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In this case, I don’t mean, “using what you’ve got,” or “starting from scratch.” I actually mean a farmer’s crop has to start somewhere — generally a seed — and that’s exactly where Heather Spray comes in.

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Heather, who hails from Edwards County, is a Quality Management System Manager for AgReliant Genetics in West Salem, Ill. As the third largest seed company in the U.S., AgReliant Genetics relies on Heather to do, well, a whole lot.

Not only does she ensure that quality processes are in place throughout the entire seed chain, beginning with research and development of genetic lines and ending when the seed arrives on customers’ farms, she oversees training and auditing of quality processes.

“There are a lot of processes that take place to ensure our customers receive a high quality product,” Heather said. “I also oversee our Customer Call Database, which means I work with our brands to ensure that when a customer has an issue with one of our products, all of our departments are working together, behind the scenes, to ensure the issue has been corrected.”

And how does all of that tied back to the food on your plate?

“I make sure that all processes are functioning behind the scenes properly so that our farmer customers are receiving a high quality seed product.”

Heather’s work with AgReliant wasn’t a big step, considering Heather grew up on a grain farm where her family still grows corn and soybeans and she and her husband currently help. She and her husband even picked up some of their own acreage for next spring. Plus, said Heather, she just loves agriculture.

“I love being part of an industry that impacts everyone’s lives,” Heather said. “I enjoyed the time spent on the farm as a kid and I loved science and my ag classes in school. I love the seasons of agriculture — it’s constantly changing, which make my life and my job interesting! Plus, I have two sons, J.J., who is 2 1/2 and loves being on the farm, and Emmitt, who is 3 months old.”

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Don’t forget to check out all the awesome blogs happening this month over at Prairie Farmer.

For the full Faces Behind Your Food Series, check out the links below:

For Carrie Daly of Winnebago County, raising beef cattle have almost always been a way of life. So when she and her family decided transform their original feeding operation into a custom feeding operation, it was an easy transition.

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“My dad always fed out beef cattle,” Carrie said. “In fact, he still has some stock cows that we calve out in the spring and we keep a few of those calves for replacement heifers. Even though dad used to feed out his own cattle, we decided to go the custom route because it was less risky financially than buying our own cattle.”

If you’re not exactly sure what that means, think of it this way: You’re in the market for a house. You fall in love with a fixer-upper and do some of the preliminary updating yourself, but rather than spending the time and money to do all the fixing and painting yourself, you hire a professional to finish it out for you. In a nutshell, that’s what clients hire Carrie and her family to do — feed out and market the cattle that we’re initially born on the clients’ farms.

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And just like a carpenter or house painter, Carrie and her family have to make sure they’re up-to-date on the newest trends, procedures and industry information to ensure they’re providing their clients with the best end product.

“All of our pens are walked twice a day to make sure all the cattle are up and looking good,” Carrie said. “When we, or our hired man, walk the pens, we’re looking for lameness or sick animals. Plus, my husband and my dad are Beef Quality Assurance-certified. That taught us the best places to treat animals and where to give injections.”

Only when it’s required, Carrie and her family are sure to give injections to cattle behind the ear to ensure the meat isn’t tainted or even receives a lower grade after market. They keep detailed records to make sure any antibiotics given to animals to treat illnesses are out of their system before the animal goes to market. And they also use safe handling practices to ensure animals are calm and easy to work with.

“We work hard at being calm and quiet around the animals,” Carrie said. “When we do that, it doesn’t take long for them to get used to us working with them or being in the pens.”

What does all that mean for someone buying a pound of ground beef at the store? It means Carrie and her family worked hard to ensure the meat is safe, and the cow that made it was treated with respect.

“We definitely put the animals first,” Carrie said. “We work closely with a nutritionist from DeKalb Feeds to get weight on as efficiently as possible and we feed good quality products. We work really hard to keep the pens clean and all of our cattle have access to shelter and fresh air. We just work really hard to take the very vest care of the animals that we can.”

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Want to know more about Carrie, her husband, four seriously cute kids and their farm? Check out Carrie’s blog! And, don’t forget to check out all the awesome blogs happening this month over at Prairie Farmer.

For the full Faces Behind Your Food Series, check out the links below:

If variety is the spice of life, well then, Grover Webb’s life is spicy!

Grover, who owns and operates Tanglefoot Ranch in Simpson, Ill., with his wife and brother, brings a whole new meaning to the word diversification. You can find just about anything on his 950 acre farm, including corn, soybeans, sheep, beef cattle, freshwater shrimp, hi-tunnels that house tomatoes and raspberries, peaches, pumpkins and even some ground if you’re prone to deer hunting.

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“Some people think I’m crazy because of the variety here,” Grover said. “But I love the variety because I hate just sitting on the tractor and riding in the combine.”

