Monday, November 29, 2010

To Illuminate or Not to Illuminate?

Once upon a time, there lived a young bachelor. He was a highly esteemed agriculture teacher at a small high school. He was energetic, creative, exciting. He even decorated his country house for a Christmastime contest...and won!

Fast forward nearly 10 years, and this agriculture teacher is now a full time farmer and currently is arguing with his wife about whether or not exterior illumination is NECESSARY this year?


That is not even the question I posed (by the way, the teacher was Joe, and I'm the wife...duh). The question was simply whether or not he would be helping me (did I mention I am carrying his FOURTH child??) put up said exterior illumination, not whether there would even be any.


However, like after any discussion Joe and I have, this discussion got me to consider my viewpoint from another angle. I started to reconsider whether or not Christmas lights are necessary this year. After all, Ed and Joyce-our lovely neighbors-,my parents, and a handful of drunks out for a joy ride are the only folks who truly travel our road. Why would they need to notice our Christmas spirit?

However, why wouldn't they notice our Christmas spirit? Why shouldn't we pretend that people would notice that we did a nice job making our Norman Rockwell-ish front porch look even more Norman Rockwell-ish? Why don't I just do it myself?

Well, it's raining currently, and the wind is about 30 MPH, so I'm not interested at the moment, but my point is this: farmers tend to view anything that is outdoor related, but not farm-related as unnecessary, even if we are celebrating the birth of Christ (note the guilt trip here...pack your bags, Farmer Joe!). Seriously, it has come to my attention that because farmers are outside all day and some times even into the night, working with animals, caring for sick calves, hauling grain to the elevator in the wee hours in order to beat the lines, some tend to believe that everything else should be taken care of by those at home, or not tended to at all.

I know this is not necessarily the case with every farmer, but in my world, my mom puts up the lights, my aunt has stood on the bed of the pick up truck to string her lights, and I will, tomorrow, haul out my greenery and lights and put up my own dang Christmas lights.

Until there's some sort of competition in our "neighborhood," or when a commodity can come out of greenery and twinkling lights, we will never be accused of making a bigger carbon footprint because of the excess electricity our fancy light display is using.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Who Do You See?

What is the picture you see when you're asked to visualize a farmer?

Does he have bib overalls on?
Does he have a family?
Is there a dog, some cattle, or chickens with him?
Is he surrounded by a barn and a loving family?
Are there any plants in the picture?
Is he even a "he?"

Interestingly enough, the image of the typical American farmer that "urbanites" see in their mind's eye is a rather humble looking, slightly goofy smiling, male farmer wearing a weird t-shirt and a nerdy hat. He looks nice enough, but it surprised me that he had on neither a collared shirt, nor a seed corn cap, as that's what I see (and wash) nearly every day.

The bottom line of this picture was that the man looked trustworthy.

I guess if you wear a nerdy hat and smile like a goof, you're a good guy, and trustworthy enough to produce your food.

The image of the American farmer is skewed, and even though my family doesn't wear goofy hats or t-shirts to work, the image itself of the small, quaint farmer, who seems to just produce, well, produce is what is concerning. We smile happily when the weather is cooperating, and love the land we work, but this picture of the cutesy farmer that could potentially either harvest turnips or turn around and pick a few peaches is unrealistic. This is no one's fault, but the American farmer, his- or herself.

Even though we have been told to tell our story, been empowered by training, are fueled by the fire of those who have been collecting data and studying this "farmer image" for years to go out and get that image of the nerdy looking, yet very nice (I must emphasize) farmer out of the American public's head, we don't know how to do this, except to preach to the choir. That, or come out with our guns blazing, ready to defend all the harmful press that the lovely mainstream media keeps cranking out.

But is that really what American urbanites are concerned about? And how do I "get my story out" without seeming preachy or boring? And, most importantly, how does some one like me, who is a newbie to this farming business sound intelligent during a potentially heated debate with some one contesting my family's livelihood?

Hopefully, I have a start with my writing. I'm hopeful that this this blog will continue to not only cause me to ask questions of my family and its connection with agriculture, but also bring this information to you, the reader in a way that you can understand and be entertained and informed simultaneously.

But, after my training yesterday, I'm not sure this is enough. Would standing on the street, near a farmer's market or grocery store, and shouting out about how much we love our cows and keep them vaccinated so that they can remain healthy? Should I send a picture to all urban newspapers of our family, the one in which Joe is neither wearing a dumb hat, nor am I wearing Mom Jeans (ALL OF THE FARM MOM PICTURES HAD ON THE MOM JEANS!! Grr...).

