Stan Schutte believes the best defense against the pests
and diseases that plague farmers is to grow plant varieties
and breed animals that are naturally resistant to these problems.
This he determines through on-farm research and variety trials
on his Triple “S” Farms in Stewardson, Illinois,
a 200-acre diversified organic operation that produces dozens
of varieties of organic fruits and vegetables, chickens, turkeys,
hogs and cattle, organic dent corn, sweet corn, popcorn, soybeans
and hard red wheat.
Starting with beef cattle, followed by sheep, hogs, chickens
and ducks, Schutte rotates his animals through his organic
paddocks. This allows for the most efficient use of forages,
with the animals utilizing all available nutrition, returning
nutrients back to the soil, and promoting productivity from
the forage mixes. Long periods of rest between livestock rotations
break the life cycles of any pests in the pastures and allow
the forage to return to full stand.
Innovations and practices such as these are what garnered
Schutte the coveted Farmer of the Year Award presented February
24 during the Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference in
La Crosse, Wisconsin. Criteria for the award—co-sponsored
by The Rodale Institute and the Midwest Organic and Sustainable
Education Service (MOSES)—include innovations in organic
farming and livestock management; enhancement of farm natural
resources and biodiversity; the inspiration and education
of other farmers, consumers and the organic community; and
current organic certification.
“I want to share this award with my son, who is helping
us keep our farm in the family, and with all of those who
work on our farm as well,” Schutte said in accepting
the award and replica $500 check presented by Rodale Institute
board member George Bird, PhD (a professor in the department
of entomology at Michigan State University). “Our customers
deserve a lot of credit, too; for without them, we really
wouldn’t be here.”
Schutte, who has farmed his whole life, went organic in 1997
in response to the hog market crash. He says the switch kept
him in business. Schutte not only preserved his own livelihood;
at peak season he now employs six to eight workers.
Innovative marketing is another of Schutte’s strong
suits. He sells direct to consumers at several farmers markets
and has created the Triple “S” Farms Buying Club.
For a modest deposit and monthly subscription price, members
receive a family-, couple-, or single-sized box of his meat
and poultry products. Members also receive a $10 credit for
referring new customers. Schutte hosts an annual Customer
Appreciation Day, a fall festival with tours and farm-fresh
foods. He has plans for a cabin next to his pond and prairie
plantings, allowing customers the opportunity for a rustic
Schutte is currently developing a “cow shares”
plan which will allow interested customers to be cooperative
owners of a dairy cow that that Schutte will milk and care
for. The dividends for owning a share of Bessie? Frozen organic
milk. Not to rest on his laurels, Schutte has been working
with University of Illinois Extension to determine the feasibility
of a multi-species, value-added processing plant.
Water has been an especially important indicator of big changes
in Schutte’s farm resources. The small pond in his back
field is no longer muddied by the erosion of productive topsoil.
This past summer’s drought brought the pond’s
water to very low levels, but Schutte says it is when water
is a limiting factor that organic farming really shines. The
increase in his soil organic matter under organic practices
has vastly increased the water-retaining capacity of his fields.
He attributes much of this improvement to his cover-cropping
practices. He also has planted buffer strips and fallow land
to native prairie and has seen an explosion in the amount
of wildlife on his farm, particularly quail and pheasant.
Schutte is first to admit that he is shy about public speaking.
Nonetheless, he has become an educator in many different forums.
He speaks very matter-of-factly about what he does and why.
Having been a conventional farmer himself, he understands
their skepticism, allowing him to more appropriately address
their concerns. He has given presentations to Extension educators,
producers, agriculture students, the now-defunct Southern
Illinois Sustainable Agriculture group (Schutte was an active
member), and Kiwanis Club at a variety of venues. And Schutte
takes the time to educate consumers about how his products
were grown and processed, as well as about what it means to
be certified organic. He is also quite willing to give good
marketing advice to novice farmers' market vendors who appear
to be struggling. Some have really benefited from his help
and now have their own successful operations.
Stan serves as an inspiration and resource for aspiring organic
farmers. He has become heavily involved in the Central Illinois
Farm Beginnings program, which provides classes and internship
opportunities to people who wish to become sustainable farmers.
Schutte is president of the Illinois chapter of the Organic
Crop Improvement Association. This year, the chapter was honored
by the global parent organization for 44-percent growth, the
biggest membership jump of any chapter in a single year.
Part of his own success, he says, has been “leading
by example,” and now that one of his own children has
taken a shine to organic farming, Schutte couldn’t be
happier. Shutte’s 19-year-old son Ryan—the youngest
of five children with wife, Karen—has begun his own
organic farming ventures at the home farm while obtaining
his college degree. With Ryan involved, Schutte says, “farming
has become fun again.”
“Nothing is truly sustainable if you can’t pass
it on,” says Schutte, who is also concerned with current
challenges and trends related to farm succession.