Grandma. I Like the Sound of That!

Grandma of Lydia Ruth

On September 1st, I became a Grandma! Lydia Ruth was born to our daughter and son-in-law in Kentucky.

The plan was for me to head from Minnesota to Kentucky when Anna was in labor, so I could arrive right before she would be discharged from the hospital. With Anna’s Multiple Sclerosis being rather aggressive, there was worry she might have a relapse soon after she delivered. I was happy to be asked to help out, and drove to Kentucky when we were sure Anna was in labor. I was pretty excited to see the little bundle that made me a grandma which made the drive seem a lot longer than it actually is!

The first week home with a new baby is always a little stressful, especially for new parents. I am so proud of Doug and Anna, and how they have supported each other through that transition. Anna was readmitted to the hospital to be treated for an infection and possible MS relapse after being home for 10 days. Doug and Lydia spent as much time with Anna as they could for the 2 1/2 days that she was there being treated for her infection. That time spent together just focusing on each other was so beneficial…even if the situation wasn’t what they wanted.

When Anna returned home from the hospital, Lydia’s other grandma was here. The plan was for me to return home when Doug’s mom arrived, but because Anna is still weak I’m staying a few days longer so I can be mom more than grandma. I’m so thankful that I can be here to help the kids out!

There’s something pretty cool about watching your kids go from infancy to toddler stage…kindergarten to graduation…college to jobs…and now on to parenthood. Watching how nervous both Doug and Anna were when holding Lydia shortly after delivery to seeing how comfortable they are holding, changing, feeding, and recognizing her needs based on grunts and cries has been so awesome to witness.

And this whole grandma thing? I’m loving it so far!

 

An Anniversary, Vacation, and Bristol

Bristol Motor Speedway

What does an anniversary, vacation, and Bristol have in common? They were all part of our adventure this past weekend.

Jonathan and I enjoy traveling to different NASCAR tracks to watch the car races. If possible, we like to see both the “B Squad” Xfinity race, and the “A Squad” Sprint Cup race. Knowing that is one of our hobbies, Jonathan’s sisters gave us tickets to Bristol Motor Speedway for his birthday this year. The tickets were purchased, hotel arrangements were made, and we were starting to anticipate the weekend way back in June!

The Night Races at Bristol also just happened to be on our anniversary weekend. Friday night’s race was awesome, with one of our favorite Xfinity drivers finishing second after being on the verge of going two laps down. On Saturday, we celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary at the track. We had a great day, even though the race was delayed 5 hours before they rescheduled it for Sunday afternoon. We left the track around 1:30am, and arrived at our hotel close to 3:00am. After just a few hours of sleep, we were off to the races again. Pun intended!

Now, most people, when they plan a vacation, also plan a little down time to relax and recharge. Somehow, Jonathan and I keep forgetting to schedule that part in. The only real downtime we had was in the Durango, and at Anna and Doug’s place. Even then, we weren’t really sitting and relaxing. We did get some great visiting time in, and had fun seeing Anna’s very pregnant belly. We are really looking forward to the arrival of our first grandbaby!

The time passed quickly, however, and we were on a deadline. I needed to be at a meeting 30 minutes from home on Tuesday evening. It takes about 16 1/2 hours to drive home, and with the race taking place on Sunday, that didn’t leave us much time to visit. We had a late night and early morning, but we made it home in time for me to change clothes and head off to my meeting.

In six days we traveled close to 2800 miles, drove through 8 states, saw 2 NASCAR races, and met great people all over. We are exhausted, but very happy to have celebrated our anniversary with a vacation trip to Bristol.

So, Where Does Your Corn Go?

corn tassles at sunset

One of the questions I get asked most when telling my farm story is “Where does your corn go?” Our corn is certified organic, so it doesn’t go to the local elevator where our neighbors deliver theirs. We have a few options, and work with buyers to find the right price and right market for our crop.

Animal Feed

One possible use for our corn is animal feed. Organically raised animals that eat ground corn must eat certified organic corn. We have shipped our corn on rail cars to California, New York, and places in between. Living in the Southwest Minnesota, we have the soils and proper weather conditions for raising pretty good corn. The animal feed market is influenced not only by livestock farmers in our area, but all over the United States.

