Author: Faith, Farming & Cowboy boots

I am a born and raised southern Minnesota farm girl, blogging about my everyday life in rural Minnesota, and all things that come with farming.

Faith for the Long Haul Involves Trust in Your Path

This morning on my drive into work, I started to reflect on some of the big changes that have happened in our life in the last year, and how much faith plays a part into success.

These past six months have been difficult for various reasons. It is a season in my life that I’m sure one day I will look back and see it as a small stepping stone and a time of profound discovery about my strength as an individual, a wife, a mother, and as our own little family unit.

I have quickly learned to adapt to changes – to rework – to think on my feet. Part of that is probably why I have enjoyed my roles in project coordination, management, and events, as there is always a fire to put out somewhere, a misstep to fix, or tasks to plan ahead on as part of an effective prevention plan. I continue to be convinced that hard work will win over a handout any day, and that work ethic plays a stronger role in the success of business deals, connections, transactions, and negotiations than anything else.

We will have been living in our little farm site for a year when May arrives. I sometimes forget how far we have come when I think about where we started with it. The big things that weren’t so fun that we did were a new roof, a new septic, new electrical, some new plumbing, and spray foam insulation throughout. I often forget about those major things we had to do first, when I see all that still needs to be done. I often catch myself wondering what our neighbors think of our poor yard or the weird front part of our house that we had to fix foundation on and remove a tree that looks so ridiculous…which it will for a while. I also tell myself, we can only do so much, especially when we are paying cash for all the updates, including the major ones. Uff-da. It definitely slows down progress. I see some beautiful renovations done in a month, and I’m just getting a finished kitchen ceiling a year later…not to mention the countertops still waiting to be installed.  It can be easy to feel discouraged when it seems as if we take one step forward with the house and then two steps back, but I try to tell myself, we are making small baby steps towards progress, and someday, all the trim will be finished…hopefully.

Where we started – no walls, completely gutted – and where we are today – a toilet, shower, tile, trim, and cabinet (and we do have a full sink top on now too!)

Our upstairs bathroom has undergone a significant transformation in the past month. I even had to remind myself at where we started with it. We completely gutted it and installed new walls, a new shower, new toilet and a new floor. I redid the solid oak cabinet that was in the bathroom – a good scrubbing and some paint later and it looked completely different. We are still searching for a few items to complete the bathroom (like a mirror and light fixture), but hopefully in a month or so it will all be tied together. Harper really loves having a big bath again needless to say!

We have been working to develop a plan for our farm-site that exists in 5, 10, and 15 year time frames. That often seems like forever when we could use it all right now! Our major things happening this summer are repairs to our shop and burning down the barn. We finally got the official “go ahead” with the fire department to use the barn for training. It will be interesting as my husband is already throwing out things like “water curtains,” “tanker stations”, and other firefighting terms. We are rearranging some of the critters to new homes to protect them from the smoke. Luckily, we have some amazing friends that will take the horses in temporarily during it all, and another friend busy building a small hog shed for us. The chickens will also be moved into a new building as we arrange the driveway a bit differently in the future. The plan is to reach some bigger goals of an office addition, some fencing for livestock, and reworking another shed for livestock in those 10 and 15 year plans. We have some amazing people on our team that believe in what we are doing, tell it like it is, and definitely build up our confidence that we can make it all work when there are plenty of days that seem to tell us differently.

I have really started to refocus my trust in Him. Sometimes it takes an infinite amount of strength to realize that He has a reason for what is going on in these various seasons of my life. When I seem to be saying, right now…He tells me to pause and wait. After a phone call to my sister a few weeks ago where she really stressed that I needed to give it all to God and truly trust in His plan, because later on, even though it may not seem like it now, it is the right path, and the right steps to take. Her words hit home. That I needed to remember who was in control of this crazy mess of a life I lead.

This is one of my favorite songs – Trust in You by Lauren Daigle – and I listen to it often.

Our journey has never been easy – we’ve had plenty of people tell us we should write a book with as much stuff that has happened to us before the age of 30, but like so many, we just keep plugging along. Hard work matters, even when it goes unnoticed or unappreciated. So when you feel like throwing the towel in, like you are getting nowhere, remember where you started, how far you’ve come, and all the hard work you’ve put in. That fire, that passion you first started with, is still there, it might just need some rekindling every once in a while. So for now, I won’t forget where to put my trust, and let Him fan the flame – it will all be just fine.

