The Impact of a Unified Voice

Speaking with a Unified Voice - Farmers to Washington


Agriculture is under attack by the Environmental Protection Agency, individual states, and federal judges. It is time to get involved, and make your voice heard. What is the most effective way to get your message across? By joining a farm organization.

This past March, I had the opportunity to visit Washington DC with the Minnesota Farm Bureau. This was my 4th trip to DC with Farm Bureau, but my first trip as a member of the Minnesota Farm Bureau Board of Directors. I came away with three things I think everyone involved in agriculture should know.

Every farmer should belong to a farm organization

I know, I know. We’re all really busy, and it’s tough to take on one more thing. But what if that one more thing makes your job easier in the long run? For example, fourteen Minnesota Farm Bureau members traveled to Washington DC together in March. That is a small fraction of our membership. We were speaking on behalf of all Minnesota Farm Bureau members that week. When we met with our Congressmen and Senators, they knew we are speaking with a unified voice for all of our members.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been to the Minnesota State Capitol for our Day on the Hill visits. It’s another trip that I love, and it’s an easy one day event for us. The messages we bring to our elected officials, whether state or national, are those that came from our members in the policy development and voting delegate sessions that happen every year. Your voice in your county matters.

Politics may not be your thing, but it affects everything

When I first got involved in Farm Bureau, politics weren’t my thing. I had kids to worry about, I was taking on a few more farm responsibilities, and just didn’t think my opinions mattered anyway. The more I got involved with Farm Bureau, the more I realized how much of our livelihood depended on our elected officials. I started paying attention, embraced the opportunities to attend legislative 101 type sessions at our Leadership Conferences, and learned how the political process works. Then, Jonathan and I won a trip to Washington DC with the Young Farmers & Ranchers group, where we learned how powerful the Farm Bureau voice can be. I went in to that trip pretty wide-eyed, and came home fired up…in a good way. I gained a new respect for those who work hard at getting our message in front of the House and Senate every day. I know I couldn’t do it!

Every farmer should go to Washington DC at least twice

Why go twice? Isn’t once enough…a been there done that kind of thing? As I mentioned above, my first trip to Washington DC was pretty much a wide eyed experience where I was taking in so much information, and seeing for the first time how politics affects agriculture at the national level, that I really didn’t feel like I made much of an impact. When we went on our second trip, I was much more comfortable about speaking up in our meetings, and felt that I was making a difference. In March, one of our Congressmen expressed how he appreciated how Farm Bureau speaks with a unified voice, since they represent all sectors of agriculture. He mentioned how we are a lot like Congress in that we have to learn how to take all of the different voices and come together in agreement on our policies. I hadn’t thought of it that way before. The group on this spring’s trip was very diverse, which really brought home our Congressman’s point. We had beef, dairy, pig, conventional, and organic farmers in our group speaking as one.

Whether it is the American Farm Bureau addressing the issues surrounding the EPA’s Waters of the United States rule, or the Minnesota Farm Bureau addressing Governor Dayton’s buffer strip campaign, our elected officials take note of our message, whether or not they vote the way we would like, at least they know exactly where we stand. That is the impact of a unified voice.

Why You Need to Get Involved

Getting Involved Ag Menu

How many times have you heard someone say they just don’t want to get involved, or that they belong to a farm organization so “they” will speak up for them? Maybe they feel like it’s no use…they are just one person, and their vote or opinion won’t count anyway, so they give up. Frustrating, isn’t it?

This past week, I attended the first ever Governor’s Pheasant Summit. Our area in Minnesota is pretty popular for pheasant hunting, so they met at the college that is a few miles from my place. Even though I live close to the venue, I hadn’t heard about the Summit until our Farm Bureau Director of Public Policy mentioned that he would be there. I was starting to feel as if I was being prepped for the menu.

