Lindsey White, Vice President and co-owner of Torkelson Cheese Company in Lena, Ill., has been in the cheese business, well, forever.

“I didn’t grow up on a farm, I grew up in a cheese factory,” Lindsey said. “My parents actually brought me home from the hospital to a place they live in which was directly above a cheese factory, so I guess you can say I have been in the cheese business, literally, since day one.”

Lindsey and her husband, Jamie, are partners with Duane and Cheryl Torkelson and between the four of them, they manage every aspect of the business. Lindsey maintains the day-to-day financials of the business, including accounts payable, accounts receivable, banking and employee payroll.

Lindsey also serves as the quality director, which means she manages all outside third party, state and federal inspections, as well as all employee food safety training. She also handles all of Torkelson’s cheese, protein, cream and lactose buyers and works with farmers on their paperwork, de-lactose permeate feed schedules, quality issues, or any other issue of questions they may have.

Plus, she oversees all lab personnel, procedures and results.With Lucy

“I love getting new lab equipment to play with,” Lindsey said. “For some reason I just like to see the data on our products. I have been told our labs are a bit overkill for our size plant, but hey, I think ensuring quality and consistency is what makes us great.”

Last year, Torkelson Cheese decided to expand their business to build a lactose drying facility. Lactose can be used in all kinds of confections, bakery products, infant formula and even for animal feed.

“In the dairy business, for all of us, margins are getting thinner and thinner,” Lindsey said. “We generally operate on the principal that if you are not growing, you are dying. For a cheese manufacturing facility our size, we know we need to take advantage of every potential income source leaving our plant.”

Lactose Plant

For Lindsey, the biggest reward is the quality product she and her employees produce everyday.

“At Torkelson Cheese quality really is our biggest concern,” Lindsey said. “I have two small children at home and we eat our cheese on a daily basis. I would never put something onto the market that I would not feed my own family. I do get offers from ingredient companies with all kind of crazy things that will boost yield, moisture, etc. But Torkelson Cheese uses all 100 percent natural ingredients. Could we make more money adding chemicals and preservatives? Yes, but who would want to eat that? I think, in the end, we know we are doing the absolute best that we can for our consumer. I understand that people work hard to earn their money. When they choose to spend it on dairy products that come from our plant, I’m elated. Those people that trust our cheese at their dinner table deserve the best possible quality that we can provide.”

awards photo

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Before him, it was his dad and his uncle. Before them, it was his grandfather and his great uncle. Now it’s Bill and his brother, Larry, running the family farm.

“My brother and I farmed with my dad and uncle for several years,” Bill said. “My dad and uncle were looking to retire and decided to hand it over to my brother and I, kind of suddenly. My brother was a little reluctant, but we thought the opportunity was there and we took it.”


Photo by Cyndi Cook, IFB

Today, the Pauling farm isn’t as big as it used to be. What once was 1,400 acres has been whittled down due to development and urban growth in the suburban Chicago DuPage County. Their farming operation is now spread out across two counties and several miles and, according to Bill, “City farming can be tough. Just moving equipment can be a challenge.”

“We still farm hay, wheat, corn and soybeans,” Bill said. “We bale straw from the wheat fields and do straw rentals for Halloween. And we have a few head of cattle. We feed the hay we can’t sell to them and then sell the cattle privately to people who want beef straight off the farm. The majority of our hay we sell to horse people up by Chicago.”

For Bill, despite the diminishing acreage, farming is still in his blood.

“I have always enjoyed farming,” Bill said. “It’s not the same job, day-in and day-out. When you’re a farmer, you’re a jack of all trades. You have to fix this and fix that — and you have to use your imagination to fix things. It challenges your mind and keeps you in shape. Either way, the challenge of it is interesting.”

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As a critical care nurse in Orland Park, Ill., Janet McCabe isn’t exactly working in a low-stress field. It’s no surprise that, come weekend, she’s ready for a break. But Janet’s version of working for the weekend isn’t working all week so she can take a break — it’s working all week so she can farm.

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“My husband, Joe, and I, along with our son, Kevin, farm about 500 acres in Cook and northern Will Counties,” Janet said. “We plant corn, soybeans, and wheat, and bale about 100 acres of hay, as well as the straw from the wheat. All three of us work full-time, so during the seasons, our days are long, as farming gets done after work and on the weekends.”


Janet, who takes care of paperwork, running for parts, raking and baling hay, as well as deliveries of hay and straw, grew up in a northwest suburb of Chicago and “didn’t even cut the grass” when she was growing up. But, that all changed when she met Joe in her second year of college at Northern Illinois University.

“We got married in 1985 and moved to Orland Park because, by then, Joe was already farming part-time with his Dad,” Janet said. “He grew up in Orland Park on 80 acres that has been in his father’s family for generations. So, I guess I got involved in agriculture because I feel in love with a farmer, but then I grew to love it as well.”

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In her spare time Janet also enjoys serving on the Cook County Farm Bureau board and working on their Public Policy and Public Relations team.

