Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the dedication of a couple new pieces of ground added to the University of Illinois Monmouth Research Farm. As Emerson Nafziger wisecracked at the mic, we've never had a celebration for expanding a research station…it's usually more of a funeral. Indeed. State money is tight, which means University money is tight, which means agricultural research and Extension (whose mission is not well understood by the non-ag majority on campus) has become familiar with the short end of the stick.
Which makes what this community did all the more significant. Back in 2003, Illinois money was tight (shocker) and the Monmouth farm faced closure. A group of locals got together, including but not limited to: farmers Kevin Killey, Ray Defenbaugh and Wendell Shaumann; banker Les Allen; business developer Jolene Graham; state legislators John Sullivan and the late Rich Myers; Farm Bureau manager Carol Ricketts; and farm realtor Gilbert Hennenfent.
Essentially, they decided the 160-acre farm and the research was valuable and they wouldn't let it go down without a fight. Their conclusion: double the acreage and the farm could be self-sustaining…and not dependent upon the whims of University funding.
So they raised money and bought a contiguous 80-acre farm next door. The University matched it by buying another 80-acre farm next door to that one.
Of course this all sounds so simple, but it took place over 8 years of wrangling, negotiating, searching for land and about 69,846 phone calls. With the U of I bureaucracy, which, God love them (and I-L-L!) has been compared to a glacier; you have to set a stake to see if it's actually moving.
And this group of people took time out of their lives – from their jobs, their farms, their families – to make it happen.
You can argue that Extension research isn't relevant, or that the research farm wasn't that important, or that it may not matter to you if you live in another part of the state. But whatever the argument, you have to hand it to this group of people. They worked their tails off, and they were successful.
It's stuff like this that makes rural communities great.