When Did Farmers Become Villains?

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The picture of that little girl is me. I was about 9 years old and had just shown my first goat. I enjoyed playing dress-up, creating adventures with my Barbies, and watching Disney movies. In all my days as a child, I imagined many things for myself, but never did I imagine becoming a villain.

In a world of princesses, I was Belle and Cinderella, but never the Beast or the evil queen. I was the Wendy, soaring with Peter Pan, but never was I Captain Hook. As a young girl, I imagined so many scenarios and plots that took me to distant lands and allowed me to be a princess, heroine, adventurer, explorer, or president, but never did I imagine becoming a villain.

Yet, here I am at 23, and somehow, I with so many others that I hold dear, have become villains. Why? It wasn’t because of the want of power or greed. No, it was because I…we are farmers.

As a little girl, I LOVED living on a farm. For me there was no better life. I learned values like hard work, honesty, good sportsmanship, responsibility, compassion, grit, and dedication. When I looked to the other farmers I knew, I saw that in them too. So, it would come as a shock when I, along with other farmers, were grouped together and villianized.

As I grew older, I began to hear the ripples of people who condemned the farmer. And so, I decided to share with others what I knew about farming. I decided to share my passion, and my love for it. I had no idea how HARD it would be.

I didn’t expect everyone to agree with me, but I don’t think I expected people to attack me and farming with such awful accusations. All of a sudden, I was a murderer for eating bacon. I was a rapist for allowing animals to be bred. I tortured animals, had no heart, and was even a cannibal. I was compared to Hitler, told I was participating in slavery, and destroying the environment without a care. I was a villain.

But the truth was, I was just a farmer. I was a girl who had dreamed of flying with Peter Pan, and had become a farmer. Somewhere in there, though, activist groups, individuals, and the media deemed me and so many others as the villain.

When did the farmer become a villain?

How could the farmer become a villain?

Perhaps it is because only 2% of the population are farmers, and many no longer understand agriculture. Or maybe, it is because media coverage of farming drastically diminished at the same time people were becoming farther removed from farms. So, when the media did turn their attention back to farmers, they looked much different than Old McDonald. Perhaps farmers are villains simply because social media allows people to be more bold and say horrible things.

Whatever the reason, the farmer is a villain.

But, are they truly  villains?

No.

How do I know? Because I am a farmer, and I know my heart. This is not the heart of a villain. This heart has mourned the loss of an animal, broken for the ruined crop, and toiled day in and day out, all while being told it was a murderer.

More than a farmer, though, I am a person. The other farmers–they are people too. And those names that we are called and the accusations thrown our way do not fall on deaf ears. They hurt. Because farming is not just a job or career. Farming is a way of life, and if people took the time to understand and get to know us farmers, they’d find out we are far from villains. They’d find that they have us all wrong. We are so much more.

When did farmers become villains?

They didn’t. They have always been a resilient community with large hearts and a passion for the land, food, animals, people, and their families.

So, I will hold my head high. I am not a villain or even a princess or a girl who flies with pixie dust. I will hold my head high because I am a farmer.

Life of a Farm Boy

As I was flipping through photos, I was struck by what a great life farming provides. Sure it is hard work and dirty, but there is no better place to grow up in my opinion.

I always knew that I enjoyed the farm life, but wasn’t sure if I was an anomaly. There is a 12 and 13 year age gap between my youngest brothers and myself. This has allowed me to really take in what it is like growing up on a farm. I’m thoroughly convinced  that we are incredibly blessed to live this life.

Recently, a woman visiting the farm mentioned that this was her daughter’s dream. I mulled that over. My reality was her dream. Wow! How lucky am I? How lucky are my brothers?

Living on a farm can be inconvenient, dirty, and hard. Going on vacation means finding someone to feed the stock. After a ball game on Saturday, we return to make fence repairs, medicate animals, or clean barns out. By a young age, we kids know and have experienced the miracle of life and the woes of death. Everyday is a go outside day (sometimes it is just a matter of how fast can we feed).

BUT, living on a farm is… well, just scroll through the photos. It is the life of my brothers. It is the life of farm boys.