Well, something I took away from my training was to listen. To really hear the questions and concerns, asked by the moms in my circle of friends, or family members at holiday get togethers. I should truly be mindful of the advertising at the grocery store, and see if its promoting the farmer image I see across from me at the dinner table or the goofy dude in the picture.

I love to talk, so this listening thing will be hard.

However, my question to you, dear readers, is what is your picture of an American farmer? What do you see as important issues in regards to your food? How can I help you understand about where your food comes from and who is growing it? Do you want to understand the nuts and bolts of the American Farm Family, or are you more interested in whether or not the beef you get at the grocery store is safe for you to eat?

Let me know, and I'll continue to keep you posted on the goings on at this farmstead.

And, just for the record, something to change in your mind's eye immediately is the wearing of goofy hats and mom jeans!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Why I Am Not the Pioneer Woman

I just updated my Facebook status with our dinner menu for tonight. I rarely update my status with a menu since I cook most nights, and, unfortunately, it's usually not exciting. However, I was channeling my inner Ree Drummond (aka, the Pioneer Woman), whom I just watched on Throwdown With Bobby Flay.

She inspired me to cook my family a Thanksgiving feast of our own. However, I used my mother-in-law's, mother's, and frozen roll recipes, not the fancy gourmet-ish meals Ree prepared as she competed with Chef Bobby on the Food Network.

As I washed my dishes in my normal sized sink in my beautiful, yet cozy (read, smallish in comparison to the Drummond's) kitchen, I got to thinking about the beginning of my blogging. Right after I started posting, I found out about the Pioneer Woman. I even wrote to her, telling her how alike we were, living in the sticks. I explained to her that I too was new to the farming life, and was about to embark upon writing on it as a person with a new perspective on the American Family Farm. I never heard back from her, which is fine, because now that I have read a little bit more about her, followed her website, and grown with mine, I realized she and I have a different life in a seemingly common livelihood.

First realization that we are different: She has a guest house on their sprawling 1000+ acre cattle ranch in Oklahoma. Man, is that guest house something to behold. I guess cookbook sales were good, and cattle sold well for them! Seriously, their lifestyle is almost like a celebrity's life in the farm world. Huge ranchers with deep family history in the business, coupled with a best selling cookbook and a syndicated, widely followed and highly advertised website equals a guest house.

We have a shack where we store our lawn furniture in the winter.

The second realization I made is that I am not out for the same audience, or even the same goal as the Pioneer Woman. When I first saw her link to the "Confessions" category in her website, I panicked. I seriously worried that I would come across as someone who was trying to steal her idea. Of course, this dawned on me after I had already come up with my seemingly original and catchy title for my blog. However, I realize now that her niche is not to learn more and share about the agriculture and animals that surround her. She's cooking. She's making things beautiful, taking glorious pictures of it, and wearing Anthropologie to her Today Show interviews.

I'm wearing LOFT and Talbots to the Illinois Commodity Conference, while making a really noteworthy meal (that I will not be taking a picture of) for the first time in a long time.

My fears about starting this blog have subsided, and my worries that I would be stealing thunder or ideas or audience from this nationwide sensation who is featured on the Food Network are gone, and I'm happy with that.

I like my cozy kitchen, will enjoy my pumpkin pie tonight, and will go to bed realizing that my life is as extraordinary (or ordinary) as everyone else's. It's just that my marketing is just not as fancy!

Friday, November 19, 2010

To What or To Whom Should We Cast the Blame?

As I sat in the bleachers last night watching my oldest daughter at her first basketball practice, feeling like a "real" parent for the first time, I took a look around the gym. Kids of all shapes and sizes were bouncing basketballs, running after ones that had bounced off their feet, and chasing each other when the coach had lost their interest.

The kids were having a great time. None of them were concerned about the level of competition. Not a one complained about being tired. No one was self conscious about his or her clothes or shoes or anything. No one talked about what they ate, how much they weighed or anything like that. They were just kids, having a marvelous time.

The level of their physical activity for one hour was high. Each kid had to run around the court, keep his or her balance, practice good eye-hand coordination, and yet, no one whined about being tired or not having enough time to do this practice or anything.

Nothing like we adults tend to do at times.

Now, I am a self proclaimed exercise and running fanatic, so I must have something inside me that is pre-programmed to need to sweat at least once a day, hard. I need to feel my breathing heavy and my pulse racing. Call me a junkie, but I can still fit into my skinny jeans, and I'm 13 weeks pregnant. I, however, have encountered those in my life who would rather watch a ball game than participate in one. I still contend that through exercise, one can maintain a healthy lifestyle, and still eat normally (meaning, pizza on Fridays and an occasional doughnut).

