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Illinois Farm Families Blog

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.

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!"


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 12 2015

What's Cooking Wednesday: Rhubarb Mousse

In early July, we had an anniversary party that featured an incredible Panna Cotta dessert. Wow! It seemed extra special because of the vanilla bean that was blended in AND the rhubarb and strawberry compote on top.

I had just read this back issue of Russian Life magazine recipe for Rhubarb Mousse that the chef thought would have a similar texture and flavor experience.  Seems like it might be fluffier but still something to try when rhubarb is in season.

June and July are county fair months and rhubarb reminds me of the cookshack at the Shelby County Fair.  The Home Extension members used to run the cookshack and make some of THE BEST desserts, which included rhubarb and rhubarb custard pies.  Something about the sweet tart combination was looked forward to in late July.


  • 2 to 3 large stalks of rhubarb, cubbed (4 cups)

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

  • 1 cup heavy cream

  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract

  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


  1. Place the rhubarb cubes in a heacy sauce-pan along with the sugar and cinnamon, stirring to mix well. Cover and simmer over very low heat until the rhubarb is just tender, about 5 minutes. Strain the juice from the cooked rhubarb into a measuring cup. There should be about 1 1/4 cups of juice. Reserve the cooked rhubarb.

  2. Rinse out the saucepan and return the rhubarb juice to it. In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch with a small amount of the juice, then add it to the saucepan. Cook the mixture over medium heat for about 15 minutes, or until it has thickened and is reduced to 3/4 cup.

  3. Stir the thickened juice into the reserved rhubarb. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

  4. In a large bowl, whip the cream until stiff, beating in the almond and vanilla extracts. Fold in the cooled rhubarb carefully, until well blended. Spoon the mousse into a large serving dish or into individual ramekins, and chill until ready to serve. 

Serves 4 to 6.

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 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 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)

Jun 21 2015

What he never said...

As Father's Day 2015 approaches, I find myself trying to determine WHO exactly influenced me the most - my Dad or my Grandpa Bud.  Of course they both, along with the rest of my family, influenced me, but the kind of influence I am divulging into is in reference to my passion as an adult. I am a farmer's daughter, a farmer's granddaughter, a wife, a mother, a sister, a cattle producer, a teacher and many others.  These are the most important to me, but as I write this I cannot help but think about the first two A LOT! Keyword: Farmer

I was born into a family deeply rooted into agriculture.  Specifically grain farming, harness racing and raising cattle. Be jealous!  I was never told I had to like it.  I was never told I had to have fun doing "ag" things.  I was never told I had to join 4-H and show livestock.  I was never told I had to take agriculture classes in high school.  I was never told I had to join FFA.  I was never told I had to go to college.  I was never told I had to major in agriculture.  I was never told that I had to own my own herd of cattle. Some of these things I did and some I did not. 

As the first grandchild I attended more Illinois county fairs by the age of 2 than some people do in a lifetime.  Again, be jealous! During the summer months, my entire family (literally, the entire family) traveled across the state to county fairs on the Mid-Western Illinois Racing Association circuit to race Standardbred horses.  Thanks to our little Thompson Stables crew, I learned very early on the value of a quick bath in a bucket in the horse stall, how to "pop a squat" and to never turn down a big chug of ice cold well water out of the jug!  I was too young to specifically recall, but I've been told my first word was not "Dada" or "Mama", but "horse".  Rightfully so!  As I got older, my love for agriculture continued.  4-H was a MAJOR part of my childhood and upbringing.  North Side Ag 4-H Club for life!!  I showed pigs and cattle.  I was always told I had to work hard for the things I wanted.  If I wanted to win, I had to walk my pigs and take good care of them.  If I wanted to go somewhere with my friends on a Saturday night, I had to get up early and help clean the barn.  If I wanted to play softball - a spring sport in high school, I had to give up showing cattle.  In the words of my Dad, "you can't devote enough time to taking care of your show calves if you play softball."  Needless to say, I chose showing cattle.  Big surprise! 

I am a proud graduate of Western Illinois University Department of Agriculture.  The picture below was taken on the day I graduated from Western.  My Dad is very outspoken when it comes to his opinions, but very quiet when it comes to his emotions.  This may describe your Dad to a T!  I have several friends who could say that is a true statement about their Dad as well.  Must be a Dad thing!  He never told me how proud he was of me that day, but I knew.  I knew that he was very happy for me and proud to tell people that I was going to be an agriculture education teacher & FFA advisor.  I was happy to make him proud and still am to this day.

I love to sit and talk to my grandparents!  My Grandpa Bud has some of the best stories.  Some may be true, some may be a little spiced up for conversation!  That is what Grandpas are good for - stories!  He is my biggest role model.  I have always been very proud to call him Grandpa.  Growing up I LOVED following him around and helping harness the horses.  In the early 1990's we moved our horses to the Illinois State Fairgrounds and began to train there. I didn't watch cartoons on Saturday mornings, I left home at 5:00 in the morning to go to Springfield with my grandparents!  Those Saturdays were the best times of my life.  From scooping manure and cleaning stalls to cleaning harness, I was their right hand gal.  I longed for the day, my Grandpa would let me lead a horse around in the grass behind the barn after a good training mile.  As I got older, our direct involvement in harness racing got less and less.  My Grandpa was offered a job at the Illinois Department of Agriculture and therefore was unable to own, train or drive any racehorses.  I was just old enough to start doing really fun things at the barn like lead the horses around all the time...without help and give them a bath and walk them out to the track before their morning jogging workout!  Like I said, really really fun things!  Needless to say, I was disappointed. I was also happy for him.  He was a BIG deal in my eyes and I was proud of him and his accomplishments!  In the years that followed, my family still had an active role in harness racing.  I find myself saying to people, "agriculture is in my blood".  Harness racing was no different.  As many times as I find myself telling people that agriculture is in my blood, I also get emotional.  Weird?  Yes, it is! Haha.  My passion for agriculture is because of my parents and grandparents, specifically my Dad and Grandpa - the farmers!

