Illinois Farm Families Blog

Apr 22 2015

You Bet Your Life On It- Earth Day 2015

You get your hands in it
Plant your roots in it
Dusty head lights dance with your boots in it…

You write her name on it
Spin your tires on it
Build your corn field,
You bet your life on it

It’s that elm shade
Red roads clay you grew up on
That plowed up ground that your dad
Damned his luck on…

You’ve mixed some sweat with it
Taken a shovel to it
You’ve stuck some crosses and some painted
Goal posts through it

You know you came from it
And someday you’ll return to it

The first time I heard Florida Georgia Line’s song Dirt, it struck a chord with me, and I imagine with many other farm families. 150 years ago, my great-great grandfather Daniel Mackinson decided to “bet his life on it”, to “plant his roots in it”.  He decided to start farming near Pontiac and today our family continues to live and farm those original acres plus a few more.  This concept of “dirt” being so important is both symbolic and real.  When Jesse and I got married, we each had 2 containers of dirt, 1 from each of our family farms that we poured into a new container.  This represented the coming together of our families, and the importance of agriculture in our lives. The practical importance of dirt is not to be understated either.

At Mackinson Dairy, we use cow manure as a natural source of fertilizer and follow a detailed manure and nutrient management plan.  In 2011, we worked with engineers and other experts and together, they helped us design and build a manure-handling system.  Our current storage facility holds 2.8 million gallons and it is applied to our fields in the months after harvest. The manure helps improve the productivity and water-holding capacity of the soil.  As recognition of this work, we were awarded the 2013 Conservation Farm Family Award by the Livingston County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Other examples of sustainable farming practices regarding ‘’dirt’’ include crop rotation which is used to naturally mitigate weeds and to improve soil quality. No-tillage crop farming for soil and fuel conservation involves leaving a field as it is after harvest and then planting over it the next year.   This reduces erosion, retains soil moisture, and conserves fuel.

We believe that using resources wisely and planning for the future so that our children will also be able to not only live here, but to be able to live off the ‘’dirt”. Conservation is part of what do every day at Mackinson Dairy.  The agriculture industry as a whole also continues to work towards achieving a sustainable food system.  You can read more here about what other sustainable work Illinois Dairy farmers are up to.

You might be wondering what you could do to help (even if you aren’t a farmer).  Everyone (me included) can reduce their food waste and this article provides us with 7 simple tips for cutting back on food waste. Our time here is limited so remember that it is our job not only on Earth Day but every day, to protect the land, water, and air for future generations.

You know you came from it

and someday you’ll return to it

Originally posted on Mackinson Dairy.

Mary Mackinson-Faber
Pontiac, IL

Mary raises dairy cattle and grain with her husband, Jesse, and two children in central Illinois. Mary's great-grandfather started the dairy farm over 150 years ago with just a handful of cows. Today, her family continues to live and farm on those original acres. Farming is a history and a passion for Mary and her family!

Apr 19 2015

Farm Families do more than put food on your table...

"Farm families are doing much more than putting food on our tables. They are raising well-rounded, modern-day problem-solvers, who are not afraid to get their hands dirty. We need more young people like that in our country." 

Alicia Gonzalez
Chicago, IL

Alicia is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2015 City Moms. Throughout the year she will visit Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each visit, the City Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers.

Apr 07 2015

What does it mean to be a farm family?

Our City Mom visit to the Gould Farm on a beautiful spring-like day earlier this March began with a warm welcome by several members, indeed generations, of the Gould Family. That warm welcome and that up-close encounter with the family is what has stayed with me most about the hog tour. While many of my colleagues are much more interested in and well-informed about food safety and animal welfare, I have to admit I am always much more interested in the human side of things. 

What does it mean to be a farm family? I think the Goulds are the perfect example. Along with Eldon and Sandy, the patriarch and matriarch, their son, Chris, and his wife Dana, as well as their kids, ranging in age from high-school to college, it seemed like the whole family is involved in the farm in some way or another. This is important because running a modern-day farm requires a multitude of talents and knowledge, from using computer technology and sophisticated software to monitor breeding and average litter size to actually handling the animals and feed. 

During our visit, Chris` teen-age son handled a huge boar, as Chris demonstrated the artificial insemination process to us. As a high school teacher, I am always drawn to how teenagers think, how they learn and how they grow. Meeting Chris and Dana`s kids that day was so refreshing. They are regular high school kids who play sports and take AP classes, but also obviously know hands-on how to run a farm. 

Based on my very limited encounter with the Goulds that day, I can`t help but observe that farm families are doing much more than putting food on our tables.They are raising well-rounded, modern-day problem-solvers, who are not afraid to get their hands dirty. We need more young people like that in our country. 

