Tag Archives: agriculture

One Story at a Time…

How do we build trust with our urban customers?

I often receive this question when visiting with farmers or groups of students that plan to make agriculture their choice of career. I think that deep down everyone realizes the true answer, and yet there is always that same look of hope in their eyes as they wait for my response.

The look of hope soon becomes a look of resignation as I reply,

One story at a time.”

Reality dictates that there are no short cuts to building relationships. A basic understanding of psychology reminds us that trust requires a relationship. Just as there is no such thing as a free lunch, there is also no such thing as a quick fix to the quagmire that agriculture faces in 2017.

Farmers spend their days growing food, while their urban customers ask for transparency to fill the great void of trust that exists in our country. While at times it seems that we come to the issue with very different perspectives, I am fairly certain that we will all make a strong team if we can bridge the trust gap.

Many years ago, in the early days of Feed Yard Foodie, I wrote a blog post entitled, It’s not about the trailerAlthough it was written in 2012 and I laugh at how small my girls were in the picture, I believe that the heart of the message stands the test of time.

We build trust by sharing of ourselves.

Over the past six weeks, I presented to students at three universities/colleges in Nebraska and Kansas. The title of my presentation was “Sustainability, Responsibility, and the Art of Balance”.

My hour long presentation held ten main messages:

  1. Success is a journey, not a moment in time. It should be driven by your core values and your passion to be better tomorrow than you are today.
  2. Live a story worth telling, and then tell it with a passion. Over time, others may begin to also tell your story — sharing is a good thing.
  3. Remember that as farmers we do not just grow food — we grow our communities and we grow the future. Be inspired to volunteer and share your gifts to help make the world a better place.
  4. Pack your FAITH — make goals and stay true to your core values.  Hold yourself accountable!
  5. Balance your commitment to people, animals, and planet by using science to judiciously use your farm’s resources, and your heart to help you build relationships.
  6. Engage in the food production conversation because the stability of our country is intrinsically tied to the availability of a safe, plentiful food supply.
  7. Realize that you can learn something from everyone. They key to building relationships is learning to deal with awkward moments with both grace and class.
  8. Understand that it is the courage to continue that counts. The journey is long and it is hard — learn how to refill your cup.
  9. Be KIND. It does not always matter that you are right, but it does matter that you are kind.
  10. Believers make good team members. Recognize that together we are stronger, and we must all be inspired to believe in order to be successful.

This week I discovered that my alma mater, Dartmouth College, picked up and shared a news article that resulted from my presentation at Chadron State College in Chadron, Nebraska. It made me want to laugh with the joy of victory, and cry with the huge bubble of emotion that comes from a long, long journey of hard work trying to connect the people of my past with the people of my present.

It only took one story to bring two vastly different college cultures together for a moment of time.

A relationship begins with a moment of time.

Can you imagine the impact of hundreds of thousands of those moments?

Are you ready to tell your story?

The team needs you.

After all, that’s how we build trust.

 

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Filed under Feed Yard Foodie "In The News", General

The Rainbow Ends At the Pot Of Gold…

megfeedyardcollageAfter 14 years living, working, and growing up under the magnificent Nebraska sky I learned a lot from the people who were kind enough to share it with me. Now I want to share it with you. My experiences in our little town are not ones that many people get to have. There are lessons hidden in each memory and each story — lessons that most people in our country may miss or look over. These are my 15 favorite lessons that I have learned growing up on a farm — Megan 🙂

