Illinois Farm Families Blog

Nov 22 2013

Why I Farm - Bryon Coffman

"As a farmer your day starts as soon as your feet hit the ground. You can’t escape work on the farm. There are no sick days or weather delays. You have a job to do and it’s on you to get that job done. That might mean working from dawn to dusk or not seeing your family for days on end. Sure, it’s hard. But they understand. They know it’s a lifestyle. Most people have a hard time grasping that. But to us, farming, it’s what we know. It’s what we grew up doing. For me, farming was given. I was never pushed to farm. It just came naturally. I always thought if the opportunity was there, that’s all I ever wanted to do."

Bryon Coffman
Moweaqua, IL

To find out more about Beck's Hybrid's "Why I Farm" contest and to view more "Why I Farm" videos, visit

Sep 26 2013

Why I Farm - Steve Sowers

"Growing up on the farm, it just became a part of me. There’s just something special about working on the same land that my dad and grandfather started farming on. My dad taught me how to plow on the same field I taught my son to plow. The land becomes bigger than just a piece of land. It becomes a piece of your family. But I have to give credit where credit is due. This land that our family has been privileged to farm is a gift from God."     

Steve Sowers,
Colchester, IL

To find out more about Beck's Hybrid's "Why I Farm" contest and to view more "Why I Farm" videos, visit

Sep 19 2013

Why I Farm - Tony Beck

“Farming is the initial occupation that God provided man with and it is the foundation of our society. He placed each of here to become caretakers and stewards of the land. I believe that God has given us abilities, talents and desires and farming has been one of the desires that He has allowed me to fulfill.”

Tony Beck
Allerton, IL

To find out more about Beck's Hybrid's "Why I Farm" contest and to view more "Why I Farm" videos, visit

Sep 12 2013

Why I Farm - Steve Vogel

"I didn’t grow up like your typical farm kid. My dad farmed with his two brothers, but he also had a full time job off the farm. The farm didn’t expand fast enough and he had to make sacrifices to provide for his family. That was something he instilled in me at a very young age and I’ve always admired him for teaching me that. Much like my dad, I have always wanted to farm. As a young boy, I’d wake up early before I had to go to school, go outside and watch the tractors in the field. I just always loved the smell of the soil being turned over. It was then, and still is, my favorite thing about spring."

Steve Vogel
Henry, IL

To find out more about Beck's Hybrid's "Why I Farm" contest and to view more "Why I Farm" videos, visit

Sep 07 2013

Veggie Tales


Each summer, I look forward to eating fresh vegetables that I have picked myself from my own garden. After planting vegetable seeds and plants in the spring, I eagerly await the arrival of seeing the first signs of fresh produce. I continue to check on my plants throughout the summer as they grow, mature, and eventually bloom. Then, when the first signs of a vegetable arrive, I anxiously await the day that the vegetable is ready to be harvested by my hands. 

Early morning, after a sweaty workout and before my toddlers are awake for the new day, I head out to check on my vegetable plants, hoping that there is something for me to pick, place in my grocery sack, and take inside to wash. Some mornings I return with an empty sack because the vegetables just aren’t quite ready. Other times, my grocery sack is overflowing with large zucchini and tomatoes.  Each year and each day is different. One year, my in-laws couldn’t grow zucchini from any of their plants while I had them overflowing on my kitchen counter. Other years, my pepper plants produced not one pepper, while this year I have a steady flow of them each week to pick. Rain, sun, heat, bugs, weeds, the large size of neighboring vegetable plants, unexpected frost, etc. are all determiners, in my experience, of the amount and size of the vegetables my plants produce.

As a little girl, I experienced planting and harvesting vegetables with my Great Uncle who planted a large vegetable garden in the backyard of his suburban home. Growing up on a farm himself, he brought his farmer roots with him to the Chicago suburbs, set aside a plot of land in the middle of his backyard, and planted vegetables every year. This was not typical in the suburbs, and I have yet to see a large vegetable plot in anyone’s  backyard. He’d invite me over on the days he’d plant his carrots because that was my favorite to harvest. Pulling the gigantic carrot out of the ground was one of the coolest mysteries I experienced as a kid. I still have memories of what it felt like to take a hold of the green top, pull as hard as I could, and sometimes with his help, uncover a long, orange carrot that had been hidden under the soil. He’d let me take home anything I picked. I even have memories of sneaking out of my bed at night, going downstairs, opening the refrigerator, quietly opening the bottom drawer, and taking a bite of one of the carrots I picked with my own hands. (I wish my own kids loved eating vegetables like that!)

