Labor Dept. needs some country living

People love to talk about ‘change.’  It’s understandable, because many things have changed over the years.  Probably one of the most easily recognizable is technology.  I now e-mail, tweet, post to facebook, watch video, check markets, navigate through cities, find restaurants and gas stations and a lot more on my ‘smartphone.’

Sometimes, I even make a phone call.

Girl and her calf on a Jackson, County Kansas farm

Modern Agriculture has changed dramatically too.  The amazing advances in technology make it the most efficient, productive, and environmentally sound food, fiber and fuel producing system in the world.

But a couple of things about agriculture have never changed, and the Department of Labor doesn’t understand it.  That’s why we now have what could be the most misguided proposal for the overregulation of agriculture we’ve ever seen.  You see, the Dept. of Labor wants to basically keep kids from helping, or working on the farm.  In the real world, that’s absurd on so many levels.  But Washington D.C. bureaucracy is not the real world.

Apparently, the Dept. of Labor doesn’t think youth under 16 can be around cattle, operate a mower or tractor, milk a cow, or cut weeds.  That’s just a few of the restrictions the new proposal would implement. In other words, many things I did growing up on our family farm, and all others before and after me, would be illegal.

I was starting to drive a tractor, ‘driving’ a pickup in a pasture to fix fence, riding horses to move cattle, and feeding cattle at around 9 yrs. old.  Could some of this be dangerous?  I suppose so.  But does the Dept. of Labor actually believe that my parents wanted me injured or killed?  Just as farmer Chris Chinn from Missouri told Congress in her real-life testimony on the issue, She, and I, were hurt more often and much worse at school than we ever were on the farm.  The farm is the perfect place and opportunity for parents to teach common-sense safety rules and precautions, the responsibility of handling expensive equipment, and the values of work.  That work ethic, and other skills and values I learned on the farm, has served me very well as an adult in my employment, relationships, finances and more.  We don’t need to keep kids from working on the farm, we need to get more out there.  I remember my city friends at school who came to see me on the farm, and some worked during the summer.  Their parents knew it was good for them to learn the responsibilities of taking care of animals, the value of equipment, the importance of a work ethic.  These kids were better adults because of their time on the farm.

The Dept. of Labor needs some country living.  Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran has invited Labor Secretary Hilda Solis to Kansas to see personally how these proposed rules can threaten the family farm and its historical value.  I hope she comes.  She needs to see the value system, the work ethic, and the skills learned on the farm.  I thank Sen. Moran and others in the Kansas delegation who are keeping up the fight to do away with this misguided overregulation.  If you grew up or work on a farm, you can help, too.  Just go to www.keepfamiliesfarming.com and tell your story.  Much of Washington D.C. doesn’t ‘get’ the value of rural living.  We must teach them through our action, or lose a heritage that will hurt everyone.

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A reflective harvest

Getting ready to unload on the go

Harvest is a tremendous time of year.  Growing up on a farm, and now working in town, harvest is an annual event I so look forward to.  It gets my mind clear.  I love the open air and space, I love reconnecting to a unique and wonderful group of people who grow food for all of us.  These people are the salt of the earth.  Their values, their caring for each other,are a tremendous boost whenever I’m there.

So, when our tenant called last Friday morning and said the corn dried out earlier than predicted, and they’d be in our field in the afternoon, I called my wife, we loaded up, and headed to the farm.

As we happily drove, with excited anticipation of being on the combines, tractors and trucks, watching the culmination of the miracle of growth of a crop, we saw some sobering sites.  As we passed many fields on the way to our own, we saw that this year would be different.  Farming in SC Kansas, we were on the edge of the severe drought that hit the Midwest this year.  We saw dryland and irrigated crops that didn’t look like year’s past.  We knew what that meant.  Many farmers would struggle this year.

Making room for more

What we also knew was ours was far from the worst.  Further west in Kansas, and into Oklahoma and Texas, many farmers had nothing.  The further we went, the more we reflected on our fortune.  No, we wouldn’t have the crop of past years, but we were blessed to have what we did.

