Agriculture

Martin County Ag Tour

A Day Celebrating Agriculture in Martin County

When you work in agriculture, it is easy to get pigeon holed into what you know or what you do on a daily basis. We are primarily cash crop farmers with a few livestock and honeybees. I grew up with various livestock on a feedlot scale, but the technology, techniques, housing, and practices have changed tremendously since I was younger, or what is on our farm since we are small-scale.

Martin County Ag Tour

We were greeted with our agenda for the day & Corn Niblets from Sunshine Suzy LLC! They were delicious and a perfect snack on the bus. You can find them at local Hy-Vee stores in the Martin County area.

It is one of the reasons I jump on any chance to learn more about agriculture in Minnesota and what my fellow farmers are doing. I was recently invited to spend the day in Martin County, about an hour from the Mankato area, learning about agriculture and its impact on the county. It was followed by a dinner called From the Ground Up – hosted by Project 1590. I am going to try to highlight a few of my takeaways (even as a person working in the industry) that I learned.

  1. Devenish Nutrition – I’m going to be honest, I didn’t even know this company existed until visiting their US Headquarters in Fairmont as part of this tour. They call themselves an agritechnology company that provides nutritional solutions to livestock – their business is generally 40% poultry 35% swine, 20% ruminant, and various livestock complete the rest. They are headquartered and founded in Ireland, and a connection with the Fairmont vet clinic brought them over to the Fairmont area. They have grown from 23 employees to 400, and do business in over 30 countries! They did say it can be a challenge to attract new talent to the community, but it was refreshing to see many of the employees were local to the area and have settled their with their families. Although I could probably go on and on about this company – I was fascinated – the things that struck me the most was their commitment to research. They have their own research barns, as well as barns contracted with farmers, to ensure their findings are real-world applicable. They are also doing research in if feeding animals superior feed, meaning you get a superior chicken breast or pork chop at the store, if and how that impacts human health. Pretty cool!

    Devenish Nutrition

    I am still in awe of all this company is doing since their expansion into the United States.

  2. Hen-Way Manufacturing – A farmer with a problem who created his own solution and the businesses exploded from there. That is the easiest way to describe this family built business. He was a hog farmer himself who couldn’t find the equipment he needed for the new barn styles, so he started building it himself, and pretty soon others started noticing, and ordering! This company also invested in their own solar panels to reduce their electric bill by 2/3 of what it was. But I think what I most enjoyed about this stop was the way the owner Lonny, talked about his family. He didn’t start off about the company or the products, but rather explained how they made it all work for their kids and grandkids to live nearby, work with them, and farm with them. He and his wife will be married 50 years this year. He was a man who made you want to do business with him.

    Hen-Way Manufacturing

    Welding was a skill that was in high demand at Hen-Way Manufacturing. As someone who used to promote careers in agriculture for a job, hearing their need for welders and those willing to work was something I understood.

  3. Elm Creek Agronomy – Elm Creek Agronomy is a Pioneer seed dealership and chemical sales company owned by two friends. It was  neat to see how an idea blossomed into a large business who now does soybean seed treatment for an entire region of dealers, including competitors! Here we were treated to lunch complete with high oleic soybean oil potato chips – made from soybeans that are being grown for the first time in Martin County to produce high oleic oil. Pioneer sells the Plenish brand seed that produces a more nutritious, longer lasting, and safer cooking oil!

    Elm Creek Agronomy

    Elm Creek Agronomy installed a new precision seed treater that serves many regional seed representatives.

  4. CHS – We were able to tour the CHS facility by bus with one of their employees. During harvest, they have over 1,500 trucks delivering soybeans per day – so many that they have to use the nearby fairgrounds for overflow! They ship out 50% of their meal by truck and another 50% by rail. Over 10 counties supply them with soybeans, so farmers from all over the region are trucking into this facility. For every bushel of soybean that comes into the plant, they can produce 42 pounds of soybean meal and hulls AND 1 1/2 gallons of soybean oil!
  5. Easy Automation – This company just floored me with where they started and where they are continuing to go. They haven’t been afraid of innovation, expansion and investment to get where they are going! Their company automates the facilities that make livestock feed. They deal in three areas: software, controls, and equipment. Their system allows traceability so they can track every single ingredient in case of a recall, and their systems are extremely accurate. They are currently working to innovate the water purification systems as well as decrease the overall cost of biofuel production with their new businesses. What I found most interesting what their committment to employees and communication in their business. Each employee had posted outside of their office space, the best ways to communicate with them and how they handle situations so you would know how to best interact. They also recently opened up a Mankato office in order to allow those that commute the option to work remotely a few days each week too.