  1. Home is where the heart is… When I first went to kindergarten I cried every day because I did not understand why I had to sit in a classroom and count whatever was on my piece of paper instead of counting cattle at the feedyard. I did not want to leave my comfort zone where I loved to be.
  2. Two wrongs don’t make a right… I first learned this when perched on the arm of the chair in the inner cubical of the office, staring blankly at the computer screen full of numbers – never leave a mistake without correcting it. Always fix what went wrong even if it means admitting that you are human and you made a mistake. If you do not correct a mistake, the problem just grows.
  3. For the love of Pete… Whenever our cowboy is agitated but not quite angry enough to start cussing, he starts loving Pete. Usually he says this under his breath, but after a while you can understand the mumbling language. We have never figured out who Pete is but wherever he is, he is much loved.
  4. If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life… People come to stay with us every once and a while and right before they leave Doug, our beloved foreman, always tells them that he has never worked a day in his life. They get very confused because they have just watched him working hard. He explains to them that he loves the job that he has; consequently, he has never worked a day in his life.
  5. Work smarter, not harder… My mom always says that you should work smarter so therefore your work is easier. Do not get me wrong, hard work is essential to any job, especially those on a farm, but if you work hard and smart then you will be more efficient and do a better job.
  6. Sarcasm… It is not just the words that come out of your mouth; it is a lifestyle. Sarcasm can lighten any day if put in the correct context. Doug is especially good at adding a little to our day, and I have learned from the best. He always told me when I was little that he never called the bunk a C when the cattle did not clean up all of their feed. The bunk was always a D because he skipped C. He told me that was because he could actually spell the words that started with D – I think perhaps it is because his name starts with a “D” but I humor him 🙂
  7. Count in your head… When the cattle come off the truck and into the feedyard we always count them to make sure we have the correct number. When my sisters and I were little, this was one of our first jobs. We would climb up so that we were tall enough to see into the unloading chute and then “count” the cattle that came off the truck. My mom had to start counting using her hands because we would say the wrong numbers aloud. To this day she still counts cattle with her fingers. Doug used to try to teach us to count ears instead of tails. Or sometimes he tried to have us count feet…
  8. Leave it how you found it… When cooperating with members of a “team” you should always: leave things how you found them, replace tools to their proper “home”, and, when in doubt, shut the gate. When working with farmers, mechanics, or welders always put their tools back where they belong. They get very angry very quickly if they cannot find the tool they are looking for. Always shut the gate behind you. A feedyard manager’s worst nightmare is leaving a gate open. My mom has nightmares about accidentally letting loose a pen of cattle on the county road.
  9. Think like a calf… It is important for any cattle handler to step into the calf’s hooves. Looking through a calf’s eyes can be tricky. In order to do that you have to have empathy and think like a prey animal. I learned this when I was little so it comes like second nature to me but some people struggle changing their perspective.
  10. Give it to God… Some things you cannot control. Mother Nature likes to throw everything she can at us farmers. We cannot hope to control it; we can only try to manage what comes our way. Rain is a good thing for dad but not for mom. When it rains no one in our house sleeps very well. Snow is even worse. Before I was actually put to work, I thought snow was the best part of winter. I was wrong, snow means work.
  11. Gnats are extra protein… In the summers there are a lot of bugs. There are an especially large number of them this year because we had a wet spring. When you walk through the feedyard you cannot help but get a gnat somewhere you really probably did not want a gnat to be. That is not at a total loss because gnats are extra protein (not that a beef farmer needs that)…
  12. Cowgirls don’t cry… When you are working with animals, they depend on you. They need fed on Easter and Christmas and Sundays. This does not give you time to sit down and feel sorry for yourself. If you fall, you get back up again because there is always more work to be done. When your finger gets caught in a gate you do not have time to watch it turn purple and swell, there are still cattle that need tending to.
  13. Help will always come to those who ask for it… No one can give you a helping hand if they do not know you need it. It is not a bad thing to request help. Needing help does not make you weak or incompetent.
  14. Build character… There are many ways on a farm to build character. Scooping bunks is one of the most common ways. Another good one is throwing small square hay bales. I can also tell you that touching the hot electric fence does not build as much character as you would think…
  15. A little dirt never hurt anyone… Sometimes it is okay to get a little dirt on your hands. The work that results in that dirt is worth something to someone.ResizedImage951374766405614

The pot of gold in Nebraska that sits under all the morning rainbows is the hay carefully stacked by loving hands that feeds the animals which give us food.

