65 years ago this past Friday, the United States and South Korea signed an armistice with the People’s Republic of China and North Korea, ending the Korean War. Millions of Koreans and Chinese lost their lives alongside 50,000 Americans.

On Friday we remembered those war veterans, prisoners of war, and those killed in action by flying the flag at half-staff and continuing to share the stories that shaped our history. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Freedom isn’t free.

It is by the sacrifice of so many brave men and women that we enjoy the benefits of this great nation. We have an opportunity to take risks, improve our lives, and provide for our families. We can also count ourselves blessed by celebrating the successes of others.

Over the past few weeks I have been doing just that, celebrating the successes in Northern Illinois. It was Ghandi who said, “As human beings our greatness is not so much in being able to remake the world as in being able to remake ourselves.” I definitely agree, and it’s a trait common to many of the places I visited last week with Erika Harold. Here are some more of them.

Ron Lawfer was born on the Willow Valley Dairy Farm, a farm his father former Illinois State Representative I. Ron Lawfer started after returning home from his service in the Korean War. The younger Ron and his wife, Julie, have been married for 37 years. With their son John and his bride to be Elise, they have transformed what was a traditional dairy farm, where Ron remembers milking the cows right into the pail, into a state of the art robotic milking facility.

Oprah Winfrey once said, “The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.” I believe this is also true for our communities. It is so easy to focus on the challenges we must overcome that we often lose sight of the victories we have won.

I had the privilege of sharing many of the successes in our community with Erika Harold last Wednesday. Erika Harold is a candidate for Illinois Attorney General, a successful lawyer, and was crowned Miss America in 2003.

Erika visited Stephenson County twenty years ago, before she ever considered running for public office. She was bullied so badly when she was in high school that her parents had her switch schools. The following year she gave several speeches throughout Illinois on the importance of standing up to bullies. Two of those speeches were at Freeport and Le-Win High Schools.

Erika is on a “listening tour” of Illinois, visiting communities across the state to celebrate their achievements and understand their challenges. We made a total of 14 stops on our community tour and I would like to share some of the things we learned throughout the day.

Nestled along the Stephenson/Carroll County line is Hunter Haven Farms, owned by the Doug and Tom Block Family, a 1,000 head dairy farm in Pearl City, Illinois. Their father originally bought a small family farm in 1950, and they have turned it into a 1600 acre powerhouse dairy operation.

In 1997, they converted from a 90 cow farm to an 800 head dairy farm. That conversion has helped Hunter Haven Farms become a major milk supplier to dairies making Swiss cheese. Doug estimates their farm, “produces enough milk (on an annual basis) to make enough Swiss cheese to supply the population of the city of Chicago for a year.”

Between 2005 and 2008, the Blocks installed a 260 kW anaerobic digester (AD) gas-fired combined heat and power (CHP) system and a second 130 kW genset to comply with increased government regulatory issues, and rising energy costs. Doug said, “At the time, we never knew our energy costs would rise so much. We just wanted to make our operations more energy efficient.”

The machines produce natural gas from cow manure, cutting heating costs, while also creating solid “byproduct” that can be used as bedding for cows. Both products generate savings for the farm, with approximately 40% on the energy side, and 60% on the animal bedding side.

Congratulations to Doug and Tom, their families and staff for their hard work and innovation. You make Northern Illinois proud!

Later in the morning we visited Pearl Valley Eggs a couple of miles from Hunter Haven Farms. Owner Ben Thompson gave us a tour of the offices and packaging facility.

Pearl Valley’s genesis is similar to Hunter Haven’s. Ben’s dad, Dave, was a school teacher in Joliet, Illinois who began hatching eggs for his grade school classroom experiment. The chicks eventually retired from the classroom to the Thompson farmhouse, and eventually, Dave began selling the eggs to other teachers in his elementary school.

Dave’s love of eggs persisted, and in 1987, he bought the farm between Pearl City and Kent that would become Pearl Valley Eggs. Today, the Thompson’s employ about 230 people at the main plant, producing 1.7 million eggs a day.

The farm produces every sort of egg, from non GMO, organic, brown, white, and cage free. They also produce egg liquids like the egg whites some folks buy in the carton at the grocery store and dried egg powders.

The chicken manure is dried and screened before being packaged and sold as compost and fertilizer products.

Pearl Valley eggs are distributed from California to Florida, are sold in Mexico and even in Dubai. If you’ve bought an egg from WalMart, Costco, or Sam’s Club, chances are it came from Pearl Valley Eggs.

Both Hunter Haven and Pearl Valley Eggs have concerns about making sure people understand the challenges in agriculture today. Doug Block has said, “My concern is, 75 percent of the people are making rules for the 25 percent of us who work in production agriculture, and the 75 percent don’t have the knowledge of the care that goes into good production agriculture.”

