Why I put myself out there…

It was brought to my attention recently that perhaps I don’t spend nearly enough time explaining to people why it is that I’m involved so passionately about advocating for agriculture. It does seem to take a lot of time away from other things that I should be doing.

Yet, without someone willing to stand up and speak out about those issues that I hold nearest and dearest to my heart, where would we be? Could someone else do it? Sure. In fact, I know that there are people all over the area that could be doing what I’m doing. And I would love to see them become more active.

My question is: Will they? Will you?

And if not, then I need to keep moving forward, until those of us that are willing to show our operations, willing to answer those questions, willing to explain why we do what we do are much higher in numbers and much louder in volume.

It’s a simple case of mathematics. Those actively involved in agriculture are way lower in numbers than those that are not. Which means that laws that are passed, advertising that is created and articles that are written are disconnected from the one place that everyone should be connected to…our food.

It’s not easy to put yourself out there, to “open your barn doors,” so to speak. It’s not easy to let people in and open yourself to questions and observations. Yet it’s necessary. We are no longer in a society that is alright with the answer, “I know what I am doing.” They want to see, they want to understand, they want to know that what they are putting on the table is okay.

Let's celebrate food...and food choices. For the first step is being able to provide.

Let’s celebrate food…and food choices. For the first step is being able to provide.

 

And it is. No matter how you raise your crops, what type of operation you have. The United States has one of the safest and most abundant food supplies in the world. Yet those that are responsible for providing that staple are the ones quietest about what they are doing and how they are doing it.

We can’t sit back and watch as the world is shaped around us. We have to be actively involved. And it’s not for our benefit.

I have four young boys. And I have hopes and dreams that perhaps one day, if I am lucky, and if our world is lucky, one of them will want to be involved in agriculture. It’s up to me to make sure that their future is secure.

And I cannot do that by sitting quietly by while other people are out there trying to explain how I’m not doing my job right.

Farms are ever-changing operations. They are not the farms from yesterday, and we’re not yet a farm of tomorrow. But we’re doing the best that we can and we’re doing it, not for ourselves, but for the future.

I put myself out there for them.

The future of our farm...the future of your food...lies here.

The future of our farm…the future of your food…lies here.

 

But I’m here to answer questions from you.

Who are you growing food for?

A few weeks ago I spent a day at a conference, where I participated in a session that discussed how independent seed professionals could engage with their growers. It really got me to thinking about the reasons why we do what we do…and that includes our crop/livestock decisions.

What seeds are you planting today? Who are you planting for?

What seeds are you planting today? Who are you planting for?

Here’s the deal: we spend a lot of time reading articles and blog posts and listening to the activists and those that have the time/means/ability to use media to increase their audience. I know how that goes, I do it as well.

We aim our messages at the masses that fire back at us, the vocal minority that give us reason to pause and take note of what we’re doing, and more importantly, why we’re doing it. And I have no problem with that.

But do you know who I would really like to hear from?

Those that don’t have access to a blog community. The homeless woman in NY…the single father of four in Chicago…the family in San Diego where both parents work two jobs. THOSE are the people I want to reach. THOSE are the people I’m most concerned about.

But those are the people that have neither the time, nor the connections to speak to me. So I will continue to reach out, to explain our decisions, to answer questions, all while knowing that I haven’t quite reached my goal. Because where would we be without goals that we haven’t reached?

Don’t get me wrong, I love to be challenged. I love having to think outside the box and no one should be afraid of having their beliefs questioned. In fact, I enjoy it. I have some pretty strong convictions, if you haven’t noticed, and I’m willing to stand behind them, explain myself, whatever it may be.

While at that conference, one of the people listening asked how we respond to the accusations. Although some would suggest that you don’t respond, my answer was this:

There’s no one I don’t try to respond to, whether or not I agree with them. You’re not responding to change that person’s mind. You’re responding for those that haven’t made up their mind, those that don’t feel strongly enough to submit a comment, those that are just watching the conversation. THAT’S where you can make a difference.

