Thank you!

I know everybody has to post something about the Holidays this time of year. Well, guess what? I’m going to be talking about Thanksgiving just like thousands of other people. Is my post going to be paradigm shifting? Am I going to inspire world changing  actions? That is not necessarily my goal. Sure, I’d love it if my words changed someone’s life for the better by inspiring them to get out there and love the many, many people so desperately in need this time of year.6397845509_1f1a4e14f4_o

My main goal today is just to make people think. I want people to actually take some time and THINK about their lives and the things that have and haven’t happened. Believe me! Making people think is not an easy thing to do. Many of us, and I include myself in “US”, go through our day putting out the next fire or going through the rote activities of daily life. We take all day trying to either catch up or not get caught up. Please, sit down for just a minute and take stock.

Thanksgiving is just another day on the farm. Farmers don’t get paid days off work. Livestock don’t take the day off from needing to eat or drink.  Cows need to be milked every day. They need to be milked two or three times a day, every day. Routine farm jobs that have to be done, have to be done whether the day is a Holiday or not. Critical machinery like water lines or feed augers break down and have to be fixed, now. The job is only made harder because all the stores are closed. The job is made harder because you are supposed to be at your Mother’s house by noon. The job is made harder because the weather is cold and frozen outside. The job still has to be done because livestock don’t care that you have places to be. They only know that they are hungry and needy and you are responsible to take care of them.

Thanksgiving is, however, not just another day on the farm. Thanksgiving’s very roots are as a harvest festival celebrating the probability of actually having a chance to live throughout the coming winter. This was a big deal. The first settlements of Europeans in the Americas either starved to death or starved almost to death many times before establishing an Agricultural base that could reliably support life over winter. This is a fact. I am not talking about a harvest making the difference between eating well or eating poorly. This harvest meant the difference between life and death for many of these settlers.

“Yeah, yeah, I know all that” you say. Stop and think. Many of my neighbors (i.e. people living within several miles of my house) do not have enough to eat this winter. Hopefully, they won’t starve like the first Jamestown colony but not enough food is not enough food. Food banks are doing booming business and that business “booms” more pretty well every year. People still worry about having enough resources to last through the winter just like they did 300 to 400 years ago.

Where does that food come from? “Captain Obvious” says that the food this country eats is produced by America’s farmers. Each farmer out there is proud of her or his part in the food chain that supplies this country with a reliable supply of turkey’s, potatoes, pumpkins and cranberries. Each farmer out there is proud that the milk, lettuce, tomatoes, wheat, or pecans that they produce ends up celebrated on this most Agricultural of America’s Holidays.

I am very thankful this year. I have been blessed in my family. I have a job to go to every day. I have a roof over my head. I recently had a co-worker who was involved in a serious accident that could easily have been fatal and she walked away with a few scratches. Thank You, God!DSC01670 Eating time!

I know that many other people live hard lives. Many people around me are struggling and I realize that I can always do more to help them in this season of Holiday and throughout the year. We can all be thankful that we live in a country that produces enough food. Our economic system may struggle to get that food where it is needed most. That is not the fault of the Farmers who struggle every day, even on Thanksgiving day, to produce safe and nutritious food in reliable ways for the world to eat. Take a few minutes, or a minute, even a few seconds next Thursday and give some thanks to everybody who has labored to give you the opportunity to be Thankful in the first place. I will be including America’s Farmers.

A Typical Wisconsin Dairy Farmer

I’m going to introduce you to someone today. A typical Wisconsin Dairy Farmer; not to be confused with an “atypical” Wisconsin Dairy Farmer. This typical farmer is “Dairy Carrie”.

Dairy Carrie is a dairy farmer on a family owned farm in Wisconsin. She didn’t start out that way. Carrie started out just like the overwhelming majority of people start out. She started as a non-farmer. Then, she became the first young woman to take an Ag class at her High School! I think that is a great part of her story. Apparently, she had a great experience because she eventually married into a multi-generational farm family. I am not going to go on at length about family working together but I will say that it is great when it works. It doesn’t always work. That is a topic for another day.

Carrie blogs about her experience as a dairy farmer at “The Adventures of Dairy Carrie…I think I Need a Drink!“. She farms with her husband and his parents on a typical Wisconsin dairy of about 300 acres and about 100 cows. She has been posting a lot of new-born calf pictures lately because it is calving season. I was raised on a dairy so I personally think calves are very appealing.Image (I’d call them cute and adorable but that is not a very manly thing to say.) She covers a lot of different topics on her blog about life in Wisconsin but she became Nationally recognized through her Agvocacy. “Agvocacy” means that when Carrie sees an issue relating to Agriculture that needs to be addressed, she takes action!