-Sara

Wildflowers – There Is More To It Than Pretty Blooms

Recently, in a group I belong to on Facebook for beekeepers, someone posted a business card with wildflower seed mixture packet attached in the shape of a bee that a company was handing out. It was pretty clever and cute marketing. Then I got to thinking…what is really in that little bee shaped seed packet and how far is it traveling?

Planting pollinator friendly flowers, shrubs, and trees is blowing up everyone’s social media feeds, yet there is a little more to planting pollinator friendly habitat than one would think.

The original reason I didn’t fully agree with the company’s creative marketing tactic was because business cards travel. Our business cards end up all over the United States, and even the world. We hand them out to people at all sorts of events, mail them in packages, place them with donations, etc. Can you imagine if I planted seeds that originated from another country in the United States, not knowing I had inadvertently brought in a non-native species that isn’t considered a flower here? You are supposed to declare any seeds, soils, etc. going through customs and they should get confiscated as part of the process, but a business card with a seed packet packed away is definitely easy to forget. Minnesota is currently battling palmer amaranth that was brought in through a pollinator friendly planting. I would hate to be that person that planted seeds from a company not knowing that it wasn’t clean seed.

Then I got to thinking about it a bit more. Think about what is really native in terms of wildflowers to the area you live in. For me, it is much different from certain elevations or from one part of the state to the next. If I truly wanted to invest in a pollinator friendly habitat, I would work to find species that were both pollinator friendly and native to my area, as well as hardy for my growing zone. Many gardening centers now specialize in this type of landscaping. When the 30 acres that some of our hives are on was converted to RIM ground, we were able to choose a pollinator friendly habitat mix from the DNR that was specialized for our area. It also made me realize the importance of sourcing seed from my area too. If you are in Minnesota, I highly recommend Albert Lea Seed House for specialized seed mixtures native to Minnesota or working with a local company that specializes in native plantings such as Blazing Star Gardens. We’ve realized the importance of utilizing seed that has inherent genetics to thrive in our area. New research also shows that honey bees prefer blooms in rural areas versus urban areas, so finding out blooms native to your area seems to have increasing importance.

Our hives out on an area that was planted in specific wildflower habitat for our area.

An important and specific item to honey bee health, is understanding the difference between nectar and pollen. Some flowers, vegetables, fruits, trees, and shrubs, require pollination which happens when a bee visits various blooms and transports the pollen on their legs from bloom to bloom. When bees are seeking out blooms to feed off of, they are collecting the nectar to produce honey. Plants vary in the amount of nectar they produce, so it is important to offer a wide variety of nectar producing plants throughout the growing season. Just planting a wildflower mixture, may not actually produce the amounts of nectar that bees need or when they need it most.

Most recently General Mills has been in the news, for giving away wildflower packets of seeds in their #bringbackthebees campaign. Others have posted about whether or not bees are really declining, or ulterior marketing motives, but I’m not really concerned with that. I’m concerned with what happens when a flower such as baby’s breath which is considered a weed in some areas that may be in the packet of flowers, grows in areas where it shouldn’t be planted, and what that can do to other crops or actual native species that are planted.

I love flowers, don’t get me wrong – but planting wildflowers is a little trickier as not everything is native, not everything thrives, and not everything is necessarily even considered a flower depending on your location in the country. The true definition of a weed is a plant out of place.

There are many plants you can plant to help pollinators that will last for the summer in your gardens or flower pots, which you wouldn’t have to worry about coming up every year or potentially spreading and becoming a weed. Flowers like zinnias, cosmos, and marigolds are all simple flowers you could plant around your house and garden instead. When truly establishing a wildflower or native flower area for pollinators, it is best to work with a local source who understands the intricacies of the ecosystem you are planning for.

-Sara

Hello There March

Well hello there March. Nice to see you. Now where did January and February go and how did we get to 2017 already?

Anyone else feel like that?

Our life has been a whirl wind with me starting a new job in January in addition to Mark starting up his own business, Hewitt Precision Insights. Here’s what I can tell you about starting your own business…it might just be more frightening than farming.

