Archive for the ‘farming’ Category

She’s only 3½ years old. But my daughter is at the “why” stage and actively soaking up any and all information we have the patience to share with her. This, coupled with my job in ag literacy, prompted me to think about what I want her to know about agriculture at this age.

So here goes. Here are six things I want my child to learn about food and farming while she’s still young, and how I will explain each (if I haven’t already).

  1. Food doesn’t come from the grocery store. It comes from farms. I’ve explained to Naya that before food gets to the grocery store, farmers grow or raise it on farms. Then some things–like bread, applesauce, and bacon–go to processing plants to be made into the foods we eat. They are then shipped to the grocery store where we buy them to take home and eat.
  2. Farms are places where plants are grown or animals are raised for all of us to eat. It doesn’t make sense to say food comes from farms and not explain what a farm is. We also point out farms as we travel and talk about what might be grown or raised at each one.
  3. Farmers are the people who raise our food. I want my child to know that farmers are essential to our lives. Why? Because without them we would all have to grow our own food. Most of us don’t have the time, knowledge, or space to produce everything we eat.
  4. The fields around us aren’t just scenery; they are our food. I often call my daughter’s attention to the beauty around us. Our rural landscape of corn and soybeans is peaceful, open, and pretty. It’s also where some of our food comes from. I will explain to her that the plants growing in farmers’ fields are called crops.


    My daughter, exploring a cornfield at the age of two. I want her to know that the field around us provide some of our food.

  5. Animals that farmers raise for food are called livestock. They are not pets. I want Naya to understand that pets and livestock serve different purposes. Pets like our two dogs are meant to be our companions, and livestock provide us with food. However, just because farm animals aren’t pets doesn’t mean humans don’t have a responsibility to keep them safe, healthy, and comfortable. Farmers provide their animals with special food, special places to live, and even special doctors–called veterinarians–just like we do for our pets. When the right moments arise, we will help her understand that everything living, people included, relies on other living things to survive. (One such moment recently presented itself when she caught a fish which hours later appeared as a fried filet on a plate. “Daddy,” she questioned, “where’d his head go?”)
  6. Chocolate milk doesn’t come from brown cows. I don’t know why adults persist in saying this. Some must think it’s funny, and a few apparently think it’s true. Either way, if you tell a little kid that chocolate milk comes from brown cows and don’t quickly explain that you’re just being silly, they will believe you. Unless they live on a dairy farm or someone has already told them otherwise, they don’t know any better. I want my daughter to know better. She doesn’t yet seem interested in chocolate milk, but when she is, we will explain that all cows give white milk, and humans add the chocolate later on.

As Naya continues to grow and ask “Why?” the information we can share with her will obviously become more complex and in-depth. But this seems like a good place to start.

What do YOU think a preschooler should know about agriculture?

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

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It was a large rock, and it rested in the point of grass where our driveway reconnected with itself after making a loop in front of the garage and barn. When my mother first discovered it on a farmstead across the road, it took my great uncle using a bucket tractor to deposit it in our yard.

I was drawn to that boulder like any young child with an active imagination would be. It was big enough to sit on with my legs outstretched. Big enough to become a fort to hide behind. Big enough to anchor hours of resourceful playtime involving Breyer model horses or bows and arrows made of willow branches and string.

Of all my memories of the driveway rock, the one that stands out most is of how it served as my grandstand seat for autumn’s glorious spectacle: corn harvest.

Once a year, on a sunny fall afternoon after school, my time would come: the farmer who owned the field across the road would come with his combine to pick the corn. I’m sure he grew soybeans some of those years, but in my memory it was always corn harvest that I watched.

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The greatest thrill for me was when the combine reached the end of the field, right at the end of our driveway. I would gaze expectantly, watching and waiting for that moment when the points of the corn head, then the whole machine, would emerge from the end of the rows. The shining behemoth would swing around, cobs spitting from its hindquarters, straightening itself for re-entrance into the golden rows. I would continue to stare at its receding hulk as it shrank into the distance across the field.

Eventually, as the combine’s roar faded to a distant hum, I would occupy myself on and around the rock. Although the evening air might be cool, my sunbaked rock would still be warm to the touch. It became a game to see how long I could play behind my granite fortress and still emerge in time to watch the combine return for another round.

Watching harvest was irresistible to me then, and it still is now. There’s a grandness, a kind of glory to harvest that just grabs me. Part of it is the weather: the shining intensity of late September and early October skies that are bluer than they ever appear at other times of the year. Part of it is the colors: red and gold leaves, expanses of glowing fields. Yet another facet of harvest splendor is the machines: huge combines, tractors, and grain carts gleaming even through a layer of dust. The reds, greens, and blues of the machines reflect the intense sunlight and stand out in sharp contrast to the fields and sky.

