When Jamie married Justin Martz, she joined a big farm family that raises beef and crops in northeast Illinois. It’s a lifestyle she values.
“It’s important for me that our kids have the opportunity to come back to the farm — that it will be here,” said the mother of two boys and a girl, ages 7 to 13.
Jamie works in the crop insurance industry and is active in sharing her passion for farming with her community and consumers farther afield.
She fits right in with the Larson and Martz families in DeKalb County, Illinois. They have always been forward-thinking, yet still able to adjust quickly to surprises in the beef industry and life.
The innovative farmers consulted with animal behaviorist Temple Grandin when designing their beef buildings in 1996, and adapted their cattle and crop business as the ethanol industry grew. Long before the terms “influencers” and social media marketing were commonplace, they welcomed guests from nearby Chicago to experience modern-day farming in person. And, they persevered during the pandemic.
Larson Farm grows 6,500 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat and raises between 7,000 and 8,000 cattle annually. The operation supports five Larson/Martz families.
Larson Farms has a history of being progressive. In 1996, when designing their new cattle barn in Maple Park, the family paid particular attention to animal welfare. They called on Grandin, the famed animal behaviorist, for design assistance.
Mike Martz, who married Lynn Larson, said many of the design advantages for people and cattle that Grandin recommended are still effective today. Those include the dock design which prevents cattle from falling or injuring legs when being loaded on trucks.
Mike is a past president of Illinois Beef Association.
Lynn and their son Justin are active in marketing their cattle and crops. Today, marketing includes everything from monitoring corn prices for feed and for sale to ethanol plants to watching the balance between short- and long-term interest rates and managing appropriately. Justin is also active in crop production.
Marketing and making management decisions were particularly difficult in the early days of the pandemic. Usually, Larson Farms would sell cattle every week, but during the pandemic, distribution and labor issues meant cattle were held for weeks longer.
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“We lost $300 a head,” Mike said of that challenging time when grocery stores were short of meat, packers short of employees and the supply chain stymied.
The long-term effects of the pandemic will be felt for years, Mike said.
Jamie is excited to see people returning to farm visits after the pandemic-forced slowdown.
Jamie, who grew up on a northwest Illinois farrow-to-finish pig farm that had a small Angus beef herd, is involved in helping decide how checkoff money is spent to market beef as chair of the Illinois Beef Association’s checkoff committee. This includes a variety of endeavors including short video clips of beef producers telling their stories and working with bloggers, some of whom have millions of followers.
The farm family’s location, on the edge of suburban Chicago, puts them in a good spot to interact with consumers and the people who influence them, Jamie said.
She said she is looking forward to hosting guests in July on a tour arranged by Illinois Farm Families.
About 20 social media influencers will be visiting the farm and learning about how things work. The influencers will gather facts and have fun on field trips to dairy, beef, crop, and hog farms, she said.
Likewise, Jamie has learned things from the urban perspective as well. The Love Fridge Chicago, a mutual aid group which places and stocks refrigerators in communities across Chicago, provided her with a new experience.
“It’s the weirdest thing, there is a fridge right there on the street,” Jamie said.
The Love Fridge project popped up in 2020 and in two years had 30 fridges in the city where people donate food and/or take what they need. Jamie helped label Illinois beef and delivered the donation to a fridge at a specific GPS location in Chicago. While there, she saw people both bringing and taking food.
And after such field trips, she loves coming home.
“I love that we live on a feedlot,” she said.