Our priority: Raising safe, healthy animals.

Illinois Farm Families Blog

Jan 14 2016

10 Ways You Know You're an Illinois Farmer

1. You’re prepared to handle anything Mother Nature gives you. Blizzards, rain storms, heat advisories and drought.

2. The care of your animals takes priority over everything else.
3. Preserving the environment is always a factor in your decision-making on the farm.
4. Mud, rough terrain, or icy roads? No problem. Four-wheel drive.

5. You can see for miles from the highest spot on your farm - and all you can see is corn and soybeans.
6. As a kid, you spent every summer weekend showing livestock at the local county fairs.
7. Your high school class was less than 100 kids.
8. The younger generation is teaching the older generations how to use technology to make the farm more efficient and environmentally sustainable.
9. You learned how to drive as soon as your feet could reach the pedals.
10. You love inviting your urban friends to the farm to learn about how your family grows food for theirs.

Dec 29 2015

Knowledge is Power: Farm Tour Recap

The Illinois Farm Families 'City Moms' went on the last of this season's farm tours in October. Despite my increased awareness of the extensive winter work that continues behind the scenes, every year, on every farm; from my perspective as a city mom, we ended the season appropriately, with a harvest tour.

Invited to complete our season with the opportunity to ride in the combine and the grain wagon, this was an exciting and somewhat celebratory tour. I am sad to see the season come to an end. We have met so many amazing Illinois farm families. I've had such a good time and learned so much on each tour, much more than I've yet been able to integrate completely into my food purchasing, preparing and serving of meals to my family.

The Larson Farm

farmer meets city momOur last tour was of the the Larson Farm in Maple Park, IL. The Larson family farm produces beef and grain. Three generations participate in farming on the Larson farm. Mike and Lynn Martz partnered with Lynn's parents in 1979. Their son Justin and his wife joined them in 2008. Several employees contribute to farm operations and are an integral part of the farm. With several generations represented in the family and inter-generational employees on the farm there is a strong sense of extended family and community overall at the Larson farm.

The crop production side of their farm is managed by Lynn and includes corn, soybeans and wheat grown on 6,350 acres of land. They also raise and finish beef cattle, Mike's domain. They have the capacity to house up to 3,500 head of cattle and finish 7,000 head each year. These cattle are delivered via semi-truck to the Larson feed lot where upon arrival, they are allowed ample time to rest and recover from the stress of travel. The feed lot houses and cares for the animals of other farmers and finishes them for the market.

Animal Well Being

Every animal is observed on a daily basis at the Larson farm. Technology contributes to the assessment of each animal's well being and development. Ultra-sound technology is used in determining fat content, marbling and readiness for the market. Facilities for the cattle on the Larson farm were designed by the well known consultant to the livestock industry, Temple Grandin.

Antibiotics are only used on sick animals and following any antibiotic treatment, there is a required withdrawal period before that animal can be taken to market. There is oversight and inspection by government regulators and ample testing required to insure that there are no residual antibiotics in the meat. 

Mike Martz also presented information regarding the use of hormones in beef production. Hormones naturally occur in cattle (and other organisms). Any additional hormones are given to assist an animal in utilizing their feed to promote growth. A farmer may choose to use additional hormones to improve efficiency and reduce the environmental impact of raising cattle. Useful comparison information regarding hormones to consider includes the fact that a 3 oz. cut of treated beef contains 1.9 nanograms of estrogen compared to 1.3 nanograms in a 3 oz. cut of untreated beef (that's a .6 nanogram difference), a potato contains 225 nanograms, a 3 oz. serving of peas contains 340 nanograms, a 3 oz. serving of cabbage contains 2,000 nanograms and one birth control pill contains 35,000 nanograms of estrogen. (Source below.)

For the source and more information regarding the specific amounts of naturally occurring hormones, please read this article from the University of Nebraska.

Back to the Farm

There is an amazing amount of work to be done and managed on the Larson farm. Our visit coincided with the fall corn harvest. We rode on the combine on the 27th day of consecutive 15 hour work days for those driving the equipment. Despite the timing, we were met with enthusiastic and talkative field guides as we watched the harvesting of the corn from the combine cab.