I went online to check out the Summit details, and to go through the background information. It was clearly spelled out that this was supposed to be a discussion between hunters, farmers, policy makers, conservationists, DNR, and other stakeholders and government officials. What I saw when I walked in the door was very different. There were many state agency people – DNR, SWCD, MN DOT, BWSR, NRCS – but very few farmers. Besides the few farmers that I saw, there was a small group of cattlemen, a small group of bee keepers. With the format of the event, it was evident that the small number of farmers, ranchers, and bee keepers wouldn’t have a lot of clout…even though we represented the largest private landowners, and would be the most affected by whatever decisions came out of the Summit.

There are some lessons here.

1. We need to show up. When there is an open call for stakeholders, we need to respond. We cannot wait for “them” to represent us. “They” may represent you, but when it comes to events like the Summit, I have the same amount of votes as everyone else in the room. Every voice counts. Let me repeat that…Every voice counts.

2. We need to engage. Don’t like how things are going? We cannot afford to just walk away and hope someone else speaks up for us. In any of the areas mentioned in the graphic above, there are or have been opportunities to engage. Not sure how? Join a farm organization. It could be Farm Bureau, State Cattlemen, Farm Bureau, Corn Growers, Farm Bureau, Soybean Growers, Farm Bureau, Pork Producers, Farm Bureau, Bee Keepers, Farm Bureau…  Jonathan and I are members of more than one group, giving us opportunities to engage through those different groups.  Many of these groups also arrange group trips to the State Capitol and Washington DC giving you the ability to engage with your elected officials, while helping you to speak effectively to them.

3. We need to be persistent. After the Pheasant Summit concluded, I approached the Commissioner of the DNR to ask if a farmer would be a member of the group that hammers out the action plan that came out of the Summit. In our private conversation, he agreed that we need to be at the table, and we need to be able to work together. The 5 areas outlined are too broad to let the government agencies decide on the action plan without agriculture at the table. We need to be persistent and willing to be the squeaky wheel every once in a while to ensure that agriculture has a voice. We can’t take one private conversation and be satisfied that we will be heard.

4. We need to work together. There are times when every farmer and rancher needs to work together, regardless of size, methods, or farm type. A good example is the issue with the Environmental Protection Agency and their Waters of the United States rule that would essentially give them jurisdiction over all the water in the United States. Through an organized effort, and the participation of farmers and ranchers all over the United States, we are getting the attention of our elected officials, and they are responding. The Pheasant Summit is a state wide issue that affects every farmer and rancher, regardless of size or method. We need to be willing to set aside our differences for the good of the whole, there is strength in numbers.

Where do we go from here?

Get involved. It’s okay to start small. Join your county Farm Bureau. You don’t have to sit on the county board to take advantage of the opportunities for members.  If you are not comfortable in front of people, at least respond to the Action Alerts when they are sent out. Participate in your Day on the Hill. Your county Farm Bureau and commodity organizations make it very easy to show up, and be effective. Head to Washington DC with Farm Bureau. You will learn a ton about Farm Bureau, the legislative process, and you will be making a difference by your very presence. Attend events like the Pheasant Summit. We need the agriculture voices to show up and help shape the recommendations that will affect us. You don’t have to stand up and address the crowds, or give a speech, or be on TV to make a difference. Just get involved at the level you are comfortable with. Help agriculture be at the table, and not on the menu.

30 Things I Love: Agriculture Organizations

Agriculture organizations

I love all the opportunities we have to become involved with various agriculture organizations. We are currently members of the Minnesota Farm Bureau, Minnesota Corn Growers, Minnesota Soybean Growers, and the Minnesota Pork Producers. All of these organizations have a direct connection to what we raise on our farm.

You may wonder what the point is in being a member of an ag organization. After all, you’re just an average farmer with the nose to the grindstone, and no time to be on a board. That’s the beauty of these organizations. You can be as active as you like. If you don’t have time to sit on a board, you don’t have to. Your membership is still important.

The Minnesota Farm Bureau President, Kevin Paap, often says, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” Being a member of an agriculture organization helps to keep us at the table, and not on it. Your membership dollars are used to help us know how and what to say to our legislators when we visit them at the State Capitol, or in Washington DC. We are strong when we speak with a unified voice! Those that wish to become more vocal have opportunities to learn communication and leadership skills by attending various events. You don’t have to be a board member to participate in those opportunities. That said, if you choose to become a board member of any county or regional agriculture organization, you will be welcomed!

