One of the highlights of 2015 was being a City Mom. At the start of the year, I applied to be part of the Illinois Farm Families program and was excited to be accepted to this select group of moms who would visit farms and blog about the experiences.
Each visit was different than the others, but each was also similar in many ways. Farming is a family business. At the farms we visited, it wasn't one person who owned the farm and hired help who did the bulk of the work. It was a husband and a wife and kids and the farm had been in the family for many years. When we met the farm families, there were multiple generations there and it was so neat to see how everyone had a role in the success of the farm. I don't care what kind of family business you may encounter, I can't imagine one where a family is as close knit as they are in running a farm.
I was a little sad to do our last farm tour of the year, but I hear there may be a few ongoing opportunities for our group to meet again and learn more about the many aspects of agriculture and farming in the country today. Last year we covered so many aspects of food production. We saw the origins of the vegetables and meats that we put on our tables, we saw how technology is used in the field, we learned how valuable land is (and how value animal waste can be), why GMOs are used today, how animals are cared for and how labor-intense the job of farming is. I enjoyed each experience as a City Mom and I even got to share my experiences after the final tour as a guest on a radio show.
On our last trip of 2015 was to Larsen Farms in Maple Park where we sort of got a two-for-one experience. We were there at harvest season, getting a close look at what's going on at the farm as harvesting is in full swing. We also saw the cattle production side of the farm and got a better sense of all that goes into making sure that our beef supply is safe and the best quality it can be. We got a tutorial on shopping for beef and on cooking it and we feasted on home cooked dishes made from family recipes. At the end of the day, I had an opportunity to ride in a combine - and although I'm all grown-up, the thrill of the experience had me in awe.
As with all our tours, our large group was welcomed with open arms. You instantly felt right at home and were greeted with that beautiful hospitality that is unique to farming. You were being welcomed into their home and they were so eager to share their way of life and how proud they were to do what they do.
Larson Farms is the result of three generations of hard work on one sprawling plot of land. Mike and Lynn Martz manage the farm today, but it was Lynn's parents who began the business. Mike and Lynn's son and his wife are also involved in working with the farm. Mike oversees the 3500-head cattle farm, which operates kind of like a cow hotel. Young cows are brought in to feed and grow at their facility before being sent to a finishing farm. We learned that cattle production is essentially a three-step farming process. There are farms that specialize strictly in impregnating and birthing cows. They then go to a farm like Larsen's Farm, which is a middle step where the calves are brought to feed and bulk up and are well-monitored for health issues and quality of meat. After their time there, the cattle are moved on to a finishing farm.
Lynn manages the corn and soybean crops that are grown on about 6300 acres. And when taking my combine ride I got a real sense of how close-knit the staff is, too. My combine driver had been working with the family for decades, spending long hours there during harvest season, but dedicated to doing a good job for the family he works for and for the families that eat the products that come from the farm.
Being a food blogger, there's always a fun anticipation in what's coming up for lunch on our tour. We were treated to a homemade meal and got a lot of good tips on selecting meats from your supermarket or butcher and good uses for them.
I'm looking forward to more opportunities through the program to learn about farming and the care that goes into the food that we put on our tables...and look forward to sharing more with you.