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Illinois Farm Families Blog

Aug 28 2015

Baling Hay in Pictures

Baling hay and straw was my job on the farm and I do miss the dust, sweat and scratch of the alfalfa and straw.  Last summer photographer Greg Baker from Baker Studios spent a day with my dad and brother at my grandparents’ farm.  This particular hayfield is the one in which my Grandpa Ray kicked me off the tractor because I couldn’t drive the baler straight.  That was the day I started stacking bales and never quit.

Seeing a mundane farm task through the eyes of someone else is interesting. Seeing your parent in pictures, just doing what you’ve always known him to do... well... that’s my dad, folks. That’s my dad.

(And my “little” brother pictured at the end of the slideshow.  He is the next generation to take on farming.  I couldn’t be a prouder farmer’s daughter or farmer’s sister.)



Dixon, IL

Katie and her husband, Andy, are seventh generation farmers. Together they raise two adorable farm kids and grow corn, soybeans and seed corn in Illinois. Katie's family still raises pigs, cattle, goats and horses only a few minutes away. Katie was named one of the 2013 Faces of Farming and Ranching by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA)


Aug 20 2015

It's not a stroke; it's fair week.

I came in the house from pulling weeds this weekend and my 12 year old says, "Where were you? I thought you'd had a stroke! I looked everywhere!"

To which I would say, "Um, I don't think you looked that hard because I was right in front of the house. Pulling weeds."

"But the mixer's on!" she said.

"You mean now?" I asked, vaguely remembering that I was making banana bread at one point.

"Yes!" she said. "We came in and the mixer was on and we couldn't find you!"

Right-o.

I found three old bananas after lunch and started making banana bread. Then one of the kids asked about bringing up a box from the basement so I stepped out of the kitchen to answer. Then John pulled up with the camper, to be cleaned and loaded for the county fair. So I went outside. We got it unhitched and then loaded up the dogs, which John and the kids were taking for a bath (prepping for the dog obedience show on Monday). Then I pulled a couple weeds in the flower bed while they were grabbing some brushes. They left and I was on a roll, so I kept weeding all the way around to the front of the house. Then I realized it was hot and I was dripping with sweat and this was maybe not the best time of day to pull weeds.

So I headed back into the house, where upon I learned Jenna thought I'd had a stroke somewhere because she came in the house and the mixer was running and I was nowhere to be found.

Kids at the county fairSo I guess I can see where she might have thought that.

But here's the thing: It's not a stroke. It's fair week. My brain is addled.

Forgive me if it's quiet around here this week. You can rest assured we're showing and sweating and eating some good fair food, and hopefully no one is actually having a stroke.

And if it's your fair week, too? Best of luck! And don't forget to thank a fair board member.

(Also, the banana bread turned out fine, in case you were wondering.)

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.


Aug 13 2015

Talk to Farmers. Get the Facts, not the Fear.

Today, on the way home from checking out some new corn and soybean hybrids with Dairyland Seed, Josh and I stopped by the John Deere Pavillon in Moline. While we were walking around checking out the new shiny green bean head and combine on display, a man from the New England area stopped us and asked a few questions about farming (apparently we looked like knowledgable farmers). We had a great conversation and then he said that his wife had a few questions for us and he would be right back. So we waited a minute and he and his wife walked up and introduced themselves, as did we.

She began asking questions about farming and then Monsanto. More specifically, questions about how much control Monsanto has over farmers and how much they pressure farmers into making decisions they may not want to. They also began to explain how Monsanto is said to be in control of 80% of the agricultural market and are responsible for the majority of the GMOs which many people have concerns about. They said this is all what they have been told by others out east. However, they also were very interested in a farmers perspective on the issues and wanted the facts.

Long story short, we began to explain that we do minimal business with Monsanto, not because they are the "devil" the Internet makes them out to be, but because we choose to deal with other companies. Yes, we have a choice. Many choices, in fact, and that Monsanto clearly does not control 80% of the food market.

We explained to them how, contrary to what the Internet makes one believe, no one on our farm has ever been pressured by any company to do business with them and that no one has ever made us plant anything we don't want to; conventional, GMO or otherwise.

We explained how we supply our customers with the products they demand, wether it be GMO, non-gmo or possibly organic (in the future).

