Tuesday, August 2, 2016

One big happy family

Last week I had the opportunity to travel to Mexico on a Women in Agriculture trip with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. To read more details about this amazing trip (since I haven't written my own post yet), you can visit here, as Cindy, from the Midwest Dairy Council, wrote almost every day we were there and did a great job documenting our trips. It was life changing.

Today, I also travelled to St. Cloud to be one of five presenters at the Minnesota School Nutrition Association's conference. Those presenting were from the Midwest Dairy, a dairy farmers who also makes cheese on their farm, a hog farmer - who also raises crops, myself and another grain farmer from our state.

So, on the trip to Mexico I started thinking about this and today it just became so much clearer. I think some in agriculture get this, some don't. There are some consumers that get it also, and some don't. I will be the first to say, a couple years ago, I probably didn't fully get it either. I'd like to say I've made lots of progress.

WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER. This whole agriculture thing. There is no conventional farmer, organic farmer, dairy farmer, organic dairy farmer, poultry farmers, hog farmer, cattle farmer. We're all just farmers. There is a place at the table for us all. All the bickering between conventional vs. organic should just stop. We make the best decisions for our own farms, however that may look. Our production techniques may be like our neighbors, it may not.

The trip to Mexico was a real perspective changer for me. I didn't know a lot about agriculture in other countries, to be honest. The people in Mexico are happy, so happy, but people.....we have luxuries you may not realize.

I don't have to choose a crop to grow and hope there is a market for it when I harvest it. We have a huge grain infrastructure (elevators, ethanol plants, packing plants, soybean crush facilities, farmers markets, food companies, and on and on and on) in this country that affords us much certainty that we will have a market for our products indefinitely. Heck, I can sell production for 2 years down the road that I haven't even bought any input for yet! These farmers in Mexico plant a crop not knowing if anyone will buy it, for a profit, at the time they harvest it - and right now they don't have a lot of options. That is a luxury.

We can make a living off of our farms. We can do this with our families, our spouses, our kids and we can support our families, partially or wholly, off of this. Our spouses don't have to go off to another country to work and make enough money to support their family. And work hard they do. We don't know the strength it takes to have your spouse leave indefinitely to provide for your family, while you are left to tend to your whole farm and family back at home by yourself. That is a luxury.

Our country has companies, universities, and countless other groups that invest in research to help us gain better crops and better production methods. While providing many jobs in the ag sector. We have an abundance of research at our disposal that is relevant to our farms and even our locations. We have so many resources in groups like our local FSA or NRCS offices, and many more groups than I can even name. That is a luxury.

We have checkoff programs (groups like the Minnesota Corn Research & Promotions Council and Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotions council, Minnesota Pork Board - any numerous other commodity groups for each state) that actively promote our products to the public, look for new markets for us, invest in more research, all on our behalf. We don't have to spend our time and energy doing that. That is a luxury.

I'm not saying it's not still hard. Times can be lean for many of us too. There are long hours and tough decisions to be made here also. But I think if we looked beyond our own country, we would see how incredibly good we have it. America is already great with the entire spectrum of agriculture we have here. We have the ability to use marketing tools to sell our products, we can provide for our families from the land we have and consumers have endless choices at their grocery stores because...there is room at the table for us all.

I think we realize that organic can get beat up by conventional farmers. I think many organic farmers realize that the marketing tactics of "big organic" can be questionable at best from time to time. But the bigger picture is that we are free to farm how we choose and we do that because we have a market for our products. It's a luxury we should never take for granted.

Talking with the women from Mexico, even though we farm around 2500 acres and they farm on average 1/2 - 2 acres, the common theme still rang true that we all want the same things. To provide for our families, carry on our legacy, and grow good food.

This a luxury that American farms should never take for granted, no matter how tough we think things can be for us here. So what do you say we all take ownership of doing our own part and leaving the bickering at the doorstep and support each other in the wonderful agricultural world we are fortunate to have. What will you do to make that happen?

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

One of the best....

On June 2nd this year we lost my grandpa, Herman Quinton Larson, aka H.Q., aka Herb. If one word keeps coming up since he passed, it seems to be the word generous. He was generous of himself to his family, friends, community and country. He was especially generous with grandma. His wife of 72 years who frequently told her - up til the very end - that she was "the sweetest girl in the world."
Grandpa had the kindest heart and was a wonderful storyteller. He loved nothing more than a good bar and some coffee and talking.
It seems so surreal to think of grandpa not being there. How fortunate to have a grandpa for 37 years. One of my greatest joys is that my kids got to experience his love and that he got to know them. He always told me what wonderful kids they were and that we should be proud and that he was always so proud of his own family.
I will miss him always...he was truly one of a kind. I feel like it would be an injustice to do anything but celebrate the life he lived - and lived well.

One gift he gave to all of us was recording, in his own words and handwriting, his WWII experiences. He did not do this until just 3 years ago - in 2013. I'm so grateful he did. What a story to tell. Hope you enjoy and appreciate it.

This is about my experience in WWII - by HQ Larson

I was born on our farm near Pilot Mound, IA on 4-23-19. The youngest of five brothers and one sister. I graduated from Boxholm High School in 1936 when our country was in the Great Depression. In 1937-38 I attended the University of Iowa. My brother Arnie was at home but in 1938 Moved to his own farm, so I stayed home and helped my folks farm 360 acres and did a lot of carpentry work with my dad.

