Illinois Farm Families Blog

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 own and operate a beef cattle farm. 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, 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.

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