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Filed under CAFO, Family, Foodie Work!, General

Celebrating FFA…

The reality of our future rests in the hands of our youth.  The success of our country, our food supply, and our sustainability will be shaped by their contributions.  Last week was National FFA week, and I received a request from an Indiana FFA officer asking me to place her “guest blog” on Feed Yard Foodie in celebration of the next generation of farmers.  It is an honor for me to do that.  I hope that each of you enjoys Annalee’s thoughts and will share support for her in the comment section 🙂

The 2016 National FFA Officer Team: Annalee is the middle young woman...

The 2016 Indiana FFA Officer Team: Annalee is the middle young woman…

As Indiana FFA State Officers, my team and I have gone through many trainings. We learn about facilitating conferences, working with sponsors, and working together as a team. However, you might be surprised to know the most valuable training we have experienced this year was training on how to tell stories.

Storytelling is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal.

For thousands of years, humans have been passing stories on to one another—stories of wisdom and failure, of heroes and villains. Why are stories so effective? Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis have found that stories stimulate different parts of the brain at the same time. When a story is being told our brains track each aspect of that story. We literally immerse ourselves in the world created by the storyteller by creating the setting, characters, and sensations in our own minds.

I find this information very interesting, especially for people involved in the agriculture industry. Oftentimes, the agriculture industry is on the defensive. We have to defend our practices, motives, and ethics constantly. The main thing we like to share in this defense is factual information—statistics, studies, and surveys. We hurl fact after fact at the American consumer; hoping, eventually, they will catch the information and absorb it. In the mean-time, the opposition goes straight for the emotional jugular, sharing erroneous stories of abuse in slaughterhouses and poisonous chemicals being leaked into our water supply.

I don’t believe this battle can be fought with facts alone. Agriculturalists must utilize the power of the story.

  • Our stories show our values.
  • Our stories show we are human.

Oftentimes, we are told to take the conversation as far away from the emotional side as possible. Why can’t we mix the emotional with the factual? If they hear your story first, people will be more likely to accept your facts. In this Age of Information, anyone can access the facts in seconds. The sheer amount of data available is astounding, but it’s also incredibly overwhelming.

In this sea of information, the only thing floating is stories. So get out there, and share your story. It’s easier than ever. We have so many mediums to communicate through—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Snapchat. Type out your story and post it. Don’t have any of those things? Talking is great too. Talk to people everywhere you go—the grocery store, the mall, at work, at family reunions. You may think your story alone won’t make a difference, but it will.

We all love a good story. It’s in our DNA. We have an innate need to share our experiences with others. This is what makes us human. It’s not something we should run away from, but embrace. During National FFA Week and for the rest of our lives, my teammates and I will be telling the story of agriculture and FFA.

What story will you tell?

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Filed under Farming, Foodie Work!, General

The Cozad Haymakers Embark On a Journey With FFA…

As a city raised “east coaster”, my first experience with FFA (Future Farmers of America) occurred as an adult several years after I went to work at the feed yard. As I became involved as a volunteer in agricultural advocacy work and the promotion of the Beef Quality Assurance program, my path began to cross with FFA instructors. Some of my favorite public speaking gigs have been with FFA students – sharing my story and answering questions from the best and the brightest that will soon be the future of agriculture.

I am excited to report that my home town of Cozad recently committed to building an FFA program in our school system. It is an honor for me to be involved in the process as a member of the community advisory group. While I truly believe that “it takes a community to raise a child”, I also believe that it takes a diverse blend of educators and community members to create situations where our young adults can increase their knowledge and skills in order to provide for the future.

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Where does my food come from? — appears to be the million dollar question in 2015. Food unites us: from the Nebraska farmer to the urban executive to the small town electrician. It unites us because, quite frankly, we all need to eat. The ability to create a program where students in my home town can both learn where their food comes from as well as how to grow it – today, and on into the future – is an incredible privilege.

Agriculture provides the heart of our town. The majority of our community members are involved in farming in a variety of venues. What excites the team builder in me the most is the ability to pair these savvy folks with the awesome set of teenagers that make up the Haymaker school community.  The journey involves a passionate FFA educator bridging together these experienced and skilled entrepreneurial tradesmen with the next generation of farmers.

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We believe in our designated journey. We have a calm and supportive ocean. We have a seaworthy ship. We just need a captain. The Cozad High School began taking applications for the FFA educator position last week. Please help to spread the word as we search for a passionate leader to navigate the journey. Contact Dustin Favinger at Cozad High School for more information.