Then came Dec 7, 1941 and we were in the war. It seemed to change everything and everyone. I had the Army physical in Dec and rated an 1A and single and knew I'd be drafted soon, so I enlisted in the Marine Corps. It was April before I went to boot camp in San Diego. It was still the "old" Marine Corp and the training was tough. But I learned discipline and got into good physical condition. I was assigned to the Marine Air Depot on North Island. They sent me to a 12 week clerical school in Toledo, Ohio. Then went back to North Island in San Diego. 

My mom came to my Aunt Bess, in Long Beach, and I got two 48-hour passes to see her. I was glad as I was homesick and concerned about my folks. They had to quit farming when I left. On return to base we moved to a tent camp on the base waiting assignment. 

One day a sergeant came wanting volunteers for a radio-man/gunning school in El Centro. I volunteered. It was a 12 week course and on completion we were sent to Cam Marimar, a Marine shipping out base. We had our shots and given supplies and in four days we were aboard a ship, The Rotterdam, an old dirty Dutch freighter - all ship orders were given in Dutch. It had been taken over by the War Department. The holds were full of war supplies except for the top of the rear hold, where they had hammocks 4 high for 50 Marines to sleep. We didn't know where we were going, but we zig zagged across the Pacific and came to New Caledonia, the first land we saw since San Diego. The trip took 32 days. They had no docks so we climbed down 30 rope ladders with our sea bag to small boats. We stayed one night, then up rope ladders to another ship that took us to Espiritu Santo, an island in the New Harberdies group. The Navy was building a big base there and we were put right to work. I helped gas our planes as they came in. My name was in the gunner pool at headquarters after several weeks I was assigned to fly with Capt Dan Cummings, as his radio-man/gunner. He was from Poducah, KY and had been in the battle of Midway. We were assigned to fly the SBD dive bomber, had a two man crew and carried a 1000 lb bomb under the plane. They often mounted a 100 lb bomb under each wing and wrapped belts of 50 cal machine gun bullets around them to make them more effective on troop support missions. The Marines also had a TBF bomber, three man crew and carried 4-500 lb bombs in a bomb bay. They used a gliding tactic to deliver the bomb. Then they had the Corsair fighter planes and were with us on every mission to protect us. If not for them I'd probably not be writing this. 

In 1942 and 1943 this was the extent of the Marine Air Force in the Solomon Islands. The current goal of the US was to capture the Philippines. To do this we needed sea and air control in the South Pacific. The problem here was the huge Japanese air and naval base of Rabaul located on the NE tip of New Britain island. We chose not to invade it, but bomb it out of use. To do this, air bases were needed closer to Rabaul so our SBD and TBF could reach it. As the Solomon Islands were as far SE as the Japs controlled, thats where the Marines started to turn the Japs back with a land on Guadalcanal to capture air strip the Japs had had started. After about 8 months of hard fighting the island was declared secure. 

Capt Cummings and I joined a group of 18 pilots and 18 gunners, called a flight crew, and went to Guadalcanal and to replace the flight crew there. This was my first combat tour from July 1 to Aug 31, 1943, Cummings 3rd tour. They were still clearing out Jap troops when we came and we did troop support strikes and bombed Munda and Central Coloman islands. After this tour Capt. Cummings went home and I then was assigned to fly with Lt. Frank Kleager, for the 2nd and 3rd tours.
On our 2nd combat tour, Sept 29 to Dec 3, 1943, we operated from the security captured base on Munda. From here we bombed Bougainville and other North Solomon islands. On one trip to Bouganville, we were at 16000 feet and about half way there, when our engine quit. Kleager turned back and into a glide. He got it started again, but it stopped right away. I was on the radio but got no answers. Then he was able to get it started again but it ran poorly, with reduced power and we could not hold our altitude. He was able to nurse it back to our Munda base where the runway was built right down to the water. We hit the runway pretty close to the water. 

On Nov 1, 1943 we were on a strike on Bouganville and that was the day the Marines made their first landing there at Empress Augusta Bay. We bombed and strafed the landing area ahead of the Marines.  We saw the invasion fleet in the harbor. 

As the Marines captured each major island, the Sea Bees came in the build an air base. Then a ground crew of over 500 men were brought in to run the base. They stayed on that base as the front moved north, as we needed to hold the area taken as many Jap troops were still on these islands. We flew the planes assigned to each base. 

It was hard living on these front line bases. Building the air strip was first priority. Everything was in the tents and on Munda. We had to cut out a place in the jungle to put up our 4 man tents. It was very hot, the water was bad and so was the food. 

On Munda we had a 2 or 3 week period when ocean crabs, the size of dinner plates, came ashore to lay their eggs. There were thousands of them and they crawled all over. Many were on our main road and were crushed by trucks, then the hot sun baked them and they smelled terrible. When we used the road many men threw up and that made it smell worse. 

The Marines had several flight crews, like ours, operating in the Solomons. We were rotated to relieve each other as the front moved north. After each combat tour we returned to Espiritu Santo base and sent to Sidney, Australia for one weeks rest. I was to Sidney twice, after your third tour you went home. It seemed we moved a lot. We were either in combat or getting ready for the next tour. This was when we got new men, to replace those lost or that went home. 

