Farm Progress

Picture yourself in Cultivating Master Farmers

Learn from the Masters in our Cultivating Master Farmer program; application deadline is March 31.

Holly Spangler, Prairie Farmer Senior Editor

March 23, 2015

2 Min Read

Some 10 years ago or so, Peggy Kay Fish had the idea to pair up young farmers and Master Farmers for a mentor experience. Peggy was a force at Farm Credit at the time and she came to us at Prairie Farmer with the idea. We loved it.


Conversations ensued, the idea evolved and the Cultivating Master Farmers Program was created: a two-year class with 10 Master Farmer couples, 10 (or so) young farmers and couples, and a program that involves 6-8 speakers and roundtable discussions over the course of two years. The whole idea was to build relationships, share advice and experience, and find someone to bounce ideas off of - outside your township. Sponsors like Growmark, Monsanto, Illinois Farm Bureau, Farm Credit Services of Illinois and 1st Farm Credit Services came on board, along with Prairie Farmer. 

In 2015, we'll graduate our sixth class of Cultivating Master Farmers. I've had the privilege of sitting in on and leading these sessions over this time and I will tell you, I've heard some of the most timeless wisdom shared at these roundtable discussions. Young farmers ask good questions and bring incredible energy and optimism. Master Farmers talk about how to treat employees, how they diversified, how they made time for football games and piano recitals, how they built houses and saved their small town. 

There was the time Master Farmer Russ and Marilyn Rosenboom told of taking their entire family - kids, grandkids and all - to Disney: "You can leave them a million dollars or you can leave them a million dollars' worth of memories." 

Or when Master Farmer Jim Schaeffer told, through tears, of how hard it was for him to begin talking about retirement with his son. Important, but hard. And valuable perspective for those of us eager to take over.

Or more recently, when Russ talked of volunteering in his community, of school boards and elections and county boards and more: "If you can't make the tough decisions, you'll always be average."

That's the kind of advice you can take to the bank. 

So if you're a young farmer in Illinois (and I know, that limits the pool a bit) and you think you might be interested in participaing in the CMF Class of 2017, check out this link. Consider applying, but do it quickly: deadline is March 31. And if you're a Prairie Farmer Master Farmer and you'd like to sign up? Just let me know!

About the Author(s)

Holly Spangler

Prairie Farmer Senior Editor, Farm Progress

Holly Spangler has covered Illinois agriculture for more than two decades, bringing meaningful production agriculture experience to the magazine’s coverage. She currently serves as editor of Prairie Farmer magazine and Executive Editor for Farm Progress, managing editorial staff at six magazines throughout the eastern Corn Belt. She began her career with Prairie Farmer just before graduating from the University of Illinois in agricultural communications.

An award-winning writer and photographer, Holly is past president of the American Agricultural Editors Association. In 2015, she became only the 10th U.S. agricultural journalist to earn the Writer of Merit designation and is a five-time winner of the top writing award for editorial opinion in U.S. agriculture. She was named an AAEA Master Writer in 2005. In 2011, Holly was one of 10 recipients worldwide to receive the IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Ag Journalism award. She currently serves on the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, the U of I Agricultural Communications Advisory committee, and is an advisory board member for the U of I College of ACES Research Station at Monmouth. Her work in agricultural media has been recognized by the Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Corn, Illinois Council on Agricultural Education and MidAmerica Croplife Association.

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle on 2,500 acres. Their operation includes 125 head of commercial cows in a cow/calf operation. The family farm includes John’s parents and their three children.

Holly frequently speaks to a variety of groups and organizations, sharing the heart, soul and science of agriculture. She and her husband are active in state and local farm organizations. They serve with their local 4-H and FFA programs, their school district, and are active in their church's youth and music ministries.

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