Worlds Apart

I feel fortunate in my work to have a front row seat to lots of different kinds of agriculture. As I’ve changed positions through my career, I’ve had a chance to deeply learn different pieces of the business. Agriculture is deep and wide. There’s so much to know that you can’t possibly know it all. Twenty-nine years ago, when I first became a farm broadcaster, I remember being overwhelmed with all there is to learn about Midwest agriculture. Often, I turned to my dad with my stupid questions.

The learning has never stopped.

Today I was working on writing a video for one of my clients, an ag equipment company. I was far into the detail of this machine that’s designed to help a producer farm more acres and plant them all in a smaller window of time. Big, big, big. Just then, I received a Facebook notification from a farmer that I met through a non-profit that is my other client. This farmer is from Nigeria and was sending me a picture and a video of his farm.

Benjamin in fieldHe appeared in the first picture. He told me via instant messaging that he was preparing his field for planting in that picture. He told me that he put one seed in each hole and spaced them 75 cm by 25 cm.

From the other side of the world, six time zones forward, we were having instant conversation. He was sharing cell phone video with me, but showing me an agricultural technology to plant his crop that couldn’t possibly get further on the spectrum from the seeder I was writing about.

The video he shared was of his tasseled maize. I turned on the sound and heard his goats. He loves his goats. They graze on his land. He breeds them and sells the young ones. I mentioned that in the U.S. I have seen this crazy trend of goat yoga. I sent a video link, which he’d watch later when he had better internet. I sent a picture too. “Look at those cute little goats,” he said. There was that farmer’s soft spot.

We’re getting ready for our annual event, the Global Farmer Roundtable, where we meet a new group of farmers from all over the world. This will be my fourth time attending. Every year is a new crazy adventure, but each time I drive home exhausted, with a big smile across my face, richer for the new relationships.

I grew up on a farm and watched my dad get up at crazy hours seven days a week to milk cows. As a broadcaster, I interviewed hundreds of farmers who were propelled forward by nothing but their passion sometimes. With the worldview that I have now, I see those who figure out food production with minimal resources and fight for access to technology.

I love the chance to make the world smaller, by helping to build relationships across it. I’ve found that farmers everywhere have a lot in common, whether they’re driving an enormous tractor at the head of an air seeding train, or hand planting a seed in a hole. They have important dreams, an incredible work ethic, and big hearts. So while the fields and the technologies are worlds apart, the ideas, the innovations, and the goals don’t have to be.



Grocery Store Game Show

IMG_3336Last week I bought delicious blueberries for 99 cents a pint. That was such a great deal, and they looked SO good that I put three pints into my cart. Since I’m really the only blueberry eater in the house, tonight I’m freezing blueberries.

Grocery shopping is kind of a competitive sport for me. I’m not a super couponer, but I do pay attention to what things cost. That’s probably what’s using up all of the space in my mental hard drive. For most every grocery item I buy, I know the “best deal” price. I just bought a carton of 18 eggs today for 69 cents. That would be my best deal price on eggs.

One day I saw a man at the store picking up butter. There was a great sale that day on Land O Lakes butter, and without even looking at the prices, he went straight for the store brand butter, which was now twice the price of the fancy butter that comes wrapped in half sticks. Twice the price.

This is why I don’t really want my husband grocery shopping. He does that too. He would choose the store brand butter without looking. He laughs at me when I stock up on toilet paper at $4.99 for a 6-pack of 4X rolls or when I get a bunch of laundry soap that’s $1.99 for the 31 load bottle. Yeah, the same guy who goes around the house shutting off lights behind everyone.

I should probably be on The Price is Right.

All of those items: blueberries, eggs, butter, toilet paper, laundry soap are sometimes twice the price or more, depending on the item. Those prices cycle up and down from one Wednesday to the next. If you buy enough $4.99 TP, you can make it until the next time it’s $4.99. This takes research and restraint.

Yet, some people don’t even look. I have one kid in graduate school and another starting to look at colleges. I look.

Recently I ran into a former co-worker at the store. He’s marketing a food product and was asking my advice on how to understand his target customer. I was vaguely aware of the product. He said his cost was $2.50 per item but it retailed for $10. When I buy that item that he sells, I’m never going to pay $10. I don’t think I’ve ever paid $4 for it. Clearly I’m not his target customer. He confessed that he felt guilty for having the non-GMO label on it, since he grew up in farm country and knows what GMOs really are.

I have been irritated for years by companies that have to slap that fraudulent label on things. And now it all made sense to me. It’s all about profit. And in his case, he knows there’s a reason to feel guilty about it, even if he doesn’t fully understand the big picture about who gets hurt when companies do this. It’s about profit, and about finding people who don’t look at prices or don’t understand labels. And sometimes I think buying grocery labels is almost as much a status thing as buying a designer purse or those fancy shoes with the red soles.

The organic label is a status label. I would guess most people who are buying organic produce have no idea what it even means. It does not mean the produce is grown without pesticides. It makes me laugh to think of the lost status flaunting opportunities when we someday buy our groceries through Amazon, with no one watching.

