Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Breath of City Air

Oh I am a city girl at heart.

I have accepted, enjoyed, and (as of today) love my life as a country mouse, but plunk me down in the heart of Chicago, and I suddenly become Emily, the city girl.

Give me your traffic! Give me the El! Give me the SHOPPING!!!

I'll take it.

However, I was in the city for another event as a part of the Illinois Farm Families campaign, so it wasn't all Crate and Barrel, Anthropologie, and Nordstrom shoes...even though there was A LOT of that!!

Anyway, on Thursday, I rolled out of my posh, downtown hotel room, coffee in hand and headed to the Daley Plaza Farmer's Market (for you movie's the plaza where The Blues Brothers ended). I met up with my other farmer allies and was briefed on what to do.

"Emily, go out in the market, pass out some literature, and talk to some folks."

Easy enough.

Or so I thought.

I started my endeavor to educate the business class of Chicago with, "Would you like to win free groceries for a year?"

I was met with a lot of ignoring, texting, and looks of, "Are you a scam artist?"


Plan B: Change my pitch to start with, "Interested in recipes?" (thank you Pork Producers for the free cookbooks) or "Are you interested in learning more about the farmers in your state?"

Answer to most questions: "No..."


However, I did have a few folks who were really friendly, and once again, were shocked to hear that I was a farmer's wife. Honestly's the most bizarre compliment. Yes, I was wearing a cute dress (a casual one, but a dress that was trendy-ish nonetheless), and yes, I do speak in complete sentences, but I WILL NOT show up to an event in the plaza in the heart of the Loop in Chicago wearing bib overalls or an embroidered, collared sweatshirt (sorry, Grandma Mary).

Maybe if I would have, they would have trusted me more?


NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I'll leave that outfit to the goofy looking grower from Michigan who had awesome peaches by the bushel.

Anyway, again, what I have learned from this opportunity is this was not the best way to connect with consumers.

I was comfortable there, and that made me strange in the eyes of the city folks. From the body language and distrustful and wary glances, these folks wanted me to probably be in muddy boots and coveralls. When I was happy to talk and explain our operation, they didn't have time to listen. These folks wanted to get their corn-syrupless truffles (note the eye rolling), gladiolas, and Amish made bread and be on their way. They weren't interested in talking to this Citified Emily...the one in fabulous shoes and big sunglasses...I was obviously pretending to be a farm wife. The other farm wives, the ones in the Amish tent, were the ones that they were questioning, not me. They had little bonnets. I had Ann Taylor.


So, I guess I was the one who was not necessarily discriminated against, but not trusted. I am just a frustrated city-girl-wannabe who desperately wants good PR for my husband's line of work. I'm not a scam artist who wants your social security number or your email address to send you some spam messages by the thousands!

This will not phaze me, however. I will press on! I will continue my pursuit to break through the stereotypical persona that precedes me. I will not wear a bonnet, however, will maybe not work so hard to fit in with the crowd in an event like this. I am a city-lover, but a country-liver, so I need to personify a balance in my style for times such as these.

But don't bonnets are in my future.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Guest Blog

Hey! This week has been an active one! We're back from another adventure in Chicago as a part of Illinois Farm Families, and in the meantime, I got to guest blog at the Illinois Farm Families site! You can read my post here, and I promise to catch up with my writing when my laundry's done!!

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

There's Always a Chance

We've been watching the weather with great interest. Every night, our lovely weatherman predicts the weather with intense emotion and excellent description, "Great day for being outside! Sun, sun, sun! Low humidity! There's a chance of maybe a shower or two popping up, but for the most part...a great day!"

Always a chance.

Never definite.

If you're wanting to run outside, get a tan, swim, or wash your car, this weather is awesome. If you're a farmer where we are, as well as a great deal of the state of Texas and into the Plains, you're dying for a rain.

There was a chance today. The sky has blued up three times today, complete with lightning, thunder, the whole works.

Not even the pavement got wet.

Joe is trying to keep optimistic, but whenever there's a chance, he'll say, "Do you know what a tenth, two-tenths, half inch (whatever) could do for our crop? Do you know how much we're losing every time it doesn't rain."


There goes my dreams of the denim couch in the Pottery Barn catalogue...not that I would ever really go and buy it after the fall, but with cash in hand, a girl can dream, right?

We're starting to worry around here, and that is never fun. Decisions are second guessed, dirt is kicked without conversation when the farmers gather, and worried faces scan the radar for just a sliver of green to pass our way.

We could be worse off, I know, but this month of August is already rough with summer ending, school starting, and with harvest just a breath away, and if we could just get a good soak, we'd be ready for the crop to finish its maturing process.

