Illinois Farm Families Blog

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.

Apr 22 2015

You Bet Your Life On It- Earth Day 2015

You get your hands in it
Plant your roots in it
Dusty head lights dance with your boots in it…

You write her name on it
Spin your tires on it
Build your corn field,
You bet your life on it

It’s that elm shade
Red roads clay you grew up on
That plowed up ground that your dad
Damned his luck on…

You’ve mixed some sweat with it
Taken a shovel to it
You’ve stuck some crosses and some painted
Goal posts through it

You know you came from it
And someday you’ll return to it

The first time I heard Florida Georgia Line’s song Dirt, it struck a chord with me, and I imagine with many other farm families. 150 years ago, my great-great grandfather Daniel Mackinson decided to “bet his life on it”, to “plant his roots in it”.  He decided to start farming near Pontiac and today our family continues to live and farm those original acres plus a few more.  This concept of “dirt” being so important is both symbolic and real.  When Jesse and I got married, we each had 2 containers of dirt, 1 from each of our family farms that we poured into a new container.  This represented the coming together of our families, and the importance of agriculture in our lives. The practical importance of dirt is not to be understated either.

At Mackinson Dairy, we use cow manure as a natural source of fertilizer and follow a detailed manure and nutrient management plan.  In 2011, we worked with engineers and other experts and together, they helped us design and build a manure-handling system.  Our current storage facility holds 2.8 million gallons and it is applied to our fields in the months after harvest. The manure helps improve the productivity and water-holding capacity of the soil.  As recognition of this work, we were awarded the 2013 Conservation Farm Family Award by the Livingston County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Other examples of sustainable farming practices regarding ‘’dirt’’ include crop rotation which is used to naturally mitigate weeds and to improve soil quality. No-tillage crop farming for soil and fuel conservation involves leaving a field as it is after harvest and then planting over it the next year.   This reduces erosion, retains soil moisture, and conserves fuel.

We believe that using resources wisely and planning for the future so that our children will also be able to not only live here, but to be able to live off the ‘’dirt”. Conservation is part of what do every day at Mackinson Dairy.  The agriculture industry as a whole also continues to work towards achieving a sustainable food system.  You can read more here about what other sustainable work Illinois Dairy farmers are up to.

You might be wondering what you could do to help (even if you aren’t a farmer).  Everyone (me included) can reduce their food waste and this article provides us with 7 simple tips for cutting back on food waste. Our time here is limited so remember that it is our job not only on Earth Day but every day, to protect the land, water, and air for future generations.

You know you came from it

and someday you’ll return to it

Originally posted on Mackinson Dairy.

Mary Mackinson-Faber
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!

Apr 19 2015

Farm Families do more than put food on your table...

"Farm families are doing much more than putting food on our tables. They are raising well-rounded, modern-day problem-solvers, who are not afraid to get their hands dirty. We need more young people like that in our country." 

Alicia Gonzalez
Chicago, IL

Alicia 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.

Apr 07 2015

What does it mean to be a farm family?

Our City Mom visit to the Gould Farm on a beautiful spring-like day earlier this March began with a warm welcome by several members, indeed generations, of the Gould Family. That warm welcome and that up-close encounter with the family is what has stayed with me most about the hog tour. While many of my colleagues are much more interested in and well-informed about food safety and animal welfare, I have to admit I am always much more interested in the human side of things. 

What does it mean to be a farm family? I think the Goulds are the perfect example. Along with Eldon and Sandy, the patriarch and matriarch, their son, Chris, and his wife Dana, as well as their kids, ranging in age from high-school to college, it seemed like the whole family is involved in the farm in some way or another. This is important because running a modern-day farm requires a multitude of talents and knowledge, from using computer technology and sophisticated software to monitor breeding and average litter size to actually handling the animals and feed. 

During our visit, Chris` teen-age son handled a huge boar, as Chris demonstrated the artificial insemination process to us. As a high school teacher, I am always drawn to how teenagers think, how they learn and how they grow. Meeting Chris and Dana`s kids that day was so refreshing. They are regular high school kids who play sports and take AP classes, but also obviously know hands-on how to run a farm. 

Based on my very limited encounter with the Goulds that day, I can`t help but observe that farm families are doing much more than putting food on our tables.They are raising well-rounded, modern-day problem-solvers, who are not afraid to get their hands dirty. We need more young people like that in our country. 


Alicia Gonzalez
Chicago, IL


Alicia 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.
Jan 08 2015

The Most Important Person on the Farm is not the Farmer

“I knew we could make it.” My father-in-law motioned to his wife and two sons. We were sitting around the table at the annual year-end meeting with our ag lender, running the numbers from 2014 and discussing the future of the farm.

My father-in-law then pointed to my sister-in-law and me. “They’re the ones who will determine how successful we’ll be.”

It was the second time in a week that he had said in no uncertain terms the future of the Pratt farm depended on his daughters-in-law.

Why so much attention? Family business consultant, Jolene Brown writes: “A daughter-in-law often marries into a generations-old family business with literally hundreds of unwritten rules and an unexpressed code of conduct. Her issues range from trying to understand her husband’s interactions within the family and business to finding a role for herself. Maybe she’s given up her job and home to live in a more rural setting and now faces expectations, uncertainties, loneliness, and a wish that she could just fit in.” (Full article here.)

Even with a farming background, joining another farm family isn't easy. Just as the daughter-in-law struggles to find her place, so to are the other family members. Will she be a sign-on-the-dotted-line business partner? Will she be the silent support at home? Will she love the farm as does the family, or one day up and leave?

So with daughters-in-law on my mind, I watched pieces of the premiere of ABC’s The Bachelor and wondered about the future daughter-in-law for this farm family.

