Friday, April 28, 2017

Cash Crop - Dirty Jeans

I often see notices for workshops on alternative crops. A few times a month, the Sunday business section of the regional newspaper has short blurbs advertising a nearby learning opportunity for specialty crops. The farm publications that fill our mailbox also offer educational options for things other than the customary wheat, alfalfa, corn and cattle income.

But I think I've found the Mother Lode. So I am about to propose a new business plan to my farm partner. We should become a supplier for Nordstrom's. Yes, Nordstrom's department store could be the answer to a lagging farm economy.

Earlier this week, Nordstrom's got a lot of publicity for a pair of new men's jeans. Here's what they said about their fashion offering:
Heavily distressed medium-blue denim jeans in a comfortable straight-leg fit embody rugged, Americana workwear that's seen some hard-working action with a crackled, caked-on muddy coating that shows you're not afraid to get down and dirty.
And they're only $425 a pair. What???!!!! $425 a pair for dirty-looking jeans? Yep. It's not a misprint.
Randy's jeans - and this was after he'd used a stick and grass to remove some of the grime.
I must confess that I've suggested my farmer change clothes on occasion before going to town in the morning. I am not always the world's best laundress. In fact, I am probably not going to win any awards for washing Randy's work clothes. I could spend a lot more time with stain remover and a scrub brush before running them through the "heavy" cycle on the washing machine. Nevertheless, they are, after all, work clothes.
But I admit to cringing a bit if a heavily-stained t-shirt is what Randy pulls from the closet to wear to breakfast at Joan's. Though I doubt there are many critics among the guys having their hash browns and eggs over easy at the local cafe, I'm still reluctant to show my incompetence as a farm wife.

Who knew those stained jeans and t-shirts were actually evidence of "some hard-working action" ... and not my ineptitude in the laundry department?

For that $425 hit to your wallet, the jeans are described as
  • True to size.
  • Comfortable through the seat and thigh.
  • Classic straight cut from knee to ankle.
As I reported last week, commodity prices for wheat are currently lower than they were back in 1975 when I graduated from high school. Let's do a little price comparison. I did some online research about the price of jeans in 1975 - the same year I used for the wheat price comparison.
With a sharp intake of denim and breath, blue jeans in the ’70s tightened their hold on ’60s hippiedom to become the second skin of disco-dancing, high-living swingles of the Me Decade. Retooling the boxy Levi’s look into form-fitting pants with fancy stitching and big labels, designer-jeans makers pocketed nearly half a billion dollars in 1979. And on June 25 that year, the once-humble trousers received the cultural counterpart of being knighted: The New York Times proclaimed them a full-fledged phenomenon with the feature ”Status Jeans: Lucrative Craze.” Promising to make their wearers chic and sexy, designer jeans cost about $35, roughly twice the price of down-to-earth Levi’s. 
1977-era ads found at the Target website.
I realize Target isn't Nordstrom's, but the pricing is still eye-opening!
OK, so back in 1975 or so, designer jeans were $35 (though you could get regular old Levi's for half that price and even less at discount stores.) Today, Nordstrom's is selling dirty-looking jeans for $425. Wouldn't it be nice if the price of wheat reflected even a portion of that response to inflation?
Nordstrom's is also selling other styles at a similar price, but I'm looking at the piles of organic matter we have here on the County Line, thinking they don't need to import dirty jeans from Portugal. We farmers are always looking for domestic trade!

If that's not enough grunge, Nordstrom's can hook you up with a mud-look jean jacket, too.

 Deep caked-on, baked-in muddy smears give you permission to get down and dirty from rodeo to grungy rock show in this cotton denim jacket that embodies rugged Americana, from its classic pockets to every crinkled and bleached accent.
"Dirty Jobs" host Mike Rowe posted about the fashion trend on his website, saying the Nordstrom's jeans were proof of "our country's war on work."
"They're a costume for wealthy people who see work as ironic — not iconic," Rowe wrote on Monday in a post titled, "Jeans made to look like you work hard so you don't have to."
If they are interested in women's jeans with a similar "rugged" look, we can do that, too. Here are the bottoms of my jeans and tennis shoe after our cattle moving on Tuesday.

So Nordstrom's: Are you ready for a shipment of some fine, Kansas organic matter? We are ready to deliver! Or if you want us to take some of your jeans and apply some "caked on, baked in, muddy smears," we can also oblige. We can even offer a small farm discount as a trade incentive.

