Rural America

Past Present, Present Future

As winter’s icy hands again strangle most of the country, I toss another log in the stove and grab the stack of old newspapers, aging magazines, and new books that has grown tall during winter travels.
The newspapers take little time. No trick to reading a two-weeks-old daily newspaper: headline… headline… recycling bin. The magazines are […]

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Who Wrote This Mess?

The low whimpering and muffled whining heard in farm country this month are not the gripes and grunts of corn and soybean growers trudging through 2015’s purgatory of under-$4 corn and less-than-$10 beans.
Instead, it’s the rising complaints of cranky farmers as they trudge out of dull meetings where Land Grant experts and Farm Service Agency […]

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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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Big Ag’s Weak Hand in Nitrate Fight

For over a year the Des Moines Water Works has been warning every private farmer and public official in Iowa that it would sue anyone or any entity it deemed responsible for the dangerously high nitrate levels in the Raccoon River, a key source of the water it delivers to 500,000 people in and around […]

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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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Groundhog Day, Again and Again

Thanksgiving is in the rearview mirror, Christmas in the windshield, and given the glacial pace of key policy decisions awaiting resolution in Washington, D.C., it’s just another Groundhog Day out here in rural America.
Those decisions, after two years of heavy duty do-nothingness, are coming slower than the deadlines faced by this Congress and the new […]

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All Right Already, Fix It

If you ran your farm or ranch like the White House and Congress run the federal government, your corn would never get planted and your cows would be long gone.
Of course, if you ran your farm or ranch anywhere near the level of—what?— the scornful divisiveness and almost pure reactionary politics that now guide Congress […]

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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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