Alicia Gonzalez
Chicago, IL

Alicia is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2015 City Moms. Throughout the year she will visit Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each visit, the City Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers.
Apr 02 2015

Caring for Calves

Even though agriculture was a part of my life growing up, I did not grow up on a farm. My father was a farm laborer and my grandparents had a farm, but I didn’t have much interest in the farm life. So when I married my farmer husband, almost 25 years ago, I knew nothing about exactly what it took to raise animals or farm. But I was very eager to learn, and we soon had dreams and goals that we are determined to meet.

Since we have steadily grown our farm the last 25 years, I’ve learned a lot. We are very diversified, growing wheat, grain sorghum, corn, soybeans and alfalfa, and we have a cow calf herd.

I’m most proud of our cow calf herd. It has taken a lot of work, but we have grown it considerably since we first started. My dad had a few cows growing up, but I was really never around the major part of the work. I would get to go check them with him and I thought they were cute, never realizing just how much work it really was.

I will never forget the first time that my husband had to bring a baby calf into our home to warm it up. It was born on a night when the temperatures were below freezing, and the calf would die if he did not get it dried off and warmed up quickly. My husband woke me up to help him get towels and a hairdryer (my only hairdryer!) to dry the baby off so that it could go back to its mother.

At first, I did not like the idea of an afterbirth baby calf being in my house. Soon, though, the motherly instincts kicked in, and I realized that I had to help save this calf.

We saved the calf that night, and it triggered something in me that has never left. I realized just how much farmers and ranchers care for their animals and just how much work it really takes to raise them. Nowadays when the cows are calving, it’s not unusual for us to have a baby calf or two at my feet on the floor of our pickup truck warming them up.

And, now, we have a special hair dryer dedicated for cold calves only.

Calving season is upon us, and this will all become reality once again, but I wouldn’t change any of it for anything in the world. I take great pride in caring for and raising something that feeds our nation and my family.

Originally posted on America's Farmers.

Stacey Forshee

Mar 30 2015

Spring on our Farm: The Hampton-Knodle Family


Last week looked totally different than today’s sunny weather that had our boys in shorts. We now have 3 calves on the ground in our new beef cattle enterprise.

Heather Hampton-Knodle
Fillmore, IL

Mar 23 2015

Spring on Our Farm: Rachel Asher

Due to the extreme cold this year, we had to rush one of the calves home for a hot bath. We used our extra large sink in the basement of our home to soak the little one in warm water until her blood warmed up. I soaked her for about an hour and a half. Because calves are soaking wet when they are born, it is important to get them somewhere warm right away. 

One of my favorite times of year is calving season. They are all so cute, fun loving and eager to explore the world around them. It can be dangerous working with the protective mothers, but together we work to give the little ones a safe home where they can grow and thrive. 

My view this evening while checking the cows. We check the pregnant cows 3 or 4 times a day looking for any signs of difficulty calving or see if there are any new calves we need to move to the pasture. 

I couldn't help but snap a quick photo when I checked on this photogenic mamma and her baby. We are all so ready for spring!

Rachel Asher
Ursa, IL

You can learn more about Rachel and her farm on her blog: Dare to Dream with Rachel
Jan 12 2015

From Farm to Table: Milk’s Journey

Did you know that it only takes 48 hours for milk to get from the cow to the store?

This fall, I was able to see the entire process of how milk travels from the farm to the store. We always grab a gallon of milk when we are grocery shopping. I love drinking milk! As a milk drinker, this farm tour was fascinating! I visited with Dale and Linda Drendel in Northern Illinois and was able to see the whole milking process.

The Drendels have dairy farming in their blood; both of their families have been farming for generations. Their dairy farm, Lindale Holsteins, has mostly Holstein cows. They are the black and white cows you may think of when you think of a dairy cow. A cow needs to have a calf before she is a milking cow. Her milk production peaks 40 to 60 days after a calf is born, and then her milk production slowly decreases.


The Drendels milk their cows twice a day; early in the morning, and then at about 4:00 in the afternoon. The cows are trained to go into the milking parlor. They line up outside the door, quietly waiting their turn to be milked. Once the cows walk to their spot in the milking parlor, the farmers clean the cows’ udders, and then place a milking machine on the cows’ teats. Dale had me put my thumb in one of the milkers; the suction was very gentle on my thumb. The milk is collected in large glass containers and sent to a cooler through stainless steel pipes to be cooled down to 38 degrees as quickly as possible.

A refrigerated tanker truck picks up the milk from the cooler and takes it to the milk processing plant. At the plant, the milk goes through several tests before it is even allowed to leave the truck. These tests include screening for bacteria and antibiotics. The milk is then put into a refrigerated raw milk silo. I was lucky enough to be able to visit a Dean’s processing plant in Huntley, Illinois, to see milk being prepared for its trip to the grocery store. (I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures inside the plant, due to security reasons.


