Sunday, May 29, 2011

Farmer Joe Goes to Kindergarten

My husband was a high school agriculture teacher, and and an FFA sponsor. He then became a state supervisor, helping agriculture teachers in his territory be better educators. His next endeavor was to work for a national agriculture education consulting company, working with state departments of agriculture across the country to set up quality programs and train teachers on testing and curriculum software he helped to develop. He traveled abroad with an agriculture leadership group, learning about the global marketplace and presenting to other leaders about the benefits and processes of American agriculture.

Can you tell I'm proud of him? Can you tell he's kind of a big deal?

Well...this big deal dude is now a farmer, full time, and a dad, and was also a NERVOUS WRECK when he was readying himself for his presentation to Anna's kindergarten class during career week! It was pretty funny, actually. He has presented to some of the biggest names in American agriculture, and was pacing his office and surfing the Internet for the perfect activity for Anna's class.

I was called in to intervene, because I didn't have anything else to know, just a newborn, a 23 month old, and a preschooler all at home that day...because Joe was struggling to find the "right" picture of a beef cow. Joe wanted to share some of the processes of being a cattle farmer, and the one that Anna really likes is the process of ear-tagging. It's like ear piercing, and it even comes with fun equipment. Joe had prepared an ear tag for every kid, with each of their names on it, and now he needed a picture of a beef cow to "pierce" with the piercing gun. However, after using Google images, we realized that there was no clear, true representation of any beef cow, anywhere. It was disappointing. Either the cattle were goofy looking cartoon characters that were not only spotted like dairy cows and had horns (which ours do not, nor do many little calves...think about it, little calves, little horns, big cows, big horns. We, however, have cattle with NO HORNS).

Anyway, I'm digressing.

We settled on having me free-hand (which is hilarious, because I am NO artist) a picture of a black cow on the back of an old pizza box. I know, super fancy.

As I colored, Joe and I discussed how disappointed we were with the resources available to the general public and the representation out there on cattle. As a teacher, I used Google images all the time as a resource. It was disappointing to see that different beef associations, National FFA, even Ag in the Classroom offered no resources to the general public in regards to true representation of animals and American agriculture. How are we supposed to fight the dorky, nerdish stereotype when all that's out there is a dorky, nerdish stereotype?


Anyway, after our art session, Joe headed off to kindergarten. Anna's teacher took some great pictures, and Joe and Anna both were so excited about how the presentation turned out. He did great, the kids loved the ear tags, and he is hopeful the lesson they took away gave them just a taste of life on a real farm.

We enjoyed this experience because, yet again, it has made us realize how much more educating we need to do to get our story out to the general public.

We'll continue to do kindergarten class at a time!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Mission Accomplished!

Well...He's HERE!! Jackson Richard (Jack) made his arrival on Thursday, appropriately on the day we were finishing up planting beans! We're all excited, exhausted, and envisioning him in his little coveralls, helping with chores in just a few short years!

Thanks for bearing with me during these nine (ten, actually) months!!

Happy Saturday!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Urban Livestock

Normal, Illinois is considering allowing residents to raise and house chickens within the city limits. The city council is still discussing the regulations that would accompany allowing these "urban chickens" in neighborhoods, but I can't help but laugh. Is it just me, or can you picture these little gals (hens only) with their baggy jeans, sideways caps, and large, gold chains? The picture I have of "urbanized" livestock, chickens in particular, is laughable.

I realize that this is not the case, and these hens will not be sporting urban wear, but regardless of how these chickens look, the premise of this still makes me laugh. It is hot right now to be self-sustaining...whatever that really means... to be in charge of your own food source, raise your own stuff, be able to live off of your land. I get that. We do that. However, we do that on nearly 2500 acres of crop land and hundreds of acres of pasture, and we're still under fire by animal activists. How is putting little urbanized hens in coops in your backyard better than allowing our cattle to graze in a fenced pasture? How does some one who spends all day in an office or at school or some other workplace know the first thing about keeping these urban chickens healthy, happy, and productive?

I'm not saying that you shouldn't garden, keep a few animals, or try to be your own food source. That is absolutely not my argument. My argument is that if we're going to be okay with urban chickens, get off the back of the American livestock farmer a little bit. I would like to think that my husband who not only grew up on a livestock farm, but holds a master's degree in agriculture in college knows a little bit more than some one who just wants to fiddle around with eggs. I'm all for others trying to understand agriculture and try to live it, but this whole thing seems like a big double standard to me. I would love to hear Michael Pollen's opinion on this. How could a little coop be okay with him?

Regardless, I will continue to follow this story, and will continue to chuckle every time I hear the phrase, "urban chickens," picturing the little gals wearing large clocks on chains and listening to loud music. The noise ordinances should not be limited to just clucking in this city. The city council should be careful with the verbage on that one!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Does Puttering Need a Purpose?

Rain, dry-out, plant, repeat. Rain, dry-out, plant/apply anhydrous, repeat.

