Thursday, March 19, 2015

Hey, Emily! Did you know it was National Ag Week?

Why yes, yes I did!

Wait? You couldn't tell I already knew it??

Is it because it's now THURSDAY, and I'm finally writing about some things that happened last SATURDAY?

Sheesh.

Anyway, in case you missed it, Jack and I celebrated National Ag Day (which was yesterday) by playing tractor family:


And while I don't have anything truly profound or crazy to share with you in honor of National Agriculture Week, I do want to share with you that I have emerged from my mom coma, slapped on a pair of heels and will be doing my "thing" not once, BUT TWICE this week! 

Yep.

I'm fancy.

And, yep, the twins have gotten some road time and exposure from these endeavors.

Last Saturday, the girls and I loaded up for the Illinois State University campus in Bloomington. Each year, mini vans invade the campus for three days. The Hearts at Home National Conference happens here every March, and before I became a mom, I completely thought this sounded like the most bizarre concept. Ever. While the mini van stereotype is true (why am I surprised every year I go that there are a lot of sensible gals out there who rock the mini van?), this conference is anything but bizarre. Moms from across the country gather to hear New York Times bestselling authors and nationally heralded speakers and experts who range in their expertise from parenting to marriage to technology to fashion. It's really awesome. I have attended, but considering my girls are pretty close to the source and, while this is a mom conference, there are NO KIDS, I was delighted to volunteer for Illinois Farm Families in their booth.



Genius. Moms are overwhelmingly the primary grocery getters of the family. It's a mom's conference.  We're moms. Here's the proof: babies. 

Boom.

Plus, I got to go with Holly, my dear, dear friend. We spent the day jiggling babies, changing babies, all the while advocating for agriculture. It was the ultimate in multi tasking. The genius marketing we had there: BABIES. Twin babies. We were flocked to like a moth to a flame. 

In between answering the ever present, "yes they are twins," "yes, they are mine," and "no they are NOT identical," questions, we were challenged to answer hot topic questions. Moms here are from all over. Urban, rural, Midwestern, etc., but they all want to know and to buy and to feed their kids the best way possible. We had moms who wondered about GMOs, even though Holly and I felt like we were in a Jimmy Kimmel moment when one sweet mama offered that GMOs were sprayed on and were killing her bees. Huh? Holly wowed me with her knowledge and rattled off the big word chemical that had been linked to bee health. However, it really made me think of this awesome video:



I'm digressing.

But it was funny, right?

Anyway, we had moms who just wanted freezer beef. They wanted to have the opportunity to run out to their freezers and enjoy a steak dinner on a whim, as I did on Monday night. 

We had folks who wanted their questions about antibiotics answered. 

We had moms who walked by and rolled their eyes. Yes, we had a rather large (read: life sized) picture of a rather dusty older gentleman as our poster child (not the greatest choice...could we change that, please?), and we had no giveaways to truly entice them to come up to us, but we had babies, and sparkling personality and a breadth of knowledge, and were able to make a few connections and calm a few misconceptions. 

It was also a little bit of This Is Your Life, Emily Webel Edition! Friends from junior high, high school, college, early adulthood, my old church, my former moms group...you name it, I had a buddy there. It was awesome.

After a brief side trip to some stores I never get to go to, I headed home, happy, exhausted, and with aching feet. It was so worth it to be amongst the people.

This week, being National Agriculture Week, is perfectly wrapped up with the Women in Agriculture conference. Holly, Deanna and I will be podcasting...deep breath...LIVE at the last session. I have the important details covered: I know what I'm wearing, and the diaper bag is packed. However, what to say...we'll be working on that tomorrow. Never fear, friends, if you're a listener, our latest podcast is "short," and it's 30 minutes. We're nothing, if not chatty!! You can listen to it here.

So, in answer to the initial title question, yes! I do know it's National Ag Week, and YES! I am celebrating it...just actually doing something about advocacy in agriculture to honor it.

How genius, don't you think?

Monday, March 9, 2015

Dear County Market,

In our small town, we are very lucky to have the convenience of your supermarket.

