Tag Archives: sustainable

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

When Your Husband Needs You For Your Manure…

Matt and I have a unique relationship. In addition to being soul mates and the parents of our three girls, we also partner together to manage our farm.

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We live together, we love together, we work together.

After almost 20 years of this, I can look back with tremendous pride over the gift of togetherness on which we have built our lives.

Our farm is diversified – we grow both crops and cattle – with my favorite farmer manning the helm of the crop farm and me working as the boss lady at the feed yard. We run the two facets of the farm independently, but collaborate and partner on a daily basis. I need Matt to provide feed for my cattle, and he needs me for manure to replenish the nutrients in his soil.

It isn’t often that a woman can claim that one of the reasons that her husband needs her is her manure…

But manure provides common ground when you are managing a diversified farm. I need to manage it responsibly so that it is harvested and used in a positive way, and Matt needs it in order to maintain sustainable soil health.

The tractor and scraper which pulls the manure off of the top of the pen dirt surface and piles it so that Matt can transport it to a crop field to use as fertilizer...

The tractor and scraper which pulls the solid manure off of the top of the pen dirt surface and piles it so that Matt can transport it to a crop field to use as fertilizer…

Because I manage a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO), I have a more highly populated density of animals than other types of farms. While I view my feed yard as a positive way to raise beef, I recognize that I need to be dedicated to environmental protection in order to safeguard the land and water on our farm. I use a Nutrient Management Plan, created by a professional environmental engineering firm, which includes best management practices for collecting and properly using both the solid and liquid manure that is produced at the feed yard.

Loading the manure from the cattle pen to the manure truck for transportation to a crop field for application...

Loading the solid manure from the cattle pen to the manure truck for transportation to a crop field for application…

My favorite farmer tests his crop fields prior to manure application to determine the level of nutrients needed to replenish the soil. I test the manure so that the nutrient levels in the natural fertilizer can be entered into an equation (along with the soil test information) to ensure that the manure is applied at an agronomic (healthy) rate. The goal is overall sustainability for the farm with the crops and cattle working together as a team to produce needed resources in a balanced cycle.

We spread manure on each of our crop fields approximately every 7 years.  Here is manure from the feed yard being applied to an old alfalfa field that will be torn up and planted to corn for a one year rotation before being planted back to alfalfa...

We spread manure on each of our crop fields approximately once every 7 years. Here is manure from the feed yard being applied to an old alfalfa field that will be torn up and planted to corn for a one year rotation before being planted back to alfalfa…

The crop yields and cattle performance/beef quality give us reliable report cards on our management execution, and extra safeguards such as ground water monitoring and crop land set-backs ensure that the nutrients applied remain on our farm being used for their positive and intended purpose.

All of these things together reduce the environmental footprint of our farm, which is an ongoing goal that Matt and I share.

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Filed under CAFO, Environmental Stewardship, General

Digging In the Dirt…

I have always loved digging in the dirt.  Although I grew up in the city, my dad is an avid hunter and we spent many of my childhood weekends in the Lake Okeechobee area hunting on Florida ranch land for quail, ducks and dove.

My brother and I, many many years ago out at the "hunting camp"...

My brother and I, many many years ago out at the “hunting camp”…

When Matt and I moved to Nebraska, my one condition on the move was that I wanted a house “in the country” where I could have lots of room to have animals and gardens.  Our house is positioned on the edge of one of Matt’s farms and sits on about five acres.

My two horses lay claim to a large portion of those acres, but I still have plenty of room to experiment and grow things.  This spring has been mentally challenging for me because it has been too cold to garden.  Our trees are only now starting to bud and my summer perennials are barely peaking their brave heads above ground (the tulips and daffodils perished in a snow storm several weeks ago).  My fingers have been itching to play in the dirt…DSC05280

On Sunday, we had temperatures in the low sixties so I herded up my free labor and headed outdoors to do some gardening chores.  My girls always complain a little bit as we get started, but it does not take long for my older ones to get excited about transplanting and clearing out the flower gardens.

Transplanting lilies...

Transplanting lilies…

They seem to have inherited my love for digging in the dirt and making things grow…

In addition to my perennial flowers taking the plunge above the soil, my rhubarb and asparagus are coming up.  It will not be long before it is time to get the colder season annual vegetables in (it was 28 degrees Saturday morning so not quite yet!).  This year we are doing a combination vegetable garden with my  mother-in-law and the girls are in charge of weeding 🙂

Dividing our Irises...

