Illinois Farm Families Blog

Jul 09 2015

My Basket Runneth Over... with ZUCCHINI

Well, summer has been of to a VERY slow start here in the Midwest. The good news? I haven’t had to water ANYTHING. The bad news? I haven’t had to water anything!!! We have been lacking a little in glorious summer sunshine, and that ain’t good for my garden… and it ain’t good for ME (improper English intentional!!!)  I shouldn’t have to take Vitamin D supplementS during the supposed heart of summer!! Am I right?

So, what does this have to do with my tiny plot of eventual food? Without proper heat, and perhaps just a TAD too much rain, my growing season is moving at the pace of a turtle running through peanut butter. But yet, every day I check on my green growing babies, and every day I sit in my garden to gently nourish and encourage my seedlings to look into the light (when it’s around) and GROW. I hold on to optimism for my garden, much as I do for life…it’s just how I’m made.

So, as another storm rolls over the top of our humble abode, as I sit and listen to the raindrops battering the windows and doors, I look forward to the days when I can pick fresh and cook fresh, straight from my own backyard.

Upon my daily walk through my little garden of eatin’ today, I noticed a lot of yellow flowers vining their way up the trellis I am using to gently encourage the zucchinis tiny tendrils vertical. With great hope, this means that soon, I will have an abundance of squash gracing our table. The first few are always so exciting – so fresh, still warm from the heat of the sun – you can practically sit right down and eat them raw, though I prefer them with garlic and olive oil and some italian herbs for good measure! But as the dog days roll around, after we have eaten approximately 100 of the courgettes, I have to come up with some new an inventive recipes. If for no other reason than to keep my family from boycotting the fruits of my labor. Believe me, it could get ugly.

I have decided, to share some of my favorites, for both your delight  and your safety on my blog. Check them out here. And don’t forget, winter will be here before we know it, let’s relish in the delights of the now.

Originally posted on Three Little Birds and One Messy Nest.

Katie Grossart
Chicago, IL

Katie 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. (City Moms formerly known as Field Moms.)

Jun 16 2015

Farming Is HARD Yo!

Before I left on a crazy whirlwind travel month this month, I transplanted those seedlings that I grew into my backyard, and prayed that they would take. I came back from Africa amazed that my turnip greens had become these big bushy leaves, and that everything else was coming along wonderfully. We harvested two super small, but super sweet strawberries at the end of the month, and then, we got into the mode of having to wait. 



And wait some more. 

I can honestly say that I don’t remember waiting this much with our container gardens are the previous Nicholes’ Manor, but I guess we did wait. Or maybe, it was the fact that cabbage worms ruined my broccoli, and we never got a chance to harvest the crown. We got okra, sun sugar tomatoes, even regular tomatoes (the variety escapes me,) sugar snap peas,  and enough arugula to make one family sized salad and that was it. I tried to grow spinach, and it didn’t take. I tried to grow cilantro and it bolted too fast. I tried growing onions, and just didn’t know the proper way to space to allow for maximum root spacing. 

In other words, farming is hard, yo! I have to give it to the farmers that spend an entire season trying to figure out the best way to grow their crops for the next spring, summer and fall. Spacing, rotating plots, and figuring out how much of what to plant. Here I am with my little backyard garden (that I’m SUPER pleased with, by the way) and I’m freaking out at the fact that I planted watermelon in BETWEEN some stuff. Probably not my best planning ever, but we’ll make it work. I think. I hope. I’m not sure. 

Either way, it leads me to the fact that farmers are just REALLY in a space where I don’t think that I could be year round. If my entire income depended on proper rain, sun, and harvest times, I’d be up a creek. I mean. I’ve been pretty successful with what I have planted, but I do have some moments of where I want to rip the entire garden bed to shreds. Especially with those tomatoes. Those vines produce such a stinky quality, but the fruit of them is so wonderful! I even have the nerve to have nine plants going in my backyard. I want to get more, and put them in a raised bed if I can. 

Essentially, I just want to thank farmers. No matter what is being said about seeds that they use, or practices that should or shouldn’t be happening, they keep moving. They like the mothers of America keep it moving no matter if they stand on the side of GMO seeds, or Non-GMO. They continue to provide for the people, organic, or otherwise, even while trying to provide for their families. I’m simply trying to provide some great sides for my six person family, and I’m completely humbled by the aspect of doing so. Sometimes it takes going back to look at all of the photos that I’ve posted since starting the journey. 

Less than a month ago, the garden looked like this. It’s marvelous what can grow from a seed, isn’t it? I’m still learning about thinning and not feeling bad for doing so, can you imagine having to thin an entire field? Do farmers have to thin entire fields? That would be a great question to answer in next month’s post about farming, and eating from farm to table, don’t you think? 

