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90th Anniversary All Around the Farm

Farmers share with farmers – that’s a timeless truth. May this familiar forum run another 90 years.

User-generated content is a buzzword in the marketing industry. There is an acknowledgment that readers trust other readers and want to hear what they have to say. All Around the Farm® (AATF) has mined that treasure for a long time. First appearing in Successful Farming magazine in October 1929, this feature is the great-grandfather of user-generated content – the gold standard of what could be thought of as the original social media. Readers are definitely eager to see the ideas from other readers; they tell us so when sharing compliments or the occasional criticism. (See “What They Said”.) 

Gold nuggets of practicality have passed from one farm to another for 90 years. Meet five out of the thousands of brilliant originators under “Frequent Contributors”. Surviving a shipwreck with any one of these folks would be a cinch; you’d have shelter, running water, and probably even a power source in no time!

Roger Johnson's workbench made from cable spool

Besides the many skilled producers who send in their fixes, Successful Farming magazine is also lucky to have Lant Elrod doing the illustrations for All Around the Farm. If that good fortune holds into next year, his work on the feature will have spanned six decades. “I’ve been involved in the change in the industry from reflective art to digital,” says Elrod. (Read more about his career under “Illustrator Lant Elrod”.)
Since its inception, the number of pages in the magazine devoted to AATF has doubled, and the payment for an idea has far outpaced the rate of inflation; it’s grown from $2 in 1929 to $200. The Idea of the Month winner (a concept initiated in the early 1960s by editor Chester Peterson Jr. with a $50 payment) now receives a $400 cash award. 

Some of the materials in the ideas themselves have progressed, too. Can you guess which common farm item has overtaken the 5-gallon bucket in terms of versatility? (See “The New 5-Gallon Bucket” for the answer.)

Some Things Remain the Same

While the look and administration of All Around the Farm has evolved, there are some common threads through time. Farmers who graze livestock will always work to be rid of cedar trees, for example. Farmers who plant crops will need to move rocks, and farmers of all ages will just want to keep on farming. Interest is high, therefore, when an idea offers a solution for one of these three challenges. (For a better way to manage each of these situations, see “These Were Very Popular”.)

Tough economic and marketing conditions come around regularly, too. October 1929 was, of course, the very month the stock market crashed, precipitating the Great Depression. Admire the editorial team of that time, who published the reassuring image on the cover (shown below) just three months later.

Here’s to those who keep rolling up their sleeves, are willing to attempt things a little differently, and are further willing to share what they learned along the way about saving time, labor, or money. Thank you.

In the Beginning

January, 1930

Just a few months after the launch of All Around the Farm, a calm and resolute farmer graces the cover.

Frequent Contributors

“We couldn’t do this popular feature without you and others like you.” That line is from the thank-you letter All Around the Farm contributors receive when their idea is published. It’s also the reason each letter is signed, “Respectfully yours . . . ”

Harold Fratzke

Minnesota Inventors Hall of Famer Harold Fratzke has, over the years, taken the time to send in his multiple innovations to AATF. “The thing about farming is, it forces you to look for solutions to problems,” says Fratzke. “That, and all the time spent daydreaming in a tractor, makes a great environment for inspiration,” he says. 

Roger Johnson

Roger Johnson of Chandler, Minnesota, is a consistent contributor and a master at recycling. You’ll find many of his ideas on since he’s appeared in more than one season of the Successful Farming Show. He says, “It’s funny – even people in town watch that show and tell me they saw my ideas. I always say, ‘Glad I can help!’ ”

Ken Miller

In a prime example of the well-rounded skills a farmer must possess, Ken Miller has delivered carpentry, plumbing, electrical, shop organization, machinery, plus repair and maintenance solutions to readers. He counts 18 of them since 2001. The Rochelle, Illinoisan says he enjoys it when his ideas make tasks easier, safer, and, in some cases, more fun. 

James Nelson

Last month, James Nelson of Audubon, Iowa, was awarded his second Idea of the Month – just this year. That makes his third in three years along with many others that have appeared in print and video. While his strong innovative drive keeps him busy, the young father of three says his “kids limit sleep a lot more than my projects at this point!”