Our names were carried on MAG11 Hdqrs rolls. Then at each base we operated from we used that squadrons number. On Guadalcanal it was VMSB 141, Munda 234 and Bouganville 241. This was for mail and to keep track of us. My friend from clerical school, I.J. King worked at the Guadalcanal Hdqrs and I got to see him several times on our trips up and down the Solomons. He said he kept a close check on the transfer sheets as they came through to be sure I was on the live roll. 

On our third combat tour, Dec 30, 1943 to March 18, 1944, we operated from the new base on Bouganville. Now we were within our planes range to Rabaul. We made twelve missions there, a 4.5 hour flight to bomb and strafe it. We also bombed Bouganville and near by islands. After the Marines made the first landing 11-1-43, they expanded the area around the air strip and brought in Army troops to guard and hold it. An estimate of 30,000 Japanese were trapped on the island. We ran a 24 hour patrol, Marine by air, Navy by sea, to prevent any resupply to them. The Japs had five air fields on the island which we kept unusable. They also had big guns in the mountains near our base. They shelled us every night for the first three weeks we were there. They did a lot of damage and the sea bees were constantly repairing the runway. Our Navy had many big ships in the harbour and at night they shelled the mountains where they saw flashed from the Jap guns. It was loud and frightening in the dark. We spent part of every night in the fox holes by our tent. Their guns were well hidden and we made many trips to try to locate them. These trips were called "Pistol Pete's." I also went twice on Pistol Petes with Fleming in his TBF. The shelling gradually tapered off. We must have hit some of them or they ran out of ammunition.

Maslow Becken of Hanska, MN married Mar's cousins Ardell Knute, was in the Army at Bougainville, also Robert Johnson from Lehigh was there too. They came after I left on March 18, 1944. One trip to Rabaul our bomb did not release so it was hard to pull out of the dive with the extra 1000 lb bomb. On the way home Kleageer swung out from the formation twice and shock the plane some way, but it would not release. We had to land with it on and it was armed. We were the last to land as they had to repair and smooth out areas on the runway damaged by the shelling before we came in. Emergency equipment lined the runway but we landed safely. Kleager was a good pilot.
On days we went on missions, we always left at day break. We flew in three plane sections and they six sections formed a V and we climbed to 16000 ft for the trip. Our hatches were always open and it was cold up there. Each plane had maps of their assigned target. Around five minutes from the target we went into a glide down to 11000 to 12000 ft. to gain speed. Then over the target Kleager would pull the nose up the plan up into a loop, to slow us down and opened the dive breaks on the rear of each wing and we started our dive always 80 degree or near vertical. Right away we'd see black flak clouds floating around and we could see flashes on the ground, like big camera flashes, but they were not cameras but anti-aircraft guns firing at us. Kleager was busy in the dive so I called each 1000 ft to him on the intercom, so he knew where we were in the dive, which took about a minute. About half way down he would fire bursts from the 2-50 cal machine guns, located in the engine cowlings, and timed to fire through the 3 blade propeller. Each fourth bullet was a tracer that burned a white streak going down, this helped Kleager line up on the target, which were usually gunner placements. At 1500 feet he would release the bomb, which hung in a yoke under the plane. The yoke swung the bomb out on release so it would clear the propeller. Then he would pull out of the dive. The G-force was so strong that we blacked out for a moment. As soon as I could move, I'd get the twin 30 cal machine guns out and strafed until we were over water and down to 50 to 100 feet. It was hot down there. We were always jolted by the bomb going off and I could see lots of stuff flying in the air. We seldom missed our target, however a near miss would still do a lot of damage from the half ton bomb. The SBD's were very well built and could handle the stress put on it. When we returned to base and turned in our parachutes, we were given a shot of brandy - to calm our nerves, I guess.

The gun fire and flak seemed to decline as the bombing of Rabaul continued. Navy carrier planes and the Army were also bombing it. We were gradually gaining control of the area. Though on Feb 19, 1944, we were part of a big strike on Rabaul and our fighter planes claimed 40 Jap planes destroyed. This was a hard blow to the air defense of that base. Putting Rabaul out of use was important, as it made the area safer for our men when they invaded the Philippines. 

After we returned from our last strike on Rabaul - March 15, 1944, I was getting my stuff ready to go home, when Kleager came and found me and said a large strike had been ordered on the big Jap base of Kavieng, located north of Rabaul on New Ireland island. As only part of our replacement flight crew had arrived, Kleager volunteered to go and asked if I'd go too, which I did, and other in our group when to fill out the planes available. We flew to Green Island, north of Bougainville, that night. It had been recently captured. They were still working on the runway but we were able to use it. A small ground crew mounted extra fuel tanks and the 1000 lb bomb. We slept under the plan that night and left at day break for Kavieng - a 4 1/2 hour flight. We had extra fighter protection, as we were the first to bomb it. We hit the airfield and some parked Jap planes on it, straffed the base and returned to Green Island, where they gave us enough gas from barrels to get back to Bouganville. This ended my third tour and was eligible to go home and left the island March 18, 1944. 