Your market, while not as large as ones in metropolitan areas and without a vast selection of every possible food imaginable, is so wonderful to have in our community. Your staff is friendly, helpful, efficient, and kind. When I needed cilantro, you got it out of the back (fresh off the truck, mind you) for me. When I needed birthday cupcakes for my daughter, you made them with less than 24 hours notice. I recognize checkers as parents who sit on the bleachers during basketball games, and your store's size is small enough for me to navigate with my toddler and twins, without the fear of losing anyone, or my mind for that matter.

Your store's location, good coupons, and impact on the local economy keeps me coming back.

Until yesterday.

I sent Joe, my husband, to your store to pick up a few last minute items for my daughter's birthday party. While we were prepping for a happy day, he came home, fuming.

Joe is an agricultural professional. We used to be beef producers, and while currently do not operate a commercial cattle business, we understand the impact fear mongering and anti-agriculture marketing places on local farmers. Your company, based in Quincy, Illinois has decided to hop on the bandwagon of fear based, inaccurate, and shameful advertising for their meat products.

The checker at your store, while thanking Joe for coming in, handed him this card. She handed Joe, a Beef Quality Assurance Certified producer, who has taken multiple Beef classes in college from Tom Carr, one of the nation's top experts in all things beef, this card:


The picture is not the best, but you developed it, you should know what it says. However, let me tell you how it makes us feel.

We are angry.

We are confused.

We are frustrated.

We are fuming.

I'm not shaming the checker. She was just doing her job. However, your company, as I stated before, based in America's heartland where food is produced safely and efficiently, has decided to confuse consumers.

This card seems friendly, almost fancy. One may feel bad tossing it in the trash, as it is made of heavy, glossy stock. The size of a business card, this card could be tucked into a mom's wallet and referred to as she navigates the meat counter. It is simply worded, elegantly composed, and, from my layman's perspective, a marketing home run.

Billed as an FAQ for consumers for your new Wild Harvest product line (antibiotic and hormone free meat), its underlying message is anti conventional agriculture, anti food choice, and offensive to those in the beef production industry.

In your attempt to give consumers more information, more choice, more options, your message has stated that conventional beef producers, those who follow guidelines of animal husbandry, tend to their animals with the utmost care, are doing it incorrectly, and thus, will harm these consumers if their product is purchased.

While you concisely stated that "the animals raised and harvested for this program have never received antibiotics or added hormones-ever!" (Note the exclamation point. Your grammar, not mine.), you mention that those animals who do receive antibiotics are pulled out of your pool to be used in this program. However, you failed to mention that when animals, whether beef cattle, poultry, pork, etc., do receive antibiotics, by the time they are ready to be harvested and in the meat case, those antibiotics are out of the animal's system, causing no harm to the consumer. In other words, they once had used antibiotics, but are now free of any trace of them. While I'm not condoning juicing up animals on hormones, or using medicine at a rate that is unnecessary, your advertising is misleading.

Strike that, your advertising is not just misleading, it's yet another example of fear based advertising, confusing consumers, and painting a picture that conventional agricultural practices are going to hurt folks.

Another sticking point I have is the statement, "Animals must be humanely raised and handled safely at all times."

That's a requirement for this new Wild Harvest product line.

Once again, while you are not directly stating that conventional producers are not being kind with their animal husbandry practices, the insinuation is there. The tone is there, and if it's one thing I have learned as a mother, a writer, a friend, it's not always the words that are said, it's the tone in which it's expressed that can cause alarm.

I am all for food choice. While I am one to defend the industry, I am not so brazen to believe that everyone should buy what I buy. A family must do what is right for themselves, but this advertising is insinuating that our former livelihood, our community's heartbeat, is incorrect, unsafe, and inhumane.

And that is unacceptable.

I charge you, County Market and SuperValu to share openly, in just as pleasant of a light, conventional meat practices. I want to have an FAQ for the other choice I have, and I want it in soft colors on glossy paper.

I want you to continue to support our local producers, or I will have to forfeit my business from your store.

Sincerely,
Emily Webel
Confessions of a Farm Wife blogger and Agricultural Advocate



Monday, March 2, 2015

On Being the Oldest

March 2, 2015

Dear Anna,

Today you are ten.