    Easy Automation

    Easy Automation also manufactures equipment along with software and controls.

  6. Windmill Farm – I have always been fascinated by wind power. Mark and I have frequently talked about putting up a small wind turbine with a magnetic motor just to power our future honey house. The windmill farm we toured was huge! It was all because some area farmers got together and decided to invest in this new power generation system. There were different ways and options for area farmers to get involved by leasing land, buying into a turban or investing in the LLC they formed. These wind turbines spin at 188 mph when they are at pull production and have a life expectancy between 20-25 years. What I found interesting was in order to do maintenance on them, they have basically an ultrasound machine that scans the blade with ultrasonic photos to determine any issues! Neat how a system used for medicine crosses over into energy production.

    Windmill

    Windmill Farm in Martin County. In case you are wondering – each one has a lift assist in there to get to the top so you don’t really have to climb all those ladder rungs inside.

  7. Hog Barns – Our last stop on our day full of tours was a hog barn owned by a local 19-year-old. Yes, you read that right. 19 years old. I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do in life (some days I still am) and this young man in college, had built his own barn and was now leasing it out to an area hog operation. They owned the hogs, he owned the building. His family said it was one way for him to work towards coming home to the farm. The electronics that control feed, water intake, heating and ventilation systems and just about everything else, are all available to check, change, and automate from smartphones and tablets. This allows this young man to attend college and be able to check on how much water the hogs are drinking all at the same time! It was quite impressive!

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    Discussing the electronics and systems that control the hog barns from an iPad.

Working in a bigger city, I often hear how disconnected consumers are from the farm or rural Minnesota. We need to understand how rural Minnesota is an economic driver for our large cities. Martin County, although rural, is an economic hub full of entrepreneurial spirit that is making an impact at a local, state, national and international level! From opening a second office in Mankato to giving us the pork that is on our BBQ all summer long, we are impacted every single day by the farms and agriculture communities that make up Minnesota.

We ended the night at a dinner event called From the Ground Up, hosted by Project 1590. Project 1590’s mission is to enhance the vitality, livability and health within Martin County. The economic impact and driving force of agriculture within Martin County is very strong, something Project 1590 recognizes and From the Ground Up serves as a fundraising event each year that connects consumers with farmers and their food.

Decor at From the Ground Up

The rustic decor at the tables was gorgeous.

From the Ground Up

Our menus and programs for the evening. Sons of Butchers catered the event – Martin County natives and now a BBQ team.

Food at From the Ground Up

Sons of Butchers BBQ. I even tried the spicy jalapeno sausage and it was actually quite good – even if I had to guzzle water after ;)

The food was amazing, as were the people. One of the farmers I met, I actually had interviewed her sister at my previous job for a story so it was fun to make that connection and learn a little more about their operation through dinner time. It was also fun to learn why people stayed in the community after moving there for a job. At the end of the night, I was wishing I was moving to the Fairmont area after hearing how amazing it was to raise a family there.

It was a beautiful evening full of great food and great conversation. I ended my night by fueling up at a local gas station before making the trek back home, only to be met by faces of cattle starting back at me on the other side of the pumps. It truly was where the county meets the city, and a slice of a thriving rural area that Minnesota shouldn’t take for granted.

At the end of the day, we should all learn a little more about what makes the areas of this state tick and how they are all interrelated. If we start to understand the full circle a bit more, and the impact the agriculture sector has on everything from electronics to the trucking industry, maybe the conversations we have will continue to be about collaboration and moving our communities forward to the future.

Thank you to Martin County, the Project 1590 crew, and all the volunteers for a wonderful day and an eye-opening experience for farm kid/farmer/ag employee who continues to learn all she can about this great industry!

-Sara 

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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

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

 

A Series on Vietnam…Part 5: Looking to the Future

Vietnam is a country of 94 million people. Of that, nearly 70% of the population is 40 and under. That makes for a very young population, that is looking to the future of Vietnam.

The amount of entrepreneurs in Vietnam never ceased to amaze me. From the pop-up shops on corners, to the rows and rows of fresh vegetables and fruits at the market, to the fact that every single house sat on top of a coffee shop, a seamstress shop or a leather shop, you were completely immersed in the commerce of the country. You could hop on a motor scooter for $20 or a quick ride if you were brave enough, and Jeff in our group was brave enough!

