Rita Frazer, who grew up on a small diversified farm in Jersey County, always had the makings to be a farm broadcaster. In addition to her experience raising corn, soybeans, wheat, cattle, hogs and chickens, Rita said she just loved everything about agriculture.

“I always had a love for agriculture and for farmers, in addition to a natural curiosity about everything, which, it turns out, is just what you need to be a farm broadcaster,” Rita said.

Today, Rita servers as the main anchor and reporter for the RFD Radio Network, including news, weather, market and talk show programming.

“My job is to provide coverage of Farm Bureau activities, people, farm news, events, and commodity group activities for distribution on radio stations serving Illinois,” Rita said. “I also feel a great responsibility to be a proponent for agriculture, and to help share agriculture’s story with the general public and consumers.”

Though Rita is no longer on the farm, she still tries to keep herself and her family connected to agriculture in any way she can. She currently lives with her husband, daughter and her husband’s grandmother just outside of Clinton, Ill., in DeWitt County, where her daughter just joined the local 4-H club in hopes that she can learn and grow and always have an agriculture connection in her life.

For her, the best part about her job is talking to farmers and helping them stay current on all the topics they need to be successful in the field and the barn.

“I believe an important part of my job is helping farmers stay current on agronomic research, legislative, economic and technological news that helps them be more efficient and effective as food providers,” Rita said. “I am proud to be able to tell consumers that U.S. farmers produce the safest food in the world. Farmers trust the food they produce enough to put it in their own mouths and to feed it to their own families.”

Don’t forget to check out all the awesome blogs happening this month over at Prairie Farmer.

For the full Faces Behind Your Food Series, check out the links below:

Janell Baum Thomas knew she wanted to be involved in agriculture from the start. Now an e-content editor for Penton Farm Progress, Janell’s experiences growing up on her family farm planted the seed, but her experience in 4-H and as an Illinois Association FFA State Officer made it a no-brainer.

“FFA gives you training in a lot of different career paths and because you do a lot of public speaking, it’s all very consumer-facing,” Janell said. “My experience in FFA helped me realize that there were a lot of opportunities in agriculture communications and being an agricultural writer was just one of them. Plus, I could work from home, and be closer to my family.”

Janell and Sheila

As an e-content editor, Janell writes national news for Farm Progress websites, and Farm Futures and Beef Producers websites. For Janell, working as an agricultural writer means she has the opportunity to help farmers make the best financial decisions for their individual operations.

“Farmers are constantly looking for the latest technology and information to help them properly market their crops,” Janell said. “We cover a lot of conservation topics and new technologies — basically, they’re looking for innovative ways of doing things that decrease inputs and the number of passes across fields. By writing for Farm Progress, I help farmers farm safely and efficiently. And when someone emails me and says an article I wrote was helpful, that’s extremely rewarding.”

In the end, Janell said it’s important for consumers to remember everyone relies on a safe food supply, including farmers.

“Farmers are consumers, too,” Janell said. “Everything that they are raising, they eat, too. And the land and animals are important to them because if they are good the land and animals, the land and animals will be good to them. They’re always looking for ways to do things better that’s why we have these ag magazines. As writers for the ag industry, we realize how important the food supply is to everyone and that’s part of what makes our job worth it. Making information available to farmers will ultimately help the consumer.”

Don’t forget to check out all the awesome blogs happening this month over at Prairie Farmer.

For the full Faces Behind Your Food Series, check out the links below:

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! In honor of the holiday, I’m featuring a special family today — one that I’m especially thankful for.

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Today’s Faces Behind the Food are the DeMent family, dairy farmers from DeWitt County, and my grandma, grandpa, aunts and uncle.

My grandpa Don started DeMent’s Jerseys when he was seven years old after his grandma gave him a calf that was out of a Hereford bull. He traded that calf for Jersey and the rest is history. He started milking cows out of his parents’ garage and selling it for $.10 per quart. In 1947, he bought his first registered cow.

But my favorite story isn’t how he got started — it’s how he met his wife.


“Shirley had a cow that I just couldn’t beat in the show ring,” Don said. “I had to milk that old cow at night and she would beat me the next day when we would show, I never could beat her. They always accused me of marrying Shirley to get that cow. When we got married we brought her to our house and I always milked her by hand. She was a good cow. Even back then she was really good.”

DeMent’s Jerseys has always been a relatively small farm compared to some of the bigger farms out west, but it has always been a purebred farm, and family-run to boot. In fact, the DeMent family has showed at the Illinois State Fair consecutively since 1965. Don also was named Land of Lincoln Breeder of the Year in 2003.

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Today, DeMent’s Jerseys has changed from it’s original format of milking 25-30 cows and raising its own replacement heifers. Instead, my Uncle Ted and Aunt Cheryl, along with my Aunt Nancy, Ted’s sister, partner with the Kilgus dairy in Fairbury, Ill.