To get your own glimpse into work and life on the Larson farm, watch this video.

So Much to Learn

We have been presented with so much information and have had the opportunity to have an inside look at farming on each and every farm tour that it is hard to readily absorb and process it all. Visiting the Larson family farm was no exception and we were once again treated with warm hospitality and straight forward honest answers to every question.

For me the big picture takeaways from the Illinois Farm Family 'City Moms' tours were:

  • Illinois Farmers are dedicated hardworking people with the best interests of their land, their animals and their consumers at heart. 
  • They offer high quality products to consumers. 
  • They care. 
  • They are regulated. 
  • They respond to the market.
  • They want consumers to be healthy, informed and to have choices in their food purchases.

The Illinois farmers we met this season are committed to informing consumers about farm production. They have been more than generous in sharing their time, knowledge and their farms with us.

Whether it is through a program like the one offered by Illinois Farm Families, by visiting your local farmers market or just asking questions of the managers of the grocery store where you shop, I urge you to find and get to know the farmers who produce your food. You will increase your knowledge about the food you eat, gain confidence in your purchasing choices and meet amazing people.

Originally posted on Run Ran Fam.

Brookfield, IL

Angie is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2015 City Moms. Throughout the year she visits 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.

Dec 21 2015

Farmers Don’t Stop Farming In the Winter

With blasts of arctic air hitting all throughout the midwest, and northeast, it’s hard to think that someone would WILLINGLY go out into this weather. Some people don’t have a choice. Some of those people happen to be the farmers that continue to check on the livestock that may bring you your milk, butter, eggs, and meat. It’s a difficult job, but someone has to do it. I’m so grateful (at the moment) that the someone is not me. 

My son has always wanted to live on a farm. Yes. Even at 14, he still talks about tending to a field of crops, and animals, and for the most part, I think he’s thinking that an acre is the biggest it can get. Especially when I explained that an acre is about the size of a football field. After telling him that some farmers have 200 acres, or sometimes even thousands of acreage that they tend to, he looked a little green in the face. It led to an interesting discussion about what farmers HAVE to do, and how they can’t take time off because of weather. Rain, extreme heat, or frigid temperatures do not keep these hard-working men and women in bed like so many of us can afford to do. Temperatures in Chicago drop below 0 degrees quite often during the winter months. Last January, we had a record-breaking day that was easily -45 and some of us had the option of staying safe and warm in our homes. Our city shut down for the most part, and it was amazing to see, Chicago, a bustling city, relatively quiet. a

winter on the farmAfter visiting a hog farm a couple of years ago, I was reminded during that time, that farmers don’t get to call off. They still have to go and check on their flock, and make sure that their needs are being met, and that they are well taken care of. It’s not a job for the faint of heart, or for those that don’t know how to bundle. We were cold walking from the barn to the pen, and I couldn’t imagine doing it daily. 

I’m realizing that farming isn’t just one of those jobs that you say – this looks easy! – it’s all about focus, and making sure that the crop, or livestock that you’re caring for, is the best for potential customers. Whether that be at a farmers market, or your local grocery store. Given that the majority of the farmers also consume what they grow, I’m sure that they would want the best for THEIR families as well. This is for organic AND non-organic farmers. I’m sure that they want the quality of whatever they are tending to, to best meet the needs of their family, and their customers. Otherwise they are out of a job. 

Originally posted on Houseful of Nicholes.

Chicago, IL

Natasha was 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 visit, 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. (City Moms formerly known as Field Moms.)

Dec 15 2015

IL Pork Farmer Donates to Food Pantries Because “It’s The Right Thing To Do!”

We're all familiar with the value of holiday traditions. Whether it’s baking cookies with the family on Christmas Eve or trading the winter coats for bathing suits in pursuit of warm weather to start the New Year. Either way, it’s those Holiday traditions and experiences that stick with us through our youth and adulthood. My family and I are still trying to forge our own tradition but what’s most important to us is that the tradition is meaningful and encourages our girls to be socially conscious.

