Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Problem with Politics

Jennifer and I have been discussing ways to cut our monthly expenses and one of the first things that come up is the cable television. I must admit that I often bristle when the mention comes up, but lately I have been giving it more thought. Yes, watching the news on TV is still depressing and maybe worse than it has ever been and the prime time programs often shock me and do not represent the kind of morals and lifestyles that I want to watch. If it were not for watching sports and the weather I would probably have gotten rid of it a long time ago.
Recently I have gotten closer and closer to pulling the plug. Why now you ask? It has everything to do with this being an election year. I know, November is a couple of months off and it is only going to get worse. I also know that each candidate needs to get their message out but do all campaign ads have to be so negative?  It seems like we cannot watch TV for even a few minutes without being bombarded with negative campaign ads.
I am not one of those people who could care less about the elections. Quite the contrary, I find the election process fascinating and I take my right to vote very, very seriously. However, I despise the one ups-man-ship of gotcha ads. The worst of all the ads are the ads paid for by special interest political action committees. Nothing seems to be off limits to these groups and the “facts” they portray are often very skewed or slanted to their agenda.
OK, before any of you affiliated with either of the two major parties start to gloat, I am pointing the finger at both parties equally. Let’s be frank and honest, we are all at fault for allowing the election process to travel down this road. It is increasingly harder and harder to get our attention; we have become a society of sound bites and sensationalism. Very few of us take the time to sit down and analyze each candidate’s position on areas we consider important.
I know it is a cycle that each campaign falls into and often because of the PACs the candidate has little or no control over the ads. I also know it is much easier to criticize your opponent than it is to develop and defend ideas and positions. In the rare instance when a candidate does have a plan or takes a stand, they are immediately attacked from all angles because of it. Negative ads catch our attention and we often let them sway our opinions and that has got to stop.
Yes, I know at least we vote. I saw the statistics from the primary and the vote count was pitiful and that is a real shame. We should view the election process much like if we were hiring employees, because that is really what we are doing. We are hiring the people we are going to trust to run our government.  Just think about what you would do if you were hiring and the person wanting the job brought you a resume’ not filled with their accomplishments and qualifications but with negative information about the other people who were interviewing.
This is what I want to see from all candidates for all elected positions. First, I want to know why you are running for the office.  What was the reason you put yourself on the ballot? What are your core beliefs and values and give examples.  What qualifications, education and/ or talents do you have that you think make you a good candidate for this position? Finally, what would you like to see accomplished and what is your plan for the future? Those are answers I would like to see.
I know that is too much too expect and too much of an idealistic view. Why is that? Politics and campaigns are that way because we do not demand anything different. That is also why our current government is bogged down in finger pointing and partisan politics. The saddest thing is that this will not change until more of us get involved, ask for more information from our candidates takes the time to analyze that information and ultimately vote based upon the information. I believe in our great nation and I believe that we can and we will rise above all of this. However, it will take each of us making that conscious effort to do so.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The End Game

Recently after a speaking engagement I was asked a simple question. What is the end game for those who oppose modern agriculture? I have spent a good portion of my life advocating for agriculture, telling our story and trying to dispel some of the misinformation dogging modern food and fiber production. All the while, I never put a lot of thought into why anyone would try to tear apart the very farms and ranches trying to produce the food the world desperately needs.
I formulated an answer and I know it was the best I could do at the time but it was not nearly adequate. Since then I have had many hours of dashboard time to put a more thoughtful response together. What is the end game of those who would oppose modern agriculture? Ultimately I am not exactly sure. One thing I am sure of is that is not a simple or an easy answer.
Most of the people opposing modern agriculture probably have the best of intentions. They are our friends and neighbors responding to misinformation that is readily available. We can go into the ills and the evils of social media, the internet and instant information, but we will save that for another day. This misinformation can transform the most well-meaning person into an “expert” very rapidly. They really don’t have any training on the topic or understand the science but have latched on to rumors, myths or outright lies that seem to be propagated on the internet. They proceed to spread this misinformation to their friends much like a virus in an elementary school.
So what is their end game? Really I think they are just concerned and worried about their health, their family’s health and the environment around them. This concern is heightened and whipped into frenzy by so called, mostly self-proclaimed “experts” who really have no better grasp on the truth than the people reading or listening to them. They have a theory or an idea and they utilize whatever means available to them to share it with anyone willing to listen.
What is the end game for these “experts”? In many cases it is money. They are selling a diet, a book, have a TV show or trying to make money off of their unproven theories. Others probably are in it for the notoriety and fame. They like having people hold them up as experts and live for the attention. In either case they really don’t care what damage they do or who they hurt as long as they fulfill their need for money and fame. But where do they get their information and ideas?
We can all name a few of the large organizations who pose the biggest threat to agriculture. It is these organizations that I struggle with and especially in the context of the question. What exactly is the end game for these massive anti-agriculture groups? I believe some of their end game is exactly the same as those who peddle their ideas and knowledge. The people at the very top of these organizations are quite wealthy and famous, I am sure they are motivated by that to a certain extent.
But I fear that their motivation and their ultimate desired ending goes well beyond fame and fortune.
They want to change our world in ways that many of us cannot imagine and I hope cannot tolerate. Anyone should be able to recognize that without modern agriculture and the advances in technology that we cannot even begin to feed a growing world population and the implications of not being able to feed everyone is scary.
I am not entirely sure of what the desired end game is for the really hard core anti-agriculture activists, I am not sure I want to understand. What I do understand is my goal and the goals of my fellow farmers, ranchers and agriculturalists. We are driven by the need to produce the food and fiber needed by our ever-growing world population to survive. We desire to produce a healthy, wholesome, abundant food supply while protecting our valuable natural resources. Yes, we farm and ranch to make a living, but I truly think most of us are spurred on by the basic need for what we do.
I also am sure that if we take just a little time to share our love and our passion for what we do and mix it in with the science and facts of why we do what we do. We will win over much of the opposition. What is their end game? I am not sure, but I know my ultimate end game is to be a proud producer of the food we all need.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

