Conversations

Farmer Perspectives: We Hear You

By Melissa Hildebrand Reed, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer

Melissa Hildebrand Reed farms with several generations on her family’s dairy farm near Junction City, KS.

Melissa is one of seven family members working on the family dairy farm near Junction City. Hildebrand Farms Dairy raises 150 cows and supplies milk to more than 120 stores across Kansas. Melissa and her husband, Brett, have two sons.

 On a typical farm, producers harvest their commodity and sell it to a company or cooperative, which turns it into something you might see a grocery store. That’s the way our farm operated from about 1930 until 2007 when our family decided to build a processing plant.

Now, we are in the unique position of selling directly to the public. Having our own dairy processing facility allows us to own the milk from the cow all the way to the grocery store. We even sell bottles directly at our farm store. We also have the opportunity to get to know you, our customer, better.

There are a few questions that stand out during the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with customers. Maybe they’re even questions you’ve been wondering about.

 

Can I see a dairy cow up close?

Yes! We give tours of our farm. We’re close to Fort Riley and Manhattan, Kansas, both of which bring people from all over the world to Kansas. Many people have never had an encounter with any sort of agriculture before. If this sounds like you, we’d love to show you around.

We’re immensely proud of our cows and our farm. There is no question to big or too small to ask. Our cows graze beautiful pasture in the Flint Hills and receive clean sand bedding in our free-stall barn. In fact, we’ve found the best milk comes from cows that receive the best care.

 

Is your milk GMO-free?

Our milk is not genetically modified and neither are any ingredients we use — like pure cane sugar in a flavored milk, for example. However, we don’t seek a “GMO-free” label for a few reasons. First, our cows would not be able to eat feed containing GMO ingredients. Based on our research, it would be an unnecessary cost that doesn’t positively contribute to the safety or quality of our products.

We grow most of the food our girls are fed. For us, GMOs help us reduce the use of herbicides while increasing yields of our crops — meaning we can feed more cows with the same amount of land.

 

Is your milk organic?

Our first priority is treating our cows with care. Using antibiotics are critical to good animal care at our dairy. If one of my girls is sick, we’re going to help get her healthy again. The idea of not treating a sick cow to retain an “organic” label on our milk wouldn’t be true to our farm’s values.

We use antibiotics carefully and sparingly. Antibiotics don’t stay in an animal’s system forever. The cow rejoins the milking herd after it is eliminated from her body. We vigilantly track each dose and animal that requires a treatment, which is prescribed by our veterinarian. Milk from cows being treated with antibiotics doesn’t even enter our processing facility. That’s true of our farm, but it’s also true of any other dairy in the United States.

Our family believes our milk stands out in the grocery store for its quality. To show you we care, the best label we can put on our product is our family name.

 

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Farmer Perspectives: We’ve Come a Long Way

By LaVell Winsor, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer

LaVell Winsor

LaVell Winsor and her husband, Andy, use technology on their farm to improve safety and sustainability.

LaVell and her husband, Andy, have two children and grow corn and soybeans near Grantville, Kansas. She manages all the farm’s grain sales. LaVell also works as a consultant, helping other farmers improve their risk-management tools.

My husband and I are the third generation to live and work on our farm. A lot has changed since the 1940s when our farm began. Today, we focus on raising corn, soybeans and wheat. My father-in-law and brother-in-law also raise cattle and hay crops.

Our focus on these areas has taken a full seven decades to hone. With every generation, we’ve advanced our knowledge and understanding of the land. Today, we have the data to know what’s going on in each of our fields — practically down to the square inch.

 

Spot performance

Our farm began employing techniques like grid mapping about 20 years ago. Grid mapping breaks up a large field into three- or four-acre sections. Within these grids, we can take soil samples and know how the field’s nutrient levels change. We can apply more fertilizer to one grid and less fertilizer to another, as needed. This technique helps save us money, and helps ensure we’re only applying what our fields and crops tell us is required.