Many Americans, however, are more interested in determining who or what is causing them to be fat, rather than taking their own health into their hands. High Fructose Corn Syrup is a naughty word, according to Michael Pollen, Rachael Ray, and other fancy-schmancy foodies. While I agree one shouldn't sit down and spoon up a bunch of the stuff, a lot of the problem is the AMOUNT of said corn syrup that is taken in coupled with the fact that it is often enjoyed while watching a movie, playing a video game, or just enjoying a double shot venti caramel machiatto in one's car on your way to your desk job. If we would maybe run around a bit like my little basketball player, maybe we could enjoy these treats and not worry about them killing us.

Although I have spoken up about Michael Pollen and how annoyed I am with his outspokenness (hello, Pot! It's Kettle!), I just finished reading an interesting article in Agri-News about his philosophies on not necessarily just American agriculture, but American nutrition. I have to say, gulp, I agree with him. During his presentation at the Food for Thought Conference in Indianapolis, he spoke on how the blame for the ruination of American health should not be solely placed upon farmers who produce products that go into high fructose corn syrup or other processed foods. Rather, we should be placing the blame on the fact that Americans are less concerned with nutrition and more concerned with convenience. Hmmmm...

Well, duh, I say. Thank you, Michael Pollen for speaking the somewhat obvious. Sadly, however, this may come as a surprise to some folks out there. Even if you're eating processed foods once in a while, if you just sit around and do nothing, and don't have an apple for a snack once in a while, your health will decline.

Well, duh, again, Emily.

I am not a perfect cook, nor am I a perfect parent, however, a magic word has come into my life as a parent who happens to consider herself health-conscious. That word, is no. I can say no to myself and children and even husband (ask his former co-workers about my phrase "make a healthy choice."). My kids eat Halloween candy, enjoy a McDonald's french fry once in a while, but on our table, within their reach is not a bowl of fruit snacks, but actual fruit. The kids know that if they want a snack, that's fine, but we need to talk about what they've eaten during the day and make a good choice based on that. Now, I'm not making my girls keep food diaries or anything crazy like that, but if we say no once in a while, and put a yes in there here and there, food becomes less of an issue, and more of a source of nutrition, rather than a lifestyle. We don't need to forbid foods. I believe that is the part of no that is tricky, but we need to balance everything out.

I also believe heavily in marketing. Like the commercials for Go-gurt and Pop Tarts and Dairy Queen, they have a target audience. I do too. My little girls have been choosing apples and bananas and grapes lately because that's what's in the bowl on the counter, at their eye level. Talk about ad placement...I'm a marketing GENIUS!! They prefer that for an afternoon snack, and that has nothing to do with my stellar parenting, but the marketing in which I employed to make the fruit look appetizing as well as accessible.

So, back to Michael Pollen, the gym full of kindergarten hoopsters, and the sedentary adults watching their kids. Should I blame Michael Pollen for the not-so-pretty picture he painted of production agriculture? No. He was presenting an idea in a way that was spun to fire up his audience. I agree that there are some farmers out there solely out to make a buck, and fortunately, I am married to some one who isn't a "factory farmer." Should I blame the little kindergartner for being winded during the lap they had to run, or should I blame his dad who loudly proclaimed that they had to hustle through the drive-thru to get to practice on time. Well, I shouldn't cast judgment on anyone, I know, but I do think his dad could do him a favor by packing a PB&J next time. That way, the poor kid won't chuck his nuggets as he does his laps. Who should I blame for the reason why I don't "look the way I did in high school?" I lettered in three sports and played in two summer leagues, lifted weights in the summer and swam with wonder why I was a little thinner back then! To whom should the blame be cast upon when our cholesterol is high when the discussion over dinner revolves around whether to microwave Hot Pockets or order take out pizza?

I believe wholeheartedly that American production agriculture and the regulations keeping our food safe are two things that you can count on. It's now up to us as consumers and eaters and parents and people to figure out that we need to focus less on convenience and more on living and breathing and pumping blood better. Through that, we can all live happily, in harmony and sing Kum-Bye-Ya around a campfire, while eating apples, not s'mores!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Communicating Fabulously

Okay, so I have this pretty interesting opportunity next week. I am headed to the Illinois Commodity Conference, and while there was a time that I might have run screaming from something like this, I'm actually really looking forward to it. The title of the whole conference is "Tell Your Story," and how appropriate is a person like me in attendance to hear other farmer's stories? Awesome. I even have been offered the chance to work in a smaller group of other ag communicators. A few of us "ag communicators" have been given the chance to sit down with the PR executive who is heading up the Farmer Image Campaign the different Illinois Agriculture groups (Farm Bureau, Illinois Corn and the like) have been working on. I'm excited to be a part of that training.