The Bachelor is Chris Soules. He is a fourth generation farmer raising 6,000 acres of corn and soybeans with his family near Arlington, Iowa. He was one of the finalists on the last season of The Bachelorette, until he admitted he had no intention of leaving the farm. So the bachelorette left him.

This time around I hope Soules is upfront with his plans. However, he is quoted in a People Magazine article, “My goal in being The Bachelor was to find someone I first could just fall in love with and think and hope and believe she is my soul mate . . . compromise is the next thing to focus on.”

As a farmer’s daughter-in-law, I can say the time to compromise comes shortly after the falling in love part and not after the final rose is given. When a woman marries a farmer, she also commits to the farm and the attached family.

The Farmer’s Wife

As I chose him 

I chose this land, 

This Life 

and always knew that as his wife 

midst labors never done, 

by love we three were wed; 

we and the land are one.

My father-in-law gave this to my sister-in-law and me on our respective wedding days. With each anniversary as My Farmer’s wife, I understand the message more and do hope that amid all the tears, dream dates and fantasy suites, The Bachelor (and his farm family) finds a woman who can do the same.

Katie Pratt
Dixon, Illinois

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). Read more from Katie on her blog, Rural Route 2.


Dec 01 2014

Christmas Traditions from the Prescott Family

For our family the holidays are definitely catered around food, family and fun and when December rolls around it is hard to determine who is the most excited about the holiday season in our home. We talk about all things Christmas and make sure our children embrace the reason for the season. In addition to numerous days of decorating the house we also take advantage of baking as much as we can or in my children's case, getting the kitchen as dirty as they can. That is how real memories are made, right?

Some of my favorite childhood memories consist of the hours we spent in the kitchen as a family decorating and eating cookies. Each year after all the baking was finished there was also such an excitement we had about delivering a plate of cookies to someone special. I am so happy to make these memories with my children now because there really is no better smell during the holidays than that of fresh baked cookies and no better feeling than to give to others.  

We especially love the smell of cinnamon, so gingerbread houses are one of the traditions we all take part in each year. It is hard to go wrong with a tradition that includes cookies, frosting and candy. As my girls get a little older each year we add more candy to our houses and a few less pieces to our mouths, and in my mind that is pure progress and a tradition that will continue on for years to come!

Sara Prescott, Springfield, IL

Aug 08 2014

My State Fair Family

It's Illinois State Fair time. A time when kids and their families from across the state come together to display their 4-H projects that they have worked hard on all year. As a child, I always looked forward to going to State Fair. For people who aren't exhibitors, when they think of State Fair, they may think of carnival rides, corn dogs, and funnel cakes. To me, State Fair was none of those things…it was so much more!

To me, the word “family” completely describes our State Fair experience. And by family, I don’t just mean my parents and sisters. What I’m talking about is our “Fair Family.” In addition to showing at our county fair and the Illinois State Fair, we traveled around to several county fairs and showed pigs and cattle, every summer. There were several families, in addition to mine, that also made the circuit with us. And then there were some that we only saw at one or two shows. But all of these people, they were our “Fair Family.” We had our stalls next to each other, we ate meals together, we hung out together, we helped each other, cheered each other on and we made memories together.

Our summer long circuit of showing culminated with a week at State Fair every year. When I think back on the many memories that I have made at the fair, there are WAY too many memories to even begin writing in a single blog post. Some of my favorite memories took place at the actual fair (cheering in the stands as some our friends were named Grand Champion, playing cards in our stalls, eating lunch on the hillside by the chicken barn... and more) but many memories also took place off of the fairgrounds (swimming at the old Holiday Inn, locking ourselves out of our hotel rooms together, eating at Steak 'n Shake by the hotel... and many more inside joke memories that unfortunately are hilarious to us, but readers would just not understand!).

I loved showing, don't get me wrong. I learned a lot about responsibility, and I loved the feeling and anticipation of entering the show ring, waiting to see what place I would be given. I loved the smell of the barns (yes, you read that correctly,) the roars of the fans, the sounds of the animals, and of course, showing. But in the end, my favorite part of my showing and State Fair experience are the memories that I made along the way with my "family."

Danelle Burrs
Hickory Ridge Farm
Dixon, Illinois

Aug 07 2014

Why I Farm: Behind the Movement

4-H Fair is a family tradition.

For nearly 80 years, my grandfather has been involved with our county 4-H program. Yes, you read that correctly. He has seen almost 80 4-H fairs. After being a 10 year 4-H member, he became a volunteer and club leader when he returned home from serving in World War II. The 4-H program isn't just ingrained in our family, it's part of who we are.

With our county 4-H fair starting tomorrow, I've been reminiscing about my 10 years as a 4-H member. Remembering all the sweat, tears and hard work I poured into projects. Thinking about the challenges, mishaps and miscommunication with family members. Because we all know, there are always a few arguments. Laughing about spending the night before crops check-in in the middle of a field, digging up corn and soybean plants. It was always hot, always humid, and the soil always too dry.

Last night as I was digging through photos, I not only ran across pictures of me in 4-H, but also my dad. And one thing was strikingly similar - the Hamilton County 4-H fairgrounds.

As in many counties, the Hamilton County 4-H Fairgrounds is a special place for many families; filled with great memories, family traditions, and lifelong friendships.

And for me it’s not just about great memories, but thinking about the generations to come. I look forward to the moment when my children step into the show arena at the Hamilton County 4-H Fair. But for now, I’ll just enjoy my favorite chocolate and vanilla swirl milkshake.

Originally posted July 16, 2014, on Beck's.

Ashley Fischer

Jul 18 2014

Boomerang

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.

Ever.

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