We explained that we follow the science. Actual science, showing both pros and cons for GMOs, organic and non-gmo production, while we support and see the value in all 3.

Lastly I THANKED them for having such a great conversation and being willing to have an open mind to a farmers hands on perspective and facts.

My point of all of this: I encourage you to talk to the farmers. To have that needed conversation about your food. To get the facts not the fear. To keep an open mind and to shake a farmers hand.

I can't begin to tell you how much we appreciated this out of the blue conversation but I can say it was the highlight of our day. So if you two are reading this, THANK YOU!


Originally posted on the Boucher Farms Facebook page.

Matt Boucher
North-Central IL

Boucher Farms is a relatively small grain farm producing Corn, Soybeans, and Wheat, as well as a few Goats for future 4H projects. The goal of their family farm is to make a honest living off the land in a sustainable manner, while caring for the environment to ensure a great future for generations to come.

Jul 30 2015

Flipping a Switch

Did you know that we show cattle?

My friends and family are saying, "duh," as this is all Joe and Anna have done for most of the summer. Chores, brushing, washing, walking, then loading, packing, washing (clothes and cattle), braiding (this is my job), unloading, waiting, walking. I have joked that if I would put a show calf in the basement by the unpacked boxes, maybe we could finally get the last steps of our project finished.

Illinois girl showing her calfHa.

Now, I know very little about showing cattle. Anna has now showed for two seasons. I was a 4Her, but the cattle barns and those kids who showed animals were just strange to me. I didn't get the ribbons in the back pocket. I didn't understand the dirty jeans. Who would want to stand in the heat and scratch a calf's belly? My dad was the livestock superintendent for our county fair, but I only went to see if Uncle Dean had a gold card to get on rides for free and check out some of the cute boys. I know, pretty sad, huh?

Then I starting dating Joe, and let's just say that early on in our dating history, I thought we were going to the State Fair for a corn dog and a few rides. We went to the Simmental show, and I wore flip flops.

Bless my heart, it was a long, dirty day.

We left without a corn dog, but gained a big omen to my future self.

Fast forward to this year, and I'm in year two as a show mom. What I have learned to appreciate and understand as a mom of a cattle shower is that this experience itself is invaluable. Sure the obvious is great: the friendships made in the stalls, the effort, time management, dedication, etc., all that is pretty amazing for especially a 10 year old. This summer, though, the light bulb that has gone off in Anna's mind as a show-woman (girl who shows...I don't want to say exhibitionist! What's the word?).

Illinois girl showing her champion steerThis is fun to watch. She had success in the showmanship division last year, but this year, she gets all of it. She has taken responsibility for her animals care, and while she and her dad have had their share of "discussions" in regards to how things need to be done, her show year has been a fun one. We have an especially good steer this year, but Anna and Joe have taken extra care with his nutrition and fitness, and it has paid off. We have had some opportunities to be in the Championship Drive and have even taken home some hardware in reward for the hard work.

The switch has been flipped. The taste of victory is on her tongue, and my girl, although not obnoxious about it (she gets her normal sense of competitive spirit from her dad, not her CRAZY MOM), is enjoying the fruits of her labor. It's fun to see her look a judge square in the eye and talk about Clyde, her steer. It's awesome to watch ages of kids from 9-19 lead these huge animals around and then genuinely congratulate each other on their successes.

This is a side of the cattle business I never knew existed.

I know! Every day, something new, friends.

While I'm the snack packer, blingy jeans buyer and hair braider, my switch has been flipped as well. I am getting past the basics, and am now seeing (somewhat) what a judge looks for in a winner. Plus, I figure I should learn more, as we did some forward thinking and at one point, we will have (if all want to participate) a 19, 17, 15, 13, and 10 year old twins potentially in the ring.

I think we need a bigger trailer.

And a barn.

And stock in blingy jeans.

Either way, as the summer showing season begins to wind down, I am happy to report that we are experiencing a healthy dose of success and have enjoyed the time spent in the barn.

So, let's move to the basement and have some success there. Ha!


Originally posted on Confessions of a Farm Wife.

Emily Webel
Farmington, IL

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


Jul 25 2015

Farming is a Complex Science

farming is hard work
Jul 24 2015

What is Fair Week?