We made it to the farm, rode the combines, tractors and trucks, and watched the corn flow.  It was still a wonderful harvest, but we did take time to talk about and ponder what could have been, and what was reality just a few miles west and south of our farm, as well as some who were not as fortunate right in our area.

Farming can be a teacher for all aspects of life.  When we think we don’t have what we want or all we’d like, we should consider others, who would be ecstatic just to have what we have.  We always try to count our blessings.  This year some of those blessings came in small yellow kernels a lot of good people didn’t have.  Take some time to count your blessings.  I’m betting you have more than you think.

It’s tragedy, not politics

I hesitated for a long time debating with myself whether to write this, but as time went on, writing it won, so here is a ‘get it off my chest’ blog about the atrocity that is the shameless political use of the terrible tragedy that occurred in Arizona involving Dem. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.  I’ll go through some points, then have a comment on something curiously missing from the debate.

Now is probably the time to say that while I would rate myself much more conservative than anything else, I have no personal or professional allegience to Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, or any other conservative commentator or politician, and certainly do not always agree with their views, though sometimes I do.

As soon as the shooting occurred, a host of hypocrites who apparently cared little about the victims, and more about not wasting a good tragedy, started blaming everyone from Sarah Palin, to any other conservative for prompting the action.  They also clearly wanted to imply that it is only conservatives that voice such things.  It was nuts, and thankfully, most of the nation has said so, but here are just a couple of thoughts:

Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, nor any other conservative made this deranged nut in Arizona do this.  Got it?  He had threatened a host of people in the past, having nothing to do with politics.  This guy acted on his own.

Just to preserve a little balance, check out this diatribe from a Democrat who said a GOP governor should be shot. Still think this is a one-sided political discourse?  There are plenty more examples out there.

Also, the ignorant hypocrites who say they want more political ‘tone-down’ can be directly attributed to the host of death threats that Sarah Palin, Limbaugh, and other Tea Party members are now receiving.  Which side of their mouths would they like to speak from next?

Then come the gun control extremists.  Again, not wanting to waste a tragedy.  Well let’s look a little deeper into the Arizona situation.

This sheriff  Dupnik, (or is it Dipstick?) not only showed his political side, but just may be have been covering his own rear end.  It seems after some investigation that Dupnik knew Jared Loughner.  Loughner had been making death threats by phone to many people in Pima County including staff of Pima Community College, radio personalities and local bloggers. When the Pima County Sheriff’s Office was informed, his deputies assured the victims that he was being well managed by the mental health system. It was also suggested that further pressing of charges would be unnecessary and probably cause more problems than it solved.  One source said it may have been because Loughner had a relative working at the sheriff’s office.  I have no idea.

I do have an idea of the end result.  If the sheriff had arrested Loughner, and pursued charges, including felonies, Loughner would never have been able to purchase the gun he used in the killings.  Should the sheriff be held accountable?   The sheriff was well aware of the political discourse, and apparently felt Loughner wasn’t a threat.  How did he become a threat after the fact?

Do we want to tone down the political rhetoric?  Then let’s have the decency and ownership to say it needs to happen from all corners.  But let’s also note that rhetoric or not, and though it would be very beneficial to have a more reasonable discourse, nobody caused this madman in Arizona to perpetrate these terrible acts, and anybody trying to score political points at the expense of the lives of those lost and injured, should have their values checked.  It is amazing the blinders that can be placed on agenda-driven issues.

Oh, that item curiously missing from all the political exchange?  Thankfully, it appears Rep. Giffords is improving.  Funny you have to hear that from general sources, not the idiots trying to score political points.  I have no doubt I probably don’t share many of Rep. Giffords political views, though I may be surprised.  But I do pray for her complete recovery.  And I also pray for the victims who did not survive and their families.  Another tragedy has been that apparently a few (not all) of the victims, have joined the chorus of trying to blame someone other than Loughner for their pain.  I hope they wake up soon.

There is a bottom line here.  We are people, let’s start acting like it.