In our situation it was good to have close friends or buddies. I had four. They were James Fleming, Worcester, Mass, Rodd Pardon, Dowagiac, Mich, Ben Cannon, Angleton, Tex and George Quarternik, Kansas City, MO. Fleming, Pardon and Cannon were gunner or radio men in a TBF squadron. They operated with us and lived nearby on all three combat tours. We usually ate together and hung out such as it was and kept close tabs on each other. George was in our flight crew and on our first trip to Rabaul. His plane never came out of its dive and crashed. Cannon's TBF was lost over Rabaul. Pardon's TBF was with five other TBFs laying mines at night around Bouganville. Something happened and all six planes and crew were lost. As we left the island shortly after that, we never found out what happened. Fleming and I were the only ones left of our little group of friends and we had some adjustments to make. Mary and I visited Fleming at Worcester in 1985 and had a good visit. 

When plans did not return, we always had hope that the crew was able to make a water landing and were picked up and returned some way. When they did not return in a reasonable time, reality set in, but by then the war ground on and new things were happening. 

The Army air force moved us around the Solomons and to Sidney, Australia. They used two-engine DC-3 cargo planes with no seats, so we sat on our sea-bags on the floor. One Army crewmen told me that for every three trips they made to the front line bases, they received the Air Medal. The army was pretty liberal with them. The Marines were not so generous, but Kleager and I were both awarded the Air Medal for our trips to Rabaul. Kleager also received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

We soon realized the week's rest in Sidney was needed. Our jobs were tense and tiring. My weight dropped from 210 to 148 lbs when I got home. I lost 14 lbs at Munda. In Sidney most of the gunners stayed at one hotel - an old two story building, but it was clean and neat. We slept four to a large room and the bed were comfortable and clean. Breakfast came with the room, served family style with all the eggs you wanted and a good beef steak. I slept a lot and we took Finish baths every day. Sometimes two. And looked around the city and drank cold beer. We rode street cars that were open on the sides and had a wide step, the length of the car, on each side where you could ride standing up. 
We were at Espiritu Santo after our 1st combat tour I had acquired a wood box, with a lid, that fit under my cot. We had been paid and I had $110 and hid it in thy clothes in the box. The guy next to me, Kooize, had $200 and asked to it in the box, too. We were to go to Sidney in 2 days. That night we went to an outside movie. The next day I looked and my money was gone, Kooize's was still there. I went right to the office and reported it. The officer of the day came back with me and had our men gather in a nut near ours. The huts were like a quonset, with screen and screen door in each end. The OD had each man walk through our hut, alone, and return to the others until all had been through. This game someone the chance to return the money. When we checked, the $110 was rolled up on my cot. We suspected two men, but as the money had been returned the matter was dropped. Stealing was not tolerated in the Marines.

Our flight log book seemed unimportant at the time and we were careless about the entries. So we could not be sure we had all the trips entered. Anyhow, my log showed I had been on 64 missions. 12 of these were to Rabaul. In addition there were many troop support and patrols for a total of 280 combat hours. 
Grandpas actual flight log book
When we left Bouganville on March 18, 1944, the plane stopped at Guadalcanal and I found I.J. King to say good bye. He was from Pittsburgh, Kan. I was never able to contact him after the war. We then flew to Espiritu Santo where we boarded a liberty ship to go home. We 6 Marines were the only passengers. It took 31 days to get to San Francisco. We spent most of the last night on the front port of the ship waiting to see the first lights from San Francisco. We were having breakfast on the deck when we went under the Golden Gate bridge. We got off on Treasure Island and seen the largest mess hall in the world - about a block square. The next day we were on a train to San Diego, then home for thirty days leave. 

Mary had worked two years in Washington DC, for the casualty branch of the War Department. She came home and we were married on May 5, 1944 in Des Moines.

When I returned to Camp Miramar, CA, I had orders to go to Cherry Point, NC with nine other sergeants. We went by train and took a week to get there. Then I was sent to Camp Lefeune(?) and to New river(?), a Marine air field near the base. I rented a house in Jacksonville two miles from the base and Mary came out. She drove a 1937 Ford that Arnie helped her buy and her sister, Helen Burgeson, rode out with her. We were there two months, then I had orders to return to Miramar to go overseas again. We drove the Ford and stopped three days in Iowa. Then my cousin, Velva Berglund rode with us to Long Beach. Mary and I stayed in San Diego and I reported to Miramar every day for roll call. On the third day I and two others had to report to headquarters and were told we were
removed from the overseas list. Something about we had not been back from overseas for six months. I was given the choice to go to El Toro air base or Corvallis, OR. I chose El Toro at Santa Anna as it was close to Long Beach and family.

About this time my great aunt Lottie Erickson, who lived in an apt one block from Aunt Bessie's, was going to her daughter's in New Mexico for a month. and asked us to live in her apartment while she was gone. We did and in a week or so another apartment in the same court became vacant and they rented it to us for $27/month. Mary worked in the credit department at Buffin's Department store in Long Beach. We lived here until the end of the war. We were near our family and it was a pleasant time in our lives, in spite of the war. 

We had sold our car shortly after coming to California so I hitch hiked the 32 miles from Long Beach to El Toro air base each day. I had no weekend duty and usually took my lunch. I walked the half mile early each morning in the dark to a main road and four way stop. I was picked up right away, usually by oil tanker trucks. 