If you follow any farmer bloggers, I would venture you’ve been reading a lot about fairs – 4-H fairs, FFA fairs, county fairs and state fairs. Fairs are the quintessential summer activity giving us funnel cakes, lemonade shake-ups, corn dogs, and fried . . . anything. Carnivals, pedals pulls, pageants. Ribbons, trophies, rodoes – some intentional, others not so much.

For fair families, fair week is one of the more chaotic times of the year. Project details are finalized at the. Very. Last. Minute. No joke. One year I pulled an all-nighter finishing a crossstich. My dad was adamant. You paid the entry fee, the project goes.

Dinners are relegated to a bowl of cereal, slice of cold pizza or 11 p.m. spaghettio’s (a friend posted that dinner pic with the caption, “It must be fair week.”). And as well-intentioned as most fair moms are – slicing fruit and veggies late at night, packing a cooler with water, homemade sandwiches and Grandma’s cookies – by day three, corn dogs and nachos fill a hungry kid just fine.

A fair family hopes to make it through day one without an epic meltdown. Meltdowns are standard on day four and completely excusable, but on day one . . . you’ll be getting sympathetic looks from the other fair moms.

Fair week, however, takes on a different meaning when your family is not only a fair family but a fair board family.

A friend who sits on our volunteer fair board of directors lamented early last week, “If only people got ‘fair week’.”

Because along with regular life stuff, fair board members are spending countless hours – literally, we can’t keep track –preparing for the onslaught of people, animals, questions, concerns, tractors, cars, pork chop dinners and wayward storms.

My Farmer and I are both fair board members along with an eclectic group of former 4-H members, community folks, 4-H leaders and guys who made the mistake of attending a board meeting. Now they are official fair officials.

Our fair week started yesterday. Holly Spangler wrote an Ode to Fair Board Members.  She includes this: “Oh, the fair board member. Answerer of endless calls and balancer of ever-slimmer budgets. Answerer of questions relating to everything from electricity to fair queens. They are the people who figure out how to keep decrepit buildings standing, to get another year out of the beef barn, to run another water line. They are the ones who debate adding a beer tent or closing the fair, because the money just isn’t there. They organize exhibits, move tractors and maintain grounds, and even more, make peace between the horse people and the cattle people.”

And that pretty much sums up fair week. Yesterday my farm princess was answering the landline, “Lee County Fair. My mom can help you in a minute”, as I was on my cell calming the nerves of a new 4-Her who was pretty sure she forgot to enter her dozen eggs in the poultry department.

Today, we are packing the car with materials for Kids’ Korners, Kiddie Carnival, Ag Olympics and the Corn Boil. My farm boy asked, “When do my projects get to go?”

Illinois 4-H Fairgrounds Lee County

My great grandfather was a founding member of the board who established the Lee Co. 4-H Center. The white fence that flanks our front gate bears my grandfather’s name. It is a memorial to him and other dedicated fair believers. My dad spent my 4-H years on the fair board.

And now it is my turn. Fairs, like farms, are generational. And our commitment to them is just as strong.

Thank you fellow fair board members – fair family members. We may not like each other by week’s end, but we’re in this together and for that I am grateful!

(The Lee Co. 4-H Fair & Jr. Show is July 23-26 at the Lee Co. Fairgrounds near Amboy.  It is the perfect throwback county fair! For more information find us at leecounty4hcenter.com or on facebook!)


Originally posted on Rural Route 2: The Life & Times of an Illinois Farm Girl.

Katie Pratt
Dixon, IL

Katie and her husband, Andy, are seventh generation farmers. Together they raise two adorable farm kids and grow corn, soybeans and seed corn in Illinois. Katie's family still raises pigs, cattle, goats and horses only a few minutes away. Katie was named one of the 2013 Faces of Farming and Ranching by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA)

Jul 03 2015

I spy with my little eye...

Farmers are pretty used to seeing animals on a regular basis. Sometimes, though, we find some unexpected and unwelcome visitors by the feed bags!

Farm animals

So, I'm feeding the goats and horse more hay, and as I reach for the cat food, I find a visitor (lower right). 


