I don't know that I've met Kirk and Stephanie Liefer in real life, and yet I feel like I know them. That's the beauty of mutual friends and of shared experiences, I suppose. Their walk has been like our walk. They've served on the Illinois Farm Bureau Young Leader committee and just this year, they won the Young Leader Achievement Award – pretty much the pinnacle of success for a young farmer in Illinois, and they are most deserving of it. And their kids are about the same ages as our kids, although they are two ahead of us and why no, I don't feel like we need to catch up. They have twins, for heaven's sake!
Kirk and Stephanie are parents to Sophia, 9, Simone, 7, Karson, 5, Karleigh and Kade, 22 months (twins!). They farm at Red Bud, in Randolph County, with Kirk's parents, Kevin and Kathy. Two brother, Kent and Kristopher, help out whenever they can. The Liefers are grain farmers, raising corn, wheat and soybeans. No livestock. But I bet they have barn cats, based simply on the number of little girls on the farm.
Stephanie helps out on the farm whenever she can (between five children), running for parts, helping move between farms and delivering meals to the field. She also publishes their quarterly newsletter – important for an operation that relies on good landlord relations. Stephanie also photographs the farm operations and helps keep their social media current, in order to share their agricultural story with those who have no ag connection.
Like a lot of young farmers, Kirk worries about volatility, both in grain markets and input prices.
"Our philosophy would be that we love being stewards of the land and take that responsibility seriously. We make every effort to be efficient with our seed, fertilizer, and herbicide use and to be as technologically advanced as we can," Kirk says.
Off the farm? Kirk is just as frustrated as a lot of farmers are about how much basic farm information has been misunderstood and falsely portrayed among the general public. But he and Stephanie are heartened to see all the ag industry is doing to share truth, pointing to both advertising and the Illinois Farm Families Field Moms program.
"We care deeply about what we do and that we are proud to grow the safest and healthiest food that feeds the world, and ourselves."
As part of their Achievement Award win, Kirk and Stephanie will go on to compete at the AFBF meeting in January in – get this – Honolulu, Hawaii. Indeed. I predict they will have a fabulous time, though I hope they will be able to enjoy it as much as possible. When my husband and I competed a few years back, the judges chose the top 10 from our applications and then interviewed those 10 during the meeting, selecting the winners from that pool. Essentially, you didn't even know if you'd get an interview until you arrived. We were fortunate to make that cutoff, but boy, were we nervous about the interview. Let me just say, there are some very highly successful, highly competitive young farmers in this country and this contest brings out the best of the best. Wow.
And I'm certain that's why Kirk and Stephanie were selected to represent Illinois. They are the best of the best, the cream of the crop, and I have no doubt they will compete mightily in Hawaii. And back home in Illinois, the Spangler family will definitely be cheering for them.
30 Days of Farm & Families
Day 1: The Webels
Day 2: The Mies Family
Day 3: The Thomases
Day 4: The Stewarts
Day 5: The Weavers
Day 6: The Hawkinsons
Day 7: The Kortes
Day 8: The Walters
Day 9: The Schillings
Day 10: The Martins
Day 11: The Pratts
Day 12: The Bowmans
Day 13: The Pollards
Day 14: The Wachtels
Day 15: The Strodes
Day 16: The Buntings
Day 17: The Andras Family