Ben Thompson believes people need more information and hands on experience to understand egg production. He said, “We have an open door policy. Whether you’re USA Today or a grade school class, we welcome everyone who wants to learn about our eggs.”

I was honored to visit these farms, and I was proud to share them with Ms. Harold. Northwest Illinois is home to many success stories and I will continue to share more of the places we visited and the stories we heard in next week’s column.

Sally is back in the office this week. If you have any additional thoughts or ideas, you can reach me 815-232-0774, or visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com and use the form to send me an e-mail.

The Illinois Department of Transportation announced today that a road closure will be installed in Jo Daviess County.  The road closure will be on US 20, three miles west of Stockton.  The closure will begin on Monday, July 23, 2018 starting at 8:00am and is scheduled to conclude Monday, September 17, 2018.  A marked detour will be in place utilizing IL 73 south to US52/IL64 west to IL 84 north back to US 20.  Workers will be performing bridge repairs.

There’s an African proverb that says, “If you want to go quickly, go alone.  If you want to go fast, go together.”  Whether it’s events like Workation in Lanark every June, or the Pecatonica River Clean Up at the end of this month, there are good things happening throughout Northern Illinois.

With summer in full swing, it is important to continue recognizing and celebrating our communities’ achievements, successes, and contributions.  I had the unique opportunity to attend two events in Northern Illinois this past week that I would like to share.

The first event, was an Open House for National Park Service representatives of the U.S Department of Interior and was hosted by Galena City Beautiful and The Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design in Galena, Illinois.  The National Park Service was doing a site visit and is considering designating the City of Galena as a “National Historic Landmark.”

When talking about the opportunity, Museum Vice President Kieran Conlon stated, “The City of Galena certainly fits these criteria because of our city’s importance in the early growth of the United States… the development of the Upper Mississippi River Valley and for the one-of-a-kind collection of superior landmark buildings in the country.”

There are currently 87 National Historic Landmarks in Illinois including Chicago’s Adler Planetarium, and the Shedd Aquarium, Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Starved Rock in LaSalle County, and the John Deere Home and Shop in Grand Detour.
Rock Island is the site of the Rock Island Arsenal, which served as the site of a Union prison during the Civil War.  And of course, Galena is home to the only National Historic Landmark in the 89th Legislative District, the Ulysses S. Grant home.

Conlon said, “As a National Historic Landmark, the designation would position Galena on an equal national par with The Historic Districts of Charleston, South Carolina, Savannah, Georgia, Williamsburg, Virginia - for sure, other important American Landmark Cities… (and) will have significant economic and prestige impact on our community and on our developing tourist industry.”

Rose Noble, President and CEO of Greater Galena Marketing Inc., agrees with Conlon that National Historic Landmark status for Galena will have a major impact.  She has said, “This would be a great recognition for Galena and Illinois… travel impacts many jobs in Jo Daviess County, and this recognition has potential to draw significant visitors to our area.  We also know every traveler who visits Galena, comes back on average 3 times!”

This is great news for Galena and Northwestern Illinois.  It was my privilege to attend the Open House, share in the excitement, and offer my support.

After leaving Galena, I traveled down US Route 20 to The Rafters in Lena, Illinois where the Northwest Illinois F-4 Jet Memorial Committee hosted a fundraiser to bring an F-4 Phantom fighter jet to Lena’s Northwest Illinois Aerial Combat Memorial.  Committee Chairman, Terry Yount, said the project started with discussion between friends on Facebook, one of whom was a former Air Force mechanic. The gentleman was lamenting how one of the F-4 Phantoms he had been responsible for had been shot down for “target practice.”

*** Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better”***

As I shared last week, we celebrate our nation’s birthday on July 4th because it is the date at the top of the Declaration of Independence.  Choosing Independence Day serves as a reminder that the American experiment is most of all about freedom.  Our second President, John Adams, when writing about the Declaration of Independence and its anniversary, said, “It will be celebrated … with pomp and parade … bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other.”  He was right!

Why the Founding Fathers chose to declare independence in the middle of the summer heat eludes me.  Thankfully, this 4th of July was not the hottest one we’ve had.  I remember a few short years ago in 2012, temperatures were over 100 degrees Fahrenheit which makes this year’s Independence Day temperatures of 90-93 degrees seem a bit cooler in hindsight.

I love the 4th of July.  I love how we as Americans choose to celebrate our freedom.  I love family picnics.  I love the fireworks.  And most of all, I love the parades.  I love seeing our communities come together to celebrate freedom and to show the next generation what celebrating freedom looks like.

Take a moment to remember the most recent 4th of July parade you saw.  Maybe it was years ago.  Maybe it was this past week. What did you see?