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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Kenny

Remembering Kenny

Jonathan and Kenny on the last day of harvest 2015

 

My father-in-law, Kenny Olson, passed away on January 22, 2016. I have been mulling over ways to pay tribute to the man who taught me so much about farming, about living out your wedding vows so faithfully, and handling life’s difficulties with humor and grace. In essence, he showed us all how to live out our faith.

These verses in 1 Corinthians 13 really sum up much about what I know about Kenny.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

When Jonathan and I were dating, we lived 3 hours from each other. This meant visits to the Twin Cities for Jonathan, or trips to the farm for me when we wanted to see each other. I was pretty nervous the first time I came to the farm and met Kenny and Lois. Thankfully, they were both so welcoming that I felt better immediately. I think he was pleased when we were engaged on his birthday in 1988.

Kenny and Jonathan were so patient teaching this city girl how to drive tractors, pick rocks, hoe weeds, and run to town for parts. If he was upset at me about mistakes, he never let it show. There was a time when Kenny and Lois had guests stop by for an evening of visiting while we were still working the ground after harvest. I volunteered to take the evening shift in the tractor to chisel plow so Jonathan and the girls could hang out at the farm and visit with the guests as well. I was on the far end of the field when all of a sudden, the chisel plow fell off the hitch, hydraulic hoses flying. Neither Jonathan nor Kenny had their two-way radios on, so my only choice was to drive back to the yard, leaving the chisel plow where it was. The guys were a little surprised when I drove in to the yard, and were happy I was not hurt, and that the hydraulic hoses had pulled cleanly out of the outlets on the back of the tractor and were in one piece. Neither one of them were upset over that incident. They just made sure the large pin was held in place with wire after that, so it couldn’t get jerked out of the hitch again.

My mother-in-law, Lois, lived with Multiple Sclerosis for 30 years. Kenny lived out the wedding vows, “in sickness and in health” so beautifully. He wasn’t real fond of driving into the Cities to take Lois to medical appointments, but he did it anyway. When Lois needed to use a wheel chair, he had a ramp built to get her in and out of their home, and made other modifications to make her life easier. When it came time for Lois to move to a nursing home in a neighboring town, he drove the 22 miles to pick her up for church every Sunday morning, then brought her to their house in town for the day before returning her to the nursing home in the evening. He spent many days visiting her when he wasn’t helping on the farm. I know it wasn’t all sunshine and roses dealing with Lois’ illness, but he chose to live out his love through patience and devotion to her. That has been a great example to all of us.

Kenny had a wonderful sense of humor. When we were looking for photos for our farm’s 100th anniversary celebration, we found many photos of Kenny and his brother having fun. Apparently, they liked to pull old Model T cars, without engines, behind other cars and run them up and down the road ditches. Kenny also enjoyed telling stories and having fun, even while hoeing out weeds in the soybean fields. He found a way to make the unpleasant tasks more tolerable with humor. The last month of his life, even after the dementia caused him to no longer recognize his family, he would still make people laugh with self-depreciating humor, and joking. He had such a pleasant nature, that everyone who worked at the memory care unit where he lived loved him.

Kenny has been such a great example of living out your faith, even when life gets hard. I feel so blessed to have been able to be a part of his family for the past 27+ years.

Celebrating 5 Years of Carolyn CAREs

Celebrating 5 Years

Celebrating 5 years of Carolyn CAREs

2015 marked my 5th year of blogging. What better way to celebrate this milestone than to highlight my top 5 posts!

5. Top 10 Things I Love About Farm Life

This was a fun post with my top 10 things I love about life on the farm. Even though this post was written a few years ago, the list remains pretty much the same…especially number one!

4. Don’t Be a Pringle

The expression “Don’t Be a Pringle” means we are all unique, and shouldn’t try to be like everyone else. Agriculture is so diverse, we can’t really be like everyone else, even if we try. It doesn’t matter if what you grow is different than what I grow, or if our methods are different. We are all feeding our communities…after all, if someone is eating, chances are pretty strong that someone had to grow the ingredients that went into that meal.

3. 90 Days 9 Lessons

This post is a little more recent. Last May, I was told ever so gently by my doctor that I needed to make a few changes. I was pre-diabetic, and needed to work on losing weight, getting my blood glucose levels under control, and dropping my triglyceride levels. Since that post was written, I’ve lost a few more pounds, but have a ways to go yet before I hit my goals. I really need to go back and focus on number 5 and find my number 6’s!

2. Baby It’s Cold Outside

I love living in Minnesota, and I love Minnesota winters…most of the time. A few years ago we had multiple polar vortexes that dropped our temperatures to well below zero for days at a time. We raise our crops organically, but have made the decision to raise our pigs in barns because we think they are happier and healthier when kept out of the extreme weather situations like the polar vortexes.

