Illinois Farm Families Blog

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

Nov 04 2014

Top Farming Myths According to this City Mom

Back in 2013 the Illinois Farm Families team accepted applications for City Moms (formerly called Field Moms.) The City Moms project took city and suburban moms from Chicago to local farms to learn about farming. From the first until my last tour this past weekend, I collected common farming myths.  Below are the most common myths either I had or learned from others.     

Myth: The family farm is dead. 

Nationwide, 93% of farms are family owned - individuals, family partnerships or family corporations.  Source: USDA.   

Myth: Seed corporations dictate what farmers grow.  

Farmers run their farm like any other profitable business. Farmers research, ask questions and made an informed decision on what seeds will thrive in their fields. The seed companies ultimately works for the farmer since they must prove how their product performs. The signs alongside the field advertise to other farmers what seed company's product were planted in that acre.

Myth: Farmers are rich since they own lots of land.

Every farmer I asked rented most of their land. To stay competitive and support a growing family business farmers are forced to expand by renting land from neighbors. Farmland is very expensive and some portions of the country face losing precious farmland to development. 

Myth: GMOs are not safe.

Do you know what are GMOs?  If not, you are not alone.  GMOs stand for Genetically Modified Organisms.  The USDA and FDA support their use with over 20 years of scientific research of GMOs in our food supply. The FDA states they are safe from "unreasonable risks of harm to human health or the environment." 

I have not made up my mind on GMOs. What I do know is they are safer for farmers and the family members who live near fields where GMOs are planted. A great video where two farmers and a seed salesman talk about why they chose GMOs can be found here. (I am in the closing shot of this video in the blue shirt.)   


Myth: All meat is filled with hormones making girls develop early.

The USDA has very strictest regulation on our meat supply. When was the last time you heard of a nationwide meat recall? Before any animal can enter the food supply, the farm's paperwork must prove any antibiotics given the animal have cleared the meat. Veterinarians and farmers work closely to ensure if any antibiotics were given that the correct withdraw period has passed. Evidence shows America's growing waistline is the cause for girls to develop early not the meat supply. There is no scientific research linking meat and girls development.      

Myth: Farming and farmers have not changed since the invention of the tractor.   

Farming has changed dramatically in the last 50 years. Today, farmers use technology to grow more food on less land. A few examples include: GPS in the tractor for precise planting, iPads to gauge the immediate moisture content of a harvested crop in real time, soil testing for precise fertilizer spread, drones to monitor field development and many other advances.  A view of what a farmer's day in the near future according to John Deer.  Farmers are also a highly educated group. A record number of Ag-related undergraduate and master degrees are growing. There is also a strong movement of young farmers starting their own business after a few years off their family farms.   


Myth: Farmers are greedy. 

They do not care about their animals or land. Farmers need to be good stewards to the land and the animals they manage. If an animal is not cared for properly a cow will not give milk or grow large enough to bring to market. When the land is neglected or polluted, crops do not grow to the optimum yield.  It is good business to be good stewards.   

Fact: The US Food supply is the safest, abundant, affordable food supply the world has ever known.

Heard a myth about farming and want to know the facts? Ask away.  I can have the right person respond. 

Sharon Blau, Des Plaines

Sharon was one of the Illinois Farm Families 2013 Field Moms. Throughout the year she visited several Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each tour, the Field Moms shared their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms, including five things they found most interesting. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago moms meet farmers.


Sep 12 2014

Waiting for harvest

Photo courtesy of Karen Kenny-Oles, Dixon

We are currently getting ready for harvest. The crop “is what it is” at this point and no amount of crop protectants, fertilizer or scouting will make any additional difference at this point. 

This “lull” after late-August through mid-September is a good time to prepare for harvest, catch-up on “honey-do’s” and do the projects that are important but not imminent like most seasonal work on the farm (think planting or scouting—you do that when Mother Nature tells you, other important projects that aren’t weather sensitive get pushed to this time of year).  It’s also a great time to start initial plans for the next crop year, thinking about purchasing inputs (if you haven’t already) and preparing a plan of attack.  It’s early, but as Eisenhower once said “Plans are worthless, but planning is indispensable.”

