What Do Farmers Do In The Winter?

(Disclosure: I am an Illinois Farm Families Ambassador. All thoughts are my own other than italicized writing which is that of the farmers.)

When it’s cold out I want to do nothing but stay inside. Driving out to my mom’s house I pass fields and I’ve always wondered what Farmers did during the winter. I pictured them relaxing for a few months a year and thought that must be a nice job. I decided to chat with a farmer and finally get all my questions answered. Donna Jeschke and her husband own a farm in Mazon, IL where they grow corn and soybeans.

Question 1: Do farmers take winters off (or any portion of the winter or another season)? If not, what do they do during the winter?

Donna’s Answer: Dec, Jan, and Feb seem to be as busy as the planting, growing and harvesting season! It is during this time when we are finalizing agronomic plans for the next crop. This includes deciding which varieties of seed corn and seed beans will be planted in which fields. We review yield results from the previous fall, as well as, study the latest soil test from each field to help make these decisions.We are also doing maintenance and making repairs on the machinery we used to harvest the crop in the fall as well as on the machines we will use to plant the upcoming crop. During this time, we also may decide to trade in older machines for more undated equipment. This year we purchased a new machine to apply nitrogen to the corn fields this spring. The liquid applicator came disassembled so my husband, brother and nephew have been working in our shop this winter to put it together. During the winter we spend about 30 days hauling the corn and beans that are stored in bins on the farm to the grain elevator or terminal facility that we sold them to. In our area, that could be a facility on the Illinois River in Morris, to one of our local coops that loads cargo containers for export, to a processor in the Chicagoland area, or to a agricultural grain company who rails corn and soybeans to livestock markets in the southeastern US or the southwestern US. Also during these three months, we attend various conferences and seminars where we learn about new agricultural technologies and equipment. These meetings help us to become better farmers by learning from other farmers, industry professionals and university researchers.

AND, the most fun is that we try to spend a day, or part of a day, each week with our 2 granddaughters! They live about 50 miles from us.

Question #2: How do you deal with the cold while working on the farm?

Donna’s Answer:  We just put on more clothes if we have to be hauling grain or working on other outside activities! On the days that are below 0 degrees, we are working in the shop (which is heated) or in the farm office(that’s in the house). Those days are good to catch up on bookwork!

Question #3: How and why do you choose specific seed types and varieties?

Donna’s Answer: We made all of our seed variety and purchases in December. We decide to plant certain varieties based on how they yielded previously on our farm, our neighbors’ farms or in variety seed plots in Illinois. We meet with several seed salespeople who sell the different products and listen to their suggestions for our specific types of soils and agronomic needs. This can be a whole blog if you want to dig deeper.

Question #4: How far in advance do you plan for the next year’s crop?

Donna’s Answer: We begin planning for the next crop year as we are planting the present crop. What I mean is we may see a situation, such as the way a particular corn variety germinates in April, and decide to plant or not to plant that variety again. We “evaluate” constantly what we are doing, why we do it and how it is working. Our actual purchasing of seed is done in the Nov-Dec months for the following year.

Question #5: Has the extreme cold and record snow we’ve been having this winter effected your work at all?

Donna’s Answer: The record winter cold and snow has not affected us too much except that my husband has moved a lot more snow in the farmyard so we can move grain trucks in and out more easily. The piles if snow around here are pretty high! We also have used more LP to keep the shop warm enough to work…that’s around 50 degrees. I guess the house heating bill was higher too :)

Learn more about the Jeschke’s farm here. What other questions do you have for the Illinois Farm Families?


Saving Money At The Grocery Store

(Disclosure: This is a compensated post but all thoughts are my own.)

I wrote a couple weeks ago about how I was cutting down on expenses to save money. I had a list of 8 things I was doing in the month of January and one of them was to eat less fast food and more of the leftovers we had in the fridge. Trying to pinch every penny, I have been looking into saving on food even more. Ideally I’d love to find out how to provide my family with quality food but just find a more cost efficient way to do so.

