catImagine a cute, cuddly puppy. Pets are a great thing to have around your house. It’s always nice to have a companion who will love you, no matter what. What kinds of pets have you had? Cats, dogs, hamsters or maybe a fish? A common misconception for livestock producers is that their animals, such as cattle or pigs, are treated as pets. This is far from true. By no means am I saying that livestock are treated cruel, but they are treated with respect as they are being raised.

cowFarmers and ranchers who raise livestock have one goal:  to raise healthy animals to be sold for consumers to eat. Do not be mistaken, they treat them very well in order to keep them comfortable and healthy year-round, but they would not normally give their cow name or put a collar on a pig. Livestock producers do care about their animals, just not in that loving, go fetch kind of way. Even though you may hear the horror stories in the news and on your television at home, I would like to paint a good picture in your head.

Being from a farm, I can attest to the fact that farmers and ranchers are not the cruel people that some may have thought them to be. We are constantly monitoring our animals. We make sure that if a cow seems to be sick, we get them to the veterinarian and get the medicine that they need. In the winter they get bedding put down regularly in the barn so that they can be warm and protected from the different weather elements. In addition to a protective building, cattle are provided with enough water, especially through this past year’s drought. We also have trees for added protection when they are grazing in the pastures. Even with the pastures, we have set times twice a day when we feed our cattle corn. Times may be difficult for the farmer, but they do everything in the power to make sure that their livestock are well-provided for during any weather condition, including blizzards, storms and extreme heat.

rancher in blizzardJust because a farmer does not consider their cow or pig a pet like you would consider your dog, that definitely does not mean that they do not care or that they are not concerned about their well-being. The cows and pigs are being raised for you and me to put on our dinner tables at home. You definitely would not want to think about eating your dog, so we as farmers do not treat our animals that we are raising as pets, such as we would a dog. The livestock are a part of the farmer’s life. It is their job to raise the healthy animals to produce safe meat for consumers to eat.

So when you see a farmer, thank them. They are doing everything in their power to provide you with deliciously nutritious food that you can put on the dinner table for your family.

Katlyn PieperKatie Pieper
Illinois State University student


In one of his beloved children’s books Dr. Suess wrote, “You’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so…get on your way.”  I feel like this quote accurately describes an opportunity that I experienced about a month ago in Washington, D.C.

In the middle of March I traveled to Washington, D.C. as one of 60 student representative from the Agriculture Future of America organization to be an advocate for agriculture on Capitol Hill during National Ag Day.  National Ag Day, March 19th, is a day to recognize and celebrate the abundance provided by agriculture.  National Ag Day, and my trip, were both funded by the Agriculture Council of America.

ag-day-logoDuring my stay in Washington, D.C., I attended two days of training sessions for National Ag Day, participated in National Ag Day on Capitol Hill where I met with Representative Kinzinger and Senator Durbin, taught an Ag literacy lesson to urban 7th graders, and spent a final day doing roundtable discussions about international agricultural policy and trade.

Perhaps the most rewarding experience during my time in D.C. was getting to teach two urban 7th grade classes about agriculture.  In order to do this, I was chosen by the National Association of Agricultural Educators to be one of six future agriculture teachers and three mentor teachers who would teach an ag literacy lesson on National Ag Day.

University of Illinois Ag students in Washington, DC

The topic that I chose to teach the students about was Urban Agriculture, and how they could become urban agriculturalist themselves. After some explanation, the students were able to make their own “garden in a glove” were they could see vegetable seeds germinate and eventually be able to transplant these seeds into an urban garden. Little did I know that the school was in the process of completing a rooftop garden where these students would be able to transplant their vegetable plants.

Harfst working with DC studentsIn reflection, I realized that these students were truly interested in agriculture and how their food is produced; however, they had never been in a situation where they were able to ask someone involved in agriculture.  I spent some time tell the students how I grew up on a farm and raised pigs, and the students had an overwhelming number of students about that. One of the students asked me, “Living on a farm means you live a barn with the animals, right? You don’t have a house?’

Overall, my experience in Washington D.C. was humbling because I was able to see agriculture in a different light that I always have.  It’s much easier to advocate for agriculture when you’re standing a mile or less from a cornfield, but I was teaching students who have most likely never seen a cornfield ever.  It is my hope that these students will remember my time spent with them on National Ag Day because they are future consumers who will be making the decisions that affect the agricultural way of life.

