Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Real World Hunger Games - Not so Far Fetched

Several months ago my son Nathan, had his nose in another book, a normal state for him. While he can always tune out whatever is going on around him while he reads, it was clear that this book had his full attention. As usual I asked what he was reading and what it was about. He threw out a few tidbits, never lifting his eyes from the page. I remember him talking about a battle between children and something about districts. Soon he was reading the second book, then the third and then he was so excited because he thought that district 13 might be real, apparently this was a big deal?
A month or so later I was at Book Club and we were deciding what to read next. Carol, always very with-it, had the New York Times Bestseller List. I recognized the top book as the one that had captured my 11-year-old son, the Hunger Games. So even though it was listed as a younger reader book we decided to read it.

Here we are on our way to the midnight premier of the
 Hunger Games. As you can see we were such dorks and dressed
up like some of the charachters, that's me on the left, I went as Effie.
My sister is Octavia and Nathan and his friend were Peeta and Katniss.
We had the book on the shelf because Nathan had loved the series so much he bought a fancy boxed set. Intrigued, I started reading. I then ignored my family for days until I had read right through all three books myself.
I immediately loved the resiliency of the main character - a scrappy gal named Katniss. Over and over, food was symbolic of those who had everything they could possibly want at the touch of a button, the Capitol residents. Those who were willing to risk their lives to feed their families, Katniss and the other residents lived in the Districts. The book is not about food, it is about the ramifications of having too much or not enough, so really it’s about power.
On one hand, there is Katniss walking through the rain, delirious from starvation. She falls down in the backyard of the town baker, sure she will never get up, terrified of what will happen to her family without her to provide for them. Peeta, the baker’s son sees her and purposely burns some of the bread. He receives a beating from his mother but then is ordered to throw the bread to the pigs. Instead he throws it to Katniss, and he saves her for the first time.
On the other hand, there is a scene where Katniss and Peeta are at a gala in the Capitol. They have eaten so much they can’t fit another bite. Some Capitol people tell them about these little glasses of fluid that will help them throw up so they can continue to eat, purely to experience the taste again and again. These Capitol people are just as excessive in their dress, hair color and even skin color, which they dye blue, gold or green to match the latest trend.
Which is closer to what you have? Growing up I knew there were tough times but we always had a freezer full of meat and rows of vegetables my Mother had canned. I have never been hungry, I have only had more than I could ever eat.
This book gets you thinking about our material society in America. We really have so much. Yet we worry about the latest trends, our clothes, our cars, and our food. Yes, even our food is trendy. This made me stop and think, “We are the Capitol.” Our ridiculous views and waste, how are we any different?

As I read, Nathan and I had many conversations. He must have asked 100 times, “Mom, what part are you on now?” I would say, “Ten pages since you asked me last time.” But our best conversation about the book came just before a Book Club meeting. I asked him what he would want to discuss with the ladies. After some thinking he said, “The part I just couldn’t understand was why didn’t the Capitol share? They were so rich, if they could have helped the people in the Districts…they could have made their lives so much better.”
Oh, from the mouths of babes. Why didn’t they just share? And if we are like the Capitol in so many ways, why don’t we just share?
These packages will be delivered to starving families and
children by cooperating groups and Feed My Starving Children.
Before Book Club, Molly, a kind-hearted overachiever, had planned a volunteer opportunity for us. To pack meals for an organization called Feed My Starving Children. Basically 50 people, mostly strangers take huge one-ton totes of rice and soy meal, mix in life saving vitamins and minerals and pack it all into family size meals. In two hours we packed meals for 11,880 people. At first you are focused on not messing up your job, but as you get comfortable, it sinks in that all of these people are here to help others, that this food will save lives.

I was thankful for the Hunger Games because Collins, the author, did an excellent job of describing the feeling of desperation that comes with hunger. That understanding fresh in my mind seemed to make the work even more relevant. It felt like we were part of a solution and that we could make a difference. Maybe there is hope, maybe we are not like the Capitol?
While working I struck up a conversation with Alyssa, she was the shift leader, a grad student at Penn State. Her travels to poor countries on various mission trips have inspired a passion in her to find ways to fight poverty. I asked her what people misunderstand about hunger worldwide. She said, “The enormity of world problems can be overwhelming, and many people believe nothing can be changed. But, the world can change one person at a time.” She also said that she feels, “A child starving halfway around the world is as much my responsibility as if they were a member of my family.”
Donning the hairnets at food packing for Feed My Starving
Children! That's me on the left and Cassandra the most
energetic volunteer I have ever met.
What I heard was, we need to share, we can make a difference. The book I had read, this experience of packing food and my role as a farmer, became welded together in my mind.

