Tag Archives: farmers

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.

 

Leave a comment

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

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.

fallrainbowbeauty.jpg

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.

pasturetrees.jpg

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

8 Comments

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

Blue Jeans Without Any Bling…

I met my favorite farmer at a Dartmouth College fraternity party more than 22 years ago. No matter how many times they hear it, my daughters love listening to the story.threegirls.jpg

Halloween night the senior football player, wearing devils horns glued to his head, meets the underclassman swimmer. They visit for a few minutes and then the swimmer goes home.

Fast forward three weeks…

The senior football player again meets the underclassman swimmer, same location but without the devils horns. They visit for a few minutes and then the swimmer goes home (early morning swimming practice generally motivated good behavior).

The next week…

The senior football player walks around the underclassman’s dorm looking for her (having only her first name and the knowledge that she was on the swim team to go on). Fate was on his side, and her door was decorated with swimming spirit signs for the season opening meet against Brown. He had found her! But, his luck fell short, his swimmer wasn’t home.

The next week…

The senior football player figures out the underclassman swimmer’s phone number (a landline – in the dark period prior to the invention of a cell phone!), calls and asks her out on a date Thanksgiving weekend. Dinner (she orders chicken because it is the cheapest thing on the menu and she worries that a farmer from Nebraska would be short on money), a movie, ice cream —

and, they fell in love.

Anne and Matt0003The part of the story that always brings the most drama from my daughters is the fact that I wore a flannel shirt and blue jeans (with no bling!) on the nights that we met and on our first date. The look of incredulity on my fifteen year old’s face upon learning this fact was truly priceless. This tidbit of information firmly places me on the bottom end of any teenage girl’s fashion scale. Add onto it the fact that I have never really worn any makeup and consider brushing my hair the extent of getting ready to go out – and you can begin to imagine the dramatic noises that might be uttered during the story telling session.

Today, whenever the occasion warrants blue jeans with bling, I simply go to my daughter’s closet and pull out a pair to borrow. Seeing as how I spend most of my days with large bovines that have no concern for fashion, my own work jeans lack the sparkly detail…

Denke3April.jpg

It could be argued that my favorite farmer and I lack bling. We aren’t flashy and ostentatious. The kind of spark that we have comes from a deep love for each other, and a passion for caring for both our farm and our community. While we will likely never been considered sensational, we hope that our contribution is meaningful – that our story gives a glimpse into the lives of the family farmers that grow your food — that our toils produce nourishment for those in need.

annemattjeans.jpg

Perhaps, most importantly, amidst the dramatic eye rolling is the learned lesson that real bling doesn’t come from jewels on the back seat of your jeans!

Sustainable agriculture begins with the farmer…

And ends with a customer that trusts and empathizes — no bling included 🙂

6 Comments

Filed under Family, General

Agriculture Needs To “Pack”…

XCpackrun.jpg

As I watched these young ladies dominate the team competition at the Broken Bow Invitational Cross Country meet on Saturday morning, I thought of farmers.  A very wise coach has taught these athletes how to “pack run” — setting both group and individual goals, and mentally supporting each other through the long 5K high school races.

I think that many distance runners would tell you that the middle of the race is the most challenging.  The adrenaline from the start has worn off, but the promise of the finish line is still miles away.  The culture of the “pack” lends strength to both the individual and to the team as well as building tenacity for the long run.

xcbbteamgirls.jpg

The journey of the American farmer is much like a distance running race.  Growing food is an expedition full of challenges.  From Mother Nature, to the availability of natural resources, to food safety, to animal welfare priorities, to ever increasing government regulations, to sharing the story of food production.  Every day is it’s own race, and the days clump together into something similar to a marathon.

I believe in the power of teamwork.  The lonely individual marathon of farming can be overwhelming, especially while embarking on the trek of transparency and sharing the realistic story of modern day food production.  It is hard to motivate at the end of the day to post blogs and pictures — even when you believe in the necessity of reaching out and explaining your farm story.  Some of the challenge comes from simple physical fatigue, and some comes from the fear of ridicule and harassment from those that do not believe in raising animals for food production or using modern food production systems to raise them.

AnneCattle.jpg

While each individual farm has it’s own uniqueness, farmers share many things in common.  Embracing the “pack run” philosophy could be a very powerful tool for American agriculture.

There is certainly some of this already occurring, but it is a concept that could be used on a much more powerful scale.

  • The first step is for farmers to adopt a universal set of basic standards for responsible food production. The Beef Quality Assurance program is a great place to start for this relative to beef production. A pack offers support but, in turn, requires its members to contribute in a meaningful way. Quality animal care is imperative and needs to be unanimously adopted across food animal production.
  • The second step is acceptance of all farming practices that meet the basic standards, and respect for all farmers that care enough to join the pack of responsible food production.
  • The third is an important element of teamwork – recognizing that no matter how strong we are as individuals — together we are stronger. Mutual respect and support of each other makes for a powerful combination and a unified voice telling the true story of food production.