Mark is crazy passionate about truly making a farmer’s data work for them, not just giving them another data management platform or connecting to a cloud network to pull data from someday, or maybe not. He is passionate about interpretation of farm data to make sound business decisions, to truly evaluate hybrids, water management systems, to detect crop threats sooner, and to understand and overlay the maps all these systems are producing for farmers. In his words with this new business venture, it doesn’t do any good to keep giving the farmer data without any kind of interpretation or usage. We can upload to the cloud all we want and make everything talk, but if you aren’t going to use the data for timely and precise operating decisions, it doesn’t make much sense to spend the money on those platforms. It has been a little scary navigating a slightly new business ownership world to us – like one without a steady paycheck, but we are moving full speed ahead.

So that happened! I also started my new position at the MN Soybean Growers in early January as a Special Events Coordinator. It has been a whirlwind, and I feel like I haven’t even had time to catch my breath! I am getting used to not having to do everything in essentially a “one man” shop. It has been a fun and busy transition for me.

So what have we been up to on the farm?

Well, in early February, we were awarded the first ever AgStar Groundbreaker’s award! We had zero clue, and looking at others that were being considered, we definitely feel so humbled to have been chosen for the award. We were awarded a monetary prize as part of the Groundbreaker of the Year award which means, we get to build a brand new honey house! We wanted to make sure that we were maximizing our award dollars and giving back somehow with them at the same time, so we have teamed up with the Sibley East FFA Chapter and their instructor, Tim Uhlenkamp to build the honey house. It will serve as a learning opportunity for the students there while they construct and agricultural building and gain hands-on skills that they can continue to use later in life. We are excited for this partnership with them, and look forward to bringing them some honey and teaching them about our extraction process and keeping bees at the same time! We still can’t thank AgStar enough for this opportunity, and for taking a chance on our dreams of farm ownership.

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We officially made the decision to burn down the old barn, and are donating it as a practice structure fire to the Kilkenny Fire Department. The structure unfortunately would cost more to try to renovate it, then it would to put up something new. But we are happy that the fire department will get training out of it, and we will have a larger space for renovating the other two buildings to house cattle.

Farmstead planning 101 is in full force. We sometimes shake our head at the way things are oriented on our farm. We will be making some pasture changes, rerouting our driveway, and adding some additional lawn/yard areas that will more than likely be future bin sites down the road. A few buildings will change, including one that will become an additional loafing shed, and one that will be moved to the back of another shed for tack storage for the horses. We have another shed that we are in the process of getting pricing on for two additions and a new overhead door. We have a spot picked for the honey house to sit as well. We have our work cut out for us outside this year along with a few projects inside the house we plan to finish in March! I cannot wait for a finished kitchen!

Then we have had all the normal things, like selling grain, attending conferences and trainings, seed meetings, insurance meetings, meetings with our FBM instructor, taxes, business calls, pre-pricing fertilizer, meeting with sales reps for various companies, and more. Oh, and throw in a growing rambunctious toddler who will already be two in April, and you end up with some crazy days and nights. Some days you start to wonder how you fit it all in.

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Just one of the many conferences, seminars, and classes we attend over the winter months!

I’m still wondering where 2016 went, so if someone could give me another few months to figure out my 2017 resolutions yet, that would be great! I think my only resolution may be to take actual vacation this year!

-Sara

Planting Non-GMO Soybeans: Value-Added Production

You’ve heard me talk about the benefits of genetically engineered crops before, and why farmers like us choose to use them. You have probably read about our yields we get with planting GE crops (better known as GMO to consumers), what methods of tillage we use, what chemicals we have used, etc. in some of my past posts. We’ve had a lot of people ask us since we are the first ones to stand up for allowing farmers to use GE technology and why we think GMO labeling is silly…

Why Non-GMO soybeans?

First things first, planting Non-GMO soybeans is very, very different from organic farming, and frankly, the two aren’t really alike at all in my opinion. Planting Non-GMO soybeans is more like farming with GE soybeans than most think, but with a few extra quirks and rules to follow. Our non-GMO soybeans are exported and made into tofu. I’m going to touch on a few areas (not all) of why we chose to plant non-GMO soybeans on our farm this year.

