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The Hoeft Family- Keeping Small Family Farms Alive

Small family farms have gone by the way side but I had the pleasure to meet with the Hoeft family who said their farm has been in their family for over five generations.

The Hoeft’s farm is located just outside of Green Valley where fourth generation farmer, Mike Hoeft, said his roots run deep.

“My great grandfather got off the boat and migrated from Ellis Island to down around Florida.They then migrated back up the Mississippi River and got off the boat at Havana and migrated east,” said Mike.

Mike and his son Eric farm 2500 acres of corn, beans, and specialty crops just like generations before them. Mike was able to keep the Hoeft name going for another generation by passing the land down to his son Eric.

“I’ve been helping on the farm since I was five years old and able to walk. I am the fifth generation on this farm that started back in the 1800’s. This chunk of ground has been in the family for over 100 years,” said Eric.

The Illinois Agriculture Statistics Service shows there were 74 thousand family owned farms in Illinois in 2012 and five years later that number dropped by two- thousand.

“You can take twenty percent of farmers that produce eighty percent of the product and they would all fit in Wrigley Field. That’s a pretty small amount of folks. That equals less than one percent of the population,” said Mike.

“Small town farmers are going by the wayside. Guys are getting bigger and larger and you almost have to to be competitive and survive in rising input costs and cash rents, land prices, and downturn in commodity prices,” said Eric.

Mike said he wasn’t always certain if Eric would choose to continue the farm, but passing on this tradition is special to him.

“There’s not too many occupations where you can take your children under your wing and be in an operation with them. To be able to hand down the farm to the next generation and just have them keep going means everything,” said Mike.

“It means everything to me. To grow up this way and have that connection of family bonding that is there everyday. Someone I can always lean on for advice, and he’s always willing to give his advice, sometimes a little too much probably but he always wants to help,” said Eric.

Eric says the difference between a smaller family farm versus a Commercial Farm is that a Commercial Farm can move anywhere but the Hoefts can’t.

“My dad always said put things back better than what you found it, that’s how we try to do our farming style,” said Eric.

“We are stewards of this land. We care for this land we care for this livestock.Our families are growing up on it and eating the same food that folks in town are eating,” said Mike.

The Hoeft’s work year round- from maintaining equipment, selling seed, planting, and then harvesting. Their work days always vary leaving little time for family.

“People to some degree have lost the knowledge of where my their food comes from.” Without people that want to farm and grow crops and livestock… we don’t eat. I think that’s the most rewarding thing. I’m just trying to do something good for the world,” said Mike.

Heaven Richey

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