Posts Tagged With: business

Farmer Perspectives: How to Support Family Farms: Fill a Grocery Cart

By Janet Phillips, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer 

Janet and her husband, Caleb, work with three generations of family on their farm near Cherryvale, Kan. Together, they raise corn, wheat, soybeans and cattle. In the past 10 years, the farm has grown in size but remains focused on caring for the land and their animals. 

“Buy local” is a phrase I hear often — even in rural America. As a farmer, my job is to put safe, healthy foods on tables across America. That includes my local community.

In my discussions, no one has a single definition for “local.” There’s no set number of miles or state line. To me, buying “local” food is so much more than buying tomatoes and cucumbers at the local farmers market. It is supporting family-operated and owned farms.

 

Family farming

My husband, Caleb, and I both come from a long line of farmers. I’m a fourth-generation farmer, and he is a fifth-generation farmer. For both of us, farming is what we both always wanted to do. We love growing things and taking care of animals, and we want to raise our family to practice the same care for our land and our animals.

We feel very blessed to farm alongside both Caleb’s parents and grandparents. We each have our own operations, but we work together to do everything. Since getting married almost 10 years ago, our farming operation has grown tremendously. We have been given the opportunity to rent more crop ground, and we have rented more pasture to grow our cattle herd. Growing the size of our business ensures we can provide for the multiple families involved.

At the same time, our own family grew as well. We are teaching our little ones where food comes from and how to work hard, be respectful, have fun, get dirty and be good people.

We are simply a family — a family who works together running a family business that’s constantly changing. We adapted to new technologies and larger equipment so we can raise things more efficiently. That helps our environment by using less resources to grow more per acre. Plus, that efficiency helps lower costs for you, the consumer.

 

Not an outlier

We are a family farm, but you might be surprised to learn that around 96% to 98% of the farms and ranches across the United States are family owned and operated, as well. Our story is not much different than thousands of other farmers and ranchers.

Each of us play an active part in our communities and help to employ lots of people — from our farm to the local businesses where we purchase supplies, tools and groceries to the truck drivers who transport our crops and beyond. We are just as proud to grow food for local farmer’s markets as for the shelves of Wal-Mart and Whole Foods.

 

Well-suited to farming

As farm owners, we make our own decisions about what crops to grow. Our land and climate are best suited to raising crops like corn and wheat. We can’t plant avocados and expect to support our family and continue our business. So we plant the crops that grow easily in our area and spend hours trying to decide what varieties will do the best in our climate and in our soil.

Our pastures support grasses our cows love to eat. On the other hand, our pastures can’t support delicate lettuce crops. We simply must listen to our land and Mother Nature.

 

Balanced diet

To ensure our family consumes a balanced diet, we seek out produce like lettuce, tomatoes and apples — to name just a few. These crops aren’t local most of the year. Yet, we are thankful for a stable food supply that can bring what we need all year long. It may not be from the next field, but it’s likely from a farm similar to our own. In exchange, we provide beef and wheat for bread. Our nation is fortunate to have such a diverse food system.

We often are asked how to support local farmers. It’s quite simple, really. Just fill your grocery cart. If you want to really support the farmers in your own backyard, go to the store and buy their product with confidence, knowing it was raised and carefully cared for by hard-working hands from all across the land.

 

Advertisements
Categories: Conversations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Categories: Conversations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Categories: Conversations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Categories: Conversations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.