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Thursday, June 1, 2017

Hold Them & Show Them

With the news today and the issues in our community and country it’s no wonder that many parents go to sleep at night thinking of their children’s safety and future – some of us may even hold on too tight or too long that we don’t even make it to our own beds before we fall asleep.

However, there is a lesson to be learned from letting go and letting them learn as they navigate through this world and this life.

I attended a breakfast with one of our elected officials last year on the campaign trail while he was home from D.C.  We were talking about differences in cities and towns around the state and the vast differences in our own communities.  He said something that has stayed with me and I think of often – we built secluded neighborhoods where the houses looked similar and the families led similar lives.  We stopped living next to and learning from people who are different than ourselves therefore making us more secluded from an array of diverse people, backgrounds, issues and opinions.  

I am fully under the belief that creating deep roots for a child only helps them in developing who they are and who they will become.  However, some parents don’t let their child’s roots grow beyond a seedling that may never grow to see beyond the ground they are standing on.

Creating deep roots for a child to learn about their heritage and where they come from doesn’t need to take away their ability to grow wings, learn from someone different than themselves and flourish.  I was raised to appreciate my family’s history and hard work and to always remember where I came from when I got to where I was going.  However, I was told to learn and appreciate from others – no matter how different – while I was developing myself and working hard in my career.  

I feel very fortunate that I live in a community that exposes me to different cultures and am excited to raise my daughter in a community that embraces diversity.  While we have plans to travel with our children around the world and teach them about different cultures, we are also excited to come home to the cows and corn fields.  People think it’s crazy when I tell them we want to travel (especially with our kids) and immerse ourselves in different cultures, but we learn so much about ourselves and others when we do.  I hope you embrace where you come from but seek to learn what else is out there beyond the ground you are standing on.  

Our daughter may not want to travel and see the world like we do – she may be perfectly happy with her deep roots on the farm.  But at least she will have been given the opportunity to make that decision and understand how others think, work and live.  I would rather hold her tight while I show her the world rather than hold her tight and keep her from it.  

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Send Them Outside

We were walking through the freshly painted walls that were already soaked with that poignant  smell of pigs when she learned something new about her kids and their childhood.  As my sister and I watched the sows deliver piglets at the new Fair Oaks Farms Pig Adventure a few years ago, we reminisced about adventures on our family farm and with our dad.  “Remember when dad made us scoop up the stalls after the baby pigs were born?” I said. Before my sister could even respond my mom exclaimed, “he made you do what?!”  Since his passing she has learned a few things we did with dad that she was unaware of at the time. 

Even though I might have protested at the time, I’m glad he made us clean and scoop manure and more from the stalls.  I’m glad he made us stand with the piglets while he gave them their vaccinations (that screaming still rings in my ears when I think about it).  I’m happy he walked us through the woods to show us all the creeks and hollers so we could create our own adventures when he kicked us out of the house.  I’m proud of my childhood and all the blood, sweat and tears of playing and working outside - it made me a stronger and more capable woman.

I’ve had multiple conversations lately about how kids don’t go outside enough and they are too hooked to their screens.  “When I was their age, I was outside, doing chores and working!” - that’s the standard quote these days.  As a new parent I have thought a lot about this a lot.  Mae is about to crawl and she is curious about everything around her.  I don’t hand her the toys or her pacifier, if she wants it she can get it.  When I’m in the car, I talk to her about what she is seeing through the windows and what is going on in the world around her - I am not focused on my own thoughts or phone.  I’m trying to teach her, even at a young age, that it’s not all about her and what’s on the screen isn’t as important as learning about others and discovering and improving herself.

It’s funny that we get mad at our kids and the younger generation about being lazy and selfish, but didn’t we buy their phones and create their participation trophies?  They don’t have the money to buy the phone and didn’t create the trophies - we did. 

So send the kids outside this spring.  Take away the phone and video games you bought them and tell them to use their imagination to create their own adventures. Their moaning and groaning will only last for a short while, but their character and work ethic will be impacted for a lifetime.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Agriculture is Timeless

My sister Sarah and I are proud farmer's daughters. 
In honor of National Ag Day and our father who passed away in 2009 from a farming accident, we wrote an article for our hometown newspaper and dedicated books to local schools in his honor.
Please enjoy and always remember to thank a farmer.


Time is such a precious commodity to each one of us, but in our busy, bustling lives we forget about the time and the precious moments it holds.  Time spent with each other in our rapidly changing lives has caused us to almost forget and remind you about this year’s National Ag Day which will be celebrated across the country on March 21.

