It's a passion for farmers to raise these animals with as much care as they would any animal.

Illinois Farm Families Blog

Dec 21 2015

Farmers Don’t Stop Farming In the Winter

With blasts of arctic air hitting all throughout the midwest, and northeast, it’s hard to think that someone would WILLINGLY go out into this weather. Some people don’t have a choice. Some of those people happen to be the farmers that continue to check on the livestock that may bring you your milk, butter, eggs, and meat. It’s a difficult job, but someone has to do it. I’m so grateful (at the moment) that the someone is not me. 

My son has always wanted to live on a farm. Yes. Even at 14, he still talks about tending to a field of crops, and animals, and for the most part, I think he’s thinking that an acre is the biggest it can get. Especially when I explained that an acre is about the size of a football field. After telling him that some farmers have 200 acres, or sometimes even thousands of acreage that they tend to, he looked a little green in the face. It led to an interesting discussion about what farmers HAVE to do, and how they can’t take time off because of weather. Rain, extreme heat, or frigid temperatures do not keep these hard-working men and women in bed like so many of us can afford to do. Temperatures in Chicago drop below 0 degrees quite often during the winter months. Last January, we had a record-breaking day that was easily -45 and some of us had the option of staying safe and warm in our homes. Our city shut down for the most part, and it was amazing to see, Chicago, a bustling city, relatively quiet. a

winter on the farmAfter visiting a hog farm a couple of years ago, I was reminded during that time, that farmers don’t get to call off. They still have to go and check on their flock, and make sure that their needs are being met, and that they are well taken care of. It’s not a job for the faint of heart, or for those that don’t know how to bundle. We were cold walking from the barn to the pen, and I couldn’t imagine doing it daily. 

I’m realizing that farming isn’t just one of those jobs that you say – this looks easy! – it’s all about focus, and making sure that the crop, or livestock that you’re caring for, is the best for potential customers. Whether that be at a farmers market, or your local grocery store. Given that the majority of the farmers also consume what they grow, I’m sure that they would want the best for THEIR families as well. This is for organic AND non-organic farmers. I’m sure that they want the quality of whatever they are tending to, to best meet the needs of their family, and their customers. Otherwise they are out of a job. 

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.)

Jan 17 2014

Interview With a Farm Wife

This month, as part of my Brand Ambassadorship for Illinois Farm Families, I am bringing you an interview with Kristen Strom: a mother, a teacher, a blogger and the wife of a farmer. Kristen grew up in the Chicago suburbs, but now lives in a small town outside of Peoria, IL from which she can commute to her job teaching high school English and her husband can commute to his job working on his family’s grain farm.

As someone who grew up near the city, but now is now part of a farm family, Kristen is in a unique position to bridge the gap between consumers and farmers. Like many of us in the cities and suburbs, Kristen had a lot of misconceptions about life on a farm before she met her husband. These days, Kristen tries to dispel some of these misconceptions and to share what it means to be a farmer’s wife — from a city girl’s perspective — on her blog Farm Notes from Little Dahinda, IL.

Here are some excerpts from my interview with Kristen:

What has surprised you the most about being married to a farmer? What do you enjoy about being part of a farm family?

[Some of the things that surprised me are] how hardworking they all are – they work all the time. It’s a lifestyle, similar to a family business. The whole family is involved at all times and everyone is involved in the work.  [Also], life and work depend on the weather…it runs your life and what happens on a daily basis and how crops are growing. [Lastly, being a] “Farmer’s Widow:” my first fall on the farm a fellow farm-wife told me that I was a “farmer’s widow” and I didn’t know what she meant. During fall and spring seasons, I basically am on my own due to the long working hours of my farmer husband. He wakes up before the sun — about 5am — and gets home anywhere from 11pm-2am to grab a few short hours of sleep. I take care of all household needs and my children during those busy months. Our only chances to see my husband or the farm family is by taking visits out to the field, and that may only be about a few seconds or a few hours of visiting time, depending on what they are doing, what the weather is like, what field they are in, etc.

[What I enjoy about being part of  farm family is] having opportunities for my kids to learn about agriculture, hard work, and being a part of a “team” where we all do our part. My kids will know where their food comes from, how to interact and care for livestock, and how farming operations works- they will probably know more than me as they get older.