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Farm Family Hits Rough Waters with Activist Groups

Family: An Anchor during rough waters

There are bad things in life that happen to good people, and it is completely unfair. Yet out of the depths of bad and unfairness, strength and grace arise to the surface.

Over the past few weeks, I have had the privilege of getting to know the Taylor family. After several e-mails, they invited me to come to their home and talk with them about their story. It was the youngest Taylor’s first birthday, and it was a privilege to be able to take a peek into this special family’s life.

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Front, L to R:  Brooke, Ivy, Halle, Kinsleigh, Chase, and Mrs. Annie Back, L to R:  Kevin, Jason, Angie, Johnnie, Tara, Sheila, Preston, and Mr. Donnie

Donnie and Annie Taylor live in Pink Hill, North Carolina. Married in June of 1968, the couple began their life on the family farm. Donnie graduated from North Carolina State University Agriculture Institute (Go Wolfpack!!).

They had three children– Johnnie, Sheila, and Jason– who are now married and have children of their own. Johnnie, and his wife Tara, have a 5-year old daughter named Halle. Sheila married Preston Sutton, and they have a 9-year old son, Chase and a daughter, Kinsleigh, who is 6. Jason and his wife, Angie, have two daughters, Ivy who is 9, and 6-year old Brooke . They also have a son named Kevin who just turned 1. Johnnie and Jason both work on the family farm with their dad, Donnie, and Sheila works in oncology clinical trials. The whole family spends a lot of time together. They all go to the same church, cook out together, and are big fans of Jenga. They constantly work together as a team, whether they are working on the farm, or tag-teaming to get all the cousins to their many activities. It doesn’t take long to see the bond they share between each other, poking fun at each other, and even finishing one another’s sentences. If they don’t sound great enough already (I mean, NC State alumni, food lovers, and super nice…you can’t go wrong), they are also a farm family.

Donnie and Annie have been farming for 47 years. Throughout that time, they have worked hard to create a farm for their family’s future. They started off with row crops, and in the 90’s, they built three hog finishing houses, later adding 8 chicken houses in the 2000’s. Their oldest son Johnnie manages this farm. In 2010, they made the decision to expand their farm by purchasing a hog farm about 25 miles away that included 14 finishing houses, 6 nursery houses, and over 200 acres. Apart from being a good deal, they chose to buy this farm in an effort to provide the opportunity for their youngest son Jason to come back home to farm. Even though the farm needed cleaning up, they were excited for this chance. Donnie could wind down and retire, while his two sons took over their respective farms.

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Mrs. Annie and Mr. Donnie have farmed all of their life.

I wish with all my heart I could stop their story there. I wish I could tell you they did a “farm flip” that everyone loved. I wish I could say they are looking forward to many more great years of farming. I wish I could, but I can’t. You see, behind this smiling family that loves Jenga and cookouts, is something devastating and heartbreaking. I suppose every good story has a villain or some sort of tragedy that must be conquered, and I suppose this is one of those stories.

Just 29 days after closing on the farm in 2010 and a few days before Christmas, Mrs. Annie received a phone call. It was a reporter asking what her response was about the intent to sue she had from the Waterkeeper Alliance, Neuse River Keepers, and North Carolina Environmental Justice Network . In this way, the Taylors discovered that environmental activist groups had filed an intent to sue against the farm the Taylors had just purchased less than a month before.

Being told you are being sued is something I can only imagine. When I think lawsuit, I think of the lady who burned herself on the McDonald’s coffee– not this, and yet here it is. The Taylors were sued for violating the Clean Water Act because of accusations of being irresponsible with the hog waste from the farm.

*For those who do not know, most hog farms house their pigs in large barns. The floors of the barns have small slats in them so the pig poop can fall through and be flushed into a pit called a lagoon. These lagoons are lined and have to meet special regulations. Part of those regulations are to keep them at certain levels. This is done through pumping. Special machinery pumps the hog waste, a.k.a. fertilizer, onto crops. This also involves regulations. No pumping is allowed if it has just rained as this will cause run-off into ditches and waterways. While it may sound super gross to have a “poop pond” it provides crucial fertilizer for plants.

If you remember, this suit happened within 29 days of buying the farm. The Taylors had to do a lot wrong in such a short amount of time, but the thing was, they hadn’t. They had not even pumped yet when the lawsuit was announced. They knew the farm needed some work, but they were willing to do that themselves. They decided to sit down with the groups who had filed the intent to sue and find out 1) what they had done and 2)what the groups wanted them to do. At the mediation, they were told to get a lawyer. The groups stated they had enough evidence to bring them to court that day.

The Taylors were taken aback, but still shared with the environmental groups the 5-year plan they had set up that showed how they planned to fix the farm; however, it didn’t matter. The lawsuit persisted.

Fast forward to today… 5 years later. Since the day they found out about the lawsuit, it has seemed that the family has been in a constant state of rough waters, but they have continued to plow through their daily life (no pun intended).

a3They have cleaned up the farm by mowing around the hog houses, hired someone to haul 5 tractor trailer loads of trash from an open dump that the previous owners left, and repaired parts of the farm that had become run down. Many have noticed the improvements on the farm to the point that neighboring farms have gotten the family to include their land (a total of 500 additional acres) in their waste management plan (a plan that maps out where they will apply the hog waste). Neighbors have told them what a good job they are doing.

“Everyone wants cheap food, and I think we do a really outstanding job of that here,” said Mr. Donnie.

a5I visited the farm and was impressed myself with how pretty it was. The farm is down a dead end road. If you can imagine over 200 acres surrounded by trees, planted with tall corn, hog barns on a hill, and a dirt path to reach it all, it sounds pretty picturesque.

a1Apart from making the farm pretty, they have also had many officials test their facilities to make sure there was not any environmental damage occurring. The farm has been inspected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Division of Water Quality (DWQ), and Carl Dunn, a state engineer; all have found the farm to be in great working order, with no violations occurring. The Waterkeeper Alliance was even allowed on the farm by a judge on four separate occasions to take soil, water, and lagoon samples. They were even allowed to enter the hog barns. I’d like to stop here, and express how upsetting this is. Farms are an extension of a person’s home. They are where they work day in and day out. It is where memories and lessons are learned. Can you imagine people coming onto your property (after accusing you of something), taking “evidence” and then actually going into your house when the supposed “crime” happened outside? It is tough. Compound that with the fact that the hog industry is facing a lot of disease right now, and introducing people is a bio-security hazard that may spread even more disease. I, for one, would be turning 50 shades of red, having to watch it occur. Not only that, but the activist groups fly over the farm multiple times a week, often flying very low. They also go up to the gate of the farm to take pictures. A family lives at the gate entrance of the farm (they also work on the farm), and they have to endure the constant cameras and planes at their home, and there is nothing that the families can do about it.

“You think you have a lot of rights. You think you can keep them off your property. You cannot,” said Mr. Donnie.

I should note here that despite being on the farm 4 separate times and being inspected more times than that, there has yet to be any evidence that shows the Taylors have violated any regulations. This is perhaps the most frustrating part of it all. While the activist groups are searching for evidence against the Taylors, the family is having to pay 5 year’s worth of legal fees plus deal with the emotional stress of it all. As Jason put it, “We are guilty until proven innocent.” To show just how much the activist groups are searching for any kind of evidence, the Environmental Justice League backed out of the lawsuit because they felt there was a lack of evidence.

The Waterkeeper Alliance won’t tell the family what they want. They won’t say what they want changed.

“They’ve given us nothing that they really want. There is no way to fix it. You’re just in limbo,” said Mrs. Annie.

Mr. Donnie added, “They won’t give you an answer back. They won’t meet with you or talk to you.”

It is terribly frustrating to want to mediate and want to put it behind them, but are not allowed to. The Taylors would love to mediate and fix anything that is wrong, but they first have to be presented with that.

