By Emily Paster
This month, as part of my Brand Ambassadorship for Illinois Farm Families, I am bringing you an interview with Kristen Strom: a mother, a teacher, a blogger and the wife of a farmer. Kristen grew up in the Chicago suburbs, but now lives in a small town outside of Peoria, IL from which she can commute to her job teaching high school English and her husband can commute to his job working on his family's grain farm.
As someone who grew up near the city, but now is now part of a farm family, Kristen is in a unique position to bridge the gap between consumers and farmers. Like many of us in the cities and suburbs, Kristen had a lot of misconceptions about life on a farm before she met her husband. These days, Kristen tries to dispel some of these misconceptions and to share what it means to be a farmer's wife — from a city girl's perspective — on her blog Farm Notes from Little Dahinda, IL.
Here are some excerpts from my interview with Kristen:
What has surprised you the most about being married to a farmer? What do you enjoy about being part of a farm family?
[Some of the things that surprised me are] how hardworking they all are – they work all the time. It's a lifestyle, similar to a family business. The whole family is involved at all times and everyone is involved in the work. [Also], life and work depend on the weather…it runs your life and what happens on a daily basis and how crops are growing. [Lastly, being a] "Farmer's Widow:" my first fall on the farm a fellow farm-wife told me that I was a "farmer's widow" and I didn't know what she meant. During fall and spring seasons, I basically am on my own due to the long working hours of my farmer husband. He wakes up before the sun — about 5am — and gets home anywhere from 11pm-2am to grab a few short hours of sleep. I take care of all household needs and my children during those busy months. Our only chances to see my husband or the farm family is by taking visits out to the field, and that may only be about a few seconds or a few hours of visiting time, depending on what they are doing, what the weather is like, what field they are in, etc.
[What I enjoy about being part of farm family is] having opportunities for my kids to learn about agriculture, hard work, and being a part of a "team" where we all do our part. My kids will know where their food comes from, how to interact and care for livestock, and how farming operations works- they will probably know more than me as they get older.
Did you have misconceptions about agriculture before you married your husband? If so, what were they? Do you feel that urban and suburban folks have misconceptions about agricultural production in this country?
I thought all farms smelled and, on my first visit to the farm when we were dating, I asked, "where is all the grain" because he had said they were "grain" farmers. I thought "grain" only meant wheat so I was expecting to see all wheat fields. I thought all farms looked the same: white house, picket fence, a few barns, lots of farm animals, and beautiful scenery, much like the children's books about farms and farm animals I read growing up. I also thought all farmers looked the same and were older. I didn't realize that a guy my age could be really good looking AND a farmer!
[In terms of] misconceptions, people don't realize how much agriculture and farming play a role in their daily lives: what they eat, what they use, how corn and soy beans are used for various products and food. Also, most farms are operated by families and not companies. They don't realize that farmers have a lot of knowledge of food safety and want to raise safe food for their families and everyone else that they feed; that "organic" isn't necessarily the best; that crop protection protection products are all regulated and farmers have to be licensed to use them, or that growing non-GMO crops isn't a reality for meeting consumer/world demand for food.
What's happening on the farm right now? Is this a slow time of year for your husband?
Because we have our own large grain facility, the guys are trucking corn and soybeans to the river ports and processing facilities. This means they wake up early to get in the truck to make it to the facilities by opening time (6am) and they work until they close (4-6pm). Other things [that are going on right now]: input purchases (seed, fertilizer, chemicals, equipment, etc.), evaluating equipment needs and repairing equipment, field repair if conditions are right, meet with landlords to discuss current rented land, year-end budget analysis for 2014, lots of book work and time in the office.
Any special holiday traditions that you observe? Will you be cooking anything special for the holidays?
Each grandparent still hosts a Christmas at their house and there are lots of family gatherings since there is time to see each other at this time of year. [We also do an] annual Farm Christmas Dinner with our employees and their families – always at a steak house! My mother-in-law and sister-in-law are amazing cooks. It's hard to beat anything they make. When I got married and received kitchen items for gifts, my mom laughed because I had never really cooked before. My husband has high expectations for what food and desserts should taste like, so I try my best and am always trying to find new recipes that will knock his socks off. I have a few "Kristen" recipes that I've discovered on my own or "borrowed" from them that I now share with my family which impress them during the holidays!
If you could tell urban and suburban parents anything about life as a farm wife, what would you want to tell them?
Bring your kids to visit a working farm, to meet farmers, interact with livestock, and see where their food comes from and is raised. It'll be an eye opening and rewarding experience that the whole family won't forget. You'll be amazed at what you don't know and what you learn!
Thanks so much to Kristen for taking the time to talk with me during this busy time of year. I really enjoyed our conversation and hearing about how she has adjusted to life as part of a farm family. For more information about Kristen and her family — including some of the food she makes for her husband and the other farmers during planting and harvest time – check out her blog.
Full disclosure time: In my role as a Brand Ambassador for Illinois Farm Families, I am being compensated for my time and writing. As always, the opinions expressed here are entirely my own.