At the Book Club some of the most intelligent and thoughtful women I know discussed the ideas this “teen reader” brought to mind. All but one said they would recommend the book to others. Our wide age range, 24 to 68, contributes various points of view and this discussion was no exception. Themes of poverty, resiliency, waste, desperation, women in leadership, and abuse of power were all discussed. I shared with them my initial concerns that Nathan had read such a gruesome book with such grown-up topics, and how those concerns vanished when we discussed his take-away idea of the selfishness of the Capitol, and his wish that they would have shared their wealth.
His words kept my wheels turning on what this means for Agriculture. We are really good at producing an amazing bountiful crop year after year. We are aware of the challenge ahead of us, feeding more than 9 billion people on our planet by the year 2050. There are only 7 billion on the planet now. We are up to that challenge, but is it enough? There are still people who do not have enough to eat now, even as we produce more year after year. Our bountiful harvest is not reaching people who need it. Many say that is because of poverty, or problems with distribution, or the sheer waste of our system. Whatever reason you cite, the fact remains that worldwide 25,000 people die each day because they do not have enough to eat. We can’t produce our way out of this problem. We need to share. There are real life Hunger Games happening right here in America and around the world. Let’s use this fascination with a trendy book to be a reason to talk about action and to do more ourselves.
Recently I was leading a team meeting at a family dairy farm so I sent out a call for agenda items. To my surprise, three of the four family members sent community outreach ideas. I thought we would talk about milk production and how to get them all a day off from time to time! They have decided to make a plan on how to fight childhood hunger in their hometown of Hillsboro. They are willing to share. Recently you may have heard about a big idea from Howie Buffet, called Invest an Acre. Through this program farmers will be able to donate the proceeds from one acre to help fight hunger. Proceeds will go to the Feeding America program. Could you donate an acre? Could you donate the profit from one day’s milk production? Could you give your time? Can you make a difference one person at a time?
I was wrestling with how this all goes together, when my friend Kara urged me to consider a piece yet missing. She said, “Feed my Starving Children and Feeding America are both well-intentioned programs, but ultimately they replicate, in a much more gentle fashion, the very same power imbalance that is depicted in the Hunger Games. We are still the Capitol, and the poor are still holding out their hands to us for food.”

Kara proposed, “What would an alternative look like where we help the poor feed themselves?” I thought yes, now the analogy feels complete. We need to share not just our food but also our knowledge. For instance, Heifer International gives families livestock so they can feed themselves with the milk and meat. But they are also required to “share the gift” with other families by passing on some of their new breed stock to neighbors. They are not just sharing food, they are sharing power.

So really we need both, to lift people up and make them whole, and then give them the power to feed themselves. We can’t produce our way out of this problem. Those of us with so much, we need to share.

Posted: Agri-View Newspaper, Thursday, May 24, 2012

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Just one of those days...

One of our cows in her comfortable sand bed.

"Just one of those days," when people say this they are usually in a sour mood. But I am having one of those days that reminds me that I love exactly where I am in life. (Here is your only warning this post is dripping with positive attitude, turn back now if you would rather read something about what is wrong with the world.) First of all the sun is shining, I wish this didn’t have so much impact on my mood and overall outlook, but it does and I have to be real about that. Tomorrow there are 10 inches of snow, so today is the day to appreciate and reflect. Tomorrow there will be more work.
These calves warm and happy in their
little calf coats.
As I look at my farm today I know every creature (bovine and human) is healthy, warm, clean and well fed, tomorrow they might be colder but the rest will still be true. Sometimes on the farm the days feel like a rush, sometimes the work is hard to make sure we can accomplish the basic tasks of care, some days I worry if we can possibly get it all done, not today.
This bucket on the front of the skid loader
shoots the sand neatly into the cows' bedds.
Cows laying side by side in their newly bedded sand stalls.

My right hand man, Alan came up with a new way to put the sand into the beds where the cows lay down. It was really a simple change, which door we use to go into the barn. But it was completely his idea and it is a really good idea, one I never thought of before. Suddenly I looked at the end of the barn differently, and for a moment a simple change made me feel slightly off-balance the way you feel when you are learning something new or hatching a creative new idea. A simple change shifted my paradigm. I just love it when that happens. Sometimes I worry that I am too close-minded to let this happen, that I am so worried about what else is on the list that I don’t leave room to learn, or simply see something big or small in a new way. What about you?

We are also doing additional training on cow and calf care today with a new employee, a very timid young lady who I think will be excellent at working with our animals. She is nervous to learn new things, new tasks that she has never had to perform, even though she has worked at several other farms. One is how to feed a newborn calf. I know at first she will be overwhelmed since there are so many details to get it right: cleanliness, gentleness with the vulnerable new baby, strength to lift the calf and carry it to a clean warm pen where it will be safe, how to mark her so we know who she is, how to give her a vaccine to keep her healthy in her first days of life, and how to hold her while she gives the calf the mothers first milk.

One of the newest babies on the farm, excellent care is so important when they are so small.

My hope is that we have chosen this young women wisely, that she will be an open-minded learner, that she will pay careful attention to the important details, that she will have the confidence to do the job independently after she is trained, but most of all I hope she will care. It is always my hope that they care, since every person who works with my cows is an extension of me. I hope that eventually this place will mean more than a paycheck, I hope it will be a place where she can continue to learn, grow and see things in a new way, like I am today.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Next Time I'll Do Better

After more than five years of running our own farm, it still bothers me, watching a life slip away, any life. It was cold this morning, and we were short handed on the farm because someone decided not to come to work today. So we were working as quickly as we could to get all the animals fed, milked, get the barns cleaned, manure hauled, and everything else in between. One of the more important jobs is checking the pen of cows that is close to calving, the maternity pen. I checked them at 4 am and another of my employees checked them at about 7 am. He said there were no babies born.

Later that morning, my husband was bringing more feed for the maternity pen, I was watching the gate. He noticed something in the straw, I could tell by the way he looked up at me that it was a newborn calf and she was in trouble. I came over to him and there was this wet and very still calf. She was alive but her breath was so shallow, I had to check twice to find signs of life. As I said it was cold this morning and the cow was a first time mother, she did not lick off her calf to get her dry and give her a chance to stay warm. I immediately scooped up the wet, frigid calf and held her tight as I rushed her to the milk house where I bathed her in warm water, she kicked her legs a little and even let out a low and raspy little moo. I dried her with the old bath towels we keep in the barn and I made her a warm bed in front of the heater in the office bathroom the warmest room in the barn.

Every hour I re-warmed the heating pads I had tucked all around her and checked the inside of her mouth to see if her core body temperature was any warmer, from the time I brought her in she just never could get warmer. I was amazed that she could live at all when any part of her that was not right next to the heating pads was ice cold. I know that bringing body temperature up after hypothermia must be done slowly, too hot would shock her body to much. When I checked her at 2 pm and she was still breathing I thought she might have a chance. But when I checked again at 3 she was gone.

When the kids got home from their Grandma’s house that evening I asked what the best part of their day was and they asked how things went on the farm. I said I was sad because we had lost a calf today, they asked how and I told them the story, my son said “Mom, don’t feel bad it wasn’t your fault it was your worker’s fault.” I said, “honey, I am responsible for everything that happens on the farm, it is my fault because I didn’t train him well enough.”

The reason I share this is because I worry that sometimes farmers are characterized as profit driven, numb to emotion, I remember reading an article that said work on modern farms is “soulless.” It just isn’t true, we work so hard to save every life. Mine is a modern farm and today my soul aches. I still shed tears when I can’t help. And I take seriously the responsibility for every creature under my care, and next time I will do better.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Let's talk about farming without all the buzzwords

I grew up on a dairy farm south of Milwaukee, where my mom had a knack for inviting city people to see our farm.

Back then, visitors seemed open-minded and appreciative, amazed at what we did as a family. They were in awe of our cows, too, and maybe even envious that we got to be with them every day. They didn't think about farms as diversified, conventional, sustainable, factory or family.

Today, I farm with my family and our herd of Jersey cows, and these new descriptions break my heart because none of them accurately describe our farms today. They are marketing labels, not an indicator of quality or animal care.

I don't think agriculture is as broken as the "food thinkers" would have you believe. At the base of it, we all want the same things - healthy people, healthy communities, healthy animals and healthy soil and water.

Today I fear some visitors would come to our farm thinking they already knew more than we do about caring for our soil and our cows. Would they come to tell us how to farm? I fear that a real conversation with the already-righteous would be impossible.

Please don't get me wrong. I don't know everything about this very complex natural business. While I have been in dairy farming my entire life and have a degree in dairy science, I still have much to learn. I am open-minded because I must be able to do what is right for my land and animals. My business depends on it.

But the ideological assertions of people who have never delivered a calf in a sub-zero barn, or who think corn is not a grass and therefore evil, are not helpful to me. Their simple solutions will not help me provide them with reasonably priced milk or my children with a college education.

It is so important to include farmers in conversations about the future of our food. Not just the farmers whose ideas you agree with, but some you might think to be too conventional or status quo.

You might not know we have been making progress for years by seeking sustainable practices that will help us feed many people efficiently over the long-term. There is a collective wisdom in agriculture that could help answer our most pressing questions.

I look back fondly on the days when city folks came to visit our farm with open minds. If you are willing to visit with an open mind, even if you are critical of what you think I do, I would love to have a conversation with you.

I have nothing to hide, I am proud of how I care for my cows, my land and my family. Tell me what's bothering you and give me the chance to at least explain why I do what I do.

If afterwards you are still critical, at least we will part as friends.

That's what conversations are all about.

Guest Column as printed in Wisconsin State Journal on Friday, May 7, 2010

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Good Talker

When I was in high school my math teacher told my mother I was a “social butterfly.” Since then I have often been diagnosed with, “the gift of gab.” This usually meant I simply talked too much, but my lack of fear to stand in front of a group and express my ideas has started to come in handy.

I had the chance to talk to the local Kiwanis Chapter a few weeks ago, they meet on Mondays at noon at the local bowling alley. They are a dedicated group of volunteers doing good work in our community. At each meeting they have a speaker talk about their occupation or some topic that has been in the news.

This visit to the Kiwanis, the topic was modern agriculture. Many of the Kiwanis had grown up on a farm, or had even farmed themselves. I did not have to explain to them that the labor saving changes we have made to our farms are a good thing. They agreed that farmers should be proud of this progress. Changes in agriculture are the reason milk and other healthy food is affordable. I told them about my own family and how I farm different than my grandfather did, but my values are the same as they have been for generations.

That was on a Monday, on Thursday night I went to the County Zoning and Planning meeting. They were proposing a few changes that might jeopardize the preservation of farmland in our agriculture based county. When they asked for public comment, I simply said that I had moved to this county because I wanted to farm, that I had left a place where they grow more houses than corn, and I hoped our county wouldn’t end up that way.

At the end of meeting and older fellow came up, shook my hand and said, “I heard you at the Kiwanis too, you’re a real good talker.” It was so kind of him to support me and to go out of his way to let me know he was impressed. But, as I left the meeting all I could think to myself was, “I just want to be a good farmer.”

Besides a healthy and happy family there is nothing I want more than to be a good farmer. I often feel that I am the wrong person to stand up and speak for farmers, my family and I have only owned our farm for four years, and while I grew up on a farm and have spent all of my 34 years involved in agriculture, I still have so much to learn. Shouldn’t the spokesperson be an accomplished seasoned farmer? I am not qualified.

But there are so few of us, less than 2% of our society has jobs directly associated with farming. Someone has to tell our story.

There are farmers who can stand up and give a speech or for that matter write a blog, but most of us would rather be in our barn taking care of our cows, or in the shop tinkering with the equipment to be sure it is in good working order. Not to stereotype, but most people who farm do it because they love the work, and the independence. Often they choose this as a living because they’d rather deal with animals or crops than people.

So, those of us who are “good talkers” need to help tell the story of the “good farmers,” who are quietly caring for their land and animals, and producing enough food to feed us all.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving: a Time For Reflection on Our Blessings
Wednesday, November 25, 2009 3:08 PM CST
Originaly written for the Agri-View

Thanksgiving seems like it really snuck up on us this year didn’t it?With the harvest so late and finally some mild dry weather, bringing in the crop is the central focus across the countryside. But, Thanksgiving is upon us, and with it comes reflection on our blessings. Like many of you, I am thankful above all for my family, faith and friends. I am also overwhelmed with thanks because I am living my dream every day, as a Wisconsin dairy farmer. We recently had a visitor to the farm who asked, “Do you hope that your son will take over the farm?” This is a logical question when people see how we love our life on the farm. However, my answer was a surprise, “I hope he will find his passion like we did.”

My husband and I own and operate Heartwood Farm near Cobb. We farm because we believe it is the best way for our children to learn our values. They see everyday how we treat our cattle, land and employees with gentleness in order to produce wholesome food. We are thankful too because we have just celebrated our fourth anniversary on the farm.