Did you have misconceptions about agriculture before you married your husband? If so, what were they? Do you feel that urban and suburban folks have misconceptions about agricultural production in this country?

I thought all farms smelled and, on my first visit to the farm when we were dating, I asked, “where is all the grain” because he had said they were “grain” farmers. I thought “grain” only meant wheat so I was expecting to see all wheat fields. I thought all farms looked the same: white house, picket fence, a few barns, lots of farm animals, and beautiful scenery, much like the children’s books about farms and farm animals I read growing up. I also thought all farmers looked the same and were older. I didn’t realize that a guy my age could be really good looking AND a farmer!

[In terms of] misconceptions, people don’t realize how much agriculture and farming play a role in their daily lives: what they eat, what they use, how corn and soy beans are used for various products and food. Also, most farms are operated by families and not companies.  They don’t realize that farmers have a lot of  knowledge of food safety and want to raise safe food for their families and everyone else that they feed; that “organic” isn’t necessarily the best; that crop protection protection products are all regulated and farmers have to be licensed to use them, or that growing non-GMO crops isn’t a reality for meeting consumer/world demand for food.

What’s happening on the farm right now? Is this a slow time of year for your husband?

Because we have our own large grain facility, the guys are trucking corn and soybeans to the river ports and processing facilities. This means they wake up early to get in the truck to make it to the facilities by opening time (6am) and they work until they close (4-6pm).  Other things [that are going on right now]: input purchases (seed, fertilizer, chemicals, equipment, etc.), evaluating equipment needs and repairing equipment, field repair if conditions are right, meet with landlords to discuss current rented land, year-end budget analysis for 2014, lots of book work and time in the office.

Any special holiday traditions that you observe? Will you be cooking anything special for the holidays?

Each grandparent still hosts a Christmas at their house and there are lots of family gatherings since there is time to see each other at this time of year. [We also do an] annual Farm Christmas Dinner with our employees and their families – always at a steak house! My mother-in-law and sister-in-law are amazing cooks. It’s hard to beat anything they make. When I got married and received kitchen items for gifts, my mom laughed because I had never really cooked before. My husband has high expectations for what food and desserts should taste like, so I try my best and am always trying to find new recipes that will knock his socks off. I have a few “Kristen” recipes that I’ve discovered on my own or “borrowed” from them that I now share with my family which impress them during the holidays!

If you could tell urban and suburban parents anything about life as a farm wife, what would you want to tell them?

Bring your kids to visit a working farm, to meet farmers, interact with livestock, and see where their food comes from and is raised. It’ll be an eye opening and rewarding experience that the whole family won’t forget. You’ll be amazed at what you don’t know and what you learn!

Thanks so much to Kristen for taking the time to talk with me during this busy time of year. I really enjoyed our conversation and hearing about how she has adjusted to life as part of a farm family. For more information about Kristen and her family — including some of the food she makes for her husband and the other farmers during planting and harvest time –  check out her blog.

Originally posted December 20, 2013 on West of the Loop.
Reposted with permission.

Emily Paster

Emily is an East Coast native now living outside of Chicago. She works part-time teaching legal writing at a local law school and spends a lot of her time cooking, writing and taking care of her family. Check out Emily's blog, West of the Loop, as she writes about the joys and difficulties of parenting and feeding our families. 

Jan 14 2014

New Year Resolutions

January is resolutions month.  Hope for our future fortune results in goals we all make—personally and professionally—for the upcoming year.  The extent to which we follow-through with those goals, however, is the disappointment we know all-too-well.  It takes discipline, focus, and frankly a bit of “luck and pluck” to achieve ambitious New Year Resolutions—be it weight loss or career advancement.

Farmers have New Year Resolutions too, though we wouldn’t call them “resolutions.”  Our hopes and ambitions often take seed in the middle of a growing season or livestock growth cycle and are tested or implemented in the succeeding year.  They take longer to develop than traditional New Year’s Resolutions and therefore are more of an ongoing process than a ritual performed after the ball drops in Times Square.  Nonetheless we profess to ambitions for the upcoming year just as our non-farm friends.  And it is a great time to review our short-term and long-term goals for the farm—‘tis the season.