Her first big action was in response to the historic drought conditions a few years ago. She started an on-line hay drive to donate hay from farmers in Wisconsin to farmers trying to feed their cattle in the extreme dry areas of Texas and Oklahoma. She originally intended to get one semi-trailer of hay. The drive achieved “viral” status on-line and she ended up sending 7 truck loads of hay! That is making a difference!

Carrie attended an AgChat conference a couple of years ago and that just spurred her interest in Agvocacy to a higher level.  Panera Bread Company put out an Ad campaign in-accurately portraying Poultry producers using antibiotics in a lazy attempt to raise un-healthy chicken a few years ago and Carrie spoke out. Her promotion of the truth about Poultry producers caught Panera’s attention and they ended up retracting their whole Ad campaign!

Carrie speaks genuinely and from the heart. She blogs. She uses Twitter. She has a Facebook page. She was picked up by the Huffington Post when she talked about being a Farmer and not a “Farm Wife”. She tells the story of her family and her farm and her life in Wisconsin and her Agvocacy in a transparent fashion that reaches people. All kinds of people are following Carrie. That is the way to tell the story of Agriculture. A thousand farmers may read her but that is “singing to the choir”. The “overwhelming majority of people” who are just like Carrie before she took that first Ag class in High School are hearing and experiencing parts of her life. They are becoming engaged in farming and experiencing the truth about farming as told by someone living the life, not a Restaurant chain bashing modern Agriculture practices to sell burritos. People are being inspired out there right now to start something like a hay drive because they now know it can be done and it has been done. I recommend taking a look at Dairy Carrie and trying some of her brand of inspiration on for size. It might change your life!

Denial

Today’s post is a hard one. That is actually a large part of what this post is about. I am going to be talking about loss; very personal loss. I’m talking worse than your alma mater losing a football game or losing your wallet. I want to talk about death loss. This is something EVERY farmer knows personally.

I just watched an episode of “The Blacklist” on NBC. There was a scene where the main character is talking to her father on the phone. She has just found out her father is in the hospital having some tests because he has a history of cancer and is concerned about relapse. She tells her father “I know you will be OK!”. That phrase is the point. Sometimes, your loved ones will NOT be ok.

Before you get upset with me, take a deep breath and read on. I fully understand that saying “I know you will be OK!” is what everyone does. That phrase is a statement of hope and love and faith. That phrase is often the best possible encouragement in times when people are desperately in need of just ANY kind of moral and emotional boost. It can be the prayer that brings emotional support right when and where it is needed. The problem is blind, un-reasoning, and un-ending belief in that statement in total denial of facts. That only leads to a train wreck where the express train of denial runs headlong into the road block of reality.

Farmers, all farmers, have personal knowledge of loss and death. I have mentioned the biological nature of Agriculture in other posts. “Biologic” literally means LIFE science. “Life” implies death in it’s very essence. What lives, eventually dies. Crops must be harvested before they die in whatever length of growth cycle they may have. The “harvesting” of live animals eventually requires death for the most part. Live animals can be productive without dying by laying eggs or giving milk among other things. Trees and some other plants can produce fruit and nuts for years without dying. Eventually those egg layers, milk givers, and perennial crops will die out. If they can be productive by supplying meat, or leather, or lumber, that death is also productive and a part of the production cycle. But sometimes crops die out of season. Sometimes livestock die from natural disaster or disease or lightning strikes or just plain stupidity.

THIS IS A FACT OF FARMING! Death happens! It happens all the time. We are generally pretty much isolated from the reality of death in our culture. Funeral homes take care of the messy part of the death of loved ones. It often, though certainly not always, occurs at a ripe old age in the antiseptic environment of a hospital or other type of care facility. We can often, but certainly not always, distance ourselves from some of the harsh reality of the ugliness of death. This can allow us to use phrases like “I know you will be OK!” without having to be slapped in the face with the reality that it will not be ok. Again, I want to be VERY clear here. I am NOT comparing the death of a loved one to the death of livestock. I am just saying that farmers have a more frequent and closer relationship to death and loss than many others in our culture.