Dividing out and replanting Irises…

It renews my soul to dig in the dirt.  It fuels my optimism to watch new life grow in my gardens.  It brings a smile to my face to watch my daughters learn the combination of care and just a little magic which brings beauty to our yard and vegetables to our table.

Even while we garden and water, she still dreams about that great tasting steak that will go along with her vegetables :)

Even while we garden and water, she still dreams about that great tasting steak that will go along with her vegetables 🙂

We topped off the afternoon by finding the first toad of the year.  Karyn seemed to spend more time playing with it than helping with the gardens...I guess that is the joy of being the baby of the family!

We topped off the afternoon by finding the first toad of the year. Karyn seemed to spend more time playing with it than helping with the gardens…I guess that is the joy of being the baby of the family!

Is it warm enough to get your gardens going for the growing season?

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Filed under Family, General, Sustainable Spring

Water + Heat Units = A Green Spring

My favorite cowgirl and I headed down to our pasture ground last Sunday to search for grass.  Nebraska has been moisture deficient since early last summer and, in particular, the drought has greatly hurt the 23 millions acres of grass pasture that makes up more than half of Nebraska’s land mass.

Searching for grass...

Searching for grass…

While the vast majority of our land is crop ground, we do have approximately 600 acres of cool season grass pasture in the Platte River Valley.  Typically, we graze cattle on this land from April to Mid-June, and then again from August to October.  I purchase “light yearlings” or “fall calves” that weigh 600-650# to graze on this land.

We grow these animals on grass pasture until they weigh approximately 800#.  At that time (or at the time that all of the grass is eaten), we bring them into the feed yard to prepare them for harvest.

Typically, this light yearling would already be out grazing grass instead of at the feed yard...

Typically, this light yearling would already be out grazing grass instead of at the feed yard…

Today is the 2nd of May.  Normally, we have already turned cattle out to pasture and our cool season grass is lush and green.  This year the grass is very slow to grow due to two important variables: water and heat units.

After a very dry summer, fall and winter; we were blessed with almost 3 inches of rain (along with snow and ice) in April.  The rain brought life-giving moisture, but it also left behind very cold temperatures.  At the end of last week, we finally saw some warmth with highs in the upper 70’s but it did not last as we had snow again yesterday…

Closing a gate in between pastures...

Closing a gate in between pastures…It’s nice to have a helper along!

As Megan and I rode the pasture ground, I realized that I would not have grass to graze for several weeks yet.  While it is valiantly trying to turn green and grow, it is way behind normal.  The lack of carryover moisture combined with a dry winter and a cold spring have left Nebraska’s grasslands struggling.

Pure joy!

Pure joy!

I was glad to have my favorite cowgirl along as we traversed the pasture ground.  She was a bundle of sunshine laughing and telling stories from her week at school.  Her natural optimism is good for me and brings a smile to my face.  As we loaded up the horses and headed for home, I thought to myself that her positive nature plays a key role in the sustainability of my mental fitness!

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Filed under General, Sustainable Spring

Different Kinds of Smart…

My oldest daughter has read Gone With the Wind  three times and has the first page of A Tale of Two Cities memorized.  She took the ACT as a 7th grader and qualified for the National Duke TIP program.  She loves history and geography and can likely rattle off the capitol of any country in the world.

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The Intellectual…

Yet, when I take her to the feed yard and ask her to chain the gate, she gets a lost look on her face.  That same look appears as I request that she move a group of cattle out of the home pen or to tell me which animal does not look like he feels well.  It resurfaces again as I show her a gate latch that is broken and ask her how she would fix it.

My oldest daughter is a gifted intellectual.  Her verbal skills are nothing short of incredible, and she will no doubt become a great debater and philosopher.  However, she is greatly challenged by practical problem solving skills.

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The Problem Solver…

My middle daughter is quite different from her sister.  She loves patterns and puzzles, and is a gifted cowgirl.  She has an innate understanding of animals, and a wonderful ability to solve problems fluidly even while under pressure.

She has little interest in memorizing world geography or debating passages from books, but she is your “go to” girl when you are sorting cattle and need someone to calmly and efficiently work the gate for cattle to travel into different pens.

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Intellectual + Problem Solver = A Good Team!

Just like any other two individuals, my daughters are unique and have natural strengths and weaknesses.  As I look around my community, I see the same eclectic picture.  I view this very positively because the diversity of talents makes for a very strong culture of people.

Isn't this what it is all about?

Isn’t this what it is all about?

The third tier of sustainability is cultural in nature, and some define it as social diligence.  Looking at the words separately, social implies togetherness and diligence implies hard work.