Here are a few of the goals I have for our farm.  This year, the focus is diversification and research.  Corn and soybeans have had a fine run up in prices these past few years, but the party is over I’m afraid.  Moreover, I think it’s wise to see how we can maintain (or exceed) current revenues but with a different risk portfolio rather than just two dominant crops (ie multiple crops mean multiple non-correlated revenue streams).  That’s the theme for 2014, let’s try something different!

  1. Grow quinoa successfully.  That’s right, we tried quinoa on our farm on a small scale last year…and it failed. Quinoa thrives in cooler, arid conditions—not exactly what western Illinois is known for.  But consumers are demanding these “ancient grains” that are discussed on health TV shows and in popular press.  And quinoa is a relative to a common weed we fight on our farm—so it SHOULD work eventually, right?  That’s the goal for 2014.
  2. Grow buckwheat successfully.  When the quinoa failed, we decided to try winter wheat and follow that with buckwheat—which is another incredibly healthy “grain” (it’s technically a fruit) that is in the same league as quinoa but with less press coverage.  It also does best in relatively cool conditions on poorer, drier soils.  It is also very rich for honey bees—another long term possibility.
  3. Market popcorn successfully.  This past year, we experimented with specialty red and blue “hull-less” popcorn (the seed coat is thinner, nearly eliminating the “junk” that gets stuck in your teeth that you get when you eat regular generic popcorn).  We successfully grew it, now we need to clean it, bag it, and market it successfully.  Our brand name is Pilot Knob Comforts and if we’re lucky, you’ll see them in a few different retail outlets across Illinois…and maybe filled with quinoa and buckwheat as well!
  4. Continue growing Non-GMO Food-Grade Soybeans AND Non-GMO Corn.  I believe in the right for a consumer to choose—vote with your wallet!  That’s why I grow both non-GMO and GMO crops on our farm.  Both are safe for consumers (there’s no sound science to suggest otherwise; anti-GMO advocates are wrong but so are farmers that denounce the organic movement—some people like organic and non-GMO for lifestyle reasons, not the incorrect scientific arguments that popular media portrays).  Both offer advantages on a farm.  But for us, the premiums consumers are willing to pay for non-GMO are well worth our time and effort.  It won’t work on every acre of farmland, but for us it earns more income and for the end-user they have a particular product which they are willing to purchase at a premium.
  5. Experiment with strip-tillage, root-zone-banding, and micronutrients in our corn and soybeans.  These are technologies farmers have been using for years, but they haven’t made sense on our farm—at least not collectively.  Strip-till is where we only till a narrow 8” strip in the fall or early spring, injecting most of our fertilizer in that band where only the roots reach it (the root-zone-banding component).  This reduces soil erosion, minimizes fertilizer applied and keeps fertilizer in the crop rather than in local streams.  All this while maintaining and increasing yield.  We’re also experimenting on multiple fertilizer applications during the growing season, but with micro-nutrients.  Micro-nutrients are only required by plants in small quantities.  A few pounds of, say Sulphur, Zinc, and Boron might be what gives our corn the extra “umph” at critical growth stages.  All these experiments lead to a more sustainable corn and soybean farm.  They enable greater yields, while preserving the environment and soil responsibly.  It’s win-win when we figure out how all three technologies intertwine!

Five “resolutions,” five new ideas.  I am excited for 2014 on our farm.  Wish us luck as I wish you the very best for 2014.

Andrew Bowman
Onieda, Illinois

Jan 07 2014

How Are Farmers Dealing With This Weather?

With a good chunk of the Midwest experiencing a cold snap unlike anything most of us have ever felt in our lifetime, I’m seeing reminders all over the place that in some lines of work, folks don’t get the day off because it’s chilly. Farming is certainly no exception! I chatted with Illinois farmer Holly Spangler yesterday to find out how her family is dealing with the severe weather.

I asked Holly what they did to get ready for the freezing temperatures:

“We were fortunate in that we knew this cold blast was coming, which means we could prepare. For the cows, we can put out large wagons filled with chopped feed (chopped grass, called ryelage) with several days’ worth of feed. We feed them a little more when it’s this cold so they have more energy, plus it minimizes the feeding we have to do on the cold days. That frees us up to deal with other problems, like frozen waterers or sick cows or whatever else may come up.”