As we prepare for harvest, we have equipment to maintain.  Big jobs are already done, but oil changes, lubrication, and wear item inspections are performed.  And calibrations for sensors and computers are needed too so that in-season, our data during harvest is accurate.  We have a scale on our auger cart (this is a special wagon that moves grain from the combine—which harvests our crop in the field—to the truck for transportation).  Last year we performed calibrations, but didn’t verify them against certified scales.  We were subsequently halfway through harvest before we realized that we were had a 7% scale error.  It was easy to fix, but it’s much EASIER to get it right the first time!  We have a semi-tractor and trailer, tractor and auger cart, combine with corn and soybean “heads” for cutting the crops, tandem truck, tractor and wagon, auger and 200,000 bushels of grain storage to prepare.  This is a common setup for corn and soybean farmers in the Midwest, with an infinite number of variations in size and types of equipment.  We also will lease out a strip-till fertilizer applicator so it will be prepared for us.  Strip till means that we are injecting the fertilizer in a band 4-7” deep in the soil.  It means that the fertilizer stays where the crop roots are, rather than following rain runoff into streams.  It also means that we’re only tilling the soil in a narrow band 8” wide.  So most of our fields aren’t exposed for soil erosion.  It’s a more expensive process, but one that is ultimately better for the farm economically and environmentally—win-win.  This year, we’re also for the first time experimenting with cover crops.  Cover crops are grown to simply cover the soil when it’s not being used by the cash crops.  Think of it this way—a cover crop “covers” the soil so that it doesn’t erode.  They also increase the organic matter of the soil, create a healthy environment for earthworms and beneficial bacteria and fungi, and suppress many weeds we fight on the farm.  Lastly, they sequester (ie. Gather up) excess nutrients that the cash crop couldn’t fully utilize.  This dramatically reduces runoff into our streams.  We are excited about this new process and hope it works out on our farm!

But this “lull” is also great for the projects that don’t get addressed during the busy crop season.  For us, we’re going to spend more time on our specialty hull-less popcorn venture.  Check us out at PilotKnobComforts.com.  We will be thinking about automation and facility construction—capital investments that will make us more cost competitive by letting us scale up production AND preserving our focus on quality.  These are fun projects because, when I’m walking corn fields, I don’t have time to just sit and think.  And investments like this require lots of planning—but it means a good return on investment AND a deeper sense of meaning (I enjoy the fact that projects like these make my farm better for my son and family).  While this is certainly unique to most Midwestern farmers, the fact that we’re in “project-mode” this time of year is quite common.  It’s where a summer of research starts to be addressed by more deliberate thought and action.

Finally, I’m also thinking about next crop year.  Given the dramatic decline in corn and soybean prices of the past year (and especially last two years), there could be opportunities for young farmers if older farmers consider retirement.  But the margins are also dramatically lower—with the opportunity to grow comes the risk of failure.  So, it’s good to be considering what our inputs will cost—will nitrogen fertilizer go up or down?  Will corn seed stay the same—do I need all the features in that bag?  Is my equipment portfolio large and modern enough if someone retires?  These are the preparations that need to be considered—not necessarily finalized (most retailers won’t give firm prices to lock in completely on all inputs anyway).  Once the combine starts harvesting, it’s very easy to NOT take time to check emails and watch markets—you just get into your zone and go.  As I type this, a few weeks ahead of when it will be posted, this is one of my goals in the next two weeks—have a plan that’s flexible enough for me to change, but firm enough for me to be structured to “go with the flow” during harvest!

So as you’re still getting your kids into the rhythm of the new school year, I’ll be preparing for harvest, planning my next crop, and working on special projects.  There really isn’t a down-time on the farm—just times when the work can be pushed back a day or two and Mother Nature isn’t making your schedule.  


Andrew Bowman
Oneida, Illinois

Andrew is a fifth generation Illinois farmer. He and his wife Karlie have one son, Ryker, and farm with Andrew’s parents, Lynn and Sally Bowman, in addition to serving farmers through insurance and consulting enterprises.

Aug 31 2014

Food For Thought: Farming Is in Our Genes


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Aug 25 2014

Show Mom Diaries: The Empty Halter

Oh, you never forget that moment.

That moment your first steer is loaded onto the semi, and you’re handed that empty halter.

That dreaded, empty halter.

Maybe he was a sweetheart. Maybe he was a knot head. But as you carry that empty halter back to your stalls – now missing that animal once part of your barn for months – things are different.

And you’re forever changed.

No matter how many years pass, you always remember that first steer.

For me, it was Tremor the Angus steer. I was 8. For months, we worked together in our Hillsboro, Texas, barn. We grew together and with each show we attended, I learned a bit more about what it took to be a showman.

