Our tractors, combines and other equipment are our field offices.

Illinois Farm Families Blog

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.

Oct 21 2015

The loudest voices aren't always right. Did Subway make the right call?

Marketing in 2015 sometimes feels like a contact sport, companies are constantly bombarding potential consumers with advertisements regarding their product, service, or establishment.  In the food aisle of our local supermarkets, this information overload extends to the food labels and sometimes it feels like an advanced degree is necessary to even understand them.  We see organizations spending lots of money on advertising but is the loudest voice that you hear actually the best choice?  Should fear (and not facts) be the deciding factor in how you spend your hard earned dollars? 

On Tuesday (10/20/15), Subway announced their plan to begin serving antibiotic free meat. To read more about this decision, check out Agriculture Proud’s post entitled “Subway Removing Antibiotics…And Facebook Comments.”  I’m not going to sit here and tell you to boycott a restaurant, that’s your choice.  While I strongly disagree with Subway’s decision, I want to ask you a question:   

Do you ask your accountant questions about why your 18 month son won’t sleep?
Do you ask your pediatrician how often you should rotate your tires?
Do you ask your mechanic if you are taking the correct tax deductions? 

The point I’m trying to make is that if you have a question about your food, go to the source; ASK A FARMER. They are the expert.  They are the professional.  Don’t know where to find a REAL farmer? Check out Ask the Farmers or Illinois Farm Families.  If you are reading this and are involved in agriculture, we need you to help tell our story. It doesn’t matter which platform you use, what’s important is that you are heard.  

Today, I watched my friend Joanna share her story and perspective with the Senate Agriculture Committee in Washington DC.  The hearing today was regarding the federal regulation of agriculture biotechnology with perspectives from producers and consumers.  Click here to read about Joanna’s testimony. 

“Trouble comes when the people using labels and loose advertising to sell products for their food company pit us against each other.” -Testimony of Joanna Lindback

In September of this year, I was part of the planning committee for the Inaugural Harvest Dinner, an event in which the Planning Committee aimed to start a conversation about food and farming.  Erin Ehnle, a talented advocate tells our agriculture story via photographs – click here to see firsthand.  Want to see the video perspective of the event? Click here.  

dairy farm tourI am involved with telling our story on various social media platforms, I have also held events like Cheesecake & Calves, participated in numerous farm tours either on our farm or through the Illinois Farm Families program. At each event, I have been able to have amazing conversations with everyday people.  It doesn’t matter where the conversation takes place, it just needs to happen.    

Yes, sometimes telling our story is hard and sometimes they ask us the hard questions.  While I am not an expert on anything, if you come to me with a question about food or faming and I don’t know the answer, I can guarantee you that I know someone that does.  

I am so proud to be a part of the agriculture industry and yes, we have an uphill battle to climb. There will always be another company that makes a poor marketing decision but let’s use this as motivation because if we don’t share our story, someone else will!  Just remember,  

Originally posted on Mackinson Dairy. 

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! 

Oct 20 2015

How fast can a combine harvest corn?

combining cornGreat weather conditions continue for harvest 2015! Exactly how fast are farmers harvesting corn out there?

  • The average Midwest farmer plants at a rate that will produce about 30,000 ears per acre
  • The average newer combine will harvest about 10 acres per hour
  • 30,000 ears X 10 acres = 300,000 ears per hour

That's a lot of corn! However, the corn we are harvesting now isn't the kind you will find on your dinner table. The corn we eat off the cob is sweet corn, we are harvesting field corn that will be used for animal feed, fuel, and many other products. Learn more about the different uses of field corn here.

Originally posted on Willow Lea Stock Farm's Facebook page.

Michele Aavang
Woodstock, IL

Michele and her husband, Gary are full-time farmers raising corn, soybeans, alfalfa, wheat and oats in northern Illinois. Gary has been farming his entire life, while Michele grew up in the Chicago suburbs and became a "farmer by marriage." Learn more and stay up to date with farm happenings on theirFacebook page.

Oct 19 2015

All is Quiet, Sort of.

The irony of this title is that I now currently have a baby talking upstairs. Thought I could post really fast before the awakening of the twins.

Oh well.

Anyway, it's relatively quiet right now, which is odd, because it's harvest, we're the site of the big bins, the gas tank and the machine shed, and we're evidently a thoroughfare for the neighbors as they cruise past our house in their grain truck at about 60 miles per hour. Have I ever discussed the ramifications of going too quickly on a gravel road? No? Well...that's a post for another day.