It's sunny now, and when Anna gets off the bus and the girls (and boy...even though he just sits in the stroller), and some friends will go outside and enjoy this lovely day, complete with low humidity, a light breeze and sun, sun, sun. I'm going to stay hopeful that a rain will come, so we'll go out and enjoy this nice afternoon because tomorrow, there is always a chance.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

First Grade Motorcade

Well, it has come and gone. The day was here, and now it's gone. The excitement, the anticipation, the planning...all for a great, smooth, seamless event.

No, I'm not talking about President Obama's visit to our area yesterday (which you can read about here, in great detail thanks to my fancy friend, Holly, who had the supreme honor of attending a town hall meeting with Obama.)! I'm talking about Anna's first day of school! Duh.

While we didn't require as much security as Obama's visit required, there was quite a bit of preparation, a lot of planning, and some fanfare in the past 12 hours. She packed her bag with the school supplies carefully chosen on a special shopping trip (sans the Prang watercolors, which we cannot find!). She set her alarm, laid out her clothes, and discussed the procedures that would take place in the morning. Just like the Wyffels family in Atkinson, IL, where Obama made a stop, we prepared ourselves for everything. We had a last minute bus time check from my aunt last night. We had a dry-run with our district open house yesterday, where the classrooms were found, questions were answered, bags were unpacked, paperwork gathered, and even a little bit of campaigning occurred (don't get too excited...but I'm running for secretary of the Farmington PTO.). Anyway, like any big event, a lot of care was taken in getting our little girl ready for the big day.

Then came the First Grade Motorcade. Between our car, my cousin's truck, aunt's SUV, and the actual bus, Anna had quite the group of cars taking off from the same point this morning. So exciting. The traffic on the road was blocked momentarily while the stop sign on the arm of the bus allowed for our precious cargo to load up. And then, just like that, she was off. Off for another big year at the "big" school.

Okay, enough with the Obama comparisons (my conservative, Republican husband is HORRIFIED and now thankful). While it is a big deal to send off any kid to school, I have to laugh at the reactions of some of the folks around where we live. We live very close to two districts, but, thanks to the lack of a logical consolidation years and years ago (my grandmother is still rolling her eyes about this one from beyond the grave), our kids go to the "bigger" district. This "big" school is geographically large, spanning three counties and five towns, but in the grand scheme of schools, is it really that big? I had a very nice woman ask me the other day how I felt sending Anna to such a "big school." I nearly laughed. Where am I sending her? Chicago? New York? No...just a school with five sections of first grade.

But this size is not the norm around the countryside. One or two sections of about 20 kids is considered a good size class in some districts. And while small class sizes and accountability of teachers (i.e., sitting next to them in church) is desirable, isn't it okay to be a small fish in a big pond? In my little world, small town America, where people know who's coming and going at all times, isn't it okay for Anna to not know and/or be related to everyone in her class? Shouldn't I be happy with the opportunities that come with a bigger district? In my small town, country world, it is nice to have something considered "big," other than a planter or a combine!

We might not have been big enough to be a stop on the Presidental motorcade, but our little first grader will have a taste of something bigger as she presses on in her schooling. And for that, I am proud.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

You Can Eat Chicken, Emily...

...and it won't offend me."

My father-in-law stated this as we sat down to a dinner out at the Mom and Pop restaurant in town last night.

Wait, what?

I can, what?

You see, my dear father-in-law is a life long pork producer. One of those guys who has weathered the storms of bad prices and bad press. He is an innovator of sorts in the pork world, moving the family's operation from outside pigs in the 80s to a successful and safe confinement (dare I write that word???) operation today. He rebuilt after a devastating tornado that flattened most of his buildings, but amazingly hardly harmed any animals.

He's a good guy.

However, he's a little bit opinionated where a menu is concerned. When I first started dating Joe, he used to scan the menus whenever we were out to dinner for all the "pork options," honoring his father's profession. When we were married, we served the best pork tenderloin one could serve to nearly 300 guests, in honor of his family's livelihood.

Therefore, when I was granted permission to order Amelia chicken strips, I nearly fell over.

I, however, ordered an awesome deep fried, ginormous pork tenderloin...which is what you absolutely should order at any mom and pop restaurant in Illinois. Seriously. Thank heavens I ran that morning.

Anyway, pork producers have been the target of so much bad press, but really, what is the honest to goodness truth is that they are usually the most careful, cutting edge, and meticulous farmers of the bunch. They have to be. In order to follow most EPA regulations, pork producers must keep buildings up to par. It takes an act of God to get my father in law off the farm for more than a few days because of the insane amount of work it takes to feed the pigs twice a day, make sure water lines are working properly and temperatures are kept comfortable for each little piggy.

It's a thankless job, thanks to all the crummy videos on YouTube and the people who don't understand the profession.

I don't understand the profession completely, nor do I enjoy it (who takes a whiff of a hog building and says, "yum?"), but I absolutely respect it, and in my father's presence, will always order pork to make him proud.

However, I did serve chicken enchiladas for dinner tonight, but we won't mention that.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

But You Don't Look Like a Farmer!

