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Homemade for the Holidays
For the family’s love of homemade cinnamon rolls, I quietly step through the silence of our predawn home and into the kitchen to get rolling. Still dark outside, I work from the glow of Christmas tree and the light of the kitchen island, where I had staged the final roll-making supplies the night before. I softly stream holiday music and savor the early morning peace, interrupted only by the tick of a warming stove and gentle blow from the furnace vents. That moment continues a home-baked holiday tradition at least three generations old, taught by my mother and grandmother before me. Now, my daughter often joins me.
Farmers feed the need for nutrients
Like humans, crops have dietary needs. And just as food prices have soared, fertilizers that provide nutrients for crops have nearly tripled since 2020.
'Til Death do us Part
Farmers share profound commitment to the land
Grandpa expressed concern about three things when he left the hospital: Getting home to the farm. Making sure the yard was mowed. And checking that the crops were planted.
Agriculture cultivates better communities
“My life is one big volunteer commitment. LOL.” That’s an accurate assessment. I inquired about a project of our FFA Alumni organization, and my aunt was fresh off two community events for separate volunteer groups that weekend. Mind you, this is after a week of watching grandkids, preparing meals for the farm crew and caring for aging parents. It seems appropriate to insert a cross-eyed, slightly stressed emoji face to our message exchange. Her bank account didn’t reflect it, but she impacted many lives for the better and profited in satisfaction.
Beefing up the freezer stocks
Every summer, we defrost the 30-cubic-foot chest freezer, pulling its contents and removing the frosty ice chunks in preparation for the annual supply of beef from our family farm. We receive up to 200 pounds of steaks, roasts and ground products by August, all harvested, processed and frozen by our local family butcher. Since my ability to chew ground beef, I have dined on “freezer beef,” or local-sourced beef in bulk quantities equivalent to a quarter, half or whole animal raised on the farm.
Pesticides support food security
More often than wars, global trade disputes or extreme weather events, insects, diseases and weeds threaten the nation’s food supply with relentless consistency, season after season.
Farmers natural partners in pollinator effort
It seems an unlikely thought that farmers would respect a plant with “weed” in its name. Yet the last few years, our farm has mowed or sprayed around patches of milkweed in pastures, ditches, field edges and grassy knolls in support of the monarch butterfly. Now, our kids experience and identify this signature orange-and-black pollinator as I did as a kid.
Planting the unofficial start to the new year
Spring upstages January in delivering a fresh start, a contagious feeling when flowers bloom, morel mushrooms pop and calves frolic through greening pastures. Warming temperatures recharge motivations to grill out, eat healthier and take walks. We again experience the satisfying exhaustion of days spent in fresh air and sunshine.
A West Coast cousin is guaranteed to call out “rush hour,” when more than one car passes the farmyard during our annual game of wiffle ball. Since childhood, we have played a ball game every year that our city cousins visit the farm. Now adults, they still poke fun at the traffic pattern of primarily the mailman and some neighbors who wave as they pass.
Ag Day celebrates impact of family-dominated industry
Some families gather only for the major holidays. I work every day with the people who raised me. Dad and I pair as a combine-and-cart duo for 14-hour days during harvest. In the off-season, Mom and I work from facing desks, handling bills and agency reporting requirements as a team. I communicate with my brother daily, together managing the details of running our crop and livestock farm, one of 71,000 such farms in Illinois.
No time to chill: Winter a season of evaluation
On the six-hour drive home, we jotted down action items to improve the family farm. The list added to the workload that had accumulated while away from the farm office for the better part of three days. But nothing seemed unattainable. We had just left a farm conference packed with a lineup of brilliant speakers and creative thinkers, the type who can re-ignite the motivation that the pandemic and its policies had temporarily siphoned from us.
Winter brings extra chores for animal care
We had only one item on our Black Friday shopping list: a metal poultry fountain. It didn’t satisfy any Christmas wishes, but it was freezing outside, and the chickens needed water, not ice, from their drinking water dispenser. The new container’s galvanized metal construction allowed it to rest atop a heated base. We purchased the drinker with a 20% off coupon, and the kids’ laying hens now have thawed water until the last freeze of spring.