Ten.

Ten.

There are parts of me that can hardly believe that the baby I brought home, the one with the chubby cheeks and big pink bow, is now holding another baby with chubby cheeks and a pink bow. You're doing this without being asked, just because you love your little sisters. And, let's be honest, you could tell I need help.

That's what's so amazing about you, Anna. Even though you're freshly ten, there are times that you act so wise beyond your years. We expect so much from you and then, in the same breath, feel so guilty about it. Just a fourth grader, you are so helpful, respectful, responsible. You do things for us without being asked. While I know that our family dynamic requires you to be responsible for your laundry, your retainer, your homework folder, shower, animals, you name it, I think if we would have just had you, you would have done the same. You're just that type of person.

But, when you're not, and you act like just a "normal" fourth grader, I get frustrated, and I'm sorry for that. You're just TEN, but I often forget that you're still a little girl. Maybe it's because you're innately responsible, but maybe it's because you are big enough to sit in the front seat beside me, wear the same size shoe as I do, and almost look me dead in the eye.

It's almost too much.

This growing up is happening too fast.

While we started out two peas in a pod (yes, you cried every single time I left the house for the first three years of your life), you and your dad have forged a special bond throughout the years. He's who you confide in. He's who you look up to with hopeful eyes. He's the guy who speaks the language you understand. He's a first born, too, so he understands how you feel most of the time. He speaks livestock talk and understands the bond you feel with animals.

And that's okay.

It's actually really great.

I know that while your dad is who you need most of the time, our bond is still strong. We have an unspoken one. The trust I have in you to be my helper, the respect I have for you as someone I can have a meaningful conversation with, and your sweet, tender heart is our bond. You don't need me to do things for you like the little kids, you can take care of your own business. (except when it's time to make your bed when you've fought with your covers that night or put your ponytail in!).

Our bond is one that is easy, because it has been easy to be your mom. You have made it that way, and I'm ever so grateful. Sometimes, however, I feel like because you've been so fun to be around, easy to discipline, reason with, take care of,  I have forgotten to enjoy all the little things and appreciate all the good and light and sweetness you bring to our family. It's just always there, and like so many things, I take that for granted.

But I am so grateful for you, Anna, and I want you to know that, especially on this special day.

You are my oldest. My first. You are the one who made me a mom first. You are the one I chose over my career, finishing my master's degree, everything. I chose to be your mom first and only. The other kids are just as important, but when I had you, everything changed, and I am so thankful for that. Being a mom has been the best decision, next to marrying your dad (of course!), I ever made. I thank God that He made me your mom.

While being a mom to you is easy, being the oldest in this family is not. Being the oldest around here often times means that you have to wait the longest, do the most, handle a lot more. That looks harsh as I type it out, but I know that these skills will serve you well. You'll be one of those people who can survive the first year of college with clean clothes and a stable psyche. You're going to be one of those friends who doesn't put up with drama, and not just because of your laid back personality, but because you've grown up with a family who doesn't have time for drama.

I have been your mom for ten years, sweetheart, and it seems like ten minutes. I can't believe that in the same span of time that I have been your mother today, in just another blink, you'll be 20. An adult. A college kid, with lots of life to live and lots of potential in front of you.

I'm so happy I was chosen to be your mom, and I'm so thankful you're my oldest. You started it all, kiddo. We hit the jackpot with you, that's why we kept going, right?

Thank you for being you. Keep being you. Your dad and I love you more each day, if that's even possible.

Happy birthday.

Love,
Mom








Friday, February 27, 2015

Thank Goodness I'm Not the Governor

I stink at budgets.

Seriously.

You would think, since I like things to be orderly, tidy and uniform, that I could stick to a budget.

But, nooooooooo.

I'm terrible at keeping track of my spending. I'm very YOLO (did I really just use that term?) when it comes to expenditures. Pottery Barn? You bet! Need a new pair of shoes? Go ahead! Grocery budget? We need food.

Good think I'm not running for a public office of any kind any time soon, especially in this great state of Illinois.

