Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Salt of the Earth: Ag Day 2023


Salt of the earth. 

When I started thinking about what I wanted to write to observe National Agriculture Day today - March 21 - I remembered some photos I took during a drive through the mama cows and babies. On a couple of trips, I'd asked Randy to park the pickup near a tub containing salt blocks. My goal? To capture that lip-smacking reaction as the calves sampled the tasty treat. 

Do you know how hard it is to catch that split second of the tongue escaping the confines of the mouth for a quick slurp? Let's just say I had a lot of near misses on my camera roll.  

Case in point? This one:

Persistence is key in agriculture. In photography, too. And I don't think it's much of a stretch to call agricultural producers "the salt of the earth."

The phrase is from a portion of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5: 13: "You are the salt of the earth." I'd just heard the verses again a few weeks ago at church as part of the Bible reading,. It's always been one of my favorites.
Jesus meant that the common people he was addressing – fishermen, shepherds, laborers – were worthy and virtuous. He was alluding, not to the tang of salt, but to its value.
Two for one on this shot - both calves had their tongues out!  

In other parts of the Bible,  salt is used metaphorically to signify permanence, loyalty, durability, fidelity, usefulness, value, and purification.
That sounds like America's agricultural producers to me. 
I learned more at World Wide Words:

Salt has always been one of the most prized commodities, essential both for life and for preserving food. Roman soldiers were paid an allowance to buy salt, the origin of our salary. A man worth his salt is efficient or capable. To eat salt with someone was to accept his hospitality and a person who did so was bound to look after his host’s interests. The Bible also speaks of a covenant of salt, one of holy and perpetual obligation. ...To Jesus, therefore, salt of the earth was a great compliment.

I've been writing these Ag Day blog posts since I began Kim's County Line in 2010, but this was the first time we aren't actively farming. I wasn't going to be working calves or riding a 4-wheeler to move cattle or performing some other task on our farm. 

But I kept thinking about the cattle and their attraction to the salt.  Just like we humans, the bovines seem to want to flavor their diets with a bit of salt. As a child, I remember going with my dad on salt block deliveries. A little residue from the salt cube was left behind on my fingertips, and I couldn't resist a secret taste. The cows also seem to crave the mineral in the cattle lots. I certainly prefer my food with a sprinkling of salt, too, even though my doctor would recommend I limit my sodium intake.

Being the "salt of the earth" is a worthy goal. This Ag Day 2023 is a good time to celebrate the American farmer. America's farmers are the world's most productive. Today, each U.S. farmer produces food and fiber for 168 people annually in the U.S. and abroad. This number was 19 people in 1940, 46 people in 1960, and 115 people in 1980. I can't think of many industries in which productivity has increased that much! 

And even though consumers often complain about the price of food, U.S. shoppers still pay much less of our disposable income on food each year, about 10 percent.

Information from Kansas Farm Bureau. Click on the link for a complete fact sheet about farmers and agriculture.

That's definitely not a reason to stick out your tongue - unless you're savoring a tasty slice of wheat bread made with Kansas wheat and slathered with butter made from Kansas dairy cattle ... or you're enjoying a perfectly-grilled Kansas steak ... or you're scrambling up eggs from a Kansas poultry house (with a sprinkle of salt)... the list goes on and on! 
Farmers receive just under 19¢ of every consumer dollar that is spent on food. The other 81¢ is spent on processing, packaging, marketing, transportation, distribution and retail costs of the food supply. 

There is something that might cause my tongue to stick out in aggravation: It seems consumers would much rather get their information about how their food is produced from someone who has never set foot on a farm or a ranch. They let restaurant public relations gurus define what is safe to eat. Yet it is America's farmers and ranchers who devote their daily lives to it.  
Farmers and ranchers are the original "environmentalists." The National Ag Day theme is "Growing a Climate for Tomorrow." Agricultural producers intentionally prevent soil erosion, preserve and restore wetlands, clean the air and water and enhance wildlife. Since 1982, the erosion rate on U.S. croplands has been reduced by more than 40 percent.

Farmers and ranchers truly are the salt of the earth. 

Kansas Farm Bureau has a fact sheet about farmers and agriculture. To see more facts about U.S. farmers, click HERE.


Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Trojan History Intersects with Family

I always thought I married into a wrestling family.  

And I did. Randy was a high school wrestler. In his senior year at Stafford High School, he placed first in the Class 2A/1A tournament at Douglas to qualify for the state championships in Colby. 

 He competed in the 167-pound weight division in the 1974 state championships.

So when I wrote about the Stafford High School basketball team last week, I didn't realize there was a "rest of the story" in our family. Randy's dad, Melvin, was on the 1947 team that went to state. I wish he were still around so we could ask him about it.

Photo from the Stafford County Historical Museum

The 1947 basketball team included Randy's dad, Melvin Fritzemeier, No. 81. Others on the team were front row (l to r): Richard Doering, Doug Minnis, Kelvin Sell, Melvin, Gayle Sanford. Second row: Charles Beckett, Ted Ashford, Pete Wedelin, Lawrence Bell, Benny Hargett and Coach Johnston. 

From The Courier: The Stafford Trojans won first place in the Kingman Regional tournament, Saturday, March 8, 1947, by defeating the Kingman Eagles, 33-23 in the final round of play. The Trojans fought for and won the right to attend the state tournament in Topeka starting Wednesday, March 12. Stafford also had defeated Caldwell in the semifinals, 55-34. Stafford meets Beloit in the first round of the state tournament. The state tournament is made up of 13 teams, winners of regional tournaments, plus three invited teams, making a total of 16 class A teams who will compete for the state championship. 

The Stafford basketball team lost their game Wednesday night by 5 points. The Stafford hoopsters met Beloit, which was the only undefeated team. Stafford led until the final four minutes of the game. ... Coach Johnston in a telephone conversation with superintendent Wedelin said, "They just couldn't hold their lead as they were completely fagged out by too much flu."

Melvin was a junior that year. 

Photo (of a photo) by Julie McNickle

Our friend, Julie, took this photo of another SHS team during a recent funeral. We're not sure, but it was likely the 1948 basketball team, Melvin's senior year. He is fifth from the left. 

We also learned that Randy's Grandpa, Clarence Fritzemeier, was on the very first Stafford basketball team that went to the state tournament. On March 16, 1922, the high school basketball team went to Manhattan, where they took part in the state tournament and lost third place by one point. Final score was 17 to 16. It must have been quite the defensive battle.

The boys playing on the team included Randy's grandpa, Clarence Fritzemeier, along with teammates Lawrence Simpson, Emery Hickman, Marvin Gere, Firman Gere, Murl Blackburn and John Cox. Coach was Clifford Gallagher.

From Stafford County Historical Museum

The Stafford County Historical Society posted a photo of some of the 1922 players, but Clarence wasn't among them. Still, it was interesting to see the uniforms of that era. 

We did know Melvin was a runner. When Jill was in high school, her 4 X 100 M relay went to state two different years. 

SHS athletes at state track: Charles Keifer, Kelly Sell, Kenneth Reed (hurdles) Coach Slaten, Doug Minnis, Darrell Sanford (pole vault) and Melvin Fritzemeier Keifer, Sell, Minnis & Fritzemeier were on the 1-mile relay team.

I included Grandpa Melvin's 1-mile relay team along with photos from her team for a collage I made for her after the girls' fourth-place finish at state.

Photo by Nick Minks of community support on Stafford Main Street as the bus departed for the tourney.

Our 2023 SHS team played valiantly but came up short in the first round of the tournament last Thursday vs. South Central, who went on to finish 3rd in the state tournament. But spectators wearing our red matching state basketball shirts filled much of the coliseum for the game. It was loud! And we are proud of our Trojans ... past and present!

Thursday, March 9, 2023

76 Years in the Making: A Trip to State Basketball

Window at Main Street Market, our hometown grocery store.

The last time Stafford High School earned a trip to the state basketball tournament, Harry Truman was president. The future queen of England was still a princess when she married her prince. World leaders were contemplating the Marshall Plan after World War II.

The year was 1947. 