Farmers see death and loss right up close and personal. ANY farmer that raises livestock of any type will have death loss. “You can only lose ’em if you have ’em.” is a phrase that farmers have to live with. I am going to spell out what that phrase means because it is a vital point. The only way to lose assets like livestock to death is if you have that asset in the first place. Owning livestock carries an implicit understanding that death loss is possible and very probable but the only way to make a living farming is to have that asset in the first place! Farmers CANNOT be in denial of this because IT IS A FACT. Farmers can and do utilize every management technique possible to minimize that loss but it will happen. Livestock get hit by lightning all the time. Stormy WeatherThere is NO AVOIDING THIS. Animals get sick and die whether or not they have received all of the appropriate anti-biotics. My dad had a steer wedge it’s head in a fork in a tree and strangle itself. My wife’s Uncles had a BEAUTIFUL field of river bottom corn that got flooded and totally ruined. That field was a total loss and there was nothing they could do about it. Crops get ruined somewhere every year due to drought or disease or insects. Some of this can be avoided but some of it cannot! Death loss of livestock and ruined crops is a huge financial, personal, and emotional loss that farmers face as a fact of daily life. Farmers are no less prone to trying to deny this fact than anyone else but they are directly faced by it.

“I know you will be ok” is a beautiful phrase. I believe personally in God and I believe that death is not neccessarily a terrible thing. I have worked in health care for over twenty years. Death can be a blessing. Death happens.  My prayers go out to anyone out there experiencing the pain of death and loss. Denying death and the pain and loss that goes with it is pointless. Sometimes you have to be a grown-up and just Farm on. It doesn’t make the pain less. But the only way through is forward.

LOVE!

Cute Calves turn into hamburgers

Farming is an exercise in dualism. Farmers live in two worlds at the same time. They work in one of the oldest professions in the world using the most modern of high technology like GPS guided combines worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Growers utilize state of the art genetic modification to change plant characteristics while searching the far corners of the world for ancient “Heirloom” plants with valuable forgotten properties of taste or color. They take millions of dollars  in investment and literally bury it in the ground like “Jack and the Beanstalk” hoping it will “magically” turn into more millions of dollars. I fully understand that this “magic” involves more millions of dollars of experience/ expertise, years of genetic manipulation and/or modification, chemical/ fertilizer application, and mechanical investment.

Some of the more literal “magic ” is the dependence on the biological nature of Agriculture.   Biology is the basis on which all of Agriculture production rests. Plants and animals have to GROW. They have to survive disease. They have to withstand adverse weather. They have to take in food and water and, through the act of metabolism, turn that food into valuable end products like, meat, milk, eggs, plant growth, and plant production of fruit and seeds. The plan is that you start with something small and grow it into something more over the course of time. Grow the plants, grow the animals, grow the farm, grow the investment. This investment is NOT just money. The investment is also the Farmer’s land, labor, time, emotions, blood, sweat, tears, heart, and very Soul!

Baby farm animals are very cute. They are easy to love.  There is nothing like having a curly-headed little calf licking and sucking on your fingers when you are bucket feeding. (Their tongues are very rough and raspy.) I mean exactly what I said. Farmers actually “love” their livestock. We care about them. We care what happens to them. They are not just numbers in a ledger.The Horrendous  Atlas Blizzard in South Dakota two weeks ago imagesleft ranchers devastated over the financial and emotional loss of up to 100,000 head of livestock. News stories spoke of the pain of ranchers losing animals they had invested their lives in, not just their money.

The dualism comes in the fact that these animals were not destined to live out their lives on a pasture and die of old age surrounded by their “GrandCalves” like a Disney movie. Don’t get me wrong, I love Disney movies. Livestock are not pets. We love them and we care for them knowing the whole time that their purpose is to end up being consumed in some fashion. Most cute curly-headed little calves are destined to end up in someone’s hamburger or taco or on a plate in a steakhouse. Livestock are to be treated “humanely” NOT “humanly”. Calves, lambs, chicks, and piglets etc., etc. are not people. We treat them well and we care for them physically and often emotionally but they are produce.  Nor are they pets. Pets reward us with emotional benefits beyond what stock does. Pets are not human, either. I would not marry a pet. I would not bequeath my inheritance to a pet. I would not place the welfare of a pet above the welfare of a human.

A field full of 10 foot tall corn waving in the breeze is an awe-inspiring sight.  Six months later that same crop would be nothing but a field of tangled worthless stalks and weeds if not harvested. Apply that same thinking to a field full of livestock. That is wastage. This is a Judeo-Christian outlook but I also consider it to be the practical outlook. Mankind has the moral imperative to husband the resources of this world in such a way as to promote the welfare of humankind. That welfare comes above the welfare of livestock and crops. Our welfare is best served by the best possible care and nurturing of the resources placed within our purview. The better we treat them, within reason, the better we are rewarded.

I understand that other life philosophies feel that all life is sacred and should be treated the images-1same. Man has to eat to survive. Man has the capacity to alter his environment in such a way to better utilize the plants and animals placed on this Earth with us to increase our welfare. Curly-headed calves are beautiful in their way. They are also hamburger. Keep it in mind.