Along with grid mapping, we also use yield maps to see where the crop yields are higher or lower. This helps us identify where our farming practices need to be adjusted for the next year. We also use yield maps to test new products or techniques. For example, we applied a specific fungicide to one area of the field, and it averaged about 10 bushels to the acre more than areas that didn’t receive that treatment. In the coming years, that will help us determine if it’s a worthwhile investment to use again.

 

Saving resources

We are also using technology like automatic shutoff to conserve water. We can tell our irrigation monitors to shut off after a single pass across the field. In fact, we can communicate to our irrigation equipment from our smart phones without having to drive to the field at all. The crops get only what they need, and we’re free to get other work done.

In previous generations, field irrigation might have been done using sprayers that rained down water on the growing plants. Today, we can set our equipment up to water at the right height for the plant so less water is wasted to evaporation.

 

Evolving safety

The safety of our farm has improved over the years too. My husband joined the family farm just as new herbicides were becoming available. My father-in-law still talks about how lucky he felt that his son was able to work with safe — and effective — products.

Our machinery and equipment is now built with safety features our great grandfathers couldn’t even imagine. It makes driving a large combine just about as safe as a mid-size car on a highway. When generations of family are farming together, the most important part of the business is the family. Our goal is to see each other grow and thrive.

These advances over previous generations are undoubtedly a great benefit to the farmers, like us, who use them. Yet, they also serve consumers, like you. The end result is a grocery store full of safe, affordable food for all our families.

 

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Farmer Perspectives: Farmers Grow Snacks Too

By Kim Baldwin, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer

Kim Baldwin and her husband Adam grow a variety of crops in central Kansas, including popcorn.

Originally a native of New Mexico, Kim is a teacher and has worked as a television news professional for PBS and NBC affiliates. Kim moved to Kansas to marry her husband, Adam, in 2010. With their two children, the family raises wheat, corn, popcorn, soybeans, grain sorghum and cattle.

This year, our family farm ventured into a new crop for us: popcorn. In a typical year, our farm will raise field corn, soybeans, wheat and grain sorghum. Yes, we have experience growing field corn, but popcorn is quite a different crop. Field corn is primarily used as livestock feed. On the other hand, popcorn is ready for movie night (almost) the moment it leaves the field.

As farmers, we experiment with different seed varieties and growing techniques all time. Yet, planting a different crop takes a lot of research, patience and practice.

 

Kernel of an idea

The idea to grow popcorn began when my father-in-law read an article about specialty crops. Our farm has been looking to diversify to help provide additional income.

Right now, prices for our standard set of crops is low. For these commodities, farmers can either accept the market’s cash price, or we can hold the crop in storage and hope the price improves with time. To do this, we typically risk degradation of the product’s quality and incur storage fees. There are also options to hedge our sale price on the futures market, but commodities prices have been depressed for some time now.

Before putting a single popcorn seed in the ground, we read research and even visited with popcorn farms in other states. We had to make sure our existing equipment would work for popcorn, and not all of our fields would be well suited to grow it.

We decided to plant about 5 acres to popcorn. The field that would work best for popcorn would be ground we rent with access to irrigation. Before planting, we had to seek the landlord’s approval to try a new crop, which would be a risk for both of us. In many cases, the landowner and the farmer share profits.

 

Off to a popping start

Growing a crop like popcorn takes different management — even farmers need practice! The environmental conditions in Kansas aren’t ideal for growing popcorn, so we have to be sure we selected the right type for our climate. Next, the crop must work with our whole farm.

For example, the popcorn field is non-GMO but is bordered by other crops like GMO field corn and GMO soybeans. Our use of precision agriculture technologies allows us to precisely target the applications, and helps keep our non-GMO and GMO crops distinct.

Once harvested, we had to make sure our corn would pop. To do this, we plucked an ear right out of the field, put it in a paper bag and turned on the microwave. We had a bowl of popcorn in just a few minutes, which was exciting and quite a relief after watching the crop grow for so many weeks.

Our family has always enjoyed popcorn as a snack, and we’re excited to be growing it too. The process to try, and succeed, with a new crop can be a frightening business decision. I have new respect for the people behind one of my favorite snacks. I hope you’ll think of our family next time you’re grabbing a bag of popcorn — whether it’s at a grocery store or a locally grown flavor at your farmer’s market.

