Illinois Farm Families Blog

Mar 23 2015

Spring on Our Farm: Rachel Asher

Due to the extreme cold this year, we had to rush one of the calves home for a hot bath. We used our extra large sink in the basement of our home to soak the little one in warm water until her blood warmed up. I soaked her for about an hour and a half. Because calves are soaking wet when they are born, it is important to get them somewhere warm right away. 

One of my favorite times of year is calving season. They are all so cute, fun loving and eager to explore the world around them. It can be dangerous working with the protective mothers, but together we work to give the little ones a safe home where they can grow and thrive. 

My view this evening while checking the cows. We check the pregnant cows 3 or 4 times a day looking for any signs of difficulty calving or see if there are any new calves we need to move to the pasture. 

I couldn't help but snap a quick photo when I checked on this photogenic mamma and her baby. We are all so ready for spring!

Rachel Asher
Ursa, IL

You can learn more about Rachel and her farm on her blog: Dare to Dream with Rachel
Jan 16 2015

Twelve Words that Mean Something Completely Different on the Farm

Only two percent of Americans are farmers. Several more work with the industry while a few more simply live in rural areas. For all those people, these dual meanings might be second nature, but for the rest of us, talking to a farmer can be really confusing!

Clear up your confusion below!

1) Combine

What it usually means: To unite or merge – like you would combine the flour and baking soda in a recipe

What it means on the farm: A machine which moves down the grain field removing the seeds from the stems of ripe plants of grains

2) Elevator

What it usually means: A platform or compartment housed in a shaft for raising and lowering people or things to different floors or levels, i.e. “Take the elevator to the penthouse and look around.”

What it means on the farm: A building or terminal where grain is elevated and transferred to an alternate mode of transportation (e.g. truck to rail, rail to ship)

3) Chick

What it usually means: A young woman – sometimes called out from a construction site as an attractive lady walks by

What it means on the farm: A baby chicken

4) Head

What it usually means: The upper part of the human body typically separated from the rest of the body by a neck, and containing the brain, mouth, and sense organs

What it means on the farm: The “scissors” of the combine – there is actually a “corn head” and a “bean/wheat head.”

5) Pen

What it usually means: An instrument for writing or drawing with ink

What it means on the farm: A stall for an animal

6) Pod

What it usually means: A group of prison cells 

What it means on the farm: The container for seeds on a legume plant

7) Weed

What it usually means: The most commonly used slang word for marijuana

What it means on the farm: A plant that is not valued where it is growing and in competition with cultivated plants

8) Stalk

What it usually means: To harass or persecute (someone) with unwanted and obsessive attention, i.e. “Quit stalking me!”

What it means on the farm: The trunk or stem of corn

9) Field

What it usually means: An area of level ground, as in a park or stadium, where athletic events are held

What it means on the farm: An area of open land, especially one planted with crops or pasture, typically bounded by hedges or fences

10) Hybrid

What it usually means: A car with a gasoline engine and an electric motor, each of which can propel it

What it means on the farm: Seed produced by cross-pollinated plants; one of the main contributors to the dramatic rise in agricultural output

11) Sprout

What it usually means: A vegetable that you cook with; usually a topping on a sandwich

What it means on the farm: When a crop begins to grow; shoot forth, as a plant from a seed

12) Maze/maize

What it usually means: A series of paths that are designed as a puzzle through which one has to find a way.

What it means on the farm: The scientific term for corn.

Elizabeth O’Reilly
ICMB Communications Intern
Illinois State University student

This blog originally appeared on June 24, 2014 on

Jan 09 2015

Advice for the Winner of ABC's The Bachelor from a Former City Girl

It was a cold and wintry afternoon when I noticed the light on in the garage. When I entered the garage I was perplexed at what I saw; potting soil, seed packets, and cups scattered about, and my 4 year old daughter’s dirt, smudged face staring at me. I asked her, “What is going on?” Big blue eyes looking up at me, pleading in her voice, hands raised in exasperation, “I just NEED to grow something!” It made me laugh then, but that was the moment I realized the different ways people can love farming.