Perhaps this means that the successful achievement of sustainability requires both a team effort and hard work at the individual level?

Recognizing the beauty in uniqueness and diversity is a challenge that we face as individuals and as a nation.  Realizing that no one is perfect, and also that everyone has something different to offer is sometimes difficult.  I believe that listening to understand all of the while recognizing that together we are stronger plays an important role in the discussion of sustainability on a cultural level.  Our individual experiences determine our perception and our opinions.

Developing underlying feelings of respect and trust for others creates both a teamwork mentality and the motivation to use our individual talents for the betterment of society.

I love to watch my two oldest girls work together: the intellectual and the practical problem solver.  One views the world as a set of words and thoughts to memorize and debate—the other as a set of pictures to put together like pieces of a puzzle.  Their minds are so different and, as a result, they make such a powerful team when they work together.

The great standoff...

The great standoff…

As beautiful as it is to watch them work together, you can likely imagine what happens when they do not respect each other’s differences and struggle to work together as a team.  Perhaps you can picture the scenario clearly because you have been in a situation where your perception of the world is vastly different than someone with whom you interact?

 Imagine a world where teamwork and individual dedication to greatness come together. 

That is my picture of cultural sustainability.

 What do you think?

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Filed under Family, General, Sustainable Spring

Environmental Sustainability: How do I care?

Sustainable = The ability to endureDSC04814

While I believe with all my heart that our farm’s ability to sustain is intrinsically tied to its capacity to endure, I also recognize that good planning and an attention to detail is critical to our success.

Sustaining is not just something that happens if you get lucky—it is the result of careful planning and diligent implementation.  It is the art of taking what Mother Nature gives to you and turning it into a usable and beneficial resource.

Recent Sustainability research conducted by the Beef Check Off demonstrates that there are three components of sustainable beef production (raising cattle to grow beef): environmental responsibility, economic viability, and social diligence.DSC04451

Because I care, I have the responsibility to minimize the environmental footprint of my farm.

While every decision that Matt and I make on the farm affects its environmental footprint, the following list denotes the key concepts of how we practically care for the farm’s environmental sustainability.

  • A detailed manure management plan that includes both soil and manure sampling, and makes use of a computer program to help figure the healthy balance of nutrients on crop ground.  The plan also ensures the proper handling of the manure as it is transported from the feed yard to a neighboring crop field.
  • A lined holding pond allows us to use the water that drains off of the feed yard during a rain storm for both irrigation and fertilization on our crop ground.  The heavy plastic liner of the pond prevents the leaching of nutrients while the water is being stored.  This helps us to both recycle the liquid for later use, and to protect the ground water (Ogallala Aquifer) that is under our farm.
  • A careful rotation plan for our crop acres reduces erosion and helps to build and sustain soil health.
  • A careful pen cleaning schedule allows for timely and effective solid manure collection.  This helps to ensure good cattle pen conditions, and the effective use of the natural fertilizer that our animals produce.
  • The procurement of genetically high quality cattle which destines them to produce tender and flavorful beef while using fewer natural resources (feed) to make that beef.
  • The dedication to high quality holistic care practices which reduces stress and improves the comfort of our cattle.  Comfortable cattle make healthy and flavorful beef using fewer natural resources!
  • The use of technology to increase the efficiency of our animals.  For instance, I use both growth hormone implants and a beta agonist feed supplement at the end of the feeding period to help my animals maintain efficient feed conversion until the time of harvest.
  • The use of crop farming technology to increase the efficiency of our crop ground.  For instance, Matt’s tractors are equipped with GPS systems to ensure that seed is placed accurately into the ground at planting.  He also uses soil probes and other mechanisms to ensure that he is using irrigation water efficiently.DSC05079

Matt and I have many “tools in our environmental sustainability tool box”.  We believe that it is our obligation to both our farm and to you to use them responsibly and with diligence.  Our farm has sustained for more than 60 years.

It is our goal that our grandchildren will one day care for it with the same reverence that we do today.

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Filed under Environmental Stewardship, General, Sustainable Spring

Spring Weather in Nebraska…

The only constant factor with spring weather in Nebraska is its ever-changing nature!  Monday we began the week with 60 degrees and sun—by Tuesday we had received high winds and a nice 2+ inch rain—Wednesday we were covered in a layer of ice—Thursday there was snow on top of the ice—finally today we saw the sun again and temperatures rose above freezing!

I took some pictures throughout the week in order to share the ever changing roller coaster ride that Mother Nature takes us on…

Enjoying the sun on Monday afternoon...

