• Holly Spangler

    30 Days on a Prairie Farm: Future

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 30, 2012

    Among the most awe-inspiring things in agriculture is to look back at how our grandparents farmed. Then look at where we are today. In our grandparents' lifetimes, they went from farming with horses hitched to a moldboard plow to farming with tractors. Soybeans were commercialized in their lifetime. Corn was hybridized - which is to say, farmer/plant breeders discovered they could cross-breed corn varieties and the hybrid vigor made for far greater yielding plants. They saw a…

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    30 Days on a Prairie Farm: Organic

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 29, 2012

    Last month, I was in Chicago to cover the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance's research summit. I sat down at a table, and thought to myself that the woman across from me looked familiar. Then I checked her name tag and I'll be darned if wasn't Emily Zweber. We're Facebook friends! We'd just never met in real life. She looked and me and apparently thought the same thing, because we commenced to introducing ourselves in real life (or IRL, as the kids say, which is kind…

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    30 Days on a Prairie Farm: Chemicals

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 28, 2012

    When I have had the privilege to sit and talk with consumers who don't know horsepower from horses, there is one topic that consistently comes up: chemicals. "Do we use them?" "Why do we use them?" "Why do we use so much of them?" "Is it causing some unknown - cancer, obesity, disease, etc?" And really, the overarching assumption seems to be that we farmers are out here simply dumping on the chemicals. Wasting excess amounts of…

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    30 Days on a Prairie Farm: Sustainability

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 27, 2012

    I'll likely get in trouble for saying this but I'll do it anyway: I really dislike the word "sustainability." The word has become fraught with politics and peril. Look around your grocery store, and particularly any large urban grocery, and you'll see it showing up on labels: "sustainably grown!" Throw sustainable in front of any noun and you suddenly have something that must surely be good, if only because it's preceded by sustainable. Sustainable…

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    30 Days on a Prairie Farm: Cattle

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 26, 2012

    From the outside looking in, the U.S. beef industry can be a titch confusing. Actually, sometimes from the inside, it can be a titch confusing. To start with, you have two basic types of herds, particularly here in Illinois. Either you're a purebred seedstock cattle operation, or a commercial crossbred cattle operation. The first means you are raising animals for genetic superiority, so you're looking for calves that have a particular trait or set of traits that will make them…

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    30 Days on a Prairie Farm: Family

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 25, 2012

    A few years ago, my husband was pouring concrete at our farm up the road, putting in a pad for gluten feed. Our oldest was in school, so I grabbed the younger kids and ran up the road, mostly thinking how much my son, then 3, would love the concrete action. And he did. But while we were there and as I was snapping picture, another image took shape. The concrete was done, and I focused my lens on my husband walking away with Nathan hot on his heels, running and dust flying, to keep up…

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    30 Days on a Prairie Farm: Dogs

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 24, 2012

    Just for the fun of it, I shot some family photos for a handful of friends this fall. And among the parents, teenagers, small kids and babies who made up the families, one family brought along their canine member. Her name was Mae and I loved her and I loved that she was part of the family photo. Mae is a farm dog, and is a black lab. And like other farm dogs, she's pretty special to her people. In fact, we devote an entire contest and an issue each year to celebrating farm dogs here…

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    30 Days on a Prairie Farm: Big Fun

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 23, 2012

    Two winters ago, the Spangler family embarked upon an afternoon of fun that has come to be known ever since as simply, "Redneck Sledding." And since this is officially the day after Thanksgiving and the holiday season is upon us, I felt like this might be an appropriate time to pause and reflect on the fun and the elements of danger we seem to crave here on the farm. In this photo, you'll note the dismembered top of a poly tank. With a rope tied to it. You can put two and…

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    30 Days on a Prairie Farm: Relationship

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 22, 2012

    If you'd like to see my children get super excited - or maybe start fighting - mention the chance to go ride in the tractor with Mr. Jerry. Or go fishing with Mr. Jerry. Or do just about anything with Mr. Jerry. Mr. Jerry ("Mistew Jewwy" in Nathan-speak) is our neighbor and seasonal farm employee. Jerry loves to run a tractor, and so that's what he does in the spring and the fall. Early on, Nathan discovered that riding with Mr. Jerry was great fun because A) he sings…

