Illinois Farm Families Blog

Jul 24 2014

Farm Life Opposite

Recently, this blog shared a post about being under 30 and over $1 million in debt. That really struck a chord with me (even though I'm 31).

It served as a good reminder that, in many ways, going from a "normal" life to a farm wife requires a complete shift in thinking. I often find that for all the "truths" that apply to suburban life, the exact opposite is true for farm families.

Non-farm jobs get paid on a regular basis, whether it's weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. Farmers get paid sporadically throughout the year, whenever they sell grain or a contracted crop is harvested. Some years that amounts to three payments in a 12-month period, therefore you have to be REALLY on top of your finances.

Non-farmers are taught that loans are bad and to be avoided, if at all possible. Farmers not only need loans, we RELY on loans. We may only get paid three times a year, but our bills are due every month just like everyone else. In order for them to be paid on time, we get an operating loan. An operating loan can range from tens of thousands to millions of dollars, depending on the size of the farmer's operation. The operating loan is basically a one-year line of credit to fill in during the times we haven't been paid for a few months. The loan is always paid back at the end of the year. Sure, paying interest irritates farmers just as it would any other person but, for farmers, it's simply part of life.

The same goes for credit cards. Most people are taught not to use credit cards for things they cannot afford. Farmers use credit cards for things they really can afford but, due to the timing of our income being varied, may not have the cash for this very second. For example, a new combine costs around $200,000. Not too many people have that kind of cash on hand. And that's just ONE of the pieces of machinery we require. Farming has a lot of overhead.

One thing we have in common with non-farmers is that the majority of people want to live reasonably close to where we work. We don't just live reasonably close; we live where we work. Literally. But we aren't so different. Non-farmers might be checking their work email at 11 pm and farmers might be out checking their irrigators.

One last difference also has to do with our proximity (or lack thereof) to the rest of society. Because we live 35 miles from the nearest city, when we do drive there to shop, get groceries, run errands, etc. we tend to buy more, spend more and do more at one time. This leads to the difference in fuel efficiency as a priority. Most people are taught that they should buy the most fuel-efficient vehicles they can. Farmers still care about fuel efficiency but oftentimes the vehicles with better gas mileage are either too small or not made for the rough terrain. The average MPG of our two main vehicles is 15 MPG. My husband cannot haul grain in a Prius and I can't fit two kids, a golden retriever and enough groceries to survive the apocalypse into a Camry. Not to mention, it's pretty tough to take lunch out to the field without four-wheel drive.

All in all, we aren't so different; like everything else in life, it's just a matter of perspective.

Lauren Shissler
Topeka, Illinois

Lauren is a suburban girl gone farm mom, growing popcorn and green beans with her husband in Topeka, Illinois (better known as Goofy Ridge). She uses her own experiences to blog about farm issues and how they relate to both rural and urban families. To read more from Lauren, visit her blog Growing on Goofy.

Jul 23 2014

What's Cooking Wednesday: Super Simple Peachy Barbecue Chicken

Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Prep: 20 mins
Cook: 6 hrs to 8 hrs (low) or 3 to 4 hours (high)


2 1/2-3 pounds chicken drumsticks, skinned (if desired)
1 cup barbecue sauce
1/3 cup apricot or peach preserves
2 teaspoons yellow mustard
Fresh peaches, cut into wedges (optional)


Place chicken in a 3-1/2- or 4-quart slow cooker. For sauce, in a small bowl stir together barbecue sauce, preserves, and mustard. Pour over chicken.

Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 6 to 8 hours or on high-heat setting for 3 to 4 hours.

Transfer chicken to a serving dish; cover and keep warm. Transfer sauce to a medium saucepan. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, about 10 minutes or until sauce is desired consistency. Serve chicken with sauce. If desired, garnish with fresh peaches.

Originally posted from Midwest Living.

Jul 22 2014

American Farmers Just Love Their GMOs and You Should Too

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released its latest data on farmers planting of crops genetically enhanced to tolerate herbicides (HT) crops and to resist insect pests (Bt).