Holly went on to tell me about the various tasks they performed to try to avoid potential problems that might occur with the frigid cold. Before the storm hit, her husband John double checked all of their automatic cattle waterers (their farm has five different wells with pumps that supply water), putting in light bulbs to keep them from freezing and checking that the electric heaters in each waterer were operating.

Prior to a big storm like this, the Spanglers try to make sure every animal has some kind of shelter from the cold – whether it’s the barn or a windbreak if the cattle are out on pasture. They also have to prep their equipment. According to Holly, diesel fuel will quickly gel up in freezing temperatures, so they make sure to park the equipment they’ll be needing– including something they can use to move snow out of the way – in their heated shop, or plug the machinery in to keep it warm enough that it will start in the morning.

Despite all the precautions farmers take, things don’t always go smoothly. When you’re outdoors dealing with the elements you’re bound to have a few curveballs thrown at you. Holly told me about a few curveballs her husband dealt with yesterday:

“When John went to check on one group of cows and their waterers, he discovered that the cover on the well pit – a 6×6 pit that’s about 8 feet deep and houses the water pump – had blown off in the crazy wind last night. Which meant the pump was frozen and in turn, the waterer (where the cattle actually drink) had frozen. He had to get an electric heater and put it in the well pit, then poured six gallons of hot water into the waterer and covered it with a couple blankets. In the course of doing all this, he’d parked the tractor they’d used to plow snow (in order to get to the cows) and feed, and left it running. At -13 degrees and with bitter cold wind, the tractor had begun to freeze up in a matter of minutes – even while it was idling.”

I know I personally didn’t even leave my house yesterday, so I can’t imagine what it was like to be working outside dealing with the unexpected in those temperatures! Unfortunately not leaving the house really isn’t an option for John or any other farmer, no matter how cold it gets. I asked Holly what would happen if they decided to take a day off from caring for their animals. She said that, like people, the cattle would survive if they went a day without food – they’d be unhappy about it, but they’d make it:

“The average human could go a day or so without eating; they’ll be cranky but they’ll make it. The average child or pregnant woman: they require more care, and going without food or water is a more critical situation. Livestock are similar. If we didn’t feed one day, they’d be mooing but they’d make it. Calves or cows about to calve would need more care. However, we just don’t ever take a day off, especially in weather like this. The cattle need monitoring and water and feed, and eating a little extra gives them more energy to deal with extreme cold temperatures.”

Holly’s family is thankful that their animals aren’t calving right now – in the dairy industry, calves are born year-round, so there are dairy farmers having to deal with newborn calves this week. Holly elaborated on the issue of calving in temperatures like what we’ve been experiencing:

“Having to get a new, wet baby calf warm and dry in these temps would be perilous. And really, really, work intensive. It’s not uncommon to bring a baby calf into the house or basement or garage to warm him up – we’ve done it before!“

This comment really made me think about farmers – and their families – and exactly how dedicated to their jobs they have to be. If I really don’t feel like going to work one day, it’s not the end of the world – I can call in. Farmers can’t, ever, no matter if it’s 80 degrees out or below zero. And sometimes their work literally comes home with them, in the form of a baby calf warming up in their basement. So today, as I write this from my toasty house looking out the window at the frozen landscape outside, I’m thinking of all the farmers out braving the elements today, thankful for their never-ending commitment to the land and the animals in their care.

And many thanks to Holly Spangler (and John!) for taking the time out of what I’m sure was not the most relaxing day of the year to answer my questions.  :)

Originally posted January 7, 2014 on Super Suburbs.
Reposted with permission.

Betsie Estes
Chicago, Illinois

Betsie was born and raised in Chicago. As a wife and mother of two, she enjoys sharing her family's adventures in the 'burbs of Chicago. Read more from Betsie on her blog, Super Suburbs.

Jan 06 2014

365-Day Farming: Just Because it Feels Like -45 Degrees Doesn't Mean You Can Call Off!

Well “Hello” 2014!

Now a few days ago we welcomed the fresh snow blanketing our little city with hats, gloves, boots and holiday cheer. Let it Snow…Let it Snow…Let it Snow!

It gave us the perfect excuse to bundle up and head out for some seriously fun family time!