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It seemed as everyone was working or operating a business in some shape or form. The towns were always bustling, people were drinking coffee or having lunch with friends and family, and people were making sales in their shops.

The fact that Vietnam does have a very young population means that the country will have to look towards job growth in both public and private sectors. Poverty is a problem in the country. The country has already started to initiate certain workforce programs. We were able to visit one restaurant, called KOTO, that had a really awesome mission. KOTO stand for Know One, Teach One because learning should be passed on and knowledge is meant to be shared. It definitely fit exactly what we were all doing there with MARL. KOTO has two training centers, on in Hanoi and one in Saigon, where they train students in the hospitality industry. The idea is to give students practical, tangible skills and assistance to gain employment in the fast growing restaurant and hotel industries in Vietnam. They learn English as part of their training as well.  The concept was simple – provide the training and it will help uplift them from poverty through skills and employment. We decided as a group to donate a brick for their wall. If you donated a set amount towards their mission, you were able to have an engraved brick go up in their restaurant. So if you ever visit Koto in Hanoi when you are in Vietnam, check for a brick with MARL Class VIII on the wall.

We were also able to visit an art shop where they worked to employ youth either in painting, crafting, sales and business. I purchased a few items while I was there, a cute whimsical painting for Harper’s room of a cow, a chicken and a spotted egg, as well as a silk embroidered scene of Vietnam.

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I talked about how we were able to visit the Reunification palace my last post. The reunification palace was renamed as such to serve as a symbol for the reunification of North and South Vietnam moving forward after the war. The country has moved forward after the war. Their tourism industry is thriving, and understandably slow. The people we encountered at our restaurants, our hotels, and our tour guides were all amazing. They were kind, generous, helpful, and very friendly.

Outside of the reunification palace.

Outside of the reunification palace.

The country is focused on growing their economy through trade. When we visited the TCIT terminal in the Cai Mep port, they talked about growth and how important the TPP agreement was to them. They built to be able to expand and take in more goods as well as ship out more goods. Their utilization was only at about the 65% level, so increased utilization was built into their initial business growth platform because they knew their business would be growing.

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The country does have to work on things like infrastructure – did I mention the electrical is a bit questionable there? And they are in the process of building roadways and a new airport. It just takes a very long time in Vietnam. Corruption within their government entities is a very real issue.

I do believe with such a young population, this country will be an exciting one to follow with where they go with trade, business, and tourism moving forward. The flight is a doozy to get over there, but so, so worth it if you are looking for a place to travel.

My trip to Vietnam was life changing, and one that I don’t think I will ever get to repeat any time soon. The people, the food, the colors, the smells, the scenes…everything was just breath-taking. I don’t think my words could ever do it justice. I hope you enjoyed my series exploring my MARL trip to Vietnam. I am so thankful that the MARL board sent us to this amazing place.  If you are a MN resident, especially a MN farmer, consider applying for the next MARL class. Applications are open through May 17th. 

-Sara

A series on Vietnam…Part 3: Agriculture

One of our main reasons for visiting Vietnam was to learn about the agriculture industry in another country. We wanted to know more about how our imports to the country are used, how livestock are raised, what the economic values of certain crops were, and how food was treated overall. At the end of the day, 75% of us in MARL are active producers, so seeing agriculture up close in another country is one of those things that make us all giddy inside.

Rice is one of the main staples of food dishes and the agriculture economy in Vietnam. We were able to visit with a rice farmer, and see first-hand how rice is grown. Luckily for us, since we traveled from North Vietnam to South Vietnam, we were able to see an entire crop’s life cycle from planting to transplanting to harvesting to burning off the fields at the end.

A Vietnamese farmer transplanting rice

A Vietnamese farmer transplanting rice

I never really thought much about the rice I eat until I saw all of the hard labor that these farmers put into their product. At the end of the day the might make $500 a year for their crop, and they might get 2 crops a year in the North, and 3 in the South. They transplant all the rice into perfectly straight rows because when they plant it they just sort of throw it into the field so it seeds itself in clumps. Most still hand harvest all the rice, but some do own a small harvesting machine.

Burned off rice fields after harvest

Burned off rice fields after harvest

Out walking in one of the rice paddies.

Out walking in one of the rice paddies.

We were able to tour a pineapple farm. I knew pineapple grew on bushes, although some in our group thought they grew on trees. Pineapple is hand harvested here as well. I don’t think I would like that job – they are very spikey! We learned that the smaller the pineapple, the sweeter it is. The Pineapple farm is also in the process of diversifying so they have planted passion fruit as well. Passion fruit grows much like our grapes do, on vines utilizing a trellis system. The Passion fruit then hangs down underneath and is picked when ripe. If you haven’t had passion fruit yet, I highly recommend you try it. It is delicious!