However, there are two aspects about this experience in which I am terrified about:
What if they ask me to actually talk about commodities? I mean, seriously, it's the Commodities Conference, for Pete's sake! Do I really know ANYTHING about commodities? Let's just hope the people pay attention to how fabulously I'm dressed...

BUT WHAT DO I WEAR???? (second freak out moment)


These are important things. What if some one asks me an agricultural question? Seriously, these people who attend conferences such as this either majored in agriculture of some sort, grew up on a farm, call farming their livelihood, or just love being around aggie people. Honestly, what if some one asks me what I think about the markets, what will I say? What do I think about anything agricultural? And, most importantly, what shoes will I be wearing? Do I carry a big bag, or does that make me look too high maintenance?


My hope is that my nerves will subside; I will ask Joe for a crash course in ag communications, and the gray kitten heel Calvin Klein shoes I bought (majorly on sale, I might add) will not kill my feet, but just look fabulous!

Say a prayer for me.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Thank Heaven for the Fleck in My Carpet

When a city dweller thinks of country living, I believe a few words come to mind: peace, quiet, serenity, natural , to name a few.

Such words came to my mind just four short years ago as we were putting the finishing touches on our remodeled farm house. I was ready to leave town; be on our own without neighbor kids to chase out of our yard or barking dogs to wake my new baby in the night. We were getting ready to move to not only the country, but the exact house where my grandparents lived, a place where I spent nights as a kid, chased kittens through the yard, and spent every Christmas night in a warm house, filled with cousins. I couldn't wait to leave our little cul-de-sac in town for the country life.

While I was busy thinking of how I would love to have the open space and quiet nights, nowhere in my mind's eye were the pictures of what country life really would be like. While it may seem to be ideal to live on a road off the beaten path, the night that a drunken fool left his girlfriend's trashed car in our ditch, only after stealing it and dragging it from town makes for an interesting morning discovery.

I never considered what life on a gravel road would really entail. Sure our cars would be dusty, but that's what car washes are for, right? I never considered how, on a perfectly warm day in November, after a entire family bout of the stomach flu, one would want to open the windows and let the fresh air in. However, I must weigh my options: cake the house in gray/brown dust and fight the urge to write my name on every flat surface, or just re-Clorox everything?

I choose re-Cloroxing.

Never did I consider the wonders of curbs and paved streets for ease of rolling a stroller or a bike or a trike. Thank heaven I have tough girls who have learned to ride bikes, trikes and scooters on a small pad of concrete, and graduate up to navigating their modes of transportation through divets- that resemble small craters- made by tractor wheels in the gravel drive.

Nor did I consider anything but the charm of living in a new/old house. We made our 1871 farmhouse new: new walls, new carpet/tile, refurbished hardwood floors, the works. However, on days like today when so many of my Facebook friends are rejoicing the beauty of a warm fall day, I'm counting the dead fly bodies on my white woodwork in the upstairs. In one window, I counted 25. TWENTY FIVE DEAD FLIES!!! Seriously, that's in just one window. Where do these guys come from? I have a pest man who sprays something in our house that makes the little buggars become drunken sailors, and eventually keel over and die, but where do they come from? New insulation was sprayed in the walls were windows were installed...WHAT THE HECK??

Thank heaven I have a fleck in my carpet.

An impromptu visit from a friend is few and far between, living this far out, which is a good thing on a day like today. If a buddy were to show up, my housekeeping skills would not be something to behold. Instead, I would have to suck it up and pick up my dead fly bodies with my bare hands from the window sills, and consider my choice to have a short frieze carpet with a fleck a good decision. Even if the flecks seem a little more three dimensional on days like today.

There are pros and cons of living anywhere, that's for sure. However, always consider your bug options when deciding to move to the country...or choose a carpet with a dark fleck in the pattern.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Grammar Nerds

Admitting the problem is a step in rehabilitation, right? Well, here it goes: I'm Emily, and I have a problem: correcting grammar. No form of bad grammar is ever left uncorrected in my head. From an incorrect apostrophe on the Skinny Jean's Workout at my gym (what exactly are the jeans owning???) to an incorrect use of your/you're in a facebook status, no bad grammar is left unjudged.