I’m not too sure that I could handle a farm so large that I needed a combine to harvest either. That just seems like a little more work than I am willing to give. I mean, harvesting with three little people underfoot is hard enough. Can you imagine ME driving a huge combine? They’re a pretty massive piece of machinery. I got to ride in one a couple of years ago while it took in corn cobs, and the amount of work it can do in a couple of hours allows farmers to spend more time with their families instead of having their families spread out to harvest. Plus it ensures that all cobs are harvested. I STILL have to go behind tiny hands, and even my own to make sure that we get everything that we’re supposed to. 

Now, for my small factoid of the day. Did you know that when you harvest broccoli, you send your plant into shock, and because it wants to survive it sends out more crowns of broccoli? So you can eat nicely for a bit of time. Of course, with all of those good veggies and fruits that you’re getting it’s nice to have time and energy for a sweet snack. Checking out my friend Samantha’s blog, and I saw this Brownie S’Mores Pie that she created, and I think after a long afternoon in the garden, this may just be what we need for dessert. Of course, we can always balance it with fresh strawberries, right? Right. Annnnnd that’s how you end a blog post guys! Stay tuned for some more gardening posts as I continue to share about farming in the midwest – especially Illinois as part of the Illinois Farm Families initiative. 

Originally posted on Houseful of Nicholes.

Chicago, IL

Natasha was one of the Illinois Farm Families 2013 Field Moms. Throughout the year she visits Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each visit, the Field Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms, including five takeaways. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers. (City Moms formerly known as Field Moms.)

Apr 23 2015

Spring has SPRUNG... Time for bed(s).

Well, I am pleased to announce, I have made it through another Midwest winter with most of my sanity intact. No small feat. And one thing that always helps arrive at the days of green and color, is planning my summer garden. It’s like a magical tincture to chase away the winter doldrums.

I have always been a garden bed kinda gal, just dig in the earth, plant your seedlings, pull some weeds and give some water and……PRESTO……FOOD !!! But then……we MOVED. And at our new home, in our new yard, well, the soil is less than spectacular. In particular, the draining (or lack thereof) of the soil. My plants were NOT happy with their very wet home.

So this year, we are going to do something different. Something new. Something I should have done YEARS ago. We are going to garden in raised beds. Gardening in beds is going to do a few things for me this year, it is going to increase my yield, and save my back. Both of which sound pretty good to me.

Do you absolutely NEED to garden in raised beds ? Nope, but if your soil is not ideal, or if you want to grow deep root crops such as carrots, it is the way to go. And if you REALLY dislike hunching over your garden plot for several hours a week, causing you to walk around like the bell-ringer at Notre Dame, trust me…’s worth it.

But are there other benefits ? YES !! They keep pathway weeds from your garden soil, prevent soil compaction, provide good drainage and serve as a barrier to pests such as slugs and snails. The sides of the beds keep your valuable garden soil from being eroded or washed away during heavy rains. In many regions, gardeners are able to plant earlier in the season because the soil is warmer and better drained when it is above ground level.

Raised beds are NOT garden planters. Planters are elevated containers which have bottoms to prevent the soil from falling out. Planter bottoms usually are slatted, with some type of semi-permeable cloth barrier which permits drainage. Raised beds, however, do not have bottoms; they are open to the ground, which offers the benefit of permitting plant roots to go further into the ground for available nutrients.

Raised garden beds are available in a variety of different materials, or they can be made with relative ease.

After doing a lot of research, I am ready to build and more than ready to GROW. So, let’s take a look at how we can make this happen :

Our family has decided to go with traditional wood beds, as we happened to have it at our ready, and one of the only thing that compares with my love of gardening, is my love of all things frugal. SCORE !!

Building a standard 3-ft x 5-ft garden bed with wood is typical; however, you also can use blocks, pavers, stone, or a pile of soil. For this project you will need 2 x 4s, a 4 x 4 post, tape measure, pencil, square, drill with bits and screw-driving bits, a circular saw, work gloves, soil, landscape fabric, shovel, hoe, level, utility knife, sawhorses, soil, wheelbarrow, and a soaker hose. You’ll also need the flowers or vegetables of your choice.

Select a location with plenty of sun and access to both sides for easy upkeep. Mark the outline of the garden bed on the ground and dig up the sod without disturbing the soil underneath. Check the ground with a level to make sure the base is even.

Lay the landscaping fabric down and cut to cover the bare soil with about 6 inches extra along each edge. Cut the 2 x 4s and 4 x 4 s to length, screw the ends of three longer 2 x 4s to a pair of 4 x 4s with the edges and ends flush to form panels. Then screw the shorter 2 x 4s to the 4 x 4s to form the box.