 

I’m Sick of this!

This government shutdown has gone way too far. I started thinking about this post a week ago and, unfortunately, it is still a valid topic. A week may not seem like much but try not having a paycheck for a week with no idea of when your next one will arrive. How about my friend who went on her HONEYMOON planning to visit a few National Parks only to have this once on a lifetime experience run into a literal road block. Sure, she can go back with her husband at a later date but it won’t be her HONEYMOON! Another friend is trying to get her passport renewed to go on a trip to Ireland. She has a short timeline because this came up unexpectedly. I’ve been praying for her passport to get renewed.

These are personal issues affecting individuals. There are larger issues at stake. The Foster Farms chicken debacle combined with a lack of USDA inspectors should worry all Americans. This article from the news agency Reuters talks about how USDA meat inspectors are considered “essential personnel” because Meat Packers CANNOT, by law, function without inspectors.

The same article brings up the huge issue of the vast amount of USDA publications like crop reports that affect farmers, traders, bankers, and eventually all of us. try this very thscary quote on for size: “If the shutdown lasts more than two or three days, USDA may be forced to delay the release of its monthly crop estimates, due on October 11, which often cause swings worth billions of dollars in the price of corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton.”  That is a quote worthy of the Halloween season. I don’t know about you, but it scares me. Let’s not even THINK about what happens if Washington doesn’t up the debt limit in the next day! That is beyond scary!

Here is another little fact that few people know but could have vast implications. Medical researchers use mice for testing and researching an enormous amount of topics ranging from genetic diseases to new pharmaceutical products. These mice might have to be destroyed due to the lack of funding to feed and care for them. searchThis article from NPR tells about the effect the shutdown could have on decades  of continuing research at the National Institute of Health! It has happened before! “Shutdowns in the 1980s typically lasted no more than a few days. The current one promises to go on for weeks. And that could be disastrous for researchers, says Carol Greider, a researcher at Hopkins, and a 2009 Nobel Prize winner. “Not being able to breed mice for several weeks could really shut down years’ worth of experiments,” she says.  That is YEARS worth of ongoing information and trending. Ongoing experiments are, by definition, ruined if they cannot be “ongoing”! Some of these mice have unique genetic traits that may never be replicated.

These are examples of just a minuscule facet of what the Government shutdown is costing all Americans. Is it worth it? Is it really worth the cost to try and de-fund something that has ALREADY been funded and approved by the Federal Government. This is outrageous! This is terrorism! The American economy is being held hostage for partisan politics. COME ON WASHINGTON! Stop playing brinksmanship! Find another way to play! You are acting like three year olds! You should all be spanked and sent to bed without any TV! You should all be sent to prison like the terrorists you are imitating and forced to work together until you finish this. Find another way to settle your difference! NOW!

See – N – Say

One of my previous posts referred to the sounds that you can hear out in the country when you are a little farther from the hubbub of modern cities. Today, I am going to go more in-depth on that topic. Listen up.

The last information I have states that the “Farm sector” of the economy is responsible for 16% of American GDP (Gross Domestic Product). That means that Ag is responsible for 16% of the market value of all goods produced in the US in one year. Here is a link to more than you ever wanted to know about the US GDP. Agriculture is important to our economy. It is MORE important to our collective Psyche. What is Thanksgiving all about? THINK about that question!

“Play” is vastly important to the mental and physical growth of children. Playtime helps children to develop their imagination and learn about the world around them. Most of us grew up playing with toys of some type. We made them out of our imagination if we didn’t have actual toys. A number of my toys were farm animals, farm models like barns, fences, and equipment.  I made fences and corrals out of blocks and Lincoln Logs (a great toy). I am sure that kids who did not grow up on farms probably did not have as

Lincoln Logs!

Lincoln Logs!

many of these types of toys as I did but I am also sure that they either had a few of them or they had access to them at other places like daycare or Grandparents houses. They have been basic to childplay  since kids have had toys. Some electronic toys and games are also farm related. You can find farm related games all over the “APP Store”. There are 2,566 farm games on the Apple App Store this morning.

“Farm Play” has been essential to the American ethos. Children learn at an early age about farm animals. They learn that basic livestock are cows, pigs, and chickens. They learn about dogs and cats and horses, too. They learn that these animals are on farms. They probably DON”T all learn the difference between meat animals and pets. This is a huge difference!

The first Christmas toy I bought for my beautiful granddaughter last year was a See-N-Say by Fisher-Price. She loves it according to her Mom and Dad. My Granddaughter is starting to talk and the process of that is imitation. She is also learning to imitate farm animals.