When I peruse the internet and see farmers fighting amongst each other or making their own way by belittling others, I am saddened. I think of the success that my daughter and her cross country team have on the running course, and I wish that farmers could be as unselfish and supporting as these teenage girls.

xcpackbeforerace.jpg

I think that agriculture needs its own wise coach to lead a unified effort to share the true story of American farmers.

I think that agriculture needs to learn to pack…

*Author’s note #1: In Nebraska, Varsity High School Cross Country runs 6 and scores 4.  The four girls pictured at the top ran an impressive race as a pack finishing strong with Ashley Grace and one of her teammates running the last mile at 6:20 pace and finishing the 5K under 21 minutes. The second two runners were very close behind and the girls individually earned 10, 11, 12, and 13 places to win the title.  This young team gets stronger and more confident with every day that passes — it is a true pleasure for this Mama to watch.

*Author’s note #2: I have always had a strong passion for animal welfare and have worked to improve this in beef cattle for more than 15 years.  I found my pack on this journey with the Beef Marketing Group and it’s Progressive Beef QSA program.  I began the lonely blogging journey to share the story of how feed yards prepare cattle to become beef in the spring of 2011.  I am still waiting patiently for other cattle feed yards to take this step in order to offer appropriate transparency to the beef production cycle.  The list of other cattle feeders that have packed with me on this journey is very short.  Unfortunately, the list of people who ridicule and label me as a factory farmer is much longer…

 

18 Comments

Filed under Farming, General

Responsible Sourcing — It shouldn’t be a marketing ploy…

Thoughtful Thursday

Everyone wants to eat food that has been responsibly raised. Taking care of our Earth and the animals that roam on it is a priority for the vast majority of us.  I believe that our future and the vitality of our families depends on good stewardship.

As a farmer, I spend the majority of my day caring for our animals and our land. I try my best to make responsible decisions which ensure sustainability and judicious use of our resources. Animal welfare, food safety, and environmental stewardship are the core pillars that drive my decision making process.

I believe in wisely developing and using technology to grow food. I think that technology improves the environmental footprint of my farm, the quality of my beef, and also the care that I offer to my animals.

annecattlepasture.jpg

I believe that I grow responsibly raised beef—pasture raised on a ranch, and grain finished in a feed yard.

Because there are a variety of eco-diverse regions where American farmers grow food, I do not believe that there is a “one size fits all” protocol for responsibly sourced food.

I have faith that the vast majority of farmers make responsible decisions while raising food even as I recognize that many different types of farming practices are used to put quality food on the grocery store shelves. There is not one management system that is better than another provided that those systems maintain a commitment to animal welfare, food safety and environmental stewardship.

Their address has changed but the quality of their care has not...

The cattle’s address has changed but the quality of their care has not…

It angers me when corporate food companies give into pressure from special interest groups, make demands regarding farming practices, and then use the term responsible sourcing as a marketing ploy to increase their profit margin.

This type of practice belittles the American Farmer and confuses the American consumer.

Responsibly raised and responsible sourcing covers the vast majority of the food grown in this country — it is not a special niche marketing tool to be manipulated — it is the reality of the United States food production systems.

Annegate2.jpg

Is it too much to ask for a little bit of trust so that I can do my job as a farmer responsibly?

 

 

8 Comments

Filed under CAFO, Thoughtful Thursday

March Madness…

It’s March.  In Nebraska, this is the month known for wind, basketball, preparation for crop planting, and more wind.  My favorite farmer is following the basketball tournaments with enthusiasm, while also developing a certain personal sense of March Madness as he begins to do field work and prepare for planting.

Here the tractor is "packing" the soil so that it is smooth and level to plant seed into...

Here the tractor is “packing” the soil so that it is smooth and level to plant seed into…

As the calendar warns of spring, Matt’s internal clock starts to crank up a notch as low key winter chores turn into higher energy preparations for the growing season.  One of the winter chores that we are wrapping up is hauling manure out of the feed yard pens to be used as fertilizer for our farm ground.

Good soil health is critical to the sustainability of our farm.

Taking soil samples from a farm that will be tested at a local laboratory.  The results tell Matt the nutrient levels in the soil.

Taking soil samples from a field that will be tested at a local laboratory. The results tell Matt the nutrient levels in the soil.

It is what ensures that our land will be productive year after year.  According to my favorite farmer, the four key components for soil health are: balanced nutrients and moisture levels, active soil biology, and tilth (the composition of the soil relative to solids, liquids, and air).NRCSsoildocument

The by-product of my cattle (manure) plays an important role in both creating a healthy balance of soil nutrients and an active soil biology.  While some people may view manure as “icky”, to Matt it is a valuable resource.

The tractor and box scraper cleaning a home pen...

The tractor and box scraper cleaning a home pen…

We harvest the manure by using a tractor and box scraper to lift the manure off of the surface of our feed yard pens.  We pile this manure temporarily in the pens before Matt’s crew hauls it to farm land that has been identified through soil testing as needing fertilizer.

A pile of manure ready to be hauled out to farm ground and used as fertilizer...