Heather Hampton-Knodle
Fillmore, IL

Heather and her husband, Brian, both come from multiple generations of farming and continue that family tradition today on their farm in Montgomery County with their four children. They raise corn, soybeans, wheat cattle and goats. Heather and Brian take their role as stewards of the land very seriously and work every day to leave the soil on their farm in better condition than the day before so that it can be fruitful for future generations to come.

Jul 02 2015

Personalizing Food Choices

In 1991, I moved to DeKalb, Illinois, to teach in a small farming community 17 miles southwest of DeKalb. In the years since then, it’s been easy to see that farmland is disappearing. New housing developments have cropped up around DeKalb and more strip malls are being built. The Chicago suburbs are expanding farther and farther west. Is this progress? Perhaps. Yet all these outlet malls, auto marts, and huge new houses are swallowing up some of the richest farmland in the world. The flat farm fields of Illinois may not look like much to the naked eye, but farmers will tell you that the dark rich soil of Northern Illinois is perfect for growing crops.

farmland, farm land

Disappearing farmland should be a concern to all of us. When the year 2050 comes around, we’ll need to feed 9 billion people on approximately the same amount or less farmland we currently have. This is more important than the fight between organic and conventional foods. There isn’t just one solution. By using a variety of farming techniques, including organic and conventional farming, we can succeed in feeding the world.

The conversation about food is difficult. It shouldn’t be, but it is. Among suburban moms, it is “fashionable” to buy only organic foods. We are making the topic of food choices too personal. I have been told (not by a doctor) that I should eat only grass fed beef because of my medical history. When I wrote on Facebook that I was was going to visit Monsanto, one person unfriended me. When my husband became interested in what Monsanto does and liked their Facebook page, a member of the family asked him, “You don’t really like Monsanto, do you?” Social media has done a good job of spreading fear and mistrust of GMOs and the companies that produce them. Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll find that one of Monsanto’s executives agrees with using organic and GMOs to help feed the world. It can’t just be one or the other.

The farming community is opening their doors to City Moms. Farmers are talking about why they farm the way they do. They are open to discussing GMOs, use of pesticides, and how they treat their livestock. They have many choices, and Monsanto seed is only one of their choices. They also have the responsibility of providing enough food for everyone as our population keeps growing. It takes courage for the City Moms to have open minds and to listen to what they are telling us, even when our friends are telling us not to listen.

I had no idea when I became a City Mom that I would be learning so much about agriculture and the food we eat. I didn’t know I would develop a passion to learn more. I also didn’t realize that I would not only be learning about the food on my dinner table, but also about feeding billions of people in the future. I now read farm blogs and agricultural reports, along with scientific articles about our food supplies. I’m personalizing my food choices by learning more about my food.


Originally posted on Lemon Drop Pie.

Christa Grabske
Mount Prospect, IL

Christa 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 experienced on these farms, including five things they found most interesting. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago moms meet farmers


Jun 30 2015

Best Seat in the House

Farm views

This was a picture I took while waiting to fill the planter. I was in our pickup facing the tractor with the sunset behind me. I couldn’t help but snap a quick photo!

These days go by pretty quick. Every few hours I get a call that someone needs filled and I bring the seed bags (weighing 30-65 pounds each) to the planter that is running low. The tractor will stop, I pull up in the truck, we take off the planter lids and load ’em up! It takes about 20 minuets total and then the tractor is back in business. We literally do this all day, weather willing.


Originally posted on Dare to Dream with Rachel.

Rachel Asher
Ursa, IL

Rachel grew up on her family's farm where they raised dairy cows, pigs and crops. Today, she and her husband raise cattle, corn and soybeans on their own family farm in Ursa, IL. You can learn more about Rachel's farm on her blog: Dare to Dram with Rachel.

Jun 26 2015

Modern Day Farmers

"I kind of had this mental picture of a farmer in overalls sitting at his kitchen table pouring over the Farmers’ Almanac to figure out how he’s going to plan his planting and just kind of haphazardly, and with no conscience, throwing around weed and insect killing chemicals on the plants.  When, in reality, that is not the case.  It’s really making me pause to think about the “truths” that I hold to when it comes to growing food and what I choose to buy at the grocery store." 


Farmer

Learn more about today's farmers and the technology they use here.


Frankfort, IL

Stephanie 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.