Tag Archives: trust

One Story at a Time…

How do we build trust with our urban customers?

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

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

One story at a time.”

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

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

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

We build trust by sharing of ourselves.

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

My hour long presentation held ten main messages:

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

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

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

A relationship begins with a moment of time.

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

Are you ready to tell your story?

The team needs you.

After all, that’s how we build trust.

 

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

Auditing…

annebunkpb2I will never forget my first experience with a Progressive Beef audit. While our feed yard had participated in the Beef Quality Assurance Feed Yard Assessment for several years, my veterinarian filled the role of auditor under that voluntary educational program.  The Progressive Beef Quality Management System took auditing to an entirely new level for my crew and I.  While it ultimately provided a tremendous tool for improvement, opening my farm to an “outside auditor” made me uncomfortable.

My feed yard was my pride and joy, and my crew like family.  I am a perfectionist and hold myself to a very high level of accountability. A comprehensive audit often finds imperfection as it is designed to measure performance to a high level of detail.  It is my nature to take things personally and I viewed every infraction (no matter how small) as a slight on my own leadership.

The rational part of my brain recognized that growth and continuous improvement involved measuring performance at a detailed level. The metrics of the audit forced me to face imperfection.  The intellectual Anne knew that the road to excellence was never comfortable, and that perfect practice made perfect performance. The emotional Anne dreaded audit day.

Over the years that Will Feed participated in the Progressive Beef QMS, I learned that the positives of the audit outweighed the negatives.  The effectiveness of the tool as a means for continuous improvement significantly outweighed my personal stress. I’d like to report that I learned to relax, but I preach to my kids that integrity trumps all so I am simply going to say that I learned to accept the reality of audit day 😉

 Somewhere along the way, I recognized that audit meant: 

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  • Human nature insists that we perform better when we are held accountable for our actions.
  • True understanding comes when you realize that the little things count.  Dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s really does raise the level of care that you offer to your animals. Animals matter so details had better matter.
  • Daily dedication to a goal of excellence builds a positive culture. When you are dedicated to caring, awesome things happen.
  • Integrity is the voice that sits on your shoulder when you make decisions. You are more likely to listen to it when you live amidst a culture of excellence. Caregivers with integrity bring honor to the farm and lead to responsibly raised food.
  • Trust in our food supply plays a critical role in the stability of our country.  Verification of care inspires trust.  If it matters to you, it had better matter to me. We’re in this together.

One of the responsibilities for my new job is becoming a Progressive Beef auditor.  I am in the process of changing my position relative to who holds the clipboard.  I am hopeful that my past experience as feed yard boss lady will enable me to empower the feed yard crews that I audit to believe in the heart and spirit of an audit.

Getting better matters.  It involves accountability, understanding, dedication, integrity and trust; and results in a level of animal care that brings pride to the vocation of raising food.

 

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Filed under Chronicles of a Retiring Feed Yard Boss Lady, General, Progressive Beef QSA Program

The Feed Yard: Unraveling the Myth…

When Virginia and Rachel’s cattle leave the home ranch, they travel approximately thirty miles to my farm.  The cattle make the trip in large stock trailers pulled by pick up trucks driven by the family.  Shipment day is a busy one, and the cattle arrive at the feed yard about noon.  The goal is to minimize the total stress on the calves so we all work together to make the logistics flow seamlessly.

Karyn silly and calves Sept. 2012 011

The calves are unloaded as soon as they arrive and the process of acclimation begins.  I am the team member at the feed yard who is in charge of the acclimation process, and I lead the calves through a 4-7 day transition to help them become familiar to their new surroundings.  This includes:

  • Learning to become comfortable with a new set of human caregivers.
  • Learning to exit the home pen in an organized fashion and move confidently down to the corral.
  • Learning to attribute comfort to the home pen — understanding that fresh feed, water, and a comfortable place to both play and rest can be found there.

I believe that this process is a critical component to reducing stress on newly arrived cattle and allows them to settle in quickly and seamlessly to their new home.  We run the feed yard to set our animals up for success — recognizing that it is our job as caregivers to strive to attain the 5 Freedoms of Cattle Care while also working to be sustainable environmental stewards to the resources on our farm.

As a member of the Beef Marketing Group Cooperative, my feed yard is certified under the QSA of Progressive Beef.  As such, we have Cattle Care Guidelines and Standard Operating Producers that dictate the daily care practices for our animals.  We work with our veterinarian and bovine nutritionist to ensure that our care is appropriate and effective.  We are audited twice a year to ensure that we follow through on the details relative to this care.

One of our two Progressive Beef audits in 2016 is an “unscheduled” audit — this means that we do not know what day the auditor will arrive to check both the physical aspects of our feed yard care and our supporting paperwork.  Tuesday morning, I left the feed yard and headed to the dentist at 8:00am.  I was on the road headed back to town when I got a text message saying that the Progressive Beef auditor was 45 minutes away from the feed yard.

The auditor checking the water tank with the Evert calves watching curiously from behind...

The auditor preparing to check the water tank with the Evert calves watching curiously from behind…

Although an audit disrupts the daily routine at the feed yard, I view it as both a learning process and a way that I can assure the folks who purchase my beef that it was raised responsibly.  An audit is very much like a report card, and the metrics involved play a key role in our path of continuous improvement.

In an effort to ensure that the Progressive Beef standards for animal welfare, food safety and sustainability are met daily on the farm, the auditor assesses:

  • Cattle handling and daily care
  • Cattle home pen living conditions
  • Cattle water tank cleanliness
  • Cattle feed nutrition, handling and delivery which follows developed HACCP principles for safety
  • Antibiotic use on the farm (volume of use as well as animal withdrawal records to ensure that meat is residue free)
  • Food safety practices used on the farm to ensure that the meat that our animals provide meets high safety standards
  • Feed yard employee safety guidelines
  • Farm sustainability practices which ensure responsible resource utilization
Ever curious, an Evert steer poses for a picture...

Ever curious, an Evert steer poses for a picture…

At the end of the video that I put up last week, I asked for trust from you for me as a farmer.  I recognize that this is a big ask on my part, and as a result I open my farm to auditing so that I can verify my actions and reward your trust.

Stay tuned for next’s week post that takes us from the feed yard to the packing plant — among other things, we will learn the importance of the small white button in the above calf’s ear!

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Filed under Beef Cattle Life Cycle: Ranch to Retail, CAFO, General, Progressive Beef QSA Program

Trust but Verify…

I did an interview last week with a reporter who asked,Why does your farm participate in 3rd party animal welfare audits?”

My answer: I ask that my customers trust me to be a good farmer, but I open my farm to auditing so that they can verify that I practice what I preach.

No matter how good a job you do on your farm, an audit is a stressful time.

  • Hundreds of pages of documents are checked to make sure that records accurately demonstrate daily animal care practices.
  • Hours are spent checking the farm’s facilities (feed and feed mixing areas, cattle pens, water tanks, and corrals) to ensure that animals have good living conditions.
  • Cattle handling is observed to ensure that good welfare exists while animals are interacting with their human caregivers.
  • Caregivers are asked questions about farm protocols on many different issues relative to animal care to ensure that those folks who provide daily care for the animals are well trained and educated.
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 around me because they are comfortable, confident, and curious. They choose to come close to me despite the large amount of space in the pen that they call home…

I wear several “hats” at my feed yard. I am the owner and boss lady in addition to being one of the laborers who provide daily cattle care. I tend to greet audit day with mixed feelings. The boss lady realizes how important the audit is, but the farm hand struggles to accept outsiders interfering in the daily workings of life on the farm.

It is hard to have someone from the outside critique everything that you do – there is also no way to have an audit without disrupting the daily schedule of the farm. The combination of these things makes audit day on the farm long and stressful. Additionally, because I love my farm so much, opening it up to the judgement of an auditor creates a feeling of personal vulnerability. I feel it in my heart, and I know that my crew does as well.

Their care is important to me.

Their care is important to me.

Two weeks ago the feed yard had its first 2015 audit. I came home that night with a myriad of emotions fluttering through my head, the greatest being anger. Not anger toward the audit itself, but anger toward an ever growing vocal subset of the population who distrusts and dislikes American farmers like me. Tired from the long day, all I could think about was Why do I bother to go to the extra work of an audit to verify my farm care when nobody trusts me anyway”.

As an active advocate for agriculture, I am painfully aware of the distrust that exists toward modern farmers. An ever growing group of elitist philosophers breed this cynicism by employing an effective blend of zealotry and scare tactics. No matter how much I care or how hard I work to responsibly grow beef – these people ensure that I carry the label of the evil factory farmer. I open the newspaper or bring up the internet and find dozens of derogatory statements about how farms like mine abuse our animals, the environment and ultimately the people that we feed.

I honestly don't understand how this is evil and abusive...

I honestly don’t understand how this is evil and abusive…

Put yourself in my boots for a moment.

  • I work long hours on the farm.
  • I come home at night to write blog posts and share pictures of how I grow beef.
  • I patiently answer questions from reporters and customers.
  • I open my farm to both audits and tours.

And, at the end of the day, I am still belittled by the people that I have dedicated my life to feed.

So, I ask the important question:

What is it going to take for Americans to trust farmers and the practices that they use to grow food?

I believe in Trust but Verify, but verification is simply a burdensome chore if trust is unattainable.

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Filed under CAFO

Building Trust By Farming With Transparency…

Thoughtful Thursday

Later today (after I exercise calves and ship cattle to Tyson), I will drive to Kansas State University to address the Masters of Agribusiness students at their annual banquet.  My talk will center on how we can build trust by farming with transparency.  As a companion blog post on this Thoughtful Thursday, I would like to share the five rules that I have developed and personally follow in my journey to:

  Build Trust By Farming With Transparency…

  1. To be effective, transparency must be coupled with validation of daily care on the farm.  Practice what you preach!  Audit what you do!
  2. Be prepared to explain what you do and why you do it.  Don’t do anything that you can’t explain!
  3. The who is just as important as the what and the why.  Farmers are people — People are the key to building trust — To be authentic, we must share of ourselves in addition to our farming practices.
  4. Understand that there is more than one “right” way to grow food.  Just as you explain the what, the why, and the who of your farm, embrace the what, the why, and the who of other farms that use different production practices to grow food with integrity.
  5. While you may not always believe that your customers are correct, you must always respect them.  A conversation is a two sided process and understanding and trust are built by sharing.  Gathering feedback from your customers leads to a broader perspective and positive change on your farm.

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I tell my daughters that the right thing is often not the easy thing, and I believe that statement applies to building trust by farming with transparency. 

However, choosing to journey down this path will lend both integrity and sustainability to your farm.

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Filed under General, Thoughtful Thursday

Proving That We Care…

Just a couple of weeks ago, a social media friend forwarded me an email that she had received from a reader.  The email was a cry for help from a fellow mom.  It seems that her daughter, after repeatedly watching horrific videos of animal abuse on the internet, had refused to eat any animal products.

I do not have that added challenge with my daughters because they help to raise the beef that we eat.

I do not have that added parenting challenge with my daughters because they help to raise the beef that we eat.

Concerned about both her daughter’s nutritional needs and the abusive videos, the mom was reaching out to online farmer bloggers in an attempt to find out the truth.  When I sent a link to several videos of my farm to the mom, she responded “Why can’t I find these when I search on YouTube?  These are the types of videos that we need to see!”

