I have been reading a lot of agriculture themed blogs and opinion articles this weekend in between trips to Sioux Falls. Some have been quite disturbing in their polarizing views of agriculture as a whole. Basically, their way of farming or their choice of food to purchase is the only “right” way. Really?
I understand the desire to support our methods. After all, shouldn’t we all be proud of what we produce? But why the need to put down or demonize someone else’s methods?
Yes, we are organic farmers. We grow corn, soybeans, barley, wheat, oats, and field peas. The corn gets used for many things, and a good majority of the rest is raised for seed. What doesn’t get used as seed is made into livestock feed. This method of farming works well for us, and we love what we do.
That said, we have many friends and family that raise their crops in a “conventional” or “modern” way. That works for them, and they are just as proud of what they grow as we are. They, too, love what they do. We do not put them down because of their farming methods, and they do not put us down.
Why is it, then, that many who consider themselves mouthpieces for agriculture cannot have the same tolerances? Why must they always pit one group against another? It is troubling to me, really.
We are blessed to live at a time, and in a country, where we have many excellent choices when it comes to food. If someone chooses to buy produce from a farmer’s market, they can. If they prefer to buy their produce from the grocery store, they can. Organic, non-organic, natural, grass-fed, free-range, barn raised, corn fed, whatever you prefer. It is available for you to choose.
I look at it this way. My two sisters and I grew up learning how to cook from our mom and the same Home Economics instructors. We were taught how to make the same things, using the same methods. As we all have established our own homes, we all specialize in different courses. My oldest sister is an excellent bread baker. We request that she brings bread items along whenever we have a family gathering. Middle sister is very creative, and finds the best salad and vegetable recipes. She is pretty fearless when it comes to trying different food pairings. We always request side dishes from her. Mom is the expert pie baker. I don’t think I have ever seen her measure the ingredients for her pie crust – and it turns out perfect every time. Her lemon meringue pie is awesome! I like to bake cookies and make lefse, especially for Christmas. I have my favorites, and take requests from family members before we all get together for the Holidays. All of us like to prepare the main meat course, whether it is a Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey, or shredded pork barbecues for summer gatherings. When you put all of our talents together, we have a complete meal.
To me, agriculture is the same way. We each have a way of farming that suits us. When we put all of the things we raise together, we have a complete agriculture “meal”.
I think it is time we stop drawing lines, and celebrate the differences we all bring to the table.
Almost time to stock up ingredients for my most requested cookie:
This year was my first year as full time combine driver. I learned how to harvest wheat, barley and field peas, and oats and field peas in the late summer, but Jonathan did most of that harvesting. When it was “go time” for soybeans, we got the combine all ready, and headed out to the first field.
Jonathan started by taking off the buffer strips – areas of soybeans next to non-organic fields that need to be hauled into town for sale, usually 25-50 feet wide. I jumped in to learn how to operate the soybean head, and how to avoid things like rocks and tile intakes. While Jonathan was driving, we smelled smoke. Not good. Turns out that a small rock got wedged into the cylinder, causing sparks, which ignited the dry material inside the combine. We drove it to the neighbors and poured water on it for a long time, not knowing exactly where the problem had started. Once we determined its location, we concentrated water on that area until we didn’t see any smoke. Jonathan went out to harvest some beans to flush the water and wet beans out. He would need to handle those separately. Once he got going again, I went out to start combining on my own. When I got to the side of the field he was on, I noticed that the smoke was once again pouring out of the combine, a little worse this time. Jon drove it home while I went ahead in the pickup and hooked up hoses. We opened everything up, and poured water on the area for a long time. We then let it sit overnight. What a way to start harvest!
Once the mechanic took a look at the combine and determined that no real damage was done, we once again went out to start soybean harvest. Things were pretty uneventful after that. I cleaned out the rock trap regularly, which is a very dusty job, but I wasn’t about to take a chance on another fire!
