I rolled over last night and you were gone. At one in the morning, your side of the bed was empty. Loving a farmer is not what I expected.
Eight years ago today my Daddy walked me down the aisle to you. I had dreams of what life on the farm was going to look like. But loving a farmer is not what I expected.
That first planting season was hard. The first harvest even harder. The next few years were grueling, as the acreage grew, the herd expanded, margins shrunk.
For a few years I thought I would change you. I naively thought I could change this century old, sunup to sundown schedule. But loving a farmer is not what I expected.
Slowly though, something was changing. It wasn't you. And it sure as hell wasn't the demands of this lifestyle.
It was me. I was getting stronger. I was getting tougher. I was no longer just watching your passion for this God given way of life, I was feeling my own fire for it.
Over time, you, and this farm, were making me into the woman I had always wanted to be.
I was once told love is like a fine wine. But loving a farmer is not.
Loving a farmer is much more comparable to bourbon. That first drink is harsh and bitter, it burns all the way down and hits you deep in the gut.
Yet, there's a hook.
And then slowly, if you stick with it, your taste starts to change. The harshness is replaced with a smoothness, a warmness, a high that only bourbon can deliver.
Like Garth and Trisha sing, loving anyone else after you would be, "Just not the same high, but going forever, from whiskey to wine."
I rolled over last night and you were gone. At one in the morning, you were in barn, tending to a new set of twins.
You were in the barn because you knew I couldn't stand the thought of loosing Diamond, the 8 year old ewe named after the rock that never leaves my finger, on our anniversary. You were in the barn, so I could be in bed.
Loving a farmer is not what I expected. It's so much more.
I was getting eggs out for breakfast and realized I still had a few store bought eggs left from when my hens were being freeloaders.
What's the differences between white store eggs and the ones I pick up in my backyard?
Shell color: White, brown, green, blue? It all depends on the breed of chicken! White egg layers are slightly more efficient than brown layers, hence the cheaper price at the grocery store! We picked brown layers because I like red animals - sheep, cows, chickens. And because I was 29 and had never eaten a brown egg before.
Here's a cool fact from Penn State - thanks to genetics- today's layers will average 300 eggs per year! In 1947, that number was only 150.
Yolk color: It's all determined by diet! Professional hens (I made that term up) eat a diet just like a professional athlete. The farmers work with nutritionist to get a diet that meets their exact needs in an efficient way.
The efficient part is important - that is a huge factor in keeping eggs an affordable source of protein! This is especially important for low income families.
Now my chickens - they eat chicken feed. And loads of other stuff. They eat whatever they find on the ground, our dinner scraps, "scraps" from the livestock. You name it, a chicken will eat it. Except potato peels. Someone told me those are poisonous to a chicken but I don't have a clue if that's true or not.
That mixed diet is awesome for our 19 hens plus it's fun for the boys to take all sorts of scraps to the chickens (if you ever have a chance, watch a chicken eat a grape!).
But a diet like that is not efficient or affordable for raising the 76.5 billion eggs the US eats each year. It can also cause problems for the chickens. My chickens are at a much greater risk for diet related issues like getting too much of something, not enough of something, or exposure to something hazardous to a chicken (like potato peels). Again, I have no idea if that is true.
Nutrition/ Safety: Equal! The diets of the chicken will vary the nutritional content slightly but not in a notable way.
So - should you raise your own chickens? You bet if you have the time and place to do it!
Should you buy eggs from someone raising backyard chickens? Absolutely! If you don't mind paying a little premium, love that richer yolk, and don't mind washing your own eggs.
Should you fear buying store bought eggs? NO WAY! Those eggs are safe, nutritious, raised by family farmers AND significantly cheaper than mine (like half the price).
Just eat some eggs!
(And follow the Facebook page because we are going to give away green eggs soon...)
Last week after a speech, a young college student approached me. Eager to connect, she started with, "Do you ever get completely frustrated with these liberals?"
Her question was intriguing to me. Not because it was unique, the exact opposite. Because it was so common.
Almost without fail, when I get the chance to talk to producers about the desperate need to tell the story of agriculture, someone asks a similar, politically loaded question.
But it's a fair question, isn't it? In this politically correct era, surely a blogger can still call a spade a spade?
Because isn't the reality that our enemies are easily identifiable? Isn't agriculture really just at war with liberals?
I'll leave that single word there, by itself, plain and simple. The answer is no.
I speak with non-Ag people, consumers, every single day. In person, on social media, on the phone.
The people who are misinformed enough to be engaged in some type of desperate battle against modern farming come from all walks of life. They are all religions, all races, all income and education levels.
They identify as liberals, conservatives, and everything else on the political spectrum.
Agriculture is being attacked by misinformation. Agriculture is being attacked by ignorance. Agriculture is being attacked by science illiteracy. Agriculture is being attacked by deceitful marketing. And those things do not discriminate based on party lines.
The real enemy to agriculture is misinformation, not our consumers, who are often acting based on the only story they've been told.
I understand in this time, we want to group everything into an "us versus them" mentality, playing right into this partisan environment. An environment that nurtures politicians and while being toxic for the rest of us.
