Girl Power and Girl Bosses

11.2.18 Phillips County Vet
Veterinarian and owner of Black Dog Veterinary Services, Alissa Kirchhoff, stands in the home she has turned into an office in rural Phillips County.

I participate in a lot of tours. Normally I’m planning a tour for my boss or I’m hosting a tour on my farm for city folks. But today I sat back, relaxed and enjoyed touring Phillips County, Kansas, with a group of smart, caring and awesome ladies who simply want to make their businesses and communities better.

During the tour we had an opportunity to see four different ladies in action – at their place of work, showing us what they do and why they love living in rural America. We discussed policy implications, opportunities and financial concerns, but the conversation kept coming back to “what more can we do?” “how can we be more intentional with our resources?” and “how do we keep rural America alive and well?”

This tour wasn’t about women’s rights or women empowerment, but what I took away from it was how great these women bosses were and how important their work was to the future of their families and their communities.

The “woman” conversation has been ongoing for a while, sparked by the 2016 presidential election and fueled by the #MeToo movement, supreme court nominees and a general push toward a more modern form of feminism that aims to have a woman in every boardroom and parity in every state and federal elected body. However, I feel the conversation has largely been absent in much of rural America. We’ve all been listening – it’s hard to miss – but I haven’t seen many of my fellow farm wives and small town moms adding to the conversation.

Today I realized why, too many rural women are too busy running businesses, caring for kids, serving on boards and finding ways to uplift one another. The group of ladies assembled in small town Phillipsburg, Kan., today included a veterinarian, two nurses, a school teacher, a nursing home administrator and a sixth-generation farm wife running a large-scale hog operation. These women get sh** done and they do with style and grace (literally good style because of the super cute boutique in Phillipsburg Kan.). They spend their days earning paychecks, caring for kids, playing taxi and now and then taking the time to come together to fundraise for a school project, plan a community event or lend their expertise to an on-going issue.

These women aren’t looking to government to mandate they have a seat at the table, they’re making their own networks, finding their own opportunities and discovering new paths to success. And they do it with busy husbands, limited resources and an optimism that is contagious.

I believe too many women in America are having the wrong conversation, it shouldn’t be how can we, as women, make ourselves equal to men but rather how can women use our unique talents to grow businesses, enhance our communities and bring people together? The women of Phillips County are doing it and it makes me proud to call them friends.

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.

 

Parade Part of Small Town Appeal

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback walks in the McPherson, Kan., annual All Schools Day parade. The parade will be held tomorrow, May 11.

It may only be Thursday but most of the people in my sleepy Central-Kansas town are preparing to check out for the week.

For the past 99 years, my hometown, McPherson, Kan., has celebrated the graduation of eighth graders across the county. It’s an odd celebration that is unique to McPherson but it’s one of many things that make Small Town America the best place to live.

McPherson All Schools Day celebration – which started with evening events Wednesday and will continue through the weekend – originated in a time of one-room schoolhouses. Students across the county would “graduate” from their neighborhood one-room schools and move to the large, community-based high schools to start ninth grade.

The celebration consisted of a parade for the graduating eighth graders and a May Fete celebration that highlighted the talents of students of all ages. The tradition of winding of the May pole was also incorporated into the celebration.

Today, all of those elements remain part of All Schools Day and dozens of other activities – for young and old – have been added to the now weekend-long celebration. The parade – which will kick off tomorrow (Friday, May 11) at 10:30 a.m. – and other events do create a headache for some and puts business in McPherson on hold, but the event is the one time of the year the entire McPherson community – and McPherson County – comes together to celebrate. Local and state politicians join in the celebration – including our governor – and anyone that aims to be seen and heard knows the parade is the place to be.

Kids ride through the sky at the carnival, teens enjoy cheers from the crowd while riding on parade floats and adults get an opportunity to reunite with old friends and classmates for a weekend of old-school fun.  Time magazine has traveled to McPherson to document the tradition and communities across Kansas have aimed to duplicate the celebration’s success. It’s all part of McPherson history and appeal.

All Schools Day – and the millions of other unique celebrations that have become traditions for small towns across the country – is what makes rural America the best place in the world to live and just another reason I wouldn’t change my farm life and small-town roots for anything in the world.

Read more about All Schools Day at  www.allschoolsday.com