So who are you growing food for? Your family? Your neighbor? A family in Chicago? Your customer is who you should be concerned about…and once you have no customers, than the answer is in front of you.

From my front porch

Well, actually, not my front porch. More like my office. But I’m hoping that one day soon it would be from my front porch. I’d go into that, but that would take a whole other post, or maybe another blog…and perhaps a marriage counseling session or two.

But I digress.

An amazing thing happened to me this week. Sometime over the weekend, someone stumbled across a post that I had wrote two years ago: “How to Spend 10 Years Married to a Farmer.” I remember writing it as if it were yesterday, but it definitely wasn’t yesterday. Boss Man and I are now closing in on 13 years of marriage, and just celebrated 15 years of being together.

This is what happened Monday:

 

Consider my mind blown...completely.

Consider my mind blown…completely.

Yes, somehow more than 100,000 people decided that something I had wrote was worthwhile reading. Are you kidding me?

In fact, I received messages left and right from people who saw the post shared, including this one:

I love the "whatever" part!

I love the “whatever” part!

So while it was cool to see my traffic have a crazy jump like that, it taught me one of the most valuable lessons in my life: You never know what speaks to others, but if you never speak at all, they will never hear you.

You can quote me on that.

I am not a professional writer, it’s a hobby. I don’t write about things that I don’t feel passionately about, and I speak from the heart. And I write when I should be sleeping, doing laundry, washing dishes, name it.

You don’t have to be in New York City to make a difference, you don’t have to work for a large publication, you don’t have to have years of education. You simply have to have a message and let someone hear it…well, or read it.

I live in rural North Dakota, and the world is my audience.

It can be yours, too.

 

 

Is our farm “green”?

Recently I’ve had an influx of new followers on Twitter. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, and my smart phone, I was able to be notified right away.

At first, I didn’t think much of it, but then I noticed that one had added me to a list. The list was titled “green bloggers.”

Come again?

My first response was, “Boy, are they going to be disappointed.” But then, with encouragement from some social media friends, I realized it was an amazing opportunity. How could I pass it up?

You see, “green” is another one of those terms that has been hijacked. It is defined so differently by so many, and yet, those that it means the most to (farmers), use it the least.

In fact, I was first offended to be called “green.” To me, it meant that I was more concerned about how my food got to my plate, instead of just being grateful that I could put anything there to begin with.

To me, it meant that I thought more about how creation began, and less about how it would continue to exist.

To me, it meant that I was willing to believe that God could use science to create cures for diseases and ailments, but He couldn’t possibly use science to prevent starvation and hunger for so many of His people.

But none of that is true.

Being green is an awareness, not an action. It can be, but doesn’t have to be. Being green is making decisions knowing that you’re doing what’s best for the next generation, based on what you know and your experiences. Being green is as personal as religion. Yet, being green is NOT a religion.

A lot of times farmers shout from the rooftops, that they are the original environmentalists. And although that is true, it doesn’t do us much good to keep reminding people…instead, let’s show them.

Actions speak louder than words. So let our actions speak for us.

Is our equipment larger than decades ago? Yes, but that means fewer trips down the field, less fuel and greater time savings. Do our fields have company signs on them? Sure, but it’s more for our information than anything else. That way, farmers know which brand, which variety worked best for the conditions that year. Kind of like labeling your garden rows.

ultrasound technology in calving

Technology can be very useful in farming, including ultrasounding for calving!

The biggest question? Is technology worth it? My simple answer is yes. Unequivocally. Technology allows us the opportunity to use state-of-the-art tools and equipment to use less fuel, less chemicals and be more aware of our impact on future generations.

But the best part of it all? The ability to choose. You can choose what does/does not work for your farm, your family, your table, your health. And that’s the most important advancement of all.

I no longer will fear the label of being “green.” Instead, I will embrace it. And perhaps, before long, my grass will be, too.

