Don and Arkie Grubb of Buda, Ill., display the Bureau County Agricultural Service Award. The award was presented to the Grubbs, retired livestock and grain farmers, during Princeton’s Beef and Ag Days celebration. Don Grubb was one of the first hog farmers in the area to start the confinement style of production, and he also was one of the first innovators in the area in no-till farming.
Don and Arkie Grubb of Buda, Ill., display the Bureau County Agricultural Service Award. The award was presented to the Grubbs, retired livestock and grain farmers, during Princeton’s Beef and Ag Days celebration. Don Grubb was one of the first hog farmers in the area to start the confinement style of production, and he also was one of the first innovators in the area in no-till farming.

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 “lawn ornaments.”

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 said.

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 their children.

“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 experiencing them.

“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.