Tag Archives: illinois farms

This Land Is My Land

By: Chris Warren

Maybe it’s the wide open skies, or the view that goes for endless miles, but I get a sense of freedom being out in the country. The sweetest moments are when I cannot see any man made object, not even a jet trail in the sky, or hear any man made noise. I marvel at it all and hear a voice that says “God exists.” It’s a complete peace, a greatness, that no city or human-based creation can replicate.

The other day I was on a road trip that took me through north central Illinois. I’ve made this trip dozens of times before and I never find myself in a state of bored repetitiveness. Sitting on the tailgate of my truck sipping a cold soda I had a perfect view of cornfields meeting a clear blue sky that literally stretched as far as I could see. As if on cue, a bird started singing. I look over my shoulder to spot a cardinal (which is the state bird of Illinois, by the way). It was greatness in the voice of a little bird.

Any place that you can hear only natural sounds is a good place. My own backyard qualifies, most of the time, depending on which way the wind is blowing and how busy the railroad is. When I visit the big city, the thing I notice the most is the noise. In the city there is never a moment when I cannot hear some form of man made noise.

Driver’s seat view from my pickup truck rolling through northern Illinois, July 21, 2015

I first came to appreciate the greatness of the natural world years ago when I discovered motorcycles. I was looking for a place to rip through turns and charge up hills and run free for hours without the inconvenience of traffic congestion. Not being encapsulated in a car meant I could smell the trees and the muddy rivers, and yes even the cows. I could feel the subtle temperature changes when I rolled through a shaded grove. I found myself purposely stopping in the middle of nowhere and shutting the engine off just to meditate on the greatness of nature without man’s interference.

Nature taught me about its majesty by tempting me to stop and pay attention to it, which is actually not very hard when the man made distractions are gone. From the fields and birds mere feet away to the wind and lightning and stars and the planets in the night sky, nature has much to tell. Through some cosmic twist of irony, the natural world says the most about itself during the quietest moments. For all the greatness of the earth I’ve been lucky enough to see for myself, there is so much more out there I have not seen. Spending a few hours zipping through the Midwest is cool for what it is, but the United States also has mountains and valleys and oceans, all of which have their own unique lessons to teach.

A few years ago I went on another road trip to visit a friend in Florida, and that of course means hitting the beach! He did not take me to the touristy beach where there are so many people and blankets that you can barely see the sand; he instead took me to the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Most of the place is not accessible by car. We trudged for over half an hour, through the sand and Florida heat, dragging our stuff with us. We plopped down in a spot where we could not see a single person both ways up the shore. But for some tall buildings in the distance and the occasional boat going by, I could have been fooled into thinking we were shipwrecked on an island. We brought our iPhones to play some music, but we never used them. The sound of the waves gently rolling in and the caw of the gulls was too perfect to be marred by digital cacophony.

Most people live in or near a large city, and while there is nothing wrong with that, the city makes it too easy to become detached from what the world would be like if humans were not constantly messing with it. I like convenient shopping and quick pizza delivery as much as anyone, but being away from it does a lot for me too. The country is nature’s way of saying it does not need tall buildings and impressive boulevards to achieve greatness. It gives me a feeling of appreciation for God’s wonder, the perfect plan of His creation, and patriotism for a mighty nation that has given me more than what can be contained within its vast borders. The land stretches out before me for more miles than my truck will ever reach and speaks of His greatness without using a single word.

American Farmers: Invisible Guests At The World’s Table

By: Chris Warren

I stopped by the grocery store early Sunday morning when it was quiet and the place had more employees than customers. It’s nice to park near the door and get in before the post-church/pre-football game shopping madness sets in. As if it were a scene from a Hollywood movie, the automatic doors opening before me revealed an awe-inspiring, far reaching display of fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese, and baked goods. For a few moments I had to stop and take in the wonder of the amazing bounty laid out before me.