  1. Market – There is a better and bigger market for non-GMO, food grade soybeans than ever before. Creating this market has been something that farmers asked for as the need for protein options has risen in other countries. Our soybean growers association has worked hard to capitalize on this development and invest in the research to grow this specialty market over the past few years. New food-grade seed varieties continue to be developed that are higher in certain protein contents or select oils depending on what they will be used for in the end market.
  2. Price – We receive a higher premium for our soybeans because they are a specialty product. We do have to complete a few more tasks with planting non-GM soybeans like carefully cleaning out bins and trucks to avoid contamination and using only certain approved chemicals. We have to sign a contract similar to what one might sign with GE seed, except our contract revolves around identity preservation and the number of bushels we have agreed to grow. As crop prices continue to drop, farmers are looking to find an extra bushel or take off-farm jobs. The price premium on non-GMO soybeans is one of those options for farmers. Typically, the seed costs less than GE seed which means our end cost of production isn’t as high.
  3.  Tillage- I read a post that said that non-GMO farmers use more tillage than conventional farmers due to weeds. We did no more tillage than we do when we plant GE soybeans or GE corn. In fact, we did no-till in some of our fields this year. Again, planting non-GMO is not the same as organics which may rely on additional cultivation or flame weeding. We do have options chemical wise we can use for weeds. We didn’t use anymore chemical than we typically use in a given year, but we did use different kinds because we can’t use glyphosate, for example.
  4.  Bushels –This is always the main question we get. Will my bushels be on par with GE? Possibly. Possibly not. Every field is different based on soil type, nutrients, even weather patterns vary since we have fields in 3 different counties for us. We had hail damage in some fields compared to none in others. Some had standing water while others did not. All of those factors can impact bushels. However, typically we average around 50-55 bushels per field for our non-GMO soybeans, but we have had fields that have reached into the upper 70’s for bushels per acre this year.
  5. Traits – Some of the traits we look for in non-GMO soybeans are the same as what we look for in GE soybeans – resistance to certain fungus, drought tolerance, past performance on bushels per acre, etc. We also pay close attention to oleic concentration, protein concentration and even hilum color because those are the traits looked at for premiums in a food-grade, non-GMO soybean.

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It would be a shame to just say farmers are against GE soybeans, when I don’t think that is the case, and certainly not for us. Capitalizing on new opportunities and markets to create expanded profits and options for farmers is a good thing. You don’t have to plant GE and you don’t have to plant non-GMO. It isn’t for everyone, and how you choose to operate your farm versus your neighbor will be different. It works for us, but it won’t work for everyone. We certainly aren’t dismissing modern technology – in fact, I’d love if every crop was GE and we never had to worry about using a chemical ever, but that isn’t the case.

Farmers will have to continue to evolve with new market trends, new growth markets, and evaluate their current operations in order to succeed. Farmers are finding that planting value-added soybeans can be one of those pathways for their farm to succeed.

-Sara

Field Meal Recipe Ideas

Field meals are something that has always been important to my family. My mom always made sure there was a hot meal taken out to the field, or if we were at a field close to home, a big warm meal would be on the table for a quick 15 minute break growing up. There was always roasts, biscuits, casseroles, warm sandwiches, homemade applesauce, and so many yummy desserts floating around during harvest season at our house. She never packed my dad a cold sandwich, because well, he hated them. My husband, isn’t quite that lucky. She always made sure he would have something hot while working long hours in the tractor. We also had a custom harvester growing up, and Charlie also always ate well at our house during those times too. My mom even likes to make sure now that the hubs has warm food if he is in the fields near her house. She also keeps candy corn (his favorite) stockpiled during the harvest season to run out to him! Lucky man!

Looking back now, these times either out in the field set up around a card table she would bring out, or around our kitchen table for a quick 15 minutes, are some of the best memories I have of harvest season. Food can easily bring a group of people together, and warm food during harvest season does just that. My mom always ensured there was a home cooked meal either ready or delivered.

I can’t always get a meal out to the field, but I try to at least once every week. I depend on a few key items in my arsenal to ensure it is warm when we have field that are 30 to 40 miles apart some times – a crockpot, heated seats, an insulated casserole carrier (I use this one from thirty-one), and plugins in my vehicle. I also keep a plethora of disposable coffee cups, containers, Ziploc baggies, tin pie plates, etc. on hand.

