Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Enjoying the Fall

The weather this past week has definitely signaled a change in the seasons and I am excited. Fall is one of my favorite times of the year. It is right up there with winter, spring and summer; I guess it is a good thing I live in Kansas. I truly like each of the seasons and especially the time of the year when they transition to the next season. Usually at that point I have had enough of the current season and am ready for a change. Right now, I am looking forward to the cooler fall weather and all it brings (hopefully a little more moisture).
Most of the members of my household will tell you that fall started in mid August with school. I guess in my books fall started a couple of weeks ago with corn harvest. The weathermen tell us it starts on another day and many people call Labor Day the “unofficial” start of fall. Finally, the calendar told us fall started last Saturday, so who really knows when fall begins officially or unofficially. All I know is that it is fall now.
How do I know? Well, last week I broke out the sweatshirt, and that made it fall. There are very few things in life that I enjoy better than a good, crisp, clear fall morning. There is nothing better than to walk out the door to a refreshing chill and the smell of fall in the air. There is just something about those mornings that leave you with the sense of anticipation.  Anticipation of what I am not sure, maybe it is harvest, football, or bringing the cows home from summer pasture.
Corn harvest is finished and in the books for another year and we are anxiously watching the soybeans turn from dark green to yellow and soon to brown. One of my fall favorites is driving a truckload of beans to town. The kind of day with just enough chill to let you know it is fall, but warms enough to have the window down. The wind is hitting your face and the sun is warming your arm, it just doesn’t get better than that. Unless of course, it is a Saturday and Kansas State football is coming across on the truck radio.
I am also looking forward to bringing the cows and calves home for the winter. This spring I was relieved and they were even more relieved to go out on the green pastures, this fall I am relieved to see them come back to the corn and soybean stubble. Cows don’t need a calendar to tell them it is time for a change and they don’t mind telling us. I also find something deeply satisfying about weaning calves; maybe it is finally seeing the culmination of all that hard work during calving season.
Finally, what would fall be without high school football? Maybe it isn’t as big of a deal in bigger school districts, I don’t know, I have only experienced small rural districts where it is the biggest deal. Last Friday night I was watching Rock Creek play St. Marys and it couldn’t have been any better. In the distance you could see a farmer picking corn, the air was chilly, and you could hear cheers, the band and smell the popcorn. Life just does not get any better than small town football.
That was when I realized, fall was just the pick-me-up that I needed. It was pretty easy to get down; after all we are constantly bombarded with bad news about the economy, the state of affairs in the world and other negative things like the price of oil. This summer and its oppressive heat and drought made it even easier to feel like the weight of the world was on your back. We just needed a change and thankfully the fall was just the ticket.
The changing of seasons reminded me of how lucky I am. Each day I get to walk out my door, into the best part of greatest country in the world. I go to work in the occupation I chose, one that allows me to do what I am passionate about and make a difference in everyone’s life. When I am not working, I am blessed to spend time watching my kids and spend time with my friends and neighbors. I can truly say it doesn’t get any better than this.
This week, let’s all take time to appreciate the world around us, stop and enjoy this change in seasons. We all get too busy living our lives and never take a moment to absorb just how good we all have it. For a second this next week, stop what you are doing, listen to the wind rustle through the leaves, feel the sun on your back and smell the crisp, clean fall air. After all this feeling only comes around once a year.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ignore PETA

This past weekend my kids showed their sheep at the Kansas State Fair. It is one of my favorite weekends of the year. After all, where else can you combine fried foods, people watching, livestock shows, an Ag trade show and the home shopping network? The Kansas State Fair has it all, including controversy.
In case you hadn’t heard, PETA paid for a booth and planned on showing a graphic video. Social media was abuzz with news from the ensuing court battle. When we arrived in the barns the talk was about PETA’s presence. No one seemed to know what to expect but most had thought about what they would do if confronted by activists bent on destroying our way of life.
We arrived Friday morning and when the sheep were settled into their temporary home (as with all livestock producers we put the well-being of our livestock first) I ventured out on my big adventure. I was going to find the PETA booth and see the enemy with my own eyes. I walked and walked and walked and never saw a hint of them. Later, I heard the rain and wind earlier in the day had kept them from setting up. Funny, those of us who farm and ranch never let a little rain and wind stop us from our chores.
