Harvest has just begun at my house! For our family farm, that means Dad’s in the combine, Hubs is running the grain trucks, Mom’s occasionally helping in the grain cart, and I’m… in the kitchen. I wasn’t raised on a farm – I married into it. I can’t move the trailer, dump the truck, shift the 4455 or herd the calves that are grazing my front lawn while the rest of the family is shelling corn at the field furthest away. But I can give rides… and I can cook!
“Field Meals” are my way of contributing to the harvest effort. As a farm wife who’s got a nine-to-five (or 7:30 to 4:00) in town, I don’t have time to pack the folding table, crock pot, and picnic basket full of gourmet goodies requiring full table service to eat supper. My family likes to “eat with one hand and shift with the other,” as my farmer would tell you! In order to keep up with the fast pace whirlwind of the season, I have developed a strategic game plan to conquer harvest hunger:
I’m a meal planner. I’ve always sat down on Sunday afternoon with my calendar, recipe book and shopping list — Harvest is no different. I have an idea list of main dishes, sides, snacks, drinks and desserts to keep stocked at the house. Drinks are chilling in the fridge, ground beef is browned the night before. That way when I get home from work I already know what’s going in their supper sacks – which leads me to my next tip…
Make it disposable.
I learned early on that stuff that gets sent out to the field doesn’t often make it back to the house – and if it does, three days later, it’s extra gross and moldy. To save time and sanity (and dishsoap!) I package everything in baggies, plastic sauce cups with lids, tin foil and plastic grocery sacks. The guys get plastic cutlery when required (which isn’t often) and in recent years I’ve invested in those Styrofoam take out boxes which have been a huge help. Once everything is individually wrapped, I do my best to split it out into Dad’s bag and Hub’s bag. I’ll pack a thermal bag with the hot food and a cold cooler with drinks to put together at the last minute in the back of my vehicle.
It must be 1-handed.
Some farm families I know take the time to sit down and eat in the car with regular dishes and silverware. Not us. This is where you have to know your farmer… As I mentioned before, my husband likes to eat while he drives, therefore it can’t be anything too complicated (no spaghetti, no chilli, no packets of mayo and mustard to put on his own sandwich). He’s running the grain trucks to the bins and can barely keep up with the combine. His dad, on the other hand, doesn’t mind taking a break from combining to sit in the car with me and eat “like a civilized human being.”
I’ve come up with some pretty creative one-handed meals – some more successful than others. You’ve got your classic, hamburgers & brats, to the more contemporary pigs in blankets, pork chop on the bone, and grilled ham & cheese with a tomato Soup-At-Hand. Fresh fruit is always a win and veggie sticks with dip works out well. Some epic fails include Salad wraps (think: veggies wrapped up in lettuce leaves with dressing inside), go-gurt, and those kid-friendly applesauce pouches. Apparently food packaged in tubes is inappropriate for anyone over the age of 12.
Keep it clean.
Don’t forget to pack plenty of napkins, paper towels, and something to wipe their hands on before eating. My mother-in-law always sends out a wet rag in a plastic baggie for the guys to wipe their greasy, dirty hands with. (She too has learned the hard way not to send out her good washcloths – they won’t come back). I’ve tried to substitute the cloth for a wet-wipe but they just can’t withstand the rough, farmer, man-hands. Trust me on this one, just send an old sock or chunk of t-shirt.
Don’t forget Dessert.
This may or may not go noticed by my farmer, but I always try to include a treasure at the bottom of the bag. Whether it’s homemade chocolate chip cookie, a couple Reese’s peanut butter cups, or a cold silver bullet, it’s my way of making him smile as he works late into the evening.
So what’s on my upcoming menu, you ask?
- Stuffed French Bread sandwiches with carrot and celery sticks, ranch dip, grapes, and a pudding cup. Tea/water/soda
- Bratwurst on the grill, individual bags of chips, steamed veggies, apple slices, and banana chocolate chip muffins. Tea/water/soda
- Breakfast sandwiches (fried eggs with bacon and cheese between buttered English muffin halves) Rosemary roasted potatoes & onions, orange slices. Tea/water/soda… chocolate milk?