Liz HarfstLiz Harfst
University of Illinois Agriculture Education student


No farm photos to show today … only flood photos.  Take a look at the damage that somewhere between 7 and 10 inches of rain can do to an Illinois field that should be turning green with new corn and soybean seedlings right about now …

Flooded fields in Christian County Illinois

Here’s water covering the road in Christian County, Illinois.

flooded fields in Central Illinois

And another showing the water trying to drain into flooded ditches, also in Christian County.

flooded fields in LaSalle County Illinois

Here’s a field in LaSalle County that looks considerably more like a lake.

flooded fields in Iroquois County, Illinois

And a little less, but still significantly impactful, water damage in Iroquois County.  Notice what looks like hail along the roadsides?

Flooded field in white county, Illinois

Still looking pretty dark and dreary in White County … the last thing this farmer needs is more rain.

flooded fields in winnebago county, IL

It’s going to be a long time before this farmer can plant in Winnebago County.

The optimum time to plant is April 15, which we blew by earlier this week with the weather too wet and too cold to plant. Now, the rains we’ve seen this week will prevent fieldwork for at least another two weeks, with days of rain forecasted again next week! It’s shaping up to be a late season.


Farmers are itching to get back in the field.  An optimum planting date is April 15 – yesterday – so all this wet and cold weather we’ve been getting that’s preventing planting is starting to get under their skin!  But never fear!  Planting won’t really be considered “behind” until sometime after May 1.

Here’s what a couple of Illinois farmers are saying about the field conditions in their areas:

jeff scatesJeff Scates, Shawneetown, IL:

We received about an inch and a half of rain last Thursday.  It was very welcome but not the frost on Friday.  My truck read 38 degree that morning! 

Planters have been rolling down this way.  Our first 20 acres went in on the 4th with a ground temperature around 55.  We are now sitting at about 20% planted.  We have a neighbor that started a few days earlier and probably has 4000 acres in.  Several were waiting for this last cold spell to go through before they started.  We are probably 10 to 15% off normal pace and 50% off last year.

Jim ReedJim Reed, Monticello, IL:

Last week we got 2.5-3.0 inches of rain I think. The hail knocked our gauge off the post.

Some neighbors started around April 8 but not really pushing it too hard. Between
the 12 inches of snow a few weeks ago and this rain, tiles are running and for the
first time in awhile we can say we have adequate moisture. I am trying to read
all the way through the manual for my new row shut off/ auto steer setup so may
not get started till sometime in June.

If you’re interested in following along as the planters start running and crops are going into the ground, “like” us on Facebook!


We all know today is Tax Day, but did you also know it’s National Take a Wild Guess Day?  If you’re a fan of hunches, speculation, conjecture, or even good old-fashioned gut feelings, you’re in for a real treat!  See if you can guess what these photos are of… hint, they all are things you would see around a farm!  Leave a comment with your wild guess and check back later for the answers… good luck!

Take a Wild Guess Collage

And the answers are….

Take a Wild Guess Answers

A – Tooth from a hay rake

B – Door latch on livestock trailer

C – Tooth on bucket of back hoe

D – Gate Stop – This may have been a trick question as I have never seen one anywhere other than my dad’s farm.  It’s a homemade tool we use to keep gates open. 



About 20 miles outside Normal, IL lies a small town of 600 people called Danvers. I grew up on the outskirts with my Mom and Dad, Sister, two dogs and a large amount of barn cats that stayed in our shed. When I was little, I would call out to the cats and kittens every morning before school and they would run up to the house like something was chasing them. They were special to me and watching after them taught me the importance of responsibility.

Then when I was in 6th grade I came home from school, walked in the kitchen and smelled something that reminded me of woodchips and sawdust. My Mom was bent over a large shoebox and I heard a faint “Peep Peep” coming from inside. When I leaned over I saw six ducklings, eating some small green pellets the hatchery sent with them. “They came all the way from California! We’re going to use them for eggs and maybe you can even show them in the county fair!” My Mom said. She let me hold a couple, they were so delicate in the palm of my hand and I couldn’t wait for them to grow.