I checked out the Illinois Farm Families blog to learn more about healthy eating and shopping for food. Some of the posts were written by moms I know so I knew I could trust what they wrote. I was really interested in food labeling since food that is “better for you” is often more expensive. I wanted to see if I was really getting what I paid for.

The first article I came upon was called Five Misleading Food Labels and had one key line that stuck out to me:

I know that if I was comparing two products next to each other I’d probably choose the one that was labeled “no _____” on it but the one next to it could be free of whatever the other label claimed as well. No reason to pay extra for the one with a special label if they both are free from the same thing.

The next article I read was from a mom who toured the Dean’s Plant. From this article I discovered that the milk in my grocery store’s dairy case is all the same. Why am I paying more for a gallon of milk labeled “Dean’s” when it is just the same as the milk that is sold under the store’s label. Yay for saving money on something we buy tons of!

Another thing I read about was a store that I’d consider a “discount” food store and all of the guidelines they have about freshness (read the article here). It made me rethink where I get my groceries and the fact that I can find quality food for cheaper prices. I will be checking out all of my local grocery stores and seeing where I can find good deals while still maintaining the quality of food that I want.

So excited to be able to cut our food budget down. What other tips do you have for me when it comes to saving money at the grocery store?

Illinois Moms: Become A Field Mom

(Disclosure: This is a compensated post. I am an Illinois Farm Families Ambassador® but all thoughts are my own.)

Have you ever wondered where your food came from? If so, I have an exciting opportunity to share with you! Illinois Farm Families® is now accepting applications for it’s 2014 Field Moms program.

“Field Moms” are moms from the Chicago area. They visit different Illinois farms throughout the year to learn more about the farmers and their families and what they do on their farms. Four Saturday trips are planned for the year. They also get to ask questions about food and farming topics they see in the news.

2013 Field Moms

Along with visiting farms, the 2013 Field Moms followed the growth of an acre of soybeans and an acre of corn at Donna’s farm and a pen of pigs at Jen’s farm. This gave the Field Moms a chance to experience first-hand what it is like to be a farmer.

Here are what two moms had to say about the Field Moms program:

“As a person concerned with the overall public’s health and as a self-declared ‘foodie,’ how (and where) our food is provided, butchered and served is of utmost importance to me. Clearly, cattle steering is not an easy way to earn a living. I was impressed with the family’s candor and openness when faced with tough questions.” –Renee Keats, 2013 Field Mom

“Integrity, hospitality, hard work, intelligent, precision farming are all words or terms that shined through on this visit to Paul and Donna Jeschke’s farm. We learned so much about corn and soybean planting. They hosted us even though they were still planting on the day of our visit.” –
Susan Herold, 2013 Field Mom 

Want to join in on the fun and learning? Find out more about the Illinois Farm Families, the Field Moms program, and how to apply here.


Learn About Illinois Farms With Me

(Disclosure: This post is compensated but all thoughts are my own.)

My grandpa was a farmer. I remember getting to visit him when I was younger and I thought it was so cool that he got to be around animals all day (especially horses because those are my favorite animals). I understood nothing abut what he did on a daily basis and what it took to run a farm and to be honest, I still have no clue.

When I was asked to be a Blog Ambassador for Illinois Farm Families® I was excited and accepted because that meant I would get to head back to a farm and I’d get to understand what my grandfather really did. I also looked forward to learning more about growing food and seeing where my food comes from. It’s not everyday that you get that chance.

Looking into Illinois Farm Families more I learned that nearly all Illinois farms – 94 percent of them – are family owned and operated. I always thought that nowadays most farms were owned by corporations so it was really awesome to know that there are people like you and me running these farms and growing the food we eat. They feed their families the food they grow.

It was interesting looking on the Illinois Farm Families website and seeing that they are completely open about what goes on at the farms. They have Chicago area moms who are invited to be “Field Moms” and visit a variety of Illinois family farms to meet the farmers who grow crops and vegetables and raise livestock. They also invite people to ask questions through their website to learn more about how food is grown, technology that is used on the farm, environmental issues, and more.

What questions do you have about farming in Illinois? You can look for monthly blog posts over the next year answering my questions for the farmers (and yours too). I look forward to documenting my experiences and sharing what I learn with you all.