I had mentioned to Jonathan before harvest started that it would be nice if he could take my place about every four hours so I could stretch…and potty. Confession time…I refuse to “take care of business” out in the field. Yep, I’m one of those ladies. (I also think looking good while working on the farm isn’t bad.) I have heard that a satellite can read a license plate. My behind is quite a bit bigger than that. I’m not taking any chances! I don’t like camping, either. Camping, to me, is staying at a Super 8. I have stayed at campgrounds in cabins with central shower houses and bathrooms, but it isn’t my first choice of places to stay. If it means spending time with family that I don’t normally get to see, I will put on a brave face and deal with it for a weekend.
Jonathan was usually pretty good about taking my place for my “breaks”, especially if I gave him enough warning. It worked well, I thought. Until the last day of harvest. We had about 5-5 1/2 hours of work left in our final corn field, and I really wanted to be the one to finish it. I brought my coffee with me that morning to make sure I could get an earlier start. Everything was going quickly until the last three rounds. There were cottontail rabbits and pheasants that couldn’t figure out that leaving the rows I was in would be smart.
By the last round, I really had to go. But there were four bunnies, and four pheasants running in front of the combine. Running back and forth between the eight rows that were left in the field. I was just crawling along, growing more miserable by the second. It seemed like the longest round of my life! Finally we were done! I just had to unload the combine, jump into the pickup, and hurry home. I called Jonathan to tell him the good news that we were done, and he told me to be careful of the pickup door. What?! I was in a super big hurry! What if the door fell off and I couldn’t drive it home? Panic had set in. There were about 10 men working just across the tree line from where I was. There was no way I was going to be stuck out here! Thankfully, the door didn’t fall off, and I was able to make it home in time. Whew!
The 2011 harvest season was a huge learning opportunity for me. I really enjoyed my time in the combine, and it made me appreciate what the guys have gone through every year. Mostly, I appreciate the patience Jonathan has had for me and for making this an enjoyable experience. And now that we have the crop safely in the bins I can say…oh what a relief!
Anna spent her summer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on a summer project with Campus Crusade. The first time that all three girls were not together for the summer. While it seemed as if Anna was just away at college at times, there was something definitely different. Did I just feel another gray hair pop? I definitely feel older at times…
Christina and Laura wanted to learn to sew for 4-H, so we sent them to Grandma Bredlow’s for “sewing camp”. Laura loves upcycling clothes, and found a couple of skirts at Goodwill to alter. She shortened the skirts, and took in the waist to fit her. They turned out really cute. She brought one of them to the county fair, and did very well.
Christina took on the challenge of designing her dress, and figuring out how to put multiple patterns together to get the end product. She envisioned a one shoulder dress of black satin, with an animal print waist band. Then, she wanted to make an over-skirt of the animal print that would attach to the dress with hooks. That way, she could have a formal dress with just a little animal print accent for more formal occasions, or she could attach the animal print skirt for a fun look. She won a trip to the State Fair in Fashion Revue.
Both of the girls showed four goats in four categories at our county fair. Laura won a trip to the State Fair with one of her goats. That meant she went to school for two days, then spent the rest of her week up in St. Paul. Her goat show was on August 26th, which just so happened to be my sister’s birthday. Jonathan, Christina, and I stayed at Pam’s house on Thursday night, then we brought Pam with us to the fair on Friday. We hung out in the judging arena until Laura was finished. She received a blue ribbon in showmanship, and a blue ribbon on her goat. She was happy with that!
After the judging finished, we took Pam around the fair to find birthday cake on a stick…or something like that. We wandered around the barns, and talked to friends from all over the state. Of course, when introducing Pam, I had to tell them that it was her birthday! We eventually found a place to sit along a curb to watch the parade, keeping an eye out for the St. Anthony Park Community Band. Brother-in-law Paul Hanson was the lone trombone on that float! We met up with him eventually, and did a little catching up.
When Pam was in high school, she didn’t want a birthday cake made of …cake. She asked for a candy bar “cake”. Mom bought a variety of candy bars, and arranged them on a plate like a layer cake. She even put candles on the top layer. So, we found the deep fried candy bar place, and Pam had the modern version of her candy bar cake! Our day was complete! In all, we spent roughly 12 hours at the fair that day.