- Corn dogs, French fries, fruit cup, steamed veggies, drinks
- Aaaaaand probably a fast food run to Arby’s or Subway a couple times in between!
If you have any recipes that fit my criteria, I’d love to hear from you.
That time of year is quickly approaching. You know the time of year where the air becomes colder, the food you eat becomes warmer, and the sunset comes sooner. It’s the time of the year that you look forward to every year because you get to finally see the combine going in fields nearby and maybe just maybe you get to ride in the tractor to the elevator to drop off some freshly harvested grain. But what no one really tells you is that sometimes these can be really hard because you might not get to see your mom, dad, grandma, or grandpa like you are used to because they have to get the crops out of the field. Take it from me, a farm kid whose dad not only farms but also runs multiple grain elevators. During harvest, I barely see my dad for around six to eight weeks. My dad has missed endless amounts of concerts, sporting events, birthdays, and literally any event during the months of September through November. Having a dad that would go to literally everything you had to him not being there all the time was and is still super hard to deal with. But this is what I have learned through all of the harvests that I have been through:
When you get the chance to ride/drive in combine or tractor with them, do it!
Though this might be a “well duh” moment to you, remember that this might be the only time during the week that you get to see them. Enjoy the ride. Stay off your phone. And actually, talk to them. I have found that some of my conversations ever have happened in either a combine or tractor.
It hurts them not being able to see you as much as it hurts you!
Though they may not come out and say it, they miss you as much as you miss them. Though they might like harvest, the endless hours can sometimes get to be too much for them. Know that they miss not being at every event that you have in life. They really do. But know that they want to be there cheering you on and even though they might not be there physically they are still cheering you on.
Help make a meal to take to them in the field.
Nothing. And I mean nothing (okay maybe no equipment breaking down) is better during harvest than a home-cooked meal. If you know or are able to, make something for that someone that you miss that you can take to them in the field or wherever they are. The way to someone’s heart is through their stomach (I think that’s how that saying goes, LOL) and I am sure they will get the hint loud and clear that you love them, miss them, and care for them.
Remember this doesn’t last forever.
Harvest (hopefully) only lasts between six to eight weeks. Though it can, and sometimes does feel like a long time, know that it will end. Life will go back to how it normally was. They will be found on the sidelines of your games, sitting in the auditorium waiting for your performance, and tucking you into bed like they normally do.
You are not alone
It’s going to seem like you are alone. Like no one else is going through this. But that is not true. Even though people around you might not be saying all the time that they miss _____ because of harvest, they really do. Know that there are so many people, people you might not even know that are going through this time of missing someone because of harvest, but like I said earlier harvest does not last forever.
To all of the Farm Kids and Farm Families gearing up for harvest, I wish you nothing but a successful and smooth harvest season. Always remember there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that harvest does not last forever. Enjoy this season!
Illinois State University
Friendly and low-key, Paul Taylor is abundantly proud of the way he grows corn, and he wants you to be proud of it too. He knows that the decisions he makes go far beyond the farm. His choices end up on shelves at the store, in pumps at the gas station, and even in the carpet underfoot. Corn has plenty of uses from table to tank and beyond.
Taylor started growing corn when he was four years old. He planted a little patch in the yard in northern Illinois where his family has owned a farm for nearly 100 years. Now at age 65, he is still committed to corn. He and his wife, Barbara, have a little extra time now for traveling in their new camper with their poodle, and creating art in a hog-barn-turned studio. But they’ll always be a farm couple. Taylor’s story is the story of Midwestern corn farming and its real world benefits to the economy, rural jobs and environment.
Taylor speaks with the earned wisdom that comes from decades of working the soil, as well as from a lifetime of study and thought. He cites the use of biofuels as one of the greatest benefits of corn, especially on local economies. The conversion of field corn into fuel and other goods such as bioplastics, has resulted in an environmentally responsible relationship between industry and community. “I always think of sustainability as a three-legged stool,” Taylor says. “Economic, environmental, and social.”
Ethanol has perhaps done the most to support those three legs. “We use biofuels on the farm,” Taylor says. “We put it in our cars and our pickup trucks. It gives us clean air, and it helps reduce our emissions.” He points out the nearby city of Chicago as an example of how the use of biofuels has helped with air quality in the past 25 years.
