I'm so excited to help kick off the Watch Us Grow blog!
I am Holly Spangler, farm wife to John, farm writer for Prairie Farmer, former farm kid from southern Illinois, and farm mother to three little farm kids. That's a lot
of farm, and I am a little bit exhausted just thinking about it.
As an associate editor for Prairie Farmer magazine (which happens to be the oldest farm publication in the country, and at one time had its own building in Chicago), I travel the state looking for stories, and interviewing, photographing and writing about farmers and other assorted experts. I also blog regularly. The blog, as it turns out, is an extension of my monthly column, begun in 2001 and called My Generation. Through both venues, I try to offer up a little bit of life on a young family's farm, and our unique take on the agriculture issues of the day as young farmers. Things like the county fair, harvest, and what we're grateful for.
Our farm is nestled in the hills and hollows of western Illinois, near the Spoon River. Indeed, Edgar Lee Master's Spoon River Anthology was based upon towns just down the road from us. Here on our farm, we raise corn, soybeans, hay and cattle. We grow corn and beans on the better soil, and make use of those erosion-prone hills to grow beef cattle, instead of row crops. It's just one of many conservation practices we employ to make the best use of – and take the best care of – our God-given soils.
We are a family operation, covering about 3,500 acres. We farm with my husband's parents, and live just across the field from them…which is to say, my kids make many trips back and forth to Grandma's in the course of the day. I have come to believe, if there is any blessing at all in production agriculture, it is the ability to bring multiple generations together with a common goal, working together in community.
We have three little farm kids, ages 8, 6 and 3. Each of the older two are raising their own bottle calves. These are calves that wound up without a mother; one was rejected by the mama cow (rare, but it happens sometimes) and the other was a twin whose mama didn't have enough milk for two calves. So each day, the kids give their calves a bottle, both morning and night. They also have fun with them. I'll look out and see them snuggling with them, or putting a halter on them and running around the yard. This is the second year they've had bottle calves. In the fall, we will begin "backgrounding" the calves – feeding them gluten and other ethanol byproducts to prepare them for sale into a feeder market. That sale will take place in January. As much as the kids love their calves, they know well they are food animals. When the calves are sold, we will deduct feed expenses and the kids will add the balance to their savings accounts.
And although I grew up on a farm and know all this to be very familiar and very comfortable, I know that's not the case for everyone. I can well imagine that not knowing how my food was raised would make me uncomfortable. Sort of like having a pediatrician make a decision about my children's health without my knowledge.
So with that in mind, a group of Illinois farmers have started this blog. We hope to share more about life on our farms, and why safe, abundant and healthy food is important to us, too. There will be a variety of us posting on here in the coming weeks. I hope you'll stop back in and get to know us. Ask questions as you think of them. And please don't hesitate to contact me directly. As a farmer and as a farm writer, I'd love to hear from you.
In fact, we'd love to bring you out to our farms. If you think you'd be interested in being part of a select group of "Field Moms", chosen to tour a variety of Illinois farms, please considering applying here. We'd love to open our farms and our homes, and sit around the dinner table and have a real conversation about real food.
In the meantime, let's keep talking.