Sunday, June 29, 2014

One Size Fits All

     Have you ever purchased an item that was sold as “one size fits all”?  There are some items, like a rain poncho, that worked for me to buy that way.  That wasn’t the case when I went to buy a pair of rubber gloves.   I found it very difficult to stuff my hands into a glove that was made for much smaller hands than mine.  Has this ever happened to you?    

     Imagine shopping for clothes if your choices were limited to the one size fits all label.  Would we be limited to buying stretch pants and pull-over tops?  The one time in my life that I actually liked elastic pants was when I was pregnant.   Even the labels small, medium and large can be frustrating if you don’t know how much they will shrink.  Fortunately, we have clothing made for all shapes and sizes including specialty stores for those needing even more choices. 

     What about food choices?  Besides a plethora of diets to choose from we also have plenty of choices when it comes to how the food was raised.   When I was a child, my mom didn’t have the labels of organic, grass-fed, hormone free, etc. to look at.   Mom often bought the items that were on sale that week to feed our family of eight.  Now when a mom goes to the store, there are labels and whole grocery aisles of specialty foods that can be quite confusing.  Learning what labels mean and understanding more about production practices can help.  You can learn more about labels here.

Steve and I enjoying one of our favorite meals
on our deck-steak with veggies and hash browns.
     When Steve and I were raising our children we could choose to eat food from our farm and from the grocery store.  I took pride in having a big garden with items to freeze or can for winter meals. Perhaps many of you also enjoy gardening and eating the fruits, or veggies in my case, of your labor. We sometimes butcher a steer from our farm but also buy meat at the grocery store.  I never doubted the safety or quality of the food from the grocery store or from our farm.   How the food was raised was not a concern of mine and our children were healthy and active with doctor visits due mostly from sports injuries.   

My garden June 2014.   Some of the sweet corn is
starting to tassle.  We enjoyed radishes and broccoli
with snap peas nearly ready.  Plenty of weeds to pull!
     In our culture today we have many people concerned about how food is raised.   Part of that is due to the change in the size of farms as well as fewer people doing the farming.  Farms have changed over the centuries to meet the needs of the people needing to be fed.  The food choices we have today are very important so that those with food sensitivities can find what they need as well as the family on a tight budget.
This is a picture from the 1950's.  Four farmers are combining oats.   From
left to right you can see Farmall, Oliver, John Deere and Ford tractors. 

                Our farm practices are designed to feed more people using less resources.  We utilize the science and research done by our universities and yes, companies that sell us seed, weed control and veterinary medicine.  We utilize a hormone implant in cattle, antibiotics for disease and seed corn that can defend itself against a pest through DNA procedures.  It is very important to us to use methods that will leave us a better farm tomorrow.  Putting research into practice is akin to saying the proof is in the pudding.   Continually finding better ways to improve our soil, provide better care for the cattle and produce a healthy food choice is what we work for.   

Getting there from 3500 B.C. to 2010
     I encourage people on all sides of the debate about food production to first accept the need for a variety of farming methods and second to spend time getting to know farmers by asking us how we do what we do.  It is through shared friendly discussions that we all benefit from a continued food supply to meet the needs of a many sizes needed to fit all society.

This is Steve with our granddaughter, Ella, fishing in our pond
near our house and feedlot.  She is the next generation
we are striving to provide healthy and abundant food for.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Ag 101

     Steve and I are pen pals with two different schools through the Nebraska Farm Bureau Pen Pal Program.  We have a class of kindergarteners in Omaha and a class of fourth graders from Columbus.  The purpose of the program is to help kids understand more about where their food comes from and to build relationships with farmers and ranchers.  You can learn more about getting involved in the program here.  

I am with a kindergarten class in a north Omaha school.
After showing pictures and passing around containers of 
feed ingredients the kids received many items including
new crayons and booklets about beef.

     During the school year we correspond through letters with each class.  We tell them about our farm and family. They tell us about themselves and ask us questions.  When we first became part of the program a few years ago I was quite surprised at some of the questions.  They included “Do you only eat the food you raise?”, “Do you make all your own clothes?” and “Do you ever go shopping?”   We also receive more typical questions about what we feed cattle and how we care for them.   Besides writing letters throughout the year we send a something special at Christmas and we visit the class in the spring.  We were very fortunate this year when our Columbus class received permission to come and visit us.

This is no ordinary school bus!
     Steve and I transformed the shop from the farm mode to the classroom mode.  We had the five animal pens on one side with rows of tables and chairs on the other.   Included in the visit was a lunch of grilled hamburgers and ice cream.

It takes quite a bit of time for this transformation to occur.  The
wooden benches were made by our son, Jeff, a few years ago
as a 4-H project.  They came in handy for more seating.
      As soon as we learned the fourth graders would be coming I knew we would want to add items of interest that we don’t normally have here-like a petting zoo!  When I asked several of my 4-H families about loaning me their animals for this they were very supportive.  We ended up with two rabbits, baby chicks, a lamb, two goats and a bucket calf.  Our Bichon, Zoey, became an added attraction during lunch.  

Kids petting the chicks, rabbits, goats and lamb.
      We decided to split the group of fifty kids in half.  Steve took one half over to see planter and a feed truck. A couple of questions he received were “What’s it like to live on a farm” and “How do we make sure a sick animal does not get into the food supply”.   Steve has lived on a farm his whole life so it might have been easier for him to answer how living on a farm has changed since he was a child! He was able to easily explain how we make sure only healthy animals enter the food supply.     Food safety is a top priority that you can learn more about here.  