And sure enough in just a week they were double their size and we had to move them to an old baby pool in our basement so they would fit. By one month we had a pen built for them outside, complete with a little house my Dad built from old pieces of our machine shed. I was in charge of morning chores (changing their bedding and checking food/water) and my sister took the night shift. Together we collected the eggs we used for baking and took care of them all on our own. I would be sitting outside reading a book and the most outgoing male, which we named Tucker, would just come up and sit on my lap, just like a cat!


Then one day I came home from school and went to check on the ducks and cats. When I walked up I saw one of our ducks, Violet, had gotten her neck stuck underneath the pen. I could tell she was struggling to break free and her beak was jammed underneath the wood frame. I ran to my Dad and we carefully loosened her neck and brought her inside. We took a tub, lined it with warm towels and propped her neck up. I sat there all night with some feed mixed with water and sugar, trying to somehow nurse her back to health. We did everything we possibly could, My Mom even called our veterinarian but there was heavy nerve damage and there was nothing more we could do. I could tell she was getting weaker and the brace I fashioned from athletic tape wasn’t working. Eventually she passed and I cried for a long time, I had raised her on my own and thinking back to when they were just little balls of fuzz in my hand I remembered how fragile life is. I cared for Violet just has much as my household pets.

Time went by fast, and before I knew it I was a sophomore in high school, we still have two of the six ducks from the little shoebox, and about twenty more! My sister and I showed them in the county fair during the summer (she always seemed to win Grand Champion) and we collected eggs and sold them to various family members and friends. The workload increased but it became something that brought us all together. I loved working with the ducks and they were a part of our family. The experience taught me the circle of life, responsibility and most of all that love comes in all shapes and sizes.

sombeckEmily Sombeck
Illinois State University Student


Originally posted on Fit to Farm blog

My sister and I talk about this one often. You see a post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Yahoo News, etc. promoting the hardworking farmer. It makes us feel good to be in the industry and generally, it’s as far as you want to look. Then scrolling down to the comments, you see the standard post that “those farmers are good, but real farmers don’t work hard like that anymore, they just let the antibiotics/robots/pesticides do the work for them, and collect a big pay check.”

While the part about the big paycheck might be comical, those types of comments are a problem that we often run into. As individual farmers, consumers see us as the hardworking person, who gets the job done. Each one of us is the exception to the rule of “corporate farmers,” or “Big Ag.” However, our industry as a whole is viewed as corrupt, run by the executives of Monsanto in some high-rise office building. How can we use technology in our farming, and not seem like the bad guy?

When talking to people, they will defend my right to farm the way they believe I do to the death. They tell me that I am unique in that I don’t abuse my animals, and use antibiotics responsibly. If friends post a picture that demeans agriculture, they even will go out of their way to tell me that my farm is the exception. My job at this point is to get them to realize, my farm isn’t the exception, and it is the rule.

As Farmers, we take responsibility for providing good, quality food to our own families, neighbors, and larger communities. We believe the food we produce is safe and we try to produce it in the best way that we can. Part of that care is treating those who are sick, and euthanizing animals that are suffering. We house our animals inside to protect them from bad weather, and provide them a stable environment. We use technology to help us achieve a consistent product, something our consumers demand.

We don’t have to look far to start to spread the message of responsible farming. It’s just not something we have had to do much in the past, so we don’t always understand some of the questions. By ignoring the myths that live around agriculture, we are letting them grow. People who don’t know will follow the popular opinion. We are no longer just farmers, but also educators.


“Inch by inch, row by row.
Gonna make this Garden Grow.
All it needs is a rake and a hoe
and a piece of fertile ground”

Whenever springtime would come around I would help my mom plant the seeds in the garden.  It was quite a joy to be able to plant the land, tend it and watch it grow to the point where it bared fruit or flowers.  The reason I put those lyrics up is because we also use to sing this song while we were planting.  It made the hard work more enjoyable.

There is quite a bit of planning that goes into the care of one’s garden.  There is the choice in the plants you wish to use, if they are the seeds of the plant or a start that is already growing, but still very young.

After your seeds or start plants have been chosen then it comes to the tending of the land.  In most parts of the Midwest there has been snow covering the ground over the winter season.  The ground has become very compact and some tilling is needed to loosen up the soil before the seeds can be planted.  That way the plant has the best possible environment to grow in.

Once the land is loosened up it is time to plant your seeds!  The packaging usually tells you proper depths and space needed for the plant to expand while it matures.  After the plant is in the ground a person needs to decide if fertilizer needs to be added to the plant to help it grow.  There are a number of options such as the use of compost, Miracle Grow® or specific hormones for that plant.

