Thursday, June 18, 2015

Ag Hall of Fame, Vacation Worthy

Last week I had a meeting at the Agriculture Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs. There are many places that fascinate me and this is one of them. I am not sure how many times I have been to the Hall of Fame, several over the past twenty years or so and I never fail to see something new and this time was no exception. The Hall of Fame has a new director, new direction and new life and it is something everyone should go see.
Of course my favorite part is all of the old farm equipment on display. I jokingly told those around me that it was like going into our machine shed and there may have been some truth to that. Like any farmer the old implements, tractors and combines of the past catch my attention and I try to think about what it must have been like to use them. My conclusion is that farming now is pretty cushy compared to back then.
I started my tractor driving career on an open tractor, but I was raking hay and that hardly compares with plowing, disking or planting. I just barely remember Dad combining with an old Massey combine with no cab. I don’t really remember the combine, just Mom’s strict orders for us to stay out of Dad’s way when he got home and to give him a clear path to the shower. I also remember not recognizing the dusty, greasy guy who hastily made his way to the shower.
I could and have spent a great deal of time studying the old equipment and reading the signs in front of their display. Yes, I am that person in a museum. I read everything and if you want to get through one in a hurry, I am not the person you want to go with.  Rushing through the Hall of Fame with me is not an option. If you have any background in agriculture and any knowledge of equipment this section will hold you for quite a while.
The Hall’s newest exhibit and one of the biggest feathers in their cap is a sculpture donated by Bayer. It was made for the Farm Progress Show and is constructed entirely of recycled materials. I must say that the pop bottle corn is really eye catching. I am not usually one for art but this display alone is worth going to see. More importantly it also marks a partnership with Bayer that will lead to even greater things.
The Hall of Fame also has a number of old structures like an old railroad depot, blacksmith shop and school that are neat to walk through and get a feel of what it must have been like a hundred years ago. The building I found most interesting was the old farm house and outbuildings. It is set up just like a turn of the century farm and offers an experience of farm life from that era to school kids.
Speaking of kids, that is what I think is the most exciting and holds the most promise for the Ag Hall of Fame. They have been working on various projects involving children from nearby schools. They have also forged a partnership with Kansas State Research and Extension Master Gardeners to start a gardening project. This is exciting because it involves urban youth who get a glimpse and taste of agriculture and what it is like to grow food. That is where the Hall of Fame can have its biggest impact.
This project also has a display garden complete with more signs to side track those of us who are into such things. They have also added a bee keeping exhibit that is really buzzing (sorry, I just couldn’t help myself). If you want to see something really odd and cool ask the staff to show you the plow in a tree. Yes, a plow in a tree. It is my understanding that the plow somehow had grown into the tree and was suspended twelve feed off of the ground before the tree died. It is worth the extra effort to see.
I know we are all looking for quick easy trips this summer and the Hall of Fame is just that. It is also relatively cheap, well unless you include it with a trip to the Legends Mall just a couple of miles to the East and then it might be a rather expensive trip. In any case, the Agriculture Hall of Fame is one of the best kept secrets in our neck of the woods and I highly recommend exiting I-70 to take a look.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Rain, I Am Not Going to Complain

Monsoon season is upon us. Yes, it is wet. The first topic of conversation with anyone is about how much it has rained in the past couple of weeks. Honestly, I am not sure. Each day seems like the movie Groundhog Day because every morning I walk outside and dump between a half inch and an inch of rain out of the gauge. I have forgotten the total, and it probably wouldn’t matter because I can’t count that high anyway.
The next topic, especially from my non-farming friends is if I am tired of the rain yet. My immediate answer is a resounding no. I am a long way from complaining about the rain. Sure all of my soybean seed is safely tucked away in the shed and the brome grass is getting more mature by the day. Things are going to be really busy when it does dry out, but I am not going to complain.
 I am tire of the mud. Just this morning I walked out into the pasture to retrieve the kids 4-H steers. That is a story in and of itself, but we will leave that for another time. Each step brought the squish of fully saturated soil and suction against my rubber boot. Oh by the way, I also discovered a hole in my left boot, there is nothing worse than wet socks. However, I refuse to complain about the recent rains.
I have moved the animals in the lots several times and built temporary fences just to give them dry places to lie down. Still the lots are nearly deeper than my knee boots, yes, the same knee boots with a leaky left sole. I believe the animals are even more tired of the mud than I am. Still you will hear no complaints about the rain from me.
Each morning I clean wet feed out of the lamb feeders. There is nothing that burns me more than wasting feed and cleaning wet feed out of feeders has to be one of the worst jobs on the place. Each night I lay in bed and my knees ache from walking through the mud (it has to be from the mud, it can’t be because I put too much strain on them). Even then, I will not complain about the mud or the rain that made it.
OK, so you get my point, I will not complain about rain. Sure I might whine about it, but I will not complain. My theory is if we complain too much, it will cause it not to rain again for a very long time and we will all complain about how dry it is. I will not be responsible for scaring the rain off. It is easier to try to figure out what to do with too much rain than not enough.
I also have problems complaining about the rain when many of my Western Kansas friends have so desperately needed rain for the last several years. It is good to see them getting some of this precipitation and I will not do anything to jinx them. Maybe they can grow the crops they so desperately need.
After all there are few things better than going to sleep with raindrops falling on the roof and the smell of rain coming through the window on a light breeze. Right now I am enjoying the croaking of the frogs and the babbling of the creek right outside my window. The pastures and trees have never been greener. It is all very relaxing.
We need all the relaxation we can get because we know just how busy it will be when it does finally dry out. Any of us who have lived in Kansas for any amount of time know that the next drought is just a few days away and that will lead to a flurry of pent up work that needs to be done. Then we will all be wishing for a rainy day to rest up.
Most of all I am reminded at times like this of something Dad is always telling me. There is no reason to worry about the weather because there is nothing you can do about it. That won’t keep me from grumbling when water seeps through that left boot or whining when my knees hurt at night. But it will make me appreciate the rain and not complain about it. Well that is for now anyway.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

