Illinois Farm Families Blog

Jul 18 2014


Today was Anna's 4H Livestock Show.

When I say I really have nothing to do with Anna's 4H experience, it is no understatement. While she and Joe had headed to the general projects show on Saturday, I stayed at home with the kids (and maybe took a nap). Yesterday, they loaded up to take the cattle to the weigh-in, while I loaded up my kids to the country club pool.

Today, however, I went to the show, loading up my crew and snacks and toys once again, putting on shoes I didn't care about, and herded my friends to the fairgrounds.

The fairgrounds I went to as a child.

The fairgrounds in my home county.

The fairgrounds where my uncle, my dad, and now my girl had/have their hands in the livestock show.

As I pulled into the fairgrounds lot, careful to park in an area that wouldn't have to back up around trailers (have I mentioned I'm terrible at backing up? Even with sensors and a camera? Sheesh.), it hit me.

These are my people.

The people in the stands, the names on the animals were all familiar, if not darned friendly. Name after name after name were of people I knew from towns I grew up around, played sports against, and thought I would never, ever see again.


However, I boomeranged.

I'm back in my home county, and now that we have kids involved in county events, it's more apparent that I am truly home. As she took the ring, she did so with a young man from a family who have known me since the toddler years, had my dad as a teacher, went to church with my aunt and uncle.

The man in the ring, guiding the cattle, assisting as needed? He's the dad of kids I used to always babysit for.

The guy cleaning out the chicken coops as the little kids and I walked through, killing time between classes? He's my old neighbor who teaches Ag at my high school.

On and on and on and on I walked around seeing people I hadn't seen in years, and who didn't expect me to be there. I must have made it abundantly clear I was never coming back.

The best part? Our name was pronounced right. Not just ours, my cousin's (Mottaz, my maiden name…I know, I went from bad to worse in the name department) was pronounced correctly. When my girl won Reserve Grand Champion, we had a cheering section, even though my parents are on opposite sides of the country this week. Neighbors, friends, relatives. People knew us. They recognized us. They were supporting us.

It was surreal.

While speaking to a couple I have known all my life, who have been 4H leaders long since their kids have left the hallowed halls of 4H, I spoke of moving home to the "home farm." Pete, the dad, choked up as he spoke of the honor it was to have his daughter and family in the same situation.

I never thought of moving back to the home county in a way that would choke up my dad.

But it means something.

My boomeranging isn't just nice because I have someone to talk to at cattle shows, someone to cheer on Anna as she won Junior Showmanship (YES… SHE DID THAT, TOO!! Proud, proud mama!!), it's nice because it means something. While I never was a huge 4Her, I was a Knox County girl, and am a Knox County girl, and when people know your history, your beginning, that's a big deal. A comfort. A happy place to be when you're sharing your home with your children.

The lure of what's bigger and better and broader is strong. I felt it. I needed to branch out. I'm happy I did, and there are days I wish I could head back, but the boomerang affect is strong. Roots are stronger. Friendly faces and correct pronunciation of names may seem small, but in a big, big world, it's nice to come home to a familiar place.

Today, I truly came home, and I couldn't be prouder.

Emily Webel
Farmington, Illinois

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

Originally published July 14, 2014 on Confessions of a Farm Wife

Reposted with permission.

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

Jul 08 2014

One of My Favorite Farm Memories

One of the most fun things Eldon and I have done through the years is have a Memorial Day picnic. Our family always attends our small town (Kaneville) Memorial Service in the morning. Then afterward, some of the neighbors would stand around, wondering what to do next. One year, about 40 years ago, I just said to everyone to go home and see what they might have in their refrigerators which they could share, bring it, and come over for an old-fashioned picnic. I pulled some pork burgers out of the freezer and had about 5-6 families for a fun afternoon. Well, as our family grew up, they started inviting their school friends to add to the party. Then they got married and had families of their own. They invited other families... and you can see where this is going. Our grandchildren now invite their friends. The original neighbors are still attending and this year the head count was hovering around 80. When the weather is warm, there are usually water balloon fights between the boys and the girls, between the kids and their parents and just about everyone gets into the action. There are turns on the tire swing and on the trampoline for everyone. And some always like to pitch a few horseshoes.

We continue to have the pork burgers, but have embellished them through the years. We now put some pulled pork on them, along with a couple strips of bacon and a slice of cheese.

It warms my heart to see all the kids have such a good time. Again, when the weather is warm enough, they will all go through the back field down to the creek and dare each other to go in deeper and deeper. We now know to send some old towels down to the creek with them!

Usually, we have a tour through the barns to see the baby pigs. This year we did not do that because of the risk of the PEDV going around the countryside.

Most families go home somewhere around 6-7:00 pm with very tired, dirty, and happy kids.

Sandy Gould
Eldon, Illinois

Jul 04 2014

Food, Farms and the Fourth

Well, a new flag is back up on the grain leg, the yard is mowed and the friends are invited over. It's just about the Fourth of July and although I didn't grow up in a family that did a lot of celebrating – isn't there hay to bale around here? – we try to mark the occasion with friends and fireworks.

Tonight, we'll have ice cream with a few friends before heading into town for fireworks. And tomorrow? Well, tomorrow is a little bigger. There's a Fourth of July tradition in the greater Avon, Illinois, area, and it centers around Bill and Elaine Kramer's back yard. And pasture.

The Kramers are farmers in the Avon area; my husband went to school with their kids and our kids go to school with their grandkids (Hi Mazie! And Nate! And Callie!)

Every year, they invite a couple hundred of their closest friends and family for an evening of food, fun and fireworks on the farm. The conversation is good, with lots of talk of corn and soybeans and weather and family. The kids run around and we don't see them until they're hungry. And the food. My, word, the food. The Kramers provide the meat, and everyone else brings a dish to pile on a tables-long buffet. It's like every recipe out of one of those classic rural cookbooks. Delish.

And then they blow stuff up. Like watermelons (see below). The kids try to catch water balloons, perhaps for a candy prize. Everybody loads up on hay racks for a ride down the road, over the pasture and through the actual woods. Before long, it's dark and the kids collect glow sticks. We all haul our chairs around the barn and past the bins, lining up on the edge of the pasture. (Watch your step. Also, the fence.)

Let me just say, these are not your average fireworks. The local small-town fireworks I mentioned earlier? The Kramer fireworks are every bit as impressive. I hear they may be downgraded a bit this year due to some licensing thing, but I suspect it'll still be a great show.

Regardless, it's a good time. And wherever you might wind up this weekend, wishing you and your family a Happy Independence Day!

Holly Spangler
Marietta, Illinois

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois growing crops and producing cattle as well as raising their three children. Holly is an associate editor for Prairie Farmer magazine, a publication dedicated to sharing information about farm life and farm business. Read more from Holly on the Prairie Farmer blog.

Originally posted June 3, 2014 on The Prairie Farmer

Reposted with permission.

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.

Latest Tweets