Friday, February 1, 2013

Small Town Girl - Rosie Sanderson

Today we welcome small town girl and farm kid Rosie Sanderson who shares her family's proud farming history and tells her story with the hope of educating others about farming and agriculture. 

If I told you I grew up in a town with a population of 48, you would probably assume that I grew up with that typical “small town girl” story… and you would be correct. Anything you can think of to insert into a small town girl story could probably be applied to my childhood: I learned how to drive a Super M tractor before I learned how to drive a car, I crashed a go-kart or two into my dad’s grain bins, I spent my summers showing cattle, was constantly begging my parents for a horse (which I still haven’t gotten, by the way), and I had decided by age 4 that I was going to be a veterinarian when I grew up!

I was raised on a livestock and grain farm in northern Illinois. (No, not all of northern Illinois is Chicago! Population 48, remember?) My dad farmed with his dad and brother, so I was lucky enough to grow up with my dad, uncle, and grandpa at our farm every day. When I was little, we always had pigs out on the pasture at our house. I can remember riding out to the pasture in the truck with my dad to check the piglets, but he always made me stay in the truck (much to my dismay) because sows are very protective.

My brother Trent and I checking pigs with dad.
As I got older, our farm shifted from pigs to cattle. I got my first bucket calf when I was 7, and I was in love! I named her Wise-Guy (don’t ask me why, I don’t get it either). To this day, my grandpa tells the story about how sick my Wise-Guy got when she was just a small calf, and how I would lay in her calf hutch and sleep with her because I didn’t want her to be alone. As an experienced livestock farmer, of course my grandpa thought “Great, she is going to get attached to this calf and it’s not going to survive.” Well, she did! In fact, she is the cow that started what is now our herd of over 50 cattle. 15 years later, she is still on pasture at my parent’s farm. 

Me with my 15-year-old cow Wise-Guy.
With the help of Wise-Guy, I started showing cattle in 4-H when I was 8 and continued to show calves from our farm until the summer of 2008 when I moved to central Illinois to attend Illinois State University. Moving to college was a huge change for me. Not because it was away from home, family, friends, and grandma’s cookin’… but because these people had no clue about anything agriculture!

As soon as people found out I was an agricultural animal science major, the first question was always “Wait, you are from a REAL farm???” I thought to myself “Who are these people and where did they come from!” Where I grew up, everyone I knew was another farm kid. I had never met anyone that hadn’t seen a cow before. I thought I must have met the only people on this earth who had never been to a farm. People would ask me about chocolate milk coming from brown cows, brown eggs being healthier than white, if cow-tipping was a real thing… and all I could do was laugh! Were these people serious?

As I made my way through college and met more people, I realized that this wasn’t an exclusive group of people who had never been exposed to farming. In fact, I began to feel like the weird one because I HAD experienced these things first-hand. I started to realize that people wanted to know about farming, but they didn’t know where to go for the information. They didn’t have access to farming like I did growing up. This was a problem, and it was here that my passion for discussing farming and food production with farmers and urban folks alike. So I quit laughing when people asked me what I thought were silly questions, because I was their closest connection to farming. If they couldn’t ask me about these things, where did I expect them to go for their answers? 

My family in front of the house in Norway that our ancestors
left 170 years ago!
In 2011, my family had the amazing opportunity to travel to Norway and go to the farm that our ancestors left in 1843. We feel so lucky that we got the experience to stand in the house that they lived in and explore the farm that they left to bring us to where we are today. Farming has been in the family for longer than record books have been around! It is hard to wrap your head around how far we have come but how much has stayed the same, too.

I still have some cattle on pasture at my parent’s farm today, but I hope to move them to my own farm someday, just like all of my ancestors have done. When I have my own farm, I know that I will take with me the important lessons that I learned growing up on our family farm; including the importance of sustainability. Both crop and livestock production are jobs that come with a responsibility to conserve the environment, and that is a responsibility that my family has always taken seriously. Today our farm is more sustainable than ever with the help of new technologies. If that interests you, you can learn more about what we do at our farm’s website: In 2010, our farm even received an award for Illinois Soil & Water Conservation Family of the year from Orien Samuelson!

My family receiving a conservation award from Orien Samuelson.
One thing I wish people understood about my farm family is that we want to answer your questions! Farming is our livelihood, our history, and our passion. We take pride in what we do. If you have a question about agriculture, why not go straight to the source and ask a farmer?

I love what I do, and I think most farmers would say the same thing if you asked them. I feel so blessed to have been raised in “God’s Country” where I learned the importance of hard-work, responsibility, and most recently the importance of sharing what I know with people like you! 

Riding my mare, one of the many perks of living in the country!
If you ever have a food-production related question but don’t know where to start, visit my blog, Unpolished Boots, or facebook page and ask me! I will always be happy to answer your questions or get you in contact with someone who can!

Thank you Rosie for the fantastic feature! Remember - if you or someone you know is involved in farming, ranching, or the agricultural industry and would like to share your story here please contact us! YOU could be the next Face of Agriculture!