Life on the Farm

Unite! You Have Nothing to Lose But Your Chains

      For over a month now, nearly anyone who can lift a fork has asked what the “new normal” in American agriculture will be after Covid-19 loosens its terrible grip.

      Six weeks later, we now have a pretty good idea that ag’s new normal will look like ag’s old normal even if it takes a […]

Read More

Hey, Didn’t Rural America Invent ‘Social Distancing’?

There’s a brittle beauty to this year’s spring. Amid the swaying daffodils, cotton clouds, and already roaring tractors and dust-shaking planters hides a deadly virus with a special fondness for those of us in rural America.

      In fact, rural America is perfectly primed for Covid-19, according to any epidemiologist worth their student loans. The virus […]

Read More

“Behold the Fowls of the Air”

My father wasn’t stoic. Instead, his temperament was one of acceptance. He simply accepted the fact that he wasn’t in complete control of most things on the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth.

      Sure, he was boss over everything in sight: hundreds of acres, 100 dairy cows, five farmhand sons, three hired men, and his unpredictable, […]

Read More

Home Sick? Try Mom or Grandma’s Cure-All

      The onset of a deep chest cold recently pushed me to wander the aisles of rural America’s drug store, Dollar General, for any cure that might halt the hacking. Three days and three placebos later, my hack weakened to a wheeze. Time, and the lovely Catherine’s chicken soup, did the trick.

      Had I been […]

Read More

Howard’s Priceless Gift of Simple Giving

The Christmas tree was a scrub cedar hacked from the edge of the woods that bordered the farm. Big-bulbed lights, strung in barber pole fashion, generated almost as much heat as the nearby wood stove. Yellowed Christmas cards, saved over the years and perched like doves in the untrimmed branches, served as ornaments.

      “I believe this […]

Read More

Milk Shake-Up Just Beginning with Dean’s Downfall

While many in the U.S. dairy sector focus on why the nation’s largest milk bottler, Dean Foods, filed for bankruptcy Nov. 12, the smart money—if there is any smart money left after four years of crushingly low milk prices—is focused on what’s next.

      What’s next is what’s always next when your business is built on […]

Read More

Walking in the Shadow of Hope

      The first obvious sign of the season-long flood is a perfectly level, three-foot high ring of dried mud on the machine shed’s siding. Nature put it there and, in time, will likely wash it away.

      Across the road, 100 feet behind a noticeably tilting mailbox, stands the empty, sagging farmhouse of my youth. It […]

Read More

Drainers versus Sustainers

      Not two miles from my central Illinois home, a farmer’s next crop—a dozen rolls of eight-inch, black plastic drainage pipe—wait to be planted several feet deep in this year’s browning corn stubble.

      It’s tiling season in much of the Midwest, that post-harvest period when earth-chewing machines fight weather, mud, and daylight to bury thousands […]

Read More

Ag’s Coming Heart Transplant

If government and private estimates are accurate, hundreds of millions of American farm acres will have new owners in the next 15 years.

      For example, the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) survey takers and record keepers, predicts that 100 million acres of today’s farmland will be sold by its current owners by 2023.

      […]

Read More

It Takes a Carpenter

      In the early morning fog the other day, I heard a claw hammer’s tap, tap, bam, bam, bam, boom drive a nail into its place for who knows how many years. A moment later, another six, clear, sharp notes cut through the fog and another nail was set for, maybe, a century or more.

      […]

Read More