Winter catch up

Our lives in farming are a little bit cyclical. Every winter we have meetings, paperwork to catch up on and we welcome new lambs in February and March. Seems simple, right?

Our farm meetings throughout the state and nation are designed to help us continuously learn about business trends, plus connect with other farmers and agricultural professionals. One of the reasons we keep our sheep outdoors is that it’s easy to feed them enough (hay bales rolled out on the ground) for us to be gone a few days in a row.

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Then there’s paperwork. We have industry publications that sometimes get ignored when we’re working outdoors in summer and autumn, so we catch up on some reading during winter. We also make sure our records are in order for our state’s voluntary environmental protection program or government programs we may be enrolled in. And we track all receipts that piled up so that our taxes can be filed on time.

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When we expect lambs, a few tasks get more intense. We have to shear the sheep a few weeks before they’re due (this is for their health and better wool quality). Shorn pregnant sheep then get moved into the barn (we don’t want lambs being born outside in a Michigan winter!) and they get fed a different diet to get them ready for supporting lambs. If each sheep gives birth to two lambs, we end up having a lot of mouths to feed. I’ll share more about that later.

And every spring we plant fields into various forage mixes for a variety of “salads” for the sheep. So I’m off to do that…

Farmgirl returns to the city

Before I write any more, I should say that this farmgirl returned to the city only temporarily

I used to work for America’s farmers and ranchers from an office in our nation’s capital. As you can imagine, you can take the girl out of the country but you can’t take the country out of her soul. I came home and bought a farm. 

This week I attended a conference in New York City, a place I had never been before, and I traveled solo. Key questions included 1) what should I wear, 2) what’s the best transportation option from the airport and 3) who will I meet? Those questions probably should have been mentally reversed but I didn’t want to stand out like I don’t belong. Even though I don’t belong. Not by a long shot. 

Where I found some mental clarity, by design I’m sure, was at the 9/11 Museum and Memorial. This was the final place I needed to visit where the planes had crashed on September 11, 2001. Underground, people rushed to work using the train systems. Above ground, trees have been planted around huge voids in the footprints of two World Trade Center towers. The difference in the two settings, within mere feet of the other, was stunning.

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We, in rural America, can often feel disconnected from what happens in cities. 9/11 was something that united all of us. That’s all I have to say about that.

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What’s nice about visiting the city is that I always have several friendly faces to greet me when I return to the farm. Sheep at gate

Seven things I love about farm kids

The other night I took my neighbor (he’s a kindergartener) to his hockey practice. I learned a lot in a one-hour car ride to practice, and during the one hour home. There were seven standout lessons from this farm boy:

  1. Navigational skills are essential: I kept being asked, “Are we close to our destination?” Once I made a final turn, he was able to navigate me the final six miles.
  2. Be goal-driven: When it’s time to build a toy contraption, one cannot be bothered with things like 1) bathing and 2) bedtime without a meltdown. Neighbor, learning from kids
  3. Be conciencious of others’ needs: “Santa is allergic to kittens.” We also talked about me being allergic to cinnamon and I was asked the classic question, “Why?” Followed by his own quick explanation, “Because God made you that way?” Which leads me to:
  4. Stay true to core values: “Do you EVER go to church?” As neighbors, he must see my car in the driveway when his family goes to church. Later he asked me, “Do you even know any prayers?” For the record, God hears your prayers wherever you are. 
  5. Responsibility is key: He made sure I knew the order he needed to put on his hockey gear and made absolutely sure that his safety equipment was explained. 
  6. Understand the importance of mentoring at a young age: “I help my papa,” he told me about working with his grandpa to do farm chores. 
  7. Family is everything: “You don’t even have a husband.” But he was satisfied in knowing that if I ever get married, he’ll receive an invitation.

What lessons have you learned from the kids in your life?

I cleaned my house today

You guys. I finally did it. I cleaned my house.
We’re talking scrubbing floors and picking up clutter.
We’re talking sorting mail into one pile of industry magazines that need to be read. That pile, stacked neatly on my floor, reaches above my knee. Yikes.
We’re talking laundry.

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This is what laundry after stacking hay looks like. You should see the floor of my car…and then you should vacuum it for me ;)

Why is this a big deal? Because it makes me feel like a human with a normal routine. And because I’ve been putting it off since I can’t remember when. I’ve swept the barn floor more than my kitchen floor in the past season. Thankfully my neighbor cooks for me several times in a week, so my kitchen is just a room that I walk through each day on my way out. (Thanks Mom!)

You know that sign that says, “Excuse the mess, my kids are making memories?” My sign should say, “Excuse the mess, I’ve been working on the farm.” Except if I had a new sign to hang in my house it would get stacked on the table next to the paperwork that needs filing. Another day.

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Grass-fed, Grain-fed…what do these labels mean?

Last night I attended a “Bringing Everyone to the Dinner Table: Understanding Farm to Fork and Today’s Agriculture” event hosted by the Macomb County Farm Bureau (as in, Michigan’s outskirts of Detroit-area).

Michele Payn-Knoper, founder of Cause Matters Corp., Indiana dairy farmer, book author and fellow Michigan State University graduate (see her Spartan Saga here), was the guest speaker. She encouraged the attendees to share the dinner plate when it comes to food and farming topics.

On our farm, we recognize a variety of farming methods are needed to make the community healthy. Small and big farms, organic and “regular” farms, farms that use horsedrawn plows and tractors that use autosteer and GPS, heritage vegetable plots and GMO seeds…the list goes on and on. What we LOVE is to celebrate the choices that we have as American farmers.

Know what those choices mean? Choices in our grocery stores. Heck, choices at the direct on-farm markets and your local downtown farmers markets. The world is not black and white, as much as I would love clear rules. Right now we want things to be green anyway ;)

One more thing that seems to be murky these days, though, are the labels found on foods and other products. Grass-fed, grain-fed…what do these labels mean? Do they matter?

Not to start researching what others already know and have written about, I visited a blog entry from “Mom at the Meat Counter,” written by a mom/farmer/meat scientist/when-does-she-sleep rockstar. Because even though we raise sheep on pasture and our lambs get a “grainola” mixture with most homegrown crops, I know our way isn’t the only way. I’m not always right. (But please don’t tell my dad, OK?)

I always hope to learn from others’ questions. Foodies, I hope you ask a farmer (you’re looking at one) those questions, and farmers, take time to understand those questions. Foodies, you’re our customers and our neighbors. We care about making sure you feel confident in the choices we have. After all, farmers are food customers too!