I was young. Everything was new. And my 8-year-old self never fully grasped what we had accomplished during our final show of the year – capturing the Champion Angus Steer title at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and showing in the Astrodome during a rodeo break for grand champion honors.

We weren’t named grand champion. But Tremor was the champion of champions to me.

Mom and dad prepared me as best they could for what was to come, and Tremor sold in the sale of champions.

The buyers were generous. And the experience was incredible.

But then it was time for Tremor to be loaded onto the semi. And dad returned with that empty halter.

And I wasn’t as prepared as I had thought.

I cried myself to sleep for several nights. And finally, dad sat me down for a chat. He said he knew it was tough. But showing steers would always result in that end. And if I wanted to continue, I’d have to come to terms with that fact.

So I did.

Oh, I cried a bit every year. But I never allowed myself to get quite as attached to another steer after that first year.

Waylon and Lightning learned from each other during Waylon's first year of 4-H.

Our son, Waylon, reached 4-H age this year. And when he and my husband, Craig, found “the one” in an online sale, we purchased him. And Waylon’s first steer, Lightning, entered the barn.

Craig and I knew we needed to be proactive.

We had many talks with him and little brother, Nolan, about the role steers play in feeding the world. That we must take the best care possible of these animals while they’re in our care. And when it’s time, we must say good-bye, knowing it’s their time to fulfill their greater purpose.

Waylon and Lightning made the trip together to local and state shows, and to the Junior National Hereford Expo in Harrisburg, PA. Each show, growing and learning from each other. Each show, improving.

And finally, we ventured to our county fair – Lightning’s final outing.

They had a great final show, with Lightning capturing Champion Hereford Steer honors. He and Waylon worked as a team.

Then sale day arrived. Oh, that dreaded sale day.

Waylon, our often-rational child, handled it very matter-of-factly. To him, this was simply the way it worked. This is why we had a steer, and it was his time. (He gets that rational side from his dad. No doubt.)

But Nolan had many questions about where Lightning was headed and how the process worked. And Craig and I did our best to answer the questions honestly and with care.

So Waylon entered the sale ring with Lightning. And when the auctioneer’s chant was finished, Lightning was sold.

Craig led Lightning to the trailer destined for the sale barn, and the boys said their good-byes.

Two entered the trailer. And Craig exited – with the empty halter in hand.

Cattle teach our children so many incredible life lessons. Some more difficult than others.

But the greatest lesson Lightning taught our boys? That even at the young ages of 9 and 6, our boys can help feed the world. And they emerged proud to play a small role in that enormous responsibility.

They’re already making plans for next year’s steer. And they’re ready to do it again.

Without a doubt, though, they’ll always remember Lightning.

You just never forget that first steer.

Originally posted August 14, 2014, on Drovers Cattle Network.

Aug 19 2014

A Visit to Our Farmer Pen Pal

In late June, I took the kids to visit my Illinois Farm Families pen pal Cindi Monier on her corn and soybean farm just north of Peoria. Cindi let the boys climb on the farm machinery and feed treats to her horses. She explained that their farm's location so close to the Illinois River makes it easy to offload grain to the waiting barges. It bothers her to watch parking lots cover some of the world's choicest farmland. Getting into farming can be tough. There are huge outlays for capital equipment, seed and other supplies. And the competition for land, which drives prices up, doesn't make it any easier.

We visited a neighboring farm where cattle of various breeds go for finishing--gaining weight before being sold for the market. The cattle feed is a mix of corn and supplements, which calm wilder cattle behavior. We gathered eggs and scared the chickens (and they scared us!) at her friend's nearby chicken farm. (These eggs are so fresh! You should see how high the yolks sit in the pan when I fry them for breakfast.)

I didn't expect the animals to be so aware of our presence--the horses came right up to the fence. They were excited we were coming because they knew they were getting a treat from Cindi. The chickens knew we were unfamiliar and had a fit as we approached. And as I was talking to the cattle farmer, I glanced up only to realize that all the cattle had crowded over to the fence to get a look at us because they were curious. Too funny!

We drove to Lacon where a torrential rainfall soaked us as we ran to storefronts from the car to The Pizza Peel. The staff gave us bath towels to dry off and served some great 'za, including a gluten-free one for Isaac. We joined Cindi's husband Breck and his friend having lunch there. They had pulled an all-nighter as volunteer firefighters taking care of a local blaze. In the video, you can see the staff at Kelly Sauder Rupiper Equipment give the boys a ride around the parking lot while Cindi describes to me how the equipment is used. What an excellent trip! I hope to make it back there in the fall to see their operations during harvest.