To encourage sales and impress customers, retailers purposely set their stores up to create that “oh, wow!” feeling when walking in the door. I had shopped at this particular store for many years and entered through that same door probably over a thousand times but for some reason never noticed the carefully staged displays. This time, maybe because no one was in the place, it hit me: There was more food in this building than there is in some entire third world cities. I am blessed to live in a time and place of plenty.

I love to ride my motorcycle out in the country. The twisty roads, the fresh smell in the air. The free feeling of the open sky above and the pavement slipping beneath me is a rush like no other. I open up my BMW’s 1200 cubic centimeter in-line four cylinder engine and the world of crazy melts away and I get a feeling of relaxation that happens only when I’m rolling through nature.

Very few people give much thought to where their food really comes from. They just go to the store and everything is magically there. I might not be very aware either had I not seen for myself the hundreds of miles farms and fields going past my motorcycle. I can leave my home and ride for literally days acres several states and see nothing but crops growing. In my birth state of Illinois, 80% of the land is farms. Most Illinois citizens are surprised to hear this, probably because over half of them are squished into Chicago and five suburban “collar counties”. If they bothered to drift out of the strip mall-and-Starbucks district, they too would be amazed at how much food is produced less than half a day’s drive away.

Graphic courtesy Illinois Dept. of Agriculture ©

The United States has 1.44 million square miles of farmland; that’s over a third of the entire land mass of Europe. Without American farmers, the world goes hungry. Farmers are almost invisible because there are so few of them and they live and work far from where what they grow will be consumed. They toil in anonymity, never really knowing exactly who is at the other end of the chain or the global reach of their work.

Farming is one of the few, and perhaps only, professions you literally have to be born into. No one decides at age 35 to switch careers and become a serious first time farmer. If you did not grow up around farms or have an elder teach you from an early age, you’ll probably never pick it up later in life. Some universities offer a major in farming, but most students who pursue a degree in agriculture already have a decade or more of practical experience on their resume well before their college years and are unequivocal about what they want to do with their lives. The work is famously grinding and low paying; those not raised in the culture and acclimated to it will not understand the reward has nothing to do with money or a comfortable lifestyle.

I am envious of farmers. They live a quiet, honest country life that I wish for myself. I know that the reality is much different than the wish. The plight of the farmer has not changed much over many generations. There are good years and bad years. The good years don’t come easy, and there are just enough of them to stay ahead. Technology has made farming safer and more efficient, but no matter how far technology advances, it will always be  about the land.

Assumption, Illinois. Photo courtesy Illinois Farm Bureau, Ken Kashian
Assumption, Illinois. Photo courtesy Illinois Farm Bureau, Ken Kashian ©

I had a professor in college who was also a farmer. I don’t know how he found time to teach a class and run a farm, but somehow he pulled it off. He had a manner about him that was more country gentleman than professor. He injected his easygoing style into a seriously boring course (Tests and Measures for Education). He wore jeans and flannel shirts to class. Every lesson included some comparison to farming, and it was usually funny. To this day I can hear him admonishing us, “Farmers work in the soil! Dirt is what is in your vacuum cleaner bag. Do not ever refer to soil as dirt!” Farmers revere the land and hold it sacred in a Zen-like way only they understand.  What I respected most about him was that he busted the stereotype that farmers were simple-minded hicks. This guy was intelligent and deep and I don’t believe he was the exception.

Later on the same day as my grocery store epiphany, I had to make a return trip for items I forgot. So much for getting in early and avoiding the crowds. The place was jammed, carts piled high with food going out the front door as fast as the trucks could deliver it in the back. Through the madness I took another moment to wonder if those stalks of corn on the display were the same ones I whizzed past on my motorcycle earlier in the summer. The bread, potatoes, strawberries, pretty much everything in the place began its life buried in humble soil tended by someone whose sole mission in life is to feed the world. The world in turn should have an appreciation for how it all comes together on their dinner plates. Whether it’s a lavish sit down holiday feast or simply chomping a donut in the car on the way to work, we should pause and give thanks to the unseen guests of honor at every meal.