Fast forward to Thursday, September 1st. Jonathan was busy working on the farm, so I was the lucky one who helped Anna and Christina move back to college. They live in the same building, same floor, just around the corner from each other. A parent’s dream! We made room for a dolly to help move Anna’s refrigerator and keyboard, and to help reduce the number of trips needed to carry tubs in. I was the only mom helping kids move that day, and the only one who brought a dolly. I looked pretty smart. 🙂
Christina came home again on Saturday, and we went back up to the Cities for round 2 at the State Fair. Fashion Revue judging was Sunday morning. Laura and I worked in the Farm Bureau building for a few hours, then we walked around until Grandma and cousin Jenni came. We showed them Jonathan’s champion open class wheat exhibit, and the other seed samples that he won ribbons for. We made it up to the 4-H building in plenty of time to watch Christina model her dress in the fashion show. Even though she did not win a spot in the Court of Honor, she was complemented by the show’s director, and by one of her judges who liked that she thought outside the box.
So, all the kids are back in school. I look around my house at everything in disarray from the comings and goings. And I wonder. Will I ever catch up? Some day…
Note: This entry was originally written last Thursday…dictated to Anna, as we were heading down the road.
I was thinking this morning about the movie “Parenthood” with Steve Martin. There is a scene where he is having an argument with his wife about accepting her pregnancy. He is not sure he can handle the chaos and uncertainty of the new child. The grandmother comes in and starts talking about roller coasters. She loves them – the anticipation of the climb towards the top (the clicking of the chain as it pulls the cars up), and the thrill once you are over the hill and rushing back down. She goes on to say that some people cannot handle the roller coasters. They don’t like the ride. They just ride on the merry-go-round. Then she leaves the room. Steve Martin’s character completely misses her point until later in the scene when they are attending their daughter’s school play. The youngest son charges on stage, thinking they are hurting his sister. Chaos ensues, and the audience starts yelling that Martin’s son is ruining the play. Then Martin starts feeling like he is on the roller coaster, and you hear the clicking and the screaming associated with those on the ride with him (the camera angles make it look as if the whole auditorium is on the coaster). Martin looks like he is about to become sick, and is not enjoying this ride at all. But then he turns and looks at his wife, who is laughing and enjoying the ride. He then starts to look at things from a different perspective. The ride doesn’t seem so scary after all.
This last month has been a roller coaster ride for our family. We started out in May with small grain seeding and Mother’s Day. This was the exciting part of the ride. The day after Mother’s Day, I hurt my knee while helping Jonathan with the grain drill. I “bruised the heck out of the knee-cap” as my doctor put it, and wound up on crutches for two weeks. A month later, I still cannot bend it all the way, although most days are relatively pain free. I found out that I am not a very patient patient. I had too many plans and activities to have to deal with this. I had to learn to accept help from others, which is a difficult thing for me to do. During that time, I started to feel more anxiety and felt a little depressed because I couldn’t help Jonathan or do as much as I wanted to. The bright spots during this time were when the girls moved home from college and the visit from our exchange daughter’s parents. Christina and Laura were able to work with Jonathan, helping to plant corn and soybeans along with other field work. I was very proud of the way they jumped in to help.
Viktoria’s parents immediately felt like family, and we all connected like friends who had known each other for a long time. Melanie and Ulrich helped prepare for Viktoria’s going away party. Ulrich even did some field work! Melanie jumped in and helped out in the kitchen. As fun as this was, I could hear the roller coaster clicking… We said good-bye to our German family on May 28th. Many tears were shed on both sides as the roller coaster came rushing down the hill.
Things were pretty smooth for awhile, until we got word that our Pastor’s wife had passed away. Candy was a bright spot in many lives. She had many health challenges, but she handled them all with grace. We loved visiting with her and getting to see hints of her humor along with her compassion. We will miss her.