While Ted, Cheryl and Nancy still own the milk cows, the Kilgus family houses the cows and milks them to help supplement their direct-to-consumer milk sales. In return, my family grows all of our own and Kilgus’ heifers.

It’s a partnership that benefits everyone.

“The milk has more value up there because they bottle it and sell it on the farm,” Ted said. “And, with us having the young stock, it frees up more room for them to produce more milk up there. It lets us both be more specialized in our operations and ends up being a win-win for everyone.”

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After nearly 70 years in the dairy business, the DeMents have learned a thing or two about dairy production and what consumers are curious about.

“You know, it’s not a job that you can turn off — it’s a full time job, even in bad weather,” Cheryl said. “But we do it because we love it and we love the animals.”

“I know consumers have questions about a lot of things, but one of the things I get asked a lot is, ‘How do you eat all those dairy products?'” Cheryl added. “The important thing to remember is whole milk and butter always get bad reputations, but they have a place in a healthy lifestyle. They’re good for you, especially in a balanced diet.”

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Don’t forget to check out all the awesome blogs happening this month over at Prairie Farmer.

For the full Faces Behind Your Food Series, check out the links below:

Farming is in Brad Zwilling’s blood. And, even though he helps farm on his parent’s and in-laws’ farms, the majority of his work isn’t in a combine or feeding calves. Instead, his job is helping farmers do theirs.

As a Farm Business Analyst for Illinois Farm Business Farm Management, Brad assists farmers in making farm financial management decisions.

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“The biggest part of my job is keeping good records,” Brad said. “I help to combine these records to provide economic, financial and family living averages that farmers can use to compare to other farmers and see how they measure up. I also analyze the data from our cooperating farms and provide that data in reports that can be utilized by our farmers.”

Additionally, Brad publishes a few of those reports on the University of Illinois Farmdoc and Farmdoc Daily website, which is read nationwide. The published reports talk about cost of production, reviewing financial ratios and the importance of remember family living when creating crop budgets, as well as reviewing trends in farmland.

“The best part of my job is being able to analyze the data from farmers and being able to provide pertinent information that they can use to help make decisions in their operations,” Brad said. “Farmers utilize the studies and reports that I provide to make farm financial decisions and ensure they have a viable operation that provide a safe food supply to the world.”

Still, Brad and his wife, Paula, and their three boys spend as much time out on their parents’ farms as possible. Not only because they love it, but because they want to make sure their boys get to experience growing up on a farm.


“The most important thing to my wife and I is brining up our boys to understand agriculture and be able to communicate the importance of this industry,” Brad said. “We have involved them in many of our Farm Bureau events and discussed with them what they are doing and seeing on their grandparents’ farms. We have already begun to see them talking to people they meet and explaining agriculture to them, especially our four-year-old.”

And the important role agriculture plays — and just what farmers do to provide food — is something Brad wants everyone to remember.

“American farmers provide a safe and secure food supply for your family and theirs,” Brad said. “Farmers care about consumers are willing to have conversations with them to address their concerns.”

Lady Landowners Zwilling

Don’t forget to check out all the awesome blogs happening this month over at Prairie Farmer.

For the full Faces Behind Your Food Series, check out the links below:

For Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB) Business Development and Compliance Manager Cynthia Haskins, helping farmers direct-market their produce isn’t something that she just happened into when she began working for IFB. In fact, it’s in her blood.


“I grew up on a fruit and vegetable farm in Henderson, Ill., where our family marketed direct-to-consumer and through grocery stores,” Cynthia said. “We had our own retail stand. I remember customers would line up down the street to buy our sweet corn, tomatoes and strawberries. We grew more than that, but those were our traffic builders. My father still farms for farmer’s markets because that’s where he is most happy — growing.”

Today, Cynthia helps develop and implement programs and projects to assist Farm Bureau members and industry with local and regional food business development to grocery and specialty retailers, wholesalers, foodservice, schools and other farm to market outlets such as farmers’ markets, CSAs and roadside stands.

Cynthia also helps make available information and resources regarding marketing, distribution, food hubs, alternative farming practices, and governmental regulation of food safety, labeling, nutrition, and packaging of local and regional food.


“I try my best to ‘meet people where they’re at,'” Cynthia said. “If they are a grocery store that hasn’t purchased from a smaller farmer, they may need assistance in looking at their merchandising plans again. If a farmer has never sold to a grocery store or a restaurant, they may need help in understanding how to sort, grade and pack their product.”

More than anything, Cynthia makes things happen. And nothing is better than that.

“Whether a farmer is a beginning farmer or a seasoned farmer, one thing is for certain, food comes from farmers,” Cynthia said. “The best part of my job is to introduce farmers to buyers and then let them tell the farmer story, whether it is on a display sign in the grocery store or highlighting their name on a menu, or watching someone load up on fresh fruits and vegetables at the farmers’ market.”