More recently, the ethanol boom — which has supported a greenhouse gas emissions reduction equivalent to removing 9.3 million cars from the road — has done a lot, says Taylor, to bring young farmers back to the farm. In addition to ethanol, abundant corn has helped make everyday items safer and more sustainable.
Society’s focus on petroleum for fuel and other products has, in Taylor’s view, unfairly drawn focus away from homegrown, locally produced, renewable corn. “The reality is that just about anything petroleum can be refined into, corn can be.” Corn is being used by today’s innovators to create more sustainable products – from construction materials to medical supplies. Increasingly it’s also a petrochemical substitute in tires, sneakers, cups, cutlery, bags and more. Taylor has even had lap throws and a polo shirt made from cornstarch; the shirt wore well, he reports.
Bioplastics have become widely used in containers and food packaging – even Taylor’s trusted morning coffee cup — and they have the advantage of being biodegradable without releasing toxic substances. It takes less energy to produce bioplastics than petroleum-based plastics and they contain no toxins.
“We raise a wholesome product, an environmentally friendly product,” says Taylor.
Taylor admits that there are other important elements of sustainability besides the land, including water and relative energy costs. “I fully understand that,” he says. “Nobody thought they needed an iPhone before Apple told them they did. What I tell my friends is, ‘Do your best and encourage people, think outside the box, think about the value of corn production for our local communities, how it puts money in our school systems, and so on. That’s part of the sustainability too.”
With downsizing over the years, Taylor now farms about 800 acres. He has a son who works in the seed industry, another son in construction, and a daughter in the food industry. He and his wife hope that even if the children aren’t farmers, they’ll at least retain ownership of the farm and thus keep the family tradition alive. “I’m proud of what we do,” Taylor says, “I think we’re good members of the community.” And corn has played a key role: “It’s adapted well to the soils and to the climate, and it’s been a consistent crop for more than 150 years.”
America’s corn farmers, like Taylor, are committed to sustainable and innovative uses of corn for a better future, both for the environment and their families and communities.
Originally posted on National Geographic.
Paul Taylor is a former Illinois Corn Growers Association Director, most recently stepped down as a Director for the National Corn Growers Association, and is generally one of the most genuine, likable farmers you will ever meet.
I had the opportunity to meet Christopher Flood last year as we entered our first year at Lake Land College in Mattoon, IL. At first glance, Christopher is a very quiet reserved guy, incredibly smart, and genuinely a nice person to be around. As we have gotten to know each other more and more I find it fascinating to listen to him, as he knows a lot about various aspects of agriculture. I sat down with Christopher after class one day to talk about being a 6th generation farmer, a student, and a young person in the agriculture industry.
- Tell me a little bit about your family’s operation and what you guys do?
We run a 1300-acre corn/soybean/wheat crop operation along with 3000 wean-to-finish hog operation and 400 head Holstein and Jersey steer operation. We used to be a farrow-to-finish operation but because of disease and some other factors, we decided to become a wean-to-finish. We found it was cheaper to buy weaned pigs than to treat all the sick ones. Feed for our steers is a silage ration and for the hogs, we grind bulk loads and put in some supplement packs.
- What is your major and where will you be transferring to?
I am currently an Agriculture Transfer Student at Lake Land College. After Lake Land, I plan to transfer to Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and major in either Crop Science or Soil Science.
- What is your dream job?
My goal is to be an Agronomist for a Seed Company or the USDA.
- Did you or do you still have some mentor(s)?
My uncles and my dad definitely have given me a lot of insight in different areas of agriculture and life.
- In the terms of age of Agriculture, we are very young people, but do you remember anything that really changed agriculture in any way?
Whenever I hear my grandpa, dad, or uncles talk about changes in agriculture the first thing I hear is 2012…meaning the drought of 2012. I was still a kid, but I remember it not being a good, profitable year. Other changes I have seen especially lately are the changes in machinery and GPS usage in machinery.
- How do you see the agriculture industry changing in the next 5-10 years?
There’s probably going to be a huge focus in technology, more than what we have already. Drones and better field mapping will happen. There are going to be larger farms with fewer farmers doing it.
- Do you have any advice for younger people in agriculture or thinking about agriculture as a career?
