“Maybe when I’m done with college I can come back and run the pumpkin patch for you Mom. Because you’ll be old, right?”
Our oldest asked, while helping to harvest pumpkins this weekend. And although I will definitely not be “old” when he is done with college, it melts my heart that he talks about wanting to come home to the farm.
Bringing children back to the farm isn’t an easy, or automatic thing. Generating enough income to support another family is a huge hurdle, one that almost any small business owner can understand.
So although it’s by no means a guarantee, right now we take as many steps as possible to move in the right direction of securing an opportunity for both our boys here, should they elect to pursue it.
That looks like this:
1 - Diversification: From cash crops of corn and soybeans to cattle and sheep and now the pumpkin patch and corn maze, the more diverse we can make the income streams here the better we can weather the ups and downs of agriculture. We also want the boys to see that farming can take on hundreds of different forms so hopefully they’ll continue like their Daddy to think outside the box on this business.
2 - Conservation: Every decision we make around here is ultimately about being good stewards of the resources God is allowing us to manage. We have to protect our land and water and everything surrounding it to protect the boys’ future opportunities on this farm. Our goal is that this farm is in better shape when they take over than when we started here.
3 - Hard Work: If they want to come back home and be happy, they have to learn now that pleasure and contentment can be found in long days and hard work because although farming changes daily, one thing that will never change is the hours and sweat it takes. If they can learn to find joy in dirty hands and a sore body, they’ll be better set mentally to succeed here.
We don’t know what the future holds. But if the boys want to come home, we’ll do like any farm family we know and work everyday to try and make it a possibility.
We are laying out the red carpet for our guests...
Well actually it’s green. Or it will be, once it comes up.
It’s our goal when people visit our farm that they not only have fun, but that they also learn just a bit about modern agriculture. When visitors make their way through our corn maze, they’ll be walking along a path seeded with a combination of cover crops.
Although we hand seeded the maze paths, the rest of our fields are seeded by an airplane flying over top, a tractor and drill, or a broadcast application.
Cover crops are grown on our fields in between the cash crops (corn and soybeans for us) to keep our soils and the millions of organisms that live in them healthy. Cover crops also hold our soil in place, minimizing harmful impact from erosion and protecting water quality.
But for our corn maze visitors? The immediate benefit is that even on wet days they won’t have to walk in mud!
Come see us for some outdoor, socially distanced fun (and learning) in October!
Here’s a view you rarely get from a drive-by of a soybean field! Our beans are flowering right now and are beautiful up close but the flowers are harder to see from farther away. The varieties of soybeans we plant have purple or white flowers, others can have pink flowers.
Estimates are that somewhere between 60-70% of the flowers will abort, with the remaining turning into the pods we will harvest in the fall to be made into soybean meal (mostly for animals) and oils (cooking and biofuels).
The rumors are true.
I thought we had gotten over this conversation the last go round, but I’ve got two boys so I understand the stay ability of a good fart story.
Cows burp too, which actually releases way more methane than their farting but isn’t nearly as fun to talk about (apparently).
You know what else is true?
Cow farts do smell. Bad.
Farmers have already worked their tails off to shrink our total footprint - production agriculture makes up less only 10% of total GHG emissions and we are on track to reducing that even more.
You know what might be true?
Feeding lemon grass to cows MIGHT reduce their release of methane. Contrary to Burger King’s cringe worthy new song, we don’t actually know because as the lead researchers at UC Davis explained - The study isn’t done yet!
You know what definitely isn’t true? Cows being the problem and whoppers being the solution (burgers or lies).
Cows are not the problem. Our total ag industry makes up only 10% of emissions and only a fraction of that is from cows themselves.
Buying a whopper will NOT make a difference in our drive as a nation to become more sustainable or reduce our impact. All of us want to do something to make a difference and Burger King is trying to manipulate our desire to do good into more sales for them. Don’t fall for that type of advertising.
Farmers and ranchers are committed to raising food better. That means raising more food, more safely, with more quality - on less. Less impact, less resources, less emission. We’ve been moving the needle on this for decades and we will continue to get better each day.
If the science ends up showing that lemongrass reduces cow farts in a meaningful way you can bet we will be on board - we are, after all, the ones that wall behind them everyday at the feed bunks!
In the meantime, why don’t we let Burger King stick with grilling whoppers instead of telling them and let farmers and ranchers focus on raising beef.
The lightning must have woke me up. It was pitch black, early, early morning. I turned an ear to the window and heard the steady fall of a good rain. I checked the radar on my phone to confirm it - a solid zone of green and yellow, and fell back to a peaceful sleep.
Before I married a farmer I didn’t pay much attention to rain, other than when it interrupted my plans.