The following day, we attended church, where the atmosphere was rather somber. Late that afternoon, we were outside enjoying the beautiful evening before a game of cat and mouse broke out. We were having a little fun with the 4-wheeler and Ranger Utility Vehicle, taking turns on who was the “cat” and who was the “mouse”. This is a game we have played many times. You could say it is a favorite of ours. But, you know what they say, “it’s all fun and games until someone winds up in the ER at 10:00 on a Sunday night.” I was the “cat” on the 4-wheeler while Jonathan and Anna played the “mouse” on the Ranger. The cat was about to pounce, when the mouse darted, tipping the Ranger onto its side. Anna had her seat belt on and was okay (she would bruise where the seat belt held her, but otherwise was okay). Jonathan went to the house quickly after he crawled out, clutching his hand. I went into the house to check on him, asking if he was okay. He asked me to get him an ice pack and take him to the hospital right away. This is never good coming from him. He usually argues that it isn’t necessary. I grabbed the ice pack and a towel, checked on the girls, and then we left for the ER. After much fussing, pain meds, x-rays, cleaning and stitching, we were able to leave around 1:00 am. The following morning, Jonathan had surgery to place two pins in his broken left index finger. They also cleaned out the cuts on his finger and stitched them up. While he was under, they scrubbed the rest of his abrasions to help prevent infection. His middle finger was also broken, so he now sports a cast surrounding the first two fingers on his left hand, extending up his forearm. They sent him home with pain medicine and heavy antibiotics. He had quite a bit of pain until later in the week. He will be in a cast until the first week in July. Can you hear the screams as we are hurling through the loops on this roller coaster?
Today (Thursday), we attended Candy’s funeral. I am having Anna write this entry as we are driving on our way to Austin, MN to meet her ride to Milwaukee. She will be spending the summer there with Campus Crusade. This is the part of the ride where the clicking begins again. Friday, Saturday and Sunday I will be at the SW MN Synod Assembly, where we will spend time in worship and Bible study, business will be conducted, workshops presented, and fellowship will happen. It will be a fun yet exhausting time for those of us on the planning committee.
As much as I fear the anxiety of the approaching descent of this phase of the roller coaster of life, I am finding that it is much better than just going in circles on the merry-go-round. I am surrounded by people who love me even though I am not completely healed. But more importantly, I am surrounded by the arms of Jesus, who is sitting on the seat beside me riding with me the whole way.
Photo: (back) Jonathan and Ulrich, Viktoria, (front) Carolyn and Melanie
We started seeding our small grain this week – field peas, barley, and wheat. You could say that I am Jonathan’s pit crew. Our drill needs to be folded up into transport mode to go down the road, and unfolded once we get into the field. It is a two person job, so whenever Jonathan needs to move to a new location, I get a call. I also help him load seed into the drill when I am needed – usually when a lot of bags are used as opposed to the mini-bulk system which involves a grain wagon and auger system. After the first two days back out into the field, I have learned a few things…
Telling jokes and flirting with your favorite spouse while working makes the job a lot more pleasant. And it can help put you in a better mood.
Work boots are not great for running in. They may have ankle support, but they are heavier than my running shoes, and not as flexible. And they don’t look as cute.
If you are going to go out and work with the boys, it is alright to look good. A little pink looks awesome with all of the green equipment.
Learning to ride a horse during the first two days of planting is not always a good idea. Saddle sores on the bottom, and a stiff upper back can make you feel much older than you really are.
Running, and weight lifting with dumbbells will not prepare you enough for the lifting and pushing/pulling of farm work. I wonder if someone could invent a machine for that for my local YMCA. Then I wouldn’t feel as wimpy in the spring.
I don’t like the wind. Okay, so I already knew this, but it was reinforced yesterday. I don’t like grit in my teeth. It is hard to laugh at a good joke and not get dirt in your mouth when the winds are blowing dust and dirt into every nook and cranny.
It is easy to work your way up the ladder at a rapid pace. The first day it was 48 pound bags of barley. The second day it was 60 pound bags of wheat. I’m thankful it rained. I don’t want to know what today’s bags would have weighed.
Even though it is a stressful time of year, learning to balance the farm wife part of my life with the mom and housewife part, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I may not have the fastest pit times in the neighborhood, but I’m working on it!
We decided to stay in Parsippany, NJ and take the train into the City for the two days we had to sightsee. The first day was all on our own. The second day, we would be meeting at Chatham Imports before going to lunch with Joe and Connie.
