Tag Archives: growing food

Return on Investment…

annemattbale1.jpgLess than a week after graduating from Dartmouth College, I put on my jeans and went to work at the cattle feed yard.  I knew almost nothing about taking care of cattle, but I packed my integrity and my work ethic in order to learn the job.  Looking back over the past two decades, I would like to think that I have transitioned into a savvy cattle caregiver — learning from my animals and hopefully inspiring others to do the same.

Last Sunday morning, as I watched the sun rise while cleaning feed bunks with a scoop shovel, I thought about that young girl and how she evolved into the woman that I am today.  I pondered how things change, and I acknowledged that – despite my romantic nature – there are times when reality demands to be considered.

I went to work at the feed yard to continue the family legacy in cattle feeding.  There was a need and I worked hard to fill it.  It was to be my forever job as Matt and I worked together to grow what his dad and granddad started.  My favorite farmer has done an exceptional job of ensuring that the crop farm prospered — evolving the farm to meet the changing markets and using his entrepreneurial talents to remain relevant in the world of agriculture.

I have struggled to do the same with the feed yard.  While I truly believe in my business model and what I have worked to build, the daily struggle to remain viable in the ever-changing and often volatile markets has left me drained.  Today when I look in the mirror, I fail to find the optimistic spark that plays a large role in making me Anne.  My cup is closer to empty than full, and I am not able to effectively refill it.

My balance sheet tells me that I am not garnering a decent monetary return on investment, and my heart tells me that I need to rediscover my passion by taking an altered professional route.  Recently, I made the decision to begin the process of closing down the feed yard.  While I will remain a “feed yard boss lady” until Mid-February, I do not intend to refill the pens as they empty this fall and winter.

Matt and I plan to return the feed yard pen area to farm ground, and use the shop and feedmill buildings to further enhance our crop farming operation.  My two long time employees will transfer over to the farming business continuing to work for our family.  This has been a long and difficult decision to make, but I am confident that it is the correct one.  I truly believe that fear of change should not dictate the future — rather looking for new ideas to improve your legacy should drive the long term decision making process.

Easterfamily2.jpgThis transition will be a long one — spanning many months to possibly a year — as I am determined to close my feed yard with the same integrity that has marked my twenty years of management.  Our dedication to animal welfare, environmental responsibility, and quality beef production will continue to drive the daily care on our farm.  I plan to share our transition story with each of you — continuing to blog and cataloging our shifting lives on the farm.

There are still many details to be worked out and much work to be done; but my commitment to transparency necessitates me sharing the news.  I hope that each one of you will stand by me as I travel down this new fork in the road.  Your support is important to me.




Filed under Chronicles of a Retiring Feed Yard Boss Lady, Family, Farming, 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.


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.


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.


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


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

Good Timing…

As winter hints of an end and spring draws my crocuses out of the ground, I spend time putting together my spring shipment schedule. The growing season in Nebraska dictates that many bovines leave the home ranch in the late fall when Mother Nature signals the end of the growing season. After wintering at my feed yard, spring and summer finds these animals ready to make beef.


Good timing enables the ultimate goal as both the environmental footprint of my farm and the quality of my beef rely on my instincts of when to ship cattle to the packing plant.

My judicious dedication to timely cattle shipment makes me a good farmer.

It ensures that an optimal amount of resources (animal feed and water) creates the ultimate nutrient packed, great tasting beef product that we feed to our families.

If I do not feed my cattle long enough, then their beef may be less tender and not provide the best eating experience. If I feed them too long, then the additional resources of my farm are turned into fat that must be trimmed off of the meat before it is packaged to sell to you. I honor the resources of my farm as well as my customers when I do it right; and I get a report card from the packing plant each time that I ship cattle.

Many thanks to Miranda Reiman for taking this picture...

Many thanks to Miranda Reiman for taking this picture…

There are two main components to figuring the optimal time to ship a group of cattle:

  1. Looking at the numbers.
  2. Looking at the cattle.

I feed cattle off of the same ranches almost every year, so I start the process of figuring a shipment date by looking at the report card from the previous year. Did I get an “A” last year, or do I need to make changes to the feeding plan?

I then look at the:

  • Initial weight of the animals when they arrive at the feed yard from the home ranch
  • The estimated average daily gain (which I calculate looking at past years’ performance)
  • The appropriate shipment weight of the animals based on the genetics, age, and phenotype

Using these three numbers, I can theoretically predict the appropriate shipment date. As much as perfection would make life on the farm easier, weather often wreaks havoc with a good plan. Consequently, it is very important to look at each group of animals after figuring the numbers (keeping in mind the weather patterns of the recent months) to make sure that life in the real world fits the plan drafted on paper.


Good timing relative to shipping cattle to the packing plant is both an art and a science. It also requires an inherent desire to be a responsible steward as market conditions may often tempt a cattle feeder to not remain dedicated to timely shipments.

I view good timing as one of the ways that my farm excels at sustainability and the judicious use of resources…


Filed under Environmental Stewardship, 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.


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.


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




Filed under CAFO, Thoughtful Thursday

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.


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!


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…






Filed under Family, Foodie Fun!, General