Thursday, September 15, 2016

Sharing dairy at the fair [Dairy Star Column]

It all started with a simple question.

We were standing next to the Butterhead Carving Booth in the Dairy Building at the Minnesota State Fair. Monika was gazing, her nose almost pressed into the glass, as Linda Christensen carved a dairy princess's likeness into a block of butter. She was still beaming from meeting Princess Kay of the Milky Way Haley Hinrichs.

Dan and Daphne were finishing the last spoonfuls of their ice cream treats. Glen and I were visiting with a couple of fellow dairy farmers.

There was another family sitting nearby - a mom and dad and two boys - finishing their malts and sundaes. That's when the other mom caught my attention and asked, "What is this place called?"

She was sharing a post on Instagram about how much they liked their treats and wanted to get the name of the Dairy Goodness Bar right.

I told her the name and suggested that she tag Midwest Dairy and the Minnesota State Fair in the photo. She said she had never tagged anyone in a post, so I showed her how. While I was helping her, the older son figured out that we were dairy farmers. The boy, who is about Dan's age and equally talkative, started peppering us with questions about living on a farm. Before long, Dan and the boy were caught up in conversation like long lost friends.

A couple minutes later, our family and theirs were both ready to move onto our next fair destination. They were going to the midway to find the rides. We were going to the poultry barn to see the chickens and rabbits.

"Can we walk together?" the oldest son asked.

The mom and I looked at each other, shrugged a little, and said, "Why not?"

That's how we found ourselves walking down Judson Avenue, trying to keep two families with two strollers together as we wove our way through the crowd of fairgoers.

As we walked, we talked. Dan and the oldest son volleyed between questions about farm life and questions about Pokémon. The mom and I talked about dairy farming and our families. The family of four was visiting the Minnesota State Fair for only the second time, after living abroad for several years and then moving to the Twin Cities a couple years ago.

I think Glen and the other dad were left wondering how on earth this random, instant connection actually just happened.

The conversations continued into the poultry barn. The other family hadn't planned to visit the barns because of one son's asthma, but they decided a short visit into the barn would probably be all right.

So there we were, standing between the chickens and the rabbits, when the real questions started.

[Read the rest of this column in the Dairy Star.]

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

If you died today [Hoard's Dairyman Post]

At the urging of a good friend, I started listening to podcasts while traveling. If you’re looking for a way to make your next road trip thought-provoking instead of mind numbing, a good podcast will do just that.

One of the last podcast episodes I listened to had me thinking so hard that I missed my exit. And I’m still thinking about it now. Specifically, there was one line in the podcast that hijacked my attention: “I might die today.”

At first blush, the thought is a bit morbid (pun intended). Taken in context, it’s not quite so bad. The podcast creator is talking about how we, as humans, tend to fear death and run from our mortality. He encourages listeners to instead embrace mortality as a reminder to carefully use our finite time on earth.

So I’ve found myself thinking, both casually and intently, about mortality. As a farmer, mortality probably isn’t such a bad thing to ruminate on. Farming is still one of the most dangerous jobs in America. Perhaps considering our mortality might help us remember to be a little more careful around equipment and animals.

And perhaps considering our mortality might motivate us to better plan for the unthinkable. If you died today...

[Read the rest of this post in the Hoard's Dairyman Notebook.]

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Do you pay your kids? [Dairy Star Column]

By the time most of you read this, my kids will be back in school. I always approach the start of the school year with a mixture of dread and relief. Dread because I know I will miss my children. Relief because Dan and Monika are starting to get on each other's nerves and the bickering drives me crazy.

This year, my conflicting thoughts are dwelling on another realization: We're losing our helpers.

This summer, we gave Dan and Monika their first real farm chores. They've been helping with a variety of chores since they could walk, but this summer, we turned responsibility over to them for some of our daily barn chores.

Their jobs were relatively small - scraping the walk, cleaning stalls and putting fresh shavings down - but their help was definitely noticed. And the responsibility did a lot to improve their work ethic.

There were days when it would have been quicker to do the chores ourselves. But, we want our kids to understand the importance of finishing the job and doing it well. We also want our kids to learn how to communicate and work together in a work environment.

I was chatting with a couple of farmers recently about kids and chores when the topic of payment came up.

"So, do you pay your kids?" one of the farmers asked.

[Read the rest of this column in the Dairy Star.]

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Good sportsmanship [Dairy Star Column]

On the field or in the ring, whether we win or lose, it's important to do so with grace and a smile on our face.
youth softball

With bases loaded and two outs, the player up to bat is facing a full-count last pitch. The pitch is thrown. The batter swings and misses. Does the batter's team respond with a disappointed sigh or "that's OK, you'll get it next time"?

The judge has the class of yearling heifers all lined up and is about to make his placings final. You're standing at the top of the class. Then, at the last minute, the judge rearranges the lineup and you end up third in the class. Do you walk out of the ring with a frown or a smile?

A couple weeks ago, both our youth softball season and our youth showing season ended. This was my family's first year with a child playing in the local softball league and the second year of showing dairy cattle in 4-H.

youth dairy show

Both softball and showing were great experiences, with lots of learning opportunities. As I look back at both seasons, I find myself thinking about the importance of role models in each of these activities. Specifically, I noticed the way older players, exhibitors, coaches, leaders, and other parents demonstrated sportsmanship.

The softball league Dan played in is made up of kids ages nine through 14, so each team includes players of all ages. Dan was lucky enough to end up on a team with a group of kids who were playing to learn and have fun. This was Dan's first time participating in a team sport and his first time playing softball or baseball, so he had a lot to learn. The older kids on his team and his coaches did a great job teaching and encouraging him.

Dan's team didn't finish the season with a winning record, but, more importantly, they played every game with positive attitudes and good sportsmanship. They did win one key game, though.

In the first round of the league playoffs...

[Read the rest of this column in the Dairy Star.]

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Telling our story in person [Hoard's Dairyman Post]

Social media should not replace face-to-face advocacy.

Almost every co-op meeting, checkoff organization conference, or dairy industry event includes a speaker or breakout session about telling our story, and for good reason. If we don’t show the world what happens on our dairy farms, someone else will try to do it for us.

Often those advocacy sessions focus on telling our story through social media. Again, there’s a good reason why. Social media gives us access to a nearly limitless audience.

I always say that I can’t give farm tours to thousands of people on a regular basis. There’s not enough time in a day to host daily tours and get chores done. Plus, very few people want to visit my farm in the dead of winter. Social media lets me share my farm and my life 365 days a year.

But social media should not replace in-person advocacy.

In-person advocacy can be as simple as chatting with the person sitting next to you on the airplane (Talk about a captive audience!) or as formal as speaking in public about dairy farming.

I was reminded of the importance of advocating in person earlier this month. Three other dairy farmers and I participated in a panel discussion about farming at a food bloggers event in New York City. After the panel, the most common response I heard was, “That was the best part of this event. I wish we could have had more time to continue the conversation.”

When we tell our story in person...

[Read the rest of this post in the Hoard's Dairyman Notebook.]