I am amazed at how much my leadership and speaking skills have developed over the last 14 years. Jonathan and I joined Farm Bureau in July 2000. We were encouraged to compete in the Young Farmer and Rancher Achievement Award contest, which we did. The third time was the charm, when Jonathan won in 2004. The American Farm Bureau Annual Convention was in Hawaii that year, so I had to get on my very first airplane when Jonathan went to compete nationally. We didn’t make it into the top 10, but I remember thinking about how cool the convention was, and that I wanted to go to another one. I joined the county Farm Bureau board around that time, and for the past 6 years, I served as President. In that time, I had other opportunities to serve on state committees, and I became a member of the Speak for Yourself program, where we were taught how to tell our farming story to the general public and continue to learn how to engage the non-farm consumers. I was also encouraged to apply for the position of representing a general farm organization on the Organic Advisory Task Force, which has lead to being appointed chair this term.  Last winter, I felt the nudge to run for our district’s seat on the MN Farm Bureau Board of Directors, and was elected at our November annual meeting. 26 years ago, when I first moved to the farm from my home in the Twin Cities, I never dreamed I would have the passion for agriculture that I do…or that I would have the voice that I do. I am so thankful that I swallowed the nervousness and went to my first county board meeting.

If you are on the fence, I encourage you to join a county organization. The grassroots nature of many of these organizations really does give the power to the farmer, and gives you a voice even when you cannot physically be at your state capitol or in Washington DC.  That is why I love agriculture organizations!

Day 1: Pizza

Day 2: Shoes

Day 3: Shout Stain Remover

Day 4: The Ability to Vote

Day 5: My Heritage


Day 7: Black Velvet for Photography

Day 8: Strong Coffee and Strong Hairspray

Day 9: Peacefulness

Day 10: Winter’s First Snow

Day 11: Freedom

Day 12: Dairy

Day 13: Jonathan

Day 14: Coffee

Day 15: Seasons

Day 16: Scones

Day 17: #AgNerds

Day 18: Playing in the Dirt

Day 19: Friends

Day 20: My Church Choir Family

Day 21: OxyClean

Day 22: Small Town Celebrations

Day 23: Clouds

Day 24: Thanksgiving

Day 25: Sisters

Day 26: My Minivan

Day 27: My Daughters

Day 28: Viktoria

Day 29: Agriculture Organizations

Click here to go to Holly Spangler’s blog, and see the link for other 30 Day Challenge Bloggers

30 Things I Love: The Ability to Vote


It’s election day in the United States. It’s a day many look forward to, not only because this means the end of political ads on television and radio, but it is a chance for them to be a participant in deciding the future of our country.

I love that I have the ability to vote. I am thankful that we don’t need an armed escort or the military called in to guard those who dare to vote. I am thankful that, as a woman, I can walk into a polling place and cast my vote without being arrested. I am thankful for the men and women in uniform who put their necks on the line every day to preserve my freedom to vote.

I hear it said many times that “my vote doesn’t count”. In Minnesota, we’ve had a few races in the last 10 years that came down to just a few votes. Your vote DOES count! If you are on the fence about whether or not to vote, think Nike…Just Do It!

Your Vote Today is Not the End of the Story

As my friend, Michael, who blogs at Minnesota Farmer, said, “The most important thing you can do is visiting elected officials after they take office.  There you can influence the future.”

We often complain that our elected officials are only working within party lines, but are we any better? How can we expect our representatives to work with us, if we refuse to work with them just because we may not have voted for them? It’s time to put our words into action! Building trust and a mutual respect is valuable when you need to work with your senators or representatives on agricultural issues. Yes, need. Take the example of writing to our congressmen about the proposed EPA rule. If I have blasted my congressman all over social media, and have been insulting to him to his face, do you think he would take my request seriously when I ask him to vote against the EPA’s rule? If I were him, I wouldn’t!

