Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Story To Tell: Ag Day 2017

I sometimes wonder about the people who settled the Kansas prairie. Did they marvel at the sky? Did the call of birds wake them to see the hint of color painting the eastern horizon? As their covered wagons rumbled toward the west, did they marvel at the sunsets?
I imagine the temperaments that marked the people who set off from established homes in the eastern part of the U.S. and decided on adventure, traveling westward to a new kind of life.

That pioneer spirit brought people to Kansas. And some of the heartiness remains generations later. Today is the 2017 National and Kansas Ag Day.
Four days last week, we worked baby calves. Last Friday, we temporarily separated another group of babies from their mamas. We loaded the babies into the cattle trailer through a fog of dust generated by dozens of hooves stirring up the dirt floor of a 75-year-old-plus barn.
I was tired after four days of it. But as I looked through the dusty haze, I realized how fortunate we were. We were doing our normal springtime cattle tasks. We temporarily separated mamas and babies and sent the babies through the working chute for their well-baby "appointments" and vaccinations.

And at the same time, cattlemen and women in southern Kansas had the grim task of burying thousands of cattle and calves that perished in the largest wildfire in Kansas history. Some of our farm and ranch neighbors in Oklahoma and Texas face the same seemingly insurmountable task. In Texas, some even lost their lives trying to move cattle to safety.
For those in the wildfire's path, lives won't go back to normal anytime soon. They are still burying their livelihoods in big mass graves in the burned ground. They are tending to injured cattle, bottle feeding babies whose mothers died, rebuilding thousands of miles of fence. And some of them no longer have a home where they can lay their weary heads come nighttime, after days of physical labor and emotional heartache.
It's going to take a new pioneer spirit for them to rebuild. Just like us, their families have been on Kansas soil for five generations, and, for a few, even six generations. That pioneer spirit is part of their DNA.

I don't watch a lot of national news. But, if my Facebook feed is right, there has been very little coverage of this emergency on the national level. The local TV stations, radio and newspapers have done a credible job of telling the stories. Yesterday, The New York Times featured an article, in which one rancher called the wildfires, "Our Hurricane Katrina."

I read the article, and then came back later in the day so I could link it to this blog post. I was dismayed by the comments from the majority of readers (up to 422 comments this morning). It again demonstrates how deeply the country is divided, as if we needed any reminders these days. (For the record, I didn't vote for President Trump, though most commenters assume I did - just because of where I live and what I do for a living.) After reading those comments, maybe it's better that the national media largely ignored this story. 

However, I know that many farmers and ranchers from across the country have responded with truckloads of hay and semis packed with fencing supplies. Some 4-H groups have volunteered to foster baby calves until the ranches have time to build fence and reintroduce the babies back into their herds. There have been funds set up so regular people like you and me can contribute to the rebuilding, including at Kansas Farm Bureau and at Kansas Livestock Association.

(FYI: I would recommend Amy Bickel's article in The Hutchinson News, plus sidebars and follow-up stories, as well as the accompanying photojournalism by News photographer Lindsey Bauman. The Wichita Eagle also provided in-depth coverage of the wildfire.)
This year's theme for National Ag Day is Agriculture: Food for Life. But the majority of the world would rather learn about food from people other than the producers. A couple of years ago,  I Am Agriculture Proud, posed this observation on their Facebook page:
Journalists, TV personalities, TV chefs and CEOs were all perceived as more influential on food than farmers, who come in at No. 50 on a list generated of The 50 Most Powerful People in Food on The Daily Meal.com.  And that was likely an arbitrary inclusion as a collective group. What's it gonna take for farmers to move up that list?
It's up to us - farmers and ranchers - to tell the story. As I've said before, I don't want to leave it to PETA or HSUS to tell the story of farming today. It's one of the reasons I began Kim's County Line seven years ago.

The Gardiner Angus Ranch has been in the news because of their losses. Two of the brothers - Mark & Greg - were in FarmHouse fraternity at K-State at the same time as Randy. The Gardiner Angus Ranch's annual production sale is still scheduled for March 31, though things will be somewhat different this year after losing more than 500 of their cows, hundreds of miles of fencing and even Mark's & Eva's home. But I was amazed at some of what Mark Gardiner had to say. I've put the link to the whole video clip below, but I wanted to highlight these quotes from Mark, just in case you don't take time to listen to the whole thing:

I want you all to know how truly fortunate we are to have so many friends and customers and family. When we had a bit of a challenge, our customers actually were some of the first ones who came running to help us. … 

The sale is on. It is on because it’s what we do. You know, we learn a lot in these situations about who we are as people. And people are good, especially people in agriculture and especially our customers, neighbors and friends. We’ve had some losses; we’ve had some challenges. …

We've had help from almost every state in the union. ... That’s what America is. That’s what rural America is. That’s what agriculture is. That’s what the cattle business is. We actually have no problems. We have worlds of opportunity. We have the greatest friends and the greatest nation … We’re excited about this sale. We’re excited about the things that matter with people, with family, with friends.

We need to celebrate this way of life. Even more importantly than the cattle, we need to celebrate the people who make this business so great.
If we listen to the detractors commenting on the wildfire story, it's clear that we're not doing a good job of sharing agriculture's story. With this post, I'll likely be "preaching to the choir." I can't seem to reach those people who really believe that we modern farmers are ignorant puppets who "are only looking for handouts."

The true story of agriculture is being written each and every day by the people who are living it.


  1. Very good. Thank you!

  2. Kim, I came across your blog through a friend who posted about National Ag Day. It saddens me that these fires weren't given the coverage that other National disasters get. I watched what coverage there was and it was heartbreaking, scary and yet I felt pride to call myself a Kansan as I watched communities coming together. Thank you for this story and pics. I will do my best to get your words out there. Stay strong and know you are appreciated!

    1. Thanks so much for taking time to comment and also sharing the message of those impacted by this disaster. I appreciate your words of encouragement!

    2. I so appreciate your blog. You are a great advocate for agriculture. This post was eye opening.

    3. I appreciate your kind words!

  3. As I started to read about the fires, I was surprised it hadn't been on our news. We often hear about the Californian fires. Then of course I read further. Such terrible terrible devastation and heartbreak. I sincerely hope that more help has been forthcoming.

    1. The ag community has responded with hay and other supplies. A farmer/rancher has set up a way for producers to supply a cow or calf to help in the relief efforts.