You would think with all of the different products Grover produces, he would be short on time. And, I suppose, he may well be. But that doesn’t mean that he and his staff aren’t up for trying new things — and adding new adventures to the menu at Tanglefoot.

“Next spring, we’re planning to have farm to fork dinners here at the ranch,” Grover said. “We’re planning to invite people not involved in agriculture to the farm to talk to them about where their food comes from. We’ve had students here from the U of I and a number of them had never picked a tomato off the plant and eaten it. The looks on their faces when they ate a fresh tomato was amazing, so we’re hoping to replicate that with our dinners.”

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Grover is the epitome of what most people think of when they picture ‘eating locally,’ and Grover is happy to own up to the stereotype. He and his family often sell produce at the Paducah Farmers’ Market and even participate in Golconda’s annual Shrimp Festival with their homegrown freshwater shrimp. But Grover is also quick to point out that he’s a traditional farmer, too, and he’s a farmer that cares deeply about the land.

“If I could tell consumers one thing, it would be that we’re not destroying the environment to produce your food,” Grover said. “We’re not greedy people out there to cut corners and put people’s food supply at risk. The U of I students who visited were in environmental studies. When they were here, we showed them our trees and our swamp and our bluff and told them that’s what the Indians saw — it’s all still here. They were amazed at our swamp and trees and that’s great because they might be working for the EPA someday and realize that farmers don’t need to be regulated so much that we can’t even produce food.”

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For more information about Tanglefoot Ranch, check out their Facebook page! And, don’t forget to check out all the awesome blogs happening this month over at Prairie Farmer.

For the full Faces Behind Your Food Series, check out the links below:

Like many of the featured Faces Behind Your Food, Ryan Appelquist is a farmer. In fact, he and his father farm about 2,500 acres of corn and soybean together in Lee County, making them a fairly tradition farming partnership.

But Ryan and his family also bring a dose of nontraditional to their farming operation — or at least a dose of diversification.

Ryan, along with his family, own and operate Appelquist Trucking in Franklin Grove, Ill.

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In addition to their farming operation, the Appelquist family hauls fertilizer, liquid anhydrous and Monsanto seed for local farmers. Balancing the work on the farm and the work in the trucking business can be tricky, but enjoyable, said Ryan.

“I usually schedule our trucking around farming,” Ryan said. “Farming is mine and my father’s number one priority and trucking fills in the time when you’re not farming. But I do have two drivers so we have three trucks running all the time. Those guys know what they’re doing and really only call me when there’s a problem.”

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And how does that family trucking business relate back to the food on your plate? Without it, Ryan said, you may not have that food on your plate.

“Trucking is kind of the center wheel of everything,” Ryan said. “You have to have the truck to get the grain out of the field, to get the finished product into the grocery store, to get back the seed back to the farmers to grow food for the next year. Without a semi, you aren’t going to get much moved and you aren’t going to receive a lot, either. It’s a big part of the whole entire world and the way the world moves.”

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Don’t forget to check out all the awesome blogs happening this month over at Prairie Farmer.

For the full Faces Behind Your Food Series, check out the links below:

You’re probably familiar with the expression, “You sure have a lot of irons in the fire.” Shoot, maybe you live it. If you do, you’re in good company because Henry County farmer Megan Dwyer is right there with you.

Megan, whose family raises corn, soybeans and a few head of beef cattle, partners with her husband, Todd, and his family on their grain operation. But those aren’t her only jobs. Megan adds precision agriculture specialist and mom of one — soon to be two — to her list of titles, too.

Megan combining beans Nathan with calf“On my family’s farm, though I’m not in the tractor doing tillage and helping with harvesting as much as I used to be, I’m more active in our cow herd and behind the scenes on the crops,” Megan said. “I handle bull selection and heifer and cow care, record keeping and marketing. On the crop side of things, I help in the hybrid selection of corn and the record keeping and analysis of our data.”

Data is a big part of Megan’s off-the-farm job, too. As a precision ag specialist for River Valley Cooperative, Megan works with local farmers to develop data analysis, including yield data, and helps farmers find what the ‘weakest link’ is on their farms. megan RVC

“I help farmers with variable rate seeding, managing phosphorus and potassium, and helping maximize return on every acre,” Megan said. “Really, my off-the-farm job allows me to stay current on technology, trends and practices that I not only share with customers, but also bring back home to help our farm and my in-laws’ farm.”

For someone outside the farming community, all of that might be like trying to read a foreign language. In a nutshell, it means Megan helps farmers best plan and use chemicals on their farms. By following the data Megan collects and analyzes, farmers can see what areas need more nutrients and which areas need less, thereby reducing their use of chemicals on the farm.

