As Valentine’s Day arrives this month, take some time to thank a farmer.  Yes, farmers contribute to the romance of the holiday in many ways you can’t imagine.  No I don’t mean farmers such as Chris Soules, the single farmer featured in the current season of The Bachelor. I mean farmers who grow the ingredients for the candy we share every Valentine’s Day.

Two weeks ago I was invited to join my presenter, Linda Dunn, as she toured the Ferrara Candy Factory near Chicago.  Mrs. Dunn had bid on the tour at a silent auction for Cystic Fibrosis and invited several local children (Grades pre-K through 7th) and their parents, along with me.  I don’t think an hour has ever raced by so fast. We walked up flights of stairs to witness the starting of the candy recipe and then traveled down floor by floor to understand where the pipes filled with corn syrup, led to the vats for cooking, which led to the molds made of cornstarch, which dropped the candy off the assembly line into the drums, which candy-coated and polished the final candy products.  Ms. Dunn stated, “It was amazing to me to see the process of layers upon layers of chocolate on raisins, how the candy was dried for the next step where it was polished and made shiny. From the sugar to the packaging, it all involves agriculture.”  We saw gummy worms, chocolate covered raisins, lemonheads, jelly beans, jaw busters and much more being produced.  The children’s eyes got bigger by the moment as we got to the large vats filled with candy fresh off the assembly line. "My favorite part of the tour was watching how the candy was made and all the steps needed from start to finish.  I can't believe it takes a week to make a jelly bean complete and only minutes for me to eat a bag.” stated Kylee Dunn age 6.   

They use 2 million pounds of sugar each week which comes via ten railroad cars. This includes both sugar beets and sugar cane.  Then there is the 200,000 pounds of corn syrup and 4800 pounds of cornstarch used each day.  Soy lecithin and cocoa beans add to the chocolate recipes and a variety of pectin’s, purees and concentrates (many from apples) are also used.  And let’s not forget the gelatin which also comes from farmers.  This trip was a reminder of all we teach in our programming about the production, processing, manufacturing and distribution of agriculture all brought together in this local candy company.  So whether you receive a box of chocolates or go to a movie and open a box of lemonheads this Valentine’s Day, remember that it all started with a farmer.