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Farmer Perspectives: Food for Thought

By Katie Stockstill-Sawyer, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer

Katie Sawyer farms with her husband and two boys near McPherson, KS

Katie married into the farming world in 2010. She is no longer brand new to the farm but still finds herself asking questions about agriculture as she and her husband raise two sons on a farm and ranch in central Kansas. Katie is also the district director for her Kansas congressman.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I did what most modern moms-to-be do — I went online. As it turns out, many expecting moms are fearful about their food.

I didn’t feel the same way, but I may have an unfair advantage. I was able to simply step away from my computer and ask my husband, Derek. He’s a fourth-generation farmer and has a bachelor’s degree in agriculture to boot. Derek is my first and primary resource. I’ve seen him make decisions based on scientific research to ensure our practices are both safe and effective. He can answer questions as both a businessman, farmer and father.

I never hesitate to ask him what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Today, I’m going to share some of my questions and our farm’s answers with you.

 

  1. Why do we use GMOs?

This was a practice put into place by my husband’s father and grandfather. We continue to plant GMO corn and soybean seeds. Today’s GMO seeds help make our plants more drought tolerant, resistant to extreme weather and less susceptible to devastating pests.

This technology helps our business — yes, farms are businesses too — produce more crops with less water, herbicides and pesticides. It helps us carefully manage the resources we use to produce a consistent crop from year-to-year, and positively contribute to a stable global food supply.

That’s doesn’t mean we take the safety of GMOs for granted. We’ve read the research and firmly believe they are safe for humans. In fact, GMO crops surround our family’s home and our children regularly play in the fields.

 

  1. Why do we use antibiotics in our cattle?

Raising cattle is an emotional part of our farm. We watch a mother cow’s movements, appetite and interaction with other animals in the herd. We can see when she isn’t feeling well. It’s our responsibility to alleviate that cow’s suffering and treat her illness. It’s an animal welfare decision for us. While our cattle are under our watchful eye, they are going to be cared for.

We don’t give antibiotics without reason and track their use diligently. We work closely with our veterinarians to oversee the health of our herd and administer antibiotics, and other treatments, when necessary. Animals treated with antibiotics are never sent off our farm when they are still being treated. We don’t sell sick cattle.

 

  1. Is farming a lifestyle or career?

It’s both, and a whole lot more. Farming and ranching can be fun and inspiring. It’s our job, but it’s also a heritage. In fact, we hope that one (or both) of our sons will want to continue our work. That’s the main reason I believe farmers, like us, are inherently responsible stewards of our resources. Every decision is made with the idea that our farm will see a fifth or sixth generation one day.

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Farmer Perspectives: Peaceful, Easy Grazing

By Laura Handke, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer

Laura and her husband, Chris, have a cow/calf herd that straddles the Missouri-Kansas border.

Laura is a regional coordinator for Ag Education on the Move where she helps elementary students in Missouri learn about how their food is grown. She has a master’s degree in ag science and previously worked in food safety. Laura and her husband, Chris, have a cow/calf herd that straddles the Missouri-Kansas border.

Driving by a herd of mama cows and their calves looks serene to most passersby. It’s a sight I love more than just about anything. As a rancher, I also see the hard work that’s put into the grasses waving in the wind. Yes, even grass takes work!

My family’s cattle herd grazes on pasture with rolling hills. We need strong grasses to prevent erosion of our valuable topsoil. We actually plant grasses to ensure our fields have the right mix of plants to help the soil and feed our cattle at different times of the year.

For example, we plant legume grasses to add nitrogen to the soil and create a healthy mix for both the cattle and the environment. Our goal is to create soils that will feed the plants, that will feed the cows, that will feed the calves, that will feed your family!

We regularly test our pasture grasses to ensure there’s enough convertible protein, phosphorus content and other nutrients — just like you would examine the label of a multivitamin. As ranchers, we want to make sure we’re providing enough growing food for the cows and calves. It’s our job to actively manage what Mother Nature started.

