Remembering the Greatest Generation – And Raising the Next

This week has been dedicated to the service and remembrance of President George H.W. Bush. And rightfully so, he was a great leader and great man.

I was in grade school when President Bush (#41)  was in the White House so my memory of him is faint. But when I think of President Bush I think of my grandpa, a fellow WWII veteran and passionate Republican, who discussed politics with my father frequently.

That passion for politics was passed on to me and I now get a front-row seat to Congress and the functions of D.C. – all from the comforts of my family farm.

But my thoughts while listening to President Bush’s funeral ceremony Wednesday were not on politics, but instead on the great service and impact President Bush and those of his generation had on our country and, more importantly, whether my generation and those that follow can match their heroism, strength and wisdom. As a millennial, I fear that we are failing to match the characteristics that made those generations before us great and parenting another generation even farther removed from those values and beliefs.

In his eulogy for his father, President George W. Bush included the following remarks:

“In his inaugural address, the 41st president of the United States said this, “We cannot hope only to leave our children a bigger car, a bigger bank account. We must hope to give them a sense of what it means to be a loyal friend, a loving parent, a citizen who leaves his home, his neighborhood and town better than he found it.

“What do we want the men and women who work with us to say when we are no longer there? That we were more driven to succeed than anyone around us, or that we stopped to ask if a sick child had gotten better, and stayed a moment, there, to trade a word of friendship.”

This passage hit home for me and embodied what I believe is our greatest challenge as parents raising children in a new, different and often complex world.

 

12.4.18 Boys Pic
Owen, age 2, and Evan, age 5, before venturing out in the cold to help their data move cattle.

I work so my sons can have new shoes, hot meals and John Deere tractor toys. I want them to enjoy their childhood and say they lived full and interesting lives. But as we inch closer to Christmas, the urge to buy them “stuff” often overshadows the push to have them volunteer and do good. We’ve been taught that we “deserve” everything and that shouldn’t have to do what is hard or uncomfortable.

Granted my boys are young, currently 5 and 2 years old, but I hope that my early and often attention to volunteering, service, sacrifice and helping others will pay off. I want my boys to understand the love of Christ, the power of prayer, the feeling of empathy for those that have endured hardship and struggle and the willingness to give of their time and talents to help others. I need them to understand that their lives are filled with blessing but they can and should do what is hard and uncomfortable.

Some days I question if all of that can rise above the commercialism, me-first, this-is-too-much culture we’ve created. I like to think that growing up on a farm, with family close at hand, weekly church sermons and a little tough love, will allow my boys to grasp what this life is really all about.

My father tells the story of my grandfather reminding him that going to college at age 18 (the idea of which seemed overwhelming to my father) is nothing compared to boarding a ship and heading east into war – unsure if you will ever see your family again, a theme often referenced in President Bush’s services. My grandfather and those that served this country were giving their lives at the same age those of today’s generation are considering a gap year because they just can’t muster the mental endurance to tackle college after 13 years in school.

My grandpa served his country, worked to provide for his family and give his children every opportunity to better themselves. My father did the same and as I listened to the remarks of those speaking during President Bush’s funeral I realized that my single biggest challenge – and opportunity – is to raise the next generation to be as great as those my sons barely knew but owe everything too. They were the Greatest Generation and I work everyday in hopes that I raise two young men who follow President Bush’s advice and become become loyal friends, respectable neighbors and concerned citizens who take time to care and contribute. Men President George H.W. Bush would be proud of.

Taking Care of our Farmers

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We have three farmers (and two farmers-in-training) on our farm right now. It’s a tough time for anyone in agriculture right now.

To say it’s a bad time to be a farmer would be an understatement the size of the grain piles dotting the Kansas landscape. During the past few years farming has become a losing proposition. Grain prices are down, international rhetoric and negotiations have killed export opportunities and a drought has made it nearly impossible to grow much of anything in many parts of Kansas. Add to that marginal profits, already tight lines of credit and a consumer base that thinks you are doing it all wrong and its enough to make anyone want to throw in the towel.

