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Harvest Public Media
Harvest Public Media is a reporting collaboration focused on issues of food, fuel and field. Based at KCUR in Kansas City, Harvest covers these agriculture-related topics through an expanding network of reporters and partner stations throughout the Midwest.Most Harvest Public Media stories begin with radio- regular reports are aired on member stations in the Midwest. But Harvest also explores issues through online analyses, television documentaries and features, podcasts, photography, video, blogs and social networking. They are committed to the highest journalistic standards. Click here to read their ethics standards.Harvest Public Media was launched in 2010 with the support of a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Today, the collaboration is supported by CPB, the partner stations, and contributions from underwriters and individuals.Tri States Public Radio is an associate partner of Harvest Public Media. You can play an important role in helping Harvest Public Media and Tri States Public Radio improve our coverage of food, field and fuel issues by joining the Harvest Network. Learn more here.

My Farm Roots - An Evening of Farm Stories

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Image by Curtis Bisbee
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In our fourth Ag Sense event, we bring the trials and triumphs of farming to life on stage.

Joel Gruver stood in front of a packed house at the Western Illinois Museum and talked about apprenticing with an old farmer in the hilly countryside of rural Maryland, where he grew up. He stretched his arms wide to illustrate how steep the hill was that he ran down one afternoon in hot pursuit of the farmer’s runaway antique tractor. The audience gasped and then laughed as Joel described catching up with the machine only to have a wheel pop off and bounce over the fence.

Joel was one of six storytellers to perform at My Farm Roots, a live storytelling event that I hosted in Macomb, Illinois, a small university town surrounded by tens of thousands of acres of farmland. The event, put on in collaboration with Tri States Public Radio, Western Illinois Museum, and Harvest Public Media, drew an estimated 80 people. It was a diverse crowd, including locals who grew up in Macomb, professors and students from the university, conventional row crop farmers, small market gardeners, retired folks, and kids.

After the six storytellers finished, I invited members of the audience to come up to the mic and tell their own farming tales. Five people did, sharing experiences of farming accidents, aggressive chickens, and the consequences of setting hay bale traps. The community talked and listened to each other for more than three hours.

By all accounts, it was a successful night.

My theory for why is rooted in the power of storytelling, which can catapult us over our wall-like opinions and beliefs into the land of someone else’s experiences. George Hennenfent, a storyteller at the event who grew up on a farm in western Illinois, put it like this:

“All of us become "barn blind" - we think the cattle in our barn are better than all of the other cattle because we see them all the time. We think what we are most familiar with is the best or normal,” George wrote in an email. “An event like [My Farm Roots] brings to light many other perspectives and viewpoints. It is a great antidote to barn blindness.”  

I don’t think I was ever “barn blind.” But, not having grown up on a farm, I was perhaps “barn oblivious.”

That changed when I became the Harvest Public Media farm reporter for Tri States Public Radio, two organizations committed to telling stories about agriculture in the Midwest. In the past fifteen months, I’ve experienced the monotony of harvesting endless rows of corn, grimaced through the bloody C-section of a calf birth, and taken a long, cold walk with a veteran suffering from PTSD who has finally found comfort and purpose in farming. I’ve had the privilege of sharing these stories with Harvest’s large, and ever growing, audience.

Now, I’m off to a new adventure to work as an associate producer for Invisibilia at NPR in Washington, D.C.

When I miss Harvest and wearing carhartts to the office and smelling the hog truck, I’ll think back to the crowded room the night so many residents of Macomb came together to help each other see.

As for Joel’s story, he searched the creek bed on the other side of the fence for days, but never found the tire. Now, he told the audience, that farmland has been chunked up and sold off for housing. He still wonders if someday kids will dig it up like an artifact from a lost agrarian past.

Guest Storytellers

Jane Carlson

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Jane Carlson grew up near Rio, Illinois, in northern Knox County. She is the director of Tri States Public Radio's audio information service for the visually impaired and a freelance writer and photographer.

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Jane Carlson, sans pigtails, plucks chickens while her dad fights a moody hog.

Joel Gruver

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Credit Rich Egger
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Joel Gruver discovered his love of soil and plants on his family's small diversified farm in rural Maryland. He has been a professor in the School of Agriculture since January 2007.

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Joel Gruver chases a bucking tractor, loses a tire, and imagines a farm-less future.

Barbara Harroun

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Credit Rich Egger
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Barbara Harroun is an Assistant Professor at Western Illinois University where she teaches composition and creative writing. Her favorite creative endeavors are her awesome kids, Annaleigh and Jack.

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Barbara Harroun goes vegetarian, while her brother is saved by bubble gum.

George Hennenfent 

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Credit Rich Egger
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George Hennenfent grew up in Smithshire, Illinois. George is a lawyer by profession, but in the fall, he serves as the announcer for the Illinois State Corn Husking contest.

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George Hennenfent follows the train tracks to a missing man and money.

Randy Solenberger

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Credit Rich Egger
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Randy Sollenberger is a farm boy, WIU alum, father, grandfather, teacher, writer, storyteller and humorist living in Macomb, Illinois.

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Randy Sollenberger gets bullied in the corn fields and makes amends with his baby brother.

Terri VanMeenen-Misfeldt

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Credit Rich Egger
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Terri VanMeenen-Misfeldt grew up in Geneseo and has been a full-time resident of the Macomb community for the past decade.

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Terri VanMeenen-Misfeldt sips an ice cream soda with her tough-as-nails gramma.

Abby Wendle

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Credit Rich Egger
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Abby Wendle is the farm reporter for Tri States Public Radio.

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Abby Wendle takes it seriously when Dove chocolate wrappers tell her to “improvise.”

Open Mic Storytellers

Gil Belles

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Credit Rich Egger
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Gil Belles.

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Gil Belles's scary encounter with chickens.

John Lane

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Credit Rich Egger
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John Lane.

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John Lane's boyhood love for tractors saves the day.

Marcia Moulden

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Credit Rich Egger
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Marcia Moulden

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Marcia Moulden sets a trap and accidentally catches her dad.

Sydney Null

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Credit Rich Egger
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Sydney Null.

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Sydney Null wakes up at dawn to detassel corn.

Wilma Ren

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Credit Rich Egger
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Wilma Ren.

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Wilma Ren's gives us goosebumps with the story of an owl named Jeremy.