Tag Archives: growing food

The Journey of Food Production…

Life is a journey, one that often does not involve straight lines.  While there is always a destination in mind, I would argue that the journey is many times just as important as the end point.

Food production in the United States is varied.  The journey of making food is full of diversity and yet the end goal is always the same: safe nourishment to feed our bodies.

I am proud to grow your beef...

I am proud to grow your beef…

There is no doubt that food production has changed dramatically during my lifetime.  The journey that Matt’s grandfather and Archie took to grow food does not look the same as the one that Matt and I take in 2013.

We can have a discussion as to whether or not this change is positive, but that discussion does not alter the fact that food production methods constantly evolve.  There is no doubt in my mind that my daughters’ journey will take them down even more diverse pathways than those that Matt and I have traveled.

Working with my daughters to grow vegetables in our garden also brings me pride...

Working with my girls to grow vegetables in our garden also brings me pride…

My perspective on modern food production has widened since moving to Nebraska and learning the different ways that food is grown.  As I experience it, I learn to both understand it and to realize the benefits that come from having many different types of food production systems.

I manage a cattle feed yard where animals are raised in a concentrated setting to make food.  I believe that I offer humane animal care, and I am devoted to producing a safe and high quality beef product; but there is no doubt that I participate in a very modern food production system.

Three miles down the gravel road from my house is our cattle feed yard where 3000 animals are grown to provide beef to thousands of families.

Three miles down the gravel road from my house is our cattle feed yard where 3000 animals are grown to provide beef to thousands of families.

One of my favorite “hobbies” is gardening.  When I garden, I use a good old fashioned hoe that likely looks the same as the one that Matt’s grandmother used.   Just as I love to use my hands to raise cattle and beef at my feed yard, I also love to use them to grow vegetables and flowers in my back yard.

A good hoe is hard to beat when planting the garden...

A good hoe is hard to beat when planting the garden…

There are nights in the summertime when almost all of the food that is on our table was grown by us. While it was all “home grown”, it came from varied production systems.  It all tastes good and it is all healthy—from the beef that came from my feed yard to the vegetables that came from my backyard.

It is fun to watch it grow...

It is fun to watch it grow…

I love those dinners because they help me to realize how important it is to be in touch with food, and to understand what it takes to grow it.  I am reminded that a varied food production system is a good thing—it provides a practical way for me to have choices and diversity at my table.

So, when it comes to food production, I am a believer…

  • I believe that there are many responsible ways to grow safe food.
  • I believe that the diversity of the United States food production system allows for Americans to have choices.
  • I believe that having choices is a good thing.

The important ingredient to food production is a devotion to quality—I see that both at my cattle feed yard and in my back yard garden.

Looking to the future--learning from the past--living in the present...

Looking to the future–learning from the past–living in the present…

The journey weaves and flows in diverse directions, but it always come back to the goal of safety and wholesomeness of food.  Food that I proudly grow for both you and my family.

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Filed under CAFO, General

The Farmer: The Eternal Optimist…

I celebrate Earth Day each April with mixed feelings.  I am very thankful for our farm and its natural resources; but that thanks is blended with the knowledge that Mother Nature is consistently in control of my life.  Although I have learned to accept that fact over the years, it still brings a sense of helplessness at times when I realize just how much of my family’s livelihood is intrinsically tied this unpredictable force.

The girls by one of our tractors waiting for their daddy to load the alfalfa seed into the planter so that he can plant the field...

We pray for rain when it is dry…We pray for sunshine and heat to grow our crops during the summer months…We pray that violent storms which bring hail, damaging winds and tornadoes will not destroy what we have built and grown with our own blood, sweat and tears.

They look to me for care. The feed that I nourish them with is grown on our farm or other farms in Central Nebraska. We are all dependent on Mother Nature...

While I grew up in the “hurricane belt” and was no stranger to strong storms, I was not used to those storms putting my entire livelihood at risk.  I can bring my family down into our basement when a tornado has been spotted, but I cannot bring my cattle, horses and all of our crops to the relative safety of a basement. Likewise, a brutal hail storm (in a matter of minutes) can damage both my animals and Matt’s crops while we can only helplessly watch.

Recently, a hail storm came through and left the road and fields by our house covered in a couple of inches of white ice...

As I headed home from Washington DC, a large weather system brought violent storms to the Midwest region of the country.  We were lucky—we received rains, wind, and some hail.  There were a several tornadoes spotted within a 50 mile radius of our farm.  While the hail set back a couple of our alfalfa fields and my perennial flowers, there was only limited damage.  I saw pictures of families that were not so lucky.

These are alfalfa plants from the field behind our house. If you look closely, you can see that there is some damage to some of the top leaves from the hail. The alfalfa is recovering and will be fine to harvest in May.

April brings a shift in our weather challenges from Mother Nature.  Usually by then we no longer have a threat of ravaging blizzards (although in April of 1996—a couple of months before Matt and I were married—a blizzard hit central Nebraska and the ice and heavy snow took down many power lines.  Matt and his family were out of power for 10 days.)

The farmer always seems to persevere---many times relying heavily on the youthful optimism of the next generation. Karyn gives her daddy moral support and a big smile as he gets ready to plant a new alfalfa field.