I guess we’re lucky in the U.S. because we don’t live on less than a dollar a day and our food prices are a relatively small percentage of our paychecks. So maybe that’s why people can literally buy essentially the same items and leave the same store spending double what I do. I hope those are the people I’m competing against someday on The Price Is Right.


The Hardest Mom Work

We’ve all seen those stats about what a mom would make if she truly got paid for all of the jobs that she does. I have even seen a variation recently that included Skype interviews for people thinking they were applying for a “general manager” type of job – when the interviewer started asking if they could perform some of the feats that we ask of moms. The resounding answer was “No way do I want this job!”

One of the pieces that is hardest, I think, is the work of worry. I know. We’re not supposed to worry. Inhale. Hold it. Let it out. And it’s all supposed to go away. But motherhood is TOUGH.

Looking through Facebook today, there are all of the loving pictures of everyone with their mom. Or their mum. (I have Facebook connections all over the place.) If you look closely at mom, there’s good reason for all of the worry lines, the gray hair, hidden or not.

Here are three moms I know personally who have climbed giant mountains of stress these recent years.

Mom number one was the support structure for her son battling depression. He picked the wrong friends. He fell into drug addiction. He broke the law. He risked being moved to juvenile detention. He fell far behind in school. He wanted to die.

She slept on the floor in his room during the worst nights, or on a mattress just outside of his room. She worked with the school counselor. She found a psychiatrist and a therapist and a lawyer. She stood by him, looking for any shred of hope. She saw the good in him. She coached him. She led him through the dark tunnel, all while plowing forward in her own management level career. She worried.

The second mom lost her son to suicide. She lives in another state and I hadn’t even noticed when she was gone from Facebook for a while. When she reconnected, I put the pieces of her posts together and just could not believe the road she has been on. I’m sure today is one of the really hard days for her.

I admire her like crazy for talking openly about what happened, because we lose far too many young people this way. Shining the light of truth on depression and suicide can help save others while knocking down the stigma. Her hard work is grieving while still being present and functional for her other children, for her husband. She rebooted her own career in the midst of all of this. Strength, personified.

The third mom told me she still doesn’t sleep very well. Her son ran away. Over and over. She called the police. Over and over. He didn’t like the rules. He rebelled. He called her a bitch. She stopped trying to force him home. He’s living with friends. I don’t know if she knows where, but he’s in town. He’s finishing high school. Some kids have to learn the hard way, the therapist told her.

She worries about his choices, now that he’s gone from her sphere of influence. She worries if his ego will end up getting him into serious trouble. She goes on with the work of the day, handing over the reins to God.

I look at all of those pictures online. Pictures of moms with new babies. Pictures of old moms with children and grandchildren. Those moms in the middle, on the front lines of the hardest mom work of turning their kiddos into respectable humans….those moms enduring these years close to the kid launch into adulthood, those moms aren’t on Facebook today. They’re sleeping. Or they’re worrying.


Shame on the Internet

Shame-bearI’m feeling shamed right now. It’s not an overwhelming shame like I have to go to confession. It’s that dull annoying shame that comes from the internet. This particular bout of shame comes because I like shopping on Black Friday. There, I said it.

I’m not really any kind of super shopper, but over the last few years, as my kids have gotten older, we’ve found it a fun activity to do together. While I don’t remember many of the deals that we got, I remember how hard we laughed in delirious tiredness in the long line at Shopko a number of years ago. I remember the lady from North Dakota that I met in the line outside of Toys R Us who told us all about how the oil exploration was impacting her personally. I remember sending my son back to the car to get one of our extra coats for someone in line who was unprepared.

But we should be shamed for these terrible acts. Because there are people working in those stores who want to be home. Shame on us terrible greedy shoppers.

The shame isn’t just about shopping. Every other day there’s a new food shame. Shame on GMOs. Shame on antibiotics. Shame on this restaurant for having this ingredient in its food. Shame on cups for not having the right words on them. And shame on the people who want Christmas on their cups.

And there’s shame on big. Shame on big stores. Shame on big farms. Shame on big people. Has anyone shamed big buildings yet?

There’s shame on opinions. Shame on you for how you feel about gay marriage and immigration and refugees from Syria and racism and gun control.

Shame, shame, shame.

I recently read about a young girl, a teenager, who was shamed publicly by her father for doing some stupid teenager thing. She was shamed in an old-new fashioned way. He cut her long hair short, and then posted her shame images on the internet. And the internet follows you everywhere. She committed suicide.

I’m really interested in how our brains work, and sometimes how they don’t. I’m reading a brain book right now. I wonder how shame affects our brains. I want to see a picture of a normal brain (whatever that is) and a picture of a brain being shamed.

A couple weeks ago I attended a social media conference, and we learned about the art of creating a bridge of understanding with people, in an effort to be better communicators. We learned that it’s important to listen and be open to learning, to find a common ground where we can start a decent conversation with people who think differently. To me all of this shaming is like lighting that communications bridge on fire. It’s getting us nowhere. It’s divisive. Shame on shame.



