Tuesday, May 15, 2012

How to Educate the Next Generation About Agriculture

In the Field:  In my last post, I discussed how far removed most children are from their agriculture roots.  What can we, as modern-day farmers, do to help these kiddos understand farm life?

I have noticed that kids LOVE farming - when they're tiny.  From about 2 years up to about 4 years, kids love anything to do with farming - the tractors, the animals - all of it!  And then the fasination fades...they get overrun with TV and video games - the love of farming gets replaced with Power Rangers.  So what can we do to foster that love of farming and outdoors?

Here's a few ideas you can put into place:

1) Invite "city" kids to your farming operation.  My sister-in-law often brings her class to the farm on a field trip.  I invite my "city" friends with kiddos to come visit. They stay with us, they play here, they climb tractors, they feed baby lambs. And they love it!

Who wouldn't, I tell you! My best friend, Bethany, brought her son out a few weeks ago.  He loved it!  The room to roam and play!  She told me that when he went back to class, he told everyone about feeding the baby lambs!  Now, that's excitement!  And this is exactly the boost agriculture needs - kids telling other kids about how much fun it is!

2) Get involved!  Volunteer!  Get involved with your local 4-H, FFA, Girl Scouts.  They're always looking for volunteers.  You can contact your local Agrilife Extension agent for more info regarding 4-H and other opportunities.  If you can't find the time to volunteer with an organization, check out 1-time opportunites.  Speak out at your public schools - talk about farming at Career Day!  Teach at the Ag in the Classroom days.  These are only 2-3 days out of the year -  but these few days make an impact on the next generation.

3) Promote MyAmericanFarm.org!  What a great website created by the American Farm Bureau!  What kid these days doesn't love online games?  I've played them myself - LOTS of fun - great graphics and fun farming facts!  Get your kids to play and tell their friends, show your grandkids - let's use their desire to play video games to promote agriculture!

4)  And this is the MOST important - Portray and positive vision of agriculture!  In Pioneer's "Growing Point" magazine, they asked kids from several different states questions about today's agriculture.  One of the most humorous questions was "What does a farmer look like?"  Some answers were funny  - "Old hat, old shirt, wriggly pants"  What ARE wriggly pants????  But the overwhelming majority were along these lines "Sweaty and dirty, sweaty and gross, tired"  or "hard-working".  Now, all of that is true - I know, I do my husband's laundry!!!  But does this vision inspire kids to want to be farmers?  I don't think so... Nor does the image of the "poor, broke farmer" help us promote agriculture.  There are farmers out there who are profitable.  I was talking to an acquaintance of mine who is single. She said her mother doesn't want her to date a farmer because they're always broke.  Ouch.  Who would want to pursue a career in agriculture if it is assumed that you'll always be just scraping by???  We need to change this mentality - and the only way that will happen is by being involved.

So I urge you - today - to start promoting agriculture!  Invite "city folks" to see your farm and participate in your daily activities, volunteer with children's organizations, promote MyAmericanFarm.org!  All of these will help change the way American views today's farmers!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Irony and Why the Next Generation is Clueless About Agriculture

In the Field:  Well, I went and did it.  I said that 4-letter word, H-A-I-L, and guess what we got today?  1.5" of rain and hail.  Pea sized to quarter size, but not much of it, Praise the Lord!  The wind was high, so the wheat that was standing so tall now looks like it needs a V-8.  Lots and lots of praying went on this afternoon.  The combines started yesterday and now it looks like they'll be on hold for the next few days while this El Nino system builds up.  Can't say I don't love the rain though!

Something has been bothering me for the last few months, something I wish I could change.  It seems as though this generation of children know NOTHING about agriculture.  I recently read an article in Pioneer's "Growing Point" magazine about what today's kids know about agriculture.  Most of the answers were right on (and some were flat hilarious!), but some really concerned me. 