We have always believed that a strong business model, treating people right and a focus on what we do best would be our secrets to success. Central to our vision was a farm large enough to hire good people, allowing them a place to thrive, and allowing us the chance to have time off to spend with our family. The size of the farm was also important because it would allow us to automate some of the work; we wanted to start out with a milking parlor, headlocks and a freestall barn. We decided early on that we would specialize in dairy cows. We wouldn’t try to do all of the field work; we would hire other specialists in that area, allowing us to concentrate year round on caring for the cows. We decided that grazing would be a component of our operation, and we would also focus on high production, using the very latest that science has to offer (3x/5x milking, bST and GMO’s to name a few). So far the plan is working, of course the last 18 months have been a true test, but we will survive.

When we embarked on this “dairy adventure” there were challenges we expected: swinging markets, employee turnover, all-nighters with sick cows and broken equipment. But over the last six months there was a challenge I did not predict, Michael Pollan. It’s not that Pollan directly presented a challenge to our dairy because he didn’t. It just hit a little to close to home when his book “In Defense of Food” was chosen for the Go Big Read at UW-Madison. Pollan isn’t the only writer to suggest that modern farming practices are destroying the soil, and causing every major disease known to mankind today, but he was the one who would have the stage all to himself at my alma-mater, here in the dairy state. Eighty percent of the book is about how and what you should eat, based on his opinion -- much of which I have no issue with. I agree with Pollan’s suggestion that it would be good if more families ate meals together. Much of the book is focused on processed foods. I think most people know they would be healthier if they ate more carrots and fewer twinkies. It’s that pesky 20 percent where the problem lies.

Pollan’s somewhat angry references to industrialized food and monocultural farming—farming that is dependant on chemicals, hormones, antibiotics and industrial waste—is where he went too far. In his book Pollan only talks about two kinds of farms: the small labor intensive farm which he idealizes and the large specialized farms which he condemns. He holds up one particular farm as a model, that farm has a few cows, a few chickens, a few pigs, and they sell their meat to “city people” who drive a long way to pay a high price for this food. This is fine for those who can afford it, but is that system realistic to feed a growing population in the US and abroad? Pollan talks about this small farmer by name and allows the reader to get to know him, he never mentions another farmer anywhere else in the book by name, all the large farms are referred to as agribusiness, as if there were no real people involved with any of those operations. Many of us use some form of modern technology, are somewhat specialized, and have larger farms than our grandfathers did, all of these are traits highly undesirable to Pollan.

These concerns are what led us to organize a group called “In Defense of Farming.” It was truly a grassroots movement that started in a conversation between myself and two other passionate farmers. From the beginning, our intent was to simply have a respectful presence in the room as Pollan gave his speech at UW. At every step we took extreme effort to convey that what we were doing was not a protest, it was a way for real farmers to talk to people who eat. We spread the word through e-mail, Facebook, and the media. We told people that there would be farmers at the speech in green shirts willing to answer questions about how they produce food. Well, it worked. There were at least 250 farmers, veterinarians, students in agriculture and others involved in food production in green shirts, and they had conversations with many people that night. They did not try to counter what Pollan said in his book, or in his speech, they simply shared the stories of why they farm, and how modern farming practices help them do a better job. I was so proud of those farmers that night, and I was thankful that we could help make those conversations possible.

I won’t forget one conversation I had that night. My dad and I were leaving the Kohl Center when a middle age couple asked us if we were some of “the farmers,” we said ‘yes.’ They asked what kind of farm we had, this was about when Bob, who is not much for speaking to the public, turned it over to me. I proudly said this was my dad, Bob and that we both have dairy farms. They asked if we only had dairy and I said yes, they asked why we didn’t have a more integrated farm with a diversity of plants and animals, that their reading informed them that those farms are much better for the environment, and healthier for the people who run them.

I tried to explain that cows are my passion, that I just don’t like chickens that much. They seemed to think that it was odd for a person to care about cows and not chickens. They even asked why I couldn’t learn more about chickens, and suggested that if I would commit myself to learning, it could be achieved. I realized that there was no way to explain that I could spend a lifetime and not know all I wished to know about cows.

Then I looked at my dad who has spent his lifetime accumulating that knowledge. How could they know all that he has learned and experienced? In that moment the disconnect had never been more clear. Here were two very smart people asking genuine questions, here I have an opportunity to answer them, but Michal Pollan and his views were in the middle. These people believed that small integrated farms are the only responsible way to feed people. I went on to explain that the farm they are describing was just like my grandparents farm, there was a small dairy barn, a hog house and a chicken coop. That kind of farm resulted in knee and hip replacements for my Uncle Myron and Grandpa Everett.