My Graduation Advice

This past weekend was graduation weekend and we attended a couple of our local school’s ceremonies. Commencement always makes me nostalgic and this year was even more so. Maybe it is the fact that I am coming to grips with the idea of being middle aged or it is more likely due to the imminent possibility that I will have a graduating senior next year. In any case, I found myself lost in thoughts about life and what I have learned in the last twenty some years.
One of the things that go along with being an Extension Agent and working with the 4-H program for many years was attending all those graduations. While I was often sad about losing my best leaders I was also excited to see what my 4-Hers would go on to accomplish. I started thinking about what I wish someone would have told me at graduation. I admit that I would love to have the opportunity to speak at a graduation and I would love to impart advice to graduates. 
The first thing I would tell any graduate (or anyone for that matter) is to set your sights high and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. OK so maybe professional sports are out of the reach for most of us at an early age, but pretty much anything else is still in play. Too often I think we listen to others around us who don’t really know us and let them guide our lives. Goals should be high, not easily attainable and no one should ever dictate them to you.
Pick a profession because it is your passion and never because of the salary. We can all think of people we know who truly love their jobs. They live, breath and eat what they do and we all love to be around them. If you are passionate about what you do the benefits of that passion will come to you. It may or may not be money but it will bring happiness and that is more important than money.
Nothing is ever as bad as it might seem. My greatest lessons have come from my lowest points. Learn from what happened, resolve to correct any mistakes, dust yourself off and move on. I am absolutely convinced that my greatest achievements have come as a direct result from my worst failures. No matter how dark things may look it will get better, which is the beauty of life.
Enjoy each phase of your life and never spend your life looking ahead or behind. Many people tell you that high school is the best time of your life. I have to admit it was pretty good but college was good, being a single adult in the working world was good, having a young family was pretty awesome. Each part of your life is good, enjoy the here and now and don’t wish your life away.
Never miss a chance to spend time with the people who are important to you. Nothing is guaranteed and the relationships we have with friends and family are the most important things we can have. I would rather be a poor man with many friends and a close family than a rich man all alone. Your goals and ambitions are important but don’t let them overshadow your relationships.
Never pass up a chance to stop, take a moment and relax. Enjoy the little things in life. Work hard, be driven but every once in a while allow yourself to slow down. Life goes by at such a rush that we all need time to take a moment when we have a chance and sit in silence and listen to the world around us. Personally, I don’t think there is anything better than a cup of coffee before the rest of the world starts moving each morning.
Finally, the best advice I ever got was to have fun. Dana Belshe was my mentor agent when I started in Extension and he gave me this advice about being an agent and I think it applies to life pretty well.  The people around you will have as much fun as you let yourself have. It worked at the most stressful times when I was an agent, camp and fair, and it works in life too. Often those around us mirror our attitude.
OK, so I know you didn’t ask for my dream commencement address but you got it anyway. I just think it is good for all of us, no matter what phase of life we are in, to take a moment and think about life. In a way we are all graduating from something each year.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Victories Aren't Always Won