At the processing plant, several things happen to the milk. A very important step is pasteurization. There are several different forms of pasteurization, and most of the milk we see in the store is heated to 168 degrees for 25 seconds. This kills harmful bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria. Think about that temperature for a second. I steam my vegetables at a higher temperature and for longer than 25 seconds, and yet I don’t lose all of the nutritional value vegetables have to offer. Most of the nutrients in milk are not affected by the pasteurization process. One vitamin that is affected by pasteurization is Vitamin C. However, milk is not a good source of Vitamin C anyway. Milk provides plenty of other nutrients that are important for our bodies. Not only does milk provide calcium, it also provides Vitamin D, riboflavin, phosphorus, protein, potassium, Vitamin A, Vitamin B12, and niacin. The milk is also fortified with extra Vitamin A and Vitamin D.


During the homogenization process, the milk fat is broken up into tiny particles and spread evenly throughout the milk. Homogenization keeps the cream from rising to the top of the milk as it sits in your refrigerator, and does not affect the nutritional value of milk.


At the Dean’s processing plant, they make the plastic jugs right on the premises. After the milk is put into the gallon jugs, it is trucked directly to stores such as Jewel and Walmart. Milk has a short shelf life of about 16-20 days, and so the sooner it is on the shelves, the better it is for us as consumers.

We love to have milk in our cereal or to drink it out of a glass. I use milk for cooking and baking, and one of my favorite snacks is popcorn and milk! Does your family drink milk? What part of the milking process would you like to know more about?

Originally posted on Lemon Drop Pie.

Christa Grabske
Mount Prospect, Illinois

Christa was part of the Illinois Farm Families 2013 Field Mom class. Throughout the year she visited Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago moms meet farmers. Read more from Christa on her blog, Lemon Drop Pie.

Jan 05 2015

That Christmas Ham You’re Going to Eat; What do you Know About It?

Last year, I did something that I never imagined I would do in my adult life. I volunteered to go to a pig farm to see where all of the wonderful pork that the Houseful loves to consume comes from. It was definitely something that I think every person who does consume meat products to do. Whatever way you fall after visiting is totally on you. Either way, it was educational, and even a lot more enjoyable than I anticipated.

Boy did I get an eye AND nose full! It was definitely a sensory overload in the olfactory, auditory, and visual sense. I’m glad that I went though, and was able to learn so much about the forms of pork that I do eat. Getting to know the pork farmers wasn’t half bad either. Their penchant for hog farming was strong. The love of it radiated from the dad all the way down to the smallest farm baby.

As part of my participation in the Illinois Farm Families, I visited the hog farm of Steve Ward and his family in Sycamore, Illinois. I wasn’t entirely sure of what we were in for, but I was open to the fact that I would learn something. You always should be, correct? I’m eternally grateful to Steve and his family, including his very gracious father and mother, for opening up their farm to us.

On the bus to the farm, we were given a talk by a couple of the farmers who were along with us on general farming concepts. Acreage (did you know that an acre is roughly the same size of a football field?) and the massive amounts that lot of farmers have. We’re talking 1200 acres of land to take care of on a daily basis. I think that I would faint with just one acre of land, and these families are taking care of 1200. Steve even let us know that if he worked from sun up to sun down during planting season, he would be able to get through one hundred acres of land. Catch me now as I faint from exhaustion. I did get to pretend to drive a tractor. The thing is massive. Literally. One wheel is taller than I am, and the cabin is so far off the ground that those of us who are a little afraid of heights may not deal well, but we pretend and take a photo anyway.

The learning process started immediately. We were told that Steve’s farm was a wean to to finish hog farm (meaning, they get pigs that have been weaned from their mothers and raise them until it’s time for them to be processed.) for Illini Farms. He has four hog houses – two for the smaller pigs, and two for pigs that are about 75 pounds and over. If you should ever get to this farm, as they do tours and the such, make sure you ask Steve how to wrangle a pig. It’s quite an art. It kind of reminds me of the way that I wrestle one of my children who has just been bathed and been told that it is now time for bed. Yeah, that.

One thing that most city people would not really be prepared for would be the smell. It hits you before you even step foot in the door, however when you enter, you wonder where it’s coming from since the pens are literally spotless. Well thanks to modern innovation, the pens all have slotted flooring, so that all urine and fecal matter can drop into an 8 foot pit and not contaminate any of the pigs food. If you’re thinking that they shouldn't care about the food being contaminated since it’s all slop anyway, you would be wrong my bacon-loving friends. The food is delivered in a timing system, and consists of grains such as corn, soy and wheat. They eat from stainless steel troughs and they are quite happy with it. The smell did stay with me for a few days. From my biology class memory, I know this is because the scents had embedded themselves into my lipids. When we asked Steve about this, and his wife, they both stated that it’s not really that noticeable to them. However, if she is away from him all day, she can certainly notice a scent.

