My father was a diesel mechanic who worked most of his life on John Deere tractors. A few weeks ago, he passed away at age 91, and now rests in peace with his ever-present Deere hat tucked inside his casket. Dad was a “fix-it” man, traveling to farms across central Illinois to fix their broken-down machines. He loved the challenge and satisfaction of “getting his hands dirty” making them run again.
Toward the end of his life, he retired to Hopedale, and whenever I visited, I would pass by the Tremont Co-Op grain elevator pictured on this issue’s cover. He really enjoyed talking with the people in that small town. Recognizing many of their last names, he would connect with them by saying, “You have the ‘such-and-such’ farm; I worked on your dad’s (or grandpa’s) tractor!” Sometimes he would even relay a story about the problem he fixed.
Dad passed away never understanding the technologies used in the field today. In just a generation, agriculture has been transformed by software, hardware and advanced production equipment that would have left the farmers of yesteryear speechless with its capabilities. Acquired by Monsanto in 2012, Precision Planting—also based in Tremont—has grown to become a leader in this space.
I attended the Tremont Co-Op’s annual meeting last year and was amazed to see so many generations of families represented—and to learn the immense value of the corn and soybeans stored at its facilities. One co-op board member asked what I, as a businessperson in the city, thought about genetically modified plants, as well as farming in general. He then pulled out his iPhone and showed how he can control irrigation in his field through an app. It changed my perception entirely.
In this issue, we also cover the small farmer movement that appears to be on the rise in central Illinois. From The Land Connection to the University of Illinois Extension, a range of groups have popped up in recent years to offer training and resources for prospective farmers. In March, the Greater Peoria Regional Food Summit brought together a lengthy list of local sponsors, including the Peoria County Board, City of Peoria, Peoria LISC, Peoria City/County Health Department, Peoria County Farm Bureau, and numerous colleges and universities to discuss the development of a strong local food economy.
It will be interesting to see what happens at the abandoned prison in Hanna City, where plans for a small farm incubator and food hub are in the works. In the meantime, farmers’ markets and farm-to-table restaurants continue to expand around the area, reminding you exactly where the food on your plate comes from. iBi