Memories trim the tree
The first test of our marriage arrived with our first Christmas tree. I wanted the picture-perfect experience: Newlyweds strolling through the local tree farm. Big, falling snowflakes. Lots of laughter while wearing a cute stocking hat with matching mittens. You know, just in case someone would snap our photo for a magazine cover.
Farmers know more, do more about Soil Health
My kids quickly mastered the abbreviations N, P and K during study sessions on the periodic table for middle school science. I couldn’t explain why K stood for potassium other than phosphorous already used the letter P. Regardless, the kids memorized the elements knowing they impacted their lives as much as course grade.
Grain bins a harvest sweet spot
At nearly 4 years old, our son’s Christmas wish list included grain storage bins and a “wiggle tractor.” (His description for a tractor that articulates in the middle). He found toy versions of both under the tree.
Hey, look at the hay
While some people ho-hum about the drive between here and the Rockies, I noted the hay bales during our summer road trip. The large round bundles of dried fresh grasses or clover dotted the landscape, photo-worthy in most instances. They sat proudly in fields, waterways and field edges as an iconic symbol of rural America. And they’re a major feedstuff for livestock, notably cows that consume more than 30 pounds a day when pasture grass cannot provide.
Dollars to donuts: The great State Fair returns
We park the van, help the kids set up 4-H exhibits and make a beeline to the donut stand. Through the glass display in the mobile food trailer at the Illinois State Fair, we watch a machine pump out mini rings of donut batter into what resembles a lazy river of hot cooking oil. The donuts sizzle as they move along the channel of oil before a turner flips them to fry the opposite side. A worker coats the donuts in granulated sugar and serves them in quantities as large as commemorative plastic pails.
Hot fact: Illinois No.1 in Horseradish
As a kid, I only knew horseradish as the white, hot condiment that Mom enjoyed on her roast beef sandwich. As an adult, I learned a cool fact about the vegetable with sinus-clearing heat: Illinois ranks No. 1 in horseradish production. Farmers in southwest Illinois grow two-thirds of the nation’s supply, easily winning the horse(radish) race with more than double the acreage of No. 2 California.
Weather demands resiliency, binds farmers everywhere
We mount rain gauges on various fenceposts for measuring rainfall totals. My brother can cite the exact date of the previous year’s last freeze of spring and first freeze of fall as if they were birthdays. And I would predict an 80% chance of weather talk at the dinner table with my family.
Bring on the Beef
May is National Beef Month. The occasion marked the first time my husband’s family had dined out together in at least 16 months, and we celebrated the moment of normalcy with beef. The ten of us sat in a semi-private space at a favorite steakhouse, more than six feet from anyone but our waiter. My filet was fantastic, cuttable by butter knife and made even better surrounded by family.
Phones Planted like Pliers in Farmer Pockets
I still remember the spring when an unnamed farmer attempted to grow a crop of cell phones. While outside the tractor cab in the field, he had dropped then driven over his two-week-old cell phone twice. Once with a planter and soon after with a tillage implement that placed it subsurface like a seed.
Food brings everyone to the table
On a recent winter evening, my kids announced that we had missed National Blueberry Pancake Day. “Alexa” had told them about it. They continued to chuckle, ask questions and give commands to this internet-connected smart speaker, which responds to the name Alexa. On their cue, the robotic female voice delivers generally unimportant facts and plays exaggerated noises of passing gas. And that, of course, generates more laughter.
Love for the land, Valentine month and beyond
On a westward drive to the home farm, my eyes drift to the tree-lined grassy knoll atop the Southeast Field. From that hilltop a good half mile off the gravel road, you can take in one of the best views of the home farm. Add in a brilliant sunset, and my heart feels the praise that we vocalize in unison at Sunday worship: God is good.
Innovation grows on the farm
As infatuated as I am with old barns and windmills, I’m equally captivated by rows of young corn plants that don’t overlap at the end rows, a pleasing visual credited to satellite technology and automatic planter row shutoffs. Photographs of our farm’s old barns decorate walls of the farm office, where the top of a weathered windmill also backdrops my desk. The newest canvas print on the wall shows modern machines harvesting biotech crops near the solar panels that help power our grain drying and storage.