“The thing that bothers me most, is where are the facts? Give me the facts. Show me that I’m ruining the environment. You know?” said Johnnie.

a8More than this, if there was something wrong that was causing environmental damage, would it not make sense to go ahead and fix it rather than drag a lawsuit out for years? The Waterkeeper Alliance had been watching and investigating this farm 3 years prior to the Taylors buying it. For a total of 8 years, these so-called environmentalists have been making plenty of accusations but doing nothing to make a difference. Would it not make more sense to work with farmers, rather than tear them down? I understand that there should be consequences for violators, but I also think a helping hand goes a lot farther than a slap in the face. It makes it worse that the Taylors haven’t done anything–insult to injury. In my opinion, the real environmentalists are the Taylors. They are the ones who have fixed anything wrong with the farm with their hard-earned money. They invited people to inspect them. They have a passion for the environment. When I was visiting with them, they showed me countless photos of bear, turkeys, and deer on their farm. They are avid fishermen, hunters, and outdoorsmen.

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IMG_20130405_163453_288Get this…. at little Kevin’s party (which the Taylors so graciously invited me to) his cake was a fish cake! Do they seem like big bad polluters to you? I didn’t think so.

a12The lawsuit is not the only thing (I know give these folks a break for Pete’s sake!). Hurricane Irene blew through 10 months after buying the farm. This took some of the barn roofs with it. It, along with all the other wet summers did nothing for the efforts in keeping the lagoons at a low level. There were times where they had to hire honey wagons (trucks that haul the waste away) to keep the levels low. This cost over $100,000. In addition, Mr. Donnie has had to have a pacemaker. The stress has not helped his health.

The last five years have been extraordinarily hard.

“We are just small, simple-minded people that have worked all of our life to try to have something. You know, right or wrong, that’s all we’ve done. We’ve worked hard for it. No one has given it to us, and for them to come along and if they would just say ‘hey this is what we want you to do, we would have done it,” Mrs. Annie said through tears.

They live with it every day, working harder than ever, even though they still may lose the farm.

“You still have to go to work. You still have to do everything you always did, knowing, that hey, you worked all your life for this to try and support your family and help everyone along and now it comes to this,” Mr. Donnie said.

a6More than costing them sleep, it has also cost them major bucks. Legal fees have cost them over $600,000 on top of the costs it took for them to repair the farm. The family has now had to file bankruptcy, and the lawsuit continues. They aren’t sure if they will have a home next year and may even lose the entire farm. This weight is evident:

“We filed bankruptcy. We still can’t get away from it. We still might have to fight this case, and it is going to take everything we got. We’ve been married 47 years, and it is going to take everything we got, and it’s just not right. I feel like I have pulled a 5 year sentence…for nothing. I feel like I’ve been in prison, and every day I get up I feel like I am bound. I can’t get released from it. It’s just not fair, and I know life isn’t supposed to be fair all the time, you know?” said Mrs. Annie.

They have recently started a Go Fund Me account to help them cover the legal costs. If you would be gracious enough, I know they would love any help you could give them. You can go here to donate:

http://www.gofundme.com/saveabaconfarm

In addition to donating, you can also become aware and spread this story. Unfortunately, the Taylors are not the first to endure such troubles with the activist groups.

The Taylors are a family, much like yours or mine. Mrs. Annie loves being a Nana to all of the grandkids.

grandsThe whole family is involved in their local church, as well as their community. Despite this lawsuit, they manage to laugh and find reasons to smile.

“We do all we can for as long as we can. It doesn’t cost much to get together as a family, so that is what we do. We will be fine. We have three kids we can rotate living between if we have to,” joked Mrs. Annie.

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This storm will pass, but in the meantime, family is what anchors them during these rough waters.

A World Without Ag Wednesdays: Strawberries

For as long as I can remember, the start of summer could be marked with delicious, red strawberries. As a child, it was a scavenger hunt trying to find the red ones ready to be picked in the field. There is nothing quite like biting into a ripe strawberry. Of course, this would be in no way possible, if it weren’t for farmers, both large and small, growing strawberries.

History

Strawberries are native to North America, as well as other regions. According to the University of Vermont, strawberries were eaten and referred to as far back as Roman times; however, they were not very popular because they were small and lacked the flavor that today’s strawberries have. They were used more for ornamental purposes. It wasn’t until the 1300’s that strawberries began to be cultivated in Europe. It took many years, and many varieties of strawberries from all around the world to create a fruit that is as popular as it is today. America’s strawberries gave hardiness, and Chilean strawberries gave size. While there were some accidental crosses, the first planned cross of strawberries occurred in Cambridge, MA by nurseryman, Charles Hovey. This strawberry was the start of most modern varieties. Throughout history, various people created different strawberry hybrids to have more vigor and resist disease. Once a lot of strawberry breeding and discovering had been done, it didn’t take long for strawberries to become one of the number one fruits in American households.

Strawberries by the Number

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  • 36 billion pounds of strawberries were produced in 2012
  • 94% of American households consume strawberries
  • California (the largest producer of strawberries) had 38,000 acres of strawberries in 2012, accounting for 75% of the nation’s strawberry crops

Growing and Producing Strawberries

There are typically two major types of strawberry farms–commercial and pick-your-own strawberry farms; however, the process of growing strawberries is relatively the same for both, just on different scales.

Although strawberries are perennial plants (come back every year) , farmers often treat them as annuals so that they can better maintain and prepare the land for them. To prepare the ground for strawberries, the land is plowed and mounded into flat rows where drip tape and black or white plastic are laid down on top of the rows. The drip tape will be used to water the plants, and the plastic helps with moisture, and temperatures, especially during the winter months when the majority of strawberries are planted. All this is done with a special piece of equipment. After the plastic has been laid, another piece of equipment is used to punch holes in the plastic for plants to go in the holes. It is important to note, that not every farm does things the same way. Some farms plant a green strawberry plant, while others plant the roots. In other cases, the rows are not covered in plastic, but are always mounded to help with moisture. There is also various equipment that is used depending on the scale of the farm. Here are two videos that show two varieties of strawberries being planted in two different ways on the same farm.

Pretty cool, huh? Throughout the winter months, the plants are fertilized and cared for by the farmers. The plants are even tested to determine if they are getting enough nutrients. Come March, most varieties of strawberry plants start to bloom. strawberries have to be picked daily because they ripen quickly, even on commercial farms. The picking season typically runs from April to June, and it takes 60-75 workers to keep 1 million strawberry plants picked. Of course, the pick-your-own strawberry farms, you are the one who picks the strawberries. There are also robots that have been developed to pick strawberries, but only if they are a certain level of red. Amazing! If you are curious how the large farms pick strawberries, here is another video. Start at minute 1:22.

Strawberry Facts

  • It is said that strawberries get their names from when growers used to (and sometimes still do) place straw around the berries. It is also said that kids used to sell the berries on grass straws as a straw of berries.
  • Strawberries have an average of 200 seeds per strawberry.
  • Strawberries are grown in every state of America.
  • Per capita, Americans eat 3.4 pounds of fresh strawberries per year.
  • Strawberries are the first fruit to ripen in the spring.
  • Strawberries are a member of the rose family.
  • Technically, strawberries are not a true berry because their seeds are on the outside.
  • Native Americans called strawberries, heart-seed berries, and would crush them into their corn meal bread. The colonist made their own version, giving us strawberry shortcake.
  • One cup of strawberries is only 55 calories.

Now, don’t you want some strawberries?

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Sources:

http://extension.illinois.edu/strawberries/facts.cfm

http://www.pickyourown.org/strawberryfacts.htm

http://www.agmrc.org/commodities__products/fruits/strawberries/commodity-strawberry-profile/

http://www.uvm.edu/vtvegandberry/factsheets/strawberryhistory.html

Growing Strawberry Plants Commercially

 

We shouldn’t have to have Ag Awareness Weeks–Living in an ag illiterate society

This week was Ag Awareness Week at school (NC State University). In the common area of the brickyard, where a lot of students congregate, were booths and displays set up spreading awareness about agriculture. There were live animals, tractors, and ag students available to answer questions. It thrills me that this event takes place. What a great way to educate and advocate for agriculture!

Photo by Terri Leith http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/agcomm/news-center/perspectives/panelists-talk-sustainable-agriculture-at-ag-awareness-week-forum/

 

But, I have an issue with Ag Awareness Week. There shouldn’t be a need for awareness about ag. Let me say that again. There should NOT be a need for ag awareness. Sure, less than 2 % of the population are farmers, but those are not the only ones who should know about ag.

