What Do Farmers Do In the Winter?

What Do Farmers Do In the Winter?

Winterscene

Driving home from Rock Island, last weekend, I couldn’t help but think of my experiences visiting Illinois family farms last year. As is normally the case in the winter, the fields seemed empty. It was hard to believe that just a few months ago, all you could see were rows and rows of full corn and soybean fields. As if she knew what I was thinking, Lulu commented how lonely everything seemed when you get out of the “Chicagoland” area and into the more rural counties.

If you just look at the fields, it’s as if all of a farmer’s work ends once the crop is brought in and the harvest is over. But, as I learned during my experiences with the IL Farm Families initiative, winter is hardly a time to rest.

It’s not surprising that farmers are often asked: “What do you do in the winter?” Looking at the fields it would appear that farmers might sit in the house and watch television all day.  So, what’s a farmer to do when he or she can’t be in the fields or tending to crops during the cold winter months?

One word: Planning

After hauling the previous year’s crop from the grain bin and selling it at the elevator, where crops may be converted to other products or exported overseas, Illinois farmers concentrate on completing end of the year documentation and begin planning for the next year. Some may consider the winter to be considered “down time,” and yes, many families take a break from the daily grind to spend time together.

Winter is also the opportunity to attend agricultural trade shows, conferences and collaborate with other local farmers to exchange best practice learning or learn about the latest technology and equipment. It is the time that farmers plan their strategy for next year’s successful planting season. During the winter months, a smart farmer is studying the stocks and commodities markets for projected trends as well as learning about the newest seeds on the market for the coming year. While I am studying the Burpee’s catalogue to decide which hybrid tomato plan will thrive in my garden next summer, Farmers are also exploring their options–only on a much grander scale.

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Finally, through out the year, farmers invest thousands of dollars in their equipment. So it makes sense that, over the winter, most farmers are concentrating on repairing and maintaining their machinery to make sure its ready for the following year.

After a long growing season, farm equipment needs the same type of maintenance that many vehicles do, just on a larger scale. A large part of the annual maintenance schedule is actually preventative. Farmers examine every piece of farm equipment to make sure that it is working as designed. Many start outside the shop door, by blowing the dust and crop debris off of the machine with an air hose.  Next, large equipment, like tractors, are examined and routine maintenance, like oil changes, are conducted.

So the next time, I drive by a barren field in the winter, I’ll remember that there is a good chance one or two family members are working on his equipment, exploring seed catalogues, placing orders for new tools or attending education seminars and conferences. The one activity he or she is not doing: resting. There’s jut no time to stand idly by when there is so much work to do.

Illinois Farm Families: Helping You Make Decisions About Your Food

Illinois Farm Families: Helping You Make Decisions About Your Food

The Illinois Farm Families organization can help you make decisions about your food, where it comes from and how it’s grown.

Face it: We, as parents, are often judged by what we feed our children.  I can’t count how many times I inadvertently have been pulled into a conversation with another parent about the benefits of buying organic this or non-GMO that.  Tired of trying to determine fact from fiction and wondering if our food really came from a farm or a large factory, I found a group that is dedicated to providing education about farming in Illinois to urban parents like me: the  Illinois Farm Families.

 

Visiting the Larson Farms

Visiting the Larson Farms

Illinois Farm Families hosts moms from the Chicago area (and surrounding suburbs) on tours of family-run farms.  The programs lasts for a year and I was able to tour at least 4 different types of farms including those that concentrated on hogs, cattle, corn and soy as well as a dairy farm.  At the end of the tour of the farms, we also explored a grocery store to learn how food is transported from the farm to the processor and finally to the store.  I spent much of the year redefining my erroneous views of how our food is grown, processed and sold.  Most importantly, I gained a better understanding of what it means to have GMO and non-GMO grown food.  When my friends asked me what I got out of the program I  always said the same thing: “I learned so much that I think you should apply to be a Field Mom too.”  In other words, don’t take my word for it, go out and meet the people who are growing and caring for your food!

Grain Feed

Grain Feed

The mission of the group isn’t to sell the Field Moms on why we should buy one type of product over another;  it is to get the word out about Illinois Farms and get rid of the mystery (and stereotypes) of what it means to be a farmer and live on a farm. The Field Moms met with farmers and other agricultural representatives from both the pro-organic and pro-GMO sides of the farming industry.  Both sides were passionate about their beliefs and were willing to answer some of our (okay my) outrageous questions.  We learned that not all farmers are alike. For a growing portion of the Illinois family owned farms,  women are considered the “head” farmer  or at the very least equal partners with their male relatives.  Running a successful farm is less about manually planting the seeds and more about using the latest and greatest technology to ensure a successful harvest.  For instance, all of the farms that we visited used GPS guided planters to maximize their acreage and plant the best seed for a particular type of soil.

 

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That’s me, climbing in the a state-of-the-art tracker. I was truly wondering how I was going to get out of it!

 


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Finally, we had the opportunity to volunteer at a food bank. I have to be honest, although I was looking forward to spending time with many of the women with whom I made lasting friendships, I was not too excited to spend a precious Saturday throwing meat and stuffing boxes of dried goods.  Once again, I was wrong!  This was a wonderful experience.  It made me appreciate how much food is actually wasted in this country and what I could do to help others gain access to healthy, non-processed meals.  In fact, when I became a Federally Licensed Health Navigator later that year, I often referred my Medicaid eligible clients to the Northern Illinois Food Bank.  I cannot wait to have another chance to volunteer at this very needed and dynamic facility.

My experience with Illinois Farm Families didn’t end with the volunteer work at the Northern Illinois Food Bank.  I was invited to speak at the Illinois Soybean Growers Conference about my experience as a Field Mom.  My experiences truly influenced my perceptions about the modern farming industry and where our food comes from.  More importantly, I had the chance to meet women, who are very much like me: Mothers, Business Women, Wives, Pet Owners and Dynamic.  What was once a seemingly insurmountable difference between these women and me; that they lived on a farm and I, in a city, seemed irrelevant by the end of my year.

The 2013 Field Moms

The 2013 Field Moms

If you would like to learn more, or even apply to be a part of this years city moms touring farms, then I suggest you check out the application HERE.  Deadline to apply is November 15, 2014.  Trust me, you will be glad that you applied.