This may be just like all the other "farmer Dad" stories you have read that seem to surface around Father's Day every year. I think mine is different.  I was highly influenced to become the person I am today.  Few words were spoken and I was never told I had to do this or had to do that....in terms of my life goals.  Let's be honest, I was told to make my bed, wash the dishes, clean my room, etc., etc. plenty of times growing up!

In addition to my Dad and Grandpa, I must also mention my husband and my father-in-law as well as the handful of male influences in my life that served as "pseudo Dads"!  I love them all dearly and appreciate them more than they will ever know.  

I love watching my Dad and Grandpa around my two children!  I feel very fortunate that my Grandpa has the opportunity to be an active part of their lives.  He feels the same.  My Dad can entertain my kids for hours and you will never hear "Papa" sound so sweet as it does coming out of my two year old son's mouth!

I love pictures, so I thought I would share some of my favorites!  

Thanks Dad for never telling me I HAD to do these things - I figured them out on my own and I hope I have made you proud!  

Happy Father's Day.  Enjoy it with all the fathers in your life - I know I will!

Originally posted on Outside the Ag Room.

Alison McGrew
Good Hope, IL

Alison was born and raised on a grain and livestock farm in Central Illinois and now resides on a farm where she, her husband and their two children raise beef cattle. Alison and her husband both have full-time jobs off the farm that are directly related to agriculture. Alison is a former high school agriculture teacher, as well. You can learn more about their farm on Alison's blog Outside the Ag Room.

Jun 04 2015

Cultivating Work Ethic

Our corn and soybean tour was on a cloudy, humid, warm day in early May. We visited the Meyer and Saathoff Farm and were greeted by several members of the extended farm family, including Nick and Missy Saathoff, the owners, both of their sets of parents, Missy’s brother, his wife and their children. In their introductions I was surprised to hear that everyone had jobs outside of their farm work. Nate is also a representative for a seed company, Missy is a teacher, her brother is a banker, and his wife works in a laboratory. Everyone in the family was taking on so many ‘additional’ farm responsibilities on top of their ‘day’ jobs. This work ethic and motivation was also clearly seen in the children of this farming family. 

While the farm is primarily corn, soybean, and wheat they maintain a small number of cattle, both beef and dairy as a ‘hobby’ to help with grazing of pasture and development of fertilizer for the fields. The beef cattle and heifers are show animals which are cared for primarily by the children. They take on a great deal of responsibility in maintaining these animals. As one of the girls, who was 16 years old, was telling me about her heifer, it was obvious that she takes a huge amount of pride in her work. They show these animals and auction them for a fair amount of money. Even the younger children have some sheep that they help take care of so that they can learn before they move on to the larger animals as they get older. 

I was impressed at the level of independence and responsibility that the children I met on the farm tour demonstrated. Farming is more than food production; it is developing a strong work ethic in the next generations.  

Jyotsna Jagai
Grove, IL

Jyotsna 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.

May 31 2015

Illinois Farm Families

May 11 2015

Family Run Hog Farm is Producer of Choice Pork

There’s something about a farm that is just so calming and relaxing. I had the opportunity to spend a recent Saturday with a group of fellow City Mom bloggers on a farm tour. The sun was shining brightly in a clear, blue sky as a cool breeze flowed across the fields. It was a serene scene as our bus pulled in for our visit to Gould Farms in Maple Park, Illinois.

Our introduction to pork production came from Chris Gould, a member of the third generation of Goulds to work at the breeding and farrowing facility that houses about 750 sows. He explained the size of their operation, the gestational timeline from inseminating to weaning and what types of food products result from their efforts.

Having toured a large scale pig farm last year, I had a bit of an understanding of the process of the pigs being artificially inseminated, giving birth in gestational crates and being kept in an indoor facility. While there are critics of the method in favor of hogs living a free-range environment, the benefits and advantages of such an operation are clear. An indoor climate-controlled environment creates cleaner, safer, less-stressed animals, which, in turn, leads to a better product. Many of the piglets born at their farm become tenderloin and other choice cuts.

With my previous pig farm tour being a big operation, I was pleasantly surprised that this one, which Gould's father, Eldon, described as a "medium sized" pig farm is a family operation and one in which the Goulds take great pride in. Over 3,000 acres of the farm are also used for growing corn, balance soybeans and wheat, as well. A fourth generation of the Gould family is now working there and everyone has their niche (i.e. Gould's sister is a veterinarian who helps to provide care to the animals and his mother works in the office tracking each sow and piglet on paper.)

The family was so welcoming and accommodating, opening their home to us, serving up homemade goodies after lunch and even giving us a parting gift of hand made soap using goat's milk from a neighboring farm. 

Although the day was all about pork and how it gets from a farm to our table - and everything in between - my biggest takeaway of the day was the notion that behind the food products we purchase in grocery stores, there are still family farms run by good people like the Goulds that are alive and well and thriving.

Originally posted on Chicago Foodie Sisters.

Carrie Steinweg
Lansing, IL

Carrie 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.