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Ron Frieders, from DeKalb County, didn’t just decide to start farming one day. For Ron and his family, it was more like a calling, passed down from generation to generation.

It all started when Ron’s grandfather moved to the farm they currently operate in 1915. In 1926, Ron’s dad was born on the farm. And in 1952, Ron himself was born on the farm and grew up there. In other words, next year, Ron and his family will celebrate 100 years of farming the same ground, continuously.

“When my grandparents died, the farm had to be sold to pay the inheritance tax,” Ron said. “But, luckily, we were able to rent it back. We’re still working part of that farm in DuPage County today. Part of it has been developed, but part of it still remains.”

Ron and his wife, Denise, and son, Ryan, operate a true family farm, with each family member helping in the decision-making and workload. In fact, when Ron and Denise married in 1972, Denise didn’t waste any time jumping into the already thriving family farm.

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“She stared working with my dad and myself,” Ron said. “First she would pull wagons back to the farm in the fall. After a couple of years, she started operating the combine. She’s run the combine every year since 1974 or 1975. And my son, Ryan — he went to a junior college so he could be close to home and help farm after my dad had a stroke. He finished his four year degree at North Central College, then got his master’s degree at the U of I in agronomy. He’s been here every year helping, and this year, he did all the combining and my wife ran the grain cart. I ran the truck and the grain drying system. For me to keep up with them is a pretty good challenge because they’re pretty fast.”

Ryan has helped so much over the last few years, plans are in place for Ryan and his wife, Deanne, to take over the operation once Ron and Denise decide it’s time to retire.

“Ryan has become an excellent operator,” Ron said. “He’s very good. He and my wife do all the ordering of seed and chemicals and fertilizer. His degree in agronomy helps immensely because we don’t have to rely on other people telling us which chemicals to buy. And Ryan has the support of his wife. Behind every successful farm operation is a woman who is just as much a part of it as her husband.”

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For Ron, farming is more than just a job — it’s a way of life. And it’s something that is always changing and challenging.

“We’ve always been farmers,” Ron said. “We farm corn, soybeans and some wheat. And we’ve raised some organic crops in the past, as well as seed beans for many different companies and even non-GMO crops over the years. We really try to optimize our operation and we’re not afraid to try different things.”

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And it’s those different things that Ron said have helped change the way he farms and make things better for not only him and his family, but also consumers buying the food he produces.

“One of the things people seem to be really stressed about today is GMO crops,” Ron said. “We’ve been around GMO crops since they first came out and have ever seen any scientific tests done anywhere in the world where they’ve caused a problem for anyone or anything. When we’re planting our crops, if they’re not GMO seeds, we have to apply pesticides to kill the insects or they would attack the crops and destroy the seeds while they’re in the ground. To not have to apply so much insecticide and herbicide is a huge benefit for our own safety and the good of the the ground. When my grandfather was farming, 60-70 bushels per acre yields were huge. When my dad was farming and broke 100 bushels per acre, it was big. Now, especially here in DeKalb County, if you’re not getting 200 bushels per acre, it’s not good. We couldn’t feed the world or have abundant, affordable food without GMOs.”

Want to learn more about the Frieders family? Check out their website at www.friedersfarm.com. 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:

Justin Rickard was never really interested in higher education. Still, despite his initial reluctance to further his education, he’s now a professor in the ag department at Illinois State University.

“My plan was to work at home on the farm, but my parents are believers in education and it was through their encouragement that I went to community college,” Justin said. “I transferred to ISU and ag seemed like a good fit. Then, in undergrad, I met a professor and loved him. He was relatable, still actively involved in farming where he was from in Missouri, and raising livestock. After my bachelor’s degree, I took a few years off, but my professor, Bryon Wiegand encouraged me to come back and get a Masters degree.”

Halfway through his master’s degree, Justin’s professor had the opportunity to move home and teach at Missouri. When he went back, Just followed him to Missouri and got a degree in meat science. That’s when he received a call from ISU wanting to know if he would be interested in doing some part-time teaching.