HT soybeans went from 17 percent of U.S. soybean acreage to 94 percent in 2014. Plantings of HT cotton expanded from about 10 percent of U.S. acreage in 1997 to 91 percent in 2014. The adoption of HT corn reached 89 percent of U.S. corn acreage in 2014.

Plantings of Bt corn grew from about 8 percent of U.S. corn acreage in 1997 to 80 percent in 2014. Plantings of Bt cotton also expanded rapidly, from 15 percent of U.S. cotton acreage in 1997 to 84 percent in 2014.

See the chart below for the trends.

Why are modern biotech crops so popular with farmers?

Earlier this year, U.S. News reported the views of Illinois farmer Katie Pratt:

According to Pratt, her family uses GMO crops because of the clear value they bring to their family business. They have greatly reduced the amount of insecticide that needs to be sprayed, and they only need to treat the weeds at one point, not several times over a growing season. Her soil has now improved, because she and her family don't have to tromp through the fields as often. The family also uses less fuel, because they spend less time in the tractor. “No one is more aware than the farmer of the impact we have on the environment, in addition to the urgency to feed and fuel a growing population, while reducing our footprint on the planet,” she maintains.

And remember folks, biotech crops are not only good for the environment, eating them as caused not so much as a cough, sniffle, sneeze or bellyache. For example, a statement issued by the Board of Directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the largest scientific organization in the United States, on October 20, 2012 point blank asserted that “contrary to popular misconceptions, GM [genetically modified] crops are the most extensively tested crops ever added to our food supply. There are occasional claims that feeding GM foods to animals causes aberrations ranging from digestive disorders, to sterility, tumors and premature death. Although such claims are often sensationalized and receive a great deal of media attention, none have stood up to rigorous scientific scrutiny.” The AAAS Board concluded, “Indeed, the science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe.

Originally posted on

Jul 20 2014

Food for Thought: Precise Planting

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Jul 18 2014


Today was Anna's 4H Livestock Show.

When I say I really have nothing to do with Anna's 4H experience, it is no understatement. While she and Joe had headed to the general projects show on Saturday, I stayed at home with the kids (and maybe took a nap). Yesterday, they loaded up to take the cattle to the weigh-in, while I loaded up my kids to the country club pool.

Today, however, I went to the show, loading up my crew and snacks and toys once again, putting on shoes I didn't care about, and herded my friends to the fairgrounds.

The fairgrounds I went to as a child.

The fairgrounds in my home county.

The fairgrounds where my uncle, my dad, and now my girl had/have their hands in the livestock show.

As I pulled into the fairgrounds lot, careful to park in an area that wouldn't have to back up around trailers (have I mentioned I'm terrible at backing up? Even with sensors and a camera? Sheesh.), it hit me.

These are my people.

The people in the stands, the names on the animals were all familiar, if not darned friendly. Name after name after name were of people I knew from towns I grew up around, played sports against, and thought I would never, ever see again.


However, I boomeranged.

I'm back in my home county, and now that we have kids involved in county events, it's more apparent that I am truly home. As she took the ring, she did so with a young man from a family who have known me since the toddler years, had my dad as a teacher, went to church with my aunt and uncle.

The man in the ring, guiding the cattle, assisting as needed? He's the dad of kids I used to always babysit for.

The guy cleaning out the chicken coops as the little kids and I walked through, killing time between classes? He's my old neighbor who teaches Ag at my high school.

On and on and on and on I walked around seeing people I hadn't seen in years, and who didn't expect me to be there. I must have made it abundantly clear I was never coming back.

The best part? Our name was pronounced right. Not just ours, my cousin's (Mottaz, my maiden name…I know, I went from bad to worse in the name department) was pronounced correctly. When my girl won Reserve Grand Champion, we had a cheering section, even though my parents are on opposite sides of the country this week. Neighbors, friends, relatives. People knew us. They recognized us. They were supporting us.

It was surreal.

While speaking to a couple I have known all my life, who have been 4H leaders long since their kids have left the hallowed halls of 4H, I spoke of moving home to the "home farm." Pete, the dad, choked up as he spoke of the honor it was to have his daughter and family in the same situation.

