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As a kid growing up in the suburbs, I didn’t give a lot of thought to agriculture. There were no farms in my community. My parents had a pond in our backyard and enjoyed their flower gardens, but with the exception of a backyard apple tree and some wild rhubarb, we didn’t grow food.

For most kids in this area, farming is probably just not on the radar. Unless you’ve traveled a bit though the rest of the state, you don’t realize how big of a role agriculture plays within Illinois.

As I got older and would go on road trips, I realized that although we live near a big city and life revolves around a busy pace in a congested area, most of the state does not function that way. If you drive a couple of hours south on Interstates 55 or 57 or west on Interstate 80 (or exit almost any highway along the route) in the summer months, you’ll undoubtedly get the picture as you pass cornfield after cornfield, farmhouse after farmhouse, barn after barn with a few cows and pigs and other animals sprinkled around. When I first visited my cousin and her family on their soybean farm in central Illinois after I was married, it really opened my eyes.

My father-in-law, who lives in Dolton, has always taken pride in his garden. Growing up in Germany among orchards and fields, he developed a green thumb. His backyard garden has always yielded a healthy crop of everything from tomatoes to zucchini to radishes to kohlrabi. He’s also taught my kids a lot about gardening and my 13-year-old has claimed a patch in Grandpa’s yard where the two have grown pumpkins together. Last fall they entered a youth pumpkin growing contest and my son walked away with first prize for his huge pumpkin that weighed in around 85 pounds.

The two were invited to a dinner held by the Cook County Farm Bureau as part of his prize. When we were there, I saw Toni DeLaurentis, a retired Oak Glen School teacher. She told me she was there because since retirement, she has been one of the educators in the bureau’s Ag in the Classroom program.

This past week she was back at Oak Glen School in Lansing where she taught for many years, administering the program for fourth-graders about agriculture in Illinois. In the four years she’s been a facilitator, she’s visited most of the elementary schools in Lansing and several others in Cook County and in Chicago, which includes about an hour of instruction and a short video. The program has been in existence for more than 25 years. DeLaurentis is one of six Ag in the Classroom teachers who reach more than 24,000 students a year in more than 300 schools.

Fourth-grade teachers in Cook County are invited to sign up for this free in-school field trip by calling (708) 354-FARM. The program meets Illinois State Learning and requires minimal preparation for teachers and field trips can be scheduled form September through early June. More information is available on the bureau's website  at COOKCFB.ORG and additional resources, teacher workshops and grants are available through the bureau. T.F. South High School was a recent recipient of a grant to create a student garden.

Fundraising concert to feature 'American Idol' finalist Phil Stacey

"American Idol" fans may recall the Navy sailor who made it to the final five in the show’s sixth season (the year that Jordin Sparks took the title.) He’ll be in Lansing on March 2 to do a benefit concert at Bethel Christian Reformed Church, 3500 Glenwood-Lansing Road for P.A.S.S. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the show is at 7. No tickets are needed and there will be a free will offering at the door.

The opinions are solely those of the writer. She can be reached at


Night Editor

Jeanette is a journalist with The Times Media Co. who has worked as both a reporter and editor. She has a master's degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield.