Building Character

July 24th, 2012

When my brother, sister and I where kids we worked on the farm.  When a parent talks about all that character building stuff kids need to go through our parents took it to heart.  At that time Keewaydin was a happening sixty cow dairy.  My father was big into genetics and took great pride in developing the character of his herd (kids included).  Our job was to get the barn ready for milking, bring the cows in from pasture in the summer, feed the calves and as we got older do some of the milking.   Getting the barn ready included shoveling a fair amount of manure, liming, portioning out each cow’s food rations and bedding each stall in the winter.  After the barn was ready and cows collected from pasture you would open the gate and sixty cows would stream into the barn, most on their own, some gently prodded and newbies always last until they got with the program.  The program included each cow in her designated spot and though at the time I didn’t give it one thought, it was quite an amazing event.  Each cow new right where to go and 95 percent of the time got it right.  Some of the old girls had been in the same station their entire milking life which could be as long as 10 years.  They knew exactly where they were supposed to be and look out to anyone or thing that got in there way.

As much as we grumble or complain as kids when we are doing that character building stuff though I think it really does work.  I don’t know how many times I have gotten myself into situations that at the moment seemed tough but when put into the context of dairy farming are super simple.  There is something about shoveling manure that makes all other things in life a bit of a cake walk.  That is the whole point of character building, endure a bit of struggle, get dirty, sweet, make mistakes, and plow on though.  If nothing else you have a few stories to share, “You think you had it rough, I shoveled poop as a kid.  Why back in my day………..”.  Try one upping that character building start to a story.  Of course it’s all in context, my children have be putting in time on the farm, helping pack CSA shares and light garden duties and when they want to argue a point or let me know how hard they have it they go right to all the work they have to do.  Ah the circle of life, I’m sure I never complained or moaned about my chores……yeah right.  But look at me now farming away my life.  Why?  Because farming is what built this character!

A 1%er

July 17th, 2012

So I have a confession to make.  I am one of the 1%.  I’m sure you have heard the conversation over the last year about the 99% versus the 1 %, right?  Now before you start getting excited I want you to know that I’m talking about a different 1%.  Currently in our country 1% or perhaps even less of the population is actively involved in farming!  Think about that one for a second, 1%.  When our economists and business experts talk about efficiency and productivity farming should be on the top of the list.  The societal changes that have led to this have dramatically altered the scope of our world.  I have two grandmothers that are still alive, one is 92 and the other is 99.  In their time the majority of people lived a worked on farms.  Just within the last couple of years the percentage of worldwide population living in rural areas has now become the minority.  TWO GENERATIONS!  Granted a bunch of things have changed over the last 100 years.  Cars, interstates, electricity, computers, space flight, wow…….. Every time I talk with my grandmothers, and both of them are still very much alive mentally I stumble to think about the changes they have seen.  Grandma Hetzel who will be 100 in just a little over a month was living on the frontier of South Dakota in the early 1900’s homesteading with the family and can recall the trip the family took when my great grandfather traded his South Dakota farm for a farm in Whitehall.  The family, Great grandmother and father and 9 great aunts and uncles, loaded up their meager possession and headed east in a relatively new invention the automobile.  The trip took weeks and was done on dirt or sometimes gravels roads with kids hanging off all sides of the car and breakdowns a constant companion.  Not only was there no seatbelts there may not have been seats.

What a time we live in!  Ours is one of the first generations that simply haven’t had to spend much time thinking about the act of eating.  In some ways this has been nothing sort of incredible.  No longer is the mother and daughters stuck in the kitchen canning all summer long to make sure the pantry is full for the winter.  But this abundance and disconnect has come with costs as well.  Food in some cases is no longer just food.  There is too much of it at times and has been designed for taste but not health.  I am a glass half full guy and I believe we can and hopefully will someday find a happy medium that will promote healthy consumption and I believe it all starts with people who connect to a farm via a CSA.  Let’s face it most people in their right minds don’t want to farm but that doesn’t mean we all have to lose that connection to farm and food.  Now more than ever your farmer friends need that support and I believe you need a farmer as well.  We are all still a heartbeat away from our ancestral past and the stories our grandparents tell of life on the farm can become your stories as you get older if want to make that connection.  Happy eating.

Food Freedom

July 10th, 2012

Ever since I was a little baby boy I have been eating food from my backyard.  Okay well not the whole time and not every morsel but pretty darn close.  We were raised on gasp RAW MILK…………a sizeable garden out back and eggs in all the nooks and crannies our wild banty chickens would find to lay eggs in.  As a family we would on more than one occasion pay homage to the farm that yielded the bounty before us by talking about what we were eating and where it came from.  This is a tradition I have continued with my children and do so with fond food memories, memories that I have the privilege to continue to create.

At this point in the yard we are best online casino mostly eating out of the garden, greens at every meal, fried zucchini as a snack, Potatoes for dinner.  My real goal is that someday I will be able to grow it all.  Well maybe not coffee but, then again maybe, things in our environment are changing fast.  To me this vision is one of freedom, the freedom of knowing what it takes to raise, harvest, and preserve the foods you feed your family.  On the 4th of July, I gathered with good friends and loving family and ate one of the best meals of my entire life.  This meal really got me thinking about freedom and what that means to the modern American.  We are truly blessed to live in the society we live in; we have much to be thankful for.  For me it starts with food and the freedom to know who produced it and how it made it onto my plate.  What does freedom look like to you?

The Year it Didn’t Rain

July 10th, 2012

So remember when I was telling you about how dry it is.  Well add a couple more weeks of no rain onto that statement and you will see where we are at these days.  This is by far the driest year of my farming career.  In 1988 when I was 10 years old we had a drought year that I guess was similar or worse than this but I was just a punk kid and honestly the only thing I remember about that year was going on our first family vacation.  We went to the Bridger Teton Wilderness in Wyoming and camped for a week.  We all packed into the family truckster that looked strikingly similar to the Griswold’s station wagon they took to Wally World.  The three kids laid out in the back, no seat beats cause that was most definitely optional.  Steve Winwood blasting on the cars cassette deck, collecting bones of what we suspected was a moose from the ice cold waters of Green Lake.  Smoke from forest fires, taking a fishing hook in the leg, getting charged by a Bull Moose.   And of course the most often told story of the whole trip, my brother forgetting to bring shoes and my parents not knowing about it until we were on the far side of South Dakota.  We stopped at a restaurant after traveling all night and little Jake jumping out of the car with no shoes.  “Get your shoes on!” yelled an over caffeinated under slept parent.  “I don’t have any” replies the kid.  “What do you mean?” the confused parent responds.  Can you imagine the conversation?

Well needless to say that is what I remember about that drought year.  Now here I am as the farmer, experiencing a drought first hand, frankly its strange seeing the grass all brown and dead and the garden plants struggling to survive.  We water but it just isn’t the same as a soaking rain.  At least it’s not so hot.  Last week was hard to take, makes a guy want to rethink life all together, not the living part but definitely the farming part.  We northerners are just not cut out for 100 degrees.  Give me 70’s, maybe 80’s but if it gets into the 90’s then you’re just asking for me to break out the shorts and really who wants to see these white chicken legs, certainly not the people working at this farm.