Ralph, Jr. had always had a desire to own and farm land in the heart of the Corn Belt, specifically Illinois. He learned of nearly 13,000 acres being sold by Nuclear Resources, a division of Commonwealth Edison near Chandlerville, Illinois. The acreage had been assembled by Commonwealth Edison in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s along with an additional 15,500 plus acres for the purpose of building a 5,000 acre lake near Chandlerville to support a coal fired power generating station and a coal strip mine. In the early years of Commonwealth ownership, most existing farmsteads were razed and land improvements deferred as part of their plan to convert the land. With the advent of nuclear power and its rising popularity, Commonwealth Edison eventually abandoned their plans for the coal fired power plant and decided in 1987 to liquidate their portion of land holdings held under the name of Nuclear Resources. This was the area of the property which had been acquired for strip mining purposes and they listed it for sale.
After several visits to inspect the Commonwealth Edison land offerings along with his son Alan, Ralph, Jr. decided to divest most of his Florida citrus holdings to his brothers and acquire the nearly 13,000 acres being sold. The initial closing took place in October of 1988. Tragically, Ralph Jr. was killed the day he signed the closing papers for the Illinois farm. To help overcome the loss of their father and honor his memory, the Grigsby family continued on with Ralph, Jr’s dream of farming in Illinois and they saw their first crop harvested in 1989.
Before the Grigsby purchase, the property was managed by The First National Bank of Springfield through their Trust / Farm Management Department who was responsible for leasing and providing general oversight of the property during the Commonwealth ownership. The Grigsby family decided to retain the management services of the FNB of Springfield to assist with the conversion of the property back to a prime agricultural holding. When the sale to the Grigsby’s was finalized, a plan designed by Ralph, Jr. was immediately put in place to reclaim approximately 2,000 acres of pastureland which had become overgrown with honey locust and Osage orange (hedge). This multi-year project included the clearing of brush, reestablishment of cool season pasture grass, construction of livestock watering ponds, and constructing miles of new fences.
Once completed, these pasture areas which were surrounded by tillable cropland, were leased back to tenant farmers. As this project was completed in the early 90’s, attention was then placed on implementation of conservation practices, including waterways, water sediment control structures, field buffer strips, and selective placement of CRP acres. Farm Manager, Randall Leka, was recognized with a National Conservation Award from Agri-Finance Magazine and the National Association of Soil Conservation Districts for the conservation efforts implemented at the Grigsby farm.
In 1992, the Harold & Gerry Grigsby-Hale family arrived in Illinois to farm and brothers Robert and Joel along with their families joined them in 1993. The youngest brother Alan stayed in Florida managing their remaining orange grove properties, but consulted on the Illinois farming operations and visited the property often. It was at this time that the first infrastructure was built consisting of grain bins, a dump pit, scales, and a scale house located near the intersection of Rogge Road and Markert Avenue. Harold, Robert, and Joel then combined their resources by farming together. As Grigsby farm grew, so did the need for farm personnel, infrastructure, and diversification.