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    30 Days on a Prairie Farm: Bottle Calves

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 21, 2012

    I've written before about our children and their bottle calves. At this point in the game, Jenna has had two calves - Buttercup and Dorothy - and Nathan has had two calves - Don and Buddy. Jenna was 7 when she got her first calf, and Nathan was 6. We have been reasonably adamant in our household that they would not have a calf until they were old enough to go out and care for it themselves. All the calves have come from our cows, and were either twins the cow couldn't care for…

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    30 Days on a Prairie Farm: Antibiotics

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 20, 2012

    So if you've been following this blog, you may have noticed a flurry of posts last Thursday. That's because I was attending The Food Dialogues in New York, and live-blogged about each of three panels. Good times. And a wrist cramp. You can catch up on each of those panels here on my blog: 1, 2 and 3. And also here, in our web coverage of each of them: marketing, antibiotics and biotechnology. So much reading. Yet, of the 5 ½ hours of dialogue that day, I came away…

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    30 Days on a Prairie Farm: Straight Rows

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 19, 2012

    Farmers like straight corn rows and until very recent history, some farmers even pegged their ability as an equipment operator on how straight their rows were. Then autosteer came along and now everyone has straight rows. Amen. The joke is, of course, that you can get more corn in a crooked row than a straight one. I tried telling my husband that once, and he didn't buy it. But that was a stressful situation, so there's that. But in the end, farmers like straight rows just…

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    30 Days on a Prairie Farm: Kid Love

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 18, 2012

    Very, very rarely, my kids have said things like, "If we lived in town, we'd get to play with our friends all the time." To which I say, "Yes, that is true. But you wouldn't get to have calves, or bottle babies, or a rabbit, or four wheelers. You wouldn't get to go help Dad do chores. Or ride in a Ranger. Or in a tractor. Or walk over to Grandma's. Or ride your bike all the way down the road." And then they nod, and the momentary troubles of country…

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    30 Days on a Prairie Farm: Love

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 17, 2012

    This month in Prairie Farmer, we devoted an issue to celebrating all that's good in agriculture (here, here, here, here and here). It's been a tough production year on the farm, and it felt like a good time to pause, reflect, and remember the good. And so with that in mind, we invited readers to participate. In the meantime, I drove up to the Joe and Emily Webel farm and shot some photos of their lovely family. They shared their thoughts on why they love farming, and it was so…

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    30 Days on a Prairie Farm: Store Grain

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 16, 2012

    Illinois and the Midwest, in general, have some tremendous advantages, including but not limited to ridiculously deep topsoil and beaucoup grain markets. (I've always wanted to use the word "beaucoup" in a story. Check.) That is to say, where we sit in our part of the world, we are farming directly between two major rivers that carry grain around the world ( the Illinois and Mississippi). We also have four ethanol plants within an hour's drive, and we have a rail…

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    Live from the Food Dialogues: Panel 3

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 15, 2012

    And now, Panel 3: biotechnology and food, moderated by CNN's Ali Velshi. Panelists include: Bob Goldberg, plant molecular biologist at UCLA; Julie Howard, chief scientist, USAID; Gregory Jaffe, biotechnology director, Center for the Science in the PUblic Interest; Fred Kirschenmann, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State; Cheryl Rogowski, New York organic farmer; Jerry Slocum, Mississippi soybean farmer. 2:20 p.m. ET Fred: "Questions have been raised for…

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    Faces of Farming Finalists Announced

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 15, 2012

    US Farmers & Ranchers have conducted a contest to select a spokesperson for agriculture, and the nine finalists were announced today in New York City. Among 100 applications, these nine finalists were selected: Chris Chinn, Missouri Will Glimer, Alabame Daphne Holterman, Wisconsin Brenday Kirsch, Oregon Tim Nilsen, California Eric McClam, South Carolina Katie Pratt, Illinois Bo Stone, North Carolina Janice Wolfinger, Ohio Starting at 1:30 p.m…