I know; it's snobby, but I can't help it. I completely and utterly am a product of a grammar nerd home. It's in my genes. My mom is a absolute and total grammar nerd, complete with a master's degree in English. She has been known to tell grocery clerks that the express line should read 15 items or fewer, take a Sharpie marker to signs at her school to correct apostrophe usage, even consider calling a local church when their kitchy sign was grammatically incorrect. WE CAN'T HELP IT! We are NERDS!!

However, this is a blog about agriculture. What in the heck does being a grammar nerd have to do with being a farm wife?

Well, the farmers have gone nerdy on us! Generally speaking, when the image of a farmer comes to mind, one does not necessarily consider the fact that he or she cares whether things are spelled correctly, or that apostrophes are used in the right way, or that grammar in general is important. However, thanks to a little nudging from their grammar nerd wives, and much like my quest to be educated in all things agricultural, the guys are learning! Just the other night, my husband and dad were lamenting over a local chemical and seed company's newsletter, and its obvious lack of proofreading. My dad showed it to my husband, proclaiming, "I can't even do the word scramble! Combine is spelled incorrectly!" After Joe took a look at it, he asked me if the apostrophe in one of the words was necessary!

YES!! My plan to make our farmers a superior group of grammar nerds is nearly complete!

Now, I'm not saying that all agricultural publications are usually anything but professional. There are really great writers who understand the English language (or have a great proofreader), and do a great job conveying the message of agriculture to the greater population. However, there are still those folks who either don't take the time to hit the little ABC icon atop their Word Document, or care enough to treat farmers as the well educated, intelligent men and women they are. Please write to us as people who are in need of information, rather than causing me to get all crazy and start correcting your sentences as I read them! Remember, there are grammar nerds EVERYWHERE. . . even farmers who have been converted to our side!

Grammar nerds unite!

Monday, November 1, 2010

It Ain't Over...

Okay, remember the joyous whoops and small dances that occurred last week as our harvest was complete? Remember the thoughts I had about potentially having another warm, adult body in the house? Remember how I thought that the busy-ness in this business was OVER?

Well, I was WRONG.

Here I am, on November 1st, watching as headlights create two strong beams of light through my kitchen window. No, we're not planting some crazy crop that will last through a harsh Illinois winter, nor are the guys taking a joy ride on the four wheeler out in the "back."

No, no,'s tillage time.

The trick with fall field work is that in our family's operation, we don't turn off the combine and head off to some great vacation spot. There's no, "Hey, great season, guys! See you in six months!" Instead, hardly a beat is skipped, and the guys are back on tractors, pulling three or four different tillage tools, depending on what needs to be worked, disced, chopped, or "dominated." Our fun new tool is this enormous piece of red (and if you know us, that's shocking...we run green tractors and red trucks) and shiny, sharp and scary, spiderish looking thing, that works the ground "just enough."

Tillage work around here is a fine tuned, carefully calculated art form.

This meticulous work, however, can take place at all hours of the night. The scientific (ha, ha) reasoning behind this is that dirt is dirt, and if a frost is hard or an early snow falls, you're out of luck for fall tillage work. These all nighters adds stress on this farm wife's life, but that's another story.

Anyway, our operation takes great pride in the fact that the farmers not only become good stewards of their land during the planting and harvesting times, but also understand the topography of each of our farms. Since we farm in three counties (which makes us sound really fancy, but when you live a mile from two county lines, it's bound to happen), there are many different fields that need many different tillage operations.

I thought, before I have become more worldly in this agricultural science, that black dirt and big clods were the way that ground should look when it was worked. Stalks and remnants of the past crop should be hidden, like gray hairs or messes stashed in random closets before company comes. However, this is not the case. Our tillage tools may sound like something that should be participating in an Ultimate Fight Challenge, but they are actually massagers of the land, working it just enough so that a crust won't form and the crops that go in that field in the spring will have a good chance of coming up. The Dominator and the Turbo Chopper 3000 are fancy names for tools that are making the land better, not ripping it up. They are gentle giants that keep the soil from exposing all of its good stuff for the harsh weather to strip away.

I know that this is necessary, and that with November comes the threat of crazy early winter weather, so the guys are working long hours, again. I am thankful that they are good farmers, because in the end, it all gives us a better crop to provide to the nation.

However, it does not help the fact that I am left at bed time to give three baths, read sight words, chase monsters out of closets, and have no one to discuss who should be voted off of Dancing with the Stars.

But, again, that's another story.