Farm Progress

Chatterton Family: A corn field conversation

I love nothing more than a real and relevant conversation with a farmer in their field. I think you’ll like this one, too.

Holly Spangler, Prairie Farmer Senior Editor

May 1, 2019


Sometime last fall, I saw a Facebook post from Erin (Chatterton) Featherlin, as she balanced a little four-year-old farm boy in the buddy seat and ran the auger wagon. I thought to myself, how far they’ve come.

Erin is my friend and so is the rest of her family, and we were devastated when her dad was killed four years ago. It was a car accident on a snowy morning. An icy highway, a single car and a single fatality. I’ll never forget my husband’s phone call to tell me and the subsequent calls from friends and neighbors, all asking the same disbelieving question: “Is it true?”


It was, and it was a loss of terrific and sudden proportions. Greg was a good father, farmer, friend and brother in Christ.

I’ve watched his family over these four years and marveled at how they’ve held each other up, how they loved each other, and how they stepped into new roles. I also observed how they re-organized the farm, how Erin and her cousin, Jason, became more involved, and how effortless it all looked.

That is, of course, where the best stories lie, since none of it is effortless and every day it’s difficult. But it takes time to share a story like theirs; it’s all too raw in the beginning, and too wearying in the immediate years after. So when I approached Erin and her uncle Brett, I was really grateful that they felt ready to talk about it. That Erin’s mom, Charlotte, felt ready to talk about it.

Because the thing is, I’ve met dozens of farmers over the years who’ve spoken of how they came to farm: it happened when Dad died. Often, earlier than anyone considered possible. And so while the Chatterton family’s loss was tragic and unique in so many ways, there are a lot of farm families for whom their story will resonate.

Loss always creates opportunity for someone else.

That’s the difficult thing, isn’t it? To know you’re living your dream because someone else no longer walks the earth. And when that someone is your beloved loved one, it’s impossible to reconcile. And difficult to put words to.

But Erin and Brett have tried. We had a good and honest conversation this past fall, on one of their final harvest days. Little kids played in a nearby dirt pile, corn stalks blew around, while Jason ran the combine nearby, and another brother, Josiah, operated the auger wagon.

Give it a listen above and as I’ve said before, I’m no farm broadcaster. But I love nothing more than a real and relevant conversation with a farmer in a field. I think you’ll like this one, too. 

For more:           

Chatterton Family: A sudden succession

Chatterton Family: A corn field conversation

Chatterton Family: Protecting the hurting

Chatterton Family: Opportunity, and other strange words

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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