Saturday brought news of the booth, the opposition had been sighted. After getting direction, I set off again in search of the misguided. About mid-day I made contact. The booth was a cheap Wal-Mart pop-up, complete with an ancient TV and two timid college kids handing out propaganda including recipes for meatless Mondays and a video. I watched as the two approached those walking past. Most people simply walked on past.
I approached the young fellow handing out the video. He looked at me quite apprehensively as I walked up (but a lot of people look at me that way). I am sure the way I was dressed gave my occupation away and if it didn’t the Brush Creek Cattle Company on my head made it obvious. I smiled at him and said “Can I have one of those videos?” and “Thank you” after he hesitantly handed me one. I walked off leaving him a bit bewildered.
I plan to read the brochure and watch the video. I am sure it is pain-stakingly edited to make processing of meat seem as brutal and cruel as possible. I am equally as sure it took many, many years of gathering footage to make this short video, but it is important for those of us who farm and ranch to know what kind of propaganda groups like PETA are putting out.
So what should we do? Well, when it comes to dealing with the activists themselves, we should do nothing. Yes, you heard me right, nothing. Confronting the activists directly is exactly what they want you to do. You will never change their minds and they want you to cause a scene. It is impossible to when a debate with someone who does not care about the truth and is willing to do and say anything to win. Am I saying we should do nothing, absolutely not; we need to make sure the general public knows the truth about how their meat was raised.
We need to take the time to answer questions and talk about what we are doing. For instance, Saturday afternoon we were getting ready for the show, things were getting hectic. The sheep were washed, blanketed and muzzled. That was the time that a family of four came walking down our aisle. They stopped in front of our pens and looked at our sheep.
The family cautiously approached our pen, looking kind of skeptically at the kid’s lambs. Finally, the father asked about the muzzles the lambs were wearing. “Are they mean?” he asked as he pointed at the muzzles. Tatum told him no, and explained that we muzzle our lambs to keep them from eating the wood chips they are bedded on. She went on to say that she suspected the lambs must think they looked like food. She then showed them that the lambs could breathe easily and even drink through the mesh. Relieved by her explanation the kids crowded around the lambs and gave them a good petting.
They thanked us for letting them pet the lambs and walked away better informed and knowing that we cared about our animals. It was a simple interaction and one that only took five minutes at the most, but that simple action could have easily counter-acted any propaganda handed out at the cheap tent across the fairgrounds. If each of us would take every opportunity we get to inform and educate the people around us, groups like PETA would drift off silently into anonymity and that would be their worst nightmare.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Remembering 911

I am a little stressed this week. We are in the middle of corn harvest and that is stressful enough, but this week is extra stressful. On top of harvest, we have two football games, a volleyball game, softball practice, a church meeting and the Kansas State Fair. Finding my focus to write a column was a little hare, until I looked at the date.
I write these columns every Tuesday for the next week and I always put the date on the top of the page. That is when I noticed the date, September 11. That date is one that will live in infamy in the history of or great nation, a true dark day on the calendar each year. It is a date that those of us who were alive on that day will never forget, and we never should.
I can tell you exactly where I was that morning. I was sitting on my couch, pulling on my boots, watching the kids and talking to my wife when the news broke. Good Morning America was on in the background like it is every morning when the breaking news of a plane flying into the World Trade Center came across the screen. I then watched the image of the second plane in disbelief. Those kinds of things just didn’t happen to us.
I remember reluctantly leaving my young family and heading into work. The world around me seemed eerily quiet and subdued. I listened to the news reports all the way into my office. When I reached the office, I found my co-workers huddled around the small TV in the break room watching the news unfold. That is where I learned about the plane hitting the Pentagon and the plane crashing in Pennsylvania. Everything was turned upside down, should we go home, were there other attacks coming? I remember a sense of loss, fear and dread, we all operated in a trance that day.
As the day, the week and the month carried on, I also remember the helpless feeling of not being able to do anything. I wanted so badly to lash out at the evil people who had done this horrible thing to my country, but I couldn’t do anything. However, I also remember another feeling that stemmed from that awful day, a great pride in this nation that I love.
I listened in awe to the story of the heroes who took matters into their own hands in that plane above Pennsylvania. I watched as many people set aside their own worries about safety to search for survivors at the crash sites. Accounts came out about the brave first responders who answered the call that morning, many of whom did not come home. I have had the opportunity to visit Trade Center site, it is a gut-wrenching feeling knowing you are standing on the very site where thousands of innocent people lost their lives.