Being a parent isn’t easy and being a parent of a teenager is something akin to being a climber on Mount Everest. It’s difficult, dangerous and often you need more oxygen but once in a while you just have to sit back and enjoy the view and wonder how you got there. Most often your teens frustrate you but just when you think there is no hope they blindside you with something really good.
Last year Ike set his sights on becoming a District FFA officer. The district banquet was marked on our calendar and the goal of becoming an officer started to take shape. Often it was the topic of conversation at the dinner table or long car rides (the only time teens seem to be able to have conversations with their parents.). It was something he very much wanted and a goal I saw him focus on like nothing I have ever seen him do before.
He spent many hours painstakingly filling out the application and had me look it over. After it was submitted he began to work on his speech with the help of his advisor and student teacher. Soon the elections became the focus of most of his time and energy. Many hours were spent going over his speech and practicing it. By the day of the elections I think I could have given his speech without notecards. When the day finally came he was as ready and, more importantly, as organized for it anything I have ever seen him do. He had really thrown himself into the elections, we were all very excited.
The day came and he, his advisor and a fellow chapter officer also running for district officer left after lunch for the interviews and eventually the banquet and the elections. Jennifer and I left later that afternoon to attend the banquet, on the drive to Sabetha his speech kept running through my mind. I even thought if he lost his place I could shout out the next word, although I was sure that would be frowned upon.
One of the hardest things I have ever had to do as a parent was wait. It is hard to wait for your child to show their animal at the fair, it is hard to wait for their next at bat at a ballgame and it is hard to wait for results of a contest. Finally I couldn’t take the waiting anymore and I sent a text to his advisor. The responding text was not what I wanted to see. He had not made the slate and would not get to give his highly polished speech, needless to say Jennifer and I were very disappointed for him and we wondered how he was doing.
Cautiously I sent a text to his advisor asking how he was doing. The answer came back that he was taking it very well, disappointed but taking it well. Soon, Jennifer got a text from Ike saying he had not made the slate. She sent a message back and asked how he was doing. His reply was that he was OK and disappointed but there was no point in being down about it. Life would go on.
I have often said you can tell more about the character of a person when things don’t go well and when they are disappointed. Ike met us at the door, he was cheerful and once again said while he was disappointed he would be fine and he would focus on his next goal, a state degree. I must say I was awfully proud of him as I watched him interact with his friends from his chapter and from other schools. He was cheerful, encouraging and upbeat; Jennifer and I knew the amount of work and effort he had put into this endeavor and he had every right to be upset, pouty and sulk.
That was one of those moments as a parent when you think, maybe, just maybe we got something right. Just like the mountain climber on Everest it was time to sit on the cliff, let our legs dangle over the side and enjoy the view. After all the much dreaded and highly anticipated senior year is right ahead of us and the climb looks to be straight up. But for right now the view is awesome. Now where is that oxygen.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Success of a Failure!

I should have probably aborted the trip before it ever started. Traveling the end of April when I should have been getting cows out to grass probably set me up for failure. However, my wonderful, talented wife and wise, hard-working father (I am still trying to make amends) were there to carry on without me (and probably more capably). My flight departed at 4:45 from Kansas City, we had time to work the cows and calves at my house through that morning, or so we thought.
All I needed to do was to leave the house at noon; if we started right away it would be a piece of cake. Well, it was a piece of something all right, but it wasn’t cake. Actually things weren’t going too bad. The cows didn’t want to come in too bad but we eventually got them. My new idea on how to run them through the chute didn’t work too hot either, however, we fell into a rhythm and things were moving along.
Things were moving along right up until the cow pushed her way through the head catch and lodged her hips in the gate. After about 45 minutes of mechanic work we finally unbolted most of the head catch and freed the cow. This was all just in time to watch the cows in the cull pen go over the gate and mingle with the rest of the herd. Needless to say it was after noon when I got into the house and took a much needed shower (there was no way I would have been allowed on the plane without one).
I am not a fast driver, but that day I was. I stood for fifteen minutes waiting on a shuttle bus from the parking lot (on the return trip, three buses would be lined up at my stop); it was going to be a miracle if I made my flight. I am happy to report that due to some very helpful people on my shuttle I walked onto my 4:45 flight at about 4:44 still putting my belt through the belt loops. I had made it.
My trip was to Louisville (Kentucky not Kansas) and I was quickly reminded that it was Derby week right away. My Uber driver (for those of you who don’t know, Uber is like a cab, only better) told me all about how Oaks Day was like a holiday and that no school or business would be open tomorrow. I asked about getting a cab or Uber the next day. He assured me it would be no problem. The next morning I waited 45 minutes for a cab driver to pick me up, paid an outrageous fee, only to have him drop me off in the wrong place. That is when I contacted the next Uber driver.
He picked me up after the meeting I was going to had already started. I was frazzled and annoyed. He made small talk with me and found out I was a farmer from Kansas. He told me he was a personal trainer when he wasn’t an Uber driver. Then he asked me if I grew GMO crops. My first thought was, oh great, travel difficulties now this. I prepared myself for a debate on the health and safety of foods made with GMO crops.
I explained to him the benefits of GMO crops; how they helped us grow more food, with fewer inputs and less impact on the environment. I also explained that no credible research had ever proven that there was any kind of risk associated with them at all. That is when he cut me off and told me that he had done his own research and came to the same conclusion and that he told this to all of the people he was a personal trainer for. I asked him if he had any kind of a farm background and he did not. My day was made and my trip was no longer a failure.
Maybe, just maybe people are starting to see through all of the noise and misinformation. This Uber driver/ personal trainer from Louisville, Kentucky gave me hope that all of the hard work we are doing in putting forth solid information and telling our story might just be working. Now the rest of my trip did not go any better. My meeting did not go real well, I waited for my flight in the Louisville airport for five hours and I had a middle seat on the flight home but somehow it all seemed worth it.