 

Stocked up

The pastures we raise cattle on are fed by a spring. Only in severe droughts has the spring run dry. In these cases, we drive truckloads of water to each pasture daily to ensure the cattle have enough to drink. It’s a huge increase in overhead costs in fuel, time and management, but our animals’ health is our top priority.

We also keep an eye on the number of cattle grazing the pasture. This is called “stocking density.” When grasses are plentiful, the pasture can support more animals. If we’re short on rain, we may have to move cattle to a different pasture and give the grass time to grow.

We are caring for the grass and land just as much as we care for the cows. One of our “checks” to ensure the system is working correctly is by examining the cow’s overall body condition. There is a grading scale for a cow’s body condition that ranges from one to nine. Ideally, a well-nourished cow will be between five and six.

Years of working with cattle give us a keen eye for making assessments. We can look at the cows while walking through the field and see which animals are in the right range. Careful pasture management helps ensure that we rarely need to supplement our cows’ rations.

 

Added guidance

We’re closely watching our pastures, water availability, nutrition and animals. Yet, that doesn’t mean our cattle don’t get sick. With the help of our veterinarian, we administer medications only when we need to.

Our veterinarian knows our herd well. In fact, the same DVM helped my husband’s father and grandfather when they were raising cattle on this same land. This year, our trusted veterinarian helped us through a change in how some medications are prescribed. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently implemented the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD), which is like a prescription for medications that are administered through the feed.

In herds like ours — with cows grazing across miles and miles — it can be difficult to catch every animal that might be sick and give her a shot. Illness tends to spread through a group. For example, we can almost count on diarrhea during weaning time from an infection called coccidiosis. To treat it, we simply call up our veterinarian and ask for VFD to include an ionophore, a common treatment. It helps us treat the illness without the added stress of corralling sick calves.

A VFD hasn’t changed the way we work with our veterinarian or care for our herd. We are committed to caring for our cattle. We start with sound nutrition, observe the health and condition of our animals and call in our long-time veterinarian when we need help.

 

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Farmer Perspectives: Ladies Who Grow Your Lunch

By Frances Graves, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer

Frances and Kris Graves and their daughters represent the fifth and sixth generations on their Bartlett, KS, ranch.

Frances and her husband, Kris, raise beef cattle — and their three daughters — in Bartlett, Kansas.

I never dreamed I’d be a “farm wife.” Growing up in the city, I didn’t know what that meant exactly, but I wasn’t interested. My women’s studies courses earned at a liberal arts university ended up preparing me to raise three little women on a cattle ranch.

It was a trial-by-fire education when my husband and I made the decision to join his family’s farm in southeastern Kansas. At our farm, the words “husband” and “wife” mean partner. As a partner in a growing business, you simply do whatever needs to be done.

Now, I see that’s how other farm families operate as well. We all contribute to the farm in our own way. Our children’s grandparents also are our business partners. My father-in-law is an amazing engineer, and can fix most anything on the farm. It’s a fantastic skill that keeps us reusing equipment better than many recycling centers. My mother-in-law is an excellent bookkeeper and helps make sure our business is sustainable.

We chip in to get the job done for our farm, for our business and for each other.

 

Seasonal solo parenting

My main job right now is to raise our 8-year-old, 6-year-old and 3-year-old girls. My city friends often talk about “solo parenting” for a night or two while their spouse is away on business. In farm life, we can go seasons of late nights and early mornings. For young moms, it can leave you feeling isolated.

Now that our kids are a little older, the best solution is for our girls to ride along with their dad in the feed truck or tractor. We leave our summer mealtimes and bedtimes flexible so the whole troop can bring a meal to the field. These little doses of family time help us make it through the wide swaths of time alone.

 

Continuing education

Growing up in the city, I’ve had to start from the basics to learn about our farm, and I’ve also made a point to learn about the way other people farm as well.

I’ve attended our state’s Women Managing the Farm Conference and listened to women who raised children, created their own side businesses and worked as farmers alongside (or without) their spouse — and sometimes all of the above! I’ve become more active in our Farm Bureau organization and recently completed the Kansas Agriculture and Rural Leadership (KARL) program dedicated to growing rural leaders.