My son Peter entering the chicken coop

Nesting chickens and clutches of eggs

The cows were curious as we talked to the finisher and walked over to check us out.

The boys had a great time riding in a combine.

Dina Barron
Oak Park, Illinois

Dina is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2014 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. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers.


Aug 08 2014

My State Fair Family

It's Illinois State Fair time. A time when kids and their families from across the state come together to display their 4-H projects that they have worked hard on all year. As a child, I always looked forward to going to State Fair. For people who aren't exhibitors, when they think of State Fair, they may think of carnival rides, corn dogs, and funnel cakes. To me, State Fair was none of those things…it was so much more!

To me, the word “family” completely describes our State Fair experience. And by family, I don’t just mean my parents and sisters. What I’m talking about is our “Fair Family.” In addition to showing at our county fair and the Illinois State Fair, we traveled around to several county fairs and showed pigs and cattle, every summer. There were several families, in addition to mine, that also made the circuit with us. And then there were some that we only saw at one or two shows. But all of these people, they were our “Fair Family.” We had our stalls next to each other, we ate meals together, we hung out together, we helped each other, cheered each other on and we made memories together.

Our summer long circuit of showing culminated with a week at State Fair every year. When I think back on the many memories that I have made at the fair, there are WAY too many memories to even begin writing in a single blog post. Some of my favorite memories took place at the actual fair (cheering in the stands as some our friends were named Grand Champion, playing cards in our stalls, eating lunch on the hillside by the chicken barn... and more) but many memories also took place off of the fairgrounds (swimming at the old Holiday Inn, locking ourselves out of our hotel rooms together, eating at Steak 'n Shake by the hotel... and many more inside joke memories that unfortunately are hilarious to us, but readers would just not understand!).

I loved showing, don't get me wrong. I learned a lot about responsibility, and I loved the feeling and anticipation of entering the show ring, waiting to see what place I would be given. I loved the smell of the barns (yes, you read that correctly,) the roars of the fans, the sounds of the animals, and of course, showing. But in the end, my favorite part of my showing and State Fair experience are the memories that I made along the way with my "family."

Danelle Burrs
Hickory Ridge Farm
Dixon, Illinois

Aug 07 2014

Why I Farm: Behind the Movement

4-H Fair is a family tradition.

For nearly 80 years, my grandfather has been involved with our county 4-H program. Yes, you read that correctly. He has seen almost 80 4-H fairs. After being a 10 year 4-H member, he became a volunteer and club leader when he returned home from serving in World War II. The 4-H program isn't just ingrained in our family, it's part of who we are.

With our county 4-H fair starting tomorrow, I've been reminiscing about my 10 years as a 4-H member. Remembering all the sweat, tears and hard work I poured into projects. Thinking about the challenges, mishaps and miscommunication with family members. Because we all know, there are always a few arguments. Laughing about spending the night before crops check-in in the middle of a field, digging up corn and soybean plants. It was always hot, always humid, and the soil always too dry.

Last night as I was digging through photos, I not only ran across pictures of me in 4-H, but also my dad. And one thing was strikingly similar - the Hamilton County 4-H fairgrounds.

As in many counties, the Hamilton County 4-H Fairgrounds is a special place for many families; filled with great memories, family traditions, and lifelong friendships.

And for me it’s not just about great memories, but thinking about the generations to come. I look forward to the moment when my children step into the show arena at the Hamilton County 4-H Fair. But for now, I’ll just enjoy my favorite chocolate and vanilla swirl milkshake.

Originally posted July 16, 2014, on Beck's.

Ashley Fischer

Jul 31 2014

Our Farm Life

A lot going on at the farm and only a little time to do it. The last month has seen us in wheat harvest. Planting what we call "double crop" soybeans. Baling wheat stalks into straw. And moving the bales into the barn. So far, this is the coolest summer on record. In our area, we could certainly use more rain. But the cooler temperatures are what have saved the crop so far. On the home front, a skunk family is camped out in the "goat shed." No immediate solution to that housing issue but we'll find a solution - and hopefully come out smelling like roses. Enjoy a few pictures from the goings on at our farm!

Heather Hampton-Knodle
Fillmore, Illinois

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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