Strike that, maybe I COULD run for office in Illinois! For the past, well, as long as I can remember, our great state hasn't had a balanced budget. Evidently, living in the red is simply living in Illinois. We even have a couple of governors in jail, so the fact that I can't seem to follow a budget doesn't seem to be that big of a deal. There you go, Emily Webel, 2018!

Anyway, our state is in dire straits. Friends of ours who live in Iowa, North Dakota, Texas, etc., are all baffled by Illinois' history of corruption and poor fiscal responsibility. Where's Dave Ramsey when you need him? When can Illinois finally have financial peace?

Well, with financial peace, comes a big, icky conversation with the population. Kind of like the one I get when the credit card bill comes. While I know that when you're living on a budget, cuts have to be made, leaders in our great state need to consider carefully what and where to cut.

This is where I would make a terrible governor. One cannot YOLO (Twice in one blog!) oneself through a budget crisis.

However, education is one budget line where I cannot stand to see cuts be made. Drive around the Illinois countryside, and you'll see nearly every school has one of those electronic, scrolling signs (maybe that's a good item to cut. Does anyone else hate those things?). Each one, I guarantee, will have some sort of dollar owed amount. When we first moved here, our district's amount was around the $200,000-$300,000 mark. Currently, we're over one million dollars owed to our district from the state. And our district is in the BLACK! We're doing a lot with a little, but we're still not getting our fair share of the deal from the state.

Now, I know that money cannot be poofed into an account, believe me, I've tried to pray for it.


It doesn't work.

Belts have to be tightened. Certain programs need to be reevaluated. Staff needs to be addressed. Uniforms should be worn a few years in a row. I get that. But to have a school experience where there's no extra, no opportunity for students to shine outside the classroom, to grow as artists, agriculturalists, athletes, actors, is just ridiculous. From my very basic education classes in college, we were taught to teach students, the whole child: not just the reading child or the math child, but the child who loves to sing. Loves to move. Loves to run. Loves to grow things and make things and make people laugh.

Sending a child to a bare bones school is cruel. These are CHILDREN we are talking about. Children need to express and explore.

One specific line in the Illinois budget that is on the governor's list of "to go" is the Ag Education line item. I obviously have a soft spot for Ag Ed in my heart, but am especially aware of its significance because Joe used to be on the state staff for agriculture education. He and four other supervisors traveled their particular section of the state and supported teachers, offered guidance and wisdom and opportunities for growth as an educator. The framework for Ag Education in the state of Illinois is something to marvel. Teachers, from first year to nearly retired, are kept abreast of the latest trends and topics thanks to the ongoing professional development and support by the FCAE (Facilitating Coordination in Agriculture Education) staff. This staff is also supported by the ILCAE committee, a committee of professionals with the best interest and finger on the pulse of agriculture, to keep this facet of education up to speed. It's truly something to admire.

So cutting something that builds teachers up and ultimately betters student outcome and performance seems wrong to me.

This is another reason why I wouldn't want to be the governor. He'll have to mess with me, and a whole bunch of other disgruntled folks should this line item be cut.

Education is a hot button topic during the election, so don't mess with it. Find another way to trim the fat. I get it, you have to make tough choices in government, but shouldn't a greater investment in education equal a better return ultimately? If we have better schools with more opportunities and happier, better performing kids, we'll have better citizens. Ones who are less likely to be convicted felons or become unemployed. They'll leave school with a skill. They'll leave school with confidence. They'll graduate thinking they can do something to make a mark on this world.

So, please, Governor Rauner, and all you other government officials who have to make tough choices, think about the long term. Think about your life. Think about who you would have been would you have not been able to be a part of a team, had a teacher who felt supported, or had the opportunity to learn a skill that would be a job some day.

Would you have turned out to be the governor?


Monday, February 23, 2015

Celebrating FFA

If you follow any ag blog, have a friend who is of the agricultural persuasion, or have a person in your life who was ever in FFA, you already know that it's National FFA Week.

If you don't have any of those, your life probably has marched on without knowing that it's FFA week, but you should be aware, because, in my 36 years of life, a large portion of friends and acquaintances who have been involved in FFA sing its praises.