My husband recently conducted an interview with a local television station on farmer suicide and mental health. I have heard the statistics before – farming has the highest suicide rate of any profession, double that of veterans – but had never really stopped to think about the situation and its contributing factors. It’s a scary statistic and one that has only been made worse given the current political and economic climate.

(See his full interview here: http://www.ksn.com/news/local/kansas-farmer-talks-about-alarming-suicide-rate/1191543047)

When people experience thoughts of suicide or depression they are encouraged to seek help. But my guess is my farmer is a lot like other farmers, not prone to sharing his feelings or airing his struggles. He is a reflective man and often doesn’t even let me in on some of his concerns and frustrations. That mentality is hard to change but it’s literally killing our farmers.

There is so much in farming that cannot be controlled – the weather, rain, trade opportunities, markets, commodity prices, legislation and regulation and rental rates. It’s an industry that buys retail and sales wholesale. It bends to the whim of Mother Nature and commodity brokers and can be undone in the blink of an eye. Farmers don’t do it for the fame or fortune, but they are often the sole income for a family and are the fourth or fifth (maybe more) generation to farm the same land. That puts farmers in a unique but overwhelming situation when the future isn’t clear. Add to that the fact most farmers have never had another job or entertained the idea of working anywhere but on the family farm and you have professionals believing there is no where to go.

The agriculture community has awaken to the mental health crisis in its midst, and the newest version of the farm bill has funding in place to help create or grow support systems for farmers and rural workers. But nothing can change if farmers don’t start asking for help and recognizing the points of stress that can or will lead to more substantial actions and decisions on their part. These are difficult times by anyone’s standards and we must continue to remind our farmers that asking for help or admitting failure isn’t a sign of weakness but a normal reaction to really difficult times.

Where Can You Turn: Thank you to Kansas Wheat for putting together an exhaustive list of resources for both financial and mental/emotional issues as well as options for spouses and others who are dealing with depression. http://kswheat.com/news/2018/02/19/farmer-suicide-rate-is-concerning-but-resources-for-solutions-are-available

Our farm, like most in Kansas, is still alive and operational. We’re in the middle of planting soybeans and moving cattle to summer pasture. We continue to streamline costs and operations, when possible, and pray for rain every chance we get. But as the drought lingers and the politics of farming only gets more hectic, I hope my farmer and others across the country to remember to ask for help and speak up when it all gets to be too much. We love our farmers, without them we would all go hungry and naked.

 

Why All the Beef About Beef?

Owen eating cheeseburger
We enjoy beef in all forms – including the $1 cheeseburgers at McDonalds. Don’t be fooled by foodie elites, all beef is safe and nutritious.

I’ve got a beef with today’s view of beef. Too many times – and it happened again yesterday while flipping through a food magazine – I found an article telling me that hamburger from the local butcher is trustworthy and safe, but beef from the grocery story, well, maybe not.

Sure, the local butcher is probably a good guy and takes great care of his cold cuts. But so too are the men and women of Tyson, Cargill, National Beef and others that process millions of pounds of hamburger every year and do so safely and without incident.

We raise beef cows – lots of them actually – and while our end goal is a healthy animal that produces steaks people would pay $1 million for (ok, that may be excessive but we make really, really good steaks), we know that many of our animals will likely end up in your next fast food cheeseburger. And that’s ok. We just want you to enjoy beef.  Our animals are sold to large beef companies that then distribute the beef to restaurants, food service companies and grocery store chains. We keep our animals healthy and trust the companies producing the end products will likewise keep the beef fresh and safe for consumption. How do we know? Because federal inspectors are in processing facilities daily and put their seal of approval on nearly everything that goes out the door to the public.

Likewise, the neighborhood butcher is inspected and overseen by state and/or federal inspectors. What’s the difference? The butcher’s beef stays in house while the other must be transported. But that extra step does not compromise the quality or safety of the beef you pick up from Wal-Mart or Costco or enjoy at Wendy’s and Burger King.

In fact, many fast food restaurants are also getting into the game and keep a close eye on the beef they serve. Yep, even Micky D’s (https://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en-us/about-our-food/quality-food.html) As a whole, the beef industry collectively spends more than $550 million each year on testing, interventions and other safety strategies.

Thousands of ranchers, just like us, take pride in our animals and the beef we produce. We trust the companies that package and deliver that beef to your favorite bar or drive-thru and know that your $1 cheeseburger was created with the same quality beef that can be found in the corner meat market. It’s all antibiotic-free, raised on grass and loaded with 10 essential vitamins and minerals.

 

5 Reasons To Love a Farmer

It’s Valentine’s Day so while it is not the only day to express my love for my Farmer, it’s a good day to remind others why it’s great to have a Farmer for a valentine. I’ll admit, being married to a farmer is never easy, but there are so many great parts of being a farm wife, living the farm life and waking up with a farmer each morning.

1. They are care takers: Before we had kids, my husband was already taking care of babies, animals and living things all around our farm. I appreciated his willingness to stay up all night with a newborn calf or slosh through mud to help a mother cow that was having trouble giving birth. He showed me early and often he knew how to care for others.

2. They drive big tractors: While the appeal of a tractor has diminished slightly over the years, the idea that my husband gets to command big trucks, huge tractors and even bigger combines is always something worth bragging about. The best part is they all come with buddy seats so there is always room for me to hitch a ride (and maybe even enjoy a date night in the field).

3. They don’t have an 8-5 gig: I always say my husband is flexible but not always available. He doesn’t report to an office and doesn’t punch a time clock which means he can get away from the farm when he needs or wants. It’s not always that simple but if there is something I want him to join me for or need him to attend to, there’s no asking the boss for vacation time.

4. They can fix anything: My husband may not be as skilled in the “fixin” department as others but he usually has the tool, trick or duct tape to jimmy rig about anything you need. The one thing he can’t do – patch the holes in his jeans or replace the buttons on his shirts. I’m guessing sewing is one skill he won’t be picking up anytime soon.

5. They have big hearts: The last but certainly not least reason I love being married to a farmer is their big hearts, kind souls and Midwest manners that make them gentleman and all around great guys. Most of my husband’s farmer friends are great husbands and fathers as well. Farmers grew up learning the value of hard work and aren’t afraid to pitch in when it’s needed. Farmers are some of the best people you’ll get a chance to meet – as long as you don’t mind a little mud on their shoes.

Want to reach more about life with a farmer hubs, check out some of these great blogs by fellow farm wives:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/jenny-dewey-rohrich/15-real-reasons-to-date-a_b_4688680.html

https://wfbf.com/blogs/nothing-like-a-farmers-love/

https://www.gracegardenandhomestead.com/how-to-love-a-farmer/

2017: Adventure Awaits

derek-at-silos

As 2016 came to a close, I found myself at my computer several times, attempting to summarize and reflect on the year that was. It was quite a year for the Sawyer family – kicked off with the birth of our second son, Owen, on Jan. 5 and accentuated with tough times on the farm, a second degree for me, two big trips for the hubs and the start of pre-school for our oldest son, Evan.

It was a whirlwind of a year and one I will never forget because it taught me just how much our family can manage and endure. From an early-rising baby to an always-on toddler and a husband who works way too many hours, it was a year of learning and growing.

But 2017 is here and with it comes a host of new opportunities and adventures. On Tuesday I will officially start in my new position as District Director for Congressman-elect Dr. Roger Marshall. I believe in what he stands for and his desire to represent our district, put constituents’ needs first and be a voice for agriculture in Washington D.C. I will remain in the district, acting as the eyes and ears of the Congressman and his D.C. staff. It’s an honor and privilege to have this opportunity and I look forward to the many great Kansans I will have the opportunity to meet and get to know.