We frolicked and played…

…and when our fun turned into pure discomfort…we headed back in the house…

…but now that the weather has taken a drastic turn, our family time is staying behind closed doors!

Today in Chicago we’re experiencing record lows of -15 with incredible wind chills of up to 35 miles per hour, the equivalent of what might feel like -45 degrees! According to Gary Schenkel, Executive Director of Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, “Everyday activities may not be feasible. If you can stay indoors, please do so.”

And it seems as though folks are taking heed. Schools, museums and other government institutions have closed their doors today because “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Planes have been grounded and even Interstates closed due to frigid, icy conditions. You can’t even rent a Divvy Bike today to cruise down the slushy Chicago streets (because there’s always somebody taking a chance)!

But despite the freezing temps, there are some folks that don’t have the luxury of closing their doors on a day like today….FARMERS!

For Farmers it’s still business as usual. The cows still need to be milked, the hogs still need to be fed and there’s a whole host of responsibilities that can’t just wait until tomorrow when the weather is more agreeable. In fact, local Illinois Farmer Holly Spangler shared that her Husband, John, left out the house to start his morning chores and returned shortly thereafter “for more of everything. More gloves, a second hat, another face mask. Another jug of hot water.” She went on to say that “-14 is actually painfully cold.”

…And I believe you, Holly…and there’s no need for me to confirm it!

So the next time you bow your head to pray and bless the hands that prepared your pot pie, remember Farmer John Spangler who braved this dangerous and blustery cold day to get the ingredients for your pot pie from farm- to- table!

Originally posted January 6, 2014 on Momma Mina.
Reposted with permission.

Amina Nevels
Chicago, Illinois

Amina is a yoga instructor and jazz singer turned wife, mom and avid knitter. She lives in Chicago with her husband and two daughters. Learn more about Amina and her adventures of motherhood on her blog, Momma Mina

Mar 23 2013

Spring on the Farm

Spring is right around the corner!  There are so many things to get excited about in the springtime.  The grass growing, flowers blooming, and a new crop of sweet little calves running around.  It won’t be very long before we we’ll be planting corn.  It will be time for meals in the fields, tractor rides, and fixing the guys supper at 10:00pm.  The kids will be daydreaming at school about being outside in the beautiful weather and enjoy being in it when they get home.  We’ve moved the clocks ahead and the longer days will begin.

To start off the busy spring season we have hogs that are ready Pigs nearing market weightto ship. This week we weighed the hogs to allow us to know which ones are ready to go.  We got these pigs in as 15 pounders last October.  My daughters spent a great deal of time playing with them when they were little. It’s a little more difficult to roll around with 200 pound pigs, so the girls don’t hop in with them now.  They enjoyed us having wean to finish hogs this time.  For the last 14 years we have raised feeder to finish hogs, which arrive at 50 pounds.  Although it was a little more work, it was fun to have the babies to raise.  

The most exciting part of spring on the farm from my point of view is new calves.  One group of our cows calved this fall, but our heifers should start calving around April 1st.  The heifers are the cows that are having babies for the first or second time.  Even though they are new moms, they know just what to do.  Watching those little calves run around the pasture is one of the best views.  They are so darn cute.  The warm weather and the sunny days make for a great time for calving.  Our daughters are great helpers when it comes to tagging the new calves and keeping track of their births.

We are about three weeks away from planting corn.  A load of seed corn was delivered this week and is in the shed awaiting going in the ground.  The guys are working on the planter to make sure that it is fully ready to go, that all parts and systems are set.  There are many, many decisions that go into each planting season, so we are always trying to stay educated on the latest technologies to make each crop the best it can be.

Right now it is cold, windy and snow, but hopefully in a few weeks the weather will have made a turn for the better and we’ll be hot and heavy in the spring farming season.

Stacy Schutz is is a farmer, wife, and mother of two daughters located in central Illinois. She farms with her family; raising corn, cattle and hogs. She loves her animals, food and is happy that they go hand in hand!  You can find out more about her at her blog, From Our Farm to You.
Feb 06 2013

Caring For Livestock During All Kinds of Weather

I was debating what blog topic to write for the Illinois Farm Families website this week.  While I was out helping Chad feed the cattle on one of the unusually warm days we’ve had, I thought about how much easier it is to care for all the critters when the weather is warm.  But, then I got to thinking about the terrible heat of the past summer and decided that each season has it pros and cons.  My preferences are spring and fall!  For winter things would go a little smoother when if we didn’t have to worry about frozen waters, cold calves, heaters not working, etc.  In the summer things would go smoother if we didn’t have to haul water, worry about overheated animals, or storms that cause power outages.