There is a difference in the types of fertilizers that you might use from what farmer’s use in their fields.  They are adding Nitrogen and Phosphorus, which has been depleted from the soil from the previous harvest.  You might need to add fertilizer too in order to make your garden healthy and strong; it will depend on what types of plants you are growing and if you grew anything in that location last year.

Agrarian crops are usually harvested in a dried or dead state, like a farmer harvests corn.  This allows for better storage and can be fed to livestock for added protein.  Horticulture crops, such as those produced in the garden are harvested in a living state.  They usually have higher water content and are very perishable.

If you are still considering if you are going to plant a garden and don’t feel like you have the space to do it, remember to always start small. You can grow your favorite kind of tomatoes in a flower box and then expand the next year.  Just remember to plant with a little love and watch it grow into something amazing and delicious!

blindt ellenEllen Blindt
Illinois State University student


Let me begin by saying my dad is a third generation farmer, I participated in 4H for years, and I was a county fair queen. People would assume I am a fountain of knowledge on all things agriculture. Heck, I grew up in a town named Farmersville! But for years I got by on saying I was a farm girl without ever knowing what it meant to a farm girl. Then I started an internship in which I was responsible for informing women about agriculture. This past January, I took over the Facebook page “She’s Country.” When I started, the previous administrator had done a wonderful job of building her audience, tailoring her content to fit her fans’ interests, and really promoting agriculture. “She’s Country” already had a solid audience of 1,692 fans.

To inform my audience of country-lovin’, ag-supporting Facebook fans, I first had to inform myself. Without further ado, here is the story of how I became a more educated member of society that I hope women everywhere can relate to.

Day 1 of my internship: Wait a second, people use Facebook to do more than creep on people they barely know? Gulp. Just post about something you know, Lauren! Cue Miss America fact.

Day 2:  Oh boy, my page’s description says I need to reach moms and grandmothers. Hmmm… a family bucket list?

she's country postDay 5: I’m all about empowering women. Where’s the information about women in agriculture at? Ah ha! Women make up 50% of farmers worldwide. If they were given the same resources as men, we could feed nearly 150 million more people!

Day 10, 11, 12, 13. . . :  DIY projects and decorating sound like fun ideas. Hello, ombre walls and adorable Valentine’s Day treat bags!

Day 35: It’s National FFA Week. Duh, Lauren. Tell everyone how females make up 44% of the FFA membership and 50% of state-level offices!

Day 40: Eek! Not so great feedback at my midterm meeting. Kick up the country in She’s Country! More ag, less artsy.

Day 41: Think, Lauren, think! Agriculture is EVERYWHERE, but how can I reach people who aren’t interested in increasing yields or incorporating the latest cell phone technology into life on the farm? Farm Bureau and county extension offices will probably have some great resources. Blog sites could be useful if I do a little fact-checking.

Shes CountryFrom that day on, I made it my goal to not simply post DIY projects or pretty pictures of fields, but rather, to educate myself and, in turn, educate my fans. As much as we would like to believe it, not every woman in America wants to know that agriculture supports nearly 23 million jobs. What they may want to know, however, is whether high fructose corn syrup is going to cause their children to become obese. And while they might not crave information about how Starbucks uses 93 million gallons of milk each year, women do respond to surprising facts about agriculture. It’s my hope that when non-farm women see facts about products they use every day, they will be inspired to learn more.

It’s important that we don’t force-feed women facts. Rather, we should help give women the tools to inform themselves by providing resources such as links to various websites like, articles from national newspapers that cover current agricultural matters (, or websites/blogs that provide a balanced and well-researched approach to controversial issues like the labeling of genetically modified foods. One of my favorite ways non-farm women are able to inform themselves is through Farm Bureau’s “Field Moms,” which allows for mothers from the Chicago area to visit a family farm, meet real farmers, and learn about where their food actually comes from.

Since I began posting more relatable agriculture content, I’ve seen my fan base grow to nearly 2,000. The faithful followers of “She’s Country” hale from all over the world, but I’m most proud when I see my highest numbers come from Chicago. Although I probably won’t be taking over my dad’s farm anytime soon, I can now confidently say I’m a few steps closer to actually being a farm girl.

Lauren MurphyLauren Murphy
Illinois State University graduate student