A few years ago Stan Schutte, owner and operator of Triple S Farm in central Illinois, would not have been able to say, "You can raise a family on a small farm." At the time, Stan was farming 600 acres of corn and soybeans with hogs on the side, but he still couldn't make ends meet. In order to support his wife and five children, Stan also worked the third shift at a local factory.
Reflecting on how he used to get by, an average day for Stan seemed more like two. "I just finished another day of planting corn, to be harvested in the fall and sold as #2 yellow at the local elevator. It's almost 8:30 p.m and I must hurry home to grab a snack and briefly go to bed so I can wake up again at 10:15 p.m. to go to my factory job," explains Stan. Working one job to support another didn't make a lot of sense to this lifetime farmer. "It always bothered me to have to work in a factory to support my farming." Just before Stan's 40th birthday, the impending crash of the hog market drove him to sell off his livestock - bringing in $.15 a pound for his sows.
Something had to change. With his 40th birthday in front of him, Stan was motivated to make some serious changes on his farm. He doesn't mince words when he thinks about this moment: "Folks sometimes say one has to hit bottom before a person will make major changes in one's life, and I had arrived."
In his spare time, Stan studied up on the new field of organic farming. He wanted to learn more but at the time information was still hard to come by. As luck would have it, he found an ad for a farm meeting on the back of a magazine. It was only about three hours away and Stan couldn't say no. "Upon arrival, I was met with open arms. The group was friendly and their willingness to share information reminded me of my childhood when the neighbors all helped each other out." In looking for a new way to farm, Stan found a new philosophy: "Everything that I learned in the last 30 years of farming was about to change. My eyes were opened: The glass was not only half full, it was running over with opportunities."
Triple S Farm now boasts organic hogs, grains and vegetables. The family uses direct marketing strategies to sell their products to local consumers and the whole family is involved. However, Stan's ideals don't stop at the boundaries of Triple S. Knowing that the well-being of his neighboring farmers was as important as his own for the health of his local economy, Stan helped set up a group of farmers to build a multi-species processing plant that will open this fall. The farmers now control how and where their livestock are processed.
Farmer owned processing facilities allow customers in Central Illinois to purchase fresh, local meats directly from farmers in their area. Stan sees great opportunity in this move: "This will help ensure the future of our farm and allow my son and others interested in raising livestock in my area to do so - and succeed!" According to Stan, consumers are driving the evolution of farms like his. "This is a consumer-driven movement, caused by many outside factors, all of which create tremendous opportunities for those who are willing to do the work." Such a consumer-farmer relationship is the basis for a local food movement that Stan believes is the foundation for thriving farms across the country.
The most important message Stan has for farmers in the field is hope. "There is hope for family farms and I want people to realize it." Looking out over Central Illinois' far western sky, this farmer sees a bright future for his family farm. "Organic production and direct marketing have rekindled an enthusiasm for farming in me that I have not felt since I was twenty years old. When my grandkids are that age, I hope that they will stand on this same piece of land and look back in history to think about the beginnings of this local foods movement."
P.S. During Farm Aid's 20th Anniversary Champaign to Chicago Farm Tour, the caravan stopped for lunch one day at a restaurant for BLT sandwiches. Stan provided the bacon for the BLTs -- and the Farm Aid staff who were there can attest that those BLTs were by far the best they had ever eaten!Date: 4/19/2007