In these groups, I’ve met women from 20 to 70 years old who are immediately unified by the common goal of keeping our wits about us while we carry on the business and contribute to a safe and plentiful food supply.

Living in rural America, I can tell you that we do not expect less of women in farming: We expect more. There is a long history and tradition of sisterhood in agriculture. I’m proud have my girls be a part of it.

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Farmer Perspectives: Prove It

By Jenny Burgess, CommonGround Kansas volunteer farmer

Jenny and her husband Geoff are a first-generation farm family farming near Sterling, KS.

Jenny and her husband are first-generation farmers. You can find them raising wheat, corn and grain sorghum with their two children around Sterling, Kansas.

To farm today requires guts and money. It takes capital to get land and equipment. Then, farmers pay for inputs like seed and fertilizer upfront, and we accept the market price when the crop is ready to harvest. In fact, that price can be lower than what it costs to grow the crop.

On the other hand, the average bakery (that uses flour made from our wheat) can always just charge more for a muffin if the price of rent, butter or sugar goes up.

The inability to set our final market price, and sometimes operating at a loss, makes it challenging to stay afloat. In addition to market forces, we also risk the business impacts of weather. A storm can bring timely rains or flood your entire field. All this can create extra strain on the business — and the family running it.

 

Starting history

As new farmers, we’re acutely aware of our profit margin. My family hasn’t accumulated acres of land with each passing generation — but someone is always the first. That’s why we rely on proven agricultural techniques to make our farm as profitable as possible.

We were presented with an opportunity to lease farm ground shortly after getting married. My husband is an immigrant from England, and I’m from a family of hobby farmers. My parents both held down full-time jobs, and we used antique tractors to harvest our hay.

My husband and I knew enough about farming to realize we’d be operating on a tight budget. On the other hand, we’d be our own bosses. We’d be partners in family and farming.

I like to say we started with a borrowed pickup truck and zero dollars, and now we own the pickup truck and have zero dollars. Most often, farming pays in assets rather than cash, and assets are only worth something if you’re willing to sell them. On the other hand, not owning the pickup truck means we can’t drive to our fields or drop off our kids at school.

Our children see the value of money firsthand. They see the actual sweat (and sometimes tears) that goes into our farming business. There is a clear difference between want and need. My husband and I hope these lessons carry on into adulthood.

Like most businesses, we have a budget we adhere to. The budget affects our farm and family life. In farming, the “income” side of our budget happens once a year at harvest. In other businesses, there may be a steady stream of income from year-round customers. For farmers, harvest is a one-time sale. Then, you see how much money is left to live on.

 

Proven to work

When we invest, it’s got to work. For example, we introduced cover crops to help reduce weed pressure and wind erosion of the topsoil. We still incorporate regular tillage, but it’s not like the deep plows shown in history books.

We’ve tried other technologies too. We experimented with no-till farming — where the straw and plant matter is left in the field after harvest. This method can be great for increasing natural organic matter in soil, but it also required more herbicides. High chemical costs made no-till the wrong fit for most of our fields.

As first-generation farmers, we can’t be early adopters of all technology. We just want the right kind. We evaluate research on each seed, piece of equipment, fertilizer and herbicide. We’re looking for technology and improved methods that can help make our land productive today and for future generations. Yes, we want a profit this year. Yet, we also want to protect our most important long-term asset: the land.

Despite the challenges, farmers are an optimistic bunch. Like life, farming throws everything at you. Our love for the family business keeps us going.

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Farmer Perspectives: Creating Happy Heifers

By Aly McClure, CommonGround Kansas volunteer farmer

Originally from Ohio, Aly moved to western Kansas where she met her now husband, TJ. Together, they raise 11,000 dairy heifers and try to keep up with their toddler and dogs.

My oldest child recently started school. His first years have taught us a lot. Just like any parent, I want my son to get off to the best start possible. The same goes with our calves.

The first two years of a dairy heifer’s life can start her off for a healthy and productive future. That’s what my husband and I do for 11,000 calves. Along with our four business partners, we started Circle Heifer Development in 2009. In many ways, we’re like a pre-school. Heifers come here at about 6 months old and stay for two years. Then, we send them to dairies in Michigan or Ohio. Many of these dairies have been milking cows for generations. It’s a hand-off from one farm family to another.