This has been my life since mid-April. I know that's only been a month, but for someone like me, who needs an "end date" in sight, this repetition with no clear-cut end is killing me...kind of like waiting for the birth of, say, a fourth child.


Today, however, it is raining: sweet, glorious, light, wonderful rain. The kind of rain that makes you want to sleep in, which we ACTUALLY did this morning, thanks to truly tired kids and a new mattress. I woke up to the sound of the gentle rain and thought, "YES!! Now Joe can do (fill in the blank with roughly fourteen things)." Seriously, what is my issue? Why can't I let the poor guy just be? Why, on a rainy Saturday, do I want to fill it with "fix-its" and "get-its?"

Well, because these are rare days. These days when Joe is literally doing chores, and then will be in the house for the rest of the day leads me to believe that he can be like a guy who works a nine-to-five, no travel, no take-home work job. The ones that putter in the yard, clean the garage, and have hobbies.

However, the farmer in Joe does not let himself putter. If he's going to do anything resembling puttering, it's with a bigger purpose. My honey-do list needs to be written from most urgent (i.e., getting a bed for our daughter to actually sleep in) to least urgent (hanging anything decorative). This character trait seems to be synonymous with many farmers. This observation has lead me to the conclusion that farmers don't putter. From what I see, they get their jobs done with careful urgency, always watching the sky or the temperature gauge, and when they're done, it's on to the next thing, with that same sense of "get it done-ness." In our operation, there's no messing around without a greater purpose.

If you're familiar with the "classic" movie, Old School, there's a part when Will Farrell mentions that he and his wife have a "lovely little Saturday, spending time at the Home Depot and having Olive Garden for lunch." We as a married, farming couple have NEVER had a Saturday like that. There's not any time for frivolous trips to the Home Depot. If we need to go to said improvement store, we're getting something to fix something that needs to be fixed immediately. Then, we're out of there. We're not the family to go to the mall together on a Sunday afternoon to look. As much as I love shopping, we have never done that because that's not in Joe's make-up or on his radar screen for fun.

Stuff we do has to have a purpose.

Which is okay, I have come to realize. Would I rather him be out golfing or playing around with his buddies rather than doing something that could better our operation, our livelihood? Absolutely not. However, do I want him to be fulfilled in all aspects of his life? Absolutely YES. So, where's the balance? In a profession that is hurry up and wait (for the crops to grow and cows to calve), as well as one that is at the completely mercy of good seed choices, good planting techniques and conditions, and good ole Mother Nature, how can you find a time to just breathe and be settled? Where's an opportunity to putter and not have a purpose?

I'm not sure. Right now, Joe's hobbies include playing with our kids, watching the Cardinals play, and trying to rest.

I think that's okay for now. But, my hope is that some day, some how, he can find a place to putter without a purpose, to enjoy the day without feeling that he must get something done.

Oh my ... I'm just realizing what an enabler I am!!!! Maybe I should hide my honey-do list for starters!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Close, Very, Very Close

This is the theme of our lives in all aspects, both domestic and occupational: so, so close.

Barring any disaster, be it natural, mental, or mechanical, we should be finished planting corn TODAY! Whoo-hoo! Joe, my dad, and my uncle, as well as our helper have put in long hours, stopping occasionally to eat and sleep (and my uncle to step off the planter for a bit to see his son off to prom), but thanks to the rain that hasn't come, dependable, big equipment that allows us big, big days, we are so, so close.

However, once again, the superstitions of our farmers shines through on times like these. Joe actually knocked on the wood trim in our family room last night as he explained that we could be done with our corn planting by tomorrow. Knocked on wood...for real, not just saying the phrase. It was quite humorous, but got me to think, when can we take a deep breath? Although it has been dry and windy and perfect here to plant, the guys are now worrying about whether or not it will rain at all in the next few critical days, to saturate the little seeds for them to have a good start. And, having a conversation with my daughter's preschool teacher (also a farmer's wife), she mentioned her husband feared torrential rain that would wash away all the little promises of income in the fall.


When do we get to breathe a SIGH OF RELIEF?

Answer: never. However, isn't that the case with every occupation, or every aspect of one's life, for that matter? As much as I feel ready, physically, mentally, and from a decorating standpoint, for this baby, I'm not. Am I truly ready to have FOUR KIDS? Yikes.

I wrote on Mother's Day about how farming is a lot like parenting, whether you're a livestock person or just a "crop" farmer. You care so desperately, choose the seed meticulously, plant when the conditions are, just perfect, and then you have to just trust. I have trouble with this aspect of both parenting and farming, as I am a complete and utter control freak, so I guess that's why I'll never breathe a sigh of relief in any way, shape, or form.

Life would be boring if it were predictable, right?

I'll just keep telling myself that.

Happy planting!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Holiday Raincheck

Poor Joe.