Why is it that in today’s society, school systems require kids to take mandatory classes in English, math, science, art, and history, but not agriculture when they partake in it 3 times a day at the table? Elementary and beyond, even in universities, agriculture is not among the forefront subjects of education. This is truly bizarre to me if you consider the prevalence that agriculture plays in our day to day lives, community, and economy. Think about this:

  • Food, regardless of type, is needed for human survival. That food comes from some type of agriculture (large or small).
  • America’s net farm income for last year, 2014, was $108 billion. (source)
  • 22 million people work in agriculture related fields. (source)
  • There are over 200 available careers in the agriculture industry. (source)

Aside from the fact that food comes into play in our day to day lives, the influence that agriculture has on our economy and the job market is pretty astounding, and yet, we are not doing a sufficient job in our education system of educating our kids about these opportunities nor its impact. We are failing our kids in the ag literacy front. They may be able to read, but they can’t read ag.

Yeah, sure, schools have classes available for students to take about agriculture. We have ag teachers in schools and whole ag degrees in college, but it is optional for kids. English, math, history, art, and science all have special teachers for their respective subjects, and you can major in them in college, but they are also mandatory at some level in our kids’ education. The previous subjects like math and English are so valuable to a child’s proper education because they will utilize most of it on a day to day basis. So, why, if agriculture is enjoyed at least 3 times a day, is it not mandatory for a child to learn about where their food comes from and how it is made? In my opinion, this is a serious oversight and tragedy that our society is experiencing.

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Because so many students go through elementary school, middle school, high school, and even college without gaining much of an understanding about the agriculture industry, they are missing out on valuable job opportunities, career paths, and the foundations of making educated decisions about what they eat. They never go through life appreciating what farmers do to feed a growing population. People grow up either not thinking about where the food they are consuming comes from, or developing misconceptions about farming in their heads. If and when they are finally exposed to real agriculture and farming, they are often shocked, and this has led to a lot of controversy.

Even worse, is that it is a cycle. Adults are ag illiterate and do not understand it, and then go and pass that on to their children a lot of the time. I have helped with Farm Animal Days in the past and observed mothers tell their kids to look at the puppy I was holding. In reality, I was holding a baby goat. The sad truth was they didn’t know the difference even with a college degree. Potentially more heartbreaking, was watching parents snatch their children’s hands from touching some animals or even dirt, to prevent germs. Animals can get pretty gross sometimes, but they aren’t toxic. I have had an individual in a restaurant ask what I had in the trailer in the parking lot. When we told her it was a pig, she wanted to know if it was big or small. We said it was a smaller pig, weighing around 230 pounds or so. This was a shock to her. People don’t realize pigs get twice that size.

My point in all this is that our society is generally illiterate. I’m not talking about the kind where you can’t read. I’m talking about the kind where you can’t read an anti-farming article and be able to pick out some of the discrepancies. I’m talking about the kind of illiterate that cannot distinguish a goat from a puppy or know how big a pig can get. An illiteracy that does not realize what contributions agriculture makes on the economy and the job market, and that there are opportunities besides being a farmer that are available in the agriculture industry. Beyond even that, many kids are missing out on valuable character building that farming provides such as responsibility, hard work, and ethics. This isn’t to say they don’t receive these character building traits from other places, but farming provides another avenue for it.

Because of this illiteracy, we are forced to hold Ag Awareness Week and recognize Ag Day that promotes more ag literacy. Guys, we shouldn’t have to have these special weeks and days to create awareness. It should already be there. Education should recognize agriculture as a subject that holds equal importance to art, math, science, and English. After all, everyone needs food. Until that happens, though, I say rock on to Ag Awareness Week. Keep up the good fight in educating, and maybe one day, we will live in an ag literate society.

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Feminine Farming

I am a girl.