From their good jobs.

With eloquent words.

Seriously. I scoffed at FFA in high school...and my dad was a college ag teacher, and a former FFA advisor.

Pfft...why would I need to be in FFA? It's just the ag kids. I don't have time. I don't need it, and I don't think navy and black go well together.

Did that sound ridiculous?

Now navy and black are ALL OVER THE PLACE.

Seriously, not having any experience in FFA, and then coming into my marriage with Mr. FFA leads me to a different relationship with this organization.

No longer do I view it as a hick club. No longer do I consider the time spent in FFA activities as less important than sports or music or whatever. No longer do I p-shaw at navy and black paired together. Bless their hearts, it WAS 1928...the folks probably didn't have but one pair of pants anyway.

National FFA Week is a big week here for my family, as Mr. Webel is "celebrating" it with his students by pizza parties, contest practices, workshops, etc. In other words, I'm a single mom. However, that's okay. This organization is time consuming, on both sides of the coin. The teachers spend countless hours prepping their students, attending trainings, contests, and planning lessons for class as well. The kids, however, is what has amazed me in my new relationship with FFA. "Kids" is a relative term, too. These high school students are some of the most mature, well spoken, focused kids I have met. They balance work, school, and duties in a club that's not just another club to be put on their resume. It's a club that's prepping them for a career path.

I'm not joking. Some of my best friends, professionals I look up to, and just great people are FFA alumni. The training and time management and people skills these students receive by participating in FFA are beyond what you'd learn being a part of a team or on a stage. Now, I'm not discounting other extra curricular activities, as I am a believer in athletics and music and art, but FFA is more career prep oriented by nature. Grounded in agriculture, it began as the Future Farmers of America, but has morphed into a club that prepares students for business management, public speaking, defending their choices and beliefs by prepared and extemporaneous responses. Joe's Parliamentary Procedure team is not just preparing to win a contest, their prepping to be board members and know how to follow the correct procedure a meeting should follow.

It's pretty amazing, really.

So, while I'm not an FFA alumni, I have a house full of former and future FFA-ers. Long ago, I thought it was just the ag crowd that needed to be a part of this group. I was absolutely incorrect. Tractor driving and cattle and crops are a part of FFA and its tenets, but, as my friend Katie so eloquently put it in her blog, "Cows are not required."

Happy National FFA Week, friends. If you're not celebrating yourself, find a friend who was impacted by FFA and ask them about their experience. I assure you, it will be more about the friends, relationships, and skills acquired than the surface, snap judgement I once made.

However, I am going to ask about maybe getting a nice caramel color to replace the black pants.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Presents vs. Presence

Today's the day.

It's Farmer (Teacher) Joe's 40th birthday.

We've already read the cards, unwrapped the gift, had the cinnamon rolls for breakfast. Is it ironic that I got Joe a FitBit Charge, but made him cinnamon rolls for breakfast? Diet picks up again tomorrow!

Anyway, I could list forty things that I love about him, but then I'd just be another blogger who writes in list form. I prefer narratives. Call me crazy.

Ten years ago, as Joe embarked on his 30th decade, we were a young couple, married just shy of two years, ready to embark upon parenthood (read: I was ready to pop with Anna). We had a nice, quiet dinner. I can't remember if I got him a present.

Probably because I was pregnant. Without any other children.

You know, really busy.

Anyway, Joe is not a present guy. Don't get me wrong, he appreciates nice gifts, thoughtful gifts, practical gifts, but really he's not jazzed by things.

This is not my way.

I know this may come as a shock to you, but I LOVE PRESENTS. Big ones, little ones, sparkly ones, thoughtful ones, frivolous ones.

All presents. All the time.

So when Joe's birthday comes around, I find myself in a conundrum. Do I get him something that's practical like underwear or socks, or something fun and flashy, because he'd never buy it for himself? There were times this Christmas that he proclaimed the flooring or the doors or the door knobs for our basement would be just fine for his gift.

I never uttered such a proclamation, and enjoyed my Chanel perfume and bracelet like the good little consumer that I am.