Alcohol

This market may not be my mom’s favorite, but it has been a good one. Last year we sold our corn to an ethanol plant that makes consumable alcohols as a division of their business. They make regular vodka out of conventional corn, and a few times a year clean the plant and make organic alcohols with organic corn. They make vodka for a couple companies, as well as the alcohol that goes in organic vanilla extract, alcohol based cleaning supplies, and pharmaceuticals.

People Products

Typically we think of sweet corn as being the type of corn used for humans. However, there are many products on store shelves made from field corn. Corn chips, tortilla chips, corn flour, starch, and corn meal are a few examples. We have sold corn to cereal companies in the past as well. There are also many non-edible items made from corn and corn oils, but those typically are not organic products, so they wouldn’t use our crop.

We’re not that different, really

When you look at where our corn goes, it sounds pretty similar to where conventionally raised corn goes. One of the reasons so many farmers raise corn is the fact that it has many uses!  I think that’s pretty cool.

Mature Field Corn

Road Trip Through the Dakotas

This week, Jonathan and I had a little time to take a road trip through the Dakotas. Our daughter, Christina, is working at the Black Hills Playhouse again this summer, which is the main reason we took our mini vacation out that way.

Jonathan attended his uncle’s retirement farm auction on Tuesday morning while I finished washing clothes and packing. We left that evening, making a stop in Sioux Falls to see our daughter, Laura, and her boyfriend, Blake. Our goal was Wall, South Dakota, and we arrived there just before the office closed at 11 pm. Safe to say, we were the last ones to check in that night.

Custer State Park

Wednesday, we left early enough to make it to Custer, South Dakota before noon. Jonathan was selling some farm equipment on an online auction site, and he was fielding calls about the items throughout the morning, so he we elected to skip the Badlands Loop this time. We have been on the Loop two other times, and highly recommend it. By the time we arrived in Custer, all of his items had sold, so we stopped for lunch at Pizza Works (excellent pizza crust!), then went on the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park. We saw a small herd of bison in the distance, as well as a few Pronghorns here and there.

Custer State Park Wildlife Loop

Custer State Park Pronghorn

That evening, we were able to take Christina out for supper before we took in the musical “Pageant” at the Black Hills Playhouse. It was an awesome production! I laughed so hard that it hurt. If you are looking for something fun to do in the Black Hills, I highly recommend checking out the schedule of the Black Hills Playhouse.

Devil’s Tower

Thursday morning I had a video conference call (loved that the Holiday Inn Express in Custer had awesome wifi), so we didn’t get going on sight seeing until almost noon. Since this was our third Black Hills mini vacation, we wanted to do something different. We took a day road trip to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, which is an easy drive from Custer. Neither Jonathan nor I had been there before, and we were both amazed at the beauty of a huge rock…which is really something coming from farmers who pick rocks every year.

Devil's Tower, Wyoming

Jonathan and I walked the 1.3 mile paved trail that takes you all the way around the tower. We spotted some mountain climbers who were working their way to the top. They looked like tiny specks on the side of the tower. Jonathan was inspired to try a little climbing as well…

Jonathan climbing

…but decided this was high enough. Ha!

The day was perfect for a walk, and the trail was fairly easy, with just a few climbs that made us breath harder (remember, we are flatlanders from the prairies of Minnesota…what we think of as steep parts of the trail would be nothing to those who live in other parts of the US). Every angle of Devil’s Tower is a little different, making the hike around the whole thing totally worth it.

Devils Tower from the trail

Mount Rushmore

We made it back to Rapid City in time to grab a bite to eat for supper, then we went to Mount Rushmore for the evening lighting ceremony. Both Jonathan and I highly recommend it. Your parking pass is good until the end of the year, so you can visit the monument more than once on your trip. We have visited during the day the last two times we were out there, so this year, we only went for the evening.