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    Live from The Food Dialogues: Panel 2

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 15, 2012

    We're back with Panel 2, again moderated by CNN's Ali Velshi, live from Times Center in midtown Manhattan. This topic: antibiotics and food. I expect this one to be more heated than the last. Panelists include: Keith Ayoob, pediatric nutritionist, Albert Einstein School of Medicine; Barb Determan, Iowa pork producer; Jean Halloran, Consumers Union; Christine Hoang, veterinarian and assistant director of the Division of Scientific Activities of the American Veterinary Medical…

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    Live from The Food Dialogues: Panel 1

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 15, 2012

    We've made our way to New York City and have already met friendly faces and friends from Illinois. The first panel at the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance is about to begin here in the Times Center, New York, and the topic is Media, Marketing and Healthy Choices. The moderator today is Ali Velshi, CNN chief business correspondent. Panelists include Richard Ball, New York vegetable farmer; Debbi Beauvais, New York School Nutrition President and Academy of Nutrition and…

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    30 Days on a Prairie Farm: Dialogue

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 15, 2012

    I shared yesterday how sometimes you just have to leave the farm. Try a new path. See something different. And maybe have a conversation. Or three. Which brings me to today: I'll be attending The Food Dialogues in New York City, organized by the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance. It's a day's worth of panel discussions designed to spark conversation between farmers and food influencers. So while you can look for stories here on the website about the panels, I'll…

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    30 Days on a Prairie Farm: Leave the Farm

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 14, 2012

    My girl turns 10 tomorrow. That's double digits. That's virtually impossible, except that it's very possible and it's gonna happen. Yikes. It just so happens that I have to go to New York City this week for a meeting. And before you go thinking that I must have some glamorous fancy job here at Prairie Farmer world headquarters, let me assure you, my travels are far more likely to take me to exciting destinations like warehouses, corn fields and hog houses. NYC is…

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    30 Days on a Prairie Farm: Show Ring

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 13, 2012

    When you grow up in a cattle showing family, I'm not sure that you give a lot of thought to why you do what you do. You enjoy it, your parents support it, you carry on. It's only later that you look back and realize how much you really learned back then and, you know, what the point of it all was. I'm not sure that I even fully thought through a lot of it until my own child stepped in the show ring this past summer. I think, however, the thing that has struck me as I've…

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    30 Days on a Prairie Farm: Technology

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 12, 2012

    We spent time over the weekend with some of my husband's great college friends and their families. No surprise, many of them are farmers and there was much conversation about farming, equipment, land and such. I was talking with one of the guys at the football game (hey, it was Illini football after all) and he was telling about the trouble he had getting his yield data in and out of his computer system. "Yeah, I came home from school and he had FOUR laptops sitting on the counter…

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    30 Days on a Prairie Farm: Harvest

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 11, 2012

    Harvest has always been my very favorite. And that's despite the fact that particular time of year has become the most busy for our young family, as we learn to juggle school functions, practices for a small town musical, the start of Awana and new-this-year: flag football. Still, despite the crazy, it's my favorite. The weather cools, and we pull out sweatshirts and coveralls. The early mornings see farmers gathering equipment at field's edge, preparing for the day…

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    30 Days on a Prairie Farm: County Fairs

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 10, 2012

    When you grow up spending your summer at county fairs, there's little that warms your heart more than watching your kids enjoy their first fair. Like really. A lot. I spent my summers showing Shorthorns at one southern Illinois county fair after another. I made friends I'll have forever, and have memories ingrained that I'll never forget. (for better or worse!) I did my time in the water tank, kicked the dirt while sitting on the showbox and slept in freshly bedded stalls at…

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    30 Days on a Prairie Farm: Milk

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 9, 2012

    Last fall, I stood on the Lindale Holsteins farm at Hampshire and listened as their veterinarian explained to a group of Chicago moms what's up with hormones in milk. And yes, this was the same tour where Mike Martz explained hormones in steak. It was a big and wonderfully informative day. The farm is owned by Dale and Linda Drendel, and they invited their veterinarian, Brian Gerloff, to speak with the moms about some of the more technical aspects of their business. For his part…