Strong thunderstorms tend to take the place of blizzards as March blends into April.  I will never forget the spring that brought a blend of winter and spring forces of nature. We had heavy rains and thunderstorms for several hours.  As the temperature dropped, the rain turned to ice and finally to snow.  What began as a thunderstorm ended as a blizzard, and brought flash flooding to our farm.  The girls laughed that our yard looked like the Amazon River—sometimes laughter is the best medicine of all…

Helping to bring life to the land...The farmer is the eternal optimist!

I have written about my relationship with Mother Nature many times over the past eleven months.  Earth Day always inspires me to reexamine that relationship.  Today, I count my blessings that the grass is green, the cattle are well fed and cared for, Matt is planting new alfalfa, and there are signs of life all around me.  Like every other farmer, I hope and pray that Mother Nature helps us in this quest for life.

Matt and his crew will *hopefully* finish planting alfalfa any day now--as long as Mother Nature cooperates!

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Filed under Environmental Stewardship, Farming, General

The Gift of Food…

There are days when I worry about making my payroll and keeping my farming business financially sustainable.  There are days when I worry about how Matt and I will pay for all three of our daughters to go to the college of their choice, loan free (which both Matt and I were blessed to be able to do).

There have never been days (in all of my almost 37 years) where I have worried about how I would get food to feed myself and my family.

She is blessed to have never known what it is like to be without food...

Matt’s and my farm is a modern farm, and like many farmers in the United States, the fruits of our labor will feed not only our family but also thousands of other people all around the world.  In a normal twelve month cycle, I ship between 5000 and 5500 animals to harvest.  It takes only one of those animals to feed my family for a year.  The other 4999 animals feed people who spend their lives doing something other than farming and growing food.  Without me, you do not eat.  Without you, I am not blessed with many of the other perks and necessities that fill my life.

He will feed my family for a full year...

It is a system of teamwork; one that enables each American to use their individual talents to bring to fruition the American Dream.

I had never seen subsistence farming until I traveled to Kenya.  Webster defines subsistence as the minimum (as of food and shelter) necessary to support life.  While not all farming in Kenya is subsistence farming, this is the way of life for many Kenyans.

Small plot of farmed land...

Small plots of land tilled, planted, weeded, and harvested by hand marked the countryside.

A woman harvesting by hand...

Small groups of livestock, either herded by a family member or tethered by a rope on the side of the road to graze, were common.

A cow, tethered (on a rope leash) along the side of the road, to graze for the day...

A group of livestock, out to graze for the day, herded by a couple of young men...

Any additional bounty was hauled (predominantly by hand) to local markets to be sold.

Produce, bagged and waiting on the side of the road, to be transported manually to the market...

Some is transported by walking, some by bike, and some by livestock cart...

A roadside market...

The unemployment rate in Kenya is higher than 40% and there is not government assistance to those who do not have a job.  Consequently, large family groups work as a team to create the necessary resources for subsistence.  There are many that, unlike me, worry about what they will eat for the next meal.

Any of you who have a vegetable garden know how much work goes into growing food.  The last couple of years, I have been on a mission to teach my children how to grow their own garden.  My single largest challenge has been motivating them to do the “grunt” work of weeding.  They just plain do not want to work that hard because they know that they can always go inside to the refrigerator and effortlessly find food to eat.  My children have never been hungry.

Imagine growing all of your food by hand (no tiller, no planter, no mechanized way to weed, no sprinklers to water with, no mechanized way to harvest, no car to use to transport the excess to market or to a friend or family member that you share with).  Imagine spending your morning milking a cow or goat, then walking a mile to the stream to gather water, then spending your afternoon planting/weeding/harvesting your garden.  Hunger is a powerful motivator.

A fence made out of thorny bushes which encloses a Samburu village. Livestock are brought inside of the fence at night to protect them from predators. At night, the cattle are free roaming around the village, the goats are placed in small pens within the village perimeter...In the morning, the men take the livestock out to graze after the women have milked them. The women then walk to gather water for the day...This group of semi-nomadic people eat only meat, milk, and chocolate milk (milk mixed with cow blood). They do not raise crops.

Kenya (like the United States) is seeing a large influx of population shift from the rural areas to the city.  Young people are looking for a different life than the one described above.  The challenge then becomes creating a farming system to feed 40 million people when much of the farming is still done by hand.  As we drove across the central part of the country, I saw some large “European style” crop farms that looked quite a bit like my husband’s farm.

Acres tilled, planted, maintained, and harvested by machinery (like we do on our farm)...

I also saw some huge greenhouses dotted along the countryside (cut flowers exported to Europe is one of the largest industries in the country).

Tucked behind the trees, these modern greenhouses are used to grow flowers for export...

But, intermixed between these, were many more subsistence farms.

These goats provide both meat and milk to a family...

There is a big debate going on in our country right now about what type of farming is best.  Is it modern farming?  Is it local farms and markets?  Is it organic farming?  Is it some combination? While this issue is very complex, my trip to Kenya reinforced in my mind that hunger is still an issue.  With a growing world population and a limited number of natural resources, as a farmer, I must continue to strive to do a better job just plain feeding people.

Instead of getting caught up in philosophical issues about what type of food is best, I need to be eternally thankful that I have never wondered what I would feed my children for dinner. 

There are many people both in this country and around the world who do not have that luxury.  As a farmer, I can work to make that better…

It will be very interesting to watch my girls this summer with our vegetable garden to see if the trip to Kenya taught them anything about appreciating and growing food…

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Family, Foodie Fun!, General