Unfortunately, hubs will endure the lions share of the challenges as grain and cattle prices continue to lag. Crop prices sank in 2016 but record yields allowed many farms, including ours, to make it. If the rains don’t come and yields fall, 2017 could be disastrous for many in the farming community. To add insult to injury, many necessary inputs continue to rise, meaning our costs will again outpace our revenues. We have invested in the various crop insurance and farm management programs available to us but nothing replaces strong exports, rising commodity prices and continued demand for our products. (See chart below for illustration of farm income.)

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Owen will continue to grow, change and learn each day. Evan will continue with pre-school, moving to a pre-K program in the fall. We’ll figure out a new normal with my new job and Derek’s continued demand of the farm, Farm Bureau and other organizations he’s involved with.

We all look forward to a happy, successful and productive 2017. It won’t be without headaches, heartache and hard times but we’ll endure and continue farming, laughing and growing.

Cheers to 2017 and happy new year to all!

Generations of Good Genes

June Calf Max for Beef Empire Show
Max is one of my son’s steers. He’s a good looking young man and will represent our farm in the Beef Empire Day steer contest.

When Derek and I were newly married, I accompanied him to the sale barn. He was selling some cow-calf pairs and then a lone calf that has lost its mother. I hated to see the calf sold so I made a deal with Derek that if it didn’t bring more than $200, I was going to buy it from him.

Two hours later, we were headed home with a calf in tow 🙂 Fast forward a few years and this bottle calf is now a mother cow named Jo. She’s a great cow and has produced three calves: two heifers and a steer.

Jo happened to have her first heifer calf the year our oldest son, Evan, was born. We decided this lady would become Evan’s first cow – in what we hoped would become a growing cow herd. The cow, which I named June grew to become another great cow and gave birth to a steer last spring that my son named Max. Max is a good looking young man who is now a full grown steer.

This spring, after my husband and I welcomed our second son, Owen, Jo had another heifer calf. We named her Daisy. Meanwhile Evan welcomed a second heifer to his herd, we settled on the name Sally – after Lightening McQueen’s girlfriend in the movie Cars.

Not only are we teaching our sons about animal car and the responsibility of ownership, we are building them a cow herd that will pay dividends for years to come. Ask Evan about his cows and he’s happy to tell you all about them. Owen’s a little young to understand but we hope that he too will grow to love our cows and way of life.

This year, Derek decided to enter Max in the Beef Empire Days steer show. It’s pretty cool to see one calf make such an impact on our farm and family. Jo will be in our herd for many more years and will, fingers crossed, continue to mother great calves. And with any luck June and Daisy will follow in Jo’s footsteps and help our sons continue to grow their herds.

Farming and ranching is a family business and we doing what we can to make sure our way of life continues onto the 5th generation.

 

Milestones and Memories

Three generations of Sawyers found a little time to play in the sand.
Three generations of Sawyers found a little time to play in the sand.

Above my bed hangs a small black-and-white photo of the Sawyer family and the men who have shaped our farm and family. The photos is of a young Derek, standing on a feed bunk, supported by his grandpa with his father behind them, all three gazing at a pen of cattle. It’s a simple yet memorable photo that encompasses the family aspect of farm life that hasn’t changed over the decades.

With three generations of Sawyers on our farm, I am always looking for opportunities to capture my own generational snap shot. I often assume it’s the big events that will generate those moments but as I’ve learned, when it comes to toddlers, it’s usually the simple things that make the best memories.

It’s rare that all three generations of Sawer males are in the same place, at the same time, and all holding still. But I managed to get a few pics while all three worked together to build a sand box for Evan’s second birthday.

It wasn’t a big ordeal but it was a small slice of time that I hope we will forever remember.

We like to recycle on our farm so when we decided to build Evan a sand box for his birthday, an old tractor tire was the perfect option.
We like to recycle on our farm so when we decided to build Evan a sand box for his birthday, an old tractor tire was the perfect option.

The photos encompass what makes farming so unique and special: The ability for fathers, sons and grandsons to work and play alongside one another, all carrying the same passion and working toward the same goal.

Even as the technology, the markets and the crops we grow change, one thing will remain the same: The passion to work with the land, grow products to feed and power the world and raise a family on the same land as the generation before.