BUDA, Ill. — Like any true pioneer, Don Grubb has a team of
horses plus a spare to pull his wagon. Like the pioneers, he recognizes the
importance of buffalo, having a herd of the animals for eight years.
And like any good pioneer, he has a herd of cattle on his
homestead — 10 Belted Galloway cattle that his wife, Arkie, fondly refers to as
But Grubb is a pioneer in other ways, too, and for his
service to the region’s agriculture, he and Arkie recently were honored with the
Bureau County Agricultural Service Award. The award was presented during
Princeton’s annual Beef and Ag Days Celebration.
“I’ve done a lot of community service, but I never did one
minute of it for any awards,” Grubb said. “I just did it for the betterment of
agriculture, whether it was for the pork producers or Farm Bureau or Extension
or the Soil and Water Conservation District or the church. It was for the
betterment of the ag community.”
Grubb, who retired from hog farming in 2001 and grain
farming in 2007, was one of the first in the area to recognize the benefits of
raising hogs indoors. He was farming in partnership with his father when they
decided to construct a building so sows could farrow their litters indoors.
That first farrowing house was built in 1967, a year after
Grubb started farming full-time with his dad. They gradually added more
buildings until all their hogs were raised indoors.
“I moved them in out of the field because there’s really,
maybe, about two weeks out of the year that it was a really nice environment in
the field before it turned to dust or mud. Moving all that equipment was like
moving the circus. I just thought it was a much better way to look after my
animals,” Grubb said. “I just always looked after my animals, and my animals
looked after me.”
During that time, he also worked with others to build up the
image of pork producers through the Bureau County Pork Producers.
“We helped each other a lot because confinement was all new.
There would be a lot of times after a meeting that I’d talk to other producers
about what worked and what didn’t and how you did this or how you did that, what
do you do about this. There were some who said you couldn’t put a sow in a
farrowing stall crate, that wouldn’t work and we proved it would work,” Grubb
Don and Arkie also worked with the Illinois Pork Producers
Association, serving as District 5 director, and serving a term as delegate to
the National Pork Producers Council. He was honored with the state’s “Top
Superior Pork Award” in 1980 and the Outstanding Service Award from the Bureau
County group in 1981.
“Our idea was to make pork a better product and to change
the image of the pork producer. At that time, pork producers were kind of looked
down upon as old hog farmers with bib overalls and a straw hanging out of their
mouth,” he said.
Grubb also was one of the first in the area to practice
no-till farming. He and his father went to see a local no-till field in 1979.
“My dad just shook his head. He thought it looked pretty
good. He would adapt to those kinds of ideas,” he recalled. “With the no-till
farming, there were some older farmers who grasped right onto that, but there
were some younger men who pooh-poohed it and who still do.”
Grubb used tillage when necessary, when applying manure, but
practiced no-till as much as he could.
“I’ve been through the moldboard plow and the disk, we just
put down a layer of compaction that the roots wouldn’t get through very good.
Zero-till is a much better way of doing it, for conservation and for making
money,” he said.
Throughout his farming career, Grubb, a child of the Great
Depression and World War II, used lessons learned from his own father, Robert.
Robert Grubb graduated from high school in 1929, months
before the stock market crashed and the start of the Great Depression. Living —
and farming — through those years changed him and others of his generation and
“My dad could not forget the Great Depression, and he
couldn’t take a chance, but he did teach me how to run a farm without spending
any money. He was a genius at that, but as far as being able to buy more land,
he just couldn’t take a chance,” Don Grubb said.
He rented and purchased land to build up the family farm.
Throughout the 1980s, which included two droughts, he followed the lessons
learned from his dad.
“We had a motto — use it up, wear it out, make it do or do
without. We are a product of the Great Depression and the Second World War, and
it ingrained a lot of principles in us,” he said.
In 2001, Grubb rented out his hog buildings to his herdsman,
Dean Weidner, who now contract finishes from those facilities. In 2007, he made
what he calls “a five-minute decision” to retire from farming.
“In 2007, I’d raised the biggest crop I’d ever raised. I got
the best price I ever had, and there was nothing wrong the whole year long —
there was no delayed planting, we didn’t have any trouble with insects, we
didn’t have any trouble with weeds, we didn’t have any tractors stuck, we didn’t
have to pick corn in the snow, we didn’t have to pick corn in the mud, the corn
was dry coming out of the field,” he said.
“I really wasn’t figuring on quitting and I was cleaning up
my machinery and I got to thinking about all of that. I thought, ‘You know what
— you had a perfect year and it’s time for you to quit.’”
Nowadays, he and Arkie split their time between their home
in Buda and a winter home in Arizona. When they travel for the winter, their
horses travel with them.
Their marriage is the second for both, and the combined
family includes seven children, 17 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Grubb said he would impart the lessons learned from his
father to younger farmers.
“If you make a dollar, spend 50 cents. If you make a dollar,
don’t spend two — that will get you in trouble every time,” he said.
As far as living and farming through times comparable to
decades such as the 1980s, Grubb said those lessons can only be taught by
“Remember when you were little, your mother said the
birthday candles were hot? And you had to get burned to really know they were
hot? That’s the way that generation is. It’s still the same way — you never
realize what’s hot until you get burned,” he said.
He was pre-warned about the award because, like any pioneer,
Grubb doesn’t like surprises. But he said he feels he and his wife have received
more than they gave in their service to agriculture.
“I never minded doing a bit of it. In fact, I feel like I
probably received more than I gave in the friendships I made and especially in
those years when we were some of the pioneers in the confinement hog business
with the exchange of ideas with other farmers,” he said.