Illinois Farm Bureau Provides More than Just Dinner and a Movie


Farmlandmovieins2Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB) brought together more than 60 mayors, university professors, representatives of utility companies, hospitals, labor unions, food, finance and insurance sectors this week, to discuss food production with hundreds of farmers from across the state.

The event held in Normal prior to IFB’s annual Commodities Conference came with dinner and the recently-released documentary “Farmland,” directed by Oscar® and two-time Emmy®-winning filmmaker James Moll. The movie chronicles the lives of four young farmers and ranchers from around the United States.

“I thought the film did a very, very good job of depicting the generational change in farming that’s happening, reinforcing that almost all farms in this country are family owned,” said Normal mayor Chris Koos. “I think that was an important message.”

IFB asked Koos and other non-farm guests to dine with groups of Illinois farmers before the movie to encourage frank discussions about today’s agriculture. Following the film, a panel of young farmers helped facilitate a dialogue among the 300 in attendance who asked questions ranging from GMOs to the complexity of modern farm machinery. Some attendees expressed disappointment the film didn’t more fully address issues such as the use of hormones, herbicides, pesticides and antibiotics in U.S. agriculture.

“I liked seeing how thoughtful they are about the future,” said Melanie Shellito, who serves on the board of Green Top Grocery, a food cooperative that’s seeking 2,000 residents of Bloomington and Normal to invest in a community-owned grocery store. “However, I also have to say I’m questioning that role of what does the future look like for the next generation, the practices that maybe aren’t organic, how they are envisioning that from a sustainability standpoint, whether that’s crops being sold abroad, how the market is shifting, how we’re starting to look a little more closely at how our food is grown, and how maybe these young people are going to be more or less willing to shift with that market.”

The “Farmland” documentary profiles a certified organic farmer in California, a corn, soybean, wheat and pork producer in Minnesota, a corn, soybean and beef producer in Nebraska, a cattle rancher in Texas, and farmer who grows fruits and vegetables as part of a community-supported agriculture program in Pennsylvania.

“I think it’s purpose is to start a conversation between the non-farm public and farmers,” said McHenry County Farm Bureau president Michelle Aavang, who raises corn, soybeans, wheat and cattle near Woodstock. “I think it’s accomplishing that goal.”

Aavang, along with Matt and Jenna Kilgus participated as part of the farmer-panel discussion that followed the 80-minute film. The Kilgus couple milk cows, bottle market and deliver milk and other dairy products to their customers from their Fairbury farm in Livingston County.

“As Farm Bureau, we can continue to reach out and do more activities like this,” said Matt Kilgus following the event. “I feel the larger audience we can get that’s not familiar with farms the better off we’re going to be.”

“Farmland” concludes its nationwide run in theaters today. The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA), a broad-based group that includes Illinois Farm Bureau, the American Farm Bureau, commodity organizations and agribusinesses, financed the film and plans to make the movie available this fall through pay-per-view venues that could include cable, DirecTV, Dish, Netflix and Hulu. USFRA also plans to try to book the film to be shown at colleges and universities, and shorten it from 80 minutes to 45 to be used with a discussion guide in junior highs and high schools.

Story content provided by Mike Orso and Courtney Gerstenecker



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