Illinois farmersRecently, I had the pleasure of connecting with Illinois Farmer Brent Scholl who raises hogs alongside his brother. This year their family farm contributed 1000 pounds of pork to the Pork Power Program (the equivalent of 5 market weight hogs). The Pork Power Program is an organization that receives pork donations, processes them into 2 lb ground pork packages and then distributes them to 8 different food banks in IL associated with Feed Illinois.

Brent is also the President of the Lee County Pork Producers Association which also works hard to distribute food to their local food pantries throughout the year. According to Brent, He ans is family “are proud to help out those people who are in need. We are in the business of raising food for consumers. If we can help, then we give back to our community. I guess that’s just the way we were raised.” Brent and his brother have also instilled these same values into their now adult kids who as youngsters worked on many Pork Producer projects raising money or selling pork at various fairs. As a result he firmly believes that they too have developed a strong moral compass to help others in need.

I’m certain that the Brent’s family is one of a number of IL Family Farms that are using their business to not only support themselves, but for the benefit of others.

I’m still considering what impactful contributions my family might be able to make to society this Holiday Season and beyond, but for now we can start with sorting and donating the myriad of toys they’ve collected over the years. We’re no pork producers, but my girls are masters of pretend play.

What tradition(s) does your family practice during the Holiday Season and/or throughout the year?

Originally posted on Momma Mina

Amina Nevels
Chicago, IL

Amina was one of the Illinois Farm Families 2013 Field Moms. Throughout the year she visited Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each tour, the Field Moms shared their thoughts by blogging about what they experienced on these farms, including five takeaways. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago moms meet farmers. (City Moms formerly knows as Field Moms.)

Dec 07 2015

The farm boy and the (escaped) heifers

You know how cows have this sixth sense for when you leave the farm? And then they promptly exit stage left? And you say, “Well, of course. Frankly, I’m surprised it took them this long.”

That happened Sunday. John and I ran up the road to lead music at our early church service. Came back home 30 minutes later. While we were gone, Nathan, 10, looked out the window to see heifers running down the road.

John, Jenna, Grandpa and I were all at church.

Nathan flew into action. Instructed his little sister to call Grandma. Hopped into the Ranger and went after the heifers who were, by this point, headed east to the neighbor’s field. Got them back in, gate shut, squared away, all before Grandma got there.

kids and cows

When we arrived home, the heifers were penned and looking guilty, and Nathan was circling the perimeter checking for any strays. He wheeled up to brief us on the situation and you have never seen a prouder 10 year old in all your years. Granted, he did it in his church khakis and they may still be soaking because a farmer’s gotta do what he’s gotta do, but still.

Nathan was a man on a mission. There was a problem and he solved it. By himself. Success.

Seriously, now. Is there a greater accomplishment when you’re 10?

This is why we do this. Forget cattle prices and markets and weather and whatever. I have no doubt that morning will be etched in Nathan’s memory forever because his ability and responsibility and accomplishment all grew ten-fold over the course of an hour.

“I did it. All by myself.”

Those are the words of a farm kid.

Originally posted on Prairie Farmer: My Generation.

Marietta, IL

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise their three children. On their farm, they grow crops and raise cattle with John's parents. Holly is also an associate editor for Prairie Farmer magazine, a publication dedicated to sharing information about farm life and farm business.

Dec 04 2015

Christmas Shopping: Farm Kid Edition

Sometimes, holiday shopping looks just a little bit different on the farm. It looks like these kids have tractors on the brain this year...

christmas shopping like a farm kid

Photos courtesy of Megan Dwyer, Alison McGrew, and Andrew Bowman.

Dec 03 2015

10 Things I Didn’t Know Before I Toured Farms

As I reflect back on this year in the Illinois Farm Bureau’s City Mom program, I’d like to share just a few of the things that I did not know before I began this program and that have made an impression on me.