Most times, the meals looks like this...sandwiches, granola bars, chips, gatorade...

Most times, the meals looks like this…sandwiches, granola bars, chips, gatorade…you get the idea.

I’m going to link some of my favorite recipes that I take out to the field below. All of these have been approved by the hubs, so I keep them on a rotating basis during fall and spring. Some of these I don’t follow to a T, or I’ve adapted to be more crockpot friendly, etc. I don’t always measure spices, so use what you feel is appropriate. I go for easy. I go for warmth. I go for cheesy factor and if my non-veggie loving husband will eat it. I always keep refrigerated cans of biscuits or croissants on hand during this time to make with a lot of these.

Spices I always keep on hand to substitute the “real thing” – Onion Onion and Garlic Garlic from Tastefully Simple. These two almost always end up added to any dish in our household. I don’t typically keep actual onion on hand, because the hubs isn’t a big fan, but the onion onion seasoning gives me the flavoring I want in the dishes.

Crockpot Meals

  1. Cheesy Potato Crockpot Soup – This one is perfect for those chilly fall days. I will usually bake biscuits to go with it and bring along. I love the spicy kick the andouille sausage gives it, but use whatever meat you have.
  2. Crockpot Chicken Spaghetti – I don’t use cream of mushroom or mushrooms because I don’t like mushrooms. I use Cream of Chicken soup, and will often only do one can, and then add a package of cream cheese. I also use a can of diced tomatoes and chilies because I often won’t have them separate. I wait and cook my noodles right before heading to the field with this one. I then put them in the crockpot with the chicken so they aren’t soggy.
  3. Cream Cheese Chicken Chili – I don’t usually follow a recipe for chili unless I’m making this chicken chili. Otherwise ground beef, tomatoes, a few cans of beans, corn, garlic, cumin, chili powder, onion, paprika…it all gets thrown in the crock pot for a hearty chili. I will try to make garlic biscuits or corn bread with this one.
  4. Chicken Alfredo Tortellini – Super easy because it uses jarred Alfredo sauce and refrigerated tortellini! I will also use canned chicken with this because I always have it on hand.
  5. Pulled Pork Sandwiches – Pulled pork in the crockpot is so simple! I will either use Dr. Pepper or root beer with mine. I will also bring along the BBQ Sauce so those working can add as little or as much as they want to their sandwich.
  6. Cheesy Turkey Sandwiches – I put all of this in the crockpot as one. My mom will tell you to add a can of cheddar cheese soup, I just struggle with finding it in the store sometimes. And like I mentioned earlier, onion onion and garlic garlic go in too! I will often use turkey breast tenderloin or the fully-cooked oven roasted turkey breast from Jennie-O.
  7. Breakfast Scramble – we have chickens, so I am always trying to use up eggs. I am planning on taking this casserole out to the field for supper this year…so breakfast for supper anyone? I’ve made it a few times just for us, but it makes a lot. I will add chilies sometimes for spice, use ham, etc. to doctor it up.

Casseroles/Sandwiches

  1. Million Dollar Spaghetti – This baked spaghetti is always a crowd pleaser, and is one of my favorites.
  2. Doritos Taco Bake – This is one of my husband’s favorites because he loves Doritos. You can cook the crust before if you are worried about a mushy crust. I’ve never had an issue with it, but some people do.
  3. Funeral Sandwiches – You bake these in a 9×13 pan so they are nice and warm. My husband loves hot ham and cheese sandwiches, and the flavor in these is amazing. A warm sandwich makes up for the cold ones I usually send J
  4. Cheesy Bacon Chicken Casserole – I always say use whatever cheese you have on hand!
  5. Bacon and Cheese Muffins – I will usually make a batch or two of these for the weekend, so the hubs had something to take out in the mornings with him. These are simple, and could easily be used as a “grab-and-go” option for lunches or supper.