Pineapple!

Pineapple!

Passion Fruit Vines

Passion Fruit Vines

When we visited the pineapple farm, we were able to speak with some of the farmers that operate a section of it. The farmers also had honeybees in their yard. It was interesting to see how bees were raised in another country, and another climate. For them, they basically just get a continuous flow of honey at all times, rather than here in Minnesota where we have to let the hive build up enough honey stores to winter them over.

honey bee hive in Vietnam

honeybee hive in Vietnam

We were also able to tour an organic veggie farm where they were using seaweed for their fertilizer. They grow a lot of herbs there, lettuces, chives, and sprouts. They have easy access to seaweed which is known as a fantastic fertilizer full of nutrients for plants. The farmers dig about  4 inches down in the dirt, place the seaweed in and then cover the bed with dirt again. They the plant directly into the bed. We were able to practice watering some of their vegetables…although I’m not sure any of us did a very good job!

lettuce leaves at the organic farm

lettuce leaves at the organic farm

Organic gardens

Organic gardens – some of the netting you see in the back is an attempt to keep birds away

I am thankful for water hoses, sprinklers and irrigation systems!

I am thankful for water hoses, sprinklers and irrigation systems!

Aren't all those shades of green beautiful? And that freshly turned dirt...I'm ready to garden now!

Aren’t all those shades of green beautiful? And that freshly turned dirt…I’m ready to garden now!

Fishing is also a large part of agriculture over there. They use a few different net systems – one a hand net, and the other one is a large net that is raised and lowered “mechanically” (speaking loosely on mechanically here) to catch the fish. there are also many fishing boats that go out to the ocean.  There is also a lot of fresh water fish available – basa fish, similar to our cat-fish (and there is a lot of controversy over the industry there) are readily available. There aren’t limits here, and size isn’t part of catch limits either. Some of the fish they would fry to eat were tiny! As I stated before, Oyster farming is also huge down there. It was interesting to see how they were raised vertically in the water.

I'm not really sure how you even eat those tiny guys! I definitely came away with a new appreciation for the laws we have involving fishing in the US!

I’m not really sure how you even eat those tiny guys! I definitely came away with a new appreciation for the laws we have involving fishing in the US!

One of many fishing boats we saw.

One of many fishing boats we saw.

One of our favorite stops, was to a modern hog operation in Vietnam. The owner raises primarily Duroc hogs, and was very interested in what the Duroc’s looked like where we were from. The owner new his data everything from average birth weight to the size of litters to how many head he would keep for replacement versus sell. The hogs were kept in what I would call more of an open confinement system. It reminded me of the hog farm I grew up on as we had an outdoor, open feed lot for our hogs. The manure handling system at this farm, was not something you see at a typical US hog farm. They separate the liquids and solids, and bag the solids for fertilizer. In the US typically hog manure is pumped and spread on the field as one, not separated.

Some of the boars at the hog operation.

Some of the boars at the hog operation.

The manure separating setup.

The manure separating setup.

But, I think the strangest thing we encountered at the hog operation was the tattooing of hogs. From what we gathered through our interpreter, was that he uses the tattoo as a way of marketing his hogs – kind of like showing them off or making them fancy for the market there. By doing so, his competitors and buyers know that they are getting a good hog because the tattoo shows it is one of his hogs and his are prized.

Some of the tattoos this hog featured already.

Some of the tattoos this hog featured already.

Tattooing a pig.

Tattooing a pig.

Agriculture in Vietnam uses a lot of Water Buffalo to plow fields, provide beef and even milk. Not many things are done with a skid loader or a tractor, but with the water buffalo. Water buffalo are an important piece of agriculture in Vietnam because without it, they would have to be working fields completely by hand, and they wouldn’t be providing the beautiful leather hand bags many of us purchased in Vietnam as well.

Water buffalo being used for getting a rice paddy ready for planting.

Water buffalo being used for getting a rice paddy ready for planting.

Yes, I road a Water Buffalo.

Yes, I road a Water Buffalo.

Agriculture looks vastly different over in Vietnam just because so much of it is done by hand. The prices they earn for their products are drastically lower as well, part of this is because of it being a communist country. There isn’t really a free market to help set the price. They have different weather issues so things like grain storage and animal housing look different or operate differently.