Anyway, my point is, it's weirdly quiet. Dad and my uncle are harvesting at a farm not near us, hauling grain (I'm assuming) to town. Our house project is at a bit of a standstill, as the exterior of our mudroom/porch is done, but the electricians have yet to show up. Some day, my friends...some day, I'll give you a house tour. Maybe in 2016. The wind is even calm.


The quiet has caused my mind to ponder harvest.

Harvest was a time in our farming life when the hustle and bustle kept our mind busy. When Joe's mom was gravely ill, we were kept busy with the necessary tasks at hand. Joe could lose himself watching grain pour into the cart or semi trailer. While harvest is the end of the growing season, it keeps a farmer's psyche alive.

As a wife, this was always a lonely season. Other farm wives have blogged about this. On Facebook, friends have shared their sunset pictures as they share meals on tailgates and in combines. Parents kiss their kids goodnight long after the kiddos have fallen asleep. But harvest is a time when that loneliness signifies the end of hard work. You're happy to get there, get started, and get done. It's a strange pairing.

I'm hopeful that it starts to get noisy around here again soon. I love seeing the guys "catch on the go," love the potential of my little guy hopping in with grandpa for a round or two. This is our first harvest without a clear set of duties, but since we're here, we're still in the thick of it. I'd like to consider myself an active participant, but on days when it's just quiet, it's a little strange. Heck, I even talked to my dad the other day about learning to drive a truck! Who AM I??? If only we had a sleeper cab. I don't think I can stuff two car seats beside me.

Oh well.

My hope is that the crew will roll back in here soon, so I can keep tabs on this harvest, reporting my findings to you, my friends. Just call me the rural route Mrs. Kravitz.

Except when it's quiet, then I'll just wax poetic.

Originally posted on Confessions of a Farm Wife.

Emily Webel
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.

Oct 01 2015

What Does Big Ag Look Like?

Early this fall everyone – farmers, ranchers and eaters alike – were talking about the New York Times’ Food for Tomorrow conference, its mission to discuss eating and farming better, and the fact that not one solitary make-a-living-off-the-land farmer or rancher was listed in the speaker line-up.

One Huffington Post blog captured what so many were thinking. If a group of “thought” leaders and food activists like Michael Pollen and Mark Bittman were going to discuss food policy, shouldn’t farmers be at the dinner table?

Thankfully, the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance stepped up as a conference sponsor and hosted a panel discussion – with farmers – titled “Big Ag, Big Food: How Being Good for the Environment Is Not about Size”. Watch the video of this panel discussion at fooddialogues.com.

Slate.com reported that post-farmer panel, the conference tenor changed from Mark Bittman’s opening declaration of war to his closing remarks. “We have so much in common . . .”

And the change seemed real as Bittman, clad in a “Team Iowa Beef” t-shirt, insisted, repeatedly, that farmers were not the ones under attack. We are a family, he said. The food movement includes farmers too. However, Bittman quickly made clear the type of farmers included in his movement, and it wouldn’t be those who grow corn and soybeans, farmers in cahoots with Big Ag.

Down on the farm, Big Ag arguments fall flat. They are tiring, old and annoying. The Big Ag debate is similar to the corporate farm debate. The faceless entities so many claim as evil, have faces.  In farming communities across the country these faces are those of our neighbors, our friends, and our family. Faces of the people who keep our communities running, economies strong and people at work. Down on the farm things really aren’t that big or bad.

So, we raise corn and soybeans, as do a lot of Midwestern farmers. I’ve said it before, we live in north central Illinois with an average growing season, fairly decent rainfall and winters that test the most experienced cold-loving soul. History has given us an economic system that supports corn and soybeans. Not only do we have the climate and soils to produce these crops well, we also have the infrastructure, market accessibility and workforce. There are reasons why certain things are grown in certain places. It doesn’t always have to be about a BIG conspiracy theory.

Big Ag in my county looks like 835 farmers...

(The number reported in the 2012 Census of Ag). I’d venture 95 percent of these farmers are the third, fourth, or fifth generations of their families to farm. In our country block, a farm family has welcomed home their sons making changes to include this next generation.

Big Ag looks like our seed representatives...

who hail from many companies, not just one, and who are also neighbors or former high school classmates. The truck drivers who haul our corn, again neighbors, former classmates. One driver is the mayor of the village to the east of our farm. The mechanics who work on our equipment at the local Deere and Case dealerships are our neighbors, too. In fact several of these folks will join our family in our post-harvest celebration dinner.

Big Ag looks like no-till farmers, minimum till farmers and those who plant cover crops.