Even the sounds of harvest have grandiosity: the combines, tractors, and semis all emit a powerful roar. As I putter around the house on a Sunday afternoon, I am often conscious of a working combine even a half-mile away. After night falls on a quiet fall evening, the hum of grain dryers radiates across the landscape.


As a kid watching harvest from my rocky perch, it never occurred to me that I might one day ride in a combine. Thanks to the patience and generosity of several area farmers, I’ve had that experience a number of times since coming to work in agriculture. While I always thought harvest was grand from a distance, it’s AWESOME from the cab of a combine. All of the sights, sounds, and aromas of harvest come together in that small, high space. Added to this swirl of sensations is the view of golden ears being swallowed up by the spinning auger below, the rush of grain flowing into the hopper behind me, and the flicker of constantly changing numbers on the yield monitor.

Even as a non-farmer, I realize that the grandeur of harvest goes well beyond sights, sounds, and smells. It’s the sense of satiety, of satisfaction. It’s the culmination of another year’s work and worry. As the hoppers, carts, trailers, and bins fill, so too do our hearts. And, indirectly, our bellies.

Harvest is over. It’s time to give thanks.

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Photo credit: Cherie Sanderson


This post appeared as the “Stray Kernels” column in the November 2015 issue of DeKalb County Farm Bureau’s Connections magazine.

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The following is a guest post written by 2014 summer Ag Literacy Intern Kelsey Faivre. Kelsey is a farm girl from DeKalb and sophomore at Iowa State University studying Agricultural Communications. 

Kelsey_woman_Tues_croppedAt the beginning of my internship, I thought that I was prepared to talk to people about agriculture. I grew up on a conventional grain farm, raise cattle, and am attending Iowa State University studying Agricultural Communications.

Having completed my internship, I’m not sure if anyone can be prepared enough to talk to the non-farm public about modern agriculture. Just one face-to-face conversation with a stranger had me questioning my career goals. It amazed me how fast being doubted made my chest ice over. I found myself wondering why anyone would subject themselves to this.

It was an event for families, and I was standing next to our Ag Literacy display. The woman approached me with her hands on her hips. Her little girl ran off to play.

“So, what group are you and what do you support?” she asked me. I explained what DeKalb County Farm Bureau was and that I was a summer intern.

“What is your stance on antibiotics and pesticides?” she questioned. At this point, I had a feeling I was in for a rough conversation. I asked her for clarification, and the next ten minutes were some of the most uncomfortable of my life.

She asked me questions like: “Is there any research that proves pesticides cause cancer? How do family farmers feel about being put out of business? Why do farmers in this area grow only corn and soybeans instead of food people actually want to eat?”

Then, the accusations started. “My family can’t live in the country because of all the stuff in the air. Like the chemicals. I can’t eat conventional meat because of all the antibiotics in it. I’m sure most Illinois farms are family-owned, but nationally that’s not true.”

I felt like I needed a shield to protect myself from her pointed questions and verbal shots. I answered her as reasonably as I could, using statistics as well as personal experience to share my perspective. For example, I told her that 98% of American farms are owned by families. I also explained that as a beef producer, I follow withdrawal procedures after using antibiotics to ensure that no residue is in the meat from treating my animals.  Finally, she asked me about hormone implants in beef cattle, and then cut off my response, saying “I have to get my daughter. It was nice talking to you. And kind of scary.”

I realized afterwards that she had no interest in hearing what I had to say. She may have been posing her comments as questions, but they felt like attacks on my family’s farm practices. It hurt. I believe in what we do and I believe we do it for good reasons, so being attacked is painful. I wondered, if she won’t listen to a farmer, who will she listen to?

This wasn’t the first conversation of this kind I’ve had. Each time a friend, family member, or stranger approaches me with these accusatory questions an icy hand clenches around my heart. Yet it’s also exhilarating to find the words that make people say “I’ve never thought about it that way before.” Then I know I’ve made a connection.

That’s what gives me hope for the future of agriculture. That’s why I’ve decided not to change my major to something like interior design and leave my agricultural roots behind. That’s why, despite the challenges I know will be in my future as an ag communicator, I’m still following my passion.

It’s also true that most people aren’t as aggressive. The other day at the Boone County fair, a man approached me in the beef barn and thanked me for being a farmer. Then, gesturing to the nearby animals, he asked me why some of the horses had nose rings.

That’s a conversation I think I can manage.

This post appeared in the September-October 2014 issue of DeKalb County Farm Bureau’s Connections magazine.

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