Position the box on the landscape fabric and check that it’s level. Cut any excess landscaping fabric and add soil or compost, or BOTH. Next, which is my favorite part, plant your vegetables or flowers by pulling back the dirt. You can also add an irrigation “system” by running an irrigation, or drip hose between plants, but I prefer to water by hand, as I find it therapeutic !!

Now….get out there…..get dirty….and embrace these days of spring, as the dog days of summer will be here before you know it. And nothing tastes better than salad you’ve grown yourself !!

Chicago, IL

Katie 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.

Apr 10 2015

Backyard Farming

As announced yesterday, it looks like Spring may actually stay around Chicago for a while. Meanwhile, I’m praying that the seedlings that we planted last week continue to flourish enough to get ready for the season of backyard farming. We picked up cabbage, cucumbers (pickling and salad,) carrots, sugar snap peas, pole beans, broccoli, tomatoes (sweet and heirloom,) sweet corn, sweet peppers, watermelon, okra and a multitude of other seeds. I haven’t planted everything just yet because I didn’t buy all of the potting pellets that I needed. Blame it on winter brain. I’m anxious to get started, and I want to take tons of Instagram pictures and overshare what I grow and pick. 

With being a part of the City Moms farm tour, through Illinois Farm Families,  two years ago, the get up that I needed for starting a home garden was given to me last year, and we successfully planted and harvested tomatoes, arugula, sugar snap peas, and okra. My broccoli kind of went a bit crazy on me, and I wasn’t able to harvest it properly, especially since the cabbage worms got to it. That wasn’t totally backyard farming, more of tote farming, but I think we’ll have totes again this time around as well. 

I’m looking forward to transferring the seedlings next month, and eating off of our harvest all summer long. I’m also hoping that we get TONS of pickling cucumbers so that I can pickle a bunch and have them to eat on throughout fall and winter. They are pushing through the soil awesomely, and I’m hopeful that we’ll get a good bounty. 

Another portion that I’m looking forward to is the cabbage that we planted as well. It’s purple cabbage and all I can think of is trying to recreate the Yankee Cole Slaw created by one of my favorite restaurants on the west side of Chicago. I’m guessing all of the leaves will be nice and purple too, and that makes me happy. I’m thinking about doing strawberries sometime too, so that I can have some other color out there other than green. 

Let’s not ignore the fact that I planted SWEET CORN! I learned that sweet corn is only 1% of the corn planted EVER, and I kind of had a tiny violin moment. So I figured, I’d bring my own sweet corn to the back yard, and hope that we get at least twelve ears of it this season. If we do, I’ll plant more if we decide to do a community garden next spring. We’re going to do raised boxes, and I’m so excited! 

By the way, I’ll be off next month to visit the Monsanto factory to learn a little bit more about the company that seems to be in the crosshairs of so many people. I’m curious about lots of things, and I’m looking forward to the trip. I’m hoping that the people who read this blog can participate in some thoughtful discussion and we can respect each others choices. Until then, I’ll keep you updated on the gardening, and what we harvest! 

Originally posted on Houseful of Nicholes.

Chicago, IL

Natasha 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
Jun 23 2014

I Plant GMOs In My Fields, Not In My Garden

Back in early February, I sat in my kitchen in front of my laptop preparing to Skype for the first time. I know, I know. My lack of techy-ness is shining through. I use my computer for work, my phone to talk to people and the TV to watch. Old school.

On the other side of my computer screen sitting in a studio in L.A. was Larry King, – as in TV-host, journalism legend Larry King – a panel of celebrity “experts” and one scientist.

Ensuring Skype worked properly sent my anxiety levels through the roof, even more so than facing off with Larry King about the hottest topic in food and farming . . . until I realized who was asking the questions and how much they didn’t know.

The topic was none other than GMOs and the panel of “experts” included celebrity chef Curtis Stone, actress Mary Lou Henner and former NBA-player John Salley. The scientist was Dr. Bob Goldberg from the department of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology at UCLA. He knows science and biotechnology.

During the hour long show the panel spoke to numerous guests and bantered amongst themselves about the value of biotechnology in agriculture. I did not hear any of that though, as I waited in my kitchen for the notification bell to ‘ding’ on my computer. I thought when that happened I’d be able to see who I was talking to and hear their conversation prior to my interview.

When the bell ‘dinged’, I saw just me on my screen. Uh oh. Then, I heard Larry ask, “Let’s start with why you use gm-seed on your farm?”

I didn’t expect this to be a friendly interview, (i.e. Mary Lou’s first question, “Do you feed your children these crops?” referring to our acres of field corn.), but I did expect if folks were going to be on a webcast they’d be somewhat up on the facts. Not the case.

When Chef Stone in so many words called me a hypocrite because I plant genetically modified seed in our fields and not in our gardens (He said I plant organic seeds. I do not buy seed labeled organic.), I realized who I was talking to – another uninformed food consumer.