Work hard, know there is a lot of room for movement if you want to work for it. Know that if college is not your thing there are jobs that require as little as a certificate all the way up to 8+ years of schooling. So, see what fits with you.
Lake Land College
There are a lot of good girls in the world, but there are none better than a country girl. Whether you found her baling hay in the pasture or disguised in at a bar, country girls are the best you are going to do. Now that we have that straightened out, and thank goodness we do, let’s talk about the quickest way to keep these girls around, maybe even get them down the aisle. Talk ag to them. Country girls are farm girls through and through. There is nothing a farm girl loves more than a man who can talk the farm talk and walk the farm walk. Try these conversation points next time you are lucky enough to get close to the special country girl.
Have a favorite color tractor: If you really are a true country boy, you are going to have a favorite color tractor. If you and the special lady have the same favorite brand, it just might be true love. Healthy debate can be good for a relationship, don’t worry about a little green versus red, a country girl is worth it.
Know the difference between soil and dirt: It may seem like it’s not a big deal, but to a true farm girl, calling her inheritance “dirt” as akin to a slap in the face. Soil is the valuable material that you plant your crops in that resides in the fields. Dirt is displaced soil, or the stuff on the bottom of you show. Don’t mess it up or she won’t forgive you.
Judge: That’s right, us country girls want you to judge. Whether you were on the livestock judging team or the crop judging team, we want you to know what you are talking about. Have an appreciation for a nice looking steer and know when my corn field is looking a bit better than my neighbor’s.
Knock Boots: Yes, you read that right. No, I am not trying to be crude. We are all familiar with the phrase “knocking boots”. For that to even be able to apply to you, you have to own boots. Really, you should own work and dress boots, but don’t even consider yourself potential for a country girl without a pair of boots.
Now, you are a lot closer to getting the special country girl down the aisle. Don’t have the special lady yet? Don’t fret. Find yourself a lady using the tips above and before long you will be hearing wedding bells to. Looking to plan that special day? Check out The Hitching Post for some awesome country wedding ideas!
University of Illinois
Whether it be in the car, at home, or (much to my roommate’s dismay) in the middle of the grocery store, I’m pretty much always down to jam out to some music. So while rocking out to some of the greatest hits, I figured I’d share my top ten greatest hits about farming.
This song is a classic and a great example of how farm life works. Here a “moo.” There a “moo.” Everywhere a “moo, moo.” It really shows the farmer as many of us see him, working with his cattle.
Peterson Bros. – I’m Farming and I Grow It
This is just a farm parody of “I’m Sexy and I know it” by pop/ techno duo LMFAO. I really like this because it shows farmers hard at work but also having fun and loving what they’re doing.
Rodney Atkins- Farmer’s Daughter
While there’s always a possibility of finding that special someone while working on the farm, this song also shows the hard work put into farming and how rewarding it can be.
Kenny Chesney- She Thinks my Tractor’s Sexy
Being a farmer’s wife or girlfriend isn’t easy. Farmers work long hours and sometimes it’s hard to get in a date night. So sometimes you have to opt for date night on the tractor. Plus who doesn’t love a good ride on the tractor?
Farm Girls- The Real Deal
Some people think that farm girls are just pretty things for people to look at. Fun fact: Farm girls love to get dirt under their nails and work just as hard as everyone else.
Peterson Bros. – All I do is Farm
I like this one because it really talks about farm families and how farmers love talking about what they do. And while this one is also laugh out loud funny, it really hits home the fact that farmers are willing to answer any questions you have
Rain really does make the farm life go ‘round. Plus who doesn’t love the rain? Crops grow, you can splash in mud puddles, and watching the storm can make for some great romance.
Land is everything to farmers, conserving and utilizing it. So when they “build a 10% down white picket fence on this dirt” they’re also building a home. That “dirt” is everything to them and this song really shows the passion and love they have for what they do.
This song really shows the life of the farmer. Hard work, family and determination help keep farmers doing what they love. Farming isn’t always a walk in the park but their passion drives them to just take the tractor another round, and pull the plow across the ground.
While farming isn’t always glamorous, once you’re a part of the farm life, a part of you will always want to go back. Farming ingrains a lifestyle that really follows you everywhere you go.