The train ride into the City reminded us of the Polar Express, when the conductor came down the aisle to punch our tickets. We looked to see if he punched any words in them, but he didn’t. Our train destination was Penn Station, which is under ground. When we rode the escalator up to street level the first time, we were all breathless. The view was absolutely incredible. We were in New York City. On Fashion Avenue. Blocks from Broadway and Times Square. Un-be-liev-able!
We pretty much walked everywhere the first day. We ate at a McDonald’s that has appeared on Travel Channel shows, walked past the theater where we would be seeing Mary Poppins the following night, and walked into Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum to purchase tickets for our sightseeing bus tour. We figured the bus tour would be a good bet, since we could get a feel for the city without wearing Anna out. Unfortunately, their dry spell ended that day. We were given rain ponchos to wear while we were on the top level of the bus, but it was raining much too hard for them to keep us dry. Jon and I ended up sitting below, where the windows were fogged over, and there was little ventilation. Me, being claustrophobic, thought I was going to die. Every time the bus slowed down for a stop, water cascaded down the steps from the upper deck into the lower level. We eventually got off at a stop without knowing exactly where we were. We were just about to call a cab, when another bus pulled up that had a plastic cover over the front of the upper seats. It was the Brooklyn tour. The rain showers had let up by this point, so we jumped on and had a great tour of Brooklyn. When the tour was finished, we walked back to Penn Station to catch the train to our hotel. We would have to be on the ball the next morning so we wouldn’t be late for our meeting.
The weather was definitely better the following day, although trains were running late through the tunnel between New Jersey and New York due to flooding from the deluge the day before. We had to hurry from Penn Station to Chatham’s in order to get there in time. Thanks to the GPS on my Smartphone, we made it.
The office itself was pretty small, but everyone was very friendly. The secretary is originally from Iowa, and made us feel very welcome the way Midwesterners do. Connie brought us into the conference room, where Joe joined us a short time later. They asked the girls a ton of questions, just getting to know them, and making sure they were experiencing the City the way they were hoping to.
After hearing more about their company, Jonathan and I were invited to have a sampling of the vodka made from our corn. Chatham’s markets three flavors of organic vodka under the Crop label – plain, tomato, and cucumber. We learned the proper way to taste test without getting intoxicated before lunch. 🙂 It amazed me how the tomato and cucumber vodkas tasted just like fresh from the vine produce. We next tasted their organic gin, which is marketed under the Farmers Gin label. I had never tasted gin before, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The taste of juniper was very pronounced, but when we did the “spit” part of the taste test, the flavor of lemon filled my mouth. For fun, we were given tastes of Joe’s favorite Biscotti liqueur, which tasted just like the cookie. We chatted for a few more minutes, then we were off to lunch.
The girls in their rain ponchos before hopping on the bus
Now that harvest is wrapped up, and traveling is done for awhile, I can catch up on my blogging!
A few weeks after the visit from Joe, Connie, and Jim, we received a package in the mail. It was a box from Joe and Connie, containing gifts for Jonathan and I…and Pongo, our rat terrier. They sent Jonathan an Hermes tie, and I received an Hermes scarf. They also sent a thank-you note with another invitation to visit them in New York. That really started the wheels turning in Jonathan’s head!
It is tradition in our family that the graduate gets to choose the summer family vacation destination before they head off to college. Anna chose the Iowa Speedway for the inaugural Nationwide Series race. (She was hoping to see Joey Logano, her favorite driver. Sadly, he was not there.) Christina wanted to go to Los Angeles or Hollywood, but I was trying to talk her into staying in the Midwest. Then we received the second invitation to visit New York. Christina, with Jonathan’s full support, quickly chose New York City as her family vacation destination. The first week of July we were still trying to find an open week in our schedules. We narrowed it down to the week of July 10 – 17. That gave us about 3 days to make all of our travel arrangements, and line up help for chores. Not to mention our town’s celebration, and my very first 5k attempt…
Jonathan contacted Connie, who was thrilled that we would be coming. She asked what we were planning on seeing while in the City, and gave Jonathan some ideas. Christina really wanted to see a Broadway show, and walk in Central Park. The girls all wanted a chance to shop a little, which was no surprise. Connie asked which Broadway show we wanted to see, which we left up to Christina. Wicked was sold out, so she chose Mary Poppins, since we all love the movie.