This doesn’t make Chef Stone a bad person. In fact of all the panelists I thought he was pretty nice. But I wonder if he hadn’t taken Mary Lou’s advice to “google it” to find out about biotech and agriculture. After all, if it’s on the internet, it must be so.

Only eight crops have commercially available genetically modified seed – corn, soybeans, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya, squash, and cotton. As a back-yard gardener, I can’t plant a genetically modified squash seed in my garden, because I am not a commercial grower.  A tomato labeled non-gm is labeled as such because you can’t grow/buy it any other way. A head of lettuce labeled non-gm says so because no gm-lettuce exists.

As Chef Stone pointed out approximately 70 percent of processed food may contain an ingredient derived from a genetically modified crop. However, the science states that these sugars, starches and oils are no different compared to their counterparts derived from non-gm crops. Even more arguments speak to the genetic make-up of said ingredients – can a sugar really be genetically modified when a sugar is chemically a compound with no genes to be found?  I know that high school junior year chemistry, Mr. Simpson’s class.

I've pondered this interview quite a bit while weeding my garden and plucking beetles (already!) off the plants, wondering if that gm-squash seed would kill those buggers so I don’t have to. GM-squash is disease resistant. No help to me.

This interview still irritates me, which is why I haven’t shared it until now. I’m all for robust discussion challenging what we hold to be true, but posing as an expert and sharing an opinion as fact isn't right.

You can watch the full Larry King Now episodes here (see below). It is a two part series and I do recommend watching both pieces in their entirety; however, for shameless self-promotion kicks, my less than stellar performance is after the first break in Part 2.

Larry King Now: GMOs, Part 1 
Larry King Now: GMOs, Part 2 

Originally posted June 23, 2014 on Rural Route 2.

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.

Mar 11 2014

How NOT to Obsess about Food Safety

A few years back, my family planted a garden. We dreamed of a bountiful harvest. We spent a summer watering, weeding, watching and waiting. Then we joyously rallied around our harvest . . . four beans and a pumpkin.  

Now, I don’t know about yours, but my family of five won’t last long on four beans and a pumpkin! In fact, after we devoured the beans (and saved the pumpkin for Halloween) we drove to our local grocery store and loaded up on fruits and vegetables born of another person’s labor. And let me tell you, I’ve never been more grateful for the produce section.

Because, let’s face it, growing food is hard work. My family of five eats three meals a day. We run and jump and play and learn and we. do. not. stop. We need energy to keep going, and we need good healthy food to give us that energy. As nutritionist, Jodie Shield, M.Ed., R.D., L.D.N, author of “Healthy Eating, Healthy Weight for Kids and Teens” noted; the US has the safest food supply in the world. So, the question on the table (so to speak) isn’t about food safety:  It’s about choice.  

A few years ago, my family experienced some health issues seemingly related to an overconsumption of wheat and dairy products. Not caused by wheat or dairy, but closely associated to eating too much of it.  So, as the family meal planner, I chose to reduce the amount of wheat and dairy in our diet for a while.  And guess what?  Everything improved. That was strong enough evidence for me to make a change away from breads and pastas to more fruits, vegetables and low-fat meats. That’s what my family needed.  I was glad the grocery store offered the gluten-free, dairy-free choices that helped ease our transition, and I realized then that every family’s needs are different. But every family needs choices.

As a society, we seem to have less and less time to eat together. We rush from home to school to work and back again. Yet, advertisers and marketers beg us to question whether our food is healthy or even safe. They tell us that “good moms” buy food labels that say things like ‘organic’, ‘natural’ or ‘cage-free’.  That we should worry about the way our food is grown and the very seeds it comes from. But “good moms” have to make lots of choices within the limitations of our family’s needs. We have to choose between time spent helping with homework and time spent cooking. We have to choose between preservatives when they’re necessary and organics when they’re affordable, or vice versa. That’s just what we do.  

One Spring Break, my family and I went hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains. We stopped at a grocery store before entering the park and chose enough food to pack two backpacks with meals for a day.  They were foods made to last without refrigeration, to be eaten without spoons or forks; to give us the energy we needed to make it up and down the mountain, all while being economical and gluten- and dairy-free. (Whew! What an order!)  We walked for what seemed like hours. We got so tired we almost turned back. But then we saw it:  a huge waterfall, made even bigger by the melting snow on the mountaintop. The water rolled past our feet and crashed below us in a rising mist that enveloped the trees and held us frozen in wonder and amazement. In that moment of awesomeness, I heard the voice of my 5 year-old saying, “Mom, I’m hungry.” And in complete isolation at the top of a waterfall in the middle of a great forest, we were able to eat with abundance. And it was the best meal EVER.  