Then in the months to come, I watched as we rallied around each other to confront the evil first-hand. I cannot express the gratitude I have for those brave men and women who enlisted to fight for my family and our shared freedoms. Not only did we defend ourselves but ultimately we made the world a safer place to live in. We may have many different opinions in this nation, but we can still come together when pushed.
There are many things that concern me a great deal about our country and our society, but that horrible day did bring one thing to light. Deep down, we still have a lot of fight left in us. We may squabble, we may have misplaced some of our priorities and there are a lot of problems we need to fix. But the truth is that we live in the greatest nation in the world, we are free to worship where we want, to say what we need too and to be who we want to be. That is something no one, no evil can take away from us.
I think this is important to remember as we enter into what looks to be a very hard fought election year. We may have differences but we are all still citizens of the greatest nation in the world, the nation that much of the rest of the world looks to for peace and stability. While we must continue to work hard so our nation can continue to be leading world force. However, we must also take time this September 11 to remember the victims and the heroes and to give thanks for our blessings.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Chair at the School Lunch Table

I was waiting in the parking lot to pick my kids up after sports practices on the first day of school. Both kids ran to the car when they saw me. At first I thought they really missed me and I could barely contain myself. But as they got in the car I found out why they had been in such a hurry. In unison they both said, “Dad, we’re hungry can we stop for a snack?”
Talk about deflating your ego. Maybe that made me a little defensive or maybe it was the tight-wad Dad in me coming out. Either way, my response was; “I pay good money for your school lunches and Mom has supper ready at home, you can wait.” Again a unison response, “We’re so hungry we can’t wait until we get home!”
Home is only six miles away and I am used to the eating habits of teenagers; 1) there is never enough food and 2) the food is never good enough. So I asked, “What did you have for lunch?” Child #1’s response was, “It was really good, but they didn’t let us have as much to eat as we got last year.” I pondered all of this while the kids ran into the convenience store for snacks.
When we arrived home the kids told their mother about their plight while devouring the supper she had made. Of course, Jennifer was on top of the issue and had witnessed it at the elementary school level earlier in the day. The culprit seemed to be new guidelines for school lunches.
This led me to a discussion with many other parents in many other school districts in several other states and the problems all seemed the same. A one-size fits all dietary solution to kids of all sizes, shapes and activity levels. Protein is limited to 10 to 12 ounces per week for grades 9-12 and with a calorie level of 750 to 850 per meal. The problem seemed simple enough, not enough protein and not enough calories for active kids in sports and other activities. However, like most problems, it was not simple and the solution was far more complex.
The idea behind the new guidelines was great. Childhood obesity is a very real problem and leads to very real problems as those children become adults. As a society we have developed terrible eating habits, we consume too many processed food and too few servings of fresh fruits and vegetables. On top of that many kids get too little physical activity. The idea of limiting calories and fat and introducing more fruits and vegetables is one I whole heartedly agree with, but I am also concerned that our very active growing teenagers need more.
I know that the kids and parents are frustrated by the portion size. I know the cooks are frustrated trying to balance preparing meals for hundreds, in a timely manner, and meeting the guidelines. I know the people implementing the guidelines are frustrated because they have spent a great deal of time and professional effort coming up with them. This is how a simple problem (hungry teenagers) becomes a much more complex problem meeting the many different levels of nutritional needs, teaching good, healthy eating habits, preparing those healthier foods in mass quantities and doing all of this on a more limited budget.
Add into the mix, kids who don’t get enough physical activity, families with very limited financial resources who struggle to provide adequate levels of nutrition at home and a generation of parents who; work more, cook less and have poor nutritional habits themselves. The portion problem becomes even more exasperated when the kids won’t eat the fruits and vegetables on their plates because they have never learned to eat them in the first place.
All of this sounds really frustrating and maybe even daunting, but there is hope. I have talked to many, many parents, school personnel and officials in charge of the school lunch program and we all want the same thing. We want youth who are healthy, happy and learning good eating habits that will serve them well as they become adults and eventually parents. We just have to work together to find those complex solutions. So just like we should all do each night at the supper table, let’s all pull a chair up, sit down and talk.