the people, the animals and the land is emphasized on the Adams' farm. The interdependence of the three is continually taken into consideration as choices are made for creating a high quality product and a sustainable business. Alan discussed past and current practices in raising beef and predicted more extensive use of DNA testing by farmers in the near future to inform their choices in cattle breeding. While every farming family, their knowledge and the track of land they farm is unique, for a farmer to continue a viable family business, learning about and understanding the beneficial uses of new technology in farming is necessary.

Science and technology have improved the outcomes for agriculture in ways many of us aren't even aware of. Alan's first hand day to day experience and his long term view from a life time of farming have given him an understanding of the many benefits of using of science and technology in farming. Some of the evidence based practices bringing benefits to farmers and consumers that he discussed include selective breeding, vaccines, antibiotics when needed, and the use of hormones for more efficient beef production.

More informational resources for digging deeper.

For an in depth discussion regarding the use of antibiotics by a brilliant and experienced ranch woman (first hand knowledge wins) read: https://feedyardfoodie.wordpress.com/2011/12/13/the-misunderstood/  Also, a more thorough look at the use of hormones in beef production can be found in the following article from the University of Nebraska, it offers more evidence based information http://newsroom.unl.edu/announce/beef/2846/15997

Protective cow with her calf.

Selective breeding contributes overall to the cattle raising process. Beef quality is one aspect, so is the temperament of the cows. Ever watchful the cows are bred and prized for their mothering instinct. Two calf-cow pairs were brought in from pasture, to provide the 'City Moms' an up close view of these beautiful animals. A curious calve isn't ever far out of his mother's sight. These cow-calf pairs are typically in the pasture grazing and utilizing otherwise hard to farm pasture land.

A curious but tentative calf, mama cow keeps a watchful eye.

The efficient production of beef; that satisfies consumer demand, maintains the health of the animals and provides enough profit for a family farm business, necessitates the integrated use of science and technology. Alan Adams' acquired knowledge is being passed on to the younger generations of his family, but he is also clearly open to new research and evidence based approaches. He was also, like all of the farmers introduced to the 'City Moms', eager to share with us the hows and whys of the choices he makes on his farm. He wants consumers to know the facts and is willing to be transparent about the farming practices he utilizes to increase non-farmers understanding. 

The Adams family has a long history of farming. They incorporate a love and understanding of the land on which they live and extensive knowledge about the animals they raise. They continue to learn about and apply new evidence based information to create the best possible outcomes for their business and the consumers they serve.

JoAnn and Alan Adams
Participating in the Illinois Family Farm program has not, by any means, made me an expert in farming. Even as a consumer, I still need to do more of my own research, but my grocery buying choices are far more informed then before participating. Truly being marketing savvy demands a deeper look from a variety of angels for all of us. While my consumer education will continue on my own, I am truly grateful for the hospitality and sharing of information provided to me by the farmers who opened their gates and barns to me as a 'City Mom'.

You can view a short video about the 'City Moms' program and the tour of the Adams' farm on the American Farm Bureau website.