I never thought of moving back to the home county in a way that would choke up my dad.

But it means something.

My boomeranging isn't just nice because I have someone to talk to at cattle shows, someone to cheer on Anna as she won Junior Showmanship (YES… SHE DID THAT, TOO!! Proud, proud mama!!), it's nice because it means something. While I never was a huge 4Her, I was a Knox County girl, and am a Knox County girl, and when people know your history, your beginning, that's a big deal. A comfort. A happy place to be when you're sharing your home with your children.

The lure of what's bigger and better and broader is strong. I felt it. I needed to branch out. I'm happy I did, and there are days I wish I could head back, but the boomerang affect is strong. Roots are stronger. Friendly faces and correct pronunciation of names may seem small, but in a big, big world, it's nice to come home to a familiar place.

Today, I truly came home, and I couldn't be prouder.

Emily Webel
Farmington, Illinois

Emily and her husband, Joe, raise cattle, corn, soybeans and alfalfa for hay for their animals in Illinois. Together they are raising their four children to be good stewards of the land. Read more from Emily on her blog, Confessions of a Farm Wife.

Originally published July 14, 2014 on Confessions of a Farm Wife

Reposted with permission.

Jul 16 2014

What's Cooking Wednesday: Garlic and Herb Roast Beef Sandwiches and No-Mayo Potato Salad

JR is on the swim team this summer. That means that, in addition to daily practice after camp, he has weekly meets that start around 5 pm and end, well, end several hours later if we’re lucky. Zuzu does the swim team during the school year. Those meets start at 6 am and end, well, end several hours later — if we’re lucky. Our mistake, plainly, was signing our kids up for a sport than has “meets” versus “games.” I hope that you are able to avoid this same fate.

Swim meets that last for hours right around dinner time call for easy-to-prepare picnic fare. Sure, we could cobble dinner together from the swim club snack bars except that Combos and Good Humor bars are not my idea of dinner. (JR begs to differ.) I prefer to pack some sandwiches, a side salad and containers of fresh fruit into an insulated bag packed with cold packs and carry it along to the swim meet. I may be stuck there for hours, usually timing one of the lanes, but at least we eat well.

Even if you are not a swim team parent, my guess is that you will have some occasion to pack a picnic this summer, be it an outdoor concert, a baseball game or other casual outdoor event. So, here are some of my favorites ideas for picnic fare.

First, roast beef and cheddar sandwiches on ciabatta. These are not your tired lunchbox roast beef sandwiches. With rustic ciabatta rolls, Cabot Creamery Garlic and Herb Cheddar and fresh baby greens, these are gourmet-picnic-basket roast beef sandwiches. I like to add horseradish mayo to mine, but my husband is a rabid mayonnaise hater, so I use a coarse-grained mustard for his. That's a good option if your sandwiches will be outside without refrigeration for an extended period - no risk of spoilage.

I highly recommend this potato salad recipe for all your outdoor eating occasions because it also does not contain mayonnaise and therefore is less likely to spoil. As a potato salad lover with an mayo-phobic spouse, I have become quite the expert in potato salads dressed with vinaigrettes. While my favorite food in the world is still my grandmother's traditional potato salad with mayonnaise and apple cider vinegar dressing, this one also holds a place in my heart. I like to use fresh shallots, which I find at the farmers market at this time of year, for their mild flavor. If you cannot find fresh shallots, feel free to substitute red onion.

Happy picnicking!

Originally posted on West of the Loop.

Jul 15 2014

My Life as a Farming Wife

It’s a commonly asked question these days, “so what do you do now?” I mean, I’ve worked two or three jobs all through college, got married and moved around a little trying to find a good balance between my work life and farming. My response lately is always “I’ve been farming with my husband and his family”. “Oh!” They always reply, then the next question is like clockwork, always predictable. “So like… what do you do all day?” While most people think a farm wife sits in the house, cleans and cooks, that couldn’t be further from the truth. At least not on this farm! The farm wife is always as busy as the farm husband. Things need to be done in the fastest, most efficient manner possible. All summer my husband and I have been working till 8 or 9 p.m. So while we might be near our home, or even working in the yard, we are never actually sitting at home. On second thought, we watch the news and weather every night while we eat supper. But you could almost write that off as a necessity. Weather plays a large role in farming, and because we are working outdoors, we need to be prepared!