Farm influences gifts under the tree
When almost 4 years old, our son’s Christmas wish list included a “tree cutter” (chain saw), a “bin site” (grain storage facility), and a “wiggle tractor,” (his description of a high-horsepower tractor that articulates, or bends, in the middle). To his delight, he received toy versions of all of them. Life on the farm influences the gifts found under the family tree, often itself decorated with ornaments shaped as cows, pigs, barns, and corn-consuming wildlife.
A time to celebrate family, food and its affordability
To my surprise, our son recently announced how much he loves Thanksgiving. Keep in mind, this comes from a kid who started his Christmas wish list in August. For a couple weeks this fall, he and his sister discussed whether our 10-month-old farm dog should dress as a delivery driver or a hot dog for Halloween.
Porktober: Time to Salute Pork
My husband had never acted so delighted about supper.
He sat on the porch in anticipation of my first attempt at barbecued baby back ribs on our new smoker. He inhaled the smoky aroma from his porch seat, sipped a choice beverage, and voiced approval during the final un-foiling of the fare.
The pile of rib bones after the meal told the finger-licking tale: I had found his new favorite meal.
Harvest routine brings normalcy during pandemic
I hold out hope that the upcoming harvest season delivers a 60-day dose of normalcy, seldom felt since COVID-19 changed our lives. The pandemic-friendly activity naturally isolates us to the cabs of trucks, tractors, and combines. We drive all day yet stay within a 15-mile radius of home. And as usual, our social schedule works around the priority task of harvest, an easier feat this year now that COVID-19 has cleared the calendar.
Corn Engrained in Lifestyle
We named our puppy Maizey, playing on the corn phrase “maize.” The name seemed fitting for a yellow-colored Labrador and a tribute to the crop at the root of our livelihoods. We also thought the name was unique until we learned the farmer two miles south calls his dog the same.
Roots run deep in the garden
I literally followed Mom’s footsteps into my gardening hobby. As a youngster, I walked behind my mom while she guided the tiller across the garden. When her heel lifted from the freshly tilled soil, I put mine down onto her footprint that formed in the soft black medium for vegetable seeds and transplants. I stretched to reach each footprint, careful not to step on her heel as she slowly guided the front-tine machine.
Raise a Glass to Dairy Month
While the COVID-19 pandemic prompted many Americans to hoard toilet paper, I chose milk. I panic-purchased five gallons in late March for our family of four in case I needed to freeze some. Rather, we made smoothies and milkshakes to consume it before the best-by date.
Planting presses through another unprecedented season
When the wall calendar changed in January, we looked to the 2020 planting season with anxious optimism. Our family, farm friends, and even fields needed a fresh start after 2019. Last year’s growing season was brutal, from its unprecedented widespread planting delays and trade wars to a muddy harvest that crept into the month of December.
Farm stewardship celebrated on Earth Day
Every April after an evening mushroom hunt in the timber, the sunset’s glow across the home farm triggers a connective feeling to the land that I struggle to describe.
"Calving Cameras Intend to Simplify Season"
How we care for our farm’s small herd of beef cows gives off a nostalgic vibe: The lineage of the cows traces back to Grandpa’s herd. Cows give birth to calves in the shelter of a century-old barn. Hedge posts harvested from the farm frame the pasture fence, and we paid the local FFA chapter to build the feed bunks in the cattle lots.
Blue eggs, baby birds beat winter blahs
The promise of blue eggs from a chirping cardboard box helps beat the winter blahs at our house this season. Oh, how some tales from our household could form a nonsensical storybook. Yet, even Dr. Seuss didn’t put this color of egg into rhymes nor did he illustrate the century-old tradition of chicken delivery via the U.S. Postal Service, America’s exclusive shipper of live chicks.
"Good Food Brings Winter Comfort"
These days, my husband’s favorite supper of roast beef with mashed potatoes, gravy and homemade rolls prompts him to ask, “What’s the occasion?” My response: “We’re home.”
Memories around the tree glow bright
Six Christmas trees help set the holiday mood in our home.
