If you’re into writing, reporting, photography, and journalism, great careers await you in agriculture and Holly Spangler is proof of that!
Holly is editor of Prairie Farmer magazine, having worked for Prairie Farmer before graduating from the University of Illinois. She also writes a monthly column, My Generation, and a blog, and manages editorial throughout the eastern Corn Belt for Penton Agriculture.
And if all that wasn’t enough, she and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle with John’s parents, and their three children. Of course, being a mom in a small community, Holly also volunteers with the county 4-H program, the school district, and their church’s youth and music ministries.
Whew! It’s safe to say that Holly grew into the extreme busyness that makes up her life, but it’s also apparent from her writing that she’s loving every minute of it. I was elated to get the opportunity to ask her more about her journey and her career.
Lindsay: What was your path or journey to this career?
Holly: When I started at U of I, my goal was to be a doctor…which didn’t last much further than Chem101. I discovered ag communications through my roommate at 4-H House and immediately knew I’d found my people. I doubled down and did every ag com internship I could find, including one before my senior year that took me to Washington, D.C. to work with the ag communicators at various national organizations. That summer, I learned there was an opening at Prairie Farmer. I was encouraged to go to the American Ag Editors Association meeting that fall in Chicago (now known as the Ag Media Summit) where I met Prairie Farmer Editor Mike Wilson. We sat down and had an interview, I wrote a test story and was offered the job. I started as a field editor in January of my senior year, and went to full-time after I graduated in May. I’ve stayed with the company ever since, as field editor, associate editor, a brief diversion as a national special projects editor, then came back as editor of Prairie Farmer and senior content director for our eastern Corn Belt edit team. Prairie Farmer has been a wonderfully flexible home for me here on the farm; they’ve let me work from home from the beginning and let me transition to part-time when my kids were born, then back to full-time when everyone went to school.
Lindsay: What is the most rewarding and most challenging aspect of your job?
Holly: The most rewarding part is the people. I love the people in agriculture. They are good and they have good stories, and they’ve made my life richer. The most challenging part is making sure we’re covering Illinois agriculture to the best of our abilities. There’s a lot going on out there!
Lindsay: What skills/education do you believe have helped you to be successful?
Holly: I grew up on a farm and showed cattle all over southern Illinois with my family, and two of the biggest lessons from those experiences were to work hard and to work with people. There are a lot of ways to get things done, but very few right ways. I want to work diligently until the job is done, and I want to do it in a way that honors the people around me. Every day in my job, my goal is to love God and love people.
The biggest skill set in my job is writing, writing, writing, and I’ve always tried to take good advice from good writers. Mike Wilson would send my early stories back to me with red ink all over them and I’d pour over them and learn from what he did. I read good writing all the time to get inspiration and ideas – I read stuff Mike writes, and stuff from Pam Smith and Marcia Zarley-Taylor and more. These are the people who win AAEA writing awards every year and I want to soak up and learn from them!
Lindsay: Describe a “day in the life” at your office.
Holly: Oh, it’s very glamorous when you work from home! Today for example, I sent my kids off to school, exercised, returned emails, talked through a column idea with a columnist, and later I will edit a couple of stories from another writer, make phone calls for a waterhemp story, handle some Prairie Farmer social media, track down information for a political piece, (continue to) sort 1,200 Farm Progress Show photos, study a new set of production deadlines and this afternoon I’ll leave for the Illinois Harvest Dinner, which I get to both participate in and cover. Tomorrow, I’ll come back and write-up that story and pull photos for it. And I’ll need to write a blog. Every day is different, which is really nice. And you can’t beat the commute.
Lindsay: Do you have advice for someone who might want a career like yours?
Holly: Get lots and lots of experience and write every chance you get. When I got my first job, it technically required 3-5 years of experience, which is the worst when you’re in college. BUT, I’d done so many internships that my boss decided they made up for it and I got the job anyway. So don’t be afraid to go for it, and don’t be afraid to pursue writing opportunities. I know there aren’t many writing internships out there, but I will work with any young person who’d like to give it a shot! Call me. We’ll talk.