I was on the flight line at El Toro for 3 months. Then they needed office help, as my secondary specialty was clerical, they picked me. I became the master roll clerk and kept track of the whereabouts of every man in headquarters squadron. I typed up a report each month.
I worked at this job until the war ended when Japan surrendered I had enough "points" so I was eligible to be discharged right away. 

Mary and I came home to Stratford in October 1945. I had been gone for 3 1/2 years. 

Thank you for being such a wonderful grandpa. We learned a lot about love and life from you - you will be missed always.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A "sweet" topic

I'm back. It's been a while! Winter got busy and life just felt kind of....icky. With the political climate and a number of different issues I feel strongly about, I just couldn't find a way to put my words on "paper" and feel comfortable with how it came across. I was just finding it harder than usual to put something into words.

But this topic, I just couldn't quite let go. We have seen numerous stories the past couple years of companies that have caved to "consumer demand" for things like meat that has never been treated with antibiotics, GMO free ingredients and a host of other buzz issues all while ignoring realities in food production and plain old science.

The latest to give in to the pressure is Hershey's. It was disappointing to read about, that's for sure. The company has said they will no longer use sugar that is derived from sugar beets - which most of the sugar beets produced in the US are from plants that have been genetically modified to make them resistant to glyphosate. A company spokesperson was quoted saying it will change nothing about their label. Sugar will still read just sugar on the ingredient list. So why the uproar? While some may feel some sort of moral victory over this, I assure you that there are no winners in this situation.

No matter what people demand or the decision Hershey's has made, the fact remains that sugar is sugar. Whether is comes from sugar cane or sugar beets, by the time it gets to sucrose form, the product from the two sources are indistinguishable from each other. Dr. Kevin Folta lays it out nicely in this article.  So while people are up in arms about the use of glyphosate on sugar beets, they seem to be forgetting the larger environmental impact of raising sugar cane. Which will also be more costly to produce. Some don't quite seem to understand how far technology and research have brought us in terms of crop protection. Glyphosate is monumentally safer for our environment and health versus the chemicals we had 50 years ago. And those chemicals were not as effective and had to be applied more often and in larger quantities many times. So while it is important to always be responsible about how we apply any sort of product to our fields, our options now are better than those we had years ago. If farmers are forced to give up the GM (genetically modified) sugar beets, this is the situation they will be facing. Putting themselves and our environment at greater risk.
Graphic taken from Genetic Literacy Project
I don't know if this was the intention these people had - when groups like GMO Inside decide they will bombard these companies demanding change that suits their agenda. I am, and will always be, a proponent for food choices. As I have stated before, there is room for a broad spectrum of production methods in our food system. But once a group decides to push their agenda to hurt and affect other producers, that is where the line should be drawn.

What really tipped me over the edge about this issue was when I read this from the Star Tribune and a post from a friend about this very topic. We live in Minnesota. We raise our family here. So something that impacts a $5 Billion (yes, billion with a B) industry for our state (the article does say for MN and ND combined) is something that should draw our attention. So while these activists are falling on their swords about sugar that comes from a GM sugar beet, they are potentially putting a big portion of our economic activity and countless farms, families and jobs at risk. I'm not remotely ok with this. And it should be alarming to anyone in our state - as Minnesota is the largest producer of sugar beets in the country. And anyone else who cares about agriculture.

My assumption that someone who worries about this topic is a pretty food secure person. They don't worry about where their next meal is coming from. So if we are going to take up arms with these companies over something that truly matters - that will truly make a difference for people - let's maybe tackle getting the food from these companies to the millions of adults and children that go to bed hungry at night cause they can't afford something to eat. People who don't know where their next meal will come from probably aren't going to raise a stink about where any sugar that may be in it came from. Or any other ingredient that may happen to come from a GM modified plant.

If we are going to force companies to make changes that could eventually affect the price of our food and our environment, the very least we can do it make sure that those changes are driven by sound scientific evidence. Hershey's is giving in to a vocal minority who use fear and misinformation. And it needs to stop now before this snowballs even further into our food supply.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

CommonGround - Connecting With Consumers

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I have the wonderful opportunity to volunteer for CommonGround. This is a joint initiative of the National Corn Growers Association(NCGA) and the United Soybean Board(USB) and we are funded by our own farmers by our checkoff dollars. We are a group of women involved in agriculture in many different capacities and are trying bridge the gap between consumers and farmers - those who eat the food and those who grow it and primarily focus on women to women conversations, as they are typically the food decision makers and purchasers of the household.

Last week was the CommonGround National Conference in Washington DC. I can't even tell you how much I was looking forward to going to this. A lot of the work in CommonGround is through social media. There is a fantastic Facebook page for the national group and our Minnesota group. (Just search CommonGround and Common Ground Minnesota to find both pages!) So to have the chance to meet some of these women was so exciting! Something new is always good, but there is something to be said for spending time with women whom you really connect with on a different level. Event though many have different farming practices, we all get how hard it is to farm. To live with constant risk, being the other half to a farmer or even raising kids with a farmer. It's unique and sometimes it's so refreshing to be with other ladies who get it in a way others sometimes can't. The whole event just did not disappoint.