In the eye of the beholder

You hear a lot about media bias.  And yes, I believe there is a great deal of it, to the point that I believe very little  journalism exists from the network level down through major dailies, and even below.  Sometimes it’s not even hidden, sometimes it’s by omission, and often it’s by headline because many people are just headline readers.  You’ll also see bias in how some information not really wanted, but that must be included to at least imply impartiality, will be slipped in as late in the story as possible because so many others don’t take time to read all of an article.

Well, I ran across such an article the other day.  I’m not even going to get into the subject matter of the article itself and whether the action was right or wrong, that’s not the point.  I Just wanted to show the effect of the written word, depending on your views.  Here is the original article, word for word.

 

California Approves Use of Cancer-Causing Pesticide
Fresnobee.com via AP

FRESNO, Calif. — California pesticide regulators have approved a cancer-causing fumigant for use by fruit and vegetable growers, despite heavy opposition from environmental and farmworker groups.

Officials announced Wednesday that the state Department of Pesticide Regulation will register methyl iodide as a substitute for the pesticide, methyl bromide.

Methyl bromide is being phased out by international treaty.

The agency tentatively approved methyl iodide’s use in April, despite concerns by a scientific advisory panel that it could poison air and water.

Regulators insist the chemical can be used safely and say strict guidelines will be followed.

Tests have found no traces of the carcinogen in fruit from treated soil. The pesticide already is registered in 47 other states.


OK, from the headline on, you get the gist.  They may as well have said, “How could these people have possibly done this?”  As if to avoid it, at the end, if a reader goes that far, you finally see that 47 other states have approved it, and tests show no traces of chemical on the fruit.

But, if a regular observer/consumer is reading this, what if it said the following? Note the information is the same.

 

California joins 47 other states to approve agricultural economic tool
wherever.com

In what some are saying is overdue and could restore the fruit and vegetable growing sustainability of the region, California regulators have joined 47 other states in approving methyl iodide, a protective fumigant for fruit crops.

Following tentative approval in April, the state Department of Pesticide Regulation has now officially approved the crop tool, citing testing that show no traces of carcinogen in fruit after its use.

Methyl bromide was targeted for phase-out by some countries as part of an international treaty, forcing a substitute for the protection of California fruit crops.

In spite of safe testing results, some environmental groups are opposing the action, but regulators stress that the tool can be used safely and effectively under the guidelines imposed.

 

Sound a little different? If anything can be taken away from this, it’s that we should be careful of not only what we read, but how we read it.  We also need to make an attempt to put personal bias aside, and see if there is actually a jewel or two of truth we can discern.

Still plenty to be thankful for

Sometimes you wonder.  All the political bickering, the bashing of agriculture, misinformation by some groups who are trying to mislead the public, or just don’t know better.  What a mess!

But wait, let’s take a breath. Here are a few things to remember and be thankful for.  Call it a top ten list, not necessarily in any order.

1. OK, this one’s in order for me. First, thank you God for my life, your work in it, and the work I know is left to be done.

2. I’m thankful I can have Thanksgiving with my wife, daughter and other family, and pray for those who can’t.

3. Thanks, AgChat Foundation, for helping to get farmers to tell their story, so consumers can better know the truth, and know that the people who grow their food care about the land and animals.

4. A big #foodthanks to the farmers and ranchers who grow the food for this world, and especially all of those who are joining the #agvocate ranks.

5. Thanks to those who haven’t always agreed with me this year.  Some of you are hopeless :-), but truly, most of you have been great to visit with, and I’ve truly enjoyed the exchange of information.  I hope the learning and respect has gone both ways.

6. I’m thankful to live in a country where we are still free, and where our food is safe and abundant.

7. I’m thankful for my travels, where I’ve seen hungry people and know with the right plan farmers and ranchers can feed them, where it’s possible help them better feed themselves, and also feed a growing population, even through political challenges.

8. I’m thankful my work life brought me back to agriculture, where I can stay in touch with farmers and ranchers, help them do their jobs better, and support their ability to grow my food, and food for the world.

9. Thanks to the soldiers, the men and women who fight so we can take so much for granted, even though we shouldn’t (see no. 6).

10. Thanks for one of the best parts of my year, going back to the farm for harvest, and being refreshed by the farmers and ranchers who care for their land, water, and animals, and for the genuine honor they have, the humble attitude, and wishes to pass their legacy on to the next generation.