Desserts

  1. Pudding Cookies – they stay soft which makes them delicious! I like the cheesecake pudding cookies myself, but you can use any kind of pudding.
  2. Butterfinger puppy chow – my husband loves butterfingers, so I will usually make a batch of this for him to munch on.
  3. Chocolate lasagna – this is one they have to stop and eat, and isn’t made for taking in a tractor. I will bring it along with usually another meal that they truly have to stop for.
  4. Carmelitas – these are very rich bars, but another favorite in our household.
  5. Christmas Crack/Saltine Toffee – Whatever you want to call this, it is so simple to make and so delicious. I like that I can break it up and separate it into snack baggies so everyone gets some.
  6. Revel Bars – the hubs loves these bars and again, simple and they make a lot. Helpful when you have a lot of people to cook for!

Things I always bring out to the field when delivering meals:

  • Garbage bags
  • “farmer” napkins aka papertowels
  • Forks
  • Serving utensils
  • Wet ones

And some days, it’s pizza from the local Casey’s because lets face it, this lady runs out of hours in the day.

I hope all of you have a safe and blessed harvest season! May we all find a few fleeting moments of time together with our families during these busy times, even if it is 15 minutes around a card table and a crockpot.

-Sara

 

To the Farm Momma Doing it All

I belong to a group on Facebook for women in agriculture. I often see posts or questions pertaining to children on the farm – how do you keep them occupied while doing chores? Do you baby wear? What carrier do I get? What creative ways do you have for strapping them in a tractor?

Lastly, how do you still make sure you are giving your child your most precious asset, time?

I have been struggling with figuring out this new role on the farm. Am I farm mom? A Farm wife? Am I farmer? Am I a full-time employee? Am I a student in agriculture? Am I a mom? Am I a wife?

Needless to say, I am all of those things in one form or another, and finding the balance among it all has been a tricky one. I have been having a hard time accepting that I am in a new season of my life, and as such, a season of my role on the farm. Things are more difficult (but fun!) when you throw a kid in the mix.

Last fall, Harper spent a lot of hours in the car seat in the tractor with Dad. I had taken on a second job because we had bills that needed to be paid, which meant Dad had to step-up his game and besides working full-time, farming, and being a Dad without Mom while she worked 2 jobs was part of that. He did beautifully. We only lost 1 toy and 1 changing pad, and had one feeding mishap in the 2 month harvest season. No tears over any of that.

Time with Daddy in the tractor. He drove grain cart most of the time so he could stop for bottle feedings!

Time with Daddy in the tractor. He drove grain cart most of the time so he could stop for bottle feedings!

This spring was not as easy. Especially with livestock chores. Packing up a kid in a car seat, to move her to a stroller for chores, to pop her back in the car seat to go back to where we were currently living since we weren’t at the farm full-time yet, was an interesting predicament. I quickly realized that I can’t just hop in a tractor anymore or  run a supper out to the field when bedtime is at 7. I felt a little isolated. A little disorganized, and out of sorts with my “normal.”

This fall, I chose not to pick up my normal second job. Could we use the income, oh most definitely yes. It seems like every other day something goes wrong with this renovation…not having a working air conditioner and a softener we are pretty sure just kicked the bucket a few days ago. Some projects are on the back burner…that new garage roof is going to have to wait another year. Strapping Harper into a tractor is a little different as an almost 1 ½ year old. I won’t be as easy for Mark to just take her a long if I had to work, and he is also traveling for his full-time job on top of it. I chose to focus on taking care of my family this fall. It may mean I get to run more meals out to the field, or it may not, if Harper has an early childhood class instead. It means I probably won’t be spending much time in the tractor, but instead attending Halloween parties, feeding the pig and chickens at home, and selling honey. Will I still strap her in her Tula for some tractor driving? Most definitely!  However, I am also recognizing that she’s little, and a mover, and hours in the tractor won’t last as long as they used to. A second carseat that was a little easier to remove and transfer in vehicles was purchased in preparation for picking people up, transferring equipment, etc.

Harper in the Tula while doing horse chores with me. This is how we get chores done now.

Harper in the Tula while doing horse chores with me. This is how we get chores done now.

It is strange, being in this new season of my life. It is strange trying to figure out my role as a mom, a wife, a farmer, a business owner, and so much more. But I also know these days won’t last forever. Before I know it, she’ll be learning to drive the tractor herself, feeding the livestock herself…these days are precious. I don’t want to take this time for granted.