I do remember learning when I was younger that pigs were social animals. I found out that my teacher did indeed know what they were talking about. As soon as our group walked through the doors, the pigs were pretty excited to come and interact with us. They also followed Steve around as he walked through the pens randomly petting or checking them. He did inform us that they are very careful not to refer to the pigs as pets, because then a connection is created that’s pretty tough to break once they have to go and be processed. While we’re talking about processing pigs, I was as relieved as can be by the actual processing process if you will. You don’t want any of the meat that you are going to ingest to go through any levels of stress when being slaughtered (the real word for processing) since it will toughen it up and make it nearly impossible to sell. I remember my aunt in Mississippi explaining that to me back in the day when she let me know that some ham hocks that I was enjoying came from the pig that I had just seen last year. She told me that you don’t want those pigs frightened, otherwise you have to wait a day or two until they calm down so that their meat can be tender for eating.

So when you’re picking out that ham for your Christmas dinner this year, know that it was processed by hardworking men and women getting up at the crack of dawn to make sure that everything is perfect. While I know that I’m a bacon lover, and pork chops, and heck – pork shoulder butt, I’ll be thinking the same thing.

The things that I really enjoyed learning were:

  • The pigs are kept in climate controlled housing instead of outside to fare in the very random Illinois weather.
  • Pigs are fed a diet that consists of grains and not random slop
  • Pig pens are not messy in the least. They are formatted to make sure that the pigs have sanitary areas to eat, sleep and live in.
  • Overcrowding is not an issue on this farm. All pens have more than enough room to allow the pigs to roam around as necessary.
  • The “processing” of the pigs are done with as little stress as possible. No electricity and no knives (which is what I always thought.)
  • Farmers realize that food must come from somewhere, and everyone is not going to be a vegetarian. They want to make sure that those who do consume pork products, are given the best product that they can find.
  • Pig scent stays with you for a couple of days. I know that Mr. Houseful loves me, because he kissed me BEFORE telling me that I was smelly.
Natasha Nicholes
Chicago, IL

This blog originally appeared in Natasha's blog, Houseful of Nicholes, on
Dec 20, 2014.

Jan 02 2015

New Year, More Food-Conscience

As the holidays wind down and the pace slows a bit, I find this time of year to always be one of detox and self-reflection. As the calendar prepares to turn over to the next year, we all try to think more mindfully about our goals for the year ahead and how we can best make those happen. One of the ways that my husband and I have decided to tackle our 2015 goals is to be more conscientious about our food choices. Not just in what we ingest, but to learn more about the process and how the food gets to our table. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to be an Illinois Field Mom, but the education and learning doesn't stop there and I’m hoping to tackle some of the tough questions in 2015.

As a mom of these two little misters and a husband who’s focused on his own health after discovering a history of health problems, we know that we have to fill these bodies up with food that fuels them and making health a priority for us in 2015 is key. Here are a few of the things that we are planning to focus on this year:

How can we support farmers and their families this upcoming year?

What are some great recipes I can share with my family and others using farm-grown ingredients with as little processing as possible?

How can we become involved in a local CASA or other homegrown support for farmers through our produce purchases? Think Farmer’s Markets.

How can I feature a farm family on my blog and give them a forum for questions to be answered?

If you had questions for the farming community, what would they be? Share in the comments and I’ll see what I can do about getting the answers to those!

We are looking forward to a wonderful Happy New Year in 2015 and taking some much needed steps to make sure our health and wellness stays on track! What are your hopes and dreams for 2015?

Samantha Schultz
Indian Head Park

Dec 01 2014

Christmas Traditions from the Prescott Family

For our family the holidays are definitely catered around food, family and fun and when December rolls around it is hard to determine who is the most excited about the holiday season in our home. We talk about all things Christmas and make sure our children embrace the reason for the season. In addition to numerous days of decorating the house we also take advantage of baking as much as we can or in my children's case, getting the kitchen as dirty as they can. That is how real memories are made, right?

Some of my favorite childhood memories consist of the hours we spent in the kitchen as a family decorating and eating cookies. Each year after all the baking was finished there was also such an excitement we had about delivering a plate of cookies to someone special. I am so happy to make these memories with my children now because there really is no better smell during the holidays than that of fresh baked cookies and no better feeling than to give to others.  

We especially love the smell of cinnamon, so gingerbread houses are one of the traditions we all take part in each year. It is hard to go wrong with a tradition that includes cookies, frosting and candy. As my girls get a little older each year we add more candy to our houses and a few less pieces to our mouths, and in my mind that is pure progress and a tradition that will continue on for years to come!

Sara Prescott, Springfield, IL

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