This was Farmer Image 101.

As I sat with a group of moms, city moms...moms who were attorneys and PR reps and television producers...I was met with shocked looks when I explained where I lived and what we did.

But you don't look like a farmer!

What do you wear?

You look...trendy!

Thank goodness! My belt and stacked wedges paid off!!!

Fashion aside, these moms were in this little cafe in Chicago to learn more about people like me, and were absolutely floored that I didn't show up in bib overalls and a goofy straw hat.

This is Farmer Image 101.

What a great opportunity. Along with Deb Moore (a fellow beef and corn and soybean producer's wife), Donna Jeschke (our friend Stephen's mom and a true farm, drives the combine farm wife!!), and Holly Spangler (my partner in crime on this road trip! Read her blog here...she's amazing), we stood in front of nearly 40 city moms, sat with them in a round table discussion, and listened to them in a comfy, mom and kid-friendly environment. Even though we had to put out fires and preconceived notions that they had gathered from watching movies such as King Corn and Food, Inc., had to explain to them why we use seeds that have been modified to withstand the elements, and laughed as we took compliments about how nice and trendy and fun we were, these moms were here to learn. They were hungry for information on the producers who help produce their food and fuel. They had legitimate concerns about what they purchased as groceries because they didn't have freezers full of beef and pork and sweetcorn. How could they? One woman commented that her groceries were delivered for the simple fact that she couldn't carry them up the three flights of steps, all the while toting her young son.

I never thought of that.

And I thought a detached garage was inconvenient.

Regardless of how we tote our groceries, where we raise our kids, and whether we hop into a taxi cab or a tractor cab to head to work, we all were hoping for the same thing that night: to understand each other. As moms, our language was the same, but after that night, I left with the perspective that our lives, although seemingly different, are intertwined. I, along with the three other ladies there that night, hope that when they think of grain farmers or beef producers or American/Illinois agriculture they see my face instead of what they see online or on television.

My hope is that we're not reinforcing the stereotype they already have formed, just as my stereotype of city moms who weren't going to hear what I had to say, already had opinions, and didn't want anything to do with me came crashing down that night. Now, there were moments when comments were made and questions were asked that were way off base, but my hope is that we answered them in a way that didn't make them feel ignorant or silly. My hope is that we were able to find common ground and explain why we do what we do.

My hope is that we were able to convey that what we do is all for the good of the land, as well as for the ability to send our kids to college.

My hope is that we were good ambassadors of agriculture to these fine women.

Ambassadors in great shoes!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

What Ifs

In anyone's life, there are a lot of what ifs, I realize. I just happened to encounter a lot of my what if situations in the past 48 hours.

We are back from a little getaway that included a trip to the Indianapolis Children's Museum along with some major pool time, family time, and car time. Most importantly, however, it included a trip through Champaign, site of our college days (ironically not spent together...Joe's OLD), and then our life as a couple, growing our family together with a family of people who were not related to us by blood, but close enough to be. As I sat in our church (I still call it ours even though we have been gone from it for nearly 5 years), I only cried three times during the service. It was a really great one, don't get me wrong, but when you're sitting in the church where you met your husband, had your wedding, and had your first child baptized, you get a little nostalgic. Anyway, I found myself what-ifing...

What if we would have never left?
What if we never became farmers?
What if we still lived here?

As we pulled away from the town where we called home first, I found myself questioning every decision I had made in the past six years. Should I have quit a job that I loved? Should I have put Joe in the position to move closer to my family? What if? What if? What if?

Well, what if?

Isn't that what life is all about? Isn't it supposed to be full of questions and re-examinations and moments where you say, "Well, that was a mistake"?

Well, I don't believe that we made a mistake moving here. However, I do miss my friends and family and proximity to a great place to live and learn, but it's not like I'm unable to visit or to make the best of what I have here. My college days were amazing and challenging and life changing. My life as a young professional was satisfying and difficult and incredible. My church life in Champaign was life-altering, and our life as a young couple and then family surrounded by this great community of people made us the parents and the spouses we are today. But it was the experience of all of this that helped us make the decision to leave and try this out. It was knowing that even though we're gone, our friends there are still rooting us on and running up to us when we come back to visit. I should be grateful for the opportunities I had while we were there, not questioning whether I should go back and try to do it again.

It's been done.

As we drove into our driveway and walked into the familiar home, our home, I felt a calm. This is right. This is where we belong. We aren't becoming bizillionaires as farmers, nor are we doing everything right as parents or husband and wife or whatever, but I only have a few times when I think "WHAT DID WE DO?" now that we live out here.

I'm allowed to freak out once in awhile, right?

Anyway, there are always going to be times when I wonder about whether or not this life is right for us, but I will always remember that where I am now is and was our decision, one that we made as a family, and that we have made the right one.

Besides, what would I write about if I lived in town????