Flat Aggie visits our farm

We had a visitor at our farm this week. He didn’t eat much, didn’t take up much room, but wanted to learn about what we do. His name is Flat Aggie, and he’s a project that was started by a teacher in California.

Many people are aware of Flat Stanley, the popular children’s book that follows the adventures of a paper man. This project is very similar, except the teacher sends Flat Aggie to farms across the country, hoping to learn through Flat Aggie’s travels all about what happens on the farm.

So what did Flat Aggie learn about on our farm? He helped with tagging our heifers with their cow tags. (To learn more about what the cow tags mean, such as their color, read more here.) For our heifers, that’s kind of like being adopted. When we switch out their calf tag with a cow tag, we’re including them in our herd.

A simple hair cut around the ears helps us see the cow tag better. Notice how the number on the left is much easier to see than the number on the right? Thanks, Flat Aggie, for the help!

A simple hair cut around the ears helps us see the cow tag better. Notice how the number on the left is much easier to see than the number on the right? Thanks, Flat Aggie, for the help!

While we were tagging the heifers, Flat Aggie also helped us trim the hair growing in the cattle’s ears. This makes it easier to see the tag numbers when we are working with the cattle. It’s important that we’re able to know which cow we’re dealing with from a distance, so that we can keep track of health, calving progress, etc.

This heifer (meaning she's going to have her first calf soon) is trading her yellow calf tag in for a blue cow tag!

This heifer (meaning she’s going to have her first calf soon) is trading her yellow calf tag in for a blue cow tag!

The last thing Flat Aggie helped us with was giving pre-calving vaccinations. For our cattle, this is very important for the health of the unborn calf. Think of it as a pregnant woman getting a flu shot. The risk of being ill while pregnant, or immediately after the baby is born is greater than the minimal risk of the vaccination. In cattle, even more so.

Before she goes back to eating her breakfast, this heifer gets a shot that will help protect her unborn calf from illness.

Before she goes back to eating her breakfast, this heifer gets a shot that will help protect her unborn calf from illness.

The best part of having Flat Aggie visit our farm? Being able to see things from another perspective. Having to figure out how to explain what we do so that a student could understand was a real eye-opening experience. And it’s great to connect to others across the country that are interested in what we do, but really have no way of finding out, other than through activities like this.

Did it take a little time? Of course. Was it worth it? Without a doubt.

Flat Aggie will be moving on to his next farm, learning his next lesson, sharing his next story. But you don’t need to have a piece of paper to encourage you to share your story. You can do it all on your own.

Trust me, people are wanting to hear what you have to say…you just have to take the step to share it.

Worth Fighting For

We’ve had a busy few days, trying to prepare for harvest, loading out hay as fast as the semi’s pull in the yard, and hosting our county Farm Bureau annual meeting here at the farm. Yet today, as I take a moment to sit down and actually gather my thoughts, I was bombarded with messages online, reminding me that today is not just any other day, and that we have so much to be thankful for…so much.

I was also made aware of a new single by The Departed, called “Worth the Fight.” Take a listen…it’s worth the time.

So, what does the anniversary of September 11th and the song have in common? I would think that is obvious. And more importantly, it’s a great reminder that all of these trials and tribulations have to be used as a base to move forward, to move up and to make improvements to the world we live in…and that is how we make it all worthwhile.

For me, my passion is agriculture. I have come to love our way of life, and I happen to feel so strongly that I’ve been driven to share my story with thousands of people around the world. And I don’t do it so that I feel better about myself, that’s not the case at all.

What makes my fight worthwhile are the four blessings that I am privileged to call my sons…and they are worth every minute I spend talking about agriculture, sharing our story and doing what I can to ensure that they have the same choices and opportunities that Boss Man and I have been blessed with.

My heart belongs here.

Today is not just a somber reminder of what was lost all those years ago.

Today is a reminder of what we are fighting for…

and it’s worth the fight.