“I love being able to interact directly with farmers and answer their questions — give them answers to their ‘whys,’” Megan said. “I can help solve questions by putting data and real knowledge behind it. I can help farmers eliminate some of the chemicals they use and maximize the amount of food they produce. Everyone is concerned about the safety of their food and it’s so easy to Google something and find these horrible stories, but nobody sees what farmers really do. When they see it firsthand, they get a completely different view.”

Talking about calf care Megan Raking hayWith that many irons in the fire, Megan says it’s a juggling act to get everything done, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Just like every other mom out there, it’s a balancing act,” Megan said. “Getting the things done that can’t be put off while making time to do the things you love and are passionate about. For me, that’s working on the farm and sharing the story of agriculture with others. It’s a part of me and I can’t imagine where my life would be without it.”

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Don’t forget to check out all the awesome blogs happening this month over at Prairie Farmer.

For the full Faces Behind Your Food Series, check out the links below:

Day 3: 50/50

Kathy Reinhardt and her husband have always farmed, but for the better part of their life together, it was Kathy’s husband who did the farming and Kathy who did the part time helping while she worked off the farm as a CPA.

Today, however, Kathy and her husband split the farming duties almost right down the middle. After 20 years as a public accountant, Kathy decided quit her job ‘in town’ and work on the farm full time, taking on a significant portion of the farm’s financial- and marketing-related decisions.

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Kathy is staking out the same territory as a growing number of women in agriculture: serving as the primary, or one of the primary, decision makers on her farm.

Her on-farm jobs are many and range from tax planning and preparation, to determining cash flow, handling inventories, assisting with grain marketing and even driving the combine. For Kathy, the step from part time to full time was an easy one.

“It was more natural for me because of the way my father raised me,” Kathy said. “And my mother didn’t work off the farm, either. She did the books, too. My father always impressed on her the importance for her to know all about agriculture and all aspects of the farm and he did that with me, too.”

According to the 2007 Ag Census, 30 percent of U.S. farms are operated by a woman. Even more are listed as primary decision makers alongside their male counterparts, and that’s a statistic Kathy is proud to be a part of.

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“A lot more women are involved in farming now than people realize,” Kathy said. “A lot more daughters are stepping into that role, and a lot more wives than people realize. It’s an important part we play. We have so much to offer and we have a different skill set and viewpoint. That’s why I think my husband and I are such a great team — because we do look at things differently.”

As far as her role in putting food on America’s table, well, that’s pretty straightforward. As a corn and soybean farmer, the Reinhardt’s grain goes to a variety of places, including livestock feed, which helps put the chicken, beef, pork and lamb on your table. And Kathy’s proud of that, too.

“We love what we’re doing, but we feel it’s important for everyone to know that we do our absolute best,” Kathy said. “You get out there and you do your best. You plan it out, you plan when the crops need rotated, whatever you need to do to take care of your land and make sure you’re growing the best crop that you can to help feed the world. We don’t have control over so many things; it’s very important to produce a great crop this year and take care of the land so future generations can, too.”

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Don’t forget to check out all the awesome blogs happening this month over at Prairie Farmer.

For the full Faces Behind Your Food Series, check out the links below:

For the second day in our 30-day series, we’re going to stay in Northern Illinois. This time, we’re talking with Steve Shaeffer from Lee County.

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Steve, who helps out on his family’s farm and also works for First Farm Credit Services, said his main job working as an agricultural lender isn’t just about securing capital for farmers — it’s about building relationships.

“I visit with customers and originate loans,” Steve said. “But really, it’s more about building relationships with customers so I know what they need when I help them get loans for real estate and equipment. Once that’s complete, I work more as a financial consultant as they’re deciding on making purchases.”

All of which sounds very…financial, right? As in, how in the heck does that relate to the food on my plate? For Steve, the connection is easy to make.

“Farming is a high-capital business,” Steve said. “It takes a lot of money to produce $3 to $4 per bushel corn. I provide the means to make sure my customers have the funds available to get it produced and get it to the right markets to be used to produce high protein products.”

Here in Illinois, those high protein products are things like a juicy ribeye steak or pork chop on the grill, since livestock are the strongest domestic market for Illinois corn, with the state’s livestock eating 118 million bushels of corn each year.

In a nutshell, Steve helps the customer get his or her product off to market in the most efficient way possible. And efficiency means dollars in the pocket — both for farmers and consumers.

“If my customers do really well, it helps the consumer get a more affordable product in the end,” Steve said. “And that’s rewarding. Ag is a very rewarding career. This time of year is very exciting — seeing the rewards of what you and your customers have worked hard for and put the hours in for. Some people spend years working toward one thing, but we do it in four months and you get to see what your rewards are.”

To see get the list of all the bloggers participating in this year’s 30 day challenge, head over to Holly’s blog at Prairie Farmer.

Jumping in a few days late? Check out the whole series so far:

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