Missy starting off the day
The day of sessions covered many areas including a recap of 2015 and where we are headed in 2016, and arming the group with some great tips and information to take with us as we go back to our homes to continue advocating. There were lots of laughs and inspirational moments and I think we all "refilled our bucket." I think many left with some fantastic new connections, a renewed fire for advocacy and some great tips, ideas and resources.

A quick sight seeing walk. 4 of the wonderful Minnesota CG ladies!

Had to make a trip to see some monuments at night. The snow actually made them more beautiful.
It was a phenomenal event. It was wonderful to meet so many of the women I see online doing such amazing things. We NEED agriculture to tell our story. Farmers are feeding the world and doing an amazing job of it. And consumers need - and want - to know that. There is no reason for anyone to fear our food. And farmers, and advocates for farming, need to get out there and tell about our successes. We are producing more with less inputs and resources and THAT is a great story to be told.

Our main message. Everyone has a right to ask the questions - just make sure your sources are credible and fact based!
Farmers have great stories to tell about how far we've come

The full Minnesota group of gals. These ladies have some great stories to tell!
I think everyone was really looking forward to the conference being held in Washington DC. Our meetings were at the Smithsonian Museum of American History...which was really cool. Unfortunately, mother nature had different plans for our time there and I felt bad there was so much hard work that went into planning the event and it got a little buggered up by some snow. Ok...a lot of snow. Luckily, most were able to flee DC before the storm hit. There were a few who got stranded, but hopefully they made the best of it!

Breakfast at the Smithsonian. Don't get that chance every day!

I can't say thank you enough to the NCGA, USB, Minnesota Corn and Minnesota Soy for supporting this program and allowing us time to network and come together as a group and recharge. And the national CommonGround staff (Missy, Rachel and Nicole-your guys rock!) did a great job handling all the last minute and hectic details and helping us all through the conference and getting out of DC safely before the storm hit!

There is no one better to speak up for farmers than farmers themselves. We need to continue to tell the stories and be heard, whether it be in social media or in person. Join your state corn and soy growers groups. Be involved and support your county corn and soy growers. Our state and national groups are doing their part to help us out....we need to follow through on the opportunities they are providing and take it to the next level. There are so many ways to help support farmers. If you support or involved agriculture, what are YOU doing to help?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

My Best Teachers

So there are those days...where we feel like we actually have a grip on this thing called life and we are maybe a half a step ahead of the game. Occasionally that happens anyway...or so I'm told. Ha! Then there's most days...never enough time, never enough things crossed off our list, never enough patience to go around. We tell ourselves over and over how little things don't matter, not sweat the small stuff. Little stuff can wait. But to practice that is another story. 

In the past 2 years, there have been so many times this event has happened and slapped me in the face....and just this week, I wondered "when am I going to learn?" When life feels rushed, hectic, who usually bears the brunt of that frustration? Around here it would be our kids probably. Instead of fixing it within ourself, it somehow seems easier to be short or snap at them. Obviously something I'm not proud of, but am going to say I'm not alone in this predicament. And I finally am left wondering, when am I going to take a lesson from my children while I still have time? While they are still young and innocent and more perfectly practice patience. 

This plays out in our house over and over again. And it makes me well with tears while sometimes feeling like a knife is twisting in my heart at the same time? Another time we are short with the kids...yell at them. And when the dust settles and I, of course, feel terrible. I try to remind myself to muster up the courage to go tell them I'm sorry, cause I am. And most likely why I yelled at them wasn't really about them anyway. And do you know what my kids say almost every time I say I'm sorry? Sometimes I get an "it's ok mommy", but more often than not I get "I forgive you mommy" accompanied by a hug. Bah....talk about gut wrenching and soul cleansing at the same time. (I'm not sure where they even get this. I honestly credit their preschool...they talked about forgiveness, I know. So thank you, Brittany.) 

When they first said it, I was so taken aback. You just don't hear it very often. Then over the past few months, I finally had to ask. "Do you know what it means to forgive someone?" Thinking maybe they were just echoing something they heard. Aubrey told me "it means you don't stay mad at someone for something they did to you or said to you. You don't hold it against them. And I know you love me no matter what, mommy." Bah again...how does a 4/5/6 year old recognize this and most adults can't muster up the words? 

How many of us go every week to a place where we yearn to have a pastor or a priest tell us that we are forgiven? We seek, we crave, we need that...so why is it something it seems we don't always give as freely to others? I don't know the last time I heard an adult say "I forgive you" in some form that wasn't standing in front of a congregation. Many of us base our lives on this....that we believe there is someone who has freely forgiven us for the things we do wrong whether we deserve it or not. So when someone has the courage to come tell you "I'm sorry"...do we have the same courage to not just say "thanks" or "it's ok", but to look them in the eye and say "I forgive you." (I'm talking big things here...important things. Not really like, "sorry I stepped on your toe accidentally" kind of stuff.) It's powerful stuff. It's a wonderful gift to offer someone else...as well as a gift to ourselves. So why don't I offer the same grace to my children more often? They can say it to me....I need to challenge myself to make sure they know I forgive them if need be. And maybe I should try to start using it with others in my life too. 