This is why Joe and I work well together. While I love all the flash, he's more concerned about presence than presents.

I know, I married a good guy.

This is something I have had to learn to appreciate. When you're young and starting out, it's fun to shower each other with flashy, fun things. You have time to shop. You have time to have a quiet dinner together. You're spending your energy on each other, because when you're young and in love, that's what you do.

Twelve years together and six kids later, it still is nice to wrap up something shiny. That's actually easier to let Amazon do the talking for me through a gift. It's easy to buy a gift. It's easy to give a thing. It is satisfying to give something to someone.

However, at this stage in our life, we need to be present with each other. The quiet dinners can happen, by moving heaven and earth, hiring a babysitter, and praying it doesn't snow. In this stage of our lives, it takes more time and thought and effort to be present, not give a present. So, we've been talking about Daddy's birthday for weeks, planning how we will best be present for him. I'm working on my girls to appreciate presence, like their dad. I do have to admit, Amelia was horrified Joe only had one present to open today. She's her mama's girl.

So today, it's all about presence.

While he was able to unwrap a gift, we're working hard to be together. Since taking his new position, Joe is gone all day. Even though it's February, Jack and I are still getting used to this. As long as we've been parents, Joe has been flexible in his employment. We have had lunch together, shared preschool pick up together, given each other a break at 2:00 if necessary. I realize that there are many things I don't miss about Joe farming full time, but the in and out and pop-in visits during the day is the one thing I miss the most. Jack especially misses his daddy. So today, we're celebrating with our presence: Jimmy Johns at the "big school," and some time together as a family tonight.

Happy birthday, Farmer (Teacher) Joe! Here's to many, many more happy years ahead, and to being present with each other.

And presents...don't forget presents once in a while (especially April 15th).

(and August 2nd)

(and Christmas)

(and Valentine's Day)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Tiny Twinge

The other day as I was running down our road, I had the weirdest feeling. A tiny twinge of sadness. A wave of weirdness.

I had hit the point in my run where I was at the very end, the bitter end. Coming back after having twins has been hard, but this is not a post about running. I use landmarks on this particular route to keep me going. At the end of this one, actually every one as it's right before our house, I have the timber, the Price Pasture, the junk buildings and the big pasture and then I'm done. So, as I rounded the corner onto our gravel road, I started repeating: "Timber, Price's, Junk Buildings, Big One." If I can make it to the Big One, I'm home free.

Only as I repeated it a second time (no, I'm not OCD...just DYING), I had this twinge.

None of this is ours any more.

ouch.

I felt the twinge a little as I drove Anna to a lesson or practice or something in town, but ignored it. She noted the pasture's gate was open.

"They left it open, Mom."

"Mmmhmmm." I answered, oh so eloquently.

"But that doesn't matter to us, right?" she finished.

Silence.

"Nope. I guess it doesn't."

It's weird, friends, this not farming thing. I think maybe it's a little weirder to me, as I have been home bound for the past four months. Joe has his new job, which he loves and fits him well, and gets to work our show calves with Anna, so his farming itch is somewhat scratched.

Mine is not.

Did I just say that? Do I have a farming itch?

I guess so, and here's why. Farming is not just a job. It's a complete lifestyle. The whole package. It's your schedule, your bankroll, your identity, your circle of friends. You learn how to grow and how to understand death. You learn how to work really, really hard only to watch things fall apart thanks to nature. Those are stressful times, and ones that I don't miss, but my identity as this farm wife has shifted. Our address is the same. I'm essentially the same, but one year ago, everything, and I mean everything, was different.

So there's this twinge.

I'm not saying that I want things to be different, because we're in a good space, it's just a twinge. Weirdness. Strange feelings.

Plus, this has been a mild winter, so we haven't had the chance to rejoice that we're not choring in the subzero temperatures!

I still identify myself as a farm wife, farm mom and I have farm kids, but there's still this undercurrent of identity crisis that rears it's wonky head once in awhile.

I'm sure I'll get over it.

Remind me of this waxed-poetic post when Joe decides to buy more cows, okay?