Do I worry about food safety?  Sure, especially when my child sneezes into the stir-fry I’m serving for dinner. Am I concerned that my local grocery store might stop carrying the foods my family needs to stay healthy? Yes, but a recent visit to Ultra Foods in Wheaton taught me that a shopper can actually request specific food items and management will stock them. Do I worry about unnecessary colorings and preservatives in my family’s food? Yeah. Sometimes. But not when I’m sitting at the top of a waterfall. 

Genevieve O'Keefe
Grayslake, Illinois

Genevieve is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2014 Field Moms. Throughout the year she visits Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each visit, the Field Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers.

Sep 07 2013

Veggie Tales


Each summer, I look forward to eating fresh vegetables that I have picked myself from my own garden. After planting vegetable seeds and plants in the spring, I eagerly await the arrival of seeing the first signs of fresh produce. I continue to check on my plants throughout the summer as they grow, mature, and eventually bloom. Then, when the first signs of a vegetable arrive, I anxiously await the day that the vegetable is ready to be harvested by my hands. 

Early morning, after a sweaty workout and before my toddlers are awake for the new day, I head out to check on my vegetable plants, hoping that there is something for me to pick, place in my grocery sack, and take inside to wash. Some mornings I return with an empty sack because the vegetables just aren’t quite ready. Other times, my grocery sack is overflowing with large zucchini and tomatoes.  Each year and each day is different. One year, my in-laws couldn’t grow zucchini from any of their plants while I had them overflowing on my kitchen counter. Other years, my pepper plants produced not one pepper, while this year I have a steady flow of them each week to pick. Rain, sun, heat, bugs, weeds, the large size of neighboring vegetable plants, unexpected frost, etc. are all determiners, in my experience, of the amount and size of the vegetables my plants produce.

As a little girl, I experienced planting and harvesting vegetables with my Great Uncle who planted a large vegetable garden in the backyard of his suburban home. Growing up on a farm himself, he brought his farmer roots with him to the Chicago suburbs, set aside a plot of land in the middle of his backyard, and planted vegetables every year. This was not typical in the suburbs, and I have yet to see a large vegetable plot in anyone’s  backyard. He’d invite me over on the days he’d plant his carrots because that was my favorite to harvest. Pulling the gigantic carrot out of the ground was one of the coolest mysteries I experienced as a kid. I still have memories of what it felt like to take a hold of the green top, pull as hard as I could, and sometimes with his help, uncover a long, orange carrot that had been hidden under the soil. He’d let me take home anything I picked. I even have memories of sneaking out of my bed at night, going downstairs, opening the refrigerator, quietly opening the bottom drawer, and taking a bite of one of the carrots I picked with my own hands. (I wish my own kids loved eating vegetables like that!)

In high school, my father started planting tomato and herb plants wherever he could find space in his yard. In one house, he used a small area behind his garage that received direct sunlight, in another house, he had to use pots. The Italian that he is, the tomatoes and herbs were used in his delicious pasta meals. He’d teach me the smell of different herbs and how to use them in cooking. Whenever there was a tomato ready to be harvested, we’d pick it, wash it, slice it, sprinkle it with salt, and sink our teeth into its juiciness. Now, I find myself doing the same thing. A juicy tomato is one of my favorite things to eat before dinner.

When I moved from my apartment in the city of Chicago to my husband’s farm once we were married, growing my own vegetables was something I looked forward to. However, I didn’t know much, other than I had to plant seeds and watch them grow. With the help of my mother-in-law that first spring on the farm, she taught me how and when to plant each type of vegetable. Throughout growing season, she’d remind me of what to do, when to do it, and how to deal with certain weed or bug problems. When it was time to harvest a particular vegetable, she’d tell me what to look for and when to pick it.  I was so new at gardening that when she told me the potatoes were ready, I was really confused: I didn’t see any potatoes above the soil that needed to be picked. With a laugh, my husband revealed that the potatoes were actually underground and I had to dig them up. (No way!! Just like those carrots!) I brought that revelation to my dad, who couldn’t believe it either. That next spring, he planted his own potatoes in his small suburban garden behind his garage and enjoyed discovering them in the soil when it was time for their harvest.

Moving to the country has included many new experiences for this city-gone-country girl. Growing my own vegetables is something I’ve loved from the beginning. Whether you live in the country, the city, or the suburbs, it’s something we can all experience if you have a sunny spot of soil. Urban gardens are popping up in various cities, and it’s fun to see how city dwellers are learning about and experiencing growing their own food.  On our own family farm, my husband and I look forward to teaching our children about where our food comes from and how to provide safe, healthy food for our community. And wherever you may find yourself, give it a try sometime; you may be surprised at what will grow (above or below ground)!


Kristen Strom, Brimfield

Kristen is a city-gone-country girl after her marriage to her husband, Grant, who is a full-time farmer.  You can follow her stories and adventures on her blog, Farm Notes from Little Dahinda, IL.