Mount Rushmore at sunset

We arrived a little over an hour before the ceremony began since the seats have been known to fill up. As we waited, I took a few photos of the faces as the sun was setting. It always amazes me how you see different details on the faces at different times of the day. I’m not sure if Gutzon Borglum was brilliant, or lucky on that part.

As the ceremony begins, a Park Ranger comes on stage and tells the story of how they became passionate about the National Parks. They usually give a little background of the monument before starting a film that talks about the carving of the faces, and what each President represents. They do a decent job of talking about the hard issues of how Native Americans have been treated, and how Thomas Jefferson’s dream was that one day every person in America would be equal. It was a fitting message for today as well.

At the closing of the film, America the Beautiful is sung, and the monument is lit. It is very moving. Then, the audience is asked to stand, and we all recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Once again, I had troubles with that part, due to the emotions and tears that usually come listening to the crowd singing and reciting the Pledge as one. Following the Pledge, all active and retired service men and women are invited on stage for the Flag Ceremony. This year, there were around 70 individuals who went forward, including two elementary aged kids whose father is currently in Afghanistan. The crowd gave those kids a standing ovation. More tears. It is pretty cool how they give everyone the time to introduce themselves by name, rank, and branch of service.

Mount Rushmore Flag Ceremony

As soon as the ceremony was finished, we went back to Custer and spent a few hours hanging out with Christina and her friend. It was a long day, but a great day!

Friday morning we left Custer, and headed north. I was a bit surprised by how much the landscape changed from the moment we left the Black Hills National Forest, and again once we left Belle Fourche.

Western South Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt State Park

Thanks to some long road construction delays, it took a little longer to get to Medora, North Dakota than we anticipated, so we didn’t get to see any of the museums that had been recommended by friends. We stopped at the Painted Canyon overlook and rest stop to take some photos, which was the first taste of the Badlands of North Dakota.

Painted Canyon North Dakota

We were excited to see how the Badlands of North Dakota compared to the Badlands of South Dakota. There are some similarities, yet they are very different.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park Badlands

The Badlands of South Dakota feels a little more rugged, and lives up the the lore of outlaws hiding in the craggy rock. The Badlands of North Dakota has a more gentle feel while still being impressive. I can totally see why Teddy Roosevelt settled in this area for awhile!

We were a little disappointed that we really didn’t see many bison in Custer State Park, so we were pretty excited when we rounded a corner and there was a nice sized herd of bison grazing in the sage on the side of the road. We looked at that herd for awhile, and took a few photos from the safety of the Durango, then wound our way through the animals to continue on our way. We rounded a corner, and there was another herd grazing along the road. We gently lowered our windows, took a few photos while breathing in the scent of sage, then worked our way back out of the park.

Bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

We stayed in Bismarck, North Dakota that night, and on Saturday, we were back in the farming frame of mind. We ended up stopping at three different John Deere dealerships looking at different tractors. We are pushing our current planting tractor to the max of its hydraulic pump with all of the Precision Plant equipment, so we are just looking at options, and hoping for the right tractor at the right time for the right price. Both Jonathan and I enjoy discussing agriculture topics when we travel, from equipment, to crops seen, to plans for the future. A road trip through the Dakotas and into Wyoming gave us a lot to talk about!

After traveling 1777 miles in just over 4 days, we are happy to be home! It was a pretty intense road trip, and we are thankful for good weather, friendly people, and safety on the road.

If you would like to check out other highlights from our trip, head on over to the Carolyn Cares Blog Facebook page where you can see some of the Instagram photos we shared.

Celebrating a Birthday and Life

Carolyn Cares Birthday Ride

June 23rd is Jonathan’s birthday. We like to celebrate big here, but this year, Jonathan’s gifts were larger than normal.

Eight years ago today, Jonathan was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. When we went for a walk around the farm yard, and he was telling me what led him to see the doctor, it was heartbreaking. Our oldest daughter had been diagnosed with MS four years before.

One thing I distinctly remember, is how we talked about how we don’t know what the future will bring as far as disease progression goes, and that was a scary thing. I made one request of Jonathan that day. To not give up on life, and to live his life to the fullest.

