Meet the Gould family! Eldon and Sandy Gould have two adult children, Chris and Lynda. Lynda is a mixed animal veterinarian and married to a farmer. On the day of our farm tour, Lynda had a busy day at work caring for dogs, cats and even a horse, so she wasn’t able to join us until the very end of the afternoon. Chris and his wife, Dana, have two teenage children, a boy and a girl. Chris has joined his parents to run their family business, the Gould Family Farm, which is just 50 miles west of downtown Chicago.
Chris, Eldon, and Sandy graciously opened their doors to us and welcomed us onto their farm and into their family for the day to give us a first-hand account of their hog farm operation, our first farm tour of the year. They showed us historical photos of their farm, displaying how it has physically changed over the years with barns being added and a manure lagoon being filled in. Eldon shared with us how pig farming has changed since he was a teen in the 50’s and 60’s.Sandy has a degree in education and was a kindergarten teacher for some time before raising her family, and she clearly has a passion for teaching us moms about what they do on the farm. She keeps the records on all of the pigs, entering the data for each sow and litter of piglets. She has also successfully passed on her chocolate chip cookie baking skills to her grand-daughter; thank you, they were delicious! Chris thoroughly, yet succinctly, explained to us how the crops are managed and how they are related to the swine operation. We had an excellent overview of their operation before heading out into the barns to see the sows and piglets.
Ninety-four percent of Illinois farms are family farms, like the Goulds. Chris emphasized a point to us - that we should not define the farm as land and buildings; instead, the farm is defined as the business, the family business. It was an interesting point and I was glad he made it, because I had not considered that distinction.
Eldon grew up on a rented farm. In 1966, he and his father bought a neighboring farm that happened to come up for sale. Chris and his parents have expanded that farm operation and had an opportunity to purchase land several years ago during the real-estate market crash, but their crop land is primarily leased. Chris manages the crop side of the farm where they grow 3,000 acres of corn, soybeans and winter wheat. His father manages the livestock side where they care for 650-750 sows and raise market piglets (16,000 annually) in a "farrow-to-wean" operation. They are contracted with Hormel in Austin, Minnesota, where their market pigs are sold.
I’m learning what the big mid-west agricultural universities are and the University of Illinois is a big one around Chicago. This family seems to have a U of I legacy going! Eldon graduated from U of I in 1963 with a degree in Animal Science. Chris graduated from U of I with a degree in Agricultural Engineering with a focus in Mechanical Engineering.
I was surprised to learn that the Gould farm employs six full-time employees; three on the crop-side, two on the swine side, and one trucker. They employ at least one high-school student who works on weekends and occasionally additional help during pig weaning. They also have a farm veterinarian who works with about 24 area farms. The Gould family members on this farm are largely farm managers; meaning they do all of the record-keeping, attend seminars, and manage day-to-day workings from their office full-time. I had an image in my head of the family running the farm and doing all of the physical labor themselves, but this farm is different than others I’ve been learning about.
Every one of the Gould family members we met cares about the welfare of their animals and also the welfare of the land they are farming. Chris proudly regards Illinois soil as the “best” soil. He said it is fertile and very good soil; and acknowledged that farmers in Iowa and other mid-west locations probably consider their soil the best. He explained that his interests are to manage that fertility and maintain it to the best of their ability utilizing the most current technology available to them.
To describe their character in a list of words from the few hours we spent with them, I would use diligent, deliberate, thoughtful, honest, and respectful. They seem diligent when it comes to following regulations, striving to always improve, and being responsible neighbors. They seem deliberate about how they operate the farm. Every action has a reason and a purpose. They are thoughtful people. Their actions are thought-out. They collect data, analyze it, and then use it to move forward in a positive direction. They appeared to be very open and honest with us moms about how their farm business is run. We asked a lot of questions and they were all answered openly. They seem respectful of each other, the people that work for them, their animals, and the land they cultivate.
It was a privilege to be with the Gould family and learn about their life and work.
Oak Park, Illinois
Heather 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. Read more from Heather on her blog, Field Mom Journal.