And if you need a fragrance to go along with those designer duds, just say the word. We've got that covered, too!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Hope is the Thing With Feathers

Life is always a rich and steady time
when you are waiting
for something to happen or hatch.
From Charlotte's Web

E.B. White could have been describing life on a farm in the spring.  Randy has been planting corn. We've again opened the pasture gates that were slammed shut and padlocked last fall. Next week, even more mamas and their babies will begin to dine on tender green grass which blankets the pastures after timely spring rains.

Those scenes are part of the ebb and flow of a spring season on the farm. . 

On Saturday, Randy had noticed a nest on top of the 4-wheeler ramps. He excitedly told me about the two pretty blue eggs nestled inside the precariously perched nest in the storage shed. Since it wasn't at our house, I didn't take time to look that day.
However, on Sunday, we needed those 4-wheeler ramps when we had cattle out. I snapped a few photos of the nest, even with the urgency to get the cattle back to the confines of the fence before church.
Randy gently moved the nest to a nearby wheelbarrow ...

... while we used the 4-wheeler ramps for their intended purpose - loading and unloading into the pickup.
When we got back to the shed,  Randy again arranged the nest back on top of the ramps.
He hoped that the temporary change of address wouldn't bother the birds.
It's one of the things I love about my farmer. Though his hands are big and rough, he is gentle with children and kittens and bird's nests. No scrambled eggs if he could help it!

On Tuesday, we moved another group of mamas and babies to the Ninnescah Pasture. And we also discovered a surprise. The nest now held four beautiful blue eggs!
We still haven't seen any birds tending the nest. I was hoping for robin's eggs, but my friend, Pam, thinks they are starling eggs since we didn't see a mud cap on the nest. (Neither Randy or I are experts in bird - or egg - identification, and Pam is a good sport to help me out long-distance through photos.)
So the nest and its precious contents remain perched on the metal ramps, above an array of farm necessities like net wrap and 4-wheelers and fence chargers and cattle supplies. And we watch with anticipation.

Hope is the thing with feathers 
that perches in the soul.
Emily Dickinson

Hope can even happen before the feathers. Hope can be bright blue eggs in a cluttered farm shed. It's just what we needed right about now.

Monday, April 24, 2017

First-Person Bible Story

I guess God thought we needed an object lesson for yesterday's Gospel reading. Our lay speaker chose the Parable of the Lost Sheep as the centerpiece for his sermon. Because I find adult Sunday School material based on the preacher's Bible readings, I had already rounded up some applicable study questions for Luke 15: 1-7.
  • Do we celebrate the lost being found?
  • Do we celebrate ones who search for the 1 instead of the 99?
  • How strange is it to risk losing 99 to go after a single one?
  • Is that what God does? Should we do that?
  • Who are the lost sheep in your life?
  • Caring for the lost comes in many shapes/sizes. Can you think of any?
  • What other things can we do for the lost sheep in our world? 
(Questions from Faith Element: Setting the Bible Free)

Before we got to church Sunday morning to contemplate these and other questions, we were reenacting our own version of the Lost Sheep parable. Our neighbor knocked on the door Sunday morning to let us know we had cattle out. So much for a lazy Sunday morning drinking coffee and watching CBS Sunday Morning before getting ready for church.
We got the 4-wheeler, and the round-up began.  Thankfully, only a few mamas and babies had taken off for "greener pastures."
Randy "encouraged" them to head toward home on the 4-wheeler, and I stood near the gate to turn them into the pasture. Mission accomplished ...
... or so I thought! But my husband has sharper eyes than I do. He saw a "lost" calf still hanging out in the alfalfa field. While he worked on repairing fence, I volunteered to take a 4-wheeler ride to round up the straggler. The parable may have had a lost sheep, but I had a lost calf to wrangle!
I am much more tentative using my camera while trying to drive a 4-wheeler these days after an unfortunate camera casualty during another cattle round-up earlier this spring. The calf really wanted to squeeze through the fence.
Eventually, I got it guided along the fence and back into the pasture, where it went to join its buddies and find its mama for a milk break after all that running.
Randy got the fence fixed.
I got to watch one segment of the CBS Sunday Morning show. Only the Sunday School clerk beat us to church. And we had a real-life example of the lost sheep ... or, in our case, a lost calf.

Today and Tuesday, we have more cattle round-ups and deliveries to summer pasture. Let's hope we don't have more reenactments of Jesus' Lost Sheep parable. I think I got the message already!

Friday, April 21, 2017

"Heading" Toward Harvest

My Grandpa Neelly believed in the Old Farmer's Almanac. While many people might put their stock in old wives' tales, Grandpa paid more attention to what I'll call "old farmers' tales." Since he lived to age 100, he had plenty of time to accumulate such wisdom. (One that has nothing to do with farming seemed to be that Cramer's Analgesic would fix almost any ailment, but I digress.)