I find children to be so amazing and sometimes am afraid we don't stop and think about all the things they are capable of teaching us, even though we feel like we are supposed to always be teaching them. I feel this weird need/urgency to soak up all their innocence and joy and untainted love and energy while it's still there. At some point, it seems like too many adults become tainted...cynical. Life is tough sometimes, so I get how this can happen. I just want to to remember to cherish and enjoy these little people and their unconditional love...and forgiveness...while it comes so easily and freely.  However long that might be. 

3 of my best teachers

Friday, January 8, 2016

Farmers Don't Work In The Winter, Right??

What do farmers DO all winter?? I mean, in southwest Minnesota, we aren't exactly well suited to any kind of double cropping or anything...I don't think anyone is pulling any tractors out of the shed to head out to the field! (Disclaimer...this post is just about OUR farm. And it definitely does NOT include farmers who have livestock. Farms with livestock are 24/7/365. There is no reprieve for them! And they MAY be pulling tractors out of the shed for spreading manure or feeding animals.)

Out our front door this week. Not looking like a field work day!
So this time of year is all fun and games for the farmer and other in the same situation, right? Um, no. Granted, we relish this time of year to have dad back to play, eat supper together and for bed times at night. But that doesn't mean the guy isn't still doing work...and I argue some of the most important work of the year. Even though it's not field work/manual labor.

Most days you will find Bryan out in his "office" in the garage. There are hours upon hours going over maps. For example, soil sampling and our GPS technology allows us to capture huge amount of information about our fields. Technology is truly an awesome thing. Yield results from last year and many measure of our soil can be captured and mapped to use for the next planting year. We can measure things like N (nitrogen), K (potassium), and organic matter...just to name a few. It's extremely valuable information and allows us to do a better and more efficient job of applying fertilizers and making hybrid/variety choices for seed. 

The "office"

Example of one field map that shows organic matter in our soil

There is a plethora of decisions that are made over the winter. Hours and hours going over seed plot results and consulting with seed dealers on which corn and beans to order and where to place them. And which combination will give us the greatest potential for maximum yields while not breaking the bank either. Along with seed, there is a chemical program to research and price out. Lots of end of year book work and tax consulting to be done to figure out where we sit with income and expenses for the year. Bryan keeps tabs all year long on fuel, but revisits the situation during the winter also if he hasn't already filled the barrels. Thinking about any machinery changes or tweaks for next spring. Hauling grain if need be too.

Some of the variables that have to be considered and decided upon

This work is all so important as it gives us the chance to estimate a break even cost/acre for our crop. Another ongoing job with farming is the constant monitoring of the markets to take advantage of good opportunities to sell our corn and beans. And to know if we are making a good sale or not, you have to first know your cost of production. We are, after all, a business. And being profitable is part of being a successful business. These decisions have always been crucial, and we don't use much different criteria than we always have of the "get the biggest return on our investment with the least inputs possible." We have always operated by that, but these decisions and planning carry a little more weight and importance when corn is now $3/bushel versus the $5-7/bushel it has been in years past. Every decision has an impact on our bottom line.

And I must say all these decisions take a lot of time to comb through all the information, but we are lucky enough to not do this alone. Every farmer has a "team" whether they realize it or not...and having a good team can make ones job a lot easier and allows a farmer to do a better job! Our "team" consists of our crop consultants, financial consultants, tax consultants, seed dealers, chemical dealers, equipment salesmen, the guys at the coop, the guys at the elevator, people we deal with at the bank, our landlords, people who help in the field, the guys who deliver the fuel, the people who wash clothes, solely care for children when times are busy, and cook meals, and most importantly, other farmers! They are probably some our best resources! There are many others who help us run a successful business too. A farmer never does their job alone!

On top of all this, moving snow at two places (which is a lot of time if we have a real Minnesota winter!) and all the honey do items that have collected over the previous 7-8 months. He doesn't seem to lack for things to do. I enjoy winter as the time being able to restore that work/life balance for these few months. So much I greatly insisted on vacation this winter. We didn't get to do vacation as a family last summer due to starting the cover crop custom application business, and next summer doesn't look any more promising! So California here we come....even if it's short, it's time away as a family of 5 that we've never really had. We're all super excited and Aubrey is just positive she will see sharks and hump back whales in the ocean (which they have never seen before - so I'm looking forward to seeing their reactions to the ocean and beach!)

So while this time of year is definitely more relaxed - not the harvest/planting/spraying type of busy - never think for a minute that there isn't always something farm related going on or to be done!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

More family favorites for Christmas!

This fall I shared some my family's favorite recipes. And we all know that Christmastime brings out a whole array of family recipes and traditions! We have two in our family that we look forward to having only once a year - or only during this season! And I enjoy the treats as much as I can during the season!


The first is fudge. My dad has turned our family and friends into fudge snobs. And I won't hide that fact or apologize for it one bit! My dad is the only one who has truly mastered this task in our family. He learned from his mom - my grandma. It's the real cooked stuff - not the marshmallow fluff stuff. It takes time and is very precise and each batch is made with patience and love.

When dad makes it, he will actually make a triple batch, but the amounts I give are for a single batch. And you have to make it in a copper or aluminum pot or kettle...no stainless steel. Stainless will make the texture too sugary and not smooth and yummy like its supposed to be.