In high school, my father started planting tomato and herb plants wherever he could find space in his yard. In one house, he used a small area behind his garage that received direct sunlight, in another house, he had to use pots. The Italian that he is, the tomatoes and herbs were used in his delicious pasta meals. He’d teach me the smell of different herbs and how to use them in cooking. Whenever there was a tomato ready to be harvested, we’d pick it, wash it, slice it, sprinkle it with salt, and sink our teeth into its juiciness. Now, I find myself doing the same thing. A juicy tomato is one of my favorite things to eat before dinner.

When I moved from my apartment in the city of Chicago to my husband’s farm once we were married, growing my own vegetables was something I looked forward to. However, I didn’t know much, other than I had to plant seeds and watch them grow. With the help of my mother-in-law that first spring on the farm, she taught me how and when to plant each type of vegetable. Throughout growing season, she’d remind me of what to do, when to do it, and how to deal with certain weed or bug problems. When it was time to harvest a particular vegetable, she’d tell me what to look for and when to pick it.  I was so new at gardening that when she told me the potatoes were ready, I was really confused: I didn’t see any potatoes above the soil that needed to be picked. With a laugh, my husband revealed that the potatoes were actually underground and I had to dig them up. (No way!! Just like those carrots!) I brought that revelation to my dad, who couldn’t believe it either. That next spring, he planted his own potatoes in his small suburban garden behind his garage and enjoyed discovering them in the soil when it was time for their harvest.

Moving to the country has included many new experiences for this city-gone-country girl. Growing my own vegetables is something I’ve loved from the beginning. Whether you live in the country, the city, or the suburbs, it’s something we can all experience if you have a sunny spot of soil. Urban gardens are popping up in various cities, and it’s fun to see how city dwellers are learning about and experiencing growing their own food.  On our own family farm, my husband and I look forward to teaching our children about where our food comes from and how to provide safe, healthy food for our community. And wherever you may find yourself, give it a try sometime; you may be surprised at what will grow (above or below ground)!


Kristen Strom, Brimfield

Kristen is a city-gone-country girl after her marriage to her husband, Grant, who is a full-time farmer.  You can follow her stories and adventures on her blog, Farm Notes from Little Dahinda, IL.

Aug 20 2013

Doing Corn

 On our farm we keep time in the summer by specific events and activities. Like when the strawberries ripen and we pick twice, sometimes three times a day. Or when the wild blackberries are ready, and we spend early mornings filling buckets in the patch. The county fair, several annual neighborhood cookouts and town festivals help us keep track of our summer days. Perhaps one of the most anticipated summer activities is doing corn.

"Doing corn” is not just an act; on our farm it is an event. Growing up, we knew when the first sweet corn landed on our dinner table, doing corn was not far away. My mom would make the calls to family, neighbors and friends and a few days later our farm would be bustling with activity.

Grandpa Ray and Dad would greet the sunrise, picking a hayrack load of sweet corn from various patches they had planted in an effort to outsmart the cunning raccoons that enjoyed our sweet corn as much as we did.

By 7 a.m. people began to arrive and we’d hike out to the cattle pasture to husk that load of corn. In the shade of the hickory trees, folks settled into the beginnings of the day’s work. Back at the house, we enjoyed a short coffee break of homemade cakes, pastries and rolls while the corn cooked in a big black iron cauldron under which an enormous hot fire burned.

When the first batch of corn came off the fire and had cooled, the work began in earnest. We fell into a familiar rhythm. The adults were cutters, wielding their kitchen knives, sitting up to picnic tables with a cake pan or cookie sheet in front of them to catch the cut corn. We kids also served an important role. We were haulers. We hauled cooled corn to the tables, cut cobs to the pigs, and bagged corn to the deep freeze in the basement. We made sure the cookers had corn from the hayrack to fill the cook pot, the cutters had cooled corn to cut, and the baggers had baggies aplenty.

