Fifteen-ish years ago, I was a lowly agricultural undergrad at the University of Illinois and I met this guy, Joe Webel, in a student organization we were both a part of. Joe was a jovial kind of guy who always seemed to have a smile and quite frankly, he had some of the best jokes. If you define "best" as something along the lines of: "Three guys walked into a bar and the fourth one ducked." Personally, that was my favorite. If you had met Joe during that time in his life, you'd likely come away having heard one of his famous jokes and learning that he attended the smallest high school in Illinois. This was his calling card. Perry, Illinois: home of Joe Webel and the smallest high school in Illinois.
The years went by. Joe-the-ag-ed-major became a force in Illinois agricultural education, working with ag teachers and later as an ag ed consultant. I'd heard he'd gotten married and was back farming not so far from us. He and my husband ran into each other occasionally, in random farmer-type gatherings.
Fast-forward to this past summer. Joe's wife, Emily, and I went on a road trip together to Chicago, to talk about farm life to a group of Chicago moms. Emily is practically famous in her own right, having started a blog sometime back called Confessions of a Farm Wife. In it, she shares her thoughts on the farm, as someone who didn't really plan to become a farmer's wife. It's a hilariously modern take on the how-the-heck-did-I-end-up-on-a-farm story, and because Emily is endlessly endearing, fun and hip, she has attracted a lot of non-farm female readers. Which - if you want to tell agriculture's story - is kind of the point.
Today, Joe and Emily farm with Emily's dad, granddad and uncle, near Farmington. They're raising corn, beans, wheat and hay, and to keep them busy and out of trouble, 125 head of commercial cows. And another 15 head of purebred Simmentals. They're parents to four children, ranging in age from 6 years to 5 months. And they have a dog. Talk about free time! (I kid.) Speaking of free time, you'll note this photo is missing their most recent addition. Some things just have to give; sometimes, it's a family photo!
They farm like a lot of Illinois farmers; not looking for quick fixes, they make decisions for the long run. Investments for the long run - in the soil, in the cattle, in the equipment.
"We treat our ground like we're going to farm it forever," Joe says.
That is so great. Remarkable, because it's a long-term view in a short-term world. Unremarkable, because it's the way of most farmers. We're stewards, not miners.
And finally, a random handful of further thoughts from Joe and Emily, which I just really appreciated:
What keeps them up at night: price volatility, both in grain and inputs.
Their gut reaction to inaccuracies about agriculture: "The general public is the general public, because they don’t know what’s really going on...and how could they?" Joe asks. "The media spins what they want us to know, and that is generally sensationalized." (I should add, Joe is not exactly of fan of, say, Oprah.)
What they'd want an urban friend to know about their farm: "No consumer is more affected by my practices on our farm than my own family. I would never do anything that would jeopardize my family’s well being, therefore, the same goes for the general public," Joe says. Emily adds, "We are not all Hee-Haw-watching, overall-wearing folks who carry around cute, cuddly animals. We are educated, smart, happy, hard working people who get up and go to work...our workplace just happens to include a tractor cab and a gravel road."