Jul 12 2013

City Girl Gone Country

Sitting at a friend’s bridal shower a few weeks ago, I was reminded so much of what my life was like 6+ years ago as I prepared for my marriage to my farmer-husband. My friend, a city girl, is marrying a man who has a full-time job in a near-by city, but who lives in the country, has cattle, grew up on a farm, and loves country life. Soon, she will be trading in her city life, for that of country living. 6+ years ago, I was living in the the city of Chicago above boutiques and restaurants, attending my bridal showers, and preparing to move 2.5 hours to west central IL to my fiance’s farm. At both of our showers, family and friends giggled at the thought of us city girls helping on the farm, learning to cook, tending to a garden, growing our own vegetables, raising our babies in the country, and learning to live away from the busyness of the city.

As I watched her open her gifts, some of which would help her transition to living in the country, two questions popped into my mind: what does it mean for a city girl to move to the country? And, what does it mean for a city girl to marry a farmer?

These questions also came to mind as I spoke to my best friend who has been living in Los Angeles for the past 5 years but has recently started seeing a farmer from Iowa.(How an LA girl met a farmer, that’s a whole different and long story.) While we spoke, she laughed because she has NO idea about farming and country life, other than from what I’ve told her.

After 6 years of being married to my farmer-husband, living on one of the first farms I had ever visited for the first 5 years of our marriage, and raising farm babies, I’d like to share my answers. Disclaimer: these answers are from my experience, and while not everyone’s experience is the same, I can’t speak for all city-gone-country girls. Also, while coming up with my lists I tried to think of things that I otherwise would not have been able to do if I didn’t marry a farmer and instead stayed in the big city. Also, I’ve split answers into two lists because living in the country does not  always mean that you’ve married a farmer, and being married to a farmer does not necessarily mean you live in the country. 

A city girl moving to the country means:
  • We have LOTS of space to grow our own vegetables and create flower gardens, even if we’ve never planted anything before.
  • We have the opportunity to go outside and listen to pure silence with the occasional tweet of a bird and the wind blowing through the trees.
  • While driving in the country, we have time to think about our day, make phone calls to family and friends, admire the country scenery, and my favorite, drive without hitting any traffic.
  • We have an opportunity every night to watch the sunset.
  • We learn how to cook because there are no restaurants, take-out, or delivery food places nearby.
  • We have time to start (and usually finish) projects, whether they be outside or inside. Mine was having time to scrapbook, make greeting cards, and other fun crafting activities.
  • We trade in our high heels for rubber boots and an old pair of jeans or coveralls. I went the old-pair of jeans route, while my girlfriend, who helps with cattle chores, now has her own pair of overalls.
  • We will start to wave at everyone passing by on our country road and those that we pass while driving, and they actually wave back.
  • We quickly learn how the weather can dictate our life. A snow/ice/wind/rain storm can mean not leaving the house for a few days because we actually can’t drive down our road, it can mean not having electricity or running water for a few hours or a few days since we have a well, and it means we load up on the necessities ahead of time if we have warning.
  • Lists are a must: a trip into town means hours of running errands so that we don’t have make the long drive multiple times a week. Lists, in the order of where to stop, help to cut down on driving time.
  • Our city friends and family can come visit us in the country, camp out, go fishing, enjoy the sunsets, shop at farmers markets, enjoy town festival weekends, and get away from busy city living.
  • Our children will have endless land and space to explore.
A city girl marrying a farmer means:
  • We can grow our own vegetables with the help of a husband who knows a thing or two (and actually much more) about growing food.
  • We not only learn how to cook, but we learn how to use endless amounts of meat in the deep freezer from cattle and hogs that were once on one of the family farms.
  • While driving in the car, we start to take note of the passing fields, what’s been planted, how tall it’s grown, water damage, weed control, and all the other things our farmer-husbands also look for in their fields.
  • Our projects usually revolve around the time of year: harvest and planting seasons mean that our husband isn’t home, so we have more time on our own to take up new hobbies and complete projects.
  • Weather dictates our life: our husband’s life revolves around the weather and so that means our days are ruled by the rain/wind/sun/hail, too. Which means...
  • We have an expert weatherman living with us! 
  • We spend countless hours in the tractor or combine visiting our husband, eating meals with him while he plants or harvests the crops, and taking our children to ride with him during the busy times of year.
  • Our house is littered with farming, equipment, and livestock magazines and catalogs.
  • Our husband is also a landscaper, gardener, plumber, builder, handyman, mechanic, etc. that can help us with mostly any project we need done around the house.
  • We now have an understanding of agriculture: what farming entails, where our food comes from, how livestock are raised, etc.
  • That, if life is a mix of hard work and fun, there is hard work done around the farm with fun visits to the city.
  • Our children will be raised with not only the understanding of farming, but helping on the farm, tending to livestock, joining a 4H club, and learning to care and tend to the land that we grow crops on to feed the world.