That being said, it also looks the same. They don’t get to control the end price of their product, just like many of us here that farm. They care about bettering their operations and are searching out ways to do so. They are also worried about the same things we are – the weather and the prices. Their families work alongside them, just like many of ours do too. Some farms are multi-generational just at our farms are here in the US.

I really appreciate the work, the detail, the dedication every one of the farmers we visited with displayed. They love what they do, just like we do.  Many of them are continuing the family farm, and at the end of the day, you have a lot of respect for everything they do to provide a living for their families.

-Sara 

A Series on Vietnam…Part 2: The People

One question I’ve gotten a lot has been “What was the best part of your trip?” My answer has been easy, the people.

The people we encountered in Vietnam were fantastic. The hospitality we received was over the top everywhere we went. I’m talking about a group of 30 Americans dropping in on homes, farmers working, and more, and they rolled out all the stops to talk with us, make us feel comfortable, and open up their homes to us. Every single place we went we were greeted with tea, smiles, and asked if we needed anything or if everything was up to our satisfaction.

There are a few people who stand out in my mind that we encountered.

The farmer telling us about her rice paddies.

The farmer telling us about her rice paddies.

One of the first farmers we visited was kind of on a whim. Our bus has pulled over to a rest stop and we asked earlier if we could see some of the rice paddies up close. Our tour guide went across the road and set up and arrangement with one of the women who was transplanting rice to speak with us. In Vietnam, women are some of the hardest workers out there. Women are often seen in the fields versus men. The men are often seen socializing, drinking, or playing games with others as that is often their job – to be social – while women are working.

At first, this woman was embarrassed because she was dirty, and was worried she didn’t look very nice. But as farmers, we all completely understood what it was like to be muddy and in work clothes. She talked to us about her work, and what she did all with a smile on her face. A few of my classmates thought they would try transplanting rice with her. I think it was an art form none of us were cut out for. She had straight lines and was so quick it was unbelievable. Whitney, Ben, and Lona on the other hand definitely struggled a bit. They all said they came away with a new-found appreciation for just how hard that is, even just staying in the bent position for so long while transplanting.

Ben, Whitney and Lona attempting to transplant rice in the paddies.

Ben, Whitney and Lona attempting to transplant rice in the paddies.

Next, was the farm family that our bus dropped in on while touring pineapple fields. We were allowed to go see the fields and tour them, but being that we are a bunch of rural folks for the most part, we wanted to talk with those who were working in the fields. Again, our tour guide went and asked a family up the way if we could talk with them about the pineapple farm we were visiting. They graciously opened their home to us to come visit with them, see their kitchen, ask questions, meet their family, and so much more. They gave us a glimpse into what life was really like for them, and the culture of family that was so important to them.

Our entire group meeting with the Pineapple Farmer and his family.

Our entire group meeting with the Pineapple Farmer and his family.

When one of my classmates asked what was most challenging for them as pineapple farmers, the farmer answered the weather and prices. We all laughed at that answer. We went half-way around the world, and found common ground with them, as that is exactly what we worry about as farmers back home.

They opened up their home to us and offered us all tea.

They opened up their home to us and offered us all tea.

Even though we had a language barrier with the family, we were able to communicate with smiles, gestures and with the power of technology, photos on iPhones! One classmate, Luke, gave one of our Minnesota gifts to the farmer. The farmer reached up and hugged him and even kissed him on the cheek with tears in his eyes! Clearly, this was a pretty special moment for all of us, but I think Luke had the experience of a lifetime with that gesture!

The family hand harvests all the pineapple. The father, has retired and now his sons take care of him and his wife.

The family hand harvests all the pineapple. The father, has retired and now his sons take care of him and his wife.

Finally, I want to talk about our last tour guide, Steven. Steven had quite the story about his Dad and the Vietnam War. One choice by his Dad set the course for their life in Vietnam post-war. Steven often said he asked his Dad why he didn’t go to America to make a better life. He said many times, he would love to come back to the U.S. with us.

Steven got a few of us to try out holding the snake. I was not one of them.

Steven got a few of us to try out holding the snake. I was not one of them.

Steven was an amazing tour guide. He was extremely knowledgeable, extremely gracious, and we had an absolute blast following his pink raccoon around all of our tour sites. We never left anyone behind so his trick must have worked on our big group! Steven worked hard to make sure our every need was met as a group, and dealing with all of us can be quite tricky sometimes! When the request was made to try real, roadside Vietnamese coffee, he found the perfect spot for us and even paid for all of us! Mind you it was only $17 for all of us to have coffee, but what an awesome gesture of hospitality!