More than Champions

Fair season is all but over; I think that is a good thing although I am always sad to see it end. There are very few things in this world that bring me more joy than attending youth livestock shows. I know there are some reasons for concern with the show ring and maybe someday we can open that can of worms. However, right now I want to focus on all that is right.
Often much focus is placed on the champion animals at any show. This is for good reason and they are to be admired and appreciated. Often many hours of hard work go into the development of that grand champion animal. Years of meticulous breeding, the best in nutrition, many resources and lots of time spent training and grooming. I commend anyone who exhibited a champion at any level this year, I hope you had the chance to appreciate and enjoy the experience.
While champion ribbons, trophies and belt buckles are coveted and rightfully so. They are the rewards for a job well done, I often wonder in our chase for the buckle if we are missing the bigger picture. I guess maybe it is my perspective as a former Extension Agent, but I see a lot of value in some of the lessons learned by the exhibitors not at the top of the class. I have seen it as a judge also, the kids who have animals that will never compete for the top of the class but who have gotten all they could out of what they have. I have a deep admiration and appreciation for those kids.
I think maybe I have focused on this more this year because our 4-H club just graduated two young men who exemplify what I am talking about. They have both had successes in their 4-H career but the champion ribbon has always just been out of reach. The livestock they bring to the fair gain well, they are very good commercial animals but not show animals and in the end that is OK. The rewards they have gotten will not tarnish or fade with time but will serve them for the rest of their lives.
What I have seen over the years are two hard working young men who understand the animal agriculture. I watched them take care of their projects with very little or no help. Not because their parents won’t help them, but because they don’t need too. I am learning with my older 4-Hers that the hardest thing to get used to as a parent and the most rewarding part is that if we do our job right we become obsolete.
Both of them understand the entire process of bringing that animal to the fair. They have taken the leadership role in selecting their project, deciding what and how much to feed, caring for that animal daily and taking the ultimate responsibility for producing the product that reaches your table. Without a doubt I have confidence that they have an understanding of animal agriculture that reaches far beyond the show ring.
In addition, they are good people. I know they would have been, even without 4-H, but I would like to think their experience has further developed them. They are the first to roll up their sleeves and go to work. Both of them have taken the time to work with the younger members of our club and other 4-Hers. The true sign of how great these two young men are is that I saw all of this when they did not know I or any other adult were watching. They helped others because it was the right thing to do.
I did not intentionally leave out any of the great kids who participated in their last county; instead I focused on the two I had the privilege to watch up close for the past ten years. I joked with them about being sad during the fair partially because I was sad to see them go. I am proud of Lane and Tyler and for all they have accomplished even if it does not include a champion ribbon or a shiny buckle. I believe they both will go on to positively impact animal agriculture and in the end that is the greatest accomplishment of all.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Twas the Night Before the Fair