Over a decade into this union, my ear is fairly well trained at identifying rains. There’s storms that blow in loud and obnoxious but don’t actually deliver much in the way of water. There’s rains that come drizzling in that barely get the ground wet. There’s rain that comes so hard and fast most of it will rush off into the ditches without ever seeing the roots of our crops.
Then there’s good rains. They are long and steady and completely ground penetrating. You can almost always hear the difference in just a second of listening.
For us, this rain was critical. This was the difference in getting to play or being put on the bench.
There’s few things that bring an engulfing peace like a good rain when it’s badly needed.
Last week I went to the dentist and was surprised with an unexpected root canal. Nice, right?
The dentist explained the entire process and said that root canals have come along way with modern technology and were safe, and fairly pain free.
I shocked him and said, “Doc, I appreciate the offer but would you mind doing the procedure the same way it was done in the 50’s?”
OK, I didn’t actually say that. (Everyone knows you can’t actually talk to the dentist because they only talk to you with their tools in your mouth.)
I just nodded and embraced the modern advancements that made the process nearly pain free.
As crazy as that request sounds- for a patient to request a dentist revert back to practices from decades ago - it’s the same request that is thrown at farm families all the time.
“Grow food the way we used to.”
“Farm the way Grandpa did.”
“Technology doesn’t belong in my food.”
I understand there’s much more nostalgia associated with our food than a root canal. It’s more personal and frankly, there’s more at risk if we get it wrong.
But can I share something with you?
We aren’t getting it wrong.
I’m not claiming the system - especially the system beyond the farm level - is perfect. But overwhelmingly, modern farming is moving in the right direction.
The list of technology and advancements available to farm families like us is long: modern plant and animal genetics, modern chemistry, precision farming, data collection and analysis, improved machinery, more advanced weather prediction. And on and on.
All of this technology allows us to meet growing demands of a modern world with less: Less impact on our environment, less released carbon, less land, less water.
In other words - we are raising a safer, more transparent and more traceable product than ever before all while moving in the direction of actively protecting our environment and resources.
I want you to keep holding farmers and our industry accountable for doing it right. But I also want you to pause and think about the importance of technology in hitting those goals.
A person would be crazy to request a root canal with 50 year old procedures.
Likewise, it would be crazy to ask us to farm that way too.
(Corn pictured is a GMO hybrid with traits for insect protection and herbicide resistance, key traits for minimizing our environmental impact on our farms. It was planted and will be sprayed and harvested with machinery equipped with computers and GPS to manage outputs down to the square inch. If you ever want to understand how that technology makes us better stewards of the environment just holler.)
Cancelled. All of them. Some of them. The most important one. The smallest one. The biggest one.
I don’t run any livestock shows anymore. And in the last weeks I’ve never been more grateful for that reality.
I get the stock show life - I literally met my husband in the show ring. We get the disappointment and the work and the emotion that come with all that is happening.
I respect your hurt.
But please be kind. Be careful of how you frame this for your children.
A show being cancelled is not the end of the world, the end of the summer, or even the end of the week. Don’t make it that way for your children.
Do not let your initial emotion frame this as a traumatic event or as something that was “stolen” from your children. It doesn’t have to be that way, if you don’t make it that way.
They are looking at you - at me and other adults - for how to respond.
Right now - there is no “right”’ decision. There is no easy, black and white, clear as mud decision. It’s complicated. It varies HUGELY depending on location. And personal experiences.
It’s easy to call the people making decisions fools or cowards. It’s easier yet when it’s people in government.
It’s much harder to set our emotions aside, consider the complexity of the situation, acknowledge that as individuals we likely do not have all of the facts, and respect the people making the hard decisions. They don’t like them either.
We don’t have to agree with the decisions, but we can still be respectful.
In the stock show industry we constantly claim this isn’t about winning banners. It’s about teaching our children life lessons of hard work, determination, respect, resiliency.
I know this stinks. But let’s step up to that challenge now and teach our children all of those things we claim we are after.
Livestock piling up. Meat counters emptying...
Have you ever had your washer breakdown? It’s a real pain, and can cause a real issue around the house.
Finding someone to fix it is tough - skilled labor is hard to come by.
While you’re waiting, the laundry doesn’t stop coming. Everyone in the house keeps sending more your way. But without the washer - you’re stuck. There’s literally no where for the clothes to go.
Meanwhile, with huge piles of clothes stacking up on one side, clean clothes are becoming pretty scarce. Everyone in the house is wearing their jeans multiple times and getting nervous as they watch their underwear drawer slowly empty out...
This is what’s happening in our meat industry right now. Instead of washers and laundry it’s packing plants and livestock.
Many packing plants have been forced to shut down or run at lowered capacity because of Covid outbreaks and sick employees. Enough that it has created a massive backup on one side.
But just because the washer is broke doesn’t mean the animals stop coming.