Our hogs are raised in climate controlled buildings.  There are sensors that we set to control the temperature, air flow, fans, and ventilation.  We make adjustments as the hogs grow. We are raising a group of wean to finish pigs right now.  They require a little bit more TLC at the beginning.  They were started with special feed mats and heat lamps to get them growing well.  As they have matured, the mats and lamps have been removed and they are eating out of the regular feeder in each pen.  This winter we have not had to worry about frozen pigs, bedding them down, slopping through the mud to feed them or trying to keep them cool in the summer.  Hogs can’t sweat and can get overheated easily. It has been 15 years since we switched to feeding out all our hogs inside.  It was an excellent choice for us and the hogs are all the more comfortable for it.

Cattle in snow

Our cattle are pretty easy to care for, but there are challenges in the winter and the summer.  In the winter we deal with frozen automatic waters and hydrants, the cattle require extra bedding in their shelters and extra feed to keep them warm and full.  Newborn calves can have a harder time keeping warm and when the weather yo-yo’s it is harder to keep everyone healthy – cattle and people included.  We are still hauling water to the wells in the winter and we have to keep our water trucks unfrozen to do that.  The summer months we need to keep the cattle cool.  The bulls don’t always breed as well when it is hot – just too hot to do their business.  The summer drought kept the grass from growing much.  We started feeding hay a lot earlier, feed prices went up, and we hauled water to the wells.

We love what we do, even with all the challenges that are faced.  Raising livestock is rewarding.  There is nothing like seeing a newborn spring calf running and bucking through the pasture, or sitting in pen with little piglets chewing on your boots.  The pros definitely outweigh the cons in raising livestock.

Stacy Schutz is a farmer, wife, and mother of two daughters located in central Illinois. She farms with her family; raising corn, cattle and hogs. She loves her animals, food and is happy that they go hand in hand!  You can find out more about her at her blog, From Our Farm to You.

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.

Jan 16 2013

Winter Projects

 Yippee, it rained! We need the moisture to replenish our dry soils. And an inch of rain with its accompanying winter-time mud is much easier to deal with than an equivalent precipitation amount of 10 inches of snow. But golly it was messy last week. I washed my minivan, but within four hours, the thawing snow, heavy rain and gravel roads repainted it.

Anyway… This time of year generates plenty of lists of winter projects beyond washing the car. So here’s another, showing what we’re up to on our family’s corn and soybean farm this time of year. (When the crops don’t grow, we still have plenty to do!)

In the farmyard:

  • Hauling grain. My family has hauled corn from on-farm storage to processing plants that are buying it to produce ethanol fuel, industrial alcohol, livestock feed and food-grade corn meal. Soybeans go to a terminal on the Illinois River, where it either is railed to processing plants for domestic use or barged downstream for export.
  • Field edge repair. Winter provides a good time to clean up brushy field edges. 
  • Equipment maintenance. We like the tractors and implements to be ready when warm weather prompts field work this spring.

Inside the farmhouse:

  • Bookwork. We “farm” at a computer, a desk in the office, the dining room table and kitchen counter. 
  • Tax preparation.
  • Paying for and/or placing orders for seed, fertilizer and crop protection products. (a.k.a. more bookwork – bad thing is, bookwork gives me the munchies)

Off the farm:

  • Farm trade shows and meetings. Gives us an education in anything from new equipment to trucking regulations and crop insurance.
  • Pesticide applicator exam. Our family’s farm must be educated and licensed to buy and apply restricted-use pesticides. 

For fun:

  • Playing in the snow (or rain puddles!).
  • Family board games and card games.
  • Extra movie nights. 
  • Watching for bald eagles. Our family’s main farmstead is near a small river, which attracts the majestic birds every winter. Pretty cool.

 Happy Winter!

Joanie Stiers farms a little, writes a little and mothers two young kids in western Illinois.

