Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Looking both ways

Things are looking good here at the Farm. The recent 1in plus rain was needed. Last night and again today, there was and will be a mad scramble of picking and planting before the predicted stormy season arrives. The garden is already in early production phase. Strawberries, rhubarb, snap peas, new potatoes, radishes, lettuce, spinach, and the new experiment in Swiss Chard have passed into harvest mode.

Out to the north, the  Sheep are now grazing the first patch of oats. Full sheep are happy sheep. and it didn't take long to train them to the fence.  By day 3, none of them were even coming close.

So - on to days subject.

I am a 'fan' of Harvest Public Media on Facebook, and had taken an interest in their special with NET about Hispanic farmers in Nebraska. It aired last Friday night. It came on before I got out the door, and I found I couldn't leave the couch. It was interesting  -as expected.  But the thoughts and feelings it aroused in me were not.

I had watched some of the video clips linked to those posted on FB, so I had an idea of the story. More Nebraskans need to hear and see what has quietly been happening happening out-state. I was aware, but not to the extent the local culture has shifted. And no, its not what some believe. Change has always been hard. And for both sides. But thats not for today.

As I watched and listened, particularly to one story more local - outside Lincoln, they said - about a farmer on 2 acres, with a calf, some goats, and a few chickens, I felt a strange sense growing inside. I couldn't identify it at first, but it was growing. The show ended (I was disappointed there was nothing about the horse trainers I had seen in the video clips - they were amazing), and I went outside to attend to my chores. but the feeling was still there.

I watched the sheep race through the 'woodland gap' (the windbreak) in from the pasture. I filled the water tanks. And I thought.  And somewhere in there, it occurred to me - the feeling was resentment. I felt bad, feeling hostility toward those hard working emigrants, who I full knew were pursuing dreams I understood so well.  Aha! There it was.

Through the night, and into the next day, it became clear. But not until I looked back.

In 1975, Don and I were newly married, farm raised kids, with 2 college degrees in agriculture, and eager to stake our claim - as farmers. We found 40 acres of gently sloping farmland, made a plan to raise sheep and vegetables, and went to the only likely source of financing  - then called Farm Home Administration. Granted, sheep were little recognized as financially viable, and vegetables? They would have to be marketed to restaurants and smaller grocery stores. Farmers markets were yet unknown.  We filled out papers, and made our plea.  A few weeks later, a letter came. Rejection. They didn't think it would work. Discouraged, but not defeated, we modified our plan, and 3 years later planted our now little family on 5 acres.

Fast forward 35 years to today. Where we own a small farm where we raise sheep and vegetables. So why the resentment? - other than the obvious time and much work?  And the struggle to be recognized as 'farmers' on so many levels.  As female. With sheep. And vegetables. On only 5 acres. The struggle with neighbors, the public, and County, State, and national government to establish ourselves as 'real'. It took a long time, a lifetime almost, but we did it. Without help.

And the resentment?  Well,  now days there are all these programs. Community Crops, Beginning Farmers, grants, and now an focus on loans to Minorities and women? Hmmmfp.

Wait....... Could it be that things are changing?  Maybe. I hope so. I hope the changes will be of benefit, and not just more red tape and regulation. I hope the help gets to those who need it.

Maybe, just maybe, (I may be thinking this as self consolation), we have helped in some small way. Like our ancestors, we have been pioneers, unknowingly. Re-claiming a homestead. Breaking ground for a new way of farming and farmers.

I do not resent the individuals. Empathize more like it. I saw my own reflection in those dark eyes. 

Thanks HPM. Keep telling the stories.

They may be differed, delayed, detoured, and discouraged, but dreams should never die.

Farm on.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Stuck in the Middle -Again

The backdrop of thoughts for this post began last week. I took a day to drive out to Grand Island to deliver entries to the Prairie Wind Art Center for the Miniature show, so once again I had a good 3 hours for some think time. Always productive, this time I found the images and resulting pondering confusing and irritating. As a result, I put off putting anything down in letters, fearing my impulse would likely offend someone. Likely still will, but a post on Facebook by Harvest Public Media has sparked the urge once more. So, I will start with a disclaimer - This blog is only my opinion, which I have formed around my observations and personal experience. It is not intended to be critical of any individuals or groups, or of their respective opinions or stances.

