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. 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 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 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" 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 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!