That request led to a purchase of used jet skis, and a new found hobby that he loves. Those jet skis have had many hours on the water, and many good memories were made. It was time, however, to upgrade. So, for a combination of Father’s Day and his birthday, Jonathan received a pair of Sea Doo Sparks this week. While I am more than content to keep my feet on land and take photos, it makes me so happy to see him have fun. The troubles that often accompany farming are forgotten while he’s on the water. It’s so fun to watch the joy on Jonathan’s and Laura’s faces as they race across the water.

Happy Birthday, Jonathan, and thank you for not giving up on living your life.

 

There’s Always More Than One Solution

Solution

 

As my dad might say when figuring out a creative solution to a problem, “There is more than one way to skin a cat!”  It’s good to think outside the box sometimes. Happy Friday, everyone!

Johnny Ulfers – A Memorial Day Tribute

Memorial Day is a day to remember those who gave their lives for our freedom. Some will visit cemeteries to visit loved ones, and some will attend Memorial Day services or ceremonies. Hopefully all will pause to give thanks for those who fought for our freedom but didn’t make it back home.

When I was growing up, my siblings and I would go spend time with our grandpa and step-grandma on their farm. Grandma had the upstairs bedrooms named: Anita’s room, the west room, and Johnny’s room. I remember being afraid to touch any of Johnny’s things, because they were so special to grandma. There was a model car on one dresser that I remember thinking was so cool, which made me think that Johnny himself must have been cool.

On the main level of the house, grandma had a sun room of sorts. It had a seating area, steps that led out to the sidewalk in front of the house, and a built in display area in a corner near the steps. That display area was very special to grandma.

Johnny entered the military in June, 1967, just a few months before I was born. He was killed in action in Vietnam in November, 1968.

In grandma’s display area, she had his purple heart, his medals, a few photos, and the flag that draped his coffin. Every so often, she would talk about Johnny, and show us on the map where he was killed. His death impacted her deeply, but I was too young to realize how deeply until recently.

John Ulfers Memorial Obituary

John was not the first of grandma’s family to be killed in action. Her only brother was killed in WW II in France. The military honors at John’s committal service were performed by the Bertus Jurgens Post Number 283, which was named after John’s uncle, grandma’s brother. Grandma went through the heartache of losing two very special men during war time. She also experienced the loss of her mother, and her first husband. Those losses help to explain why grandma seemed so deeply affected by Johnny’s death. She also understood the need for talking about family members who passed on before us, and the importance of introducing us to the family members we never had the chance to know. I am thankful that she shared her stories, and that we felt like we knew our step-uncle a little.

On this Memorial Day, I hope that you will take the time to share memories of your loved ones, pray for those who have lost family members who were fighting for our freedom, and give thanks that we live in the Land of the Free because of the Brave.

John B Ulfers Vietnam Wall

 

Farm to Fork Class Comes to the Farm

Last November, thanks to the Minnesota Farm Bureau’s Speak for Yourself program, I had the opportunity to share my farm story with the Farm to Fork class at Tracy High School. At the conclusion of my presentation, I invited the class to come visit our farm, since we are less than 30 miles from their school. On April 27th, they took us up on the offer.

The day dawned cold and windy with 100% chance of rain. We had tractors and machinery parked in the shop and the machine shed so we wouldn’t have to stand outside. I was very thankful that Jonathan and Adam took the time to clean the shop so we could meet in there…and they even turned the in-floor heat on again. In April in Minnesota, it’s not unusual to go from heat to air conditioning to heat in the span of a week.

We started out in the shop where we had our planter tractor parked with the corn and soybean planter attached. We talked about how the planter works, and how we use GPS technology to plant in a straight line, and how we can adjust the depth the seeds are planted according to the recommendations for that seed. Many of the students have helped plant gardens, so they understand the importance of planting the seeds at a proper depth. We also talked about how we use computers to plant just the right number of seeds in an acre, and how we can adjust that depending on soil types. The three monitors we have in our planter tractor were running so the kids could see what kind of information we use when we’re planting. They were able to climb up into the tractor if they wanted.