My daughter and husband have been raised on a farm. The love of farming is in their blood. At times they can’t describe it or explain it. They have a desire within them to work the ground, to grow crops, and care for animals; to them it’s as normal as breathing. Their love for farming is like the love a mom has for her baby, a natural love.

I grew up in the city with no farming background. I married a farmer and discovered that farming is real and hard, consuming at times. I have had to call a cheer coach and say we would be late to practice because the cows were out and we had to tend to the cows before anything else. I have rushed from a game with my children, niece, and nephew to help put up hay before it rained. I have seen sunsets sitting on a truck tailgate, enjoying a meal with my family in the fields. I have worked beside my husband and daughters to plant, cultivate, and harvest a crop. I have also worked beside my husband and daughters to plant and cultivate the land to see that due to the weather there would be no harvest; I have wiped away the sweat and tears and known that we would try again next year. It is like the love a husband and wife share. As the years come and go the love grows stronger and deeper until I won’t be able to recall not feeling this way. That is how I love farming.

 As I have grown from a city girl into a farm mom this is my advice to the bachelorettes and the bachelor farmer; farming is hard, but so are most things that are really worth doing. Just as being a mother/father or wife/husband is hard work. Farming is not just an occupation it is a way of life. Be patient with each other and willing to grow together.

Sherri Kannmacher
Martinsville, IL

Sherri and her husband Mark grow beef, grains, hay and four daughters. Mark is the fourth generation of his family to farm in Illinois. When they met, Sherri was a California city girl. She fell in love with him and then with farming. Now she's proud to call herself a farm mom. In fact, in 2012 she was the Midwest Farm Mom of the Year.

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.

Nov 07 2014

Dairy farming: An honest profession of skill and passion

Recently I was at a dinner party (which is like a play date without the wipes, sippy cups and sand) and we were having the conversation about our kids and their futures. Now that DAD is back to work and doing a good amount of work with dairy farmers, the question got brought up, “Would you want your son to grow up to be a farmer?”

Six months ago, the answer would most likely have been “No, I want more for him than life on the farm.” My perception of a farmer, like a lot of people, was basic and simple. I had the image of a guy holding a pitchfork and chewing on a strand of hay. The stereotype.

Today, that answer has changed. You see, over the last few months, DAD packed up his bags, his boots, cigars and took to the road traveling from coast to coast (Seattle to Pennsylvania) meeting and talking to the men, women and children who work and live on America’s dairy farms.

What I learned might seem obvious, but it never really resonated until I had a chance to sit down and talk to these men and women: Farmers make our food. Seems simple, but it is a realization that is often overlooked. Without farmers, we would cease to exist. End of story. No blogging, no Facebook, no late afternoon lattes, nada.

In the next 30 years, we will consume more food as a planet than we have in the 8000 years before! Couple that with the fact that more people are moving away from the farm and into urban areas and yes, I am very happy that there are men and women out there doing what they do, every day, 365 days a year to make sure we have what we need, when we need it. I would be one mean ass DAD if I didn’t have my stinky cheese and milk for my coffee!

The more people I met, the more I realized that farming is not a “job,” but a career and a lifestyle that is steeped in pride, tradition and a caring for the land that goes way beyond anything I could ever dream up.

I pat myself on the back when I remember to put my root beer bottles in the recycling bin. To the dairy farmer I met, sustainability is more than a hashtag or something to talk about in line at Starbucks. To them it’s a matter of survival, for themselves and for us.

One farmer I met in the middle of nowhere in California, conserves 2.9 billion gallons of water a year! That’s enough water to give your baby an hour-long bath a day, every day, for the next 520 years (DAD does math).

Another family of farmers opened a new milk plant in Colby, Kansas, which brought 109 new jobs, which in turn brought in 130 new kids to the school, new people to the town, new shops that opened and that saved an entire county from going bankrupt!

My favorite new thing I found out about is the poop machine! Yes, it’s finally here; a machine called a digester that converts cow poop into energy by catching the gas and sending it back to the grid. One night at White Castle and I could light all of Northbrook!