308-784-2744 or dustin.favinger@cozadcityschools.net

Go Haymakers!

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Filed under General, Rural Communities

Megan and Her Mom In Aggieland…

When I received an invitation to travel to Texas A & M University to speak to faculty and students, I knew that I wanted to share this experience with my favorite blonde cowgirl.  While the thought of my girls leaving home for college lodges my heart in the back of my throat, I want them to be aware of the world outside of our farm.  My favorite farmer and I also want them to be thinking of their life journey after high school so that their formative years hold a sense of long term purpose.

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Part of my job as a “mom” is exposing my daughters to environments where they will have the ability to remain true to themselves and thrive.  My gut told me that Megan should experience Aggieland.  The tradition, the dedication to core values, and the engaged Animal Science department fit both her compassionate personality as well as her love of animals.

As our two days in College Station passed by, I could see my blonde cowgirl gain confidence and bloom under the compassion and positive energy that permeates the campus.  She was very nervous going into the trip. However, as each person that we met treated her as someone with something valuable to share — her smile got bigger and her eyes filled with excited wonder toward the “Aggie family”.

Learning about the diversity of cattle genetics and realizing that all cattle do not look like the ones that we care for in Nebraska!

Learning about the diversity of cattle genetics and realizing that all cattle do not look like the ones that we care for in Nebraska!

As a mom, it was a beautiful transformation to watch.  Megan loves “home” and the “farm”, and is hesitant to travel outside of that life.  It was truly a gift for her to be surrounded by positive mentors of various ages that simply were interested in sharing with her.

From the moment that Emily (a senior Ruminant Nutrition major and President of the Saddle and Sirloin Club) picked us up at the airport, we felt welcome and were surrounded by people who took the time to care. I could not have asked for a better experience for her first “college visit”, and am indebted to all of those loyal Aggies with whom we interacted.

Emily teaching Megan the tradition and meaning of the "Aggie Ring"...

Emily teaching Megan the tradition and meaning of the “Aggie Ring”…

A couple of days after we got home, I asked my blonde cowgirl what her favorite memories were.  The people, as well as the research center and “hands on” learning, hit the top of her list.  Mine was the spirit of giving that I witnessed on the campus.  My journey in the cattle industry as taken me all across the country and, until this trip, I do not think that I have ever seen a place where What can I do to help you? consistently superseded What can you do for me?

The inherent Aggie desire to serve others left a warmth in my heart and a ray of hope for the future.

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As Megan’s mom, I was inspired by the universal compassion found both with students and faculty.  At our house, we call Megan our “sunshine”. Her kind personality and empathetic nature make her a blessing to all those she meets. I saw an environment at A & M where I could not help but think that my blonde cowgirl would thrive.

She has several more years before she makes a college choice, but I think that it’s safe to say that we both “drank the Aggie kool aid” in College Station, Texas 🙂

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A Feed Yard Foodie in Aggieland…

Anyone working in agriculture recognizes the name of Texas A & M University. Over the past 18 years, I have crossed paths with many Aggie alumni and each encounter left me intrigued by the deep seated love and faithfulness to this place called “Aggieland”. Perhaps most endearing is the fact that although Aggies are fiercely loyal, they are also openly friendly and engage respectfully with others outside of their alma mater. This special ability to be proud of their heritage while also focusing on broad spectrum leadership and devotion to selfless acts of sharing is a beautiful combination.

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Responding to an invitation to speak on campus, I traveled down to College Station, Texas with an intellectual curiosity and a desire to understand the culture of this unique land grant institution. I traveled back to my farm in Nebraska with an incredible respect for the faculty, students, and the core values that make Aggieland so exceptional. Honestly, I have rarely felt more welcome on a college campus, and the open friendliness that permeated the university grounds was inspirational.

It is no secret that agriculture in 2015 and beyond has many challenges. Outside of the regular need for continuous improvement that goes hand in hand with growing food, there exists a great chasm between farmers and their urban customers which is unfortunately separated by a rarely traveled bridge. As I look into the future, I recognize that our sustainability is intrinsically tied with our ability to interact respectfully.