See n Say

See n Say!

“What does a cow say?” is a question little kids get early in my family. (Christmas Spoiler for my family, here. My second granddaughter is getting the same thing for her first Christmas.) I will, eventually, make sure they learn the REAL sounds that cows and pigs and chickens make.

I want my family to learn at an early age about the importance of farm animals. I want them to learn about the difference between production animals and pets. There is an ENORMOUS difference! I want them to know where their milk and their meat and their vegetables come from. I want my grandkids to mentally connect farm life and the animals they find there to positive feelings and FUN! I want them to connect farm Work and Production with positive thoughts and feelings.  “MOOOOOOOOOO!”

Let’s sit and talk a minute.

OK. I have been blogging for a week now. Blogging is something I have thought about doing for a while. I just didn’t have the impetus to start investigating the process. The Ag Communication class I’m taking at Missouri State “pushed the rock off the top of the hill”. Are you ready for my “Manifesto”?

Wikipedia (which I LOVE!) has the following definition of a “Manifesto”. “A manifesto is a published verbal declaration of the intentions, motives, or views of the issuer, be it an individual, group, political party or government. A manifesto usually accepts a previously published opinion or public consensus and/or promotes a new idea with prescriptive notions for carrying out changes the author believes should be made. It often is political or artistic in nature, but may present an individual’s life stance.” I realize this is somewhat grandiose for a small little blog. After all, this blog may never be seen by more than a few of  my Facebook  and Twitter friends and those involved in my college class. Or, maybe it will. You never know what will catch the interest of the Net and go viral. Lets look at that whole “political, artistic, life stance” part of the above definition.

I passionately believe in the values inherent in people connecting to the land on which they live. This connection may be in little things such as planting a flower or a tree, watching a sunset from your front porch, or feeding hummingbirds in your back yard.  The ultimate expression of this is dependance on your land to provide life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness through agriculture.

I’m referring back to Wikipedia again: “Agriculture, also called farming or husbandry, is the cultivation of animalsplantsfungi, and other life forms for foodfiberbiofueldrugs and other products used to sustain and enhance human life.” I was raised on a farm. My parents were raised on farms. My wife’s parents were raised on farms. My wife spent a lot of time on her Grandparent’s farm. My children invested time on their Grandparents farm so they were exposed to some of the realities of farm life. These realities include the vagaries of weather, the fragility of life, what “sustenance and enhancement of life” entails, and a visceral knowledge of where food comes from. My grandchildren are one step further away from experiencing the realities of farm living at this point. I believe they need to connect to these realities in order to form a solid basis on which to make the decisions which will influence their lives.

The Political aspect of my manifesto is that everybody needs to face life with the type of personal responsibility that comes from things like knowing you have to feed the cows (pigs, sheep, chickens, goats, CHIILDREN!) or they won’t get fed. We all need to confront the Real World. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs places Physiologic needs like air, water, and food as the basis that has to be met before anything else in life can be sustainable. Personally experiencing a cow give birth or a field of wheat waving in the breeze as it goes into the combine explicitly defines how our physiologic needs are being met. 

This is where the “Artistic” part of the Manifesto comes into play. It is physically impossible for everyone to directly experience the real world  as expressed by Real World agriculture. It is impossible to try to  supply a meaningful relationship between all the people in the United States and the physical reality of modern agriculture. There are too many people, there is too little time, it is too impracticable to attempt in a meaningful fashion. Part of the answer lies in media. A picture is worth a thousand words. A video can be worth way more. Words have painted pictures in our minds for thousands of years. Language was invented as a way to convey information. Artists convey ideas and emotions with the power to influence lives and change the world. “Give me Liberty or give me Death”. “Remember the Alamo”. “I have a dream”. Memes like these resonate through the years with the power to infect the hearts  and minds of ordinary people resulting in extra-ordinary, even supra-ordinary life change. I am admittedly somewhat out of context but consider the Bible. James 3:5 states “…Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark”. I can only hope to spark thought in my Readers.

My life stance requires me to act. My Instructor in the first Ag Communication class of the semester passionately expressed how “we have to tell our story or someone else will”. Passion is a wonderful thing to watch. The eyes spark fire. The body leans in to the audience. The intensity of the voice is not in volume but in tone and tension. There is no possibility of passive non-involvement when someone speaks with true passion. My words may not carry the eloquence of the ages. My pictures may not embody “LIFE!”. My related experiences may not grab something deep inside you and yank it screaming into the light of a new and glorious world. Do not doubt that what I say is said with passion. I will tell my story and I will change the world with my little vignettes of life connected to agriculture. I will die trying.