“I’m a member of our Speakers Bureau and really enjoy speaking to people and groups about farming,” Janet said. “It’s amazing how many people are eager for the information and really have no prior experience with agriculture or only know agriculture from the ‘sound bites’ they get on the news.”

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Not necessarily more land or a bigger farm. In the case of Kirk and Stephanie Liefer, of Randolph County, it means bigger family.

Kirk and Stephanie Liefer have been farming with Kirk’s parents for almost 16 years years, since the pair graduated college. Kirk’s younger brother, Kent, and his wife, Karen, also work on the family farm, operating the Pioneer seed dealership. And Kirk’s youngest brother, Kristopher, came back to the farm just a year and a half ago to work with the family. That’s one farm supporting four families and the Liefers wouldn’t have it any other way.

1-Our Family 9-Kevin Kirk  kids

“It’s been a challenge, expanding the farm to support everyone,” said Kirk. “The seed dealership allowed Kent to come back to the farm. And we’re still trying to build Kristopher into the farm. He’s not married yet, but we don’t think it’s too far in the future. To do it, we always have to look for ways to diversify.”

The Liefers farm corn, soybeans, wheat and grain sorghum on their operation, in addition to selling Pioneer seed. When I asked them how they plan to keep folding family members in, Kirk said the opportunity hadn’t presented itself yet, but when it did, they would jump at it.

“It’s hard to answer how you plan to diversify,” Kirk said. “You never know what that opportunity is until it gets here. If something is there, we’ll look at it. We’re always open to anything that can help us out. I would never put livestock out of the picture, or crop diversification. As opportunities present themselves, we’ll keep our minds open.”

Like many young farmers, Kirk and Stephanie are part husband and wife, part coworkers and part tag-team experts.

“Luckily for them, I don’t have to drive any machinery,” Stephanie said when I asked her what her role is on the farm. “But I publish the newsletter for the farm, and have done similar work for Pioneer. I get parts on occasion, too.”

4-Family Meal8-kids

But Kirk was quick to add without Stephanie’s help — and help from the rest of the Liefer ladies — he and his dad and brothers would be stranded.

“There’s a lot of running behind the scenes that the wives do to help us out,” Kirk added. “Sometimes it seems like it goes unnoticed, but there’s a lot of stuff they’re doing behind the scenes.”

Kirk and Stephanie’s connection to the food on your table isn’t a hard connection to trace. Being farmers of corn, soybeans, wheat and grain sorghum means you’re seeing the food they raise in the meat on your table and in other regular cupboard staples. And being able to grow food for their family and yours is something the pair is extremely proud of.

“Everything we do grow is safe and healthy,” Stephanie said. “I don’t want other moms to feel they have to give into buying more expensive organic or natural foods just because. Those are buzz words. I want them to feel comfortable in our food supply. We’re lucky because we aren’t a nation that’s limited by our own growing season — we’re very fortunate.”

“We’re fortunate to live in a country where food is abundant and we can even have these discussions,” Kirk added. “In another county with food insecurity, we wouldn’t even be having these discussions.”

In a nutshell, for the Liefers, who are also parents to five young farmers-to-be, farming is an honor.

7-Karson 6-kids 5-kids

“I love the fact that our farm is a family-run operation,” Stephanie said. “We get to work with each other every day. It’s not always easy, but it’s usually flexible. Our kids can be involved in it, experience it, and have an understanding of it.”

“It’s just a privilege,” Kirk said.

2-Kirk  Kevin

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For Eddie Hornbostel of Randolph County, the key to success is one simple word: Diversification.

What started as a few enjoyable 4-H projects on his grandfather’s farm has now blossomed into a full-fledged farming operation, complete with dairy cattle, soybeans, alfalfa and corn.

Like many farmers today, Eddie has chosen to diversify his operation as much as possible to take advantage of every possible market and sector. But he doesn’t just do it because it makes good business sense — he’s chosen to diversify because he loves it.

“For me, the diversification is very enjoyable,” Eddie said. “You never know what you might be doing. I like the diversification because it throws some excitement into your day. And I like doing the dairy and livestock stuff. There aren’t as many of us out there anymore. Driving through our county, I remember several farmers who used to milk, now there’s only nine dairies left in our county. And there are very few beef and hog operations, too. I guess I like it because there are not as many of us so folks depend on us.”

And depend on him, we do. In 2013, Illinois dairy farmers produced 1.879 billion pounds of milk. And Eddie does everything he can to ensure the milk that leaves his farm is safe and ready for consumers.

“Our milk is tested every day or every other day,” Eddie said. “Our milk goes from the milk tank to the dairy every other day. We really have to watch our Ps and Qs because, if we screw up and feed something to the cow, like an antibiotic, and it ruins a tank of milk, it costs me and it costs the dairy. Some people think I can just do anything I want, but if I put anything in that cow, it’s going to show up in the milk tank. Our milk is as safe as it can get. In fact, I wouldn’t want my food to come from any other country.”

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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.

Frieders family

“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.”


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.”

Frieders family 2

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:


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