But when we do that, when we divide people into "us and them" categories, we make two deadly mistakes.
First, we assume that those in the "us" category understand and support modern agriculture.
Recent voter initiatives in my own state of Missouri showed us just what a deadly mistake that can be. We concentrated grass roots efforts on urban areas, thinking "those" people do not understand us.
The reality was made clear as our "Right to Farm " was just barely protected, even in the rural counties.
As it turns out, there are just as many people in our own backyard- our neighbors and family members- that have uniformed opinions of modern farming.
Second, we assume that those in the "them" category are beyond our reach. We dismiss their questions as ignorant, their concerns as absurd. We then attach a label to them and dismiss them as individuals.
We can continue to make these deadly mistakes, continue to comfort ourselves with this notion that the problem is all because of "them".
Or we can start having a conversation and answering the questions so many people have. Legitimate questions, asked by legitimate people. People who are more than a political party. We can talk, but more importantly we can listen. We can connect.
And maybe that goes for more than just agriculture.
2/11/2017 0 Comments
I just wrapped up a week of being on the road, talking with young farmers throughout the Midwest. I had committed to speaking at three different events this week, all of which catered to young farmers.
During my presentations , I shared with them the questions that consumers share with me, and tips for how they can tell their own farm story.
Without fail, this presentation evokes passion and sparks conversation among farmers, but even more noticeably among young farmers.
This week there were some very clear themes that emerged - realities of farming that our young farmers are dying for you to know.
1. Our family farm is getting bigger - so that I can come home.
We discuss the fact that many Americans are less trusting of what they see as "big" farms and this always gets the same response, "We have to grow! How am I suppose to come back and also raise a family here if we don't find a way to generate more income?"
The often misunderstood reality is that while we are getting much more efficient and can handle more animals and more acres, growth on the farm also happens to allow one, or more, of the children to farm along side mom and dad.
2. I care about all the things you care about!
When I list the top concerns of our consumers - animal welfare, reducing chemical use, sustainability, food safety and nutrition, protecting the family farm- I am often met with baffled stares.
And then the response is always the same, "Of course they care about those things, so do I! How can they think I don't? Why would I be doing this if I didn't care about all of that?"
The problem isn't that we don't care. It's that we forget to explain WHY we farm they way we do, and we leave out how modern farming actually addresses all of those concerns better than any time in our farming history.
3. I love what I do, but this my job.
I share comments left online, where people claim they cannot trust us because we "only farm for money" or are "driven by profit".
The farmers always meet these comments with confusion, followed by anger. "Who out there goes to work every week without getting a paycheck? I love what I do, but we have bills to pay as well, and no one is getting rich out here."
The anger comes because most of the men and women sitting in the room during these conversations either have been before, or currently are, struggling to make ends meet on reduced margins and increased operating costs.
"The public wants to talk about the few years we had good profits. But they want to forget all the years we barely broke even, or the years we actually lost money."
The farmers also want to point out that they, or a spouse, and often both, have to work off farm jobs in order to be able to farm.
"It's not like it used to be. With land and machinery costs I can't afford to farm without having a full time job in town also."
4. It doesn't work like in a textbook.
The conversation always gets passionate when they start talking about all the non-farmers who have told them how they think they should be doing it, because they've read something online. One young man summed it up well this week.
"I was like that too- just like these people who have done 'google research' about farming. I came home from college ready to show Dad and Granddad how to do it. It took exactly one growing season for me to realize that real life farming doesn't work like the textbooks and college professors say it will. Turns out you've got to trust the guys who have been at it for 40+ years."
Many of them share a similar frustration of someone farming on a very small scale, or even someone with a garden, trying to offer up critism for what they do. "A lot of this trendy stuff works fine small scale. But it's not realistic for the typical size farm nor can it meet the demands on agriculture."
They are also quick to communicate how much their educations are contributing to the farm. As an industry, we are returning more young people to the farm with college degrees than ever before.
They are getting better everyday, but you can't just throw out what early generations have learned the hard way because of a college degree.
5. We want to tell you our story.
This generation of farmers is more eager than ever to share their story with you. They are popping up all over social media and stepping up within their communities.
A young woman said it so well, "I know people have all these questions. I just wish they would ask us, the actual farmers. We don't just want to tell them, we want to show them!"
Occasionally, the gap between consumer and farmer seems too large to bridge and I get overwhelmed.
But after a week like this one, of having conversations with dozens of young men and women who are passionate about being the best farmers our country has ever seen, I have no doubt that our industry is moving in the right direction - both in terms of continued improvement in food, fuel and fiber production AND in terms of communicating with an increasingly further removed public.
I have been testing 30 out for about five days and if my initial impression in accurate, I think this decade on the farm is going to trump (no pun) the last one. Don’t get me wrong – a lot of good happened in the last ten years. I graduated college; got a big kid job, got married, and our two boys were born. But it’s fairly evident the next decade is going to be much smoother sailing.
Kate Lambert grew up in northern Illinois, not on a farm but active in FFA and showing livestock.
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