So what do I do all day? Basically you could say my job description is Coordinator of Smooth Operations. In other words, I am a pair of extra hands that keeps everything running smoothly. My husband and I work as a team most of the time. If we have to make sure a calf is nursing, I’m grabbing the feed for the momma to keep her calm while he is looking over the calf. If we are outside working on fences, I am holding the barbed wire while he is using his tools to stretch it. If he needs to change the oil in one of our farm vehicles, he is changing the oil while I am grabbing the supplies for our next job. Long story short, I’m always there to help and prep for the next step.

This little arrangement was a bit of an adjustment for me. I myself grew up on a farm, but everyone does things a little differently. While I have one idea in my head, hubby always has his own. Plus I grew up feeding pigs and bottle feeding dairy calves. Beef cattle and crops are an entirely different daily routine. While I thought I knew a lot about agriculture, I am still learning, and that is what makes this lifestyle so exciting. There is never a dull moment and no two days are the same. Technology and efficiency are always changing and we need to keep up. As a business owner, we need to be at the top of our game.

This last summer the family has started several big projects. They are pictured in the collage. I have been spraying cows to keep the flies away. Flies not only bite and hurt the cows, they also carry disease. We have been clearing trees and brush from fences to prevent the cows from getting out. If a cow were to be on the loose, it could ultimately put itself or others in danger on the roads and highway. We have been fixing tile holes in our fields. Tiles are long plastic tubes placed deep in the ground to help water flow under the crops. We have also been replacing post in our feedlot. Mowing hay is a large summer project. We usually mow about twice a year. Sometimes I drive the hay from the fields to the silo, but usually I just rake the hay. Because this spring we really didn’t get much rain, we were continuously checking crops to see if we needed to replant. Other large projects I get to do are helping fill the planter with corn and soybean seeds in the spring, and disking (breaking up the corn stalks) soil after harvest in the fall.

Rachel Asher
Ursa, Illinois

Rachel is a Western Illinois University Graduate with a degree in Agriculture and emphasis in Agriculture Education. She farms full-time with her husband and his family in West Central Illinois. Keep up with Rachel and her daily life on the farm at her blog, Dare to Dream with Rachel.

Jul 13 2014

Drones Helping Farmers

Do you have questions about food and farming? Check out our FAQ page to learn more, or Ask a Question of your own. And for more Food for Thought posts, visit this section.

Jul 12 2014

Top 3 Ways Integrity Can Be Restored to the Food Industry

The month of June marked the continuation of the US. Farmers & Ranchers Association’s (USFRA) countrywide series of town hall- style forums, an attempt to hone in on the key issues plaguing the agricultural community.

The latest Food Dialogue forum on Integrity in Food Marketing took place in Downtown Chicago and included a diverse group of panelists ranging from family farmers like Dawn Caldwell and Chuck Wirtz to communications specialists like Alan Moskowitz of Communispace and Mike Donahue of LYFE Kitchen to name of few. (Check out the full line-up here)

The panelists shared their varied perspectives which included some jaw dropping commentary from Alan Moskowitz of Communispace who believes that “Consumers do not want full transparency” and that “brands don’t have to reveal all of the skeletons in their closet.

(Insert streaking bolt of lightning here ____)!

But regardless of the individual perspectives, it became increasingly clear that the collective streams of discredited journalism and media attention from key stakeholders in the farming industry has contributed to the brokenness of the food production eco-system. And here’s the top 3 ways integrity and credibility can be restored to the food industry.

1. Consumers need to know the food system in order to trust the food it produces

Doesn't seem like a stretch that consumers want to know how their food is produced, right?

But with questions like how much is too much information shaping the panel discussion, it became clear that the compact and &need to know basis approach to educating consumers about the food industry processes has rendered consumers even more perplexed. And while some consumers have taken on the challenge to educate themselves about the industry, it has become increasingly difficult to sort factual information and standard practices from viral sensationalized stories.