Kristen Strom Brimfield, IL

Kristen is a city-gone-country girl after her marriage to her husband, Grant, who is a full-time farmer.  You can follow her stories and adventures on her blog at

Jul 09 2013

Things I Learned on the May Tour

The things I really enjoyed learning:

* I was unaware that a GMO corn seed will not reproduce with the same traits from one generation to the next if they’re saved and planted for next year. That’s why corn farmers buy new seed each year. I was informed there are farmers growing corn strictly for seed only. I was surprised to learn Biotech Engineering has farming down to a science.

* While I sat on a Case IH tractor there appeared to be a computer screen with the GPS navigation screen which looked very complicated to operate. It was very high tech. GPS was discovered by the United States military.

* It was amazing to learn that most Illinois farmers do not till their farms, they plant in between the rows of last year’s harvest and they no longer let the land rest every 7th year.

* I was disappointed to hear our government spent one million dollars for each windmill produced and planted into the ground of Illinois farms. We can see numerous windmills across various acres of Illinois Farms. All I can say is Wow.

* After I till my initial garden and use manure, I will plant and space my vegetables accordingly. I will experiment with what I learned. I will not remove my previous plant harvest just to see if there is a benefit to doing this?

* I understand the benefits of using GMO, I am just not convinced that it is 100% safe for human consumption.

I was surprised to learn that the Military discovered GPS technology. It was implemented into the planter so that farmer could navigate as he planted seed in the fields. Now, with high-tech farming, the farmer has a GPS receiver on his machinery, which is connected to a laptop or task computer that already has a stored database of optimal field requirements for fertilization. The computer runs a program that controls the mixing of nutrients—nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium—for fertilization and spreads them as needed as the farmer drives across the field. With GPS, producers can identify the exact places that soil fertility changes. Farmers have farmers insurance for drought, tornadoes, or flooding. Last year, many Illinois Farmers actually filed claims because we didn't have much rain in Illinois. They had a fifty percent crop loss.

There is a big debate regarding GMO's. What is GMO? An organism whose genetic characteristics have been altered using the techniques of genetic engineering. When I asked the question, can you plant the seed from a GMO corn? I was told there are farms strictly used for seed production only because of the way corn is pollinated in the hybridization process! We were told the reason why farmers are using GMO, we were told it’s efficient, it saves money, it’s a responsible way to grow crops. 53 percent of the corn produced is Illinois is for export, 7 percent animal feed, 15 percent processing for other food and products and 25 percent for Ethanol for the gas pump. The United States produces 32 percent of the world's corn.  

Corn is a key ingredient in many food items like cereal,  peanut butter, snacks foods and soft drinks. And candy bars, potato chips, hot dog buns, ketchup, mustard, cookies, bubble gum and even ice cream all include ingredients derived from corn. In the 1990s, the genetic modified crops were cotton, corn and soybean seeds. They discovered farmers were increasing crop yields, reducing the constant need to clear more land for growth. Seeds are resistant to drought and pests especially where crop losses are often severe. I would like some studies showing proof there are no health risks to humans.

Michael Taylor, former Vice President of Public Policy at biotech giant and major GMO producer Monsanto, is now a Deputy Commissioner for the FDA. Members of our Senate as well as our House of Representatives, even Hillary Clinton, they all have ties to Monsanto. I think we should all write our politicians so that a bill is passed labeling GMO on all food products for human consumption. I want to be an informed consumer.

I am excited to learn that NASCAR has been using E-15 in all their race cars. E-15 in NASCAR is a fuel made from corn based ethanol. NASCAR is "going green" by using a renewable fuel. Processing plants make soy oil, which goes into soy bio diesel fuel, which can do what other fuels can’t. Bio diesel is non-toxic and is clean and safe for the environment. Illinois corn farmers invest in the Illinois corn checkoff program. Among other things, this program pools money for the the stadium for the CornBelters in Normal, Illinois.

My mother’s philosophy, it’s better to pay more for better quality! My children could attest to Kraft mac and cheese is better than store brand so, I believe this holds true for many items we purchase at the grocery store. The best time to buy sweet corn is between July 4th through July 15th. On Jeschke’s farm, they can plant one acre of field corn in 2 minutes, 30 acres in one hour. They plant 15 different varieties of corn and they never plant more than 20 percent of any one kind of variety of seed. (One acre is equal to a football field or 4,840 square yards.)

If you plant seeds in damp soil the seeds could rot. Most farmer's use John Deere planter which is green, Case IH which is fire engine red or a Kinzie planter. I was surprised to learn Illinois Farmers do not till the land like their predecessor farmers. If they planted corn, they will plant soy the following year. Soy needs 113 days until ready for picking. In the past, they would let the soil rest every 7 years. They use Round Up to kill the weeds. 

