Posts Tagged With: harvest

Farmer Perspectives: Sustainability from a farmer’s perspective

By Kelsey Pagel, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer 

Kelsey and her husband, Matt, are part of his family’s farm near Wetmore, Kan. They are the third generation to contribute to the operation and raise corn, soybeans, wheat, cover crops, chicken and cattle. They are living their dreams as farmers and focus on holistic and sustainable management practices.

Chances are, you’ve seen “sustainably farmed” labels at your grocery store. Did you ever stop to wonder what that means? Like many confusing food labels, the definition is not universal. In fact, sustainability can mean different things from one farm to another.

For us, sustainability simply means affirmatively answering “can you keep doing what you’re doing long term?”

I currently live and work on our farm full time. It’s my family’s sole source of income. Above all, farming is a business — and very few businesses are sustainable if they aren’t also profitable.

On our operation, we see everything from a holistic viewpoint. We firmly believe each living thing on our farm is intimately interconnected. Our choice in one area affects several other things. For example, we feel like the soil is the heart of our operation. Without healthy soil, we can’t raise healthy products — crops or beef.

To achieve healthy soil, we need to have a living root in the ground as much of the year as possible. This helps prevent erosion on our land, and each plant gives organic matter back to the soil — helping the next one grow and flourish. We believe the soil needs the same things we, as humans, need: a diverse diet, shelter against the weather and a little stress.

As soon as a crop is harvested off the ground (by machine or by animals grazing), we rush to get seeds in the ground to start growing. This is the soil’s diverse diet. Plants can actually give back nutrients to the soil.

We are a no-till operation. That means we want the ground to have cover — we consider that the soil’s shelter. In our view, plain soil is open and exposed to the elements. The soil temperature in bare spots is much higher, which requires more water to grow plants. Exposed soil can rapidly lose water and nutrients to the air. Our no-till philosophy helps maintain cool, nutritious soil even during the peak of Kansas summers.

We also want to stress the soil a bit. It’s okay for the plant to have to work a little bit to stretch those roots to get water or fight off a few bugs. The process is similar to how exercise works for our own bodies: a little stress makes us healthier overall.

Our cattle are part of our system. They help the land in a number of ways. Cattle help graze cover crops — again, our soil’s shelter and diverse diet — and add back nutrients to the land through their manure. It’s a natural process that allows the animals to take what they need from pastures and return the favor to the plants.

Our holistic approach extends to our cattle herd as well. We intentionally own the cattle from their birth until harvest, which helps us minimize stress on the animals. We perform sonograms on our finishing calves to let us know the optimal time to harvest. It’s our hope that people can truly taste the generations of work put into our pastures, crops and cattle.

There are many definitions of “sustainable” and “holistic.” The simple truth is that these definitions must change depending on the specific opportunities. To us, this is what works for our bottom line, our land and our family.

Every day, we feel the desire and responsibility to continue and improve the farm we now operate. It’s not just grocery shoppers that want farms to be sustainable — our family wants the same thing. Our parents and grandparents want our farm to be sustainable. It’s the farm they started, and it’s our job to continue the tradition.

It’s not easy, but we do our best to continually learn about the latest science, the best practices and how we can implement new techniques into our operations.

Please feel free to ask any questions or follow our lives online on Facebook and Instagram (@SustainableBitesLLC) or Snapchat (@EverydayKelsey).

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Farmer Perspectives: Farming Outside of My 8-to-5 Job

By Krystale Neitzel, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer

Krystale is part of a fourth-generation family farm outside Lawrence, Kan., and a full-time operations manager for an insurance company. She and her husband, Lowell, are raising their two kids while growing crops and running a small beef cattle feedlot. Krystale is an expert multi-tasker and fits in hobbies like baking, writing, running and reading.

Farming doesn’t have regular working hours. We must plant and harvest when the timing is right. The weather, season and plants must all be ready — whether we are or not! Occasionally, that means adjusting family travel plans, date nights and more. Other times, it can mean the farm work adjusts to our growing family.

I still consider myself a farmer even though I’m an operations manager for an insurance company most of the week. Like many of you, I am juggling many parts of my life: family, hobbies and a career. How I get it all done probably looks similar to most moms too!

 

Farm job

Our farming operation consists of corn, soybeans, hay and cattle. My great-grandfather and grandfather began our farming operation in 1945. My mom and dad farm the same ground today with my aunt and uncle. In 2011, my family began to develop a succession plan to help keep my brother, his wife, my husband and I part of the family farm for many more years down the road. Together, we formed Bismarck Farms.

With my parents transitioning away from day-to-day farming duties, it has meant our workloads have increased. This year, my husband completed the majority of planting. It’s meant he’s been in the field for weeks straight — moving straight from fertilizing fields to corn planting into soybean planting and then harvesting hay.

When we “put up hay,” it involves mowing the grass, letting it dry, raking it up, baling into bundles and then hauling it back to the farm. These working hours are not 8 to 5, Monday through Friday. We must time actions based on weather, supplies of products (like seed, twine, drivers, equipment, etc.), machinery working as it should, tending to other areas of the farm where help is needed (for example, we have cattle, irrigation tasks, equipment moving, and ever-present equipment breakdowns).

My husband probably averages more than 12 hours per day farming, which leaves a lot of the day-to-day family duties to me during the busy seasons.