Start with:

  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. half and half
  • 1/3 c. light corn syrup
  • 2 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate bars
Then you will need:

  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 c. chopped nuts (if desired)
Cook the first 4 ingredients over a low heat until the temp gets to 236 degrees. It may take a few batches to get the correct temp on your thermometer. A degree to high or too low can affect the texture of the fudge too. 

Cooking to 236
Once you have cooked to the correct temp, remove the fudge from the heat and place the 2 Tbs of butter on top and let sit and cool. When slightly cooled, come back and add in 1 Tsp of vanilla. (If you add this when the mixture/pan is too hot, it will evaporate away.) Do NOT stir the fudge at any point during the cooling process. Just let it sit and cool to 110 degrees. (So you leave your candy thermometer in the pot the whole time.)

Once it cools back to 110, take a wooden spoon and start beating the fudge. If you want to add mix-ins, which my dad likes to add black walnuts, you can add these in as you are beating the fudge. (about 1/2 c. nuts for a single batch.) 

Starting to beat the fudge
Adding in the walnuts
The fudge has lost the shine and has started to turn dull
Keep beating until the fudge starts to turn dull and looses it's shine. At that point, turn in out into a buttered pan and let it set up for a little bit. 

Getting into a pan to spread out
After its come out of the pan and spread out
Then can cut into desired size pieces. It is rich and delicious, so you don't need very large pieces...dad always cuts them into about an inch square. Enjoy!! It does take some time to make fudge, but the result is so worth it! My dad made about 100 lbs of fudge last year around Christmas. He gives away as gifts to neighbors, friends and farm businesses he works with. And, of course, a batch or two go to this daughter and her family. :)

Always been my favorite part of the process - getting to scrape the pan!
Now my kiddos getting in on the act!


The second delicacy we enjoy during the holidays is ostakaka (some spell it ostkaka.) "Ost" means cheese in Swedish, and "kaka" means cake. So the name basically boils down to cheese cake. It may sound a little odd, but if you give it a chance...it is OH SO GOOD. This is definitely a heart attack in a bowl, but when you only eat it once a year, it is worth the calories and fat! My dad actually learned this recipe from my mom's mom - my other grandma! This is a traditional Scandinavian dish - and it is delicious. Here's what you need:

  • 1 gallon fresh milk - pasteurized, but NOT homogenized
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup of sifted flour
  • 1 tsp rennet
For custard

  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 c. half and half
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • strawberries (the frozen kind - in the syrup)
  • fresh whipped cream

The recipe starts with 1 gallon of fresh milk. It can be pasteurized, but can not be homogenized. My dad has a local place that will sell fresh milk for these kinds of purposes.

Pour the milk into a large pot and warm it to about 105 degrees. When it reaches that temp, take a little bit of the milk (maybe about 1-2 cups) and put in a bowl and mix with 1 beaten egg and 1 heaping cup of sifted flour. Mix all those together until smooth and then add back into the whole pot of warm milk.

Egg and flour mixed with some of the warmed milk
Egg and flour have been mixed back in and adding the rennet
Turn off the heat, and add 1 Tsp of rennet. (I almost hate to say what rennet is, but it is necessary for the recipe that you have it! Rennet is acid from a calf stomach. When you put it into warm milk, it will cause the milk to separate into curds and whey.) After adding the rennet, let the milk sit for about 10 minutes. While it is is sitting, use your time to butter your baking dishes. You can use any size dish you want, but it will fit into a casserole dish nicely(like a 9x13 size.) Sometimes my dad gives it away as gifts along with the fudge so he will make many smaller ones in the disposable foil pans. Whatever sizes you want to make! After you butter your dish(es), you should also make the custard to go over the curds. Mix together the 5 large eggs, 1 c. half and half, 1 c. sugar, 1/2 tsp salt and 1 tsp vanilla. Set aside.

The custard is mixed up
Once milk is set up, take a spoon and slice through the curds on the top to separate the curds and whey further. Let stand another 5-10 minutes until the curds settle. Pour the contents of the whole pot through a colander to strain off the whey. Keep draining thoroughly until the curds are about the texture of cottage cheese. Pour the curds into your buttered baking dish (or divide up into smaller dishes if you went that route.) Pour the custard over the curds and kind of mix together and break up curds with your fingers til they are a nice size and spread evenly across the dish.

Straining the whey from the curds
Curds in baking dish with custard poured on over them
Bake in a 300 degree oven for 1 to 1 hour 15 minutes or until the edges are a nice golden brown. Remove and let it cool. Serve with strawberries and fresh whipped cream - the real stuff.....no Cool Whip! :)

Final product - yum!!!!
A big bowl of deliciousness!!
**If you've never made fresh whipped cream, take a bowl and your mixer beaters and place in the freezer about 10 minutes before you make it. Take out of the freezer and depending on how much you want (I usually do about 1-1 1/2 cups), add fresh whipping cream to a bowl with approximately 1-2 Tbsp sugar and whip with your mixer until it forms soft peaks - don't whip too long or it will turn into butter!! You will never buy cool whip again once you have had real whipped cream!

My NEW favorite this year! Egg nog cookies - click on the link for the recipe! These are easy and delish!!

So what is your family's favorite traditional favorites??