1. United We Stand…Resisting the Attempts to Divide Agriculture

If I had to write this post over again, I probably wouldn’t change it much at all. This post was the first one that was read by more than my mom, I think. It was written about a year after I started blogging, but still says a lot of what I want to say today.
“I will never make anyone feel bad for the food choices they make. We all have different taste in clothes, shoes, cars, TV’s, computers, orange juice, cereal, etc. We don’t tear each other apart for those differences, why do so many feel it is okay to condemn food choices? I see no need to have an us vs them attitude in agriculture. What benefit is that to anyone? I would encourage everyone to have a mixed, balanced diet filled with color…and the occasional deep fried Milky Way on a stick.”

 

Thank you for celebrating with me, and for riding along on this journey for the last 5 years. Here’s to many more!

 

**Shout out to Sweet Cheeks Honey and Sartori Cheese for the delicious products in the photo above.

A Christmas Eve Story

This Christmas Story is shared by Jonathan Olson.

Christmas Eve in Germany

My Dad Kenneth Olson was stationed in Germany for part of his Army service. From time to time he would share stories from those Army days with his family. Here is one we listened to and enjoyed, and now we want to share it with you.

It was Christmas Eve, 1958. All of their duties were done for the day, and the men in the barracks had the rest of the day off. It was a calm, quiet night. There were a couple of guys complaining about being stuck here on Christmas. It wasn’t quite dark yet, so Dad and his army buddy decided to head into the local small town to eat out. They went into a little restaurant managed by some immigrants. The wife was friendly and serving as the waitress, and the husband was in back cooking. There were very few people eating out that night, so the place was fairly quiet.

There was a little girl playing on the floor with a few small toys. She was the daughter of the couple running the restaurant. It was apparent they didn’t have much extra to live on. Christmas would likely pass with no fanfare for them.

As Dad and his buddy finished eating their meal, they talked over an idea they began to get excited about. They paid for their meal, left a tip, and went for a walk. They found just what they wanted–a store still open. They went in and did not have to look long before they saw what they were looking for. . . a huge teddy bear. They bought it plus some other things for the family. They returned to the restaurant and gave the teddy bear to the little girl playing on the floor. She was so excited. She hugged it right away. The mother, with tears running down her cheeks, thanked Dad and his friend. They then gave the wife and husband a bag with some gifts for them. They were so thankful. They admitted there wasn’t enough money to get their daughter anything special, so the gifts for her were very kind.

The husband insisted that Dad and his friend have some complimentary dessert. They did enjoy a bit of dessert, but the real enjoyment was watching the little girl with her big new teddy bear. She was still beaming with her huge smile. Soon the desserts were finished, and it was time to head back to the barracks. As they walked in the door, they heard one guy say, “this is the worst Christmas ever.” Dad looked at his friend and they both smiled. They were thinking to themselves “it is a pretty good Christmas.”

May the joy of Christmas be with you and your loved ones today and every day!
CarolynCares Kenny and Buddys Christmas

Kenny (far right) and a few of his buddies

Remembering Our Christmas in Italy

Christmas in Italy

It’s crazy to think, that one year ago today (December 21), we were on a flight headed for Italy. I was nervous, and excited for my first international trip that involved flying. When you live in northern states like Minnesota, you can travel internationally by car pretty easily. My family didn’t think driving across the border into Canada counted as a good international travel experience.

Our plan was to spend Christmas with my brother and his family who were living in a suburb of Naples. The six of us stayed with the five of them in their home for about a week, and had a fabulous time. They were awesome hosts, and guided us around to some of their favorite historic sites.

Traveling in Europe during the holiday season is a bit different than here in the United States. They take their Christmas season seriously! One of the highlights was our day spent in Rome and Vatican City. When you first step in to St Peter’s Square, it is pretty amazing…and this is coming from a Lutheran! In the middle of the square is a giant Christmas tree, and a Nativity. The crowds were pretty large in front of the Nativity, and the lines to get into St Peter’s Basilica were massive. We had pre-booked tour tickets for the Vatican, so we were able to avoid the line that stretched for what seemed like a mile, which was awesome.

The crowds inside the Vatican were almost crushing at times. Wall to wall people visiting during the week between Christmas and New Years. Seeing in person what we’ve only seen in books, on television, or online was pretty awe inspiring. We were able to see the Sistine Chapel on our tour and the art museum…plus everything in between. It may be a little silly, but I think my favorite part of the whole tour was seeing where the Pope stands when he addresses the crowds standing in St Peter’s Square, and in the courtyard of the Vatican. The contrast between the two was striking. The one where large crowds gather and cheer and celebrate was lined with stone. The smaller courtyard has a garden, and grass that is quiet and peaceful. We spent a little time away from the crushing crowds in the peaceful courtyard before continuing our tour. If you are planning on going to Italy, I highly recommend the tour, whether or not you are Catholic.

This past week Jonathan and I have been reminiscing about our trip and the fun we had celebrating Christmas in Italy. We are so thankful we had the opportunity to spend that time with my brother and his family in that beautiful country.

I’ll leave you with a photo of the Nativity in St Peter’s Square. Buon Natale!

Nativity in Vatican City Italy

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