 

Day job

I work off the farm Monday through Friday, 8 to 5. I oversee and work with five insurance offices doing everything from employee management, checking in with marketing reps, account reviews, quotes and whatever else the day may bring. Recently, I took on a management role so I’m often working more than 45 hours a week. My co-workers love stories about country life. I often have tales of visits from opossums or skunks.

My sister-in-law also has a full-time job off the farm. With six people involved in the farm, our schedules can look a little crazy!

 

Weekend job

Our families each have young children. As anyone knows, that’s a full-time job in itself! Recently, all our careers required some flexibility to accommodate our kids’ new hobbies and interests.

For example, my family offered a public roadside fresh garden market since 1982. Most weekends, we would put in 12-hour days, interacting with customers and explaining how we grew our crops. The market was truly a family affair. Our mom helped with deposits, payroll for employees and other daily tasks.

We all loved the market, but the extra time became too much to handle. Our son begged to grow his 4-H projects and have livestock. Unfortunately, our market was still open during the week of our county fair.

This year, we decided as a family not to operate the summer garden. It has been a bittersweet decision. We’re missing our customers but have more family time. My son has been able to raise pigs as a 4-H project. Having pigs was something he’s wanted to do since he was a toddler. I’ve never raised pigs, so it’s been an adventure for us as well!

 

Juggling

The demands of farming, a full-time career and a family require a juggling act every single day. I love running to the field after I leave work to help move equipment — sometimes I don’t get to change clothes so I do it in heels! Other days, I bring the guys an iced tea in the hot field and end up untangling alfalfa from the hay swather (the equipment that helps harvest the hay). Now that my son has pigs, you’ll often find me helping him. I’ve quickly learned I must take the time to change out of my work clothes first!

Finding the balance between an 8-to-5 job and farming sometimes gets the best of me, but there isn’t much I’d change. I’m never sure how the day will go between work, dropping off our kid for classes and farming.

Like most moms juggling a family and career, my passion for each keeps me motivated. I’m lucky our family business involves every member of our family. We can each work towards a shared goal of improving our business and helping to feed the world.

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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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Zest and Zing brings opportunities to answer food questions

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Patrick Shibley and Paul Freimuth battle during the chef’s competition at Zest and Zing.

A chef’s competition heated up the evening at Kansas Farm Bureau’s Zest and Zing event on Thursday, Apr. 30. Area foodies and farmers came together at Abode Venue in Wichita to enjoy cocktails and hors d’oeuvres while chefs battled out two delicious rounds to impress a panel of judges.

Patrick Shibley from Doo-Dah Diner edged out a victory over chef Paul Freimuth from the Harvest Kitchen & Barat the Hyatt Regency Wichita. The chefs cooked using flat iron steak and wheat germ, with surprise ingredients including chocolate, sun-dried tomatoes, pineapple, jalapeños and Vienna sausages.

Judges included Denise Neil of Dining With Denise and Stacy Mayo of From the Land of Kansas. Emcees included Chef Alli and CommonGround Kansas volunteer Katie Sawyer.

CommonGround volunteer Kim and Andrea from A Modern Hippie

Andrea from A Modern Hippie and Kim Baldwin chatted during the social hour at Zest and Zing.

CommonGround Kansas provided cutting mats in the event’s gift bags, as well as notepads and informational materials at a table in the sponsors’ area. Volunteer Kim Baldwin helped answer guests’ questions on topics ranging from water conservation to antibiotics.

Sponsors included Kansas SoybeanSedgwick County Farm Bureau Agricultural Association, Agribusiness Council of Wichita, From the Land of Kansas, Tonja’s Toffee and Grandma Hoerner’s.

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Kids’ Reading List: The Super Soybean

From feed to food to fuel and more, soybeans are used for a variety of things that we come into contact with each day.  In addition to its edibility, the super plant is used to make plastics, medicines, inks, fuels, soaps and many other products.

The Super Soybean The Super Soybean, by Raymond Bial, celebrates the humble soybean as a major U.S. export and renewable natural resources.  Find out how big of an impact soybeans have on your family’s daily life through cultivation descriptions and references to the many uses of the plant.

This is more than the average picture book for kids ages 8-11 years.  They will enjoy this book filled with both colorful photos and informational text about soybean growth, harvest and consumption.

Thanks to Holly Spangler for compiling this list, which was featured in the March 2012 issue of Farm Futures magazine.

Check out the past selections in the reading list:

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Kids’ Reading List: Seed, Soil, Sun: Earth’s Recipe for Food

What’s your favorite recipe?  Maybe it’s your mother’s apple
pie or your neighbor’s banana bread that gets your mImageouth watering.  There is one ultimate recipe that makes all these dishes possible.

The sixth book in our Kids’ Reading List series is Seed, Soil, Sun: Earth’s Recipe for Food by Chris Peterson.  This American Farm Bureau Foundation’s Agriculture Book of the Year celebrates the yearly planting, growth, and harvest of our plant food.  The simple ingredients to Earth’s recipe, seeds, soil, and sun, all combine to create much of the food we each and some food for animals. Read on in the book to discover more about the wonder that is Earth’s recipe.

Young readers, from four to seven years old, will enjoy the colorful photographs by photographer David R. Lundquist. They will learn from Peterson how seeds use soil and sun to grow into the fruits and vegetables they enjoy at the dinner table.

Thanks to Holly Spangler for compiling this list, which was featured in the March 2012 issue of Farm Futures magazine.

Check out the past selections in the reading list.

Categories: Kids' Reading List | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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