Let me tell you a little bit about how it works, and how it’s not that different from raising kids.

 

Arriving at ‘school’

Dairy farmers can raise their own calves on their farm, or they can send them to a heifer development facility like ours. It’s similar to the choice between home school and private school. Farmers can raise their own heifers, but it takes a significant amount of time and resources they may not have available. Like young children, young calves require a lot of time and attention.

We typically raise Holstein cattle, which is a breed meant to produce a lot of milk. Holsteins are also well-suited to the hotter, drier climate in our part of Kansas.

Our No. 1 job is to keep the calves safe and healthy. We watch each animal closely to make sure they are comfortable. This also helps us spot illness right away. Calves are only treated with antibiotics if they are sick, but quick action helps keep problems manageable.

 

Professional help

Any illness during this important time can result in decreases in milk production later in life, or worse, animals that are chronically ill. Our veterinarian visits once a week to check the health of pregnant heifers and oversee the health program for the entire herd. Rain or shine, he’s there every week until the heifer is ready to leave our farm.

To inspect the animals, we slowly and calmly walk through each pen. Not in a truck or a 4-wheeler. Not even on horseback. We walk alongside the cattle. These animals are going to be around people their entire life. It’s important they aren’t frightened of us.

We also have a nutritionist that visits our farm once a week to ensure our feed is of good quality and balanced according to the needs of the animal. For example, a young calf needs a different meal than a pregnant heifer.

Our business partners grow much of the feed we give our heifers. We typically feed triticale silage. Triticale is a crop similar to corn, but it uses less water and provides the right nutrition for the types of animals we raise. We also use wet distillers grains, which is corn that is cooked down as a byproduct of a nearby ethanol plant.

 

Making the love connection

At our ranch, we also supervise breeding when the animal is old enough. Heifers will leave our farm between 7 and 8 months pregnant. The length of a cow’s gestation is similar to a human’s — about 9 months.

Almost all the heifers we care for are bred with artificial insemination (AI). The animals are matched to a bull with specific traits like a nice temperament. One of the most important is calving ease. We want to make sure heifers have an easy labor and delivery.

From the very beginning, we work closely with our customers to make sure they have a healthy, happy cow. While we don’t milk the cows or deliver the milk to your door, we are a part of a chain of people working hard — every day, in any kind of weather — to ensure we all have safe and affordable food.

It’s milk that I’m proud will be on my son’s lunch table both at school and at home.

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Farmer Perspectives: Trial By Fire

By Janna Splitter, CommonGround Kansas Volunteer Farmer

 Janna and her husband met in 4-H as kids growing up in the Lyons, Kansas, area. Now, they are carrying on the fifth-generation family farm while raising their two daughters.

My husband and I have farming in our blood. We were both raised on a farm and earned agricultural degrees in college. Yet, taking on a farm business is a big undertaking. In fact, many farmers take years — even decades — to fully hand-over the reins.

My husband, Matt, and I were sole owners of a fifth-generation family farm by the ages of 25 and 23, respectively. Even with our background and education, the transition was abrupt. Our personal heartbreak also dramatically affected our career plans when we lost my father-in-law to cancer in March 2010.

 

Our village

Due to the increasing average age of farmers nationwide, some experts estimate almost 10 percent of America’s farmland will change hands in the next five years. We’re part of that trend.

Despite the abrupt start to our farming career, we’ve been able to grow our farm, in part, by providing custom-farming services. In a custom-farming arrangement, we agree to plant and harvest a crop in exchange for a set fee or rate. We grow wheat, corn, soybeans and grain sorghum on our own land and our clients’ fields.

We’ve been fortunate my own father farms close to us and has been a great sounding board for advice. We’ve also surrounded ourselves with people who support our farm, from our crop insurance agent to our local banker.

 

Banking and insurance

Today, I’m the full-time bookkeeper for our farm and chief kid wrangler for our two daughters. Like most people my age, it took a little time to find my footing as our long-term plans to join the family farm became more immediate.