Doing corn would take the better part of a day. Everyone joined the clean-up because what followed was a feast of what else? Sweet corn. And biscuits, watermelon and other delicious homemade treats. A simple meal made fantastic by the people with which it was shared.

Not much has changed. These days we do corn at my house. Now I am the cutter, my kids, niece and nephew are the haulers and we still end the day with a feast of corn.

As it did in the past, the true reward comes in deep winter, when we pull a bag of sweet corn from the freezer and savor its taste and the summer memories of doing corn.



Katie Pratt, Dixon
Originally posted on Illinois Farm Girl.
Reposted with permission.

Jul 12 2013

City Girl Gone Country

Sitting at a friend’s bridal shower a few weeks ago, I was reminded so much of what my life was like 6+ years ago as I prepared for my marriage to my farmer-husband. My friend, a city girl, is marrying a man who has a full-time job in a near-by city, but who lives in the country, has cattle, grew up on a farm, and loves country life. Soon, she will be trading in her city life, for that of country living. 6+ years ago, I was living in the the city of Chicago above boutiques and restaurants, attending my bridal showers, and preparing to move 2.5 hours to west central IL to my fiance’s farm. At both of our showers, family and friends giggled at the thought of us city girls helping on the farm, learning to cook, tending to a garden, growing our own vegetables, raising our babies in the country, and learning to live away from the busyness of the city.

As I watched her open her gifts, some of which would help her transition to living in the country, two questions popped into my mind: what does it mean for a city girl to move to the country? And, what does it mean for a city girl to marry a farmer?

These questions also came to mind as I spoke to my best friend who has been living in Los Angeles for the past 5 years but has recently started seeing a farmer from Iowa.(How an LA girl met a farmer, that’s a whole different and long story.) While we spoke, she laughed because she has NO idea about farming and country life, other than from what I’ve told her.

After 6 years of being married to my farmer-husband, living on one of the first farms I had ever visited for the first 5 years of our marriage, and raising farm babies, I’d like to share my answers. Disclaimer: these answers are from my experience, and while not everyone’s experience is the same, I can’t speak for all city-gone-country girls. Also, while coming up with my lists I tried to think of things that I otherwise would not have been able to do if I didn’t marry a farmer and instead stayed in the big city. Also, I’ve split answers into two lists because living in the country does not  always mean that you’ve married a farmer, and being married to a farmer does not necessarily mean you live in the country. 

A city girl moving to the country means:
  • We have LOTS of space to grow our own vegetables and create flower gardens, even if we’ve never planted anything before.
  • We have the opportunity to go outside and listen to pure silence with the occasional tweet of a bird and the wind blowing through the trees.
  • While driving in the country, we have time to think about our day, make phone calls to family and friends, admire the country scenery, and my favorite, drive without hitting any traffic.
  • We have an opportunity every night to watch the sunset.
  • We learn how to cook because there are no restaurants, take-out, or delivery food places nearby.
  • We have time to start (and usually finish) projects, whether they be outside or inside. Mine was having time to scrapbook, make greeting cards, and other fun crafting activities.
  • We trade in our high heels for rubber boots and an old pair of jeans or coveralls. I went the old-pair of jeans route, while my girlfriend, who helps with cattle chores, now has her own pair of overalls.
  • We will start to wave at everyone passing by on our country road and those that we pass while driving, and they actually wave back.
  • We quickly learn how the weather can dictate our life. A snow/ice/wind/rain storm can mean not leaving the house for a few days because we actually can’t drive down our road, it can mean not having electricity or running water for a few hours or a few days since we have a well, and it means we load up on the necessities ahead of time if we have warning.
  • Lists are a must: a trip into town means hours of running errands so that we don’t have make the long drive multiple times a week. Lists, in the order of where to stop, help to cut down on driving time.
  • Our city friends and family can come visit us in the country, camp out, go fishing, enjoy the sunsets, shop at farmers markets, enjoy town festival weekends, and get away from busy city living.
  • Our children will have endless land and space to explore.
A city girl marrying a farmer means:
  • We can grow our own vegetables with the help of a husband who knows a thing or two (and actually much more) about growing food.
  • We not only learn how to cook, but we learn how to use endless amounts of meat in the deep freezer from cattle and hogs that were once on one of the family farms.
  • While driving in the car, we start to take note of the passing fields, what’s been planted, how tall it’s grown, water damage, weed control, and all the other things our farmer-husbands also look for in their fields.
  • Our projects usually revolve around the time of year: harvest and planting seasons mean that our husband isn’t home, so we have more time on our own to take up new hobbies and complete projects.
  • Weather dictates our life: our husband’s life revolves around the weather and so that means our days are ruled by the rain/wind/sun/hail, too. Which means...
  • We have an expert weatherman living with us! 
  • We spend countless hours in the tractor or combine visiting our husband, eating meals with him while he plants or harvests the crops, and taking our children to ride with him during the busy times of year.
  • Our house is littered with farming, equipment, and livestock magazines and catalogs.
  • Our husband is also a landscaper, gardener, plumber, builder, handyman, mechanic, etc. that can help us with mostly any project we need done around the house.
  • We now have an understanding of agriculture: what farming entails, where our food comes from, how livestock are raised, etc.
  • That, if life is a mix of hard work and fun, there is hard work done around the farm with fun visits to the city.
  • Our children will be raised with not only the understanding of farming, but helping on the farm, tending to livestock, joining a 4H club, and learning to care and tend to the land that we grow crops on to feed the world.

