Life on the Farm

Diverse, Concentrated–Big Ag, New Ag?

The Progressive Farmer magazine’s February issue resembles most mid-winter issues of most U.S. farm magazines. It features stories on how to grow more corn, how to whip soybean aphids, and how to “Drain Water in the Hydraulics.”
Interspersed between these tried-and-true farm favorites, however, are three stories that mark just how incredibly diverse our farm and […]

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Winter From the Window

January’s week of blistering cold was met with the blissful heat from the farmette’s two efficient woodstoves. Red oak and hickory are, after all, the July and August of wood heat both when you split ‘em and when you burn ‘em.
Zero degree cold was not common on the big southern Illinois dairy farm of my […]

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Welcome Back, Foodie

We didn’t know it back then but everyone on the big southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth was a foodie.
Of course there was no one named Bittman or Pollan or Waters to tell us we were foodies but there were people named Mom and Grandma and Aunt Nina whose food knocked your socks off […]

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Howard’s Priceless Gift of Simple Giving

Originally published in 1994, “Howard’s Priceless Gift of Simple Giving” continues to be the most requested, most reprinted Farm and Food File column. The column inspired The Land of Milk and Uncle Honey which will be published by The University of Illinois Press in May 2015. 
The Christmas tree was a scrub cedar hacked from the edge of the woods that […]

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Bring It On

Fall’s first frost, usually a mid-October event in my adopted central Illinois, waited until the last possible monthly moment—deep into Halloween night—to finally show winter’s white face.
We didn’t so much see it coming as feel it coming. A stern northwest wind arrived before sun-up that day and built into a gale by noon. It scattered […]

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Change on the Wind

The early morning wind rises with the sun from the east. Where I live, an east wind blows change. There’s a meteorological explanation for this, of course, but long before there was meteorology or meteorologists the east wind blew change.
The wind (it’s not a breeze) rattles the two black walnut trees in the far backyard […]

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Let’s Hear It for the Readers, and Writers

At the end of every fiscal year, June 30, and the end of every calendar year, December 31, readers claim this space to offer their views of my views.
Take Mike C. from Texas who, after I wrote a spring column on how climate change will affect food production in 2050, sent a parody of a […]

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June’s Sweetest Sound

There’s no more comforting sound to awaken to than a soft June rain falling on a shingled roof. The patter of the light rain whispers sweet, two-word poems like “Maybe slowly” and “Rising delayed.”
On the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth, a rainy June day was a treat almost as great as homemade ice […]

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Renewable Energy

The tall, mostly dead red oak on the eastern edge of the farmette still stands this late, long winter, saved mostly by this late, long winter.
The majestic, strong-armed tree, my age or a little more, had a date with the saw and maul as soon as the weather turned cold. Deep snow and face-cracking cold, […]

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Books, Plans, and “congress”

A week or two into every new year, most folks review, often regretfully, their list of resolutions already bent, broken or buried.
That never happened on the big southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth for one simple reason: We never made any New Year’s resolutions.
We didn’t. Honest.
In fact, I can’t recall one instance that of […]

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