Is advocacy even worth it?

As someone who is not a farmer I sometimes ask myself is it really worth all the work it takes to be advocate for the agriculture community, what is the point if I really don’t even have a dog in this fight? Why subject myself to psychological warfare with people who don’t fight fair, people that just spout out whatever they think is reality even though their perception of what they think is reality is often skewed by verifiable false and purposely mislead information?

Well the answer is yes, it is all worth it. See I am a consumer, we all are consumers, and even the farmers are consumers, so why not jump on board and help defend the very people that are growing the food we need? If you follow me on twitter you already know I enjoy things like cornbread with blueberries, and yes my wife gets mad at me for not having “just regular” cornbread and that’s what I get for marrying a true Midwestern meat and potatoes kind of gal, buy what if the farmers were to figuratively just dry up and blow away like a 1930’s dust bowl? Who is going to grow the blueberries and make the cornmeal? Who is going to produce butter for me to slather all over that warm delicious heavenly blueberry cornbread, and I don’t imagine I have to go into much detail about the divine intervention of maple syrup being poured over the top of blueberry cornbread?

So what about that cornmeal? Cornmeal does not start off as cornmeal, first someone who most likely is a farmer had to grow that corn, then it had to be shipped to a processing plant to be ground up and processed. The cornmeal is then packaged up and sent into the distribution chain to reach its end destination whether that be a grocery store or