The guy cannot win. I have a spring birthday, right in the heart of calving season. Our third daughter was born the day after we finished planting beans, the very day after the most difficult, frustrating, and sleep-deprived planting season in the history of the world (well, that's a bit dramatic, but whatever). We're having our son in a few weeks, deep into the planting season.

And now, this weekend, when the weather is finally cooperating, the planter and chopper are rolling, is Mother's Day.

That's why, when the weather cooperated again, Joe proclaimed he wished that he could get a spring holiday/birthday rain check, and allow for said events to be rescheduled during a more convenient time. His mom will not be getting her card in time. I'm certain that I will get one...just in a few days or weeks. I received the most special one my third mother's day when he wrote a cute poem in regards to his lack of acknowledgment of the holiday due to farming. It's tucked away in my "save" file.

I agree with the holiday raincheck theory. Who doesn't want a day to be celebrated, but there's no way that Joe can stop what he's doing now, take me out to dinner and then watch the kids while I go and sit at the spa, getting my toenails painted...since I haven't seen them in a while. However, contrary to popular marketing campaigns, I am not a mother who expects diamonds, flowers, chocolates, or a fancy cell phone. I am okay (and pretty good at it, if you ask my adoring, non-spender husband) with buying myself new things when necessary (or at a great price). I don't expect to be waited on hand-and-foot on mother's day. We're not brunch eaters...we get up too early.

It's not fair to guys, especially farmers, to have a holiday like this in the midst of a truly busy time. There are at least three mothers in our operation who will get the short end of the stick tomorrow, and we've all come to terms with it in our own little ways. We'll spend the day with our moms, be with our own children (the reason why we're celebrated on this day, anyway...who would have thought???), try to catch some zzz's or a bit of quiet time with a magazine when the kids are out and about. We'll do what we do every day, because we're moms. That's what we do. While it would be nice to be greeted with a "take the day off" proclamation, I know that's not the case for me, so my expectations are not there. I know Joe knows that I am a gift person, but unless I want a new hat from LG seeds or something chosen from the check out counter at the EZ Stop in town, I need to know that the thankfulness I get from him comes every day, or in the mere suggestion that they'll be done soon, and then, maybe then, I can treat myself to something in honor of being a mother.

But do I really need to? Does a pedicure equal a thanks for giving birth? On some days, yes, however, today, I am realizing that while I am the mother of three (nearly four) kids, Joe's job as a farmer is very close to mothering. As a cattle man and a grain farmer, he is just doing what I have done for the past nine months, even six years, and maybe I should celebrate that. He is creating an environment for his little "children" so that they can succeed and grow and do great things as food and fuel for our country. I should remember that he's not out golfing, goofing off or ignoring me. He's working to provide for our family and the world around us.

So, on this Mother's Day eve, I am celebrating myself, my mom, grandma, mother-in-law, and now my farmer. Life is good, and I don't need a pedicure to remind myself of what an honor it is to be in the professions we are. However, I would like to know what color my toenails are...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Hot or Cold?

I'm staring down a bacon cheeseburger.
No, it's not some weird's a good idea gone bad, no, strike that: gone cold.

You see, we've actually started working ground and planting TODAY, and although the world has a lot going on that is way more urgent than a cold bacon cheeseburger (you know, Osama, levees being blown up, and general malaise), around here, what's for dinner is crucial.

During the planting and harvest seasons, I am truly shown what a poor excuse for a farm wife I am. My husband is not demanding in any way in regards to food, he just wants to eat when he's home, or on the road, or in the tractor, around dinner time. He wants Nutty Bars (even though they were OUT of them at the store the other day...failed AGAIN!!). However, shouldn't I, after nearly three years in this biz, have some idea of what to make him, when, and how to get it to him if he's not around? However, my husband, growing up as a farm kid around some pretty amazing farm women, has high expectations. It's his genetics. It's what he knows. For example, his grandma once ordered pizza from the wrong place, but still drove the extra 30-40 minutes to get it, just so that the guys could have it in the field. Who does that? I would have canceled the order and given them Tombstone at 10:00 when they came in!

But I digress, back to the cheeseburger. My girls and I had a great day. It was gorgeous outside, and if there were ever a day that I were not driven crazy by writing all the things I did today on my Facebook status bar, today would have been the day. Anyway, we rewarded ourselves with a trip to B's Drive Inn (the local burger and ice cream joint). I was so excited to have an outing, plus the opportunity not to cook, and the possibility of giving Joe a hot meal at 6:00, I forgot that he was NOT in the field anywhere near B's, but rather is the chemical and seed deliverer today.


So, his cheeseburger sits in our fridge. It's 9:00, the kids are in bed, and I'm alone with my thoughts of how I have failed once again Farmwifery 101.

However, life not cease due to a cold cheeseburger. It will be reheated, with a smile. Planting will ensue tomorrow. We will continue on at this pace as long as we can, with the hopes that some day, some how, I'll figure out how to feed three kids, myself, the dog, and a husband, all at different times of the evening.