The Best Dumplings

I grew up in a small farm town. Many of the people there were of Czech descent. Thanksgiving dinner typically included dumplings and sauerkraut alongside the turkey. Bramrorove Knedliky is Czech for potato dumplings. That’s what it says in the copied page from Mom’s old cookbook. My mom always made the best dumplings.

Last year Mom spent Thanksgiving in the hospital. It was a rough fall season that started during Nebraska football season, maybe a little before. She started having pain in her legs. She and Dad came over to watch one of the games, and she fell as they were leaving the house. She fell a number of times. As the pain worsened, her ability to use her legs decreased. It took a total of 70 nights in the hospital; four different ambulance rides, to get to a diagnosis and a treatment plan that could allow her to be back home with Dad, in a condition that he could care for her. After a number of wrong diagnoses, she finally had a spinal tap that confirmed Guillian Barre syndrome. Her first night in the hospital was September 16th. She was there for Thanksgiving last year. I remember taking the kids to the hospital with me. They ventured to the cafeteria during our visit to share a to-go container of Thanksgiving dinner. She was home for Christmas, but back in the hospital for New Year’s. Her last night there was January 3rd of this year.

Dad has been an amazing caregiver. At first the home care was round the clock. She had visits daily from nurses, physical therapists and occupational therapists as she worked on getting stronger. She needed lots of help and Dad was a quick student. He’s been her daily advocate through the health care maze.

A year later mobility is still a challenge, but she gets stronger each day, and is much more independent. It feels like the worst is in the past.

I decided to invite Thanksgiving company this year, and really wanted to serve dumplings. Dad brought Mom over yesterday so that I could have a cooking lesson on dumplings. The entry in the cookbook is a short one. I’ve come to realize that the secret of the recipe, the reason Mom’s dumplings are the best, is all about the technique. And the tools. She brought her Kitchen Aid mixer with the dough hook. I pulled out the bowl and she poked her finger in the dough each batch, to make sure the consistency was just right. She showed me her system of how each step should be organized on the counter, so we could move from one batch to the next, processing five pounds of potatoes into dumplings. I remember watching this all unfold in the kitchen on the farm – but I never paid close enough attention then.

The dumplings are in the freezer now. She’s shared her secrets for warming them up, and brought her crock pot over, so that we have an extra one this week.

She seemed a little sad that everything worked so well. That they turned out. That so far, they tasted just like her dumplings, the best dumplings. But that sadness probably has more to do with the passing of ability than the handing down of a traditional recipe. Mom always did such a wonderful job entertaining at the holidays. She loved the decorating and the table setting. She made Christmas ornaments, and folded the napkins just so. And all of the food was SO good.

Now, she still can’t walk independently. It takes lots of effort for her to climb the two steps to get into our house. But I am thankful for the marathon she’s run from last year to this. She’s done it the way that she does everything – with class and dignity.

This year, as we gather around the table, I’ll be especially thankful for the improvement in her health – but also for the years of lessons from my mom, lessons I’ve learned by her example. And for the best dumplings.

The Real Education

6550363c8f3df016When I was in college, I spent a summer working at a nursing home that was 6 miles down the highway from my hometown. I don’t remember what my job title was. It was a very long time ago. But I do still remember some of the residents. There was Joe. He was kind of a funny old man with a loud voice. I helped him shave some mornings. He knew my dad and shared stories about him. And then I would go home and tell my dad, and get another story back. There was Bernice, a lady who was far too young to be in a nursing home, but had some disease that kept her from being independent. She was this crazy scooter driver. I sometimes fixed a lady’s hair or helped someone onto the toilet or helped the nurse change the bandages on a bed sore. Once I saw someone die.

Now we live across the street from an assisted living facility. My 15-year-old son works there, as my daughter did through her high school years.

My son reminds me often, when I’m hounding him about grades or chores that not many kids his age have a job. It’s true. When we talk about other activities that he should be doing at school, he reminds me that not many other kids his age are also scheduling around a job. When he needs extra help at school, sometimes it’s a challenge to stay after school to talk with the teacher, because on the days he works, he has to be there at four. And when he gets home at seven, sometimes he’s kind of wiped out and doesn’t really want to focus on homework.

Life is all about choices. And for all of the times he’ll use this one as an excuse – he doesn’t want to trade it. Most work days, those old people are an endearing part of his day. There’s Hans, who has an accent. My son does an impression of how Hans orders shrimp and a big smile spreads across his face, revealing a lot of braces. He witnesses the spirit of these people in this season of their lives. There’s the cute little lady with the high pitched voice who shares stickers for the young servers to put on their nametags. And there’s the spunky man in the track suit who got a drone for Christmas, and brought it to dinner, attached to his walker.

I think of all my son learns at this job as he bridges himself across four generations to figure out how to make the occupants of the mean ladies’ table happy tonight. He practices patience as he repeats the menu over and over for a few in need of memory support or a new battery in the hearing aid. He learns perseverance as he gets up early Sunday morning for church before his mid-day work shift. And he learns about saving and delayed gratification, as his check goes toward his cell phone bill and the 2016 Sophomore trip.

I’ll let him whine a little, and maybe cut him some slack on grades now and then, because I know right now where he’s getting the real education.