And in 2023 - 76 years later - we are back again. Today, the Stafford Trojans play the South Central Timberwolves in the KSHSAA Class 1A, Division II, basketball tournament. It will be at 4 PM this afternoon on the Barton Community College court at Great Bend.

What was going on in 1947? According to Baby Boomers, here's a smattering:

Getty Images - President Harry Truman signs the Marshall Plan

  • President Truman formulates "Truman Doctrine" of providing aid to countries whose governments are threatened with overthrow
  • U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall calls for a European recovery effort, popularly called the "Marshall Plan."
  • Britain’s Princess Elizabeth marries Phillip Mountbatten, Duke of Edinburgh


  • Henry Ford dies, leaving behind a fortune of over $600 million
  • Americans are able to purchase the first new cars manufactured since the beginning of World War II


  • First airplane to break the speed of sound
  • Transistor invented at Bell Laboratories
  • Holography invented
  • "Broad spectrum" antibiotic introduced to fight typhus

Getty Images

  • World Series:New York Yankees over Brooklyn, 4-3 (first televised World Series)
  • Jackie Robinson becomes the first African-American player in a major league baseball team (Brooklyn Dodgers)


  • Movies: Gentleman’s Agreement, Miracle on 34th Street
  • TV Shows: Kraft Television Theatre, Small Fry Club (programming limited to approximately 18 hours per week)
  • Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire wins Pulitzer Prize


  • More than 1 million veterans enroll in college through the G.I. Bill
  • First food processors
  • The average cost of a loaf of bread was 13 cents


  • First documented sightings of "flying saucers"
  • Drive-in theaters become a booming industry

And, in Stafford, Kansas, USA, the Stafford High Trojan boys' basketball team went to the KSHSAA State Basketball tournament.  

The first state basketball tournament under the direction of the KSHSAA was at Emporia State Teachers' College in 1912 and was won by the Reno County High School team of Nickerson. All teams competed in one class until 1925, at which time all schools with enrollments of 200 or fewer were placed in a new division, Class B. In 1941, a third division was added and the schools were divided into three classes: AA (largest schools), A and B (smallest schools).

In 1945, the schools voted to go back to the pre-war plan of three separate state tournaments of 16 teams each. In 1947, Stafford High went to the Class B tournament in Hutchinson, where Inman High was crowned champion. Other champions in 1947 were: Class AA, Wellington High; and Class A, Buhler.  (Other KSHSAA state basketball history is available HERE.)

It was before the grandparents of SHS's current players were even alive.  Some of our friends have grandsons on the team. While we don't personally have family members competing, we've been following this group of seniors since junior high. We were among several fans who went to another league school (my alma mater) to watch them win the League Championship when the current seniors were 8th graders four years ago.

Several people have been sharing this photo on Facebook from their 8th grade year. This particular photo was taken by Jami Downing.

Today, those same guys - and a bunch of their friends - will take to the court at Barton Community College for the KSHSAA 1A, Division II, state basketball championships.

Photos by Nicholas Minks, who coached them as 8th graders and has taken amazing photos of their high school careers.

We - along with a bunch of other Trojan fans - drove to Ransom, more than 2 hours away, to watch the sub-state tournament last Friday and Saturday. It was worth every moment in the car.

Just ask the guys' coach. 

My photos aren't as good as Nick's, but they did capture the joy.

Stafford High has had wrestlers go to state championships, including Randy and several of his high school buddies. When Jill was an 8th grader, the high school girls' volleyball team earned a spot at state. 

You celebrate big when it's been 76 years since you've done something. Businesses in town have signs on their windows. Elementary school classrooms made posters to encourage the team. The after-school program made signs, too. 

Photo from STARS After School Facebook page

There was a welcome home impromptu parade last Saturday night when the team returned to town. There was a pep rally as school started this morning, and there's a send-off this afternoon down Main Street. 

Yeah, it's just a game. But it's really so much more. These are good kids off the court, too.