It looks like farmers who fertilize fields with nitrogen or manure from a neighbor’s cattle farm.

Big Ag looks like the group of guys and gals that showed up November 8...

to finish harvest for a young farm family who needed to catch a break. Seven combines, six wagons, ten trucks and 35 farmers showed up.

farm kid in tractorBig Ag is the eighth generation of our family’s farm...

spending hours after school in the field with his grandfather, learning about the farm, the soil, the crops, the weather, gleaning that generational knowledge that seems to be the foundation of the romantic vision of an American farm. 

Big Ag is my daughter...

leaving the i-pad behind to dump grain trucks, check moisture and type it all in the computer. She is seven.

Listening to Bittman talk, I find his view of corn and soy limited, reminding me of our encounter with two college gals who were biking across country a couple summers ago and ended up waiting out poor weather at our farm. During our visit they made two observations that I won’t forget.
  1. “I had no idea that all this,” and she spread her arms to encompass the acres of corn surrounding our farmstead, “belonged to and was cared for by a family like yours.”
  2. “All this corn and not a kernel to eat,” said Catrin.

Corn and soy is so much more than food. It is feed, fuel and fiber. It is the plastic of water bottles, the wax in candles, the turf on sports’ fields . . . thinking big doesn’t have to be bad. Maybe one day tomatoes will have alternative uses too.

What is missing, has been missing and I’m afraid will stay missing from these food conversations driven by eccentric activists, is a healthy dose of respect and awe for the diversity that is American agriculture. All of us – corn farmers, cattle ranchers, veggie growers, orchard owners – we have been working hard to accept our individual differences and contribute to the national discussion about farms and food. We have opened our farm gates and welcomed questions but more often receive scathing accusations and false allegations, all in the name of transparency. When will the rest of the “family” catch up and recognize that American agriculture takes all kinds and thankfully, supports all kinds.

Mr. Bittman. Mr. Pollen. By continually labeling family farmers, sorting us in to bad and good categories, you are systematically ostracizing a key group of people who are as dedicated to the future of food, health and nutrition as you are. My suggestion for next year’s Food For Tomorrow conference: pick a Marriott Hotel, schedule the event in the winter and invite a few farmers.

Originally posted on Rural Route 2: 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)

Sep 28 2015

Signs of Fall on the Farm

Harvest is here, which means "Meals on Wheels" for this family! Peanut butter & jelly sandwiches are easy and portable, but harvest is long enough that we need to do a little better than that for meals. 

Tonight's menu: Teriyaki pork tenderloin, garlic bacon green beans, and homemade mashed potatoes with chives. It's like a 5-star restaurant in the combine cab!

meals on wheels in the field

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.

Sep 25 2015

How to Feed a Farmer

Harvest has just begun at my house! For our family farm, that means Dad’s in the combine, Hubs is running the grain trucks, Mom’s occasionally helping in the grain cart, and I’m… in the kitchen. I wasn’t raised on a farm – I married into it. I can’t move the trailer, dump the truck, shift the 4455 or herd the calves that are grazing my front lawn while the rest of the family is shelling corn at the field furthest away. But I can give rides… and I can cook!

farm family“Field Meals” are my way of contributing to the harvest effort. As a farm wife who’s got a nine-to-five (or 7:30 to 4:00) in town, I don’t have time to pack the folding table, crock pot, and picnic basket full of gourmet goodies requiring full table service to eat supper. My family likes to “eat with one hand and shift with the other,” as my farmer would tell you! In order to keep up with the fast pace whirlwind of the season, I have developed a strategic game plan to conquer harvest hunger:

1. Plan ahead.

I’m a meal planner. I’ve always sat down on Sunday afternoon with my calendar, recipe book and shopping list — Harvest is no different. I have an idea list of main dishes, sides, snacks, drinks and desserts to keep stocked at the house. Drinks are chilling in the fridge, ground beef is browned the night before. That way when I get home from work I already know what’s going in their supper sacks – which leads me to my next tip…

2. Make it disposable.

I learned early on that stuff that gets sent out to the field doesn’t often make it back to the house – and if it does, three days later, it’s extra gross and moldy. To save time and sanity (and dishsoap!) I package everything in baggies, plastic sauce cups with lids, tin foil and plastic grocery sacks. The guys get plastic cutlery when required (which isn’t often) and in recent years I’ve invested in those Styrofoam take out boxes which have been a huge help. Once everything is individually wrapped, I do my best to split it out into Dad’s bag and Hub’s bag. I’ll pack a thermal bag with the hot food and a cold cooler with drinks to put together at the last minute in the back of my vehicle.