Today is one of the most dreaded days of the year at our house. It is the day before the fair. Each year we swear we are going to be more organized and have more done much earlier in the summer and make this day less stressful. Well, we all know what road is paved with good intentions that would be the road leading to the fair. I am not sure what road you thought I was talking about.
In any case, each year we wake up on the day before the fair with one goal. Survive and move on to the fair. We plan this day out in advance and it should all work but I am convinced that the hours are only 50 minutes long on this particular day because we seem to run out of time before we run out of things to do. However, a shortage of time is not the biggest problem of the day.
The day before the fair is the day that we have major breakdowns and calamities. No matter how smooth things have been all summer, something and often several somethings will happen on this fateful day. For instance, one year, the day before the fair, our normally very strong, very reliable well went dry on fair eve. That caused wide-spread fear, panic and hysteria on top of normal fair stress.
This year was no different. Earlier in the week, I had made the shocking discovery that we did not have enough sheep feed to make it through the fair. This was partially due to my miscalculation and partially due to the ewes getting into the barn and making a horrible mess. The week before the fair was in full swing complete with Murphy’s law.
However, this trip to Clay Center seemed very fortuitous. The afternoon before we had ruined a big tire on one of our tractors. A new set of rear tires was not in the budget and a search for used tires revealed a couple in Clay Center. Maybe our day before the fair luck was changing, or maybe it was just setting us up for bigger calamities.
It was a good plan, run a couple of errands in Manhattan, drive up to Clay Center, deliver the tire and make it back to Manhattan for a doctor’s appointment. The day started off smoothly, in fact, we were ahead of schedule. Then it all started coming unraveled. At a stop on the way to Clay Center a spot of oil was noticed under the pick-up. Cause for concern but not necessarily alarm. Not until the next stop and I noticed a bigger spot of oil and a nice coating of oil under the entire truck.
A quick check of the dipstick revealed that the oil leak was cause for concern. A quick conference call determined that our chosen course of action was for me to add oil and drive to my house watching the oil pressure gauge all the way.  If the gauge wavered at all, I would pull off to the side of the road and call for help. A tense drive home ensued but the gauge held steady and we made it, although by now we were around a half an hour behind schedule.
The drippy truck was parked. I sent Isaac and the tire to the field with the afflicted tractor and I started back to Manhattan and the appointment with the doctor just a little behind schedule. After the visit with the doctor it was time to shear lambs and make them pretty for the show. What else could happen?
The kids were taking six lambs and we had already sheared them once so this was just touch up work. No problem, it shouldn’t take very long. However, shortly after we started on the first lamb, the clippers and blower went dead. Probably a tripped breaker, maybe blown fuse, but it should be an easy fix. Maybe most days but not the day before the fair. No blown fuses or tripped breakers could be found. We located an extension cord long enough to snake from the house to the sheep clipping area and the problem was fixed.
I am sure that someday we will look upon all of the day before the fair wrecks with fondness and even laugh. That is probably many years in the future, maybe while we are watching our kids and grandkids scrambling to get ready for the fair.  Right now this not amusing, however, we will learn from our mistakes and be more organized next year. We will be easy to spot at the fair; we will be the ones with flying pigs.

County Fair Time

Where has this summer gone? I am not sure about anybody else but I cannot believe that the majority of this summer is now in the rearview mirror. I had so many plans for the kids and I this summer and very few actually happened. I guess I do have a couple of weeks to squeeze as much work out of them as I can before they go back to school.
Yes, summer is about over but my favorite part of summer is just about here, the Pottawatomie County Fair. I am not a big fan of the two weeks leading up to fair and all of the frantic, last minute preparations (don’t even try to tell me that anybody out there is any different) but I really enjoy our county fair. The county fair is the culmination of a long year of work for our 4-Hers and a celebration of all they have accomplished.
I am kind of partial to our fair, but I have now judged in somewhere around sixty of our counties and one or two counties in Nebraska and I can tell you that nothing beats a county fair. Each county has its own unique quirks, foods and events but in each fair many of the same qualities carry through. Each fair is a piece of Americana that most people do not get to experience and for that is sad. Maybe a lot of our problems would be solved if everyone was required to attend a county fair.
People who had never attended a county fair could learn a lot about hard work. The livestock and countless other projects exhibited at the fair represent hours and hours of hard work in preparing them to be displayed. Most often they are a family project involving parents and kids and family teamwork is a rare thing in today’s society. 4-H projects represent good kids, learning real skills and working hard. All of society can learn from that.
Any lost soul who has not attended a county fair would also see volunteerism in its finest form. At any county fair you will find someone who is tired, dirty and sweaty and most likely they will be a fair board member, fair volunteer or 4-H leader who are working long hard hours both before and during the fair. They do this because of their love of the fair and all it represents and never ever think a thing about it or expect anything in return.
Community pride is also something that seems to be going by the wayside in our current society. Each fair I have ever attended or been a part of has a great deal of community pride associated with it. People are proud of what their county has to offer. Nothing can tell you more about a county and its people than the fair parade and the entries that come down the street. One note of caution would be to remember that this year is an election year. Much like the ants at a picnic, overlook the politicians and enjoy the parade.
Finally, to me the most important part of my county fair is the relationships and friendships that are formed and renewed during the fair. Often it is the only time of the year that we see some of our friends. Many people come back to their hometowns during the fair. It is also about the only time we have out of our busy hectic lives to sit down and have real conversations without worrying about where we have to go next. If you have never attended a county fair and you were dropped into the middle of one you would see human interaction at its finest and the real value of true friendship. I know our society could use more of that.
I cannot imagine what my life would be like if I had not gotten to observe and be a part of all of the county fairs that I have experienced. From being completely immersed in the Pottawatomie County Fair as first a 4-Her, then the agent, parent and volunteer, to the many other fairs I have judged at or simply attended, I have seen the true value of what the fair brings. It is truly something that all of society could benefit from.
I would urge you, if you are not a part of a county fair, to find one and attend. Go take in the shows and watch the hard working 4-Hers. Watch the volunteers work with those youth, and others work behind the scenes. Sit down at a picnic table and enjoy a meal from the foodstand and watch all the activity. Watch friends talk, kids play and all the buzz of activity. I hope you will take the time to attend a fair; it is a time to relax and reflect about all that is good.