Enjoying the sun on Monday afternoon…

The rain water Tuesday draining out of my cattle pens...

The rain water Tuesday draining out of my cattle pens…

And into my line Livestock Waste Control Facility where we will store it for later use as irrigation water on our farm ground...

And into my lined Livestock Waste Control Facility where we will store it for later use as irrigation water on our farm ground…

By Wednesday we had ice and snow...

By Wednesday we had snow…

and ice...

and ice…

With the hard work of my crew and some carefully placed sand...

With the hard work of my crew and some carefully placed sand…

We were still able to ship cattle to harvest despite the icy conditions...

We were still able to ship cattle to harvest despite the wintery conditions…

We are thankful for the moisture, and looking with hope toward melting ice and a green spring!

We are thankful for the moisture, and looking with hope toward melting ice and a green spring!

It is beautiful, but I am ready for winter to end...

It is beautiful, but I am ready for winter to end…

My favorite 8 year old is hoping for sun and warmth for tomorrow's AYSO soccer game---it is looking promising!

My favorite 8 year old is hoping for sun and warmth for tomorrow’s AYSO soccer game—keep your fingers crossed!

As the week draws to an end, I am thankful for the moisture and hope that it will bring a Sustainable Green Spring!  Was your week a weather roller coaster ride as well?

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Filed under General, Sustainable Spring

Wow that Sustainable Cow!

Just over a year go I published a post called “Wow the Cow”, and it was a resounding success.  Because it fits so well with my current sustainability series, I have revised the post and an edited version appears here.

It always amazes me when I read about all of the different products that come from cattle.  Many times when I think of cattle, I think of beef—but there are so many other products that cattle give us!

For instance, the pickup that my favorite teenager drove last weekend in the alfalfa field while she helped me to take down temporary winter fences would not run without cattle by products.  The basketball that she likes to play with was also made from cattle leather as were the shoes on her feet!

She's not just fueled by beef--many of her favorite things are in part made from cattle products...

She’s not just fueled by beef–many of her favorite things are in part made from cattle products…

The reality is that 98% of the beef animal is used to make products that we all rely on.  Many of those are products other than the great tasting beef that we all normally associate with cattle.  I would like to share some of the other products that are made from cattle.  These products are made from the stuff that is left over after the beef muscle cuts are taken out…

WOW THAT SUSTAINABLE COW!

Pharmaceuticals

*blood factors (for treating hemophilia, killing viruses, and making anti-rejection drugs)

*Chymotrypsin (promotes the healing of wounds)

*Collagen (used in plastic surgery and to make non-stick bandages)

*Cortisol (anti-inflammatory)

*Glucagon (treats hypoglycemia or low blood sugar)

*Heparin (anticoagulant used to treat blood clots)

*Insulin (for treating diabetes or high blood sugar)

*Pancreatin (aids in digestion of food)

*Thrombin (coagulant which helps blood to clot)

*Vasopressin (controls intestinal and renal functions)

*Vitamin B-12 (prevention of B-complex deficiencies)

Food

Gelatin comes from the connective tissue of cattle and is used to make non-beef food items such as: candies, dairy products, deserts, diet products and jellies.

Household Products

*Candles                             *Ceramics                          *Cosmetics                        *Crayons

*Deodorants                     *Detergents                       *Floor Wax                        *Insecticides

*Insulation                         *Linoleum                          *Mouthwash                     *Paints

*Paper                                *Perfume                           *Plastic                               *Shaving Cream

*Soaps                                *Synthetic Rubber            *Toothpaste                      *Car Polish and Wax

Textiles/Apparel

Cowhide Leather!–Which is used to make clothing, shoes, boots, belts, purses, wallets, gloves, luggage and upholstery for cars and furniture, and sports balls.

Travel

*Antifreeze (contains glycerol which is derived from beef fat)…

*Asphalt (contains a binding agent made from beef fat)…

*Beef Fats and Proteins are used to make: auto and jet lubricants, outboard engine oil, high performance greases, and brake fluid…

*Glue from beef protein is used in automobile bodies…

*Tires have stearic acid which allows rubber to hold its shape…

Have you thanked a bovine today for all of the things that he provides you with?

Have you thanked a bovine today for all of the things that he provides you with?

Cattle are not only great recyclers converting non-edible feedstuffs into great tasting beef, but they are also highly diverse in the products that they offer to us.

Thanks to the American National CattleWomen for providing the information listed above which helps us to have a better appreciation for all of the products that cattle give to us…

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Filed under General, Sustainable Spring