Harvest Blog: Changing Illinois, Hungry World

Nov 8, 2013

Peter and father, Bert, tilling a backyard garden in 1987
Credit Cheryl Gray

I come to Harvest Public Media as a reporter standing at the intersection of rural and urban life.  It is a fascinating place to be in the young 21st century.

Growing up in Oswego, Ill., I watched my backyard turn from cornfield to the carefully trimmed suburban lawns of Chicagoland’s residential expansion. The land my Norwegian immigrant great-grandparents tilled in the 1900s is likely a restaurant, big box retail store or strip mall today.

The inexorable crawl of commercial development means the territory I hail from is better known for food companies than for family farming.  McDonald’sKraft and Sara Lee count among the corporate titans headquartered in northern Illinois.  

But Illinois doesn’t just stock store shelves.  It also feeds and fuels the world.  On a windy day in Springfield you can sometimes smell it in the air. The global headquarters of Archer Daniels Midland, 45 miles east of my current home, regularly belches an aromatic reminder of its multi-billion dollar processing operation. A Wisconsin dairy farmer I once knew would call that “the smell of money.” ADM is the 27th ranked company on the Fortune 500, and employs thousands in a town where blue collar jobs are now scarce.  

Decatur, Ill., is also home to Howard G. Buffett, son of investor Warren Buffett.  Howard focuses on farming and philanthropy, from the cornfields of central and southern Illinois to the African savannah.  His work is just one example of the influence and impact those in the Midwest have on the global food network.

Regardless of your ideology or geography, I invite you to consider that humanity’s common need for food binds us to one another. This fact has, does, and will continue to incite conflicts as we careen toward 8 billion in global population.  I feel it is important, perhaps more than ever in human history, that we understand how food is produced, distributed and consumed.

I joined the Harvest Public Media team because I believe in its mission. It is the journalist’s task to seek the truth to the best of his or her ability. What, where, why and how are the tools of my trade - it is up to you, the reader and listener, to do what you will with that information.

Born in the Midwest – home of the deep dish pizza, the squeaky cheese curd and Budweiser (not to mention acres of soybeans and bushels of corn) – I’m ready to talk food and drink, and how they get to your table. It may surprise you.