On the farm, we learned that organic food doesn’t necessarily mean that there is less risk.  Paul mentioned a tragic event in Europe which occurred in 2011 where 3,950 people were affected and 53 died, including 51 in Germany from risks involving the E. coli risk in raw bean sprout production. A rare strain of Escherichia coli O104:H4 bacteria caused a serious outbreak of foodborne illness focused in northern Germany. The illness was characterized by bloody diarrhea, with a high frequency of serious complications, including hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), a condition that requires urgent treatment. A handful of cases were reported in several other countries including Switzerland, Poland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, the UK, Canada and the U.S. Essentially all affected people had been in Germany or France shortly before becoming ill. 

My biggest concern when I purchase fruit and vegetables for my family that I am very careful with clean utensils to avoid cross contamination. Due to what occurred on Aug 17, 2012 – The outbreak traced to the cantaloupe began in early July and was traced to a Colorado farm and killed 30 people across 11 states last year.

It is always important to rinse your fruits and vegetables especially your melons with dish soap. Pest control substances can harbor harmful bacteria or chemicals. Also, avoid cross contamination, abide by correct cooking procedures, refrigeration and freezing.

Amazing Soybean Facts

It can be planted in May or June, in rows of 7 to 30 inches apart. Fertilizers are used to provide additional nutrients to the soil. Roundup is used to control weeds. It may be 3 feet tall. Flowers appear producing pods, the flowers can be pink, purple or white. Beans take 30 to 40 days. Each pod contains two or three beans. Generally, they are ready for harvest in September or October. Farmers either sell directly to commercial elevators or store in their bins until ready to sell. After the soybean is harvested, it can be processed into soy flour, soy concentrates and soy isolates. Soy flour is a high protein for baking goods. Soy concentrates are found in protein drinks, soups and gravies. Soy isolates are found in cheese, milk and nondairy frozen desserts.


Helen Kolodynski, Chicago

Jan 24 2013

"Down Time"

Did you have the day off of work Monday?

Since my "boss" lives in one of our upstairs bedrooms, there was no day off here in our little white house on the prairie.

But at least I don't have a morning commute...and I get to wear my sweatpants to work...and the boss takes a two-hour nap every day which allows for a little down time. (Just between you and me, when she's not around I drink iced coffee and plan my spring time assault on our garden and landscaping. When I'm feeling really crazy, I also watch Friends re-runs...Shhh.)

This spring-y-ish weather has really given me the gardening itch. My garden catalogs have started rolling in by the mailbox-fulls and they are starting to resemble my daughter's Toys R Us catalogs around Christmas time, dog-eared pages that are full of thick red magic marker circles. Truth be told, I already have an order prepared for everything from sunflowers to cilantro.

Pioneer Seed Corn

Matt and his cousins, Jack and Christopher, have been spending their winter "down time" helping local farmers do exactly the same thing. Only instead of sunflowers and cilantro, they are placing orders for corn and soybeans.

In modern agriculture, filling out your spring seed order isn't as easy as choosing between corn or soybeans. Genetically modified or non-gmo? Drought resistance? Food grade? Disease tolerance? How many acres of corn are you planning to plant? What about soybeans?

When farmers are paying an average of $260 PER BAG of corn and $50 PER BAG of soybeans, it's not a decision that one should take lightly.

Just as a point of reference, one bag of soybeans will plant just over one acre (1.1 to be exact) and one bag of corn will plant 2.3 acres. If a farmer plants just one 80-acre field of corn, his seed bill will be just a shade over $9,000.

Eeesh. That's like 45+ grocery trips.

Seed Corn Storage

I'm no math whiz, but I'm not sure that my $100 off any order of $200 or more coupon from Gurney's seed and nursery would get anyone very far. But for those farmers who really have their ducks in a row this winter, the earlier the seed order is submitted the larger the discount.

While my "boss" gives me my own daily dose of education on every subject from what's in Dora the Explorer's backpack to the finer points of proper princess tea party etiquette, Matt, Jack, and Christopher are spending their winter "down time" attending Pioneer seed meetings to learn about different varieties of seed corn and beans so they can better help farmers prepare for the fast-approaching spring planting season.

When the boys aren't attending meetings, they are visiting with local farmers, preparing seed information, organizing the seed shed, and training our seed shed watch cats to be fierce guardians.

I think they aren't spending as much time as they should on that last part.

Roganne Murray

Roganne is a farm wife, mother to a spunky two year-old and all-around farm girl. She and her husband Matt live in a white house on the Illinois prairie, and you can follow their adventures raising what they hope will be the sixth generation of Murrays to farm in Champaign county at White House on the Prairie.