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The U.S. Department of Agriculture was slow to get staffed since the 2016 presidential election. Things are finally picking up the past few months and crucial jobs are getting filled at national and state levels. This is according to Bill Northey, the USDA’s secretary for farm production and conservation. He visited Illinois recently and met with some local farmers who shared their concerns. Some concerns included the looming trade disruptions that could severely hurt American farmers. While corporate-owned farms are less concerned about the possibility of closing down due to their sheer size and power, around 87% of U.S. farms are individual or family-owned. They don’t have as much of a corporate safety net if things get tough. They have people like Northey.

Some government and state programs have been accessible for farmers, such as FSA loans and grants from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Now, the USDA is trying to introduce new programs like the Market Facilitation Program, which hopes to keep farmer paychecks consistent even with a spotty trade situation and tariffs.

Northey and his colleagues seem to be doing their best to support these farmers, and the farmers have expressed some faith in the new staff at the USDA. Still, more support is always needed for these oft-struggling Americans.

So how can YOU help support local Illinois family farms? Four big ways:


  1. Buy food and goods directly from them.
  2. Enjoy farm-sponsored activities like corn fields, apple picking, and hay rides.
  3. Vote for representatives who back the interests of small farms, and let them know your concerns.
  4. Encourage others to do the above, too!


Plenty of farms across the state make extra income by offering seasonal activities. Fall, of course, is a huge time of year for farmers. Not only do they have to finish harvesting and prep for winter, but those who dabble in hayrides, pumpkin picking, and other public fall activities have a lot to organize. Take for example the brand-new apple orchard at Royal Oak Farm Orchard in Harvard, IL. It’s taken around six or seven years, but the farm succeeded in making a unique apple-shaped maze formed out of over 3,000 crab apple trees! This is in addition to their usual autumn offerings of apple picking and kid-friendly activities.

The Bell family’s Royal Oak Farm is a perfect example of innovative local farmers. Find out who the small farms are near your community, even just outside city centers, and support them in whatever ways feel appropriate to you. The effort means the world to these farmers, and supports a healthier culture around food production in the United States.