CarolynCares Farm to Fork tractor experience

While in the shop, we also talked about the records we keep and the process we go through to become a certified organic farm. We had our Organic Systems Plan, Clean Truck Affidavits, and Yield Maps & Soil Tests books that they could page through.

Next we walked over to the machine shed. Fortunately, it wasn’t raining yet. The machine shed was chilly, but at least we were out of the wind! Jonathan talked about the field cultivator and the tractor that pulls it, and how we can change the tracks on that tractor to narrow ones that will fit in between our 22 inch rows if we need to. The kids were standing around the pallets of seed that were waiting to be delivered to our seed customers, but they didn’t seem to mind.

CarolynCares Farm to Fork track tractor

The rotary hoe is parked to the left of the tractor in the photo, so we walked over and talked about why and how we use it. Then we turned and talked about the combine. It was a good time to talk about farm safety as well. The kids could see the size of the machine up close, and realize that this isn’t really meant to be on the road. I hope the message of giving the combine room in the back, and only passing when it is safe to pass is a message that sticks! The kids had the chance to climb up into the combine cab and up on the back to see what it looks like. I think they liked this part!

CarolynCares Farm to Fork Combine

We viewed the flame weeder from the door of the machine shed, since it was starting to rain at this point. Back in the shop, we gathered around our newest project, a cultivator. This cultivator has a camera that “sees” the crop and adjusts the cultivator’s position accordingly. I’ll explain that a bit more in another post.

CarolynCares Farm to Fork students

The kids were able to put their hands in a bucket of wheat seed, and we talked about how the seed we plant becomes the food they eat. Sometimes King Arthur Flour buys our wheat through one of our grain buyers. We also have sold corn and soybeans to dairy and poultry farms to supply feed for their animals. To help connect the farm to fork concept, I baked some of my favorite scones for our guests using ingredients that could affect our farm when they are purchased by consumers. The King Arthur Flour, and Organic Valley dairy products are two of our potential markets. The organic sugar and egg may not directly affect us, but show that those choices are available to consumers in southwest Minnesota. The ground vanilla beans are there because I love using ground vanilla beans in my baking, even though it is considered a premium ingredient.

CarolynCares Farm to Fork Ingredients

The students asked some great questions, and know they have someone they can ask when something comes up that they want to understand a bit more. One of the reasons why I love to share my farm story with groups, and why I love hosting groups on our farm is that connection I now have with all those I visited with.

It is important to Jonathan and I that we show consumers the impact that farmers and agriculture have on them. We talked about how Jonathan and I are giving consumers a choice by farming organically, and that we don’t mind what their families choose, since agriculture is filled with farmers and farm families like ours. No matter what they purchase in the grocery store, it started on a farm.

CarolynCares Farm to Fork Scones and Organic Valley milk

To me, there is no better way to cap off a morning on the farm than by eating a vanilla bean scone with a carton of Organic Valley Chocolate Milk served from the workbench. Thanks to the students for being awesome, and thank you to Mrs Campbell and Ms Noll for making both visits possible!

Some might think it is scary to host a Farm to Fork or Family and Consumer Sciences class at their farm. It doesn’t have to be fancy, you don’t have to be an expert on everything. Most of the kids just want the chance to meet a farmer and get a little hands on feel for what it takes for the food they eat to get to their table. If you are interested in hosting classes, contact your Farm Bureau and see if they have programs that will help you connect with teachers.

 

A huge shout out to my friend, Emily Zweber of Zweber Farms for supplying the chocolate milk…and to Jonathan for cleaning up the shop, getting equipment parked inside, and talking about farming to the Farm to Fork class…and to our hired dude, Adam, for cleaning the shop with Jonathan, and picking up after us and turning off equipment and turning out lights when we were done.

Cover Crop Residue Tour

Jonathan and I went on a little farm tour a few weeks ago, and stopped to check on the fields with cover crop residues. We use oats, which we spread on the field with a spin spreader, and Tillage Radish, which is planted with the row crop planter. This past fall had perfect growing conditions for the cover crops, so they grew really well.