He planted potatoes on St. Patrick's Day, and he consulted the moon for other planting decisions. We'll again test out one of those old farmers' tales this year: It's said that wheat harvest will be 6 weeks after the wheat heads.

If that's the case, we're in for an early harvest here on the County Line. (This does not bode well for my ability to attend the Great Plains UMC annual church conference in early June in Nebraska, but we shall see!)
Whether or not the 6-week figure is accurate, wheat heading does signal the march toward the upcoming harvest. My farmer is a known optimist, a good quality to have for someone whose livelihood depends on weather and a myriad of other uncontrollable factors. But it's easier for everyone to be more optimistic after some timely rains.

We had a dry winter, except for a January ice storm that left behind 2.60 inches of moisture. April has filled the rain gauge more. Early in the month, we had a total of 5.3 inches during a one-week period. This week, we've collected another 0.70" in two separate showers. It was good timing for the wheat, which needs the moisture to fill the heads and produce kernels. Today, we are already getting sprinkles, and additional rainfall is forecast. That's great for the crops and pastures, but it will make the cattle work we've got scheduled for today a little sloppy.

This week, the National Agricultural Statistics Service rated the state's winter wheat crop as 6 percent excellent, 45 percent good and 33 percent fair. About 16 percent is in poor to very poor condition. About 9 percent of the state's wheat has now headed. (Not all our wheat has headed either, just some of our earlier-planted fields.)

Now if only timely rains could be accompanied by a timely bump in wheat prices. As of this morning, wheat was priced at $3.16 per bushel at our local co-op. As we stood in the field earlier this week, Randy said he doesn't think it is cost effective to treat the wheat with fungicide this year. Last year, we paid approximately $10 per acre to have the wheat sprayed with fungicide, which helps control rust and other rust-related diseases in wheat.

However, with the price of wheat at $3.l6, we would need a 3-bushel-per-acre increase in yield to pay for the fungicide. Luckily, we haven't seen any disease pressure in our wheat yet. Now would be the ideal time for spraying since the flag leaf is exposed. The flag leaf - the top leaf - controls a lot of the yield from now until harvest.
We applied herbicide and fertilizer in February, but Randy isn't sure the fertilizer got down to the roots because we didn't have any rain at that time. It needed to be in the root zone by the time the wheat jointed - or by the time the growing point of the head was out of the ground.

As I look at the wheat price, I'm reminded of a quote from John F. Kennedy:
The farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything at retail, sells everything at wholesale and pays the freight both ways.
After my senior year in high school - 1975 - wheat was $3.54 per bushel. Here we are, 42 years later, and the price is lower than it was then. However, costs for land, machinery and inputs are vastly higher in the same time frame.

Yet the general public has the impression that farmers are sitting around with our hands out, getting rich. Maybe those detractors should look at the size of our operating loan right about now.

It's a good thing that farmers are generally an optimistic bunch.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

I walked into the church basement Monday morning, and I smelled the lilacs. The tiny blooms were decorating the tables for a dear friend's funeral dinner, stuffed into unlikely vases made from plastic K-State stadium cups.

That "purple pride" was just one common thread in our lives. So was farming and family and church and the Kansas City Chiefs. The list is long and the feelings are deep.
I looked at those intricate blossoms and marveled at the big fragrance from such tiny flowers. As I busied myself making tea and coffee, a Bible verse kept tickling my memory, but I wasn't coming up with it.

Yesterday, after I'd packed away two baskets of belongings I'd toted to the church for the dinner, I looked it up:
Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance
rising up to God.
2 Corinthians 2:15

All morning long on funeral day, people came to the church basement to leave pans of cheesy potatoes and to drop off plastic-wrap-covered salads. When I'd asked, not one person said, "No, I can't help." In fact, more food arrived than I knew was coming.  Filling the refrigerators was like a giant jigsaw puzzle, squeezing another salad in a bit of empty space.
Later, the fragrance of ham and potatoes displaced the delicate aroma from the lilacs. But through it all, I kept thinking about our lives as a "fragrance rising up to God."

Each little floret that makes up a lilac stem is beautiful individually. The intricate detail on each petal is kind of like a human fingerprint, different, yet similar.
A single lilac floret is beautiful, but alone, it can't make the aroma that permeates the room. We, as individuals, can be beautiful and strong and accomplish a great deal. But how much more can we do when we come together? It was Exhibit A at the funeral and dinner on Monday. Everyone contributing in big and small ways came together to honor a friend and his family with a "Christ-like fragrance."