Above, I shared that photo Jami took four years ago. And while it's fun to see how those "little boys" have grown into young men about ready to tackle the world away from high school, I was also struck by what she wrote four years ago:

 ... They support each other, build each other up and want each other to succeed. They are hungry for success and they have been bringing their best every game this season.  But most importantly, they are just really good kids! I’ve been telling people for the last couple years just how fun they are to watch and encouraging anyone I can to show up and see it for themselves. I always add, that as fun as they are to watch and as good as they are on the court, they are such good kids off the court too. That alone, makes them a force to be reckoned with. 
As Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” That is so true for this group of boys and the leadership and friendship they have given the rest of the boys on their team. They have encouraged the younger boys to step up, never give up and play with heart. They included them in every victory. Whether or not they played a second, they showed them what being a team was all about! They told them and showed them, but they truly made them feel it, and they won’t forget that! 
These boys are great role models on a team, in our school and in the community. It takes a village, and I. for one, am so very proud to have them in mine! I couldn’t ask for a better group of kids to be role models to my boys, and I will always appreciate the genuinely great kids that they are! I look forward to watching them continue to grow, the best is yet to come!

The best was yet to come! So GO TROJANS! I'm guessing half (or more) of Stafford will be in Great Bend this afternoon. We will! 


Team Effort

Reunion - 2011 - Skyline girls' basketball
I do have a little experience with state basketball tournaments on the girls' side. The KSHSAA Girls' Basketball championship wasn't added until 1973. I was a champion bench sitter on Skyline's team, and we won the first-ever Class 1A tournament. 

We won again the following year, and we made a trip to state my senior year, 1975, and placed third. Skyline won again in 1977, when my youngest sister was part of the team.

I wrote this blog post in March 2011 about KSHSAA's celebration of 100 years of service to member schools. State basketball winners of the past were recognized and Skyline girls showed up - including the bench sitter.

But as my dad always said, there is value in those people who practice against the stars every day, too. So, to all the SHS basketball players who likely won't get on the court during the game today: I see you. And you're important, too!
Click HERE for the blog post, Team Effort.  It echoes what Jami said about being a team - whether you're the star or not.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Wheat's Nine Lives

You know the old cliche, "Rain, rain, go away. Come again another day."?

Unless you're planning an outside wedding in Kansas, no one is buying into that sentiment. (And, if you're planning an outside wedding in Kansas in early March, what do you expect anyway?)

We got about 0.80 inches of moisture about a week ago. While we appreciate every drop, it didn't do much to alleviate the drought conditions in the Wheat State.

However, right now, Kansas' wheat farmers are wondering if there will be much of a 2023 crop this summer at all. Tye, who took over our farm ground after last year's harvest, called Randy after touring wheat ground over the weekend. So we went out for our own perusal.

It's not looking good. But Tye is not alone. The National Ag Statistics services released an update on crop conditions for the week ending February 26. The winter wheat condition is rated:

25 percent very poor
26 percent poor
30 percent fair
17 percent good 
2 percent excellent
There is certainly not 2 percent excellent in our part of the state.
It varies from field to field, too. What we call the "home quarter" (directly above) looks better than the 80 acres south of our house (photo earlier in this post).

In our area, we are ranked at in the D3 or extreme drought category. My childhood farm in Pratt County is even worse - ranked in D4 or exceptional drought category, along with most of western Kansas. Only the northeast portion of the state is without drought conditions.

Graphic from Kansas Wheat

The USDA's Ag Statistics says that subsoil moisture supplies are rated 46 percent very short, 32 percent short, 22 percent adequate and 1 percent surplus. 

“You never want to count a wheat crop out; we talk about it being the crop with nine lives,” said Jeanne Falk Jones, a multi-county specialist with K-State’s Northwest Research-Extension center in Colby in a news release from K-State Research and Extension. “But some would say we ran through a few of those lives trying to get to this point in the growing season.”

Much of the Kansas wheat crop was planted last fall in extremely dry conditions, creating variability in wheat stands in the late fall and into this spring. With limited rain and snow fall this winter, those dry conditions haven't changed.

In the past year, precipitation in Kansas was about 10 inches below normal.

At this point, wheat is in a dormant period. Last week's rain did help green up some fields, but time will tell whether it can recover enough to harvest. 