A pile of manure in a home pen ready to be hauled out to farm ground and used as fertilizer…

Being diligent in cleaning the manure out of the pens serves a dual purpose.  It not only provides Matt with a valuable resource for our crop ground, but it also ensures good living conditions for our cattle.

The manure truck transports the fertilizer from the feed yard to the appropriate field, and then spreads it on the land at an agronomic rate.

The manure truck transports the fertilizer from the feed yard to the appropriate field, and then spreads it on the land at an agronomic rate (determined by the field’s soil nutrient count and the nutrient levels in the manure).

Cattle comfort is a priority to me because it is important for good animal welfare, but it also plays a role in reducing the environmental footprint of my feed yard.  When my cattle are comfortable, they are more efficient in converting their feed into pounds of beef thereby making it more environmentally friendly.

Comfortable cattle in a clean home pen...

Comfortable cattle in a clean home pen…

Harvesting manure “on farm” also allows Matt and I to have a more balanced and sustainable farm.  We grow crops that are fed to animals, our cattle provide primary products (like beef) and secondary products (like manure).  The manure is taken back to the farm ground to replace the needed nutrients that were taken out with the initial crop growth.

While this is a very simplified flow chart of resources on our farm, it gives you an idea of how all of the different facets work together to form a Sustainable Spring (when mixed with just a little bit of March Madness!)

2 Comments

Filed under General, Sustainable Spring

Out Of The Mouths Of Babes…

Whenever I speak to a group of students, I always ask them what the two most important skills are that they need to master.  I get some interesting answers, although I rarely get both of the ones that I am looking for…

So, what do I feel are the two most important skills that our young people need to learn?

  1. To coherently express their thoughts verbally in an organized manner—Public Speaking Skills!
  2. To coherently express their thoughts in written form in an organized manner—Writing Skills!

I am a firm believer that these skills are imperative, no matter what path your life takes.  I spend the majority of my time non-verbally communicating with animals; however, I still use these two skills regularly.

Walking down the aisle at graduation a few moments before giving the Salutatorian Address...

My love for public speaking started early in my life, and continues to this day.  I speak to groups of cattlemen, I speak to groups of veterinarians, I speak to politicians and their staff members, I speak to student groups.  This list could go on and on, and I love every minute of it.  My Feed Yard Foodie site is a testament to how important I feel decent writing skills are.

My three daughters claim that I pontificate at home about the need for them to develop these two skills.  My middle daughter has recently realized an interest in writing, and my husband and I are trying our best to foster that interest.  One afternoon before Christmas she came home from school and wrote the essay that appears below.  She is very excited to be a guest blogger at the young age of 9!

I would like to title the essay: “Out Of The Mouths Of Babes”, and I think that you will understand why when you read it

The cowgirl turned writer...

The Reasons Agriculture is Important To This World

By Megan Anne Burkholder

I think Agriculture is important because it provides this WORLD with a large supply of food! A lot of the world depends on Nebraska and neighboring states for their meat! I live in Cozad, and where is Cozad you might ask? Well, it is in the middle of Nebraska! In other words right in the middle of the world’s meat supply!!

            Agriculture is also important with crops like alfalfa, hay, corn, and wheat. Farmers help supply us with corn on the cob, corn and alfalfa pellets to feed to livestock, hay for livestock, wheat for flour and flour for bread! That’s a big job for the 2,204,792 farmers in the United States of America–plus, a few farmers from other countries too!

            There are a LOT of people in the U.S.A! Still, farmers only make up 2 present of all Americans! That’s not a lot if you ask me. They work hard, trying to survive in the world because President Obama keeps increasing our taxes and regulations.

            Farms are struggling because they don’t have enough money; there are too many taxes; and too many regulations from OSHA, the Labor Department, and EPA.  For a farm business there are a lot of rules to follow! For example I mentioned OSHA; well OSHA is having EVERY employee in the U.S.A wear a harness if they are 4ft off the ground! That is NOT a very high point!! (If OSHA found Cozad Elementary they would make kids were harnesses on the PLAYGROUND!!! That would be terrible!)

            Did you know that the Department of Labor is trying to make it illegal for me to go with my mom to her cattle feed yard to help her work? That’s terrible because my mom says that I make her work more lively, go quicker and more fun to do! That is a compliment! I like to help her do her job and she likes to teach me to do her job correctly! Together we are a perfect match to get the work done quicker and have a little fun doing it the right way!

            I don’t get to help my dad much at his dehydration plant. Most of equipment is too dangerous for me to be around. So when he is at the plant and my sisters or I are with him, we have to stay in the office with the kitty cat. But when he is out in the fields working with NO dangerous equipment, we are allowed to help him.  This fall I got to help him take soil samples on his farm—it was hard work getting the samples out of the ground!

            Well, that is my life and why I think Agriculture is SO important to the world. I am sad that not everyone understands why agriculture is so important.

Quality time shared together helps her to understand the world that she lives in, as well as to develop those important life skills...

It is both my right and my duty as a parent to teach my children.  I must not only share my life with them, but also teach them the skills that they need to be productive participators…The world is run by those who show up with skills and a desire to participate!

           

7 Comments

Filed under Family, Foodie Work!, General