Jonathan and I are members of the Minnesota Farm Bureau. We have had many opportunities to travel to the State Capitol, and to Washington DC to discuss agricultural issues with our senators and representatives. Farm Bureau has a great reputation of working with all parties to achieve their goal. I love Farm Bureau’s model! I really believe we can disagree on issues, and be respectful at the same time.

Are you ready to put into action your beliefs? Get out and vote today, then follow your elected officials on social media, visit them in their offices, be available to answer questions they may have, and become a trusted voice of agriculture.


Day  1: Pizza

Day 2: Shoes

Day 3: Shout Stain Remover

Day 4: The Ability to Vote

Other blogs in the 30 Day Blog Challenge


Why Minnesotans Should Be Wary of the EPA’s Rule

I live in Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes. Or, more precisely, 11,842 lakes that are 10 acres or larger, 6564 natural streams and rivers, and 10.6 million acres of wetlands. (source: MN DNR) Water is a big deal in Minnesota, not only for the impact on agriculture, but also as a major source of recreation and revenue from those activities. Our outdoor industry is so important, that we have a state law in effect that schools cannot start until after Labor Day so that families can enjoy one more weekend at their favorite resort or lake. There are a few exceptions, but the residents of those districts are split on whether or not it’s a good thing to start school before the last long weekend of the summer.
When I first heard about the proposed rule that the Environmental Protection Agency filed earlier this year, I was undecided as to whether or not it was a good or bad thing. The more I read, the more I became concerned. The rule is supposed to provide clarification to what some of the terminology of the Clean Water Act (CWA) means. The rule doesn’t change the fact that waters will be assessed, monitored, or cleaned up. There is no language in the rule that changes the basic CWA. What does change is who is in charge of enforcing the assessing, monitoring, and cleaning up. I have a problem with that.
It is important to know what the definition is of paragraph (s)(1) through (4) says, since it is referenced in many parts of the rule.
“(s) For purposes of all sections of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq. and its implementing
regulations, subject to the exclusions in paragraph (t) of this section, the term “waters of the United
States” means:
(1) All waters which are currently used, were used in the past, or may be susceptible to use in interstate
or foreign commerce, including all waters which are subject to the ebb and flow of the tide;
(2) All interstate waters, including interstate wetlands;
(3) The territorial seas;
(4) All impoundments of waters identified in paragraphs (s)(1) through (3) and (5) of this section”

The rule says that ditches are exempt if they meet these criteria:
“(3) Ditches that are excavated wholly in uplands, drain only uplands, and have less than perennial flow.
(4) Ditches that do not contribute flow, either directly or through another water, to a water identified in
paragraphs (s)(1) through (4) of this section.” According to this definition, the exempted ditches as listed are not really exempted…because all ditches in Minnesota run “either directly or through another water, to a water identified in paragraph(s)(1) through (4) of this section.” This means that the EPA will basically have control of every single ditch in Minnesota….agricultural, municipal, wherever. We have so many lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands, that it is pretty much impossible for any ditch to qualify for this exemption.

The rule goes on to try to define what “significant nexus” means. This is where I think it really gets worrisome for Minnesotans.
“The term significant nexus means that a water, including wetlands, either alone or in combination with other similarly situated waters in the region (i.e., the watershed that drains to the nearest water identified in paragraphs (s)(1) through (3) of this section), significantly affects the chemical, physical, or biological integrity of a water identified in paragraphs (s)(1) through (3) of this section. For an effect to be significant, it must be more than speculative or insubstantial. Other waters, including wetlands, are similarly situated when they perform similar functions and are located sufficiently close together or sufficiently close to a “water of the United States” so that they can be evaluated as a single landscape unit with regard to their effect on the chemical, physical, or biological integrity of a water identified in paragraphs (s)(1) through (3) of this section.”

Remembering back to Mr. Emmon’s Earth Science class at Jackson Junior High in Champlin, and the lessons on how water moves makes this definition of significant nexus pretty inclusive of all water in Minnesota. When you look at a watershed map from your county Soil and Water Conservation District, or the Natural Resources Conservation Service you will see that all of the waters in Minnesota flow to the Red River of the North, the Rainy River, Great Lakes basin, Mississippi River, or Missouri River. All of those basins are interstate waters. This would mean that the EPA would have control of all water in Minnesota.