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    30 Days on a Prairie Farm: Weather

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 8, 2012

    For the crop we grew in 2012, we spent $250,000 on fertilizer, give or take a little. We wrote checks for $150,000 for seed. We spent $50,000 to kill weeds and insects. We watch the crop grow. We pray. We can even buy insurance against weather like hail or yield in general. But in the end, we depend on the weather. And we have a lot of money sitting out in those fields. As a kid, the world stopped at 10:15 p.m. when the weather came on. Everyone was quiet so Mom and Dad could watch…

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    30 Days on a Prairie Farm: Hormones

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 7, 2012

    About a year ago, I stood in the farm office at Larson Farms and listened as Mike Martz explained to a group of Chicago moms how much hormone is actually in a cut of meat. It was fascinating. Their eyes were opened when he told them, "the baked potato sitting next to your steak, which may or may not have come from a steer treated with growth hormone? It has way more hormone in it than the steak." Some background: Growth promoting hormones have been used in agriculture for more…

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    30 Days on a Prairie Farm: Long Haul

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 6, 2012

    My friend, Monica Stevens, shared a most awesome photo with me the other day. She'd been going through her grandparents' old farm magazines and photos, and she came across a page of ads in the 1973 Shorthorn World. And on that page, she found ads placed by her family and mine, right next to each other, nearly 40 years ago. So very cool! In part, because I love history and I love old cattle photos and old livestock publications. They represent years of breeding, refining, planning…

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    30 Days on a Prairie Farm: Biotechnology, Again

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 5, 2012

    So, California votes on Proposition 37 tomorrow. And while we talked about biotechnology and genetically-modified seeds last week, it appears there's still more ground to cover. Because as discussions regarding GM seed and labeling of GM products continue to develop, a common thread regarding research continues to emerge. Specifically, I see these four areas come up when consumers are concerned about their GM crops: Farmer Suicides in India Rats in France Monsanto is…

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    30 Days on a Prairie Farm: Church

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 4, 2012

    Some farmers work seven days a week. Some only work Sundays during planting and harvest. Some always take Sunday off. I've lived it both ways. I remember endless weeks as a kid, baling hay and then straw and then hay again, day after day in the hot southern Illinois sun. The days ran together, and so did the weeks. My husband's family takes Sunday off. Religiously. I can recall few times in our married life when John ran a tractor on a Sunday. (Outside of chores that simply…

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    30 Days on a Prairie Farm: Harvest Eats

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 3, 2012

    Bar none, one of my favorite things about harvest is eating together in the field. My mother-in-law, Sharon, will smack me upside the head when she reads this because, my word, the work. (That's right, it ain't easy making a nice meal, packing it up, hauling kids, plates, cups, coolers, crockpots and more to a dusty field location. And then someone asks for the salt and 'doh! The one thing I forgot…) But this is the time in the day when my kids finally see their…

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    30 Days on a Prairie Farm: Biotechnology

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 2, 2012

    Fear. Misinformation. Marketing. Fear. Health. Children. Fear. Fear. All this and more is playing into the discussion involving GMOs these days. And here on the farm, it feels like old news. Fifteen-plus years ago, we evaluated the technology, learned we could plant it and use fewer and less-potent pesticides, have fewer weeds and less required labor. It was a business decision. We got on board. We've gone on to plant Bt corn (using products from DuPont, Syngenta and Monsanto…

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    30 Days on a Prairie Farm: Working Kids

    My Generation

     by Holly Spangler
     on November 1, 2012

    About this time last year, the farm community learned of the Labor Department's intention to regulate child labor on the farm. In response, we figuratively smacked ourselves on the forehead and said a cumulative, "What are they thinking?" And then we set about commenting formally and grousing informally. By spring, the effort received so much backlash that the Department backed down, vowing to go back to the drawing board. Certainly, the regulations had, at one point in…

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