Schutte's sustainable success
Central Illinois farmer wins 2006 Upper Midwest Organic Farmer of the Year Award sponsored by MOSES and The Rodale Institute.

Posted March 9, 2006

2006 Upper Midwest Conference largest yet

The Upper Midwest Farmer of the Year Award is an honored position within the organic farming community, with the winner selected by the MOSES board of directors. Illinois farmer, Stan Schutte is the fourth winner of this annual award. This year’s 17th annual Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference was the largest ever, with more than 2,200 people in attendance.

To what does the Upper Midwest farmer of the year attribute such growth?

“One is that organics is growing, and that’s reflected in our membership,” Schutte says. “People are starting to become aware and wanting to come on board, and it’s growing.

“But more importantly it’s the people who are running the conference, [Moses Executive Director] Faye [Jones] and [MOSES board president] Joyce [Ford] and those folks. Without them—whether organics was growing or not—it wouldn’t be so successful. The main reason is they’re doing a good job; the workshops are pertinent to what’s going on, and people are interested. People value what they’re getting out of it, so they just keep coming back."

For more on MOSES and Executive Director, Faye Jones, click here.

 

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 country getaway.

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.