If my son said he wanted to grow up to be a blogger, I might have an issue with that scenario. Unless he could hook me up with tickets to U2! Though the current scenario would be “Monster Truck Driver Ninja.”

However, if he did in fact come to me one day and tell me he wanted to work as a dairy farmer, I would be proud of the fact that he chose a path that demands an education, an understanding of business and a dedication to a craft that surrounds itself in passion and caring for the animals, the land and people they will never ever meet.

David Wallach is a stay at home Dad or, as he likes to call it, a Dad All Day and part of the Chicago Parent Blog Network. You can read more of his work here.

This article first appeared on and is republished with the author's permission.

Oct 04 2014

Five Things You Didn't Know About Growing Up in a Farm Family

Ahhh, fall is finally in the air! It’s the perfect time to grab the family and find a nice pumpkin farm or somewhere to pick some apples. Don’t forget the pumpkin spice lattes and a nice warm sweater. Forget about harvest you can finish that field tomorrow! – Said no farm family EVER!

For those of you who grew up on a farm you will know exactly what I am talking about. Growing up in a farm family, like anything else, has its pros and cons but it definitely a unique experience to say the least! Hopefully this will give the “non-farmers” a little bit of insight to what it is really like.

"Sure, we can go…. As long as it rains”

Farm kids know this one all too well. Planning family activities, attendance at Saturday tournaments, or RSVPing to a wedding invitation is next to impossible during planting and harvest seasons. If the sun is out and the sky is clear (enough) that combine or planter is moving then plans are out the window!

Dinner is never eaten at the same time or place.

Just like the equipment, when a farmer is in the field he needs fuel to keep on keepin’ on. Some of my favorite childhood memories are taking Grandpa and the crew supper and eating it in the tractor or on a tailgate.

The Farmer 5

For some unexplained reason it seems every farm family grew up with the “farmer 5” TV channels. I guess what more explanation do you need than… it’s free! And besides, who needs to watch TV when there are animals to be fed and work to be done!

You get your unofficial driver’s license at age 10

I hope most of you have the song “Drive” by Alan Jackson? If not look it up, I promise it is worth it. Driving for the first time at a young age (under parents supervision of course) is typically very common in rural America. As a farm kid, you can drive more than a car by then and do it on your own. By the time you get to your driver’s education course when you turn 15, you can drive an automatic, a stick, a tractor, a forklift, and more!

Personal Playground

Having a farm right in your backyard makes you the hot spot for all of your friends to come over and play. You know what you can and cannot touch. You also know all the fun hidden places to play in the barn. There almost always some cute baby barn cats to pet as well! When you have this much possibility for adventure, who needs cable anyways!

Despite the constantly, undetermined schedule and the hefty amount of chores to be done the farm life is pretty sweet.  Farm families work together to live the life they love and provide for others, while still trying to lead a “normal” life. This profession is typically handed down from generation to generation so working together with your children is very important. I have not encountered many who have said they would have wanted it any other way

Happy Harvest Farm Families!

Courtney Miller
Illinois State University student

This blog originally appeared in Corn Corps, the website of the Illinois Corn Farmers.

Sep 29 2014

Five Things Farmers do in September

This September is going to be pretty busy month on the Taylor farm in Central Illinois.  The late summer/early fall time frame always has us hopping, trying to get ready for harvest, and I wanted to share some of the goings on around our place this month.  Enjoy!


The biggest event happening on our farm this September is the assembly of a grain bin.  Panel by panel, bolt by bolt, this life-size erector set is coming together under the direction of my husband, Bart. Many friends have lent a hand and a crane has been brought on scene to aid in the awesome undertaking. Picture, if you will, the top portion of the bin being lifted off the ground by the crane as nine guys scramble to attach the legs. Three hours or so later, the crane is able to boom down as the legs are attached and ready to be tied-off so a passing storm doesn’t blow over the work in progress. Many x-braces and over 2,000 tightened bolts later, it will soon be permanently attached to its concrete base and ready for years of use.