Producers are doing all sorts of things to try and slow down animals getting ready and hold animals over longer. But the entire system - a system built to bring the fresh meat the consumer expects - was made to keep moving. And right now there is a massive roadblock.
We could talk for days about IF the process should work this way. And we should definitely have that conversation soon.
But right now, THIS IS the system we have, and the system we have to work with to get through.
Animals are lining up on one side while processed meat is becoming scarce on the other. You can understand how this leads to a devaluing of live animals for farmers at the same time consumers see increased prices at the store for meat.
President Trump has ordered the plants open, but there are still major hurdles to work through to make that happen.
In the meantime, you might see and hear some scary things. You might see temporary shortages in the store. You might hear about animals being euthanized. You might even see proof of this on social media. (I’m sorry if you have to see that. It’s not easy for farmers either.)
Here’s what I have faith in:
1. Our livestock farmers are doing everything in their power to handle this situation as best they can. They are the very best at animal welfare and husbandry, and those values will guide them. There is no rule book for this.
2. The processors and the government have recognized the problem and are moving to get it corrected. Whether you agree with the current system or not, it’s the system we have right now and we need to work with it for the time being.
3. Food - safe, quality food - will get to the store.
In the meantime, panic and hoarding will not help.
Find a farmer to buy from. This isn’t possible for a vast majority of urban and suburban families, but if you can, take advantage of that now. This isn’t about fearing grocery story food (we are actually the farmers that raise some of that). It’s about alternative supply routes.
Pray. For our farmers who are hurting and struggling. Farmers raise animals to feed people - not to be discarded like waste. The emotional toll of this is real.
Pray for the people who have to work to keep the packing plants open. For the truck drivers, the grocery store employees. For our leaders, our government employees, and anyone making decisions. It takes thousands of people to keep our food supply accessible, safe and affordable. Pray for all those people working in uncharted territory to make that happen.
Finally, take a few minutes to respect the complexity of the situation and refrain from offering judgement that is unfounded.
Ready or not?
Ready! This field is actually ready to plant, once the time is right of course. It will be planted to soybeans this year.
If you think of tilled up soil, free of any debris when you picture farm fields waiting to be planted, you aren’t picturing our fields.
Our fields are strategically left just like this - crop residue on top, growing cover crop (that’s triticale you see growing) and never tilled.
This is one part of our conservation strategy that helps us, among many other things, reduce erosion (soil loss due to wind or rain).
Some farms could see over 500 pounds of soil loss per acre from a single rain event.*
500 pounds per acre. From one rain.
Practices like no-till and cover crops can shrink soil loss to closer to 50 pounds per acre on a similar rain event.*
Minimizing erosion doesn’t just help with the obvious (keeping dirt where we need it) but it helps with the less obvious like reducing runoff of our nutrients and improving water quality in the areas surrounding our farms.
This is modern crop farming. This is sustainability in action.
*Data sourced from Edge of Field Water Quality Monitoring Program, administered by Missouri Corn and Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council, in partnership with Missouri Department of Natural Resources and USDA-NRCS.
Can I just say something? Something about “all this time.”
For some of us, a lot of us, there is no “all this time”.
My news feed. My email inbox. My well meaning relatives and friends keep reminding me of what I should be doing with “all this time”.
Finding things to be grateful for.
Making time more simplistic.
Learning a new language.
Learning a new skill.
Taking an online class.
Cleaning the house.
Teaching kids life skills and baking and arts and crafts and pottery.
This pandemic has changed nearly everything. But it has not, I repeat, HAS NOT, added minutes to the day or days to the weeks.
So many normal things still have to be done.
Working. Cooking. Cleaning.
So many new things have to be done.
Teaching. Entertaining. Counseling. Extra trips to the store because you can’t ever get what you need in a single trip.
Washing hands, washing door handles. Wiping down phones. Wiping down keyboards. Wiping down wipes.
Worrying. Telling others not to worry. Worrying about your kids seeing you worry.
Conference calls. So many conference calls.
For some of us, there is no “all this time”. So as much as I hear you telling me I should be grateful, and thankful and making memories and speaking French, I just can’t.
Not right now. (Not ever on the French thing.)
If you’re out there, just trying to keep your head above water and feeling guilty because at the end of the day it feels like no progress was made but your body is dog tired, I’m with you.
I get you. I am you.
And hear me - we will get through this. We may not come out the other side with cleaner houses, smarter kids or new skills, but we will get through this.
I am not minimizing the REAL battles many are fighting with losing income, being sick, having family members sick, or being on the front lines of fighting this thing. I always pray that by sharing my own struggles it helps other in the same situation feel less alone and that it never minimizes someone else’s, often much more challenging, situation.
(P.S. My kindergartener took the picture so that is some sort of life skill he can use at some point... )
Kate Lambert grew up in northern Illinois, not on a farm but active in FFA and showing livestock.
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