“It was a really good opportunity for me to come back home,” Justin said. “I started part time, then started full time in the ag department. Once I got into academia, and saw what an affect one professor can have, well, it was a pretty emotional experience for me. Hopefully I can do the same thing for students that was done for me.”

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At Illinois State University, Justin teaches ag classes focusing mostly on meat science. It also led him to start a program that is the first of its kind.

“My production background carrying into my teaching is what led myself and grad student to start something that students refer to as steer contest,” Justin said. “Students purchase pens of steers at ISU and make decisions all the way through market. Then, we bring carcasses back and they learn how to fabricate them. It’s the only program that I know of that does that. Students choose what they’re going to be fed, they choose to implant and choose how market.”

On top of Justin’s teaching, he owns and operates Rickard Farms, LLC, and Rickard’s Premium Meats. Having grown up on a farm east of Heyworth, where his folks still farm, Justin operates his business out of buildings and land his father leases him.

“Right now, I sell beef, lamb and chicken with plans to expand into pork,” Justin said. “I sell whole, half and a quarter of beef. I have a broker’s license which enables me to sell individual packages. I buy calves from father and partner and feed them out. The boilers I get when they’re a day old and feed them out and I just buy weaned lambs and feed them. The interesting thing about being able to feed calves that I get from home is I can trace everything back. One with a particularly good carcass, you know what the breeding was.”

For Justin, the great thing about his full-time job and his part-time job is that they intertwine easily.

“I can interact with students, produces and industry people,” Justin said. “I can tell stories from my home business and those real world stories give me more opportunity to give more real world example in class. Teaching changes the way I look at stuff at home. Many of my students don’t come from traditional farming backgrounds. Of those that come from traditional ag, even fewer come from livestock. That changes the way you approach things and teach. You have students who need those real world examples and experiences.”meats lab

More than anything, Justin’s work with his personal business and his teaching career means he has the opportunity to interact with today’s consumers and answer the questions they have about food and food production.

“In the U.S., we have what I consider the safest food supply, globally,” Justin said. “I try to remind people that there’s a difference between the words safe, wholesome, and quality. Safe is food safety. Wholesome is whether or not something is nutritious. Quality is in the eye of the beholder. We can provide food to multiple markets and provide it at less cost than other places.”

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 Ruth Zeldenrust, her love of farming took root at an early age. She grew up on her family’s vegetable farm in Chicago Heights, and after college, decided go back to the farm, taking over her father’s farming operation and upgrading it to include greenhouses for flowers and a burgeoning honeybee population.

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“I decided to get back to the farm after college, realizing that I did not like working in an office,” Ruth said. “I wanted to exit the rat race and get back to the earth that calls me every day. At an early age, I found the need to grow plants and enjoy the fruits of my labor, and that brought me home to the farm.”

According to Ruth, there can’t be too many people around Chicago Heights that love flowers, honey and vegetables, so from May to November, Ruth and her family go to farmers’ markets all around Chicagoland to sell what is appropriate for the season.

“In the spring and early summer, we sell mostly hanging baskets of flowers and other types of flower pots,” Ruth said. “In the summer and fall, we start picking vegetables from our fields and bring that homegrown produce to the farmers’ markets. What I like most about farmers’ markets is getting to know the customers on a personal level. I have many regular customers that I have grown to love over the years, and they always expect me to sell them the best product. I also have a direct line of communication with the customers as consumers, and I get a firsthand look at what is important to them and what is ‘trending.'”

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What’s more, working at the farmers’ markets keeps her honest, said Ruth.

“It really keeps me working hard all year to satisfy my loyal customers,” Ruth said. “My customers even give feedback on what is important to them, like pesticides, or types of seeds, or vegetables they think are the best tasting, or how to cook the vegetables to promote the best flavor. My customers have really come to trust me.”

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For Ruth, it all of the hard work boils down to keeping the customer happy and helping them understand what farmers do on a daily basis.

“If I could tell consumers one thing about myself, it would be that I am a steward of the land and that I produce safe and healthy food for them,” Ruth said. “Instead of looking to the internet for information, go out and find a farmer and have a conversation.”

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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:

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:

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