So mommas struggling to do it all on the farm, here’s what I’m saying…Go easy on yourself. You are doing SO MUCH.  

I once got told that the most important job you can do on the farm is to raise the next generation. What an undertaking we have.

It can be really hard some days. When your baby is crying, and somehow you are still supposed to do laundry, feed yourself and your husband and the dog, write out checks for seed and fertilizer, and schedule the veterinarian’s next visit.

It can be really hard. But mommas, it is so worth it when you see those little munchkins checking fields with their daddy or riding next to you in the tractor or showing their first calf. You are not alone in your struggles, your feelings, your excitement, your celebrations, or the long, exhausting days. We are a strong group of women, raising the next generation. What an undertaking it is.

Mark with Harper checking bean fields earlier this year.

Mark with Harper checking bean fields earlier this year.

-Sara

CommonGround: Field to Fork Dinner

Common Ground. That is the goal of the CommonGround group…to find common ground around food and farming, and for everyone to walk away with a better understanding of farming and why farmers choose to farm the way they do.

This past week, I was able to be part of an amazing event – The first CommonGround Field to Fork Dinner held in Minnesota.

Field to Fork Dinner at Thallman Farms

Field to Fork Dinner at Thallman Farms

Planning for this event started many months ago with four of us working on the details, look and feel of the event, in preparation for a crowd that maybe was unfamiliar with agriculture, but eager to visit a farm, ask questions, and have a conversation about food.

Thallman’s have an absolutely gorgeous farm, and were so generous in hosting the event. It couldn’t have been more perfect…dining right next to the soybean field.

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We diligently planned things like signage, decorations, photographers, custom printed invitations…even down to what forks and style of plates we should use were discussed. Details were key in the Field to Fork dinner.

It was nice to meet consumers and just talk…what about food concerns them, what questions do they have, what are they passionate about? How can I help you as a farmer? What things do you enjoy doing? Even transportation in the cities versus rural areas was discussed at my table.

My friend Betsy from Jensen Farm and Seeds provided me with a large box with wheat, canola, dark red kidney beans, navy beans, barley, and pinto beans. She also provided us with some fun facts like this one about dark red kidney beans!

My friend Betsy from Jensen Farm and Seeds provided me with a large box with wheat, canola, dark red kidney beans, navy beans, barley, and pinto beans. She also provided us with some fun facts like this one about dark red kidney beans!

All of this conversation was accompanied by amazing food – with most ingredients grown in Minnesota. Caprese (which I think I’m going to now make with some fresh tomatoes from my garden), roasted sweet corn, a delicious vegetable medley and pork ribs. Dinner was complete with delicious pies including strawberry rhubarb, apple, and pecan to name a few. The pies were topped with the most amazing fresh whipped cream.

Sweet Cheeks Honey was given away as favors, which was a really awesome opportunity for me to talk about our bees and what we do on our farm. Martin County Magic Seasoning was also given as favors.

Sweet Cheeks Honey as favors

Sweet Cheeks Honey as favors

We finished off the night with a Q&A session from the crowd.  I was genuinely surprised by some of the questions, and intrigued as well. Sometimes I start to wonder if maybe we aren’t listening enough to our consumers. Many of those I talked to, just wanted to understand better what we did, or wanted to support local with their dollars, and they weren’t sure how to do that. Some of the questions were around regulations, the farm bill, and even technology.

The food was delicious and  beautifully prepared. The handcrafted tables came from Country Style Accents.  The weather proved to be perfect, even if it was a bit muggy while setting everything up. Lastly, the conversation and sharing what we do as farmers was so meaningful to everyone who attended.

My boss provided some of the wine grapes from his vineyard. He sells his grapes to Chankasa, a winery that was featured at our event.

My boss provided some of the wine grapes from his vineyard. He sells his grapes to Chankaska, a Minnesota winery that was featured at our event.

I am so grateful to be a part of this group of amazing women. This was my first major event with CommonGround, and I can’t wait for more. If you ever have questions about your food and farming, please reach out. If I can’t answer it, I will find someone who can…and the farm women of CommonGround have a wealth of knowledge to share. Join in the conversation.

The Women of CommonGround and the FFA Volunteers who assisted.

The Women of CommonGround and the FFA Volunteers who assisted.

-Sara