We have a three crop rotation on our farm. Each year one-third of our acres are planted into corn, one-third is soybeans, and one-third is a small grain such as wheat. After the wheat is harvested, we apply hog manure to that land for the corn to use the following year. After the manure is incorporated, we plant our cover crop. The root systems of the oats and Tillage Radish are very different, but work in harmony to improve soil health. The oats stimulate microorganisms in the soil that digest the organic matter making the nutrients available for the corn to use in the spring. Oats are also good at suppressing weeds.  The Tillage Radish tap root breaks up compacted soil, and creates water channels that help the soil to hold water instead of the water running over the top. Both the oats and Tillage Radish are good at storing nutrients from the manure in their stems and roots, which are released when the organic matter is worked into the soil in the spring.

oat cover crop

Here you can see how the stems from the oats formed a thick layer over the soil. This field had no wind erosion this past spring, even though we have had some extremely windy days. The soil underneath was cooler and wetter than our fields without a cover crop.

cover crop finding radish

We were looking for some Tillage Radish residue and the holes they leave behind. The end rows in this field only had Tillage Radish planted, due to timing issues. It also makes for a good experiment to have just the radish in areas that typically suffer from compaction issues. We found a few rows where the tops of the radish were above ground, so we could look at how they decompose.
cover crop pulling radish

You can see how Jonathan was able to tease the radish out of the ground. The top of the radish was exposed through the winter, and was a little spongy when squeezed.

cover crop decaying root

You can see how part of the root has decomposed, yet some remained. This was the part just under the soil line. It was much softer than the top of the plant.

cover crop tillage radish depth test

Here I was trying to see how deep the root channel was. I couldn’t touch the bottom. The root channels vary in size depending on how close the radishes were planted, and how large they grew.

cover crop radish hole

This hole wasn’t as big in diameter as the other one, but was very deep. When it rains, these holes give the water a place to go instead of the rain just running over the top of the soil. It is one reason we use our corn planter to plant the Tillage Radish in rows. When we plant corn over the same rows in the spring, the corn benefits from the moisture held in the soil.

Using a cover crop has become an important part of our rotation. We are seeing the benefits in increased soil organic matter, better water holding capacity, and better erosion control. We are also seeing benefits to the environment in wildlife activity (deer love the tillage radish), water holding capacity, and erosion control. A true win win!

How Do You Want to be Remembered?

carolyncares live how you want to be remembered

Have you ever given any thought as to how you want to be remembered after you’re gone?

Listening to the memories that people shared at my father-in-law’s visitation and funeral got me to thinking about what people would say at my funeral. While that seems a bit morbid on the surface, and thinking about my own funeral is not something I dwell on, it was good to reflect on how our actions speak so loudly in how we are remembered.

Many of the memories shared were not about specific conversations, but about the way Kenny made them feel welcome when they visited, or about watching how he cared for my mother-in-law in her advanced stages of multiple sclerosis, or about things he did to help them out of a tight spot. It wasn’t his words, but his actions and attitude that left an impression.

I came across this quote from Oliver Goldsmith while working on a communications presentation. “You can preach a better sermon with your life than with your lips.”

So, how do you want to be remembered?

In our daily interactions with others, are you treating them in a way that will leave positive impressions, or negative ones? Will they remember you fondly, or will they leave feeling hurt?

We can choose how we treat others in every single conversation we have, whether it takes place at the grocery store, at church, at school events, on Facebook, on Twitter, on our blogs, or wherever. The attitude you bring into the conversation will leave an impression, good or bad.

While words may not be what is remembered the most, they can convey an attitude. Using negative adjectives to describe people who don’t share your opinion isn’t the best way to sway their opinion of you or your cause.

When advocating for agriculture, or for a cause close to your heart, it is easy to get lost in the emotions of a conversation. These situations can make or break how others will see you, or how they value your opinions in the future. How will you be remembered after an interaction with someone who has a different opinion than you do?

My challenge to you is the same as my own challenge. Be someone that others want to know because you make them feel good about themselves. Treat others in such a way that they will remember you fondly as you go.

 

“If you go out looking for friends, you will find they are very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you will find them everywhere.” – Zig Ziglar

 

 

 

 

 

 

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