Steven was an awesome tour guide!

Steven was an awesome tour guide!

I think what struck me most about Steven was how entrepreneurial he was. He operated as a tour guide for hire and you can follow him on Facebook if you ever visit Vietnam and need a tour guide – I highly recommend him! Plus, he owned real estate that he rented out or would sell at a later date when the prices increased with the growing tourism and economic state of Vietnam.

We received these stand-out encounters with everyone we met from those who rowed us in Sampans to those who greeted us at hotels. We asked, and they delivered. We
loved learning about their culture from their love of family to their work ethic. I want to end this post with some additional photos of the faces we met in Vietnam. I don’t think my snapshots do justice to the people we encountered, but I wanted to share a few just the same.

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-Sara

Talk Farmer to Me: Top 5 Words We Use That Mean Other Things

As farmers, we sometimes forget that not everyone knows what we are talking about when say things like a ripper, a chute, or a dryer. Or at least, different images come to mind then what we are actually referring to. We definitely speak a different language than most out on the farm! Here are the top 5 words commonly used on our farm that might not be what you picture.

Top 5 Words We Use on our Farm that Mean Other Things

  1. Leg – No, not your leg. A grain leg. A grain leg is essentially a steel box that has a belt with “cups” on it. These cups lift up the grain to the top of the bin and dump it into the bin. A grain leg is operated by electricity, rather than a tractor. They are considered safer than an auger, but are also more expensive.
  2. Dryer – I’m not talking about a dryer for your clothes. A dryer is for corn. Corn often comes out of the field at a higher moisture content than the cooperatives and companies we sell to will accept. This means the corn has to be dried down prior to shipping it out. The dryer typically operates on propane, and dries the corn down to a certain moisture percentage.

    This is our grain dryer and grain leg set-up at the farm.

    This is our grain dryer and grain leg system at our farm. We also use augers to unload the bins into our trucks.

  3. Tile – I wish we were installing new tile in our bathroom and that was what I was talking about when we were spending money on this! However, the kind of tile farmers are referring to is in their fields providing water drainage. Older drainage tile was clay and cement, new tile is a black plastic tile and has small perforations. The tile looks like a long, round pipe and comes in a large coil usually. Fields are tiled to whisk water away from the top of the soil which causes run-off, and instead, filters the water down through the soil.

    Out ripping round during fall harvest

    Out digging ground during fall harvest

  4. Digger – We’re not talking about taking a good fall or a dog that likes to bury bones. We often use this term interchangeably between a field cultivator and a plow. A digger is a piece of equipment we use to work the field ground. It typically involves lifting the soil or turning the soil over. Although, I’m thinking digger might just be a good name for the next farm dog.
  5. PTO – Unfortunately, there isn’t any paid time off on the farm. There is however, a power take-off (PTO) system  used to power farm implements. The PTO shaft can hook up between the tractor and the implement (can vary from augers, grain carts, manure pumps, feed mills, feed mixers, etc.), allowing the implement to draw power from the engine of the tractor. We use it typically to power an auger to unload bins.

 

We’ve had some great submissions already to our post! Do you  have one? Let me know and I’ll add it to the list!

  1. Yield (via Wanda at Minnesota Farm Living) Wanda mentioned, we aren’t referring to a yield sign on the street. We are talking about what our fields are yielding for the crop. We measure in bushels per acre. A bushel is a measurement of mass and varies from each crop, and an acre is roughly the size of a football field.
  2. Marketing (via the Green Acres Report) We often think of Marketing as your 5 P’s – Price, Promotion, Product, Placement and Profit, but in the traditional sense of marketing a cheeseburger at McDonalds or a clothing line from American Eagle. We use the P’s in grain marketing, but a little differently. Price – right now – yowza! If you are a corn or soybean farmer, breaking even can be a struggle right now – we try to find the best price for our grain at various elevators. Product – that’s our grain our livestock in some cases. Placement – I guess we could say we grow items we know are good for our land and growing season, as well as what is marketable in our area. For instance, green peas are marketable here, but not everywhere. Promotion – our commodity groups do a great job of promoting our products and the various uses for them, and farmers do a great job as well! Finally, Profit – which right now is slim pickings! We want to make a profit so we can continue to farm, provide for our family, and frankly, eat out and have a beer at Buffalo Wild Wings once in a while! So if you hear us talking about marketing, we are more than likely trying to market our grain and not create a Facebook campaign.

-Sara