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Archive for the ‘Farming’ Category

HOMEGROWN Life: Thank You, Women of Farm Country

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

 

HOMEGROWN-life-bryce-logo-150x150I sit here in the wake of Thanksgiving, my favorite on the all-too-sparse menu of U.S. holidays, and I really feel the need to express my gratitude. Sure, I could talk about the relative prosperity of modern Americans. I could write about my wonderful family and friends. I could go on and on about my privileges as a college-educated white male.

Instead, I’m going to say a bit about farm women and their role in modern agriculture.

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Farm women deserve all of the credit in the world for the roles they play, as farmers and as workers and providers of income and care. They are critical in all aspects of the family farm. They drive tractors, own land, make meals, tend the younger generations, work off the farm, and more to make sure that family farms keep chugging along. They balance checkbooks, pay bills, bake pies to support community events, and do much of the hard work it takes to keep rural communities churning.

You might be surprised to learn some statistics about the role of women in agriculture. You might not be aware that 30 percent of the nation’s farm operators are women. That share is likely to continue to grow. After all, women tend to live longer than us males—by quite a few years. A lot of women end up owning and controlling a lot of land due to longevity. And they do the work it takes to keep the farm going.

But that’s not the only story. There’s another narrative behind the numbers for a great swath of farm families—those of us who also work off the farm, as we try to keep building our farm assets. Women provide critical family income to help pay the bills and supplement family farm income. They hold down “steady” jobs with benefits like health insurance so our kids can go the doctor when a bone inevitably breaks.

My wife is a kindergarten through high school art teacher at a local rural school. She leaves the house before 7 a.m. every Monday through Friday and gets home right around sundown. Our pay is comparable, but hers provides the regular income and the benefits our family needs to get through the lean times in my farming-and-writing livelihood. She is the real backbone of our family’s economic order.

So, in honor of the women out there in rural America, those who bear and raise the children, those who work hard for paid and unpaid hours, those whose labor is often under-represented and under-respected, I give you a great big cheer of thanks. You are the real heroes of the food system.

It’s times like these when I wish I could summon the courage to be more poetic than I am right now. But just know, I truly appreciate all that you do, Women of Farm Country, to help keep the world turning. Thank you, and may the holiday season be happy and abundant for each of you.

Bryce-OatesBryce Oates is a farmer, a father, a writer, and a conservationist in western Missouri. He lives and works on his family’s multigenerational farm, tending cattle, sheep, goats, and organic vegetables. His goals in life are simple: to wake up before the sun, catch a couple of fish, turn the compost pile, dig some potatoes, and sit by the fire in the evening, watching the fireflies mimic the stars.

PHOTO: ANGIE THOMAS

HOMEGROWN Life: A Farmer Gives Thanks

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

 

HOMEGROWN LifeWhen I realized an entire month had slipped by since I last sent any news from Bittersweet, I was shocked. Where did the time go? Now, with Thanksgiving upon us, I’m wondering where this entire year went.

Before I get into what sounds like more of a New Year’s blog than a Thanksgiving one, I want to say thanks to HOMEGROWN. Thanks for keeping us connected in so many ways with great ideas, great stories, support, and the love of all things farm-related. Without places like HOMEGROWN to keep us connected through the year, farming life would be an isolated and empty place.

HOMEGROWN Life: Giving Thanks

We follow in HOMEGROWN’s footsteps, in keeping with its mission to connect those who love the earth and all it offers. That connection truly does fill our lives with meaning and purpose. I’m giving thanks for many things this week, but especially for the opportunity I’ve had to share some of my farming life through HOMEGROWN. So, thanks, HOMEGROWN. I wish you all a ginormous turkey, the stuffingist stuffing, the most delicious pumpkin pie, and more, during this Thanksgiving week and always.

My thanks this week also goes to my animal family.

As temperatures get colder and winds lash up over the cove, sometimes getting out of a warm bed is a challenge. I make my cup of tea, spotting the outside flock from the kitchen window. The girls are slowly stirring. One by one, they head over to enjoy the bits of hay from last night’s bale. It makes me smile. Fifteen minutes, just 15 more minutes. I crawl back under the still-warm covers and sip.

Then my day gets started.

Opening the dairy barn door, I laugh out loud. Seven sleepy faces look up through the stall slats, each one munching away as their bellies work to keep them warm. Suddenly, I’m warm, too, without the benefit of bed covers or tea. I don’t feel cold fingers or notice the wind howling through the barn rafters. It’s like coming home, like hearing a piece of music so beautiful it makes you cry. You can’t describe it. It can’t be put into words. It melts your heart.

For this, I am thankful. Every day.

HOMEGROWN-life-ireland-4Dyan Redick calls herself “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Bittersweet Heritage Farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross flock, goat milk soap, lavender woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Her farm is also an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food sources, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.

