Thursday, July 26, 2012

Thuder, Lightening Coming to a Fair Near You

What do Thunder and Lightning, Giddy Up and Whoa and Doofy all have in common? All were names of bucket calves at the Marshall County Fair. Over the past couple of weeks I have had the pleasure of judging a few county fairs and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Oh sure it was hot and the poor kids got to see a fat old man melt, but in the end I think they had as much fun as I did.
I hope this year, that each of you will have the chance to go take in a county fair in your area. I cannot think of a better way to spend a day (or many days in my case). A trip to the county fair will remind you that all is not lost in this world. A small county fair is a snapshot of the world we all want. We have heard all this talk about Staycations and a tour of county fairs would make a great Staycation.
I challenge each of you to take an evening and spend it at the nearest fair. Take time to sit in the stands and watch the livestock show. Many of us hear reports about how lazy and irresponsible our youth have become. I am here to tell you from my perspective that is not the case when it comes to our 4-H and FFA youth. The animals in that ring, in most cases, represent several months to a year of hard work. With the heat we have had, most of those projects represent a lot of early mornings and late nights, trying to beat the heat.
You can see the pride that the owner takes in the animals they are showing in the ring. They are eager to show and tell the judge about all the hard work and time that went into the project. I wish each of you could follow me around in the show ring and see what I see. Oh sure, I do see things and run into parents who have entirely missed what the livestock project is all about, but they are few and far between. The vast majority of the youth are learning life lessons and life skills that will serve them every day of the rest of their lives.
They will learn how to care for another living creature; they learn money and time management skills and they will know where their food comes from and why we raise animals for food. Most of these youth will probably not make their living raising livestock, but those skills and knowledge will make them better at whatever career they chose. That is why 4-H and FFA alumni are in high demand with employers.
I know I have focused a lot on the livestock projects; it is what I know the best, but do not forget to check out the other exhibits. The youth responsible for these exhibits are also learning real world skills along with other life lessons. You will be amazed at the talent, skills and time each of those exhibits represent. Remember that each of those projects is a representation of an entire year’s work. If you are lucky, the youth responsible for the project will be there. Ask them about their exhibit, but be prepared to listen. I know you will be impressed and learn more than you ever imagined about that topic.
Beyond the exhibits there is much else to do at a county fair. Every fair I have ever been to (and I have been to most of the county fairs in Kansas) have something unique to offer, something they are very proud of. For some it is the entertainment, the rodeo or demolition derby, others might be able to offer food, some of the food stands at fairs are incredible and there other attractions such as home-owned carnivals that make that fair special. My point is each fair has its own unique personality, find out what that is and enjoy it.
I will have the honor of judging at 6 or 7 fairs this summer and probably attend two or three others, in addition to spending four days at our fair in Pottawatomie County and I am really looking forward to each experience. I cannot think of a better way to spend a morning, an afternoon, an evening or a whole day than at a county fair. It is a place that you can take the whole family, turn your kids free and not worry about their safety and find something that will interest everyone in your family.
Come visit a fair, if you don’t know of one in your area come to the Pottawatomie County Fair and look me up. I guarantee you will have a great time and I will introduce you to some of the most impressive youth you have ever met and they will tell you about what they have learned. How will you find me? Just look for a relaxed guy with a big mustache, Hawaiian shirt sitting in a lawn chair in the livestock barn, enjoying life. That will be me.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Joy of Work