Thorough, clear, and factual journalism about the food industry can certainly take what seems like a complicated and obscure process and make it comprehensible for the average consumer.

And while bananas stamped with QR codes with basic information regarding their place of origin is a small step in the right direction, consumer confidence in food production will not be restored until consumers are thoroughly educated on GMO’s, pesticides, antibiotics, and the process of raising livestock. Information targeted at consumers should be adjusted so that it is thorough and all- encompassing to illicit genuine transparency.

2. Farmers should actively share their farm practices and farming choices with consumers

Emily Paster, a Food Writer at West of the Loop, stated that “consumers [of organic products] want to feel confident that they are paying for a positive impact,” and hence the organic labeling is what is in place to assure them that they are in fact paying for the execution of a specialized process for growing and raising food.

However, conventional farming practices are not outlined as clearly. As a result, conventional farmers like Chuck Wirtz feel demonized for having a large farm that raises 40-50,000 hogs. When in fact, the size of his farm does not equate to poor stewardship of his land and livestock; it is merely an opportunity for multiple generations and siblings to create a livelihood for themselves and their individual families by working together on the farm.

Conventional farmers can benefit from credible journalism that thoroughly outlines the food production process for consumers similar to that which is outlined for organic farming. As it stands, production and marketing of organic food is defined by what it does not include which sends the message that anything other than organic is the antithesis of what it means to produce healthy and environmentally friendly food. It is this disconnect between actual farming practices and impression that tarnishes the trust between consumers and farmers.

3. Brands should share the benefits of the food they market with responsible messaging

Of the 3 stakeholders in the food industry, the Brands are pivotal to developing integrity within the food industry. Food Brands serve as the middle agent for consumers and farmers, and yet their messaging has consistently failed both parties. While the cyclical flow of the economy requires that farmers produce food and consumers purchase them, big brands and companies have convoluted the flow of information for individual gain. The result is excessive labeling of products and confused consumers, which in some instances, results in the loss of customer loyalty.

While consumers want to know what is in their food, what has happened is that the excessive labeling of foods has created mistrust in the industry. Sure consumers have a right to know if a product is a GMO or includes High Fructose Corn Syrup, but when 100% Orange Juice is labeled Gluten Free or Chicken labeled Hormone Free, it calls the credibility of the entire system into question. The reality is that all 100% Fruit Juice is Gluten Free and poultry (both organic and conventional) are raised without the use of hormones due to FDA regulations. Consumers want to be in the know, but there is danger in providing irrelevant information which can be construed as manipulative for the sake of obtaining more purchasing dollars.

The 2014 Food Dialogue forum here in Chicago was an excellent start to illuminating the misconceptions in the food industry, but by no means did it solve the issue of trust that separates consumers, farmers and brands. Only when there is an authentic, consistent and fully transparent information flow will there be restored faith in our fragile food system.

Click here to check out the Food Dialogues panel discussion online…oh yeah…and yours truly even asked a question to the panelists. The response from panelist Chuck Wirtz is definitely worth a watch!

Originally published June 23, 2014 Momma Mina.
Reposted with permission.

Amina Nevels
Chicago, Illinois

Amina is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2013 Field Moms. Throughout the year she visits Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each tour, the Field Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms, including five takeaways. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago moms meet farmers.

Jul 11 2014

Lunch with Grandpa

We love it when our two granddaughters, ages 3 and 18 months, come to the farm! And they love to go to the sheds, climb into the tractors and trucks, beep the horns and "drive". But their most favorite activity is packing lunches to share with Grandpa in the field! Last week we were packing one of those lunches and the 3-year-old wanted to take along some M&Ms for Grandpa and her. Quickly thinking, I suggested that we mix some Cheerios cereal with candy for a special treat. Later, in the field, she began sharing the "special treat" with Grandpa... one M&M for her, one piece of cereal for Grandpa, and so on. Finally, Grandpa asked if he could have a piece of the candy. To which she replied, "Grandma said you like cereal for your special treat. I like chocolate for my special treat."

Donna Jeschke
Mazon, Illinois

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