Karl Ruebush of Birkey’s Farm Store talks to Mr. and Mrs. George Hinderer at the WIU Ag Mech Farm Expo. The 1954 Farmall Super MTA was restored by the Diesel Tech Club at Parkland College. The tractor commemorates the 60th anniversary of Birkey’s Farm Store’s founding. The tractor will be raffled off after an April 4 open house for the grand opening of the new Birkey Farm Store in Urbana, Ill.
Karl Ruebush of Birkey’s Farm Store talks to Mr. and Mrs. George Hinderer at the WIU Ag Mech Farm Expo. The 1954 Farmall Super MTA was restored by the Diesel Tech Club at Parkland College. The tractor commemorates the 60th anniversary of Birkey’s Farm Store’s founding. The tractor will be raffled off after an April 4 open house for the grand opening of the new Birkey Farm Store in Urbana, Ill.
MACOMB, Ill. — The 60-year-old Farmall Super MTA looked out of place at the WIU Ag Mech Club Farm Expo.

The cabless, bright-red piece of farm machinery that was the latest technology of 1954 sat among its bigger, newer red relatives that sport satellite connections, hands-free steering and all the cab creature comforts anyone could want.

For Mike Hedge, CEO of Birkey’s Farm Store, that is exactly what he and the company are trying to achieve.

“The idea came to me that it would be great to have a 1954 tractor that was manufactured in the year we started, that we could take and restore and use that as the centerpiece to remind us how far things have come in agriculture,” he said.

The restored Super MTA is the centerpiece on one of central Illinois’s largest virtual dining tables. Birkey’s Farm Store is accepting donations toward chances on the tractor.

Its goal is to raise $100,000 that will be donated to Feeding America food banks in Illinois to purchase 600,000 meals.

The tractor and the food-bank donation came together as Hedge tried to develop a plan to celebrate the hometown implement and equipment store’s 60 th year in business. Birkey’s Farm Store started in 1954 in Fisher.

Getting Public Involved

Hedge said he wanted to find a way to involve not just the public and Birkey’s customers, but the company’s 415 employees in the celebration.

“While we’re going down the path of having the tractor, one of the things that I, over the last year and a half, have really been trying to communicate to our employees is that what we do matters. What we do is more than selling equipment and servicing it. What we do is we’re helping our customers feed the world, and as we continue to try to put that message out there, the thought came to us — what if we could partner that whole idea of feeding people on a more local level?” he said.

Hedge contacted Feeding Illinois and talked about the work of the regional Feeding Illinois food banks, including the Eastern Illinois Foodbank in Urbana that serves 14 counties in eastern and central Illinois.

“We came up with this idea of a hunger drive, and the more we learned about hunger in Illinois, in downstate Illinois, the more excited we were to get in the middle of this as part of our 60 th -year celebration,” he said.

The Feeding Illinois network, part of the Feeding America network of food banks, maximizes cash donations through volunteer hours, food donations, bulk buying and discounts.

“We learned that, on average, these food banks can provide six meals for every dollar we raise, so we set up a hefty goal and said what if we try to raise enough funds to provide 600,000 meals in celebration of our 60 th anniversary,” Hedge said.

Sixty years ago, the Super MTA would have been pulling a plow to till fields and plant seeds to feed hungry neighbors. Sixty years later, the tractor still plays an important role in feeding the world.

Hedge and his team had the idea to make the 1954 Farmall part of the celebration, and the first step was to get the tractor restored.

“We got the idea that it would be great to partner with the diesel technology program at Parkland because there’s a Case New Holland diesel tech training school at Parkland College in Champaign. Case kind of sponsors that,” he said.

“We try to sponsor one student from each of our stores in that diesel tech program, and we offer them an internship and help with some of the tuition costs.”

Students in the program and the college’s diesel technology club did the work.

“It was their diesel tech club, which is a subset of their diesel tech program, seven or eight students in it, and the sponsor for the program met. Over a series of months, they tore the tractor down and rebuilt it. They tore it down, and we provided the parts for that and they rebuilt it,” Hedge said.

