First Farm Female, RHORI

First Day Farm Female: Amy Russel

The “First Day Farm Female” series includes articles posted on the first day of the month featuring fellow Illinois women in agriculture.

Growing up on a farm with a garden vegetable business has been a blessing to Amy as she is challenged to provide a balanced diet for a child with a rare medical condition.

Amy grew up on a multi-generation corn and soybean farm that her dad continued after his grandfather. The farm includes a garden and vegetable venture that Amy’s mom started about twenty five years ago, which has since blossomed into a large business. Amy’s children help tend the gardens in the summer and sell produce at the Bloomington Farmer’s Market each week. Troyer Family Gardens also sells produce direct from the farm. Amy’s husband, Ben, has a day job outside of agriculture but helps the farm by driving a truck to haul grain in the fall.

Having grown up in the midst of crops and vegetables on her family’s farm, Amy went on to study Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois and works in that area of agriculture today. As a Field Sales Representative for Bayer Crop Science, Amy services dealers and customers in three counties in Northern and Central Illinois. Amy is a successful leader in her job because she understands the importance of supporting and encouraging others and acknowledging what skills someone can contribute. She notes the following Christine Caine quote as something she gravitates to when she thinks about her interactions with teammates: “To build a strong team you must see someone else’s strength as a compliment to your weakness and not a threat to your position or authority.”

With a long-time love of music, Amy is committed to being a part of her church’s handbell choir even when life gets busy. And life with a husband, four children, and a full-time career is certainly busy!

On top of normal demands of family and career, Amy faces an additional every day challenge. Amy and Ben’s youngest child, Molly, was born last March with a condition Phenylketonuria (or PKU for short).  PKU is a rare metabolic disorder where an individual does not produce enough of an enzyme to break down Phenylalanine, which is an amino acid found in protein. Without being treated, phenylalanine will build up in her system and become toxic to her. 

Fortunately, there is treatment for this condition, which involves a very specialized low protein diet, along with a requirement for medical formula as her primary source of nutrition. They must also monitor her blood levels bi-weekly for Phenylalanine to ensure Molly is getting the correct ratio of breastmilk, formula, and food currently in her diet.

This has been a very tough diagnosis for Amy as a self-described “farm girl that loves feeding people.” It is difficult to learn how to accommodate a special diet, particularly when it is so critical to your child’s well-being. Amy’s family has come together to learn how they can support Molly as she approaches her first birthday and continues to require more food in her diet. Through this, Amy’s knowledge of agriculture and experience in food production helps her see the positive, “we feel very blessed that we live in the United States, where not only do we have access to the safest, most robust food system in the world, but we also have a medical system in place to support our daughter.”

Another big blessing to Amy and her family is having a local source of food in her family’s garden business. That will be a great resource as she explores new recipes for her family with Molly’s special diet in mind. And “who knows,” Amy speculates, “maybe Molly will be the ones to take over the reins of the garden business on day.”  

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