Kristen Strom Brimfield, IL

Kristen is a city-gone-country girl after her marriage to her husband, Grant, who is a full-time farmer.  You can follow her stories and adventures on her blog at

Jun 07 2013

Raising Children on the Farm

Dodge Ram caught the attention of rural America with a 2013 Super Bowl Commercial featuring clips from Paul Harvey’s 1978 speech at the National FFA convention. Tears welled in my eyes as I watched it air for the first time. The last stanza is what really touches me each time:

"Somebody who'd bale a family together with the soft strong bonds of sharing, who would laugh and then sigh, and then reply, with smiling eyes, when his son says he wants to spend his life 'doing what dad does.'" So God made a farmer.

Maybe this part carries extra weight with me now as my husband and I prepare to welcome our first child in November. As we reminisce about our childhood experiences growing up on our family farms, we plan for the life we want our child(ren) to have.

Farm raised children have the opportunity to learn many life lessons at a young age, such as the value of money. We didn’t get an allowance and our parents didn’t normally make purchases beyond the necessities. We were taught to be entrepreneurial and creative, working to earn money for spending and saving. I detasseled seed corn and worked at a neighbor’s strawberry patch before I could drive. Throughout high school, I sold homemade baked goods at a local Farmer’s Market. My husband and his sister started a mowing business in addition to the many hours spent working on their family farm. Learning the value of money as children has prepared us to manage the financial responsibilities of farming.

Another life lesson – nothing in life is certain. Working through extreme drought in 2012 to dealing with flooding in Spring 2013 are great examples of that. When your livelihood depends on weather, operating complex machinery, and markets over which you have no control, you have to be prepared to dodge curve balls at times.

Farm life teaches you to plan for the future. Planning for the upcoming crop starts months before the current crop is harvested. Plans are continually made for farm growth, incorporating the next generation, and budgeting. The plans have to be comprehensive enough to succeed, but flexible enough to withstand unexpected hurdles that inevitably arise.

There are many other lessons we learned growing up on a farm family that we are eager and blessed to pass along to the next generation. Perhaps the most exciting of all will be watching our children grow up experiencing hard work, teamwork, and family, which I think go hand in hand on a family farm.

There are long days, late nights, and even all-nights, but the best part? Those challenging hours are something the whole family can do together! Filling the planter, moving machinery, hauling in, operating the combine, riding to keep company, preparing field meals, and everything between – farm life is about working together as a family. Developing motivation, determination, teamwork, and family relationships, are perhaps the most important traits we can instill in the next generation.

Krista Swanson, Oneida
Jun 01 2013

A Day on the Farm with Illinois Field Moms

This past Saturday, I traveled with more than 20 Illinois Farm Families "Field Moms" from the big city to the small town of Mazon, llinois, where I had the chance to learn more about the lives of Illinois Farmers. In particular, corn and soybean farming, as Paul and Donna Jeschke welcomed us onto their beautiful home and farm.

