MEET

Michele Aavang

cattle • corn • soybeans • wheat • hay

Michele Aavang

Woodstock, IL

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A farmer's alarm clock

I start my day the same way many farmers do all across the country. Regardless of how many animals are in their care, or the method of production they've chosen for their farm, farmers gets up and check their animals. I make sure ours are comfortable and secure, with plenty of food, water and dry places to rest. Our animals come first no matter the day, time of year, how little sleep I've had or what the weather conditions are like. It's who we are; it's a reason to wake up.

Choices

We grow corn, soybeans, wheat, hay and have a 60-cow herd of beef cattle. After 11 years of directly marketing finished beef to consumers, we decided to change how we market our cows. Today, we sell our calves as feeders at weaning age, which is around 7 months old.

Raising cattle naturally for consumers seeking out minimally processed meat was time and labor intensive. Our choice to change how we sell our cows was made when our son, Grant, started a dairy cow herd more than a year ago. This gave us the opportunity to help him grow his part of the farm. Grant graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville with a degree in animal science and a dairy emphasis. He has had an interest in the dairy industry his whole life and started working for dairy farms as a teenager. Our choice in how we raise our cattle was influenced by the resources available on the farm, including time.

Farmer by marriage

Gary grew up farming with his parents and grandfather, while I grew up in the Chicago suburbs and became a farmer by marriage. Now, we farm together on Willow Lea Stock Farm. The land where our cattle graze during the spring, summer and fall has been in my husband's family since the 1840s. For us, farming is a family affair; we have one full-time employee who is a cousin and a few other seasonal workers, and we are excited that Grant is pursuing his passion for the dairy industry.

Meeting consumer needs

We strive to be good stewards of the land and animals we care for. Our goal is to be productive and responsible on our farm. This is a choice that we've made because it's the right thing to do and what is best for our land, family and consumers.

About my family

Located an hour northwest of Chicago, Willow Lea Stock Farm has been in Gary's family since the 1840s. Here, we grow corn, soybeans, wheat, hay and also have a 60-cow herd of beef cattle. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin- Platteville, our son, Grant, has come back to join the family farm.

My Blog Posts

From the Farm to the Grocery Store, We All Have Choices
Refusing to take part in the food fight - you don’t have to choose a side.
Why I'm not labeling my beef as "natural" anymore

YOU DON'T HAVE TO CHOOSE A SIDE

I have neighbors who grow vegetables on large amounts of land using conventional methods along a state highway, perfect for a farm stand. They don’t believe there’s anything wrong with organic, but their choice is based on the fact that organic production requires more labor which is not readily available to them.

I have other friends who grow vegetables, but their farm is off the beaten path, so they’ve chosen to load a truck and sell at farmers markets and wholesale markets in Chicago.
 
Another friend grows heirloom vegetables on a small amount of acreage using organic methods because it’s what her customers want. She’s able to comply because her small scale farm is manageable for her without much extra help. Her veggies cost more due to the cost of organic certification and market expenses, but she’s found a niche for herself and gets a premium for her products.
 
Each has chosen what works best for them, not necessarily “a side.”
 
So to consumers who are struggling with food choices amidst overwhelming labels, adjectives and headline-grabbing, myth-based marketing campaigns, I say:
 
  • Pick whatever works best for YOU.
  • Don’t be misled by fear-mongers and unjustified guilt.
  • Ask questions of those who are actually growing the food, and discount the opinions of those who must tear down someone else’s choice to make theirs look most appealing.
  • Buy what you want given your own budget and preferences.
And remember that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing; there is no rule against buying conventional one day and organic the next. Whether you’re buying food for your family at a small farm stand, the local farmers market, Jewel, Trader Joe’s, Target, or Costco – with no adjectives or a list of adjectives as long as your arm – know that there’s a farmer at the other end who made choices, too.
 
There’s no wrong answer.