In The Field

A western Illinois farmer harvests corn.
Credit Abby Wendle / File: Harvest Public Media

The people and places that make our food system go.

Ways to Connect

The Matthew family farm, M&M&m Farms, outside of La Harpe, Illinois, looks different from the farms surrounding it. It’s not filled with neat rows of soybeans or lines of corn that’s over-my-head high in late July. The Matthew’s place is a bit more disorganized and far more diverse.

My Farm Roots: Showtime At The Fair

Jul 29, 2015

Show day at the Pierce County Fair in Nebraska starts early and goes fast.

I arrived around 9 in the morning, but Emily Lambrecht had already spent an hour and a half in the wash stalls, scrubbing and shampooing her calves so they would sparkle in the show barn.

This was showtime. The 17-year-old 4-H and FFA exhibitor spent months working up to this one day.

Farm dog? Check.

Barn cats? Check.

Muddy work books lined up at the back door? Five checks.

We kick off our fourth season of “My Farm Roots” with the Renyer Family, five farm kids I had the pleasure of meeting last week.

It’s Monday, around 9 o’clock, and the library is locked for the night.

Silently, Linda Zellmer appears on the other side of the glass door. She opens it and guides us up four dark floors towards a puddle of light.

“There it is,” she says, gazing down at the swollen bud of an orchid cactus. “It’s slowly opening.”

Zellmer perches on a stool behind her camera and waits in anticipation of the night’s big event: the moment when the bud opens.

Emily Meier uses a drip torch to light the upwind edge of a field in Gentry County, Mo.
Jacob Grace / For Harvest Public Media

Farmers burn their fields to remove plants that are already growing and to help the plants that are about to come up. These burns are often called “prescribed burns” because they are used to improve the health of the field.

What tools do farmers need for a burn?

To keep the fire contained, farmers need to clear away burnable matter around the edges of the field, which usually requires a lawn mower or larger machinery. The burn itself can be managed with some simple, specific tools.

Laying hens flock to the oats Matt Russell tosses to them at Coyote Run Farm in Marion County, Iowa.
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Farmers face plenty of risk, including the unknowns of weather, global markets and the more predictable expenses of taxes and equipment costs.

Federal commodity support programs were created to help farmers during bad years. But under a relatively unknown provision of federal law, farmers don’t have to actually grow a particular crop to get farm bill payments.

That might sound like “paying farmers not to farm,” but it’s actually a complicated way of helping to reduce over-dependence on one crop.

Thousands of miles, and years, away from his upbringing on a Kansas farm during the height of the Great Depression, Wilson O'Connell now lives in the Boston suburbs.
Jeremy Bernfeld / Harvest Public Media

Every year on my birthday I know there’s a thin, flat package waiting for me to open. It’s wrapped with neat corner folds and held together perfectly with just three pieces of tape – nothing wasted.

I always knock on the front and hear the crisp, deep thud of a hardcover book. I know it’s a book. And I know who it’s from.

My Farm Roots: Rich With Life

Aug 13, 2014

Farmers are used to waking up with the rooster’s crow. But having grown up a suburban kid, John Curtis was used to a more conventional alarm clock.

As a Peace Corps volunteer in the Caribbean, he managed a farm for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). A long way from his Wisconsin home, he found a love for the most Midwestern job – that of a farmer.

“I loved walking out on the landscape and finding things I could eat,” Curtis said. “I found agriculture to be fascinating.”

Most family vacations are remembered for endless car rides, packed tourist beaches and a string of poorly decorated hotel rooms.

But not former Nebraskan and current Coloradan Kari Williams. Her family vacation memories center on smells of cow manure, adventures on horseback and roosters with bad attitudes on farms in central Nebraska.

In his home in Forest City, Iowa, Riley Lewis has the original warranty deed for his farm, signed by President James Buchanan and issued to one Elias Gilbert, a soldier who served in the War of 1812.

“He moved here, northeast of Forest City, and lived there for one year,” Lewis said, which was the obligation veterans had if they homesteaded. “And then he sold it to Robert Clark, who was the founder of Forest City.”

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