Posts Tagged With: kansas

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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“Cows, Cooks and Conversation” Tour and Cooking Class Offers Behind-the-Scenes Perspective

Melissa Hildebrand Reed, CommonGround volunteer and granddaughter of the founders of Hildebrand Farms Dairy, shows attendees the milking parlor.

Mother Nature clearly didn’t get the memo that it’s technically spring. But the cold winds and snow on Saturday, Apr. 14, didn’t keep 25 cooks from getting a behind-the-scenes look at how our favorite dairy products get from the cow to the cooler at our favorite grocers.

CommonGround Kansas hosted “Cows, Cooks and Conversation” at Hildebrand Farms Dairy outside Junction City, KS, where the family raises cows and bottles their own milk to sell across the state. The event featured a tour of the dairy followed by an electric pressure cooking demonstration from Chef Alli.

The dairy’s founders’ granddaughter Melissa Hildebrand Reed is a farmer volunteer for CommonGround. She works on the farm full time handling marketing and distribution of the farm’s products across Kansas. Melissa led the tour, showing guests the bottling plant, calf barn, and milking parlor. CommonGround farmer volunteers LaVell Winsor and Krystale Neitzel also shared about their farms, both located in eastern Kansas.

“Growing up around the dairy, we forget that our way of life is different than most,” Reed said. “Sharing our farm gives us a chance to show what we do while also getting a better understanding of what the general population thinks of when they think of dairy. Our event Saturday was the perfect opportunity to show every step of how our milk is produced.”

Having Chef Alli provide a cooking demonstration really brought the food chain full circle, Reed added.

Chef Alli shreds pork cooked in the electric pressure cooker during her cooking demonstration.

After the tour, guests enjoyed warming up in the farm store with hot chocolate and vanilla ice cream, both made with the dairy’s milk. Then Chef Alli started cooking two dishes — Korean Pork Bowl and Creamy Beef Penne Pasta — in electric pressure cookers, walking guests through the process and answering questions along the way. The event concluded with samples of the two dishes and a Q&A session with CommonGround farmer volunteers. Hope Wright was the lucky winner of the door prize, a 6-quart Cuisinart electric pressure cooker, similar to the one Chef Alli cooks with.

Thanks to everyone who attended and brought non-perishable items to donate for community members who don’t enjoy the same freedom of food choices that we do. Ticket proceeds supported the Flint Hills Breadbasket.

 

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Farmers, Nutrition Professionals Network at Scenic Flint Hills Winery

About 50 farmers and nutrition professionals networked at a unique social event Wednesday, Mar. 28, at Liquid Art Winery and Estate in the scenic Flint Hills outside Manhattan, KS. The event preceded the Kansas Nutrition Council’s annual meeting and was hosted by Kansas Farm Bureau, Kansas Pork and CommonGround Kansas.

Attendees enjoyed a spread of hors d’oeuvres accented by locally grown and produced wines and ciders while participating in a round of “speed dating” with farmers and ranchers. The activity involved tables of 5-7 guests paired with a Kansas farmer or rancher. Everyone answered fun questions to get to know one another and learn about Kansas agriculture. After a few minutes each round, farmers and ranchers rotated to the next tables and started a new conversation with a different group of nutrition professionals. The discussion and drinks flowed for a fun, educational evening with a relaxed atmosphere.

Thanks to everyone who attended!

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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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Feast on the Fe brings together farmers and foodies

Farmer volunteer Jenny Burgess visits with guests at Feast on the Fe, Sept. 15, in Salina, KS

CommonGround Kansas sponsored the second annual Feast on the Fe on Sept. 15, a celebration of local food and entertainment bringing a diverse subset of the Salina community to one table. The farm-to-fork dinner served 160 guests with five courses, each from a local chef, in an outdoor meal along Santa Fe street near the Masonic Center.

The event showcased the Salina community through local farmers, chefs, entertainers and a collaboration of local businesses and nonprofit organizations. Proceeds benefited Prairieland Market, a local non-profit cooperative.

Participating chefs for the event included Tony Dong, owner of Martinelli’s Little Italy; Eric Shelton and Michael Styers of the Salina Country Club; Tyler Gallagher, owner of Seraphim Bread; Shana Everhart of the Swedish Crown restaurant and Renaissance Cafe; and Laura Lungstrom, head cook at Soderstrom Elementary School in Lindsborg.