The students didn’t know who they were doing the work for until after the tractor came back from being painted.

“We went over and they found out it was for us and it was for part of our 60 th -anniversary celebration. We were able to personally thank them, and we also were able to get some publicity for their diesel tech program,” Hedge said.

Food-Drive Link

The next step was to put the tractor and the food drive portions of the anniversary together.

“We connected the tractor to the hunger drive and said what better way to engage our customers in this than by asking them to donate to these food banks as we have our open-house season. When the open-house season is done, let’s give that tractor away to somebody who’s helped us get to this goal of 600,000 meals,” Hedge said.

He said the statistics about who’s hungry in farm country were startling to him and the Birkey’s team.

“I think a lot of times we think hunger is a problem in low-income areas or in big cities or that it’s a Third World problem, and we’ve got hunger right here in central Illinois. We started talking statistics at Eastern Illinois Foodbank and Food Finders of Indiana and the food bank in Peoria, and we looked at all the counties we serve. Birkey’s serves 47 counties in Illinois and a few in Indiana. In those 47 counties, there are 286,000 people who are food insecure, and of those 286,000, there are 102,000 children who don’t have enough food to eat,” he said.

The 60-Day Hunger Drive started Feb. 3 with the Super MTA being the guest of honor at open houses at all the Birkey’s Farm Store locations throughout Illinois, as well as appearing at farm shows, such as the WIU Ag Mech Club Farm Expo in Macomb and the I&I Auction and Swap Meet in Penfield on March 14 and 15.

At each of the locations, people can buy chances to win the tractor.

“We have had a table at each of our open houses. People also can donate when they come in to buy parts from us at any of our locations. The more times they donate, the more times they’ll have to put their name in the drawing,” Hedge said.

The crowning event will be the grand opening on April 4 and 5 at the new Birkey’s Farm Store location on South High Cross Road in Urbana.

That event will feature a ribbon cutting at 9:30 a.m. and a tour of the new store, vendor fair from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and a fish fry from 5 to 7:30 p.m. The April 4 customer appreciation event also will be the last opportunity to buy chances to win the tractor.

On April 5, the community is invited to attend a day of events at the new store that include store tours, carnival activities, lunch and ride demos on ExMark, Kubota and Grasshopper products.

“The grand opening on April 4 at our new Urbana location will be the culmination of our open-house season. Once the Urbana grand opening is done, our 60 days for our food drive is over, and then, immediately after that, we’ll be drawing to give away the tractor,” Hedge said.

Goal In Sight

Hedge said he’s confident the goal of $100,000 for 600,000 meals will be reached.

“We’re tallying as we go, and the latest tally I had was $40,000,” he said.

Hedge said Birkey’s Farm Store employees have embraced the celebratory food drive and the opportunity to do something to feed their world, starting with their Illinois neighbors.

“The acceptance among our employee group has been very good. We’ve created some contests among some of the stores and encouraged them to be creative. We have employees who are reaching out and doing some unique things and engaging folks. It’s neat to see them come together,” he said.

He said that the work that Birkey’s employees have put into the campaign reflects the values that have kept the homegrown agribusiness strong for six decades.

“It speaks to the Midwestern values that the agriculture sector has, the small-town, central Illinois Midwest towns have. They care for their neighbors. They care for one another. I think it portrays the true character of the kind of people who work in our organization, that they are individuals who care for their neighbors and their communities,” he said.

After its trip to Penfield, the tractor is scheduled to be on display at the Birkey’s Farm Store in Urbana from March 17 through April 4.

Hedge said the tractor has drawn rave reviews, but seeing it go to a good home is the goal.

“The tractor looks spectacular, and everybody just raves over how great it looks. I don’t think it’s going to be hard to give it up. I think we all have this sense that there’s a bigger purpose for it, and by giving it up, I think we’re going to end up saying at the end of the day we’ve been very successful in doing something that’s good for the folks in central Illinois and western Indiana,” he said.