I explained that because my farm is specialized, I can afford a milking parlor, and I won’t have to endure the same wear on my body that my grandfather did. I explained that if my only choice was to farm in that system, that I wouldn’t do it, others might, but not me. Thankfully I don’t have to. It was in that conversation that I realized part of why I’ll stand up and fight for the progress we have made in agriculture is because of my dad, my uncle and my grandpa. Their progress should not be turned back.

Since 1944 the dairy industry in the U.S. has quadrupled output, we have gone from 25.6 million cows producing 117 billion pounds of milk, to 9.2 million cows producing 186 billion pounds in 2007. This is incredible progress and everyone involved with dairy farming should be immensely proud of this. These efficiencies have allowed milk to remain an affordably priced wholesome food, nourishing families at every socio-economic level. This increase is the result of more comfortable barns, more effective cooling, excellent nutrition, amazing breakthroughs in genetics and the use of many other technologies. To me these are more than just numbers, it is a representation of progress made by grandpa Everett, uncle Myron and my dad Bob. These numbers are personal, and I take seriously the charge to pick up where they left off.

We have many people to feed, 9 billion on the planet by the year 2050. In 2008 nearly 50 million people in our own country struggled to get enough to eat, this is the highest level since the government started keeping track. There is a place for modern, efficient food production in our country and across the world. We can not loose sight of this reality when we hear the ivory tower views of a journalist from Berkley. There is a strong demand for diversity of food choices because we have a diversity of eaters. There is a place for everyone.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the hard work and brilliant minds of all the farmers that have paved the way for me. I am thankful that my family has enough to eat, and I pray that when we set the table a year from now, there will be fewer children here and the world over who are hungry. I trust that this is possible because of the dedicated farmers who care for the land, and the animals. Give thanks if you are one of the blessed who have found your passion in agriculture.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Dirt

I spent the morning trying to tie up some loose ends at our farm so I could run over to one of the farms that I consult for, we needed to change the ingredients in the recipe they feed their cows. As usual I was running about an hour behind schedule and still not out the door, I was going to quick feed some grain to a pen of heifers then run down to the house change clothes and hit the road. Just as I headed into the barn, I see my son bounding toward me, I said, “What the heck?” He said, “Half day today, I forgot to tell you!” with a big smile on his face. I said great why don’t you come with me to make a “farm call,” that’s what we call it when I go to see other farmers. He helped me feed the grain to the heifers, I am always impressed that even though he just turned nine, he can lift a 50 lb sack of grain. A tough little physique is one of the many benefits of growing up on a farm.

I love when he comes with me to visit other farms, he gets to meet new people and see the farms of my customers, they are all really good farmers. It is good for my son to see how every farm is so different, the barns, the parlors, the color of the tractors, even the color of the cows since all of my customers have big black and white Holsteins, we have smaller all brown Jerseys. As we walked through the office on the farm we visited today, he noticed the many old pictures on the wall, pictures dating back to the 40’s, the farm we visited has been in their family since before then. It is a true family farm with three generations working side by side. It is also a modern farm with 100’s of cows and a high-tech system to monitor the health of the cows every time they are milked. My son thinks he might want to be an engineer so he is always drawn to the shiny stainless steel and anything computerized. We finished the changes we needed to make, and helped set some equipment as they brought in the first load of corn from the field. There is no time more exciting (or stressful) than harvest, and this farm family has some very busy days ahead. We drove out their driveway glad we could help.

On the way home we started talking about what’s different since the days when my Grandpa Everett farmed, back in the 30’s and 40’s similar to those pictures we had just looked at on the wall of a new modern dairy farm. He said, “Oh mom, I think so many things are different, mostly farming is much more umm… high-tech these days. We have bigger tractors, milking parlors, the barns are different now, yeah I think a lot has changed.” I agreed and asked him how it might be different for a kid like him? He thought about it and said, “I think back then the kids really had to work hard.” I thought that was really interesting because I think he works pretty hard, but he’s right those kids had to work very hard. I asked him what he thought might be the same, he paused and said, “The dirt… Mom, I think the dirt is the same.”

This unexpectedly caused a flood of emotion for me. Many of us who farm using modern technology and science these days feel we have to defend our decisions. There are Journalists, Environmentalists and Food Activists who are trying to convince the public that we are not doing a good job protecting the piece of the earth we tend to. But, the truth is there is nothing more important to us that protecting what we love, our families, our animals, and our dirt. Even a nine year old can see that hasn’t changed.