Archive for February, 2016

Do you ever worry about something—either to yourself, out loud, or maybe on social media–and suddenly realize it’s kind of absurd? I do. I just did it this morning, in fact.

I was bent over zipping up a pair of dressy black ankle boots when this thought flitted through my mind: “I think square toes have gone out of style. I should probably get a new pair.” As I straightened up, my next thought was, “Really? These keep my feet warm and dry, and they’re reasonably comfortable. I can’t believe I just thought about getting a new pair.”

As I continued to get ready for work, I thought of bombed-out cities in the Middle East, starving families in North Korea who have no electricity, and children in Flint, Michigan drinking lead-laced water.

I thought of refugees across the globe who are hungry, cold, miserable, homeless, penniless, and mourning the violent deaths of loved ones.

And my boots are out of style? Does this really matter?

So I started thinking about other absurd things we worry about in our developed world. Does this vehicle have voice-activated GPS? Does that house have granite countertops? Did this bottled water come from a tap, or a mountain spring?

Perhaps nowhere is the absurdity more evident—and more rampant—than in the grocery store. Were the hens who laid these eggs fed a vegetarian diet? Does that soft drink contain high fructose corn syrup? Is this salt non-GMO?

When they first arrive, many immigrants to our country are flabbergasted by the sheer amount and variety of food heaped on our grocery store shelves. Instead of finding it amazing, however, those of us who’ve lived here all our lives analyze labels and fret over the relative merits of things like natural, organic, conventional, and local.


Food companies amplify our worries using savvy marketing. Whether we realize it or not, worry guides many of our purchasing decisions.

Companies are quick to amplify our worries using savvy marketing. Whether we realize it or not, worry guides many of our purchasing decisions. If we’re worried about the environment, we’ll buy all-natural, biodegradable shampoo. If we’re worried about our health, we’ll buy foods with health claims on the label. If we’re concerned about animal welfare, we’ll buy products labeled with statements about animal care. (Never mind that many such claims are misleading, made-up, and/or downright false.)


I’m not saying we’re bad people for worrying about style, food safety, or animal welfare. What I am saying is that many of our worries are overblown. It’s far too easy to forget how fortunate we are, and it’s our good fortune that allows us the luxury to worry.

I had to laugh at myself for thinking I needed new boots. I may still buy them. But I’ve made a pact with myself: When I catch myself worrying about things like out-of-style boots or free-range eggs, I’m going to remind myself that my feet are warm and my tummy is full.

Oh, and speaking of absurd, I must mention:

  • Chickens are by nature omnivores, not vegetarians.
  • High fructose corn syrup is remarkably similar to table sugar.
  • Salt isn’t an organism, and therefore has no genes to modify.

It’s natural to worry. But I’m going to try and keep my fretting in sharp perspective, and recognize when my worries are absurd.


This post also appeared as the “Stray Kernels” column in the February 2016 issue of DeKalb County Farm Bureau’s Connections magazine.

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It’s not easy, actually.

Asking others for help has never been my strong point. I’m a fiercely independent introvert, and I tend to want to figure things out on my own while talking to as few people as possible.

It’s not that I don’t like people, or don’t like talking. If you halfway know me and ever happen to drift by my office, I might talk your ear off.  I’ll probably say ten awkward things before I finally remember that you have other things to do. Then you’ll leave, and I will take a deep breath and let my scattered thoughts settle for a few moments before I continue working. I’ll be delighted to have talked to you, but I’ll still have to regroup afterwards.

I like people, and I like talking, but it wears me out. Susan Cain, author of the (terrific) book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” explains that extroverts are energized by stimulation and social interaction, while introverts are energized by quiet reflection. I am at my most productive and creative in a quiet space.

But it’s January, and it won’t be quiet long. January in my world means gearing up for our Ag in the Classroom program. Gearing up for Ag in the Classroom means fielding requests for presentations from 140-150 teachers. It means obtaining, organizing, and preparing supplies (like corn and soybean seeds for first graders to plant and rock salt so second graders can make ice cream).  Most of all, January means I will be busy asking at least 100 people for help.


Preparing Ag in the Classroom supplies means asking the Ag Literacy Committee for help!

That’s how many people it takes to visit all those first through fourth grade classrooms to teach kids in our county about agriculture. And you know what? It’s AWESOME. I love it. I love the energy, enthusiasm, and generosity of our volunteers. I love hearing from teachers and sometimes even parents what a profound impact those volunteers have on their students.

But it’s not easy. Introversion aside, I am acutely aware of the fact that each prospective volunteer, upon receiving an e-mail or a call from me, may think something like, “Oh, shoot. She found me.” As you read or listen to my plea for help, all the things that are on the plate you call life will flash before your eyes: Getting your farm tax documents in order. Attending your kid’s dance rehearsals. Delivering seed. Your mother-in-law’s illness. Your other kid’s sporting events. Your job. Your… whatever. I get it—you’re busy.

And here I am, asking you to volunteer. To walk into classrooms and talk to kids about agriculture. You know it will take more time than just the hour or so spent in each classroom. First, there’s the training (if you haven’t presented in the past). Then, reviewing the lesson plan, preparing the materials, and contacting the teachers. And then returning your supplies to my office afterwards. I’m asking you to devote a lot of precious time, in a life that’s already full. I know this.

2012 ag pres2

I know that volunteering for Ag in the Classroom means trading productive time in your farm shop or bank office for time spent in a few rambunctious classrooms.

Plus, the thing about volunteering is that you don’t have to do it. You don’t have to add another thing to your list of things to do. I know this, too.

This knowledge is ever-present as I carefully phrase each e-mail or mentally rehearse each call before I pick up the phone. So if you get that e-mail or call from me, please know that it wasn’t an easy thing for me to do.

But I also know that what you will do if you say yes is harder yet… and even more important.

P.S. If you have a passion for agriculture and would like to volunteer, you don’t have to wait for me to contact you. E-mail me anytime at rcollins@dekalbfarmbureau.org or call 815-756-6361. I would love to talk to you!



This post also appeared as the “Stray Kernels” column in the January 2016 issue of DeKalb County Farm Bureau’s Connections magazine.

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