My husband keeps a different tally, pointing out that our indoor forest calculates to a few dozen evergreens when you count the 12-inch trees atop the kitchen cupboards and the backdrop to our nativity display. Don’t forget the tabletop trees that surround my Christmas barns, nor the set of trees cut from aged barn wood displayed on our bathroom counter. In the kitchen, we decorate a pencil tree with old family cookie cutters, a personal favorite.
Harvest Traditions Shine Through Challenges
Much of what I love about farm life convenes in a corn field on a harvest evening: crisp fall air, incredible sunsets, comfort foods and the synergy of family and employees-who-are-like-family working together to gather the harvest. Ideally, only the delivery of a hot meal interrupts the harvest pace, not a breakdown.
Back to School not business as usual
A classic yellow school bus against a cornfield backdrop on a rural road says American as much as the homemade ice cream we crank for the Fourth of July. Sometimes, I snap a photo of the approaching bus as it rounds the bend, stirring a dust cloud on the gravel road to our home farm.
Small stuff softens Stressful Summer
Spots nibbles contently off the top of his feed pile. Hunter likes to burrow his face in the twice-daily ration, And Shadow attacks his feed trough like an alligator; the white pig with a shadow of red on his back swoops the length of the trough for a mouthful, lifts his head to swallow, and rapidly returns for more like a competitive eater.
Storm of stressors strike Farm Country
Some call this spring’s collision of farm stressors the perfect storm. Unprecedented planting delays trouble farmers throughout the Corn Belt. Long-duration flooding halts barge movement of crops and fertilizer. A trade agreement with our nation’s neighbors needs ratified to improve markets. Agency actions reduce ethanol volumes and thus corn demand.
Cousins bond on and off farm
When’s the next time we’re going to see our cousins?”
That question takes the No. 2 spot behind, “What are we doing tomorrow?” from the mouth of our 11-year-old son. Primarily, he wants to know when “something fun” makes the itinerary, and cousins always fit that description.
Bud not such a Buddy
The Super Bowl beer advertisement brewed belly-aches in my living room full of corn farmers. For a pain-staking 60 seconds, we watched Bud Light knights transport an oversized and unwanted barrel marked “corn syrup” in its medieval-themed advertisement.
Modern moms, Manure and Monarchs Mainstream, unusual mix on the farm
You could call me a modern, mainstream mom at times: I use grocery pickup services. The touch of a smartphone app locates my 13-year-old’s missing cell phone. And home-delivery subscriptions supply our household’s toilet paper and laundry detergent.
Agriculture Hopes Pain Leads to Long-Term Trade Gain
On a recent winter night, my silent kids in the back seat reminded me of the bedtime car rides that rocked me to a light slumber as a child. With my childhood eyes closed, the car’s sounds and motions acted as my GPS between Grandma’s house and our rural abode.
Best Bargains Made Early on Farm Supply Buys
My husband will attest that my obsession with holiday-time bargains unleashed when the kids slept. Morning and night, I glanced through bookmarked web-pages for product price drops in November and December.
Farm creates country-style Christmas
I love this time of year. My infatuation with the holiday season seems fitting for a Christmas Eve baby who literally traveled home from the hospital in a Christmas stocking. I’m so in love with the Christmas season that my husband and I decorated a “wedding tree” at our late-summer reception in the farm shop: a 12-foot scotch pine under which guests placed presents – the tree itself was a gift from the local Christmas tree farm.
Farmers work to put harvest on the done list!
I vividly remember looking over the spiral-bound, wide-ruled notebook folded open on Grandpa’s farm shop bench. On the paper, he scribed a list of things to do in thick pencil lead and all capital letters. His distinctive, slanted, all-caps handwriting emulated the feeling of authority and speed with its raw, yet refined, formation of words.
Friends Celebrate a Century of Farm Bureau Impact
Farmer Dale delighted passengers with rides in his 1919 Ford Model T on that pleasant summer evening at the fairgrounds. The ride from yesteryear stirred thoughts about how the automobile dramatically changed life. Those thoughts continued under a nearby tent, where tractors from every decade of the last century sat on display. The earliest models replaced horses in a dramatic shift for farm life and food production.