Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Just A Box of Crayons: Ag Month 2020

I gave a memorial service earlier this month for the Kansas Master Farm Homemakers Guild annual meeting. I used some missing crayons to illustrate the "holes" left behind by the unique members who've joined Chapter Eternal during this past year. Just like all the crayons in the box, each one had his or her own job to do. They leave a little less "color" in our world in their absence.

Anyway, our gathering in Manhattan happened just as the U.S. response to Covid-19 - or the coronavirus - was beginning. There was some talk of postponing the meeting, but several of our members were already on the road driving to Manhattan about the time the Big 12 canceled the rest of its tournament. While there, the NCAA sidelined the Big Dance. Governor Laura Kelly's request to limit group gatherings to 50 or less didn't come until after we'd all packed our bags to come home. And the 10-person limit was a week-and-a-half down the road at that point. The crowd was a little fewer than planned, but, for the most part, the Kansas Master Farmers/Farm Homemakers showed up to honor the six new couples who joined our ranks.

Since the 1920s, Kansas Farmer magazine began to publicly recognize excellence in farming, homemaking, farm living and rural citizenship. In 1953, K-State Extension got involved, handling the details of selecting Master Farm couples and planning the March recognition banquet. Local extension councils and districts submit nominations, and a committee picks one couple from each extension area, plus two couples at large. 

The farm families are all different. Some have a lot of acres. Some don't. Some are primarily livestock operations. Others focus more on grain production. But all have figured out how to combine their livelihood with community service - though that looks different from couple to couple and from community to community, too.
The month of March has been proclaimed Kansas Agriculture Month, and today - March 24 - has been declared Kansas Agriculture Day. Farmers and ranchers make up less than 2 percent of the population, and that number drops each year.  We also run businesses that are highly technical, are not very well understood and operate on razor-thin margins.
Not terribly long ago, a new acquaintance asked what I did. I explained that my husband and I are both fifth-generation farmers in our respective families. His response floored me when he said, we had "quite a racket sitting back and collecting government payments."
I was so stunned that I didn't respond quickly enough and the moment passed. It bothered me for two weeks before I wrote an old-fashioned letter to him to try and explain why he had the wrong idea about farmers and farming. He has since apologized, and I hope I made a difference by opening one person's eyes.
It's what I try to do all the time. Every day is Ag Day for me, whether I'm helping with cattle tasks (like Saturday and yesterday) ...
... or delivering meals to the field during busy times ...
 ... or visiting the Case parts counter ...
... or writing some children's books about farm life ...
... or contributing to my rural community.

It could be via  my KFRM Central Kansas reports and through blog posts via Kim's County Line, where I offer a glimpse at one Kansas farm family by featuring farming, family, faith, food and photography.
Every day is Ag Day for Randy, who works to provide food, fuel and fiber through crops and livestock.
As our society moves away from its agrarian roots, fewer people seem to recognize the value. As organizers of Ag Day say:
We know that food and fiber doesn't just arrive at the grocery or clothing store or magically appear on the dinner table or in our closet. There's an entire industry dedicated to providing plentiful and safe food for consumption.
  • Each American farmer feeds about 165 people. Agriculture is America's No. 1 export.
  • New technology means farmers are more environmentally friendly than ever before. 
With the coronavirus outbreak, the Department of Homeland Security has labeled agriculture a critical industry, allowing businesses to continue operating as usual amid current and potential restrictions created to stem the spread of the virus. Farm groups had been concerned about the potential for movement restrictions put in place to limit exposure of the virus, including the potential for halted shipment of inputs needed for the upcoming planting season.

Still, farm businesses are doing their part to prevent the spread, too. At our local co-op, visitors need to go through the office to arrange for services. Some of the extraneous interactions have been curtailed for the time being - whether that's getting together for a cup of coffee to talk rainfall or commodity prices while they wait for a tire repair or that bunch of retired farmers playing dominoes in the farm store.
At the Master Farm Homemakers Guild meeting, we sang "The Sunflower Song," penned by one of our Kansas members, Rachel Imthurn. The words of the second verse seemed meant for the moment:

We celebrate this nation with roots deep in the sod.
Our hearts are with our children.
Our souls reach up to God.
Our joys grow in sharing the sunshine and the rain.
And when those hard times come along 
Friends help to ease the pain.

Farmers will still plant their spring crops, as long as they can get the inputs needed. Farmers and ranchers like us will continue to sort and work baby calves like we've done since our families settled as Kansas pioneers - and just like we did on Saturday and again on Monday. (More on that later.)

Just like other industries right now, there are plenty of "what ifs" and "what about that?s" that are being contemplated, whether that's supply and demand, the tottering economy and seasonal labor concerns.

The world is different today than it was a month ago. But we all need to figure out how to work together and live in the "same box."
And, by the way, I didn't mention it in my memorial service, but some crayons have a farm connection. Soybean oil can be substituted for paraffin wax in some brands of crayons. In fact, the Wisconsin Soybean Association estimates that one acre of soybeans can produce about 82,368 crayons. Prang Crayons are made with 85 percent soybean oil.

Happy Agriculture Day!


  1. You are one amazing Kansas, Ag wife, not only spreading the word of this crucial industry but also supporting your farmer and the community.

    1. Thank you, Helen. I hope you are well during this crazy time.