Not everything on the farm is brand new; in fact, with the exception of the grain bin and the auger attaching the bin to the grain dryer, all of our other equipment is used (some pieces MUCH more than others). And, with so many moving parts on this used equipment, one might think that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. However, many hours this September will be spent trying to prevent the squeak in the first place. Wheels will be greased, tires will be aired, belts will be tightened, oil will be changed, filters will be replaced, and the list goes on. These actions are less costly and oh so much less stressful than an untimely breakdown. And in order for our operation to run like a well-oiled machine, this planned maintenance is essential.


Talking about maintenance, how could I forget to mention sharpening blades? Because of rainfall, the roadsides are going to need to be mowed again this September. Unlike yards that have been mowed weekly or even more often this summer, our roadsides will have been mowed only three times in total. Less about appearance and more about safety, the mowed strips will provide visibly-safe spots for farm equipment to ease over onto when meeting autos and semi drivers will be better able to gauge where to pull alongside to get loaded.


Whether mowing, combining or transporting, it takes fuel. So, another preparedness act in September involves filling the on-farm fuel tanks. The equipment runs on diesel, and lots of it! The combine, for example, holds over 200 gallons at a time, and during full blown harvest, it will need to be filled every day and a half. So, yep, you guessed it… we see a lot of our fuel man throughout harvest, and it all begins with that initial fall fill.


A few of our neighbors have been able to start harvesting their crops this month. However, it will probably be October before we begin. And since I cannot yet pick corn, I promote it. Several times throughout the Broom Corn Parade in Arcola on September 6th, the onlookers burst into applause as the ethanol promoting, E-85 truck rolled by. It could have been because of the cute farmer driving it…LOL… or the fact that I was throwing candy. However, I have to believe folks are simply tired of the expense at the pump and they are excited about a cheaper, locally grown fuel.

Well, since not every day can be a parade, it's back to work for me… September is a busy month on the farm!

Glenna Taylor
Oakland, IL

Originally posted on Corn Corps, the Illinois corn farmers' website.

Sep 26 2014

Being In A Television Commercial

A few weeks ago, the Illinois Farm Bureau/Illinois Farm Families team asked if I would be interested in participating in one of four, thirty-second television commercials that showcase a dialogue between the field moms and farmers. 

I quickly agreed to participate because I strongly believe there is misinformation and unwarranted concern regarding the food we consume. Farmers plant seeds and house their animals in barns for specific reasons. Consumers need to hear why they operate their farms this way. Farmers also need to hear the concerns of everyday moms. There is a need for open communication between both groups and hopefully the commercials will start this conversation.

Each commercial answers a specific question. The topics include: GMOs, animal care, hormones and use of antibiotics in animals.

The commercials are in their final stage of editing. Once this process is done, I will share the links.  Until then, enjoy a behind the scenes sneak peek of the two-day event at Bona and Jeff Heinsohn's farm.

Camera crew setting up in the barn

Cows basked in their Hollywood style lights. Waiting for their closeups.

Crew reviewing the latest take.

Sharon Blau
Des Plaines, IL

Sharon was one of the Illinois Farm Families 2013 Field Moms. Throughout the year she visited several Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each tour, the Field Moms shared their thoughts by blogging about what they experienced on these farms, including five things they found most interesting. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago moms meet farmers.

Sep 12 2014

Waiting for harvest

Photo courtesy of Karen Kenny-Oles, Dixon

We are currently getting ready for harvest. The crop “is what it is” at this point and no amount of crop protectants, fertilizer or scouting will make any additional difference at this point. 

This “lull” after late-August through mid-September is a good time to prepare for harvest, catch-up on “honey-do’s” and do the projects that are important but not imminent like most seasonal work on the farm (think planting or scouting—you do that when Mother Nature tells you, other important projects that aren’t weather sensitive get pushed to this time of year).  It’s also a great time to start initial plans for the next crop year, thinking about purchasing inputs (if you haven’t already) and preparing a plan of attack.  It’s early, but as Eisenhower once said “Plans are worthless, but planning is indispensable.”

