Farming

Thank You Mom For Making Harvest Look Easy

My mom always told me that in a marriage, sometimes someone was giving 150% to help your spouse through. In farming, those wise words couldn’t be truer.

My mom always prepared large harvest meals for our family. The gentleman who did our custom combining for us, along with my dad, and siblings, would all come in and sit around the kitchen table each night for about 45 minutes with an amazing meal that my mom prepared.

Everything from roast beef or pork roast with mashed potatoes, corn, squash, fresh homemade bread, and always dessert, usually a homemade apple pie or brownies would be waiting for us. My dad always took that time to stop what he was doing in the field and come in for supper. Luckily for us, growing up, all of our fields were relatively close in proximity to our home farm which made it possible.

I often think about my mom running us kids to sports and other activities, getting laundry done, some years working a job in-town, others being a stay-at-home mom. She always made sure my dad had a thermos of coffee and breakfast before heading to work in town or to the fields. She did a lot during planting and harvest, for all of us.

My mom always went above and beyond for our family during those tough spring and fall seasons on the farm.

She taught me that I was capable of anything. That being strong and independent was just part of the farming lifestyle. Taking my daughter to her doctor’s appointments, gymnastics lessons, grocery shopping, the museum, etc. all by myself would just be part of this new season of my farming life, and it is one she showed me how to do with grace on a daily basis.

Sometimes, it is those that are behind the scenes in harvest that are the unsung heroes. The ones we don’t see pictures of driving tractor or combine, but instead are folding laundry, tucking kids in at night, cooking meals for harvest crews, feeding livestock, or sitting down to pay all the bills each night. They keep the home running while someone is in the tractor from 7am to midnight, and do their best to give a few comforts of home during that time.

When you are a farming family, it truly takes a team to make it all work. It may mean that one of you gives 150% for a while to keep it all going. This is the industry we live and breathe.

So thank you Mom, for all you did for our farming family growing up. You made it look easy, and I never thanked you enough. And for teaching me that sometimes a hot thermos of coffee and fresh cookies are the best thing you can send with your husband when he’s going to spend 16 hours in the tractor, thank you for that too.

-Sara

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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!

    hog barn automation

    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 

3 Answers To Your Questions About Bees

You’ve got questions? We’ve got answers! Bees always bring up a plethora of questions from what do you feed them, to how do you treat them, to what do you do with them in the winter. They are a very unique livestock that helps produce over $20 billion in products in the U.S. every year.

  1. How many bees are in a hive?

We buy our bees in a 2lb. or 3lb. package when we start a hive. Depending on size of the package, initially a hive starts out with anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000 bees on average. Every hive has three types of bees – a queen, worker or female bees, and then male or drone bees. A hive will contain one queen bee, a few hundred drone bees, and anywhere from 30,000-80,000 worker bees.

 

  1. How much honey does a hive make?

Honestly, it varies every single year. Some years they are great producers, other years they slack a bit. It truly depends on the individual hive. But on average, a hive should produce in the 75lb. to 125lb. range. However, our hives are always left with two deep boxes to feed on throughout the winter.

 

  1. What can we do to help bees?

This one is simple – plant lots of pollinator friendly plants that bloom at various times throughout the growing season! One of my favorites to plant are zinnias. You can also use feeding pollinators as a really good excuse to your significant other when you don’t get to mowing the lawn right away because dandelions often serve as a first source of food for bees. Support local beekeepers and buy your honey from them when you can.

What other questions do you have about raising bees or honey extraction? Leave a comment and hopefully we can help answer your questions!

-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

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

When Life Gets Crazy

How many of you sometimes feel like you are sinking? Surviving on coffee? Your hair has been dry shampooed for the 3rd time this week?

I’m raising my hand right there with you.

When Mark took his new job, we didn’t realize it would take him away from home so much, but with a company just breaking into the US market, his territory has been GIGANTIC. I mean, 4 states worth gigantic. It has been a daily, weekly, and monthly struggle with never knowing if he will be home one night or gone mid-morning for a week-long trip. It has been frustrating, challenging, and frankly, very lonely. It probably hit home the most when Mark wasn’t able to make it back for Easter. There are days where I feel like I’m barely surviving between chores, trying to renovate a house, pay bills for 2 places, take care of selling our other house, and making sure Harper’s needs are met, all while still being a solid employee at work. I am thankful for my boss who has been very understanding as my schedule has flexed to accommodate our crazy schedules.