We all know what this looks like. Sure there are many different types of girls, but a girl is a girl– xx chromosome plain and simple. For me being a girl means being able to wear dresses. It means makeup and heels. Being a girl means I give directions via landmarks and eat chocolate as stress relief. I am prone to bursts of emotional breakdowns and like to talk about my feelings, but I am also more than a dressed up emotional female. I am, and always have been strong-willed and independent. When I was two, my dad put me in time out and told me not to get out of that chair until he came back. When he came back, I was clear across the room. I hadn’t gotten out of my chair, I had taken the chair with me and scooted to the spot I wanted. Dad laughed and said that I was going to be trouble.

I am opinionated and at times a little cold-hearted, much to my mother’s chagrin. I am smart, competitive, sassy, and classy. Being a girl means that I have the joy to be a daughter, granddaughter, sister, girlfriend, and hopefully, one day a mother.I embrace being a girl and all of its feminine qualities–even in farming. For me, it is feminine farming.

Feminine farming looks different for every woman out there who farms. In case you were wondering, that is 1 million lady farmers. While each one is different, they all share a common goal of feeding the world, and I am one of them.

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For me, feminine farming has evolved in the 13 years I have lived on a farm. I started with a “I have something to prove” attitude, always wanting to show up the boys. If they were lifting feed bags, I wanted to lift just as much. If we were wrangling goats, I wanted to be the last one to back down. So many times, my dad and grandpa would fuss at me for not letting my brother or them take care of it. I didn’t want them to take care of it, because I knew I COULD do it. I was missing the point that I SHOULD NOT necessarily do the heavy lifting that the guys were more capable of doing.

I won’t lie, that mentality is not in the past. It still comes up and I have to remember that my 6’4″ brother is better equipped to move the huge stack of 50 pound feed bags than I am. That doesn’t mean I don’t do things. I still get muddy, poopy and gross. I wrestle pigs and goats. I can drive a nail and work power tools to fix the fences and pens, but I have also embraced my more feminine side when it comes to farming. My muck boots are pink, and my jeans have bling on them. Sometimes, I have to run out in the pasture in heels to get a goat’s head unstuck. Somehow, I still can’t back a trailer like the boys can, so I let them deal with that.

Just because I am a farmer, does not mean I wear coveralls, and have manure on me all the time (only when required).coveralls

Just because I am a girl, does not mean that I am helpless in the barns. Because I am a girl who is a farmer and enjoy partaking in feminine farming, I bring a little pink in the barn. I like to hold “conversations” with the animals and cuddle the newborns, naming everything that comes on our property. I let the guys lift the feed bags when they are there. I like to dress up and wear heels, but I’m not afraid to go rescue an animal in those heels. I curl my hair for livestock shows and wear the sparkliest belt I can find, even though, I may be wiping a pig’s butt at the same time. I paint my nails, even though I know it will only last a day after working outside on the farm.

I am a girl. I am a farmer, and daily I practice feminine farming.

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A World Without Ag Wednesdays: Confetti

Introducing “A World Without Ag Wednesdays”, where I highlight something that we wouldn’t have if it weren’t for agriculture. Be sure to check every Wednesday for a new feature!

This week’s feature is confetti. Quite appropriate, since in just a few hours, over a ton of it will pour down on hoards of people in Times Square as the clock strikes midnight. You may have asked questions like, “How do they clean up all that mess?” (the answer to that is over 150 people work to clean it up by 8am the next morning), or thought, “Wow! The rainbow of paper sure is pretty!” Have you ever thought, though, “What would New Year’s Eve look like without confetti?”

confetti

Well, if it wasn’t for agriculture, we wouldn’t have confetti or the beautiful display on New Year’s Eve (maybe the cleanup crews would like that). You see, confetti is made from paper, and as many of us well know, paper comes from trees. Yes, trees are a part of agriculture too. In fact, it has its own fancy name, called silviculture. Silviculture comes from the word silvics–the knowledge of how trees grow, reproduce,  respond to changes in the environment, seeding requirements, and location (WVU Extension Service). Pretty neat, huh?

Here are some fun statistics for you:

  • 751.2 million acres of United States soil is forest land
  • 60% of United States forest land is privately owned
  • The United States is one of the leading producers and consumers of forest products
  • United States forest product industry produces $200 billion in sales every year and employs around one million people.