  1. mom on a farm tour with sheepHow passionate the farmers are about what they do. It truly is in their blood. They care deeply about their livestock and being good stewards of the land.
  2. How many farms are family farms.  97% of Illinois farms are family farms.
  3. The incredible work ethic that these farmers have and that they are passing it on to their children. It is a beautiful thing to see.
  4. Most of these farmers do not own all their land, they have to rent some of it.
  5. How many variables a farmer is constantly managing: Weeds, pests, temperature, droughts, floods, hail, cost of fuel, soil health, medical care and nutritional needs of livestock, equipment repair, feed cost, seed cost and the list goes on and on.
  6. The enormous amount of technology that is now utilized on the farm. I pads, apps, GPS tracking, field mapping, soil analysis, ultrasound, pinpoint fertilizer applications, measuring harvest yields to name just a few of the ways it is helping the farmer be more efficient. 
  7. The variety of careers available in the agriculture industry.
  8. The amount of time and research that goes into GMOs, 13 years on average. More than 75 different studies are performed on each new biotech product to ensure it is safe for people, animals and the environment before it comes to market.
  9. How confused we, as consumers, can be by the clever labeling and marketing of products in the grocery store.
  10. What a wonderful resource Illinois Farm Families website is for consumers to get the answers they need to their questions and concerns about the food they eat and the farming practices used today. 

Anita Mann
Naperville, IL

Anita 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.

Nov 30 2015

A City Mom's Visit to a Working Family Farm

On a beautiful fall day, I visited Larson Farms, a beef and grain family farm, described by farmer Mike Martz as a hotel for cows.  They run a feedlot farm, which is just one part of the beef life-cycle, and the last farm the cows live at before heading to the packing plant.  This large farm can house up to 3,500 cattle, and the farmers’ job is to house, feed, take care of, and ultimately prepare for sale the cattle.  

chicago mom tours farmCows are delivered to their farm, where they are immediately vaccinated, as it is important to be proactive in regards to all of the cows’ health.  The Martz family makes the rounds daily, checking on all of the cows, and know exactly what to look for when the cows are sick.  Those cows are then separated from the herd to the sick barn where they are checked over more thoroughly, weighed, and given antibiotics if needed.  The FDA has guidelines regarding how many days an animal needs to be antibiotic free before going to harvest.  The Larson farm keeps the cows 10 days beyond that withdrawal period.  It is not worth the risk of being put on a watch list, where your farm would remain for 2 years.  

As the family manages the farm, they feed the cows approximately 33 lbs. of feed per cow per day!  As the farm is like a hotel, the family gets paid a daily charge per cow per day, plus for the food, which is a grain based diet, the cow eats.  Although the majority of cows are not the family’s, often Mike Martz, who heads the beef operation at the farm, provides consultation to the owners about who to sell the cattle to, which usually is a sale barn or directly to a few different packing plants.

I’m very thankful for the opportunity to see a working farm and learn more about beef farming in Illinois.  Many thanks to Larson Farms for welcoming the City Moms to their farm. 

Chicago, IL

Nicole is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2015 City Moms. Throughout the year she visits 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.

Nov 27 2015

Let's Go to the Movies

So Joe and I went to the movies yesterday.

No, it wasn't to see Mockingjay, Part Two (which we are both hoping to see. I know, nerds.)

No, it wasn't The Peanuts Movie with the kids (which we are both hoping to also see. Yes, nerds again.).

It was Farmland.

Yes, Farmland. For those of you who did not give birth to twins or have a major home renovation, I'm sure you're rolling your eyes that I, a self-proclaimed advocate for agriculture, had not actually seen this award winning movie yet.

I'm sorry. 2014 was not a year in which I saw movies.

Unless you count movies I listen to as my kids watch them in the car.


I finally sat down to watch Farmland, thanks to the good folks at our county Farm Bureau. You see, this was an outreach event. Joe was to emcee the whole shebang, leading the farmer panel afterward. We headed to Galesburg and the beautiful Orpheum Theater, the one where I graced the stage as a hairlip sister in the musical, Big River, and tap danced (poorly) in Crazy for You.


The Orpheum Theater is a restored theater in the heart of Galesburg, the biggest town in our county. The most urban area our county Farm Bureau could reach. After the Santa Clause parade, the doors to the theater opened up for a free showing of this movie.