Our house renovation has been as slow as traffic on 494 during rush hour. There are days where it feels like we will never get anywhere. We made the decision to box up all of our stuff and move to our camper to live until our renovations are complete. Camper living is a game changer that I’m not sure I can fully describe unless you have actually done it with a 1 year old. We have all the plumbing fixed thanks to one of Mark’s talented friends, the roof is done, walls are ready for new electrical, and waiting for drywall. Tile has been purchased, a new shower/tub unit is waiting, and the vanity top is ready to go on the cabinet. I have the paint color picked out for the upstairs and downstairs bathrooms. Still working on paint colors for the rest of the house. Paintable wallpaper by the way, is my saving grace for some of this house. We have “new” to us appliances thanks to my Aunt and Uncle who graciously gave us their set waiting to go in the garage. We do have to do a modification to the ceiling in the kitchen, and are debating if we just try to refinish all the hardwood floors at once and pull up all the vinyl. I also still need to paint all of the kitchen cabinets and get new hardware…it never ends. If you know anyone that likes to paint, we pay in honey!

Speaking of which, we started a really awesome new Pollinators Superhero program with our honey! We  know not everyone is into keeping bees, and frankly, we all shouldn’t be due to lack of forage out there and disease, but we know people like to help pollinators and learn about honeybees, so in 2016, you can actually sponsor a hive. You will receive a photo of your hive, details about it, a 1lb jar of honey, and a chance to come visit us during extraction! There’s even an opportunity to be able to paint a hive the color of your choice and engrave it! What a unique gift idea for that hard to buy for person in your life! You can find out more here.

There have been plenty of days of craziness in our household. I have also realized that it is okay to go to bed at 8pm if you need it. Really. It won’t be the end of the world if the laundry stays on the couch for the week unfolded. I swear it. If you don’t have a chance to shower in the morning because your husband is on a fire call and the baby is up, just use the dry shampoo. No one will notice. If you have to wear boots covered in dirt and plaster dust into a restaurant to have a quick lunch because you forgot to pack sandwiches, just do it. No one minds. Don’t feel bad if you need a Dr. Pepper at 8 at night because you have to stay up late finishing your own homework. Be proud of yourself for continuing your schooling.

Hope anchors the Soul

At the end of the day, my prayers are often for strength. Strength to get through each day, and strength to be able to find contentment in what we are physically able to accomplish at the house, rather than the lack of what is getting done. I also try to pray for faith in my future and not fear of the unknown. Putting it all in God’s hand at the end of the day, but also knowing he has given me the ability to work and work hard, to provide for myself and my family, and with that comes hope. Hope for the kind of future we want for Harper, as well as for our personal farm plans. That things will come together, slowly but surely. It might not always look pretty, but we can say at the end of the day, we did it ourselves. We didn’t have anyone giving us it. Someday, we will probably look back on this time in our life and say, man did we survive on a shoestring. Surviving sometimes seems like all we do in the midst of chaos and living in a camper. In the meantime, I reflect on this verse…

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” Hebrews 6:19

May you also find that hope anchors your soul in the midst of the chaos we call life. May we still find time for snuggles and bedtime stories, 8pm Dr. Pepper’s, and still be able to laugh at each other when all is said and done. Hope anchors the soul, and you were made to thrive…

-Sara

 

Farm Safety. All Day. Every Day. Even in Broad Daylight.

We often hear messages about road safety during planting and harvest season. But what about during the summer months when farmers are cutting and hauling hay? Or when sprayers are on the roads going field to field?

Ag safety is a huge thing for me. Many know, I lost my dad to a work related accident so prevention, and not what to do after an incident, is a big deal to me. I don’t want another family to go through what mine did. I want my husband and myself around for Harper, and I don’t want an incident to occur with Harper either. It is easy to point the finger at someone else when something happens on their farm, until it happens to you. Then it becomes a problem. Operating under the notion of “everyone does it” or “it won’t happen here” doesn’t  cut it.

Lately, I’ve noticed some area farmers becoming lax on one of the easiest farm incident prevention measures out there…your hazard lights.

Four-ways. Flashers. Hazards. Warning Lights. Call them what you do in whatever area of the county you live in.

But for Pete’s sake, TURN THEM ON. Even in broad daylight. Do not leave a yard, a field driveway, or a pasture without them on. I don’t care if it is 2pm in the afternoon or 6 at night. Turn them on.

It boggles my mind that I even have to type that. That there are farmers who aren’t turning them on. A simple flip of a switch, and you can prevent a car accident that could kill a neighbor or yourself.

The hubs and I recently made a 4 hour drive to pick up equipment. You can bet that the strobe light on top of the rollback was going the entire 4 hour drive home because we knew we would be moving slower, and that the equipment took up additional road space.

As farmers, we can blame people all the time for passing us on the roadways, giving us the finger, etc. and yes, sometimes it is the inability for a driver to be patient that an incident occurs, but if we can prevent it or make sure we are doing everything in our power with something as simple as a flip of a switch, then we should be doing it.

All the time. Every day. No excuses.

I’ll keep this post short. Getting home safe starts with us making the right choices. Turn your hazards on.

Simple safety tip - make sure your slow moving signs are cleaned off and visible before moving from field to field.

Simple safety tip – make sure your slow-moving signs are cleaned off and visible before moving from field to field.

-Sara