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The journey is marked by:

  • The innate pride and loyalty to our chosen field combined with an intrinsic interest in the “outside world”.
  • The realization that it is in sharing that we learn how to solve our most difficult challenges — relying on a diverse population of participators to find the best answers.
  • The knowledge that the success of our outreach is closely tied to our ability to create an organized team to cross that lonely bridge in order to share “where food comes from”.

As I walked the streets of campus and visited with students and faculty, it became apparent to me that the culture at Texas A & M could provide the template for agriculture’s public outreach and educational effort to increase the transparency of food production. The university pillars of: Excellence, Integrity, Leadership, Loyalty, Respect, and Selfless Service provide the foundation, the inherent positive attitude sets the stage for the engagement, and the “team mentality” and the Corps of Cadets coordination creates the movement that once again builds trust in the realm of food production.

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  • Perhaps what agriculture really needs is a 12th man to selflessly give to the common good,
  • A good “Yell leader” to teach us a universal cheer that both celebrates our uniqueness as well as reinforces our common ground,
  • And a friendly “Howdy” to start the conversation…

At the end of the day it isn’t about any one group or individual, rather the meaningful answer lies in our ability create loyalty and trust—both on and off the farm.

*Many thanks to Emily Von Edwins, Dr. Russell Cross, Dr. Tryon Wickersham and all of the Aggies that welcomed Megan and I last week. I hope that we enriched your lives as much as you enriched ours.

**Stay tuned for the next post, “Megan’s Mom in Aggieland”, which takes a look at Texas A & M from a different point of view…

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Filed under A Farmer's View on Foodie Thoughts..., Foodie Work!

#myAGstory

Last fall, Tyson CEO Donnie Smith gave the commencement address at the National FFA (Future Farmers of America) convention. The positive energy radiating from both Smith and the thousands of high school students in attendance is nothing short of awesome. The 18 minute speech can be found here.

As a member of Tyson’s 3rd party Animal Wellbeing Farm Check committee, I am fortunate to interact with Donnie as we work to consistently improve food animal care. His dynamic personality and positive enthusiasm reminds me of a football coach pumping up his team for the big game. The coach in me loves to listen to him, and the farmer in me is thankful to call his team a partner in food production.Annegate.jpg

Smith’s theme, #myAGstory, provides an emotional reminder of one of the steepest challenges that farmers face today. The story of food production in 2015 often is not told by the farmers that grow it. Rather, we have allowed our food story to be hijacked by others outside of the farm gate. Smith repeatedly challenged the students to protect the future of agriculture by “Taking back the story of food production”.

There exists a critical bridge between “food” and “agriculture” and it is made up by communication. Smith asks the students,

“Are we going to drive the conversation or sit back and let someone else do it for us? — It is only in taking back the story that we can honestly share the truth of how food is grown in the United States.”

The leaders in this movement to reclaim the voice of farming will undeniably be our young farmers. They have the unique ability to share their talents by simultaneously growing food while also tweeting about it!

Two enthusiastic young ranchers brought the first "selfie stick" to my feed yard last spring.  It was great fun to watch them *share*!

Two enthusiastic young ranchers brought the first “selfie stick” to my feed yard last spring!

Each one of us has a vital and unique story to tell. It is in combining these stories in a respectful conversation that we all will find sustainability. As farmers and scientists, today we have the technique and the technology to feed 10 billion people. The question is, will we be successful enough telling our story in order to gain the consumer confidence needed to use that technology to feed the world?

Today, there are 1 billion people across the globe that are hungry — tomorrow that number will grow. It is not just people across the ocean – many, many Americans are food insecure. I would like to think that we all can be granted the Freedom To Thrive, fueled by the energy of quality nutrition. The start of that journey lies in farmers taking back the story of agriculture and sharing how they grow food.AnneMeg.jpg

Today, my favorite blonde cowgirl and I head to College Station, Texas to bring our story of beef production to Aggieland. We will visit with college professors, graduate students, and undergraduates in a whirlwind two day journey discussing how beef is grown. I will share #myAGstory with hundreds of Animal Science students as we discuss both the future of agriculture as well as the increasing role that women play in growing food.