As we prepare for harvest, we have equipment to maintain.  Big jobs are already done, but oil changes, lubrication, and wear item inspections are performed.  And calibrations for sensors and computers are needed too so that in-season, our data during harvest is accurate.  We have a scale on our auger cart (this is a special wagon that moves grain from the combine—which harvests our crop in the field—to the truck for transportation).  Last year we performed calibrations, but didn’t verify them against certified scales.  We were subsequently halfway through harvest before we realized that we were had a 7% scale error.  It was easy to fix, but it’s much EASIER to get it right the first time!  We have a semi-tractor and trailer, tractor and auger cart, combine with corn and soybean “heads” for cutting the crops, tandem truck, tractor and wagon, auger and 200,000 bushels of grain storage to prepare.  This is a common setup for corn and soybean farmers in the Midwest, with an infinite number of variations in size and types of equipment.  We also will lease out a strip-till fertilizer applicator so it will be prepared for us.  Strip till means that we are injecting the fertilizer in a band 4-7” deep in the soil.  It means that the fertilizer stays where the crop roots are, rather than following rain runoff into streams.  It also means that we’re only tilling the soil in a narrow band 8” wide.  So most of our fields aren’t exposed for soil erosion.  It’s a more expensive process, but one that is ultimately better for the farm economically and environmentally—win-win.  This year, we’re also for the first time experimenting with cover crops.  Cover crops are grown to simply cover the soil when it’s not being used by the cash crops.  Think of it this way—a cover crop “covers” the soil so that it doesn’t erode.  They also increase the organic matter of the soil, create a healthy environment for earthworms and beneficial bacteria and fungi, and suppress many weeds we fight on the farm.  Lastly, they sequester (ie. Gather up) excess nutrients that the cash crop couldn’t fully utilize.  This dramatically reduces runoff into our streams.  We are excited about this new process and hope it works out on our farm!

But this “lull” is also great for the projects that don’t get addressed during the busy crop season.  For us, we’re going to spend more time on our specialty hull-less popcorn venture.  Check us out at  We will be thinking about automation and facility construction—capital investments that will make us more cost competitive by letting us scale up production AND preserving our focus on quality.  These are fun projects because, when I’m walking corn fields, I don’t have time to just sit and think.  And investments like this require lots of planning—but it means a good return on investment AND a deeper sense of meaning (I enjoy the fact that projects like these make my farm better for my son and family).  While this is certainly unique to most Midwestern farmers, the fact that we’re in “project-mode” this time of year is quite common.  It’s where a summer of research starts to be addressed by more deliberate thought and action.

Finally, I’m also thinking about next crop year.  Given the dramatic decline in corn and soybean prices of the past year (and especially last two years), there could be opportunities for young farmers if older farmers consider retirement.  But the margins are also dramatically lower—with the opportunity to grow comes the risk of failure.  So, it’s good to be considering what our inputs will cost—will nitrogen fertilizer go up or down?  Will corn seed stay the same—do I need all the features in that bag?  Is my equipment portfolio large and modern enough if someone retires?  These are the preparations that need to be considered—not necessarily finalized (most retailers won’t give firm prices to lock in completely on all inputs anyway).  Once the combine starts harvesting, it’s very easy to NOT take time to check emails and watch markets—you just get into your zone and go.  As I type this, a few weeks ahead of when it will be posted, this is one of my goals in the next two weeks—have a plan that’s flexible enough for me to change, but firm enough for me to be structured to “go with the flow” during harvest!

So as you’re still getting your kids into the rhythm of the new school year, I’ll be preparing for harvest, planning my next crop, and working on special projects.  There really isn’t a down-time on the farm—just times when the work can be pushed back a day or two and Mother Nature isn’t making your schedule.  

Andrew Bowman
Oneida, Illinois

Andrew is a fifth generation Illinois farmer. He and his wife Karlie have one son, Ryker, and farm with Andrew’s parents, Lynn and Sally Bowman, in addition to serving farmers through insurance and consulting enterprises.

Aug 31 2014

Food For Thought: Farming Is in Our Genes

Do you have questions about food and farming? Check out our FAQ page to learn more, or Ask a Question of your own. And for more Food for Thought posts, visit this section.

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