An additional thanks for the hope that we can have another year ahead, and somehow, some way, it can be better.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Our rural getaway

 

Cattle among Kansas windmills

We dearly love our disabled daughter.  She is the best teacher we’ve ever had, and her example of unconditional love and acceptance of others is a lesson she teaches everyone she meets.  However, as with any parent, sometimes it’s nice to escape with your spouse for a short ‘getaway.’

Now, ‘getaways’ can be across the world, across the country, across the state, or across town.  The point is it’s a great time to catch up, recharge, and enjoy whatever surroundings you have.

Most of the time it’s thought the best getaway is in the city and all of its stores, restaurants, entertainment options and whatever.  But this time, we chose to go the other direction, to western Kansas.  What?!??  you may say.

Well, we headed to our alma mater, Fort Hays State University, to see what had been done over the years since our last visit, planned to take in a Saturday football game, and just enjoy the western Kansas cropland, farming communities, and in general small town, rural Kansas.  It was good to see the contented cattle in the Flint Hills, the rural economic development of the large wind farms doing their part for our energy needs, the farmers cutting soybeans and planting wheat, providing everything from bread for the world to tofu for, well, those who eat tofu.

Other good things:  A smile from those who didn’t know us, but have that rural hospitality about them that makes you feel welcome, no matter who you are.  A wonderful jump back to the past remembering the sites and special places on campus where we studied, goofed off, played tons of tennis, took special walks, and fell in love.  Cheering for our team, maybe over zealously, but feeling that we helped them almost defeat a highly ranked opponent, even though it really shouldn’t have been much of a game.

We saw some old friends, too.  They hadn’t changed.  When you grow up in rural America you’re instilled with values and a work ethic that stays with you for a lifetime, and is a reassuring constant for that ‘culture.’

We had a fantastic time.  We got recharged, we got back to some basics, we had a chance to appreciate rural America, and small-town America.  We don’t get too many chances to get away, and we have such a great time with our daughter, our supposed getaways often include her anyway.  But the next time we go, we have a new option.  It may not be the city lights, the restaurants, the crowds, the whatever.  We may get back to our roots again, and enjoy the special places and special people that are rural America.

Fall harvest: A cycle of life

Growing up, I always liked September.  Along with cooler weather, the new car models were introduced, football season was upon us, and as a farm kid, fall harvest was a major event for the year.  This year was no different.

Loading the grain cart on the go

Now, though, I appreciate it even more. The equipment is more modern, some of the crops have changed, and the markets are much more volatile, but the feeling of caring for the land and the appreciation of the crop it produces is the same thankfulness of long ago.

For a farmer, this recurring cycle of life from the land is a rite of passage renewed each year.  It’s that cycle that supports the family, feeds local consumers, and feeds the world.  A farmer has a real advantage over most others.  In no other profession can you each and every day help support the lives of so many people.  The family that farms our land affects many.  Not only does their work help support our family, and the other families they farm for, it also supports their own four families, and the several other families and individuals that work for them each year, either year-round or seasonally.  That doesn’t begin to include the local grain handlers, transportation providers, grocery stores, millers and other processors, livestock feeders, ethanol producers and others.

Grain flowing on a perfect harvest day

When a harvest comes in, there is a tremendous satisfaction that a year’s labor has been worth it.   Whether a hundred years ago or today, when the grain is flowing, there is a thankfulness that comes from knowing that again you’ve been blessed with a crop.  It’s fun to see the looks on the proud faces of all those workers involved.  Everyone is part of the harvest family.  The owners, the farmers, the farmworkers, the grain elevator staff, everybody who has a part in bringing in the harvest, shares a joy few can imagine.

Our friend and tenant Darrell harvesting

Even though I now work in the city, I hope I never have to miss this time of year.  It lets me leave the stress and chaos of  ‘city life,’ and gets me regrounded in what I believe is the single most important industry in the world.  When you see the faith, the work ethic, the caring for the land and each other, and the pride of farm life, you never want to leave it, and if you must, you long for the next chance to return.  There is no better place to be.