Why the fuss about lunch?

I’ve been getting a lot of questions, some support and a little flak about my position on the changes to the school foods rule. And I thought maybe I should explain where I’m coming from, so that those that are reading my opinions can understand my point of view a little better.

Let me start off by saying that I was not raised to stand my ground. In fact, if anything, it was the opposite. My mother is a “pleaser.” She will do anything/everything to not make waves, go with the flow, whatever phrase you want to use. (My oldest is just like her.) My dad has his opinions, and you would never change his mind…but you’d never hear him talk about it either.

If there were changes made to my school lunch plans when I was in school, I would have had to live with it…and live with whatever was being served. Even if it wasn’t enough. Not because my parents didn’t care, but more because they were from an era where you never questioned authority and never stood up to what was “law.”

Times have changed.

There are many, many things that I like about the new rules. I love the addition of fresh fruits/vegetables. I love the ideas of expanding food choices, introducing them to new foods. Love that.

I understand the thoughts behind the calorie limits, and appreciate the work that went into figuring where to draw the line. I get the reason behind limiting sodium intake. Really. I do.

But my inner “mother bear” comes out when you start messing with my children…even more so when it comes to something I’m very sensitive about, such as their diets. With George’s diagnosis of OTC, we work closely with a dietician at Mayo. Through the last few years, we’ve been made VERY aware of the importance of proper nutrition for growing bodies.

Now, I know that the changes made to the school lunch program must have followed a dietician’s suggestion…perhaps even a team of dieticians. But it still doesn’t hit all the marks that I’m looking for in a good, well-balanced meal. And not necessarily for every child, but for mine…which is who I am fighting for (and I know I’m not alone).

I’m not complaining to my school administration. I’m not complaining to my school board. I know they are doing the best they can with what they have been given. I am writing those that have the power to make a change, and I’m using the tools that are available to me (social media, for one) to encourage others to do the same.

This isn’t a witch hunt, I’m not looking for someone to blame. I don’t care who signed the law, I don’t care which party they are from. I want to know who I can talk to that will work with me to make changes…that’s all I need.

We have passed the eras where laws are made and citizens no longer question them and just follow along blindly, assuming that everything was made in good-faith effort to do the best for those involved. (Did that time ever truly exist?) We are in an age where we are expected to stand up for what’s right and ask to make changes when things aren’t working…and this isn’t working for me and my family.

Scooter may be bigger than most 8-year-olds, but he’s still a little boy who needs his mama to stand up for him…and his future. (Oh, and this is an OLD pic of the two of them. About 2 years or so.)

Scooter and his older/younger brothers. He’s the one in the football gear.

I won’t spread rumors, I will try not to state anything without doing my research. I won’t place blame. I will just work towards a change. But I have to be vocal about what I find, or questions I may have…I have to use the tools that are at my disposal to get my message out to those who need to hear, and to those that can join in the movement.

I won’t stand by and watch an injustice when there’s something I can do…I’d say I wasn’t raised that way, but that’s not completely true. Let’s just say that I’m not raising my children that way.

Want to contact someone who can make a change? Here’s a good place to start:

Undersecretary of Food & Nutrition Services
Kevin Concannon
1400 Independence Ave, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20250

Secretary of Agriculture
Tom Vilsack
1400 Independence Ave, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20250

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are

I basically took the month of June off on my blog. It wasn’t intentional, but it ended up being that I simply didn’t have time. We had swimming lessons, baseball practices and games, I play softball, parades, celebrations, a birthday party or two, fair preparations to make and life to live. It was wonderful.

But now it’s the day after the Fourth of July, and life is a little more subdued and relaxed. We can start truly enjoying our summer…and I intend to make every minute count.

I promise to blog more often (more for myself than anything), and I promise to continue to reach out and do what I can to share this great way of life that we are living.

It what I can do, without leaving my farm, and using the skills that I have.