I take Donnie’s message with me in my heart as I hope to make an equally positive impact on this next generation of farmers. We all need to eat in order to thrive, so growing food is everyone’s business.

Have you shared your story today?

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Monkey In the Middle…

As a kid, I played Monkey In the Middle with my older brother and his friends. They delighted in throwing the ball far above my head making the likelihood of me catching it microscopic in nature. Every once in a while, I outsmarted them and snagged the ball which earned me temporary bragging rights — but mostly it left me frustrated and unequipped for success.

The buzz word sustainability often takes me metaphorically back to that childhood game.  The word itself encompasses such a broad range of ideas and topics that it becomes difficult to tie it down into meaningful bullet points for action.  The politics surrounding the word also exacerbate the inherent complexities as large corporate businesses, NGO’s, and politicians bat the word back and forth in an effort to prove to Americans that they are engaged in the conversation.

Without a doubt — the sustainability of our country, our culture and our planet is vital to both our present and our future.  Effectively learning from the past, changing our actions in the present, and teaching our children how to protect for the future helps to ensure our livelihood.  There is no easy or simple answer to the challenge of creating something meaningful and sustainable.  It takes both a grass roots understanding of the challenges as well as dedication on the part of each individual to work toward positive action.

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Sustainability is not a headline — it is not a marketing label — it is not piece of legislation — it does not appear magically at the end of a rainbow… 

Sustainability is a team effort — One that effects each and every one of us in multiple ways. 

I spent a large amount of time this winter covering the topics that I believe are vital to the sustainability of our future:

  • Identifying and reducing food waste
  • Getting balanced and meaningful science back into both the education and the research on nutrition
  • Realizing that good personal health comes from a diversely balanced diet teamed with appropriate levels of exercise
  • Understanding that responsibly growing food animals is a complex challenge that includes a dedication to environmental stewardship and quality animal welfare.

    They gather closely around me because they are thoughtful and curious.  They choose to do this despite the large amount of space in the pen that they call home...

    They gather closely around me because they are thoughtful and curious. They choose to do this despite the large amount of space in the pen that they call home because they trust me as a caregiver.

There is one component of sustainability that is often not voiced. 

It is trust. 

I am deeply saddened at the lack of trust and faith that Americans have in farmers.  From the individual American — to the large corporate grocery store– to the philosophical intellectual foodie — to the NGO — to the government — In the last twenty years, our country has collectively abandoned support for the people that grow food.  Instead of building appreciation and goodwill; a plentiful, diverse and safe food supply has rendered the American people unsatisfied, distrustful, and accusatory.

Sustainability is not possible without nourishment. 

Widespread nourishment disappears when the American Farmer decides to only feed his/her own family and leave the profession of agriculture behind.  There will come a point when those of us who work to feed the world will decide that it really just isn’t worth the pain when the only thing that you get in return is the ability to wear the monkey hat.

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Do you value the farmer who feeds you? Please take the time to request that farmers be included in the sustainability discussion.

*If you missed the winter blog posts on this subject, some of them are chronicled according to topic below.

Food Waste:

A Student Of Life

Food Waste We All Play a Role 

Food Waste, Sustainability and the Journey of Continuous Improvement

The Love Food Friday spring series offering food waste elimination tips from Chef Chris Giegel.

Nutrition:

Raising Teenage Daughters Amidst a Sea Of Dietary Confusion

Perhaps It’s Time To Stop Apologizing For Fat

Policy Does Not Equal Science

My Comment Letter To Secretary Burwell and Secretary Vilsack Regarding the 2015 Dietary Guidelines

Fitness Foodies

Environmental and Animal Welfare:

When Your Husband Needs You For Your Manure

Good Timing

Answering Questions: Responding To a Recent Comment

Trust But Verify

How Do You Know When a Group Of Calves Are Acclimated?

Reviewing the Topic Of Antibiotics

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Filed under A Farmer's View on Foodie Thoughts..., Farming