Our article last year taught you about the women in agriculture and the critical role they play.  We have added one young lady to our farmer’s daughter trademark - Mae Louise, Katie’s daughter born last July.  She helps check the cows and reminds us to slow down and observe how precious life is and how quickly time goes by.  Sarah has spent the last several months preparing to become a farmer’s wife - another important title on the farm - and will gain the title this Saturday as we celebrate her marriage on our family farm.

Time almost got away from us with these new life changes, but we never missed a minute with regard to our decision to honor our dad, Tim Thomas, and dedicate our lives to agriculture advocacy and literacy.  This was our second year to donate agriculture books to all the elementary schools in the county so students have books about agriculture, farms, and food.  And this year we donated agriculture career resources for the middle schools, so those students know about the variety of food and agriculture related jobs.  We need these students to choose agriculture related  careers to help develop our future food supply.  They don’t have to be a farmer to be a part of agriculture.  Katie had a boss that would always comment on her Farm Bureau “No Farms, No Food” bumper sticker on her desk.  He would say “I eat so I’m a part of ag!” and he’s right!  We all are a part of the food chain and all a part of agriculture - that is a truth that time does and will not change.

While the time has passed when most children woke before dawn to do farm chores and arrive at school with manure on their boots and dirt under their fingernails, it doesn’t mean the time has passed for children to learn about where their food comes from and who produces it.  You too can encourage your children, family members and neighbors to use these resources at the schools in our county to educate themselves and become intrigued by an agriculture career.  

The way we plant, nourish, harvest, process, transport, deliver, prepare, distribute, buy, cook, and consume our food has changed over time.  However, the way it grows hasn’t changed.  The way the farmer cares for the food he grows for you and his dedication to his farm, fields, and family hasn’t changed.  Our passion for agriculture and efforts to educate you on behalf of our father will never change but only grow like the seeds he once planted on on our family farm and within us - that’s timeless.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Be Patient, Positive & Personal

I work in an office with a bunch of suits (you know what I mean), and I’ve come to embrace their questions and curiosity.  Sometimes I chuckle at their questions and sometimes I tilt my head with a questionable grin.  While I am sure my facial expressions may say differently, I have learned over the years to be patient and positive with my friends and colleagues as they try to learn and understand the world of agriculture.  Navigating through a conversation with someone about such a large topic that few of us live every day and all of us need every day is quite challenging.  

My sister and I have been talking for weeks about how we are going to honor our father for Ag Appreciation Month in March and brainstormed some great ideas that we have already put into action.  But yet I have struggled recently on how to tell my story without getting so overwhelmed with the amount of information I need to tell about life on the farm and how important agriculture is to us all.  Rattling off farm facts – how many people we feed and the stats on what and how we produce – don’t suffice for me anymore.  Those numbers disappear through the thin air and short attention spans of individuals living in the hustle and bustle of the 21st century and are disconnected from their food source.  

Instead of numbers, I use personal touches.  I tell the blue suit about the calves that were born that morning and how it affected our morning routine – and after a chaotic morning, one of them died.  I explain to the black suit about how the weather and various trade policies affect the corn, soybean and wheat markets every day and I hear about it every night.  I tell the gray suit about my experience in 4-H and how it helped me develop life lessons that I apply to my life today – hard work, be caring, the buying and selling and losing something you have worked hard for.  And then I grieve to my secretary that the gravel driveway full of rocks and mud from my farmer’s truck are ruining my high heels which have caused a horrendous hole and run in my tights before a big meeting.  

People remember the importance and understand the need for agriculture when they know that it affects someone on a personal level.  We don’t look each other enough in the eyes anymore because we are too busy comparing our lives to someone else’s online.  So when you are patient with someone when they ask you a question, positive in your tone and personal in your response while looking in their eyes – they remember and they appreciate.  

As I finish writing this I have gotten a text from a friend in Iowa asking how many calves we’ve had and then a colleague came in to chat about the recent pig farming story he heard on NPR.  Every moment of my life involves agriculture and so does yours – appreciate it. Your patience and positive attitude about your personal agriculture story will last longer than any agriculture appreciation month.  

Thursday, February 9, 2017

For the Love of the Farmer

Happy early Valentine's Day from our family to yours.  We don't really celebrate the holiday because we love and appreciate each other all year long.  However, this year Mae and I are sending a few cards and dressing up because we can and she is full of love!

Enjoy a recent article I wrote for our newspaper below and embrace your loved ones.