It was a pleasant sunny day, and the interstate traffic was slowed into single file a good bit of the time by the dreaded orange cones. The need of men and machinery was apparent, and no one seemed to mind much. And of course the wind was blowing. I have been reminded of treks down this same stretch of road from 35 years ago, when the turn off at GI marked the half way mark home. That much hasn't changed. Neither of these was the source of my irritation. Rather, it was political.

The seasonal ads had planted the seed. Its primary season, and the vitreous messages pouring from every media outlet are as nauseous as ever. I never have taken to the black/white love/hate all or nothing tone of politics, but I have learned some selective hearing skills, and usually can deal with them. Until the Mommy Wars.  One quote, and the monster was released.

It bothered me. Memory serves me well from 35 years ago when it was fresh - for my generation at least. And in the past 3 years I have watched as my offspring discuss and adjust to find balance in the arena of finance and parenting, the difficulty the same, though decisions different. That alone was unsettling, but there was more.

I was thinking of the pieces I had just left at the Gallery. A picture of prairie. A ewe with twins. Stately Hereford bull. And a girl touching heads with a dark bay horse. How as a group, they make a statement about not just who I am, but where I came from. And not just me, but agriculture.

The panorama of the Platte was impressive that day. Flatland. Horizon broken only with the outlines of tree lines of villages. The grayish band hovering between  earth and sky was dust. An occasional plume of that dust could be traced back to a dot of red or green. Planting. Tractors as big as small houses for the most part, but a few 'small' farmers, the planters small enough you could easily count the rows.  Giant dust devils: larger and more numerous than I have seen in years, were frequent, and recent headlines swirled around in my mind.

Then, this morning, one line caught my eye. "or are you in the Middle"  And it all made sense. I'm back in the Middle again.  Only this time, its Ag War. Does anyone else see it coming? I really hope its just me.

An explanation is probably in order here.  I will use the Mommy Wars as an analogy. There, is issue comes down to Work and Daycare vs Stay at home Moms. Add on all of the associated issues of cloth or disposables, store bought or home made, and quality vs quantity, and you have enough ammunition for a major battle. Of course, both sides have valid points as well as the same claim of the over all well being of the child as the long term objective.  But experience and time has shown me that neither 'side' is entirely right nor wrong.

So, on to the Ag Wars. It has come to my attention,( possibly amplified by media - social and conventional,) that a divide is occurring. You can almost divide the news articles by title. Pink slime, grass fed, Organic, GMO, animal welfare, cage free, and on and on. And I won't mention the government here. The problem I sense that is coming is not that people are taking sides according to their personal beliefs, as that is to be expected: rather, that there are flags being planted, and ground claimed. (Pun intended.)  But just like Mommies, there is no one best position.

I find it troubling. Words and names are being ostracized and often vilified. Chemical, Monsanto, pesticide and the like on one side, but so are Organic, green, and humane from the other. I'm not sure if either side gets it.

I could back up my apprehensions, but I'm not sure if anyone will even buy it. Meanwhile, I am, as they say, riding the fence. I am taking the stand, much as I did in the Mommy wars, that both sides are right. It comes down to choice. What sacrifices you and your kin are willing to make. But you do what you have to do to make it work. Most will fall in the middle. Financial and economic factors must be considered, and perhaps even drives the issues. But even that coin has two sides.

Politically, I get confused trying to assign red and blue to individual issues. Maybe because each side of the coin is either red or blue. Then when you toss them into the air, and they spin around together, the vision becomes purple.  Yeah. I think I like that.  Only I don't like being red on one side blue on the other.  I'm a painter. I'd rather just mix them up inside, they already are, and be purple.

It is my personal opinion that the Ag industry and its people can not afford to take side against each other. If, like all the Mommies out there, we must keep the over all well being of the land as our objective. I think thats a given. Name calling leads to bullying, and we can all agreed that's not good.

I'm in the middle all right. I see valid arguments from both sides. But wars are a waste of resources of both sides. Resources both sides claim a need to conserve.  I don't think its the same 'Middle' that was meant, but thanks for the use of the word.

Thanks also for the focus to rant. Next time, I hope my post is more positive. After all, its growing season. Guess some thoughts could use some cultivating now and again too.

Think green, and put down some new roots.