I have to make a confession. I am an avid deer hunter, but I have not harvested a deer for five years. I said I was avid, I did not say I was good. That was until Monday. I really didn’t intend to lower the deer population and especially not with our good car, but the deer left me no choice. However my calamity is not what this column is about.
We decided to have our deer damage fixed in the local body shop. I dropped the car off but in the process I struck up a conversation with the owner. We use this body shop because the owner is very particular about the work he does and does things right. He spoke with great pride about his work and even though I know very little about body work on cars I enjoyed listening to him.
Later in the week I hosted a meeting at a local café. I arrived early and talked to the owners about their business. They spoke with great pride about their business, how they decide upon menu items, where their ingredients come from and about their establishment in general. They were very passionate about their occupation and I enjoyed listening to them even if I did not completely understand everything.
Then today, I went to the coffee rotisserie I frequent. The owner roasts and grinds his own coffee and it is the best I have ever tasted. Today he had a new roast and was particularly proud of it. He gave me a sample of each flavor and explained in great detail about the coffee, where it was from and what it should taste like. All of this was way over my head, but I listened intently. He was very passionate about the process of roasting coffee.
All three of these stories have a common line. No, it is not that I like to talk, that is a given. Each of these individuals was working jobs that were more than occupations. They had chosen to make their living in areas that were their passions. I find people like that very refreshing and very interesting. As a farmer and rancher I also relate to them very easily.
In agriculture we are no different. I would guess that very few if any of us chose to farm and ranch because we thought we would get rich. If you did, you are sadly mistaken. Agriculture is something you become a part of because of a fire in your belly; it is what you do and who you are. Many of us are the fourth or fifth generation to farm the land we are on, it is in our DNA.
However, most often we are not very good about telling our story. I truly believe most people want to know where their food comes from and want to know the people who produce it. We all love what we do, we just to convey that to our customers like the owners of the body shop, café, and coffee shop did to me. Farmers and ranchers in the United States are the best in the world at what they do.
If we allow people to see the pride we take in the work we do, I truly believe that we will win many more hearts and instill greater confidence in the food on the grocery store shelf. We all strive to preserve the land, air and water we depend on while caring for our crops and livestock and preserving our way of life.  We all have a story that we can tell and one that many people want and need to hear.
We just need to take every opportunity to tell that story. I think many of us feel like we are bragging about ourselves. Maybe we are afraid our story won’t be understood or we have a hard time finding the time to tell it. We have been conditioned not to talk about ourselves too much. While that may have been good, it needs to change now.
First, you are not bragging, people like to see pride in other’s work and passion for their way of life. I believe that the general public is interested in where their food comes from. They want to know us and they want to trust us. Those listening to our stories don’t have to understand every detail to know that you take pride in your work and you love what you do. Finally, we must find time to tell our story or risk letting those who have an agenda contrary to ours tell our story for us. That is why the next time I go to the body shop (many years from now, I hope), eat at that café, or buy my next cup of coffee, I will take the time to tell each of them about the way of life I have chosen. We will part with them knowing that I am a proud producer of the food we all need.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Taking Responsibility for My Diet

I weigh more than I should. OK so that is not a huge revelation for any of you who know me. I enjoy eating and I eat when I am stressed (and I am stressed a lot). Over the years I have packed on a few extra pounds. I am not sure exactly how I will solve this problem, but one thing I do know is my weight is my problem and no one else’s.
Many “experts” would have the public believe that being overweight is a product of modern agriculture. They would have us believe that we are obese because of the fast food choices that line the streets. Governments are proposing taxes on fast food and soda pop, because their constituents need help protecting ourselves from the evil food industry (and not that they want more of your money).
If you listen to the morning talk shows, one would think that we are mindless robots, incapable of making up our own minds. We are not able to resist the siren’s call of fast food, soda and processed snack foods. The many experts would have us believe that obesity is the result of greedy farmers and ranchers producing unhealthy food for evil food processors.
That is what the “experts” would have you believe. Now, I will not try to speak for everyone else, but my problem is my own and not the fault of anyone else. I know I need to take the responsibility for my own actions. My overeating is not due to advertising or the production of food by my fellow farmers and ranchers but my own lack of will-power and poor habits.
Whatever happened to taking responsibility for our own actions? It is easier on our own consciences if we make our problems the result of something someone else has done. The reality is that our problems are due to the decisions we make and the lifestyles we choose to live. It is really no harder to eat healthy than it is to choose a meal of fried foods. We just choose the fries because we think it is easier and faster.
All of the foods we grow are healthy in their most basic forms and in moderation. That is the key word, moderation. I admit it; I am just as guilty as the next person of choosing a restaurant because of the portion size, or super sizing my meal at a fast food restaurant. Again this is a choice I made, and is not the restaurants fault. It is certainly not something that should be taxed.
The grains I grow on my farm are healthy. They provide essential nutrients when eaten in the right amounts. However, when super-sized and over-sized they are not healthy, but ultimately we are the ones who chose to eat the whole thing. I know leaving food on the plate is tough to do when as children we were instructed to clean our plates, but I am here to tell you that it is OK to leave some behind. Better yet, get a doggy bag and take some home for the next meal.
The beef and lamb I raise are great, wholesome foods, in moderation. They provide iron, protein and many other essential nutrients. The meat is wholesome and healthy, it is the portion sizes we chose and the way we prepare the meat is unhealthy. The livestock nutrition classes I took in college (I know they are animals, but the principles are the same) taught me that all nutrients are needed in balance and in the right amounts.
We also often hear that to eat healthy we must choose organic, natural, gluten-free, vegetarian or any of a number of other alternative food production methods. That is simply not true. Modern agriculture produces safe wholesome foods. The foods on your grocery store shelves are safe, it is the method they are prepared in that makes them more or less healthy. All food in its simplest form is healthy; it is how we prepare it that makes it more or less healthy.
The message we need to hear as Americans, is that we are blessed with the safest, healthiest food supply in the world. Our food, in its most basic form, is healthy. We need to focus on making better and healthier choices when it comes to what we eat. Portion size is critical; we need to understand how much our bodies need. Most importantly we need to take responsibility for what we eat and stop blaming the hard working farmers and ranchers, who do produce a safe, healthy food supply.
I am going to take responsibility for what I put in my body. More importantly, I am going to give my thanks for living in a nation where we have choices and we can make the choice to eat a healthy, balanced diet of our own choosing. I know that my weight problem is not because of the food I produce, it is because the choices I make. The sooner we all take responsibility for our own actions, the sooner we make better, healthier choices.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Great 4th!

