Schneidewind still hooked on job at Will County Farm Bureau
April 13, 2012 5:02PM
Mark Schneidewind, manager of the Will County Farm Bureau, looks over his collection in his office in Joliet, IL on Thursday April 12, 2012. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 14, 2012 1:51AM
JOLIET — Mark Schneidewind has a long metal hook in his office.
The hook, Schneidewind explained, was his grandmother’s. She used it to catch the feet of chickens that ran past her on the family’s farm in New Athens, Ill.
Schneidewind, 49, grew up working on the farm and helping his grandmother weigh and sell chicken eggs. Now his late grandma’s metal egg scale and the chicken hook are part of the decor in Schneidewind’s office in the Will County Farm Bureau building at 100 Manhattan Road.
He’s been manager of the farm bureau for 20 years and was honored last month by the Will-South Cook Soil and Water Conservation District with its Soil and Water Resources Stewardship Award.
Schneidewind has seen many changes in Will County through the years. The number of farms has shrunk from 1,200 to about 860. Some were sold to make way for subdivisions, others were consolidated into larger farms. Back in 1991 there were 300,000 acres of farmland. Now there are 256,000.
The housing industry bust has helped save more of the land from being gobbled up by homes.
“You don’t see them waiting in line to sell anymore,” Schneidewind said.
Now that the housing boom has waned, Schneidewind and 12 farm bureau board members are girding for political battles involving the threat of quick take being used for the Illiana Expressway and the loss of thousands of acres of prime farmland to the south suburban airport.
When it comes to the airport fight, Schneidewind has some history. That little town he grew up in is just 30 miles away from the MidAmerica Airport, a project that just never took off. Now the residents of St. Clair County are stuck with a “ghost town” of an airport, he said.
“They had the same concerns our people here have,” he said. “But it moved really fast.”
The farm bureau is opposed to the south suburban airport.
“And we’ve been opposed for a long time,” Schneidewind said.
There are other battles ahead but also many opportunities. Schneidewind said he’s seen the rise of ethanol, the modernization of farm equipment and the explosion of grain exports from the county’s intermodals to countries around the world.
“We are a global industry right now,” he said.
That’s what Schneidewind loves about his job. It ranges from the smallest seed in the ground to the large cargo ships that transport food around the world.
“I made the right career choice,” he said of his decision years ago to work for the farm bureau instead of working his own farm full time. “We’ve been able to accomplish a lot and help farmers and their property rights. And we still have a lot of work to go.”
Congratulations to Mark on two decades of service in a field he loves. And a personal thank you to the man who never tires of explaining agricultural concepts to a woman who grew up surrounded by malls instead of chickens.