Most kids these days grow up in an urban environment.  They are 2, 3, 4 generations removed from the farm.  Most kids have never seen a "real live" farm animal.  Is there any wonder why the American People have become so demanding and unpredictable regarding animal welfare and the origins of their grain?  People spend their days behind desks in air-conditioned buildings.  Long gone are the days when we all had to grow crops and butcher hand-raised animals just to survive.  Now we wonder why kids have so much time to get into trouble...it's because they aren't at home having to milk the cows and muck out stalls.

My aunt and uncle live on our family's ranch in the Hill Country of Texas.  They never had kids of their own, so they tend to "adopt" one trouble-making family member during the endless summers.  My brother was one of them.  As soon as school was out, the offending family member was driven to the ranch and left for the summer.  They lived with my aunt and uncle and learned what "work" really meant.  They were up with the sun, worked all day in the heat, took a small nap at the hottest time of the day, and then worked until sundown.  They were paid $10/day.  Not that there was anywhere to spend it...They learned manners (take your hat off at the supper table), they learned the value of a dollar and the sweet reward of a job well done.  And by the start of the next school year, the trouble-maker was replaced with a well-behaved and thankful child.  At least they were thankful that they'd never have to do THAT again!!!

So what do we do about it?  How do we educate these kids raised in apartment buildings about how farming really works?  Cramming it down their throats won't work.  Fighting about it won't do it either. I suppose it's a lot like Christianity.  The best way to win them over is to live your life right.  Show the world the farming life by having nothing to hide - telling our story as is really is - the good and the bad.  How we've changed - how we've improved.  And how the sweat of our brow puts food in their bellies and clothes on their backs.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Farming Wheat - Explained

In The Field:  Oh Lordy!  The Blogger format has changed in the few weeks since I've been on here - I'll have to learn it all over again!

Sorry it's been so long since I've written - as the days get longer, the time gets shorter.  Funny how that works.  Well, that's how it works in farming families.  When the days are short, My Love gets home earlier - the longer the days, the later he gets home.

Right now is particularly hectic.  It is the last few "free" weeks before harvest starts.  Which means EVERYTHING that must be done in the next 2 months must be done these last weeks.  Lambs must be weaned, marked, and cut, if necessary.  The machinery must be checked and oiled.  And the weather is watched like a hawk.  This is the season for thunderstorms - yes the rain would be lovely (our grass desperately needs it), but often with those thunderstorms comes something devastating. Something that could, and has, financially ruined many a farmer.  Hail.  Yes, it's a 4-letter word. 

For those of you who live in the city, or just don't have any experience with farming life, the worst hail can do is ruin your car.  For those of us whose livelihoods depend on the crop being harvested and sold, it can destroy us.  It can completely obliterate months and months of work and prayers. 

Back in the "old" days of my life, I worked and got a paycheck every 2 weeks.  That isn't the way it works for farmers.  We invest last year's "paycheck" on seed, diesel, fertilizer, and machinery.  We plant the seed.  We pray for rain. And then we pray more.  We wait, sometimes not so patiently, for the crop to spring from the ground. We watch it grow, we watch it mature.  And, as with right now, we watch it dry.  (Drying in the field is necessary for certain crops like wheat and corn - once harvested, it is stored.  If the moisture levels in the wheat or corn are too high, they will mold - hence it is imperative that the moisture levels be low enough to prevent mold and mildew).  Once the levels are low enough, the crop is harvested.  And then the prayers continue for good prices.  (See pic of this year's wheat below):

Some of you may "play the market" with your 401k or IRA.  We play the market with every dime we hope to make.  A few years ago, wheat was selling at less than $3/bushel (about 60 lbs) at harvest.  That is barely enough to cover expenses - and not enough to feed your family for the year.  Thankfully we have grain bins to store the wheat in - this enables us to hold the wheat until prices are better - we get a bigger bang for our buck. 

So you can understand why "HAIL" is a 4-letter word around here.  People laugh when we say we don't have to go to Vegas to gamble - we gamble every day! 

Good news in the family life - Baby Girl is WALKING!  Well, toddling really.  She turns 1 in a few weeks and she's already fast on her feet!  Crawling is SO last year!  LOL! 

Have a great one!  I'll post harvest pics soon!  Just a few more weeks!