Lance Rezac

Lance Rezac lives in Onaga, Kansas, and makes it into All Around the Farm without even trying. Oh, he works hard and his ideas are solid. It’s just that he’s never had to send them in. On several Top Shops visits to the Rezac farm, Executive Machinery Editor Dave Mowitz has spotted good ideas in use and brought them back to the office.  

What They Said


These Were Very Popular

When these combine stairs (first) by Ron McDonald of Maquoketa, Iowa, and tree puller (third) by Ken Wetzel of Waterville, Minnesota, ran in All Around the Farm, their wives had to help them handle all the emails and phone inquiries. Jim Blake of Stacyville, Iowa, isn’t married, but his rock picker got a lot of attention, too. 

Ron McDonald's combine stairs AATF

Combine Stairs

Stairs set at an angle instead of straight up and down are easier to ascend.

Jim Blake's triple-wide rock picker

Triple-Wide Rock Picker

The cab of a used combine makes a good vantage point for spotting rocks in the field.

Ken Wetzel and his tree puller
Photo by Mitch Kezar

Tree Puller

This V-shape jaw clamps on to lift trees without leaving a hole or a stump.

The New 5-Gallon Bucket

Chemical tote, bulk container, mini-bulk, shuttle… The ubiquitous metal and plastic holders go by many names. Since the time they started showing up on farms, submissions with ideas for their reuse began to surpass the high number of entries once involving 5-gallon buckets. (And the buckets took the place of the one-time No. 1, baling wire). Here are seven ideas out of the many that have appeared in All Around the Farm. 

Calf feeder from chemical shuttle

Calf Feeder

Dump Box for trailer made from chemical tote

Dump Box

Suction hose storage in empty chemical tote

Hose Storage

Waterer protector made from chemical tote

Waterer Cover

Bedliner for ATV from partial empty chemical tote

ATV Bedliner

Part of oil drain system using chemical tote

Oil Pan

Chemical shuttles used to prevent erosion

Erosion Control

Illustrator Lant Elrod

There is another All Around the Farm anniversary in 2019. For 40 years – longer than any other person’s association with the feature – Lant Elrod’s illustrations have helped showcase all the winning ideas. He estimates he’s worked on about 2,000 images for AATF since 1979. The native Iowan now lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. Recently retired, Elrod enjoys spending his time rebuilding old cars and working on the houses he and his wife, Brenda, are restoring. He built a barn for one property in Eden, North Carolina, and he’s done most of the carpentry (framing, porches, casework, cabinetry, etc.) for a plantation they’re working on.   

SF: Describe your agricultural background.
LE: I spent a fair amount of time with my uncle on his 400-acre farm near Storm Lake, Iowa, when I was growing up. Our house wasn’t far from the John Deere manufacturing plant in Ankeny. I have extensive professional experience in art and design for ag publications. One of my first jobs, in fact, was at an agency with an internal ag communications company. When the art director there, Jim Galbraith, switched to Successful Farming magazine, he immediately assigned me some freelance work. 

SF: Would you agree that, with advances in technology, there has been a progression in the quality of illustrations?
LE: Most definitely. The style was pencil-and-ink drawings when I started. Then I became prolific with Adobe Illustrator, which brought in color. Later, when Matt Strelecki [the current creative director] started, we upped it another move to where we are today.

SF: There’s been a progression in the quality of the art in AATF submissions, too.
LE: Sure, today there are digital photos and sometimes video to work from. Over the years, I’ve gotten everything from a couple scratches on a napkin to somebody’s bad photo. A lot of the photos in the old days were really bad because they were either Polaroids or taken with an Instamatic. Definitely a lot of bad sketches on napkins. 

Photo of Lant Elrod for the Q&A in AATF 90 Years
Courtesy of Lant Elrod

SF: Do any All Around the Farm ideas stand out in your memory?
LE: The worst ones usually don’t make it to paper, but I do remember one that got through. A guy had glued an emergency light to the top of his helmet and wore it because he didn’t have one on his tractor. Really dumb. One that didn’t make it into print that I heard about from a former art director was a guy who took masking tape and taped his ears back so when he was in close places, his ears wouldn’t get caught!

SF: Were there any ideas that you used at home?
LE: Yes, I replicated a rack for battery chargers to make a charging station. That was pretty cool. 

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