In the end, when it comes to food, Cynthia hopes consumers remember one thing: it’s okay to eat it.

“We have a safe food system in America,” Cynthia said. “There are so many steps between the time a product is planted and raised to the time it reaches our fork, and yet, it arrives safely. It doesn’t matter whether it was picked down the street or 1,500 miles away, the actual process is pretty much the same. Just remember, as we bow our heads and give thanks for our food, take a moment and thank God for the farmer, too.”


Don’t forget to check out all the awesome blogs happening this month over at Prairie Farmer.

For the full Faces Behind Your Food Series, check out the links below:

Todd Verheecke started working for John Deere’s experimental shop right after graduating from Iowa State University and, in the ten years since, has steadily moved up the ladder. Now, as a senior marketing representative for harvester works, he has the opportunity to talk to customers at farm shows and dealerships, putting the feedback he gets on the John Deere combines he works with into practice.

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“I make sure that what they’re seeing in their combines is good and there are no issues,” Todd said. “And, I get feedback on what they want in the future. I just make sure everything is going well and put that feedback into future plans.”

And, just to be sure, Todd does his own quality control on his own farm and his family’s farm.

“I still help on my family’s farm,” Todd said. “And I have my own operation, too — just 100 to 120 acres. But I still help my dad with his livestock and corn and soybeans. And doing that helps me keep my hand in everything and stay involved. When I go to farm shows and am out in the community, knowing what’s going on and having my finger on the pulse helps me speak one-on-one with the customers and helps me speak their language. And it helps them trust me.”

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After working with John Deere implements and in the agriculture industry for ten years, Todd said he knows there are some misconceptions when it comes to farming and farming practices.

“Most farmers are just like your average person,” Todd said. “They’re just a little more tuned in to the country. But it’s important to remember that today’s farming equipment is just as advanced as your car. There are a lot of computers and electronics that can help monitor the combine itself and what’s going on. Farmers are really technologically advanced.

“And, we do our best to grow the safest food for our families and the rest of the population,” Todd added. “We wouldn’t do anything to hurt the food supply because we want safe food that everyone can consume.”

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Don’t forget to check out all the awesome blogs happening this month over at Prairie Farmer.

For the full Faces Behind Your Food Series, check out the links below:

We’re in the homestretch of our 30 day series, Faces Behind Your Food, and have highlighted a bunch of interesting people. From truck drivers and ag lenders, to farmers, seed dealers, farm bureau managers and everything in between, all of these folks either decided to stay involved in agriculture, or follow a career path into agriculture. And in many cases, they made those choices because of ag teachers just like my friend, DeAnna Thomas.

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DeAnna is a first year agriculture education teacher at Midwest Central High School in Manito, Ill., and is on the front line of helping future consumers gain an understanding of where their food comes from.

“Every day I strive to teach students the importance of agriculture through engaging, hands-on learning,” DeAnna said. “It is challenging, yet very rewarding.  Although Manito is a small, rural community, a majority of the students I teach do not live on a farm.  It is my hope after taking an ag class, my students have a thorough knowledge of where their food comes from and how it gets from family farms to their dinner forks.”

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To say DeAnna has had an interesting career path is an understatement. In fact, DeAnna has truly done it all when it comes to agriculture communications, from starting her career as a farm broadcaster, to working as a marketing representative for a seed company. Oh, and she also works as a farm wife to her husband, Braden, helping out on their farm in the Spring Lake bottoms, where they farm commercial corn and soybeans and also raise popcorn, green beans and peas.

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“My career path has been full of unique and remarkable opportunities,” DeAnna said. “I have had the opportunity to serve the public and agriculture community as a local farm broadcaster, serve farmers as a marketing coordinator for a seed company, and now, I’m serving my community and future generations as an agriculture education teacher.”

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Even after all of that, DeAnna says her role in each job is pretty much the same — answering questions and making sure consumers, even future ones, know exactly where their food comes from.

“It is my hope that the students who leave my classroom know and understand the importance of the work farmers do each and every day to ensure there is enough food for people all over the world to eat,” DeAnna said. “I always used to close out my broadcasts saying, ‘Agriculture is more than food, feed, and fuel, it is the foundation of our future.’  At the end of each day, it is my hope I have done all I can to teach my students that.

“I really believe the biggest threat facing agriculture is the lack of agriculture education,” DeAnna added. “So many people today take the food that is in their cabinets for granted. Whether it was in my former role as an agriculture communicator or in my current role as an agriculture educator, I truly feel a sense of responsibility to inform the general public about the importance of agriculture. The impact it has on Mason County, the state of Illinois, the USA, even the world, is immense and needs to be shared with as many people as possible.”

Don’t forget to check out all the awesome blogs happening this month over at Prairie Farmer.

For the full Faces Behind Your Food Series, check out the links below:


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