Basically, Bob and Sarah Stewart are our farming heroes. John laughs and says, "we're not worthy," but really it's kinda true.
Bob and Sarah just seem to do things right: they take care of the farm, they have great kids, they've expanded their operation, they're just nice people. In fact, a neighboring farmer said of them, "you'd never guess they're as large of an operation as they are. They're just really nice people."
This past summer, a few of the folks who work with BASF along with a handful of Farm Progress staff, toured their farm. Josh Flint and I had selected their operation as a good example of a quality Illinois grain farm and let me just say, they did not disappoint. From donuts on the immaculate workbench to a full-fledged PowerPoint presentation on a flat-screen in the shop, he and Sarah rolled out the red carpet for us. If it was possible to be more impressed, I'm not sure how.
As part of Stewart Farms Partnership, Bob and Sarah raise corn and soybeans on 7,900 acres with Bob's parents, Craig and Diane, and Bob's brother, Brad and wife Kelli, near Yorkville. They're also parents to Kristine, 14, Karoline, 11, and Keith, 8.
Their farm is situated on the very edge of encroaching subdivisions, and in fact, they sold some land a few years back to a developer just before the housing market crashed. Today, that land sits with utilities and streets but no houses. But plenty other houses have gone up and the effect for the Stewarts is that their once-quiet roads are virtual thoroughfares today. In fact, when one of the kids' horses slipped through a gate on the morning of our tour, it was the equivalent of a four-alarm fire. Bob was moving, just to make sure the horse wouldn't get to the highway. He made it. Whew.
At their heart, the Stewarts are good business people. Bob got his masters degree from U of I in agricultural economics and spent several years with a consulting firm before returning to the farm. Their philosophy is to innovate and adapt to change, and be flexible enough to capture new opportunities.
They're concerned about both volatility and government regulations that could keep U.S. agriculture from being a globally competitive food producer – which could stem, as DeAnna Thomas pointed out, from lack of production ag knowledge in the general public.
Yet as a fringe-of-suburbia farmer, Bob sees opportunity there as well and his family has plenty of opportunities to interact with people from the city.
"We do our best to tell a positive story for agriculture through our actions, words, and image of our farming operation."
30 Days of Farm & Families
Day 1: The Webels
Day 2: The Mies Family
Day 3: The Thomases