MORE HOMEGROWN WAYS TO GIVE THANKS
The Best Thanksgiving Playlist Ever
United States of Thanksgiving, HOMEGROWN-Style
The 19 Days of Thanksgiving
HOMEGROWN Life: My Great-Grandmother’s Dressing Recipe
HOMEGROWN Life: How to Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey
HOMEGROWN Life: It’s Fall. Time to Eat!
HOMEGROWN Life: An Early Thanksgiving

PHOTO: DYAN REDICK

HOMEGROWN Life: In Defense of Good Food; or, Farmer Bryce Responds to the 2014 Midterm Elections

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

 

HOMEGROWN-life-bryce-logo-150x150“Who are the folks that work at the White House? Why, they’re a bunch of college professors and community organizers who think they’re smarter than all the rest of us.”

Those are the words of yesterday’s 2014 midterm elections big winner, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who is poised to become the Senate majority leader in January 2015. He, and Republicans the land over, ran their campaigns against President Obama. And they won.

HOMEGROWN readers might prefer DIY instructionals about gardening and canning, but that’s not what’s on my mind today. Maybe that’s because I live in a conservative farming community in West Missouri. Maybe that’s because I had to endure a bunch of loony political ads on TV while I was rooting on the KC Royals during their exciting, if unfulfilled, drive for a World Series title. Maybe it’s because of that McConnell quote I heard on NPR Monday evening, blasting the liberal elite professors and community-based organizations trying to stand up to the rich and powerful.

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I can’t seem to get Senator McConnell’s venom for people like me—a college-educated liberal who spent years working as a community organizer for family farmers and against the corporate takeover of agriculture—out of my mind. He put into words a very popular sentiment, and those of us working for local food and family farm agriculture need to wrestle with it.

On the face of it, you have to admit it’s pretty easy to make fun of us local food folks. We spend hours thinking about such important topics as how to best preserve the nutritional value of kale in our meals or which is the best breed of chicken to use for a pot of soup stock. (Eighteen-month-old Barred Rock laying hens do great!) I slapped my forehead when, a few years back, President Obama mused on the troubling increase in food prices by asking, “Have you seen the price of arugula at Whole Foods lately?”

No, Mr. President. I have not seen the price of arugula at Whole Foods. I grow my own.

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So, yes, we’re easy to poke fun at. We take ourselves too seriously. And that’s a big reason why we’re seen as elitist snobs instead of real people with good ideas about how to improve the economy and environment by having more farmers growing real food in a sustainable manner.

Think about what Senator McConnell is saying: Elections and politics are about a war of cultural symbols. During the Farm Bill mess the past few years, critical nutrition and local food and conservation programs were on the ropes. Some good programs were cut severely; others were eliminated. That’s what we’re facing with a McConnell-led Senate. Who cares about the latte liberals and their food stamp machines at farmers markets? We’ve got corporate taxes to cut.

This is all important because the Good Food Movement needs to figure out how to resonate with a broader population if we are to make the change we seek. It’s important to understand the reality of the people working on these issues. We’re incredibly diverse. Yes, you’ve got your Brooklyn fermented-beverage hipsters, but there are also plenty of off-the-grid conservatives who identify the grandest issue of all as the right to drink raw milk. Go to a “small farm conference” and you’ll see all kinds of weirdos doing interesting things.

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I ramble. I know.

Mostly, I’m concerned and frustrated, just like the majority of Americans. I’m sick of a supposedly growing economy that enriches a few at the top while most of us barely scrape by. Heck, my wife had to go back to teaching so we could have health insurance, since it was so hard to make a living off the farm. (In addition to farming, I also work as a writer of grants and such to make extra money). Living without health insurance seemed fine until my son broke his arm while we were building our homestead house, and we wracked up giant hospital bills we couldn’t afford.

My greatest frustration is watching as good people with good ideas who work hard face increasing challenges. Local farm and food enterprises deserve serious support from society, both from “the market” and from public support. It’s a job-creation machine ripe for the picking.

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I’ve gotta get back to the compost pile before my head explodes. I’ll try to be more happy and hopeful next time.

 

HOMEGROWN-bryce-oates-150x150Bryce Oates is a farmer, a father, a writer, and a conservationist in western Missouri. He lives and works on his family’s multi-generational farm, tending cattle, sheep, goats, and organic vegetables. His goals in life are simple: wake up before the sun, catch a couple of fish, turn the compost pile, dig potatoes, and sit by the fire in the evening, watching the fireflies mimic the stars.

ALL PHOTOS BY HOMEGROWN.ORG MEMBERS: (GIRL WITH RADISH) CITY BLOSSOMS; (CHICKEN COOP) AMY; (HIGH TUNNEL) JESSICA REEDER; (SWEET POTATOES) ASHLEE SHELTON