The short answer to that question is that search results on YouTube are ranked according to number of views.  This means that the more views a video has, the more likely that it will show up when you search a topic.  I have uploaded four “home-made” videos to YouTube over the last year—they have a total of only 1500 views.

This one is my favorite–it is my 10 year old cowgirl/chef exercising cattle at the feed yard to the tune of her favorite song “Fly Over States”.

  • I love this video because I am proud of my daughter and what a great cattle caregiver she is becoming.
  • I love this video because it shows the simplicity of good cattle handling.
  • I love this video because of the calf with the white spot on his head that kept asking Megan “do I have to” when she asked him to move.  Megan frequently looks at me asking the same question…

    Where did the trust go?

    Where did the trust go?

Twenty years ago, trust existed throughout the food production system.  Farmers were viewed positively, and those outside of the farm believed that farmers had integrity.  Today, that trust is gone.  I believe that this loss of trust is one of the biggest travesties currently affecting our great country.  Quite simply, it hurts my heart to know that many people do not trust that I care.

ProgressiveBeefLogoGreen

My brain recognizes that it is my duty to not only care, but also to document that care in an attempt to rebuild that trust.  The daily care that I offer to my animals is now accompanied by record keeping and documentation that will verify that I not only care, but that I am competent in that care.

My other job---paper work!

My other job—paper work!

Animal Care is the second pillar of the Progressive Beef program.  It is one that I believe in with every fiber of my being.  Outstanding animal care is a trademark of my feed yard.  Progressive Beef has provided me with both a documentation trail, and also a third party independent audit to bring additional integrity to my promise of high quality animal care.

Rest assured that you can feel good about feeding my beef to your family—it came from healthy and humanely raised animals.  You don’t have to just take my word for it!

I feel the capacity to care is the thing which gives life its deepest significance.

Pablo Casals

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Filed under Animal Welfare, CAFO, General, Progressive Beef QSA Program

It’s Your Turn…

A couple of weeks ago, Feed Yard Foodie passed its “18 month birthday”.  In honor of reaching that milestone, I would like to share a few statistics and thoughts with each of you regarding the cyber journey

Thank you for coming along with me on this adventure!

In the last 18 months Feed Yard Foodie:

  • Received approximately 85,000 hits from more than 130 countries around the world.
  • Created 176 posts that are archived under 14 different categories.
  • Welcomed 266 regular blog site followers and 554 facebook “likes”.

    A special thanks to my family–for their contributions to the pictures and the posts–and also for their patience and understanding as we opened the door to our farm and our lives…

In the last 18 months, I have learned:

  • Creating a good blog post takes several hours.
  • Often ideas for posts pop into my head at odd times, and sometimes the resulting post metamorphoses into something only distantly related to the original idea.
  • I love taking pictures for the blog even more than I love writing the posts.
  • As with every other aspect of my life, I am a creature of habit.  My regular Tuesday and Thursday posts reflect that tendency.
  • Maintaining a conversation with many many people that I do not know is a unique challenge.
  • I love to read comments relative to my posts because they give me a glimpse into who my readers are and what inspires them.
  • Explaining how I care for cattle and raise beef to each of you drives me to be a better caregiver to my animals and inspires me to constantly improve.

    What questions do you have about my animals or the beef that they produce?

After 18 months of hearing me pontificate, I would like to know from you all:

  • What do you like best about the Feed Yard Foodie site and my blog posts?
  • What do you think that I can do better in the next 18 months?
  • What topics do you wish that I would write about?
  • Do you feel as though I do a good job articulating about my family and our lives on a farm?  If not, what I can do to better help you understand?
  • What motivates you to “like” a post or to comment?

I would very much appreciate any and all insight.  Pick an above question to answer, or answer all of them 🙂

I have come to understand that “It’s not about the trailer”, rather it’s about building a relationship that is based on trust…

Please know that I value your insight, and am so very thankful that each of you has allowed me to become a part of your life over the past 18 months…

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Filed under General