 

For me, the whole timber industry hits close to home. My grandfather recently harvested his pine tree plot. He planted those trees when I was born. 20 years later, they were cut down, and the land is now being replanted with pecan trees. Who knows, maybe those pines are part of the confetti falling from Times Square.

Pine trees purposefully planted to later harvest for products like confetti!
Pine trees purposefully planted to later harvest for products like confetti!

 

What used to be pines, is now being planted with pecan trees
What used to be pines, will soon be planted with pecan trees

So, when you count down to 2015 and watch all that confetti fall, remember to thank agriculture. Without ag, there wouldn’t be New Year’s confetti.

 

Sources:

http://www.wvu.edu/~agexten/forestry/silvics.htm

http://www.epa.gov/agriculture/forestry.html 

http://www.loggers.com/timber_facts.htm

http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2014/01/01/after-party-in-times-square-comes-the-cleanup/

5 Reasons Why I Want to Tell Agriculture’s Story

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

~Maya Angelou

Once again, the new year is upon us. In a little over a week, I will be headed back to school, and 2014 will be a memory. A new year also means those dreaded resolutions. This year, though, I’m excited for my New Year’s resolution. It isn’t to start working out, although I probably should. This year, I’m launching this blog. My resolution is to use this blog to tell my story — not a story about the many papers in graduate school or life with three brothers, but my story about agriculture. It is something I am passionate about, but when I look around, I see the effects of a day and age where less than 2% of the population lives or works on a farm. It is more important than ever for agriculture’s story to be told. So, for five reasons, my New Year’s resolution is to share my passion for agriculture with the world:

1. Because I think it is beautiful:

milo

There is nothing quite like the sunset on a field of cropland, or a wobbly lamb walking for the first time that makes me want to whip my camera out at lightning speed. Agriculture is truly beautiful. Sure, there are ugly parts, but that’s part of life. Agriculture is truly a beautiful thing, and for me,  that is worth showing off.

2. So others don’t tell it for me: So many times pictures and words get twisted, and the damage is hard to undo. Instead of assuming that someone else will tell the public accurately what agriculture is all about, it is important that I tell my perspective. If I allow others to tell it, then the chances of incorrect information being told increases. I don’t want others putting words in my mouth. I’m much too opinionated to let that happen.

3. Consumers are curious and have a right to know: Consumers eat, wear and rely on the products that we produce. They give it to their kids and trust it is not just a quality product, but that it has been grown ethically. They trust us (we certainly hope), and it is my duty to tell them what is going on. Consumers often have never had the opportunity to step foot on a farm in their lives. They are curious about how it works. If our agriculture’s story isn’t told, they just get more curious, and may look in the wrong place. I owe it to them to show them just what lies beyond those barn doors. So, I welcome questions, and would love to give you a farm tour.

4. I’m passionate about ag: Farming is hard work. I’ve had mud and poop slung on me in places I really didn’t like. I’ve had countless blisters on my hands, a goat managed to give me a black eye, and there have been times I thought my fingers would fall off from the cold. Even still, I love it. I am passionate about the little lamb jumping around or the pigs that give me muddy kisses. I care about the impact agriculture has on the community and what it has to offer. If I didn’t find such joy in farm life, I wouldn’t do it.  Why else would I stay up till all hours of the night with an animal,

bottle

or brave all types of weather?

snow pig

What are those smiles about? Because we, not just me, but others are passionate about agriculture. My passion is my drive to tell the world what gives me joy.isaac

5. I live it: Day in and day out, my family and I feed the animals and care for them. With so much interaction, I think it is safe to say, that I know the farm better than an outsider and can tell that story better. Biographies are nice, but autobiographies are better. I can make it come alive in ways that no one else can because my family and I live it. We stare at in the face everyday.

kiss

So, those are my reasons. It is why I’m starting this blog. I truly believe that agriculture is a story worth being told. It is my passion, and therefore, I want it told right. I want the emotions I have for it to bleed through. I want the public to reach a better understanding of what exactly it takes to get from farm to table. I hope to allow people to see what I see. I think the agriculture I know should not be kept to myself and remain untold, which lands me here, on this blog.  It is definitely the most exciting New Year’s resolution I’ve ever had.

Happy New Years!

 

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