We often take for granted the variety, amount and accessibility of food in our country and in the heart of the Midwest. For the most part, the rains this year fell again at some very opportune times, and area farmers are in the midst of what looks to be another very good harvest.
A majority of the tillable acres in central Illinois are in either corn or soybeans. Do people actually eat the corn and soybeans as harvested directly from the field? No, much of this crop is fed to animals. While corn can be fed in whole kernels, it is often ground into finer particles. Soybeans are ground into soybean meal and processed into oil, making it more digestible for animals. Local corn and soybeans are also used in a variety of grocery products—just look at the label and you will find at least one ingredient that was processed from corn or soybeans.
Pumpkin production is somewhat of a hidden gem for our region. With local canning companies in Princeville and Morton, we grow and process the majority of canned pumpkin in the U.S. right here in central Illinois. Take a country drive this fall through the Princeville area and you will likely see a few fields of pumpkins. Our local apple growers are also having a good year—the trees were heavy with apples. Christ Orchard near Elmwood and Arends Apple Orchard near Laura are a couple of longtime producers here in Peoria County.
We have several beekeepers in the area and our local Heart of Illinois Beekeepers Association meets regularly for updates and to share the latest information. Honeybees provide two jobs for humans: they assist in pollination and produce honey. Pollinators such as bees, wasps and flies are a major contributor in boosting production of a variety of foods.
To our south in Forest City, Illinois, Weaver’s Popcorn takes in the harvest of farmers in that area. It is another hidden gem that gets little publicity, but makes for a delicious snack. Thanks to the efforts of a Joliet elementary school, the Illinois General Assembly designated it the state’s official snack food in 2003.
Some farmers have more of a long-term approach, growing nut trees and shrubs including pecans, walnuts, chestnuts and hazelnuts. A few foods are still defining their status in central Illinois, including blueberries, hops and hemp. Many other area farmers are supplying fresh, locally grown food for your discovery at local farmer’s markets. This involves many hours of manual labor—planting, weeding, watering, fertilizing and harvesting—so take time to enjoy every bite!
A huge thanks to all of our farmers! We also thank those of you who have a garden—or perhaps grew only a single tomato plant in a pot on your patio or deck this year. Thanks for taking on the challenge. Growing food is satisfying and rewarding. It’s not too early to start planning your 2022 crop! PM