Tye - like most farmers - is trying to weigh the options. Should fertilizer be applied when the outlook looks sparse? If you apply a herbicide, it reduces the options of what you could plant after a crop failure. So, what's the best management decision?

A crystal ball would be helpful in farming. So would some rain. 

Kansas is the nation’s leading wheat producer, known for hard red winter wheat that is used for whole grain white bread and other whole grain products. According to the Kansas Department of Agriculture, the state’s growers harvested 7 million acres with an average yield of 52 bushels per acre in 2021. This accounted for 10.4% of the state’s total agricultural receipts and 22.1% of the nation’s crop.

KDA estimates the direct impact of wheat production in Kansas at $1.3 billion in output and 3,231 jobs.

Weekly crop reports from USDA Ag Statistics begin this week as the countdown begins toward wheat harvest 2023. At least, we hope there's a 2023 wheat harvest.  

Harvest 2022


Thursday, March 2, 2023

All That Glitters

Unwrap the hidden beauties in an ordinary day.
 –Gerhard E. Frost, author
(Until I typed his name, it didn't register that the quote was from a guy named FROST - ha!)

All that glitters is not gold. But it can be valuable, just the same.

Sometimes, though, that glitter is fleeting, so it should be appreciated in the moment.

One cold, cold day last week, I walked by an east-facing window and stopped in my tracks. The rising sun was creating a temporary art installation in my bathroom. 

The window pane provided a natural frame for the intricate patterns created by frost crystals.

The scene was modified slightly by the window screen covering a portion of the window. More camera clicks followed.

Even though the temperature didn't get far out of the deep freeze that day, the artwork on my bathroom windows soon disappeared, a combination of furnace heat and the sun's ascension.

And it again made me think about appreciating the small things as they happen. 

Whether it's a sunrise ...

Or a sunset ...

 Or frost on a window.  


Tuesday, February 28, 2023

It's Not National Geographic, But ...

I was feeling really excited about my latest photos of a bald eagle ... until I saw the winning photo from the 2022 National Geographic Picture of the Year.

A bald eagle arrives to steal a perch on a tree log that offers a strategic view of the shoreline at the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve in Alaska. When other eagles drag freshly caught salmon in from the water, these bystanders swoop in to take a share. (Photo by Karthik Subramaniam) To see all of National Geographic's contest winners, click HERE.

In reality, I've entered eagle photos and other photos of birds in the Stafford County Fair before. They rarely get any ribbon at all. However, all my bird photos have been the equivalent of portraits - birds sitting still on a branch or on my backyard fence or, in the case of some visiting bluebirds four years ago, perched on dried grasses in our pasture.

There's no action like that spectacular photo taken in Alaska. (On the other hand, I know how hard it is to capture even these still photos with a small camera sans a tripod and telephoto lens. But when you enter a photo contest, you don't get to plead your case about how many clicks of the shutter it took to get a few photos in focus. The judge didn't know that in all my years as a Kansan, I'd never seen a bluebird before. Whether it was a ribbon winner or not, I still love the bluebird photos.)

See more photos from February 2019 in our pasture, by clicking HERE.

In contrast, photographer Karthik Subramaniam told National Geographic that he'd camped out near the shore of Chikat Bald Eagle Preserve in Alaska for a week to capture the perfect shot.

My single eagle was hanging out near the mama cows and their babies. Randy had taken a solo trip to drive through the cattle lot. But he called and told me about the eagle. We figured by the time he came back home to pick me up, the eagle would have flown the coop - or, the cottonwood tree, in this case.

But it was still there. It stayed for a little bit, then flew away. We saw it again in other trees, but it departed before we could get close enough for my camera's little telephoto lens. But, when we got back to the road, the eagle had again perched in the cottonwoods near the road, giving me another chance at some photos. We were there when it flew away both times, but I wasn't fast enough to capture the majestic bird in flight. I never am!

So - no camping out for days in the Alaskan cold for me. But I still was thrilled to get close enough to our Kansas eagle to take some "portraits" - whether they are National Geographic material or not.  

To see all of National Geographic's contest winners, click HERE