We packed up, loaded the van, and headed east. We put in a long day on that first day, getting past Chicago. Lessons learned…take frequent breaks to stretch and get the blood flowing, drink a lot of water, and don’t eat salty snacks.
Next up – our arrival and first day in New York City.
This is me, back home after my very first 5k at Cottonwood Coming Home Days. We left the following day for New York.
Last spring, my husband, Jonathan, received a phone call from one of our corn buyers. This buyer uses some of our organic corn to make vodka for other companies. They wondered if we would be interested in hosting three people who would be in the area to visit the corn plant and organic vodka bottling plant where their product is processed. We have had the privilege of hosting Dean Phillips and his marketing team when they rolled out Prairie Grains Organic Vodka. We love to tell people our farming story, so we thought it would be alright to host another group. We were given a date, along with their names and the names of their companies. This is when things got a little interesting, and nerve wracking for me. Two of our guests were from Chatham Imports of New York City. I don’t know if you have the same stereotypes that I do, but I instantly felt that I was too redneck to be their host!
The day of their visit, the weather was warm and beautiful. The sky was a gorgeous blue, without a single cloud – a perfect day!
They pulled up in a chauffeured Lincoln Town Car. Not something you see very often in this part of Minnesota! I had to laugh when the driver was eating his lunch…being watched by two farm cats perched on the roof and hood of his shiny car.
We invited Joe, Connie, and Jim into the house, and visited over “a little lunch” of Lemon Bundt Cake, coffee, water, and juice. All three were very interested in the process of a farm becoming certified organic, and asked many questions. After we finished visiting in the house, we brought them outside for a tour of our farm. They were pretty intrigued with all of the equipment that we showed them. We explained what the different pieces of tillage equipment do, and whether we use it in the spring, summer, or fall. They had the opportunity to sit in the combine, and hear how the grain gets harvested. We tried to answer all of their questions regarding the farm, organic farming, and if I really did make my Bundt cake from scratch.
We found Joe and Connie to be very warm and friendly. The 2.5 hours they spent on our farm really flew by. They invited us out to New York City to visit them and see their company, which planted an idea in our heads. But that story will have to wait…
Lemon Bundt Cake
1 package lemon cake mix
1 package lemon pudding (not instant)
¾ cup oil
¾ cup water
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon butter extract
1 teaspoon vanilla
Filling: Mix in small bowl
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ cup chopped pecans
½ cup brown sugar
Put all cake ingredients in mixer bowl and beat for 8 minutes at high speed. Grease and flour bundt or tube-type pan. Reserve 1 cup of cake batter; pour remaining batter into prepared pan. Spoon filling onto batter, being careful that filling does not touch sides of pan. Pour reserved batter on top. Run knife through batter to swirl filling into batter. Bake in a preheated 350o oven for 45-50 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before turning out onto platter.
Twenty two years ago, I went from city girl to farm wife. I moved three hours away from my family and friends to start a new life with my husband, Jonathan. We were married in a drought year, which meant harvest had started within a few days of our wedding. We decided to come home a day or two early from our honeymoon to help my father-in-law.
Our house had been “decorated” by Jonathan’s friends, so we had a little clean-up to attend to before we could help move corn wagons. My in-laws had surprised one of the guys doing the decorating, and suggested we enter the house carefully. After a little cleaning and unpacking, I learned how to hook up the wagons to the John Deere 4020. Eventually, I learned how to drive the 4020, and how to unload the corn into the bin. It was a lot for me to remember and I made many mistakes. Jonathan and his dad were so patient with me, that I wasn’t afraid to try all the new things.
The patience and caring that I was shown as a new bride in a new atmosphere has had a lasting impact. I try to live by those same principles, and treat others with respect and care. Their example has also fueled a passion for agriculture and its importance in our world.
Jonathan and I have three beautiful teenage daughters. We have both become active in our church and community. I am currently serving as president of our county Farm Bureau, and have served on a few State Farm Bureau committees. I look forward to sharing some of my perspectives with you about the farming industry, and what goes on in our family during the different seasons.