Time and time again I shake my head at my dirty floors and loads of laundry and then sigh.  It’s not that I feel overwhelmed with the house work or burdened by it.  My headshakes are about how my younger, detailed and tidy self would have never let this fly.  When we were first married I promised myself that we would be the farm house that was clean and put together – no cow manure on the floor, Carhartts washed at all times and a cute back porch.  Well, I got one week into that “married to a farmer” deal and realized my household goals would never be realized.

I grew up on a farm and should have known better, but my passionate and organized spirit got the best of me for awhile.  But for the love of the farm and my farmer, I gave it up.  I decided that my own fancy boots weren’t going to stay clean and that was just part of it.  And if we both had a pair of dirty boots that was more proof that we were lockstep in this path called life together. 

I recently read an article about how a woman always nagged her husband for not picking up after himself and forgetting to do things around the house.  Then one day he was gone - he had left this earth and she couldn’t nag him any longer.  As much as she hated the random socks everywhere or incomplete honey-do chores, she wasn’t going to be able to live her life with him anymore.  She made a commitment to stop nagging and worrying about the little things because they weren’t important.  Just like having dirty floors isn’t as important as the steps you take on them with the people that matter.

As we approach that February holiday of love, I hope you sacrifice something for someone else.  For the love of my farmer, I plan on overlooking that wretched smelling hat, holey socks, dirty floors and time with him so he can work the land he loves – we love.

I also hope you take a moment to realize the sacrifices farmers make for you – their time away from their families, physical tolls they endure and risks they take on multiple levels.  For the love of the farmer and the food on your table, say thank you to the next one you see at the store, church, market or ballgame.

This Valentine’s I hope I come home to mud and manure soaked Carhartts still attached to the boots on my dirty back porch.  Just like last time, I’m going to walk right past them to focus on more important things like my family and our farm.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Curiosity and Understanding

We survived our first holiday season with our little girl – the first where we celebrated her life and the sparkle in her eyes when she saw the tree.  According to our daughter, “Jingle Bells” is the best song ever written and she might be one of those people that listen to Christmas music year-round (which her father will be thrilled about).

After watching her grow and develop these past six months, her curiosity is quite entertaining.  
Can you imagine how strange the world looks through a baby’s eyes?  They don’t fully understand the concept of life or death, heartbreak and heartache or the good, bad and ugly of it all.  They see shiny things and become entranced.  They slowly start to recognize you and embrace what is familiar.  But honestly, some things have to seem so strange and odd to them.

I feel that way a lot when I have conversations with people about our farm.  I’ve recently spent time with a lot of people who do not live in the country or have the slightest concept of what it is like living on a farm or working in agriculture. 

At a recent girls’ night, where I only knew a few of the women, my friend said my husband was a farmer and you would have thought I lived in 1950.  The curious looks and number of head tilts I saw were quite entertaining.  Then, while opening gifts, she told everyone that I had brought her meat from our farm, again the looks and the tilts.  One of the women looked at me with a strange glare and said, “I could never raise an animal and then send it off to market I just couldn’t.  And then eat it – never.”  Well, I can and I do.

Here’s the thing, I understand that you don’t understand and that you can’t.  But why can’t you understand that I can and that I do?  I don’t know how I’m surprised by it anymore, but it seems strange to me that people don’t understand that farmers and farming still exist and that people still live on farms.  We are just as normal as you but we have a greater fortune than you, or so I think.  We have been blessed with the opportunity to live on the land while raising a family, running a business, making a living and caring for the land for generations to come.  Farming is a huge responsibility that we don’t take lightly and that others would find to be a burden.

And yes, we get upset when our favorite animals pass away or go to market.  But we understand that life and death, heartbreak and heartache and the good, bad and ugly of farming are part of it.  I appreciate your curiosity and encourage you to have a conversation with me or another farmer.  I almost feel relieved when people ask me questions because they do genuinely want to know about our farm.

My daughter’s eyes sparkle when she sees the cows and she becomes entranced with their sounds and movement – I hope it stays that way.  She will recognize that we care for the cattle on our farm but that they are a part of our business.  She will also become familiar with the smell of cow manure and embrace it.  My daughter will understand that chocolate milk doesn’t come from brown cows and all food doesn’t come from the grocery store.  And at this rate, I’m guessing her first 4-H pig will be named Jingle Bells.  She will be given opportunities on our farm and off the farm, and whichever path she chooses I hope she stays curious and seeks to understand others while educating them about our way of life on the farm.  In the new year, I hope you genuinely become curious and understanding of what you don’t know and then maybe the world won’t look so strange.