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Each place setting included a CommonGround pint glass

Musicians Dex Umekubo with Dean Kranzler performed for the pre-dinner social hour, and the Pale Fire Kings from Kansas City were featured after the feast.

“The Feast on the Fe provided great food and wonderful conversation,” said Melissa Reed, dairy farmer and volunteer from Abilene, KS. “It was easy to get to know the people around you as they all smiled from the delicious five-course meal that was presented.”

Each place setting included a CommonGround pint glass that guests could take home. Three CommonGround Kansas volunteer farm women, including Reed, Kim Baldwin and Jenny Burgess, took a seat at the table to converse with community members about how food is raised and answer questions about their farms. They also gave a brief introduction about their farms during the event’s opening remarks.

Guests enjoyed a five-course meal and live entertainment

“Chefs from around the Salina area pulled out all the stops and brought forth their best for this event,” Reed added. “Each dish used Kansas grown or raised, produce, meat and dairy highlighting the excellence in Kansas agriculture. With music in the background and the sun behind clouds, it made for a beautiful evening.”

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Flow Yoga on the Farm Benefits Just Food, Connects Farmers and Grocery Shoppers

We kicked off summer with our first-ever Flow Yoga on the Farm on Saturday, June 3, in a gorgeous green pasture just east of Lawrence. The weather was perfect! Thanks to the nearly 70 guests who came together for this beautiful yoga practice and food drive. Together, we raised more than $300 for Just Food and filled an entire barrel with food donations that will benefit community members in need.

After some sweat and savasana in the early summer sun, we enjoyed a fresh brunch with a make-your-own yogurt parfait bar, pastries, juice and milk from Hildebrand Farms Dairy (the farm of CommonGround volunteer Melissa Hildebrand Reed).

We had a blast trying out some new yoga poses with instructor Cherish Wood of Kansas City. We might leave that challenging crow pose to the birds flying over our fields, but we had such fun and walked away with a good sweat. The shade was very welcome after our practice!

Farmer volunteers Frances Graves, Kim Baldwin and LaVell Winsor shared the most commonly asked questions about their farms. If you didn’t get a chance to visit with them after the practice, you can learn more about their farms here. They’re also available to answer questions that might pop up down the road, too. That’s what we’re all here for!

Special thanks to Lowell and Krystale Neitzel and their family for hosting us on their beautiful ranch land. You can learn more about their farm on Facebook. They’re known for their sweet corn, so don’t miss out on that later this summer. Yum!

Our farmer volunteers enjoyed connecting with folks in the Lawrence area and talking about how we raise food on our Kansas farms and ranches. Often, food and farming are divisive topics, but this event was full of positivity and great questions about all shapes and sizes of farms, which is what CommonGround stands for. We’re all about sharing our love for our land and our animals. If you have a question about how farmers and ranchers raise your food, we’re always here to chat so you can feel more confident in your food choices.

Learn more about the national CommonGround program at findourcommonground.com. Don’t forget to like CommonGround Kansas on Facebook and on Instagram at @commongroundks for details on future events.

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Farmers Share Tasty Bites With Bloggers

Farmer Kim Baldwin joined in virtually to share about her farm in central Kansas

The digital worlds of bloggers and farmers collided in a hip office space in Kansas City’s Crossroads District on Thursday, May 4, for a dinner hosted by GBS Influence. This exclusive event allowed small selection of invited bloggers an opportunity to meet the farm women growing food, while enjoying great discussion about farming and food over a beautiful meal.

The event was a partnership between GBS Influence, formerly of the GoBlogSocial conference, and the volunteer farm women of CommonGround. The evening began with mingling and introductions before guests were treated to a gorgeous antipasto and charcuterie spread, a kale, apple and chicken salad, and gluten-free cookies with l0cal milk from Hildebrand Farms Dairy.

After the meal, guests took a few moments to complete a discussion guide, carefully considering the information they use to make food choices. Then, the group joined in a discussion about farming and food, with questions answered by CommonGround volunteers LaVell Winsor and Kim Baldwin, who joined us virtually from her farm.

Guests also received a booklet detailing each volunteer’s background, contact information and a recipe, as well as a CommonGround branded kitchen pack, including a spatula, measuring cup, cutting mat and towel.

One blogger and their guest will win a private tour of Kansas farms. The winner will be announced May 19. We can’t wait to see who it is! 

Thanks to GBS Influence and Shining Star Catering in making the night very Instagram-worthy!

We especially want to thank all the bloggers who joined us for a productive discussion about farming and food!

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