Nice, huh?

That's not my point. We are nice people here, but the movie, friends, it is something to behold.

I'm not going to give you a whole review of it, as it just needs to be seen. It is award winning for a reason, and it's not because of its one-sided view on agriculture. Represented in this cast are conventional, production farmers, organic producers, small CSA/Farmer's Market growers, and livestock producers. The verbage is easy for those of us who don't speak "ag," without being insulting. The story follows a growing season, thus makes it a logical conclusion when harvest hits.

What really struck me, and got me misty-eyed was the story. As advocates, we are told to tell our story, tell our story, tell our story. However, telling your story in a "I grow blah, blah, and we do it this way because blah, blah." is, in fact, BLAH, BLAH.

There are few folks who want to hear the nuts and bolts of farming before they know that you have a heart, a soul, and a story. You can feel the heartbeat in this movie. It shows the brothers disagreeing, the son missing his recently deceased father, the rancher welcoming twins (not calves, kids). There's the only child who's mom still makes him a sandwich, and the daughter who set out on her own to farm who's mom thought she was crazy. These are real people with real stories who were given the opportunity to really share.

Friends, if you have questions about ag, this is a good place to start.

To start.

After this, however, I implore you to ask more questions. I loved the farmer panel aspect of the movie viewing we had last night. This is a movie that has no agenda. There's no scare tactic used to lead you to believe that what you're eating is terrible. There's no hidden camera footage, other than the snippets that have been floating around the Internet that we all have seen. For lack of a better term, this movie felt organic, real, truthful.

I urge you to see it, if you haven't already, since it HAS been out for over a year.

Ask questions, seek truths, and enjoy some popcorn while you're at it.

Originally posted on Confessions of a Farm Wife.

Farmington, IL

Emily and her husband, Joe, live on a farm with their six children in Farmington, Illinois. Together with Emily's family, they raise crops and cattle and aim to be good stewards of the land. Read more from Emily on her blog, Confessions of a Farm Wife.

Nov 06 2015

Love, loss and livestock

It’s been one of those weeks on the farm; Olaf the Bottle Calf has died.

One night late last week, John knew he wasn’t feeling great and kept him in the barn overnight. He went out the next morning and Olaf was dead. If you recall, Olaf was the bottle calf who came to be last spring, a twin whose momma stepped on his leg and broke it. Olaf struggled with pneumonia at one point and overall, we all knew he wasn’t as healthy as he should’ve been; milk replacer is good, but it’s not as good as your momma.

farm girl and calfFrom the start, he belonged to Caroline, our seven year old. She loved him and fed him and showed him all over the county over the summer, shaking in her boots the first time but determined to do it.

Sweet little Caroline’s heart broke just a little bit when I told her. Her little shoulders crumpled, hot tears fell and she asked all the questions: Why did he get sick? Why did he die? Why couldn’t he have lived? I told her she gave him such a good life while he was here, caring for him so well. Olaf loved the attention.

That night, I sat in bed with Caroline and she asked, as honestly and earnestly as any seven year old can: “Mom, why do all the bad things happen to me? My best friend moved away, my bottle calf died.”

My heart.

I told her I didn’t know. But that it’s in the hard stuff that God makes us into better people.

These days are full of sadness. An empty show halter that was Olaf’s. A dozen crayon-colored pictures. But a day will come when she’ll look back and know this experience shaped her young life. Like every farmer before her, she’ll know what it is to have loved an animal, to have raised it, and to have lost it.

Maybe it’ll even be an award-winning FFA speech someday.

I don’t know. But this I do know: the Lord used that sickly little calf to enlarge her heart, to help her do hard things, to grant her responsibility, and to teach her to grieve.

That we might all be so fortunate to have an Olaf.

Originally posted on Prairie Farmer: My Generation.

Marietta, IL

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise their three children. On their farm, they grow crops and raise cattle with John's parents. Holly is also an associate editor for Prairie Farmer magazine, a publication dedicated to sharing information about farm life and farm business.