The 4th of July is pretty special to me. I guess when you grow up in Wamego the 4th of July will always be the high mark of the summer. For those of you who might not know, Wamego goes all out with a huge parade, a carnival and an awesome fireworks display. This event is one of those things that returns me back to some of the best memories of childhood.
Growing up on the farm, I didn’t get to see my town friends very often in the summer. The 4th of July was one of those opportunities to see my buddies. It was one of the few days of the summer that Dad would take off, well, with one big exception, wheat harvest. If wheat harvest was done, we celebrated the 4th.
One of my best memories was riding in with Dad on the final load of wheat; it had to have been either the 3rd or the 4th of July. I felt very important riding shotgun in the “big” truck, watching as the road to town roll by. I “helped” Dad as he weighed in and dumped the load. When we weighed back out the elevator manager gave me a pop, a very rare treat when I was a kid. It must have been a good year because on the way home we stopped and bought some fireworks. That is a 4th I will never forget.
I have many other great 4th of July memories. Barbeques with family friends, time spent at the carnival with my buddies, and the sights and sounds of the parade. I have to admit, I love a good parade, I even get a kick out of seeing the politicians work the crowd (yes, I am warped). So when I had my own family, the Wamego 4th of July experience is something I shared with them and something we continue to share each year.
But the 4th of July is more than barbeques, parades and fireworks. It is a time to celebrate this great nation we live in and the freedoms we all enjoy. Make no doubt about it; we live in the greatest nation in the world, that is not bragging, just a statement of fact. The United States is looked to for leadership in areas such as finance, technology and culture and we should all be very proud of that.  It is up to our democratically elected government to stabilize the world and maintain the peace and I could not be prouder of that or be more humbled to think of the men and women charged with keeping the peace.
However, the fact that hits the closest to home for me is that we lead the world in the production of food and fiber. Maybe that is why I felt like such a big shot all those years ago when I rode in with that load of wheat. In my own small way I was already a proud producer of the food we all eat. We lead the world of agriculture in innovation. We are able to produce more food, with fewer resources and with less impact on our environment. That is something as a farmer that I am very proud of.
We are so blessed to live in a nation where we can go to a 24 hour grocery store 7 days a week and know that the shelves will be stocked with many, many choices of the same product. We have the assurance that the food on those shelves is safe and wholesome. All of these healthy choices and we spend less of our total income on food than anywhere else in the world. For most of us in the United States lack of food is not an issue.
Our safe, abundant food supply is just one of the blessings we all share. Often I think we each take what we have for granted. The rest of the world is in envy and awe of the life most of us live. Folks, we have it awfully easy and for that we should be thankful. Most of us live a life of abundance and luxury, especially by the rest of the world’s standards.
I know that when I see the flag come down the parade route this year that I will take a moment to stop and give thanks for all I have. As I watch the fireworks, I will think of what they symbolize and remember all the brave men and women who have protected this great nation and pray for those who are still in harm’s way protecting her yet. Yes, I am a lucky man to live in the greatest nation and to be able to be a proud producer of food.