Farms and farming

On this page are links to articles about farms, farmers, and farming from feed grains to forestry, about the strip-mining and reclamation of prime farmlands and polluted runoff from farm fields, about agribusiness and ag policy, about the farm economy and rural Illinois.

I came from farm people—people who farmed, who sold machines to farmers and lent money to farmers and bought and sold the things farmers made. I grew up in in a state in which city folks are as perfectly surrounded by farms as Hebrideans are by water. The first two pieces I sold to national magazines were about farming and farmers.


During my 40-year career, the family farmer became the agribusinessman, the grain-and-hog farm became an outdoor factory, and agriculture completed its evolution from growing food for people to producing feedstocks for industry—much to lament, but more happily, much to write about. My pieces gradually became more critical and my prose more pointed but that had no effect on public debate whatsoever. Farming still enjoys a privileged place in Illinois culture and politics that I think the industry is less and less entitled to. 

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Manna from Decatur

On the fraud of corn-based motor fuels

Illinois Issues  October 2007

The Family Farmer: An Endangered Species?

A “typical” family farmer of central Illinois in the 1970s.

Across the Board  September 1978

Illinois: The Land of Ethanol

On converting Illinois corn to motor fuel

Illinois Issues  January 1981

Ground to Gumbo

Is Illinois killing the Gulf?

Illinois Issues July/August 2006

Farmers' Welfare

The baleful effects of federal ag subsidies

Illinois Issues  November 2001

You Can't Grow Corn on Asphalt

Farmers vs. developers in the '70s

Illinois Issues  December 1978

Bacon Bits

A city boy don't know nothin' 'bout hogs

"Prejudices," Illinois Times  December 10, 1981

Corn, Coal, Corn 

Can a corn field have a life after strip mining?

Illinois Issues  July 1980

Reclaim the Prairie

Recreating a paradise of weeds in Illinois

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  January 15, 1992

Nature's Metropolis

Chicago's economic and environmental past, synthesized

Illinois Times  December 11, 1991

How Chicago Became the Gateway to the West

A review of Cronon’s Nature's Metropolis

Chicago Enterprise  October 1991


Turning Illinois’s poor ­counties into bucolic Disneylands

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  May 26, 1983


Forestry for fun and profit. Well, fun.

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  June 16, 1983


Science for public interest, private profit

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  May 19, 1983

Where Has All the Soil Gone?

Why soil loss in Illinois is a bad thing

The Ecologist (UK)  No. 5/6, 1984

Down on the Farm

The world through the eyes of Farm Week

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  February 3, 1983

Damning the Coal Company

Trading coal today for corn forever

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  January 18, 1980

Charlie Boon, Logger, of Goofy Ridge

A tinkering entrepreneur in the old Illinois style

Illinois Times  November 24, 1978

Export and Die

Trading topsoil for VCRs

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  December 9, 1982

Family Business

Planting a global seed corn business

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  June 14, 1990

Animal Rights and Wrongs

Illinoisans debate how to treat animals for food

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  January 28, 1982

The Cantaloupe and I

How a skeptic became a melon head

"Dyspepsiana,"  Illinois Times  June 27, 2013

Where Corn Is God
Not quite everything you wanted to know about corn
"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  January 21, 2016

A Good Life Well Recalled

Growing up on an Illinois farm

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  June 4, 2015 

“No Peace and Quiet”

Coal companies plow up central Illinois

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  July 25, 1980

It's Not the Heat, It's the Corn

Are row crops making summers unbearable?

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times  July 12, 2011

Homegrown Energy

The gasohol debate with an Illinois accent

Reader  May 4, 1984

Praying for Rain

The “independent” farmer, explained

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  April 6, 1989

Paving Over Oxfordshire

The demise of the Illinois countryside

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  August 10, 1979

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John Hallwas

Essential for anyone interested in Illinois history and literature. Hallwas deservedly won the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society.

Lee Sandlin Author

One of Illinois’s best, and least-known, writers of his generation. Take note in particular of The Distancers and Road to Nowhere.

Chicago Architecture Center

See Home Page/Learn/

Resources for a marvelous building database, architecture dictionary, even a city planning graphic novel. Handsome, useful—every Illinois culture website should be so good.

The Encyclopedia of Chicago


The online version of The Encyclopedia of Chicago, Crammed with thousands of topic entries, biographical sketches, maps and images, it is a reference work unmatched in Illinois.

Illinois Great Places

The Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 2018 selected 200 Great Places in Illinois that illustrate our  shared architectural culture across the entire period of human settlement in Illinois.

McLean County Museum

of History

A nationally accredited, award-winning project of the McLean County Historical Society whose holdings include more than 20,000 objects, more than 15,000 books on local history and genealogy, and boxes and boxes of historical papers and images.

Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois


Every Illinois town ought to have a chronicler like D. Leigh Henson, Ph.D. Not only Lincoln and the Mother road—the author’s curiosity ranges from cattle baron John Dean Gillett to novelist William Maxwell. An Illinois State Historical Society "Best Web Site of the Year."

Southern Illinois University Press

SIU Press is one of the four major university publishing houses in Illinois. Its catalog offers much of local interest, including biographies of Illinois political figures, the history (human and natural) and folklore of southern Illinois, the Civil War and Lincoln, and quality reprints in the Shawnee Classics series.

Chronicling Illinois

“Chronicling Illinois” showcases some of the collections—mostly some 6,000 photographs—from the Illinois history holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.

Illinois Digital Archives


Created in 2000, the IDA is a repository for the digital collections of the Illinois State Library and other Illinois libraries and cultural institutions. The holdings include photographs, slides, and glass negatives, oral histories, newspapers, maps, and documents from manuscripts and letters to postcards,  posters, and videos.




Southern Illinois University Press 2017

A work of

solid history, entertainingly told.

Michael Burlingame,

author of Abraham 

Lincoln: A Life 

One of the ten best books on Illinois history I have read in a decade.

Superior Achievement Award citation, ISHS Awards, 2018

A lively and engaging study

. . . an enthralling narrative.

James Edstrom

The Annals of Iowa

A book that merits the attention of all Illinois historians

as well as local historians generally.

John Hoffman

Journal of Illinois HIstory

A model for the kind of detailed and honest history other states and regions could use.

Harold Henderson 

Midwestern Microhistory

A fine example of a resurgence of Midwest historical scholarship.

Greg Hall

Journal of the Illinois

State Historical Society

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to read about

the book 

Click  here 

to buy

the book

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