Part of the group when they were with Steve.  We had been receiving rain
and cool weather so the planter was in the standby mode. 

     I kept the other half of the group in the shop.  The 25 kids split into five groups and rotated around to pet the animals and ask questions about them.  I was holding the lead rope of the calf which ended up allowing me to encourage the timid children to touch the hair and offer him some hay.  The kids didn’t ask me many questions so I asked them questions.  I focused on what the value a beef animal besides food adds to everyday life.  You can learn more about that here

The kids loved to try to get the calf to eat some hay.  We
talked about what a baby calf might eat-milk-and how
we feed a calf that is not with a cow-a very big bottle.
      While the kids were visiting one of our veterinarians stopped in.  He talked to the kids about the shots we give the animals similar to the ones they receive to keep them from getting diseases.  He also explained why and how we use antibiotics just like they might receive them to recover from an illness.  The kids asked very good questions and seemed to understand the answers they were given.

The kids were very polite with many hands up to ask questions.

     We continued the tour of the feedlot so the kids could see how feed ingredients were weighed and loaded on the truck, where we give the animals their shots, how the holding pond keeps all the water from the feedlot from entering any rivers or streams and then they spend quite a bit of time near a pen of cattle.  The cattle did become curious in spite of the bright colored jackets and chatter of the kids.      

I am not sure which group is more interested in the other here!

     We explained that our cattle are not pets but that we do want to give them quality feed and care.  I asked the kids if the cattle looked crowded and in unison they said “Nooooo” which almost scared the cattle!  The kids saw how the feed is placed in the bunk and how the cattle go up and drink from a tank whenever they want. They saw black tubing with sprinkler nozzles above the bunk line that I explained was used for cooling them off in the summer.  

This is the picture I used to show how the sprinklers work.
     During lunch we visited with the kids and I showed them some large pictures we have on foam board to help them see the sprinklers in use on the cattle during the summer and the cattle laying on bedding behind the wind breaks in the winter. As soon as they finished eating the kids all wanted to pet the animals again with our Bichon, Zoey, also getting some attention.

Getting ready for mass distribution of burgers!

     As the group prepared to leave we gave them each a bag of items we had collected from various commodity groups.  The hamburger eraser from the Nebraska Beef Council was a big hit.  The kids and teachers were very grateful for the visit to our farm.  We were very grateful for the opportunity to have them here so they could see for themselves what a feedlot looks like.  Hugs were freely given from the kids as they boarded the bus.  While our intent was to educate it was the friendship we created with them that will hopefully have a lasting impact.

A group picture while we were touring the feedlot.

“People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care” 

 John C. Maxwell

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Hills Are Alive

I had the recent opportunity to visit our daughter, Kim, in Austria.  Kim is spending this semester in Gaming, Austria as part of Franciscan University’s study abroad program.  

Kim in her dorm room.  The students live in a former
Carthusian Monastery.  I learned that when the Russians
were here they turned the church into a horse barn.

Kim is majoring in education.  This is a school that she
goes to once a week to help teach an elementary English class.

  Last fall Steve and I had discussed visiting Kim during Parents Week.  At the time we only had one full-time employee and knew it would be impossible for either of us to be gone for a week.  Fortunately for me we added a new employee in April.  I shared with Steve that Kim was asking if I was coming to visit and he was open to discussing the idea of me going to Austria.  Everything fell into place and within a couple of weeks I was off to Austria.

Kim and I spent a day in Vienna before arriving in Gaming.  This was on
my table in my hotel room.  The hotel is part of the monastery grounds.
The Parents Week package included day trips to nearby churches and a concentration camp.  There were many components to my experience that touched me spiritually, emotionally and academically. 

It's hard to capture the beauty of Melk Monastery as well
as other churches we were in.  Even more difficult is the
ability to share the spiritual experiences I was blessed with.
Our group traveled in a small bus each day to the different towns and then back to Gaming each night.  We were able to admire the countryside from the bus’s large windows.  The rolling hills were breath taking with the foot high wheat fields, perfectly trimmed hedges and flowering Pear trees.  Every farm was neatly kept as well as the yards in each town we went through.  Another parent and I started to wonder if there were any Austrian’s with a messy yard or a junk pile in the trees.  
My best window shot from the bus.  I am hoping to get more
pictures from other parents that were on the trip.

We also saw numerous rows of stacked wood and they were perfectly straight.  Kim informed me later that the students were told never to take wood from those stacked piles as they belonged to someone else.
I asked a few locals about the tidiness whenever I could.  The response was the same, “it’s an Austrian thing”.  In Austria the people take great pride in keeping their yards and farms neat.  A young woman from Vienna shared with me that the junk is sometimes be stored inside the barn as well as the cows and machinery.  She looked surprised when I commented that I didn’t ever see a tractor or implement sitting outside. 

I love taking pictures of food.  This was an excellent
dinner of  braised beef in vegetable-root-cream and
bread dumpling with homemade cranberries.
 The cleanliness of Austria really hit me again when our 4-H Club was picking up trash along a highway near Dodge.  Every year we gather trash on a total of four miles of highway.   We usually collect at least a dozen very large garbage bags of trash.   Most of the trash consists of aluminum beer cans.   I wonder why we can’t have an American thing of respecting our environment enough to stop littering.  

Our highway clean up crew!
Our own hills in Nebraska are alive with green grass, flowering ornamental trees and flowering spring bulbs.  It is important to me that we each do what we can to leave the world better than we found it.  When it comes to something as simple as littering maybe we can utilize the popularity of owl d├ęcor we can bring back the slogan “Give a hoot, don’t pollute”.