The mindset behind family farms, as Kate Huffman explains it, is usually one where the son comes back home and gradually takes over farm operations.
“Instead of my brother coming back, it was me,” says Kate, a 2013 University of Illinois finance graduate and young farmer from Kewanee, Ill. “It wasn’t foreseen, but we all love it.”
Kate and her family farm about 800 acres in Henry County. The sixth-generation grower has worked alongside her father, Jim Huffman, learning everything she can for the past four years.
“When I graduated college, I wanted to be an executive and travel the world, so I went to the Chicago suburbs,” she says. “I lasted nine months and realized the farm was what I needed.”
Kate, who works full time as a financial officer at Compeer Financial, Geneseo, recently bought more land for the family farm with her brother, Brian Huffman. He travels home from Texas every year to help with harvest.
“Most of the times, Dad and I can switch times we are taking off from work to get the field work done,” Kate says.
Her mother, Kathy Huffman, keeps the home fires burning, manages 3 acres of pollinator-friendly prairie and tracks the family farm’s finances.
“We have a couple farmhands that farm with us, during the busy season in the fall. But most of the time, it’s just Dad and I,” Kate says.
Prior to 2004, the Huffmans had a 2,500-head field-raised hog operation. Now they focus on grain.
“I know many who don’t have this opportunity, so I don’t take it lightly,” Kate says.
It’s not hard to imagine her work load.
“You work a lot. You work full time in an office and you come back and you do a couple, three, four hours of work a night … and then your big farm days are Saturdays,” she says.
Kate says she’s got the financial side of the farm operation “down to a tack.” But she’s faced a steep learning curve with equipment operation and maintenance.
While her brother was able to learn how to fix equipment and weld from their father early on, by the time Kate was old enough to learn, they had pulled out of the hog business.
“Brian is in technical systems management. He excels when it comes to diagnosing mechanical issues. I'm better at working with numbers,” she says.
Now as she works corn and soybean fields, her father, a former agriculture teacher, has helped her learn how to diagnose and fix mechanical issues.
“He’s really taken me under his wing and taught me as much as possible,” Kate says. “In four years, you wouldn’t believe the amount of knowledge I have gained. But I’m nowhere near ready to call myself a master of anything. I love to learn.”
As an active member of the Henry County Farm Bureau, she’s starting to share her growing knowledge. As part of her work on the education committee, Kate brings farm equipment to driver’s education classes at the local high schools, where students can climb in the equipment, get a sense of its size and see what the farmer sees while driving down the road.
“We’ll talk to them, give them personal stories, and give them some facts about how to be safe,” she explains.
Kate spends her winters gearing up for the next season at the farm, coordinating a nine-week Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University class and attending Farm Bureau meetings. She’s also a participant in Cultivating Master Farmers, which connects young farmers and Prairie Farmer Master Farmers in a two-year mentoring program.
“When it comes to the lifestyle of working two full time jobs, you really have to be a good time manager,” she says. “I might have high heels next to my work boots, but I’m blessed to have jobs that I love.”