It wasn’t until the 457th person told me (during this break of mine) that they enjoy my writing, they love to share what I share and realize how important farming and rural life is to the backbone of America. What more can I ask for?

And it’s something so simple, that I know you can do it, too. All it takes is a minute of time, an ounce of creativity and courage…a fair amount of courage.

Thank you for sticking with me…and as a reward, here’s a few photos of what we’ve been up to:

We watched storm clouds roll through, but never received much for rain.

We watched 70+ tractors roll past our farm on a Tractor Trek to celebrate a local town’s 125th celebration.

Boss Man joined the tractors!

We played some baseball.

We watched some amazing sunsets.

And we danced like no one was watching.

I may have become a little discouraged last month, questioning if I am doing the right thing, or if I have the right intentions. But those doubts are gone, my spirit is renewed and I have new goals in sight. And I can do it all from the comforts of my home.

Yes, summer, I am finally ready for you.

TT – Honored by Sigma Alpha

Last Saturday, I received one of the greatest honors of my whole “career” in agriculture. The Sigma Alpha Sorority at North Dakota State University honored me as their 2012 Agricultural Woman of the Year. And I hope I can live up to it.

A month or so before, a young woman and friend of ours asked if she could nominate me. I told her that, of course, she could…and I filled out the necessary forms and did what was needed. And then I put it on the back burner.

I didn’t think that my influence in agriculture was that great, nor was it anything out of the ordinary…or at least, it shouldn’t be.

But apparently they thought differently. And I was honored to be asked to join them for their 19th annual Founder’s Day Banquet, and to speak to them about the opportunities they have as a voice in agriculture, and the roles they can play.

That was the best part of all!

No, the plaque is beautiful, and the supper was absolutely delicious, and the time spent with my husband during calving season, well, that’s not easy to come by. But the chance to speak to the energy and backbone of our industry? I couldn’t imagine a more important place to be at that moment.

So, thank you, Sigma Alpha. Thank you for giving me the opportunity, thank you for making my night such a memorable one, and thank you for letting me see a glimmer of where our industry is headed.

Those young women are no longer just the future of agriculture…they are agriculture.

The blessings of social media

I regularly hear people talking about the amount of time that is wasted on social media. When people ask what I do, and I tell them that I blog about our farm and our family, it’s almost as if I just told them I’m a stay-at-home mom…oh, wait…

"George" and I...towards the beginning of this journey. It's amazing the changes that have been made, to both of us.

My point is, that neither my chosen profession nor my hobby gets much respect in the real world. (You can decided which is which.) That doesn’t bother me, and for the most part, I ignore it…but last night it became very clear to me that all of my work and time “wasted” has not been in vain.

For those that have been following along a little while, you know that our youngest son, “George” on the blog, has been diagnosed with OTC. (You can read more about it on the OTC tab above.) It’s been a very crazy ride, but we’re feeling our way through, and have seen some amazing results in the last year.

But that doesn’t mean that we haven’t had problems, or that there were times when I wasn’t really sure who to turn to for answers, venting, etc.

And then I received an email. And not just any email, an email from the Executive Director of the National Urea Cycle Disorder Foundation, which just so happens to be the link I use in my blog posts describing OTC. Yeah, that’s big.

I think back to that meeting in August, almost two years ago, where I finally met JP in person. There was a round-table session where you could just sit and ask different people questions relating to social media. I sat at her table and asked if she thought that my story was worth telling (we had been “connected” through Twitter). I thought that my connections through Twitter and facebook were probably enough, maybe a blog would be too much, and maybe I didn’t have anything to really share.

With her encouragement, I started Wag’n Tales in September of 2010…and the rest, as they say, is history.

And I’m not the only one that Janice has positively influenced through social media. Just check out her latest blog post and see.

Yes, social media can take away time. It can be used for evil and wrong-doing. But when it’s used in a positive way, it can truly be life-changing…

In fact, it can be life saving.