Just counting quickly, I came up with 41 people (not counting immediate family) who came together to help celebrate a special life in behind-the-scenes work for the funeral, burial and dinner. Many, many others came to celebrate his life at the memorial service. Many gave memorial contributions or offered a tribute of flowers.
Church of the Resurrection UMC Pastor Adam Hamilton wrote a book called The Way: Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus. Among the Scripture readings is Mark 2: 1-12.

It's a familiar story told over and over again as children gather for Sunday School or Vacation Bible School. Jesus is preaching at Peter's home in Capernaum. Some men have a friend who is sick and paralyzed. They have heard that Jesus is a healer, so they carry their friend to the place where Jesus is preaching, believing He can help. When they find that the home is too crowded to enter through the door, they cut a hole in Peter's roof. They lower their friend, who is resting on a stretcher, through the hole and into Jesus' presence. And Jesus sees the friends' great faith and heals the paralyzed man.
There are several things we can take away from this story. The first is that all of us need stretcher-bearers. ... Who are the people who would pick you up, tear off the roof and lower you to Jesus? We all need friends like that, whose faith is strong even when ours is weak, who are friends not just in word, but in deed.

Who are our stretcher-bearers? Whose stretcher-bearer are you?

From Adam Hamilton's book, The Way: Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus
It's a good question. And I think I've had it answered over and over again in the past week. The possibilities to serve as Christ's hands and feet in this world today are plentiful:
Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which He looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which He blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are His body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
Teresa of Avila
And His is the fragrance through which we can honor God in our lives here on earth.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Last-Minute Easter Treats: Hop To It!

Even though these Easter treats are super simple, we didn't get any made during our whirlwind trip to Manhattan last weekend. Kinley and I made them together two Easters ago, and she had a great time helping make noodle nests.
Noodle Nests 

If you're looking for last-minute treats for an Easter gathering, try any of these tried-and-true recipes previously featured on Kim's County Line. Just click on the links for the recipes. 


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

How to Terrify A Child

How to terrify a 2 year old in one easy step: Approach a large white bunny. 

Pay no attention to the friendly smile and spring-themed vest. 

Abject terror! Cling to Mommy with all your might.
The Easter Bunny is tolerable when positioned on Mommy's hip away from said creature. The 5-year-old sister gets a little more brave ... just a little.
Watch very carefully to make sure the Easter Bunny does not abscond with your sister or your Mommy.

After we left the area, Brooke was much more brave. (Talk is cheap, little girl!)

Talk about the Easter Bunny non-stop until the next activity:
Kinley: "Do you think it's the real Easter bunny when it's wearing shoes?"
Brooke: "Easter Bunny no talk to me!"
Me:  "Did you like the Easter Bunny?"
Brooke: "Yes!"
Me: "Really??!!!"

I happened to find a photo of Jill with the Easter bunny from 1991. She would have been between her 5th and 6th birthdays, just like Kinley today. 
Jill - 1991 (about Kinley's current age!)
The photo was in a promotional book from Crayola that we must have gotten when the Easter Bunny visited Elroy's in Stafford. Do you think Kinley looks just a tad like Jill?
Brent would have been a little older than Brooke in this photo from 1991.  (I'm sure he'll be thrilled I found it ... and shared it!)

The little kids who turned out to be Uncle Brent and Mommy seem  more comfortable with the big old bunny than Kinley and Brooke. But who really needs the Easter bunny to bring eggs when you can make them yourself? We don't need a big old rabbit to get ready for Easter. We just need Mommy and Grandma! 
These plastic egg wrappers were some of my favorite egg-decorating accessories back when Jill & Brent were little. We always decorated eggs and added them to our Easter egg tree. The egg wrappers are snuggled around eggs, dipped in boiling water and are instantly beautiful. 
They worked back in the "olden days," too! Here are Jill & Brent with our Easter tree.
However easy the plastic wrappers are, it's just not Easter without the smell of vinegar in the colored water and dye on little kids' clothing!
"I do it!" was a common refrain.
When Jill & Brent were little, we blew out of the innards of the eggs so they could be saved each year. Jill did that, too, though she's not a saver and the eggs will likely not last past the holiday.
Brooke's reactions of joy are just as big as her reactions of terror!
A spring day is also good for a trip to the playground.
You have to work on your muscle strength to get ready for those grueling egg hunts coming up later in the week!
It seems climbing playground equipment is not nearly as terrifying as meeting the Easter bunny ...
... even when your sister is rocking the "boat."
We were glad to get in on some pre-Easter fun!