In fact, I had two “off-the-farm” jobs before finally settling in as a full-time employee of our business. My first job was as a program technician for our local branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA).

It was a temporary position helping certify crop acres, which means I would help verify what crop was being grown and on what specific fields. I also helped with crop insurance programs. These programs are vital to helping ensure farmers can confidently farm each year. Just like car insurance, farmers only use crop insurance if there is a wreck. This can be a hail storm that wipes out a crop. The insurance is designed to almost cover enough expenses that farmers can try again next season.

One bad storm should not wipe out years of effort in building a farm. Plus, it helps our country develop a safe, dependable food supply when we can rely on farmers being in business year after year.

I’ve seen farming from all sides — as a mother purchasing farm-grown food in the grocery store, as a government employee helping steady the impact of Mother Nature on farm businesses and as a new farmer myself.

With every bite of food, I’m reminded of all the people it takes to ensure my food is safe, affordable and can be counted on, rain or shine.

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Restorative Yoga on the Farm Offers Relaxation and Opportunity to Meet Farmers

A sunset yoga session offered about 50 guests an opportunity for complete relaxation during CommonGround Kansas’s second Yoga on the Farm event on Saturday, Sept. 23, on the Neitzel and Nunemaker family farm.

In a beautiful green pasture just east of Lawrence, guests gathered for a restorative yoga practice led by instructor Cherish Wood. The practice involved holding gentle poses designed to restore the body and soul. Ticket sales benefited Just Food, Douglas County’s primary food bank. Guests also donated more than 128 pounds of non-perishable foods to the organization, helping community members who don’t enjoy the same freedom of choice in their food and simply struggle to provide the most basic needs.

As the sun was setting, the yoga session concluded and guests heard from CommonGround farmer volunteers Kim Baldwin, Frances Graves, Kelsey Pagel and Krystale Neitzel, whose family raises cattle in the pasture where the event was held. Each farmer described their family farms and the most common questions they’re asked about how they raise food.

Afterward, the group descended the hill following a tiki torch-lit path to a pond-side reception area where they enjoyed post-yoga wine, hors d’oeuvres and conversation with farmers and other guests. Just moments earlier, about a dozen cattle had quietly taken a dip in the pond while the group watched from the hilltop.

“It was really neat to experience conversations with complete strangers who had different backgrounds and life experiences, but could still connect through our shared interests,” said farmer volunteer Kim Baldwin, who farms and ranches with her family near McPherson. She and guests discussed raising bees and popcorn on their central Kansas farm.

“As a mom and farmer, life is pretty busy for me right now with fall harvest and school in full swing,” Baldwin added. “Attending the yoga session allowed me some precious “me time” while also having the opportunity to share my farm with them.”

Farmer volunteer Frances Graves, who farms and ranches with her husband’s family near Bartlett, said most of the guests she spoke with were from Johnson County.

“We discussed the urban/rural divide between producers and consumers,” she said. “I was surprised to hear how much they remembered details of ag operations surrounding the urban area that were developed now, or knew of working farms that still existed near Johnson County. We seemed to share a common sense of pride as Kansans, knowing how much of our state produced the food we eat, even if it wasn’t a part of their daily life in urban Kansas City.”

Graves, who studied at the University of Kansas, spent the weekend in Lawrence and said she was struck by how many restaurants promoted having local ingredients and using only local meat, meaning raised in Kansas or a surrounding state.

“Most of the people I met with were used to this type of labeling and believed it added to their restaurant experience,” she said. “I think events like our Yoga on the Farm help remind consumers that our local farmers are providing the food that they buy at the grocery stores too, even if it’s not labeled as a specialty item.”

Special thanks to the Neitzel and Nunemaker families, who operate Bismarck Farms/Gardens, for hosting us on their beautiful ranch land.

Events like Yoga on the Farm bring farmers and consumers together to discuss farming and food and build relationships to help folks feel more confident in their food choices. Have a question? CommonGround farmer volunteers are here to help! Send us a message or visit findourcommonground.com to learn more.

 

 

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