As a city mom that encounters most of her food in the aisles of a grocery store, I have much to learn about how our food is planted and harvested.

Here's what I learned while visiting the Jeschke farm:

  • Farming is hard work, and farmers are dedicated to their craft. It truly is a craft, and a job that permeates your entire life. There are stretches where farmers work almost nonstop
  • Farming is high tech. Donna's nephew, who works on the farm and holds a degree in engineering, showed us some of the farm trucks and machinery: everything works in tune with GPS and high tech systems that baffled me. High technology aptitude is a must for today's farmers.
  • The work that our Illinois farm families do has a worldwide impact. You know those shipping containers you see rolling on the train tracks near your home? They carry goods from China into the U.S., and carry Illinois-grown grains back to China. The Jeschke's have also hosted farmers from around the world, and in turn have visited farms in other countries, hoping to learn from one another and work together to improve farming for all.
  • Farmers care about their product and do their best to make sure that it's healthy and nutritious. The Jeschke family has been farming in northwestern Illinois since the early 1900s. For generations, they have been committed to raising crops to provide not only for their own family, but also families near and far. "Farming is our lifestyle and our business. We work diligently to grow the crops that help put food on your family’s table," explains Donna.

Throughout the summer and into harvest time, I'll be following along with my very own acre of corn grown at the Jeschke Farm. Will it be knee high by July? Let's hope for a bumper crop!

To learn more about Illinois Farm Families, check out:

  Amy Bizzarri, Chicago

Apr 03 2013

Small Town Sightings

My kids first Easter Bunny picture‘Is that an Easter Bunny on the corner?!’ I thought as I drove through the nearest small town on Friday. Add that to my list of “Things You’ll Only Find In A Small Town”. It’s been six years since I’ve moved from the Chicago suburbs to outside Peoria, IL, and I’m still in awe at the things that take place in small town USA versus those that don’t in busy cities. The big, white bunny was standing at the four way stop outside the new corner doctor’s office in town waving to the cars driving by. In all my years, I’ve never seen the Easter Bunny find his way to a street corner to hail the passing cars.

While I’m still not quite sure why the Easter Bunny was there, I noticed that the bench outside of the doctor’s office had a colorful rug underneath it. He could have just wanted to wish Friday commuters a happy Easter, or he was there for families to stop to take pictures with him, courtesy of the new doctor’s office. I’ll assume the later for the correct answer. I regretted that my own toddlers weren’t with me in the car; I definitely would have stopped to have them sit on his lap to take a yearly picture with my own camera, free of charge, and without having to wait in a line.

My first experience taking my first baby to see the Easter Bunny consisted of standing in line for two hours at a mall in the Chicago suburbs. While visiting my family before Easter, my mom insisted that I had to have my son sit on the Easter Bunny’s lap so that I could have a keepsake picture of his 1st Easter Bunny encounter. Not only was the wait incredibly long for the less than 30 seconds my son was on the Bunny’s lap , but it was not cheap to get a set of pictures to take home for his baby book and all the grandparents.

My first Santa pictureSuburban and city families share in this annual adventure to see the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus at local shopping malls. I remember years of putting on a holiday outfit to go to the mall with my mom and and grandma, only to stand in a long line of other impatient children to get a picture with Bunny or Santa. I now have years of these pictures to look back upon, and they make for some good laughs, especially those where myself or my brothers want nothing to do with either holiday friend.

This tradition now carries into my own family, but because I now live in outside of a small town, I’ve found that there are multiple opportunities to engage in holiday festivities that the local communities, schools, and businesses support. Not to mention, activities that are usually free of charge and without a two hour line. This week’s Weekly Post newspaper reported, “There is no shortage of Easter egg hunts schedule for this weekend,” followed by a listing of eight different activities in local towns. While we ran out of time to catch a photo-op with the Easter Bunny this year, next year, I’ll definitely keep my eye out for the Bunny on the corner. You can bet it’ll be free with no wait.

Kristen Strom
Brimfield, IL
Kristen is a city-gone-country girl after her marriage to her husband, Grant, who is a full-time farmer.  You can follow her stories and adventures on her blog at Little Dahinda.