Jan 09 2013

Snow Days

Our first snow this winter happened to be a blizzard in West Central IL. Within a hour of it beginning, I found myself starting my 20 mile drive home from work down the county highway. I had to first pick up my kids in the nearest small town before heading home. Halfway to the babysitter’s house, I saw faint emergency vehicle lights ahead. Within a few seconds, I was stopped completely, and I continued to sit in the same spot for over 20 minutes behind three other cars. Visibility was anywhere from 0 to 100 feet due to the snow fall and the intense wind that whipped across the fields. It was obvious from the emergency vehicles, the lack of any traffic coming from the opposite direction, and our standstill that the highway was closed and there was no way of telling when we’d be on the move again.


Knowing that the snow storm was just beginning and I’d soon be driving in the dark, I became nervous. I noticed that there was a road in front of where the emergency vehicles were parked and that I could possibly make it around the other cars and turn onto an open country road. I assessed the situation: if I remained stopped on the highway, I had no idea how long it would be until we’d be allowed to continue our journey. I still had to pick up my kiddos and drive 10 miles in the blizzard all the while losing daylight. I also knew that after five winters of living in the country (and trading in my cute sports car for a huge Tahoe after my first winter on the farm), that I’d be able to brave the country roads on my own. So, with the courage of an “experienced” country driver, I turned on my hazard lights, slowly drove around the stopped cars in front of me, and turned onto the empty country road with the blizzard to brave on my own. I was able to detour around the accident and make it to my babysitter’s house before dark.


My drive home from the babysitter’s house was a whole different story. With the dwindling daylight the visibility was so poor, I had to stop completely a few times because I literally couldn’t see out my window. I had never felt so unsure of our safety. I even considered pulling off and knocking on the closest farm house in hopes of warm shelter to wait the storm out. Thankfully, I somehow made it home safe with only the frozen snow on vehicle to show the beating we just took in the blizzard.


While growing up in the Chicago suburbs, I rarely worried about road conditions during less than ideal weather conditions, just the traffic it would cause. Snow plows were constantly on the move and the weather never kept us from our destination. This is not true of country living. Things can get dangerous, and they get that way fast. During the winter, most country drivers are sure to travel with blankets in case of emergency as well as fully charged cell phones. We also don’t leave home unless it’s necessary. The school district I teach at even builds in five snow days to our school calendar, assuming we may have to take all of them. In the five years teaching there, on average we take three days off due to snow/ice/below zero temperatures. However, growing up, I only ever remember having one snow day...and we took advantage by sledding in our backyard and sipping on hot cocoa. 


While living in the country, I’ve learned many things, most of which include how to brave the elements of snow, rain, ice, and wind. If I hadn’t had the experience of living in the country, I would have never dared to blaze my own path during a blizzard through untraveled country roads, and I surely would have waited until the storm died down to leave my babysitter’s house to drive home.


My third winter on my husband’s family farm, a massive ice and wind storm caused power lines to blow down, leaving us without power. Our thermostat dropped to under 50 degrees, and we contemplated sleeping over at my in-laws across the road who had a generator hooked up so they’d have heat. Thankfully, the power came on before bedtime and we snuggled under the covers to keep warm.


The following winter, we were stuck for four days inside our house during a blizzard. We prepared in advanced by buying our own generator, shopping for the major grocery staples, and filling the bathtub with water in case we lost power to our well. Our road wasn’t plowed for 48 hours, and even then, we didn’t dare to drive through snow drifts. That same blizzard hit Chicago, and city-dwellers were upset that Lake Shore Drive shut down and that their cars were stuck on city streets, sometimes in the middle of them because they tried to drive despite the warning not to. When I lived in downtown Chicago for a couple of years, I kept a shovel in my sports car to get myself out of a parking spot in case I got plowed in overnight. I don’t miss the shoveling, but I do miss the ease of travel during snowy weather. For now, I make sure we all have our hats, gloves, and winter coats when we leave home and that my Tahoe has a few warm blankets just in case of an emergency. And if there’s a blizzard, we stay inside our cozy home where it’s safe and sound, and hopefully warm.


Kristen Strom

Brimfield, IL


(Pictures were taken during the 2010-11 winter blizzard when we were stuck in our house for four days. You know there's a lot of snow when your father-in-law has to use the HUGE snow plow to get you out of your house!)