3. It must be 1-handed.

Some farm families I know take the time to sit down and eat in the car with regular dishes and silverware. Not us. This is where you have to know your farmer… As I mentioned before, my husband likes to eat while he drives, therefore it can’t be anything too complicated (no spaghetti, no chilli, no packets of mayo and mustard to put on his own sandwich). He’s running the grain trucks to the bins and can barely keep up with the combine. His dad, on the other hand, doesn’t mind taking a break from combining to sit in the car with me and eat “like a civilized human being.”

I’ve come up with some pretty creative one-handed meals – some more successful than others. You’ve got your classic, hamburgers & brats, to the more contemporary pigs in blankets, pork chop on the bone, and grilled ham & cheese with a tomato Soup-At-Hand. Fresh fruit is always a win and veggie sticks with dip works out well. Some epic fails include Salad wraps (think: veggies wrapped up in lettuce leaves with dressing inside), go-gurt, and those kid-friendly applesauce pouches. Apparently food packaged in tubes is inappropriate for anyone over the age of 12.

4. Keep it clean.

Don’t forget to pack plenty of napkins, paper towels, and something to wipe their hands on before eating. My mother-in-law always sends out a wet rag in a plastic baggie for the guys to wipe their greasy, dirty hands with. (She too has learned the hard way not to send out her good washcloths – they won’t come back). I’ve tried to substitute the cloth for a wet-wipe but they just can’t withstand the rough, farmer, man-hands. Trust me on this one, just send an old sock or chunk of t-shirt.

5. Don’t forget Dessert.

This may or may not go noticed by my farmer, but I always try to include a treasure at the bottom of the bag. Whether it’s homemade chocolate chip cookie, a couple Reese’s peanut butter cups, or a cold silver bullet, it’s my way of making him smile as he works late into the evening.

So what’s on my upcoming menu, you ask?

  • Stuffed French Bread sandwiches with carrot and celery sticks, ranch dip, grapes, and a pudding cup. Tea/water/soda
  • Bratwurst on the grill, individual bags of chips, steamed veggies, apple slices, and banana chocolate chip muffins. Tea/water/soda
  • Breakfast sandwiches (fried eggs with bacon and cheese between buttered English muffin halves) Rosemary roasted potatoes & onions, orange slices. Tea/water/soda… chocolate milk?
  • Corn dogs, French fries, fruit cup, steamed veggies, drinks
  • Aaaaaand probably a fast food run to Arby’s or Subway a couple times in between!

If you have any recipes that fit my criteria, I’d love to hear from you!

Reposted with permission from Corn Corps.

Ashley Deal
Danvers, IL

Ashley lives on a family farm with her husband and son where they raise corn, soybeans and cattle. 

Sep 22 2015

Growing cattle or growing kids?

Our show season wound down last month. The heifers went out to pasture after the state fair, while the steers stayed in the barn for another couple weeks, awaiting our local FFA alumni-sponsored show and sale.

That show marks the season's end for us and it's a nice one because it's just the kids from our very local community. Good kids, all of them, and all of them working hard with their cattle, hogs, sheep and goats.

Farm kidsAt one point in the show, my phone buzzed with a text. It was from a fellow show mom, with a photo taken from the other side of the ring. The picture was of my 10-year-old son, Nathan, and her 17-year-old son, Kyle, deep in conversation next to the show ring.

"I can only imagine the conversation," she said. "Beef?!"

I'm sure she'd leaned in and zoomed in to get that photo and I just love it. It speaks volumes, because her son shared later that Nathan was telling her all about his summer four-wheeler exploits and bent show sticks (not related).

Later that day, Kyle shared the photo on social media and said, "At the end of the day, it's not about who bid on your animal, who bought it, and who won the show. What it's really about is right here; the industry, making connections with new people, the opportunities and setting an example. This is what it's really all about."

Is that not the greatest? And I would add: it's about big kids like Kyle listening to and helping little kids like Nathan. Laughing at the stories, asking them questions, listening, making them feel a part.

It's been a good summer for showing cattle, but it's been an even better one for growing kids - thanks to young people like Kyle.

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.

Sep 21 2015

A Different Kind of Skyline

A different kind of skyline for a lot of us City Moms. Big thanks to the Drendel's for the hospitality!

farm skyline

More from the Dairy Farm Tour coming soon!

Bridget Evanson
Crystal Lake, IL

Bridget 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.

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)