So, why do I have a problem with that? Minnesota has done a great job of implementing the parts of the Clean Water Act that the states were given the authority over. The Clean Water Council is made up of stakeholders representing all areas affected by the rules of the CWA, and those interested in the environment. Who better to help oversee waters in Minnesota, than those who are directly affected by, and care about, the waters in Minnesota? If the EPA’s Rule doesn’t change the fact that the waters are going to be cleaned up where necessary, what is the point of the Rule? It looks more like a control issue than a clarification issue to me. This is why I think we need to #DitchtheRule.

Join me in contacting the EPA and the Army Corp of Engineers asking them to withdraw the proposed rule. A rule that won’t change which waters are regulated, but one that shifts authority away from Minnesotans and into the hands of Washington D.C. bureaucrats.

(Click here to read the EPA’s proposed rule)
(Click here for more information about Farm Bureau’s Ditch the Rule)
(Click here for the Minnesota Farm Bureau Clean Water Act links)

CarolynCares Flooding
A large puddle in our farm yard


Same location, 22 hours later. This could be under EPA jurisdiction, due to the watershed this puddle was in.
Same location, 22 hours later. This water went into the Redwood River Watershed, which ultimately leads to the Mississippi River.



People are getting testy. Maybe it’s the weather, or maybe I’m just letting it get to me a little more. I’m not sure.

This past week, the new Farm Bill was finally passed by both the House and the Senate, and was signed into law by President Obama. Many in agriculture are breathing a sigh of relief…and many are whining and venting on social media. The Farm Bill is not perfect. There are areas where we still need to work with our elected officials to make changes as stand alone legislation. The key is, we need to WORK WITH our elected officials. Calling them names, shaming them on social media, and calling their offices in moments of anger is NOT working with them.

When kids at school were giving me a bad time, my mom used to tell me to kill them with kindness. There are even references in the Bible that talk about being kind to your enemies. Sweet words soothe crying babies, help comfort broken hearts, and bring calming to those who may be acting out in frustration. I have seen it work many times. I have also seen people shrink away and become defensive when angry words are hurled at them. The power of words is amazing.

I may not agree with, or even really like some of my elected officials, but if I want to have a working relationship with them, I must treat them with kindness and respect. That includes communications with them on social media, in emails, or in person.  I truly believe that burning bridges is one of the worst things I can do as an advocate for agriculture. Badgering public officials on something I don’t agree with is not going to make them jump to my aid if I need them to side with me on another issue.

The same could be said for belittling those who may not agree with your farming style, or your food choices. If we want our consumers to know that we have the safest, most affordable food supply in the world, why are we constantly fighting between ourselves in public? We are our own worst enemies. We spend so much time accusing the “other side” of using junk science, or emotion to justify their opinions, that we have failed to show just how good our farms are. We have failed to show the reasons why we raise our animals the way we do. We have failed to show how many families are out working every day so we all have plenty to eat. Just think of how awesome it would be if we stood up for one another, or promoted agriculture as a whole. Chipotle and Panera’s ad campaigns wouldn’t have a (chicken) leg to stand on.  Let’s not burn bridges between farmers. Farmers that need to come together to make changes in immigration reform, or mCOOL, or township ordinances…

The quote that I put on the photo below fit so well with how I was feeling this week watching my social media feeds. Instead of being frustrated or angry, I am going to focus on being kind. Maybe, just maybe, it will catch on! Want to join me?

CarolynCares Kindness

A Look at What One Rancher is Cooking Up for His Cattle

Jonathan and I went on a Texas ranch tour after the American Farm Bureau Annual Convention on Tuesday. We toured Blanco County, which has been in a drought situation for a few years. Our tour guide for the day is also the Blanco County Farm Bureau president, Don Casey. Don came up with a way to remove the spines of the cactus, making them easier for the cattle to eat. He invited the tour to his cattle pasture, where he gave a demonstration on how the process works.

Prickly Pear Cactus are common houseplants in Minnesota, but in Texas, they grow in pastures and ditches. They have two lengths of spines, both of them very sharp.

Prickly Pear Cactus
Prickly Pear Cactus

To begin his project, Don took a boat trailer, removed the rollers, and mounted an LP Tank on the back to make it very portable.

LP Tank Trailer
LP Tank Trailer

He uses a long burner arm to be able to reach into large patches of the cactus. It sounds and acts a lot like our flame weeder, only it is made for walking around with.

CarolynCares Flame Wand

He burns the spines one side at a time, giving the smoke time to clear in between passes in order to make sure he isn’t missing any plants.

CarolynCares Flaming Cactus 1

Here you can see the spines that are on fire. This is a very quick, effective way to remove the spines.

CarolynCares Flaming Cactus 2

Notice the difference in color between the cactus in the foreground, and those in the back. When the flame is applied to the plant, it is lightly cooking the plant as well. Don flames enough cactus for one or two days of foraging, otherwise it rots before the cattle have a chance to use it for food.

CarolynCares Prickly Pear Cactus Patch

In this close up, notice how shiny the outside of the plant looks compared to the first photo.

Spineless Cactus

This is what the inside of the plant looks like – moist, and ready to eat. Cactus has a high water content, and is useful for its carbohydrates. The cattle are also fed a pelletized feed and minerals to balance out their diet.

CarolynCares Cactus

Don has 25 head of cattle in this pasture, and they all were just waiting for us to move a little out of the way so they could get at the plants.

CarolynCares Cattle

One person on our tour asked if the cattle like to eat the cactus. It was pretty obvious that they do when they all ran over to the patch and dug right in.

CarolynCares Cattle Eating Cactus

It was fun and interesting to see someone else using flames for a very different purpose than what we use it for.

We appreciate the American Farm Bureau for lining up tours to showcase agriculture in a different region, and to help bring an understanding that while we all are different, our roots are the same.


Wordless Wednesday – Thinking Warm Thoughts

Thank you, American Farm Bureau Federation, for holding your Annual Convention in warm places…and giving us an excuse to travel there!

CarolynCares Hawaii

30 Days of Thanksgiving – Day 25: Farm Bureau

CarolynCares Farm Bureau

This past weekend I was in Bloomington, Minnesota at the Minnesota Farm Bureau Annual Meeting. I look forward to this meeting every year, and seeing friends from all over the state.

One of the coolest things about attending the Annual Meeting, is to see farmers of every type and every age sharing meals, sharing laughter, and sharing stories. Farm Bureau is one place where Democrats, Republicans, Independents, young farmers, “seasoned” farmers, dairy, beef, pig, turkey, conventional, organic, large, small, hobby, fruit, and vegetable farmers all meet together for one common goal. We all care about our farms and ranches, and we want to be able to pass them on to another generation. We want to learn how best to care for the land, tend to our animals, and meet consumer’s wishes while being able to make enough money to support our families and better our farms.

The delegate session is always interesting. My county in Southwestern Minnesota is very different from my friend’s farm in Northwestern Minnesota. The resolutions passed at their county meetings may not have any bearing on my county, yet we get the chance to debate and vote on the resolutions brought to the voting floor. It is one of the strongest grassroots organizations I know of. Every member has a voice, and has the chance to be heard. I wish our government was like that!

I am thankful for Farm Bureau, the leadership, and staff. They organized an awesome Annual Meeting this year. I came away from the weekend tired, yet excited for the future of Farm Bureau, and the future of Agriculture. I know I have some work to do to help our county continue to grow. It is so reassuring to know that we have a great staff that we can call on for answers to our questions, no matter how big or small.

After this weekend, I am really looking forward to the American Farm Bureau Annual Meeting and Convention in San Antonio in January. I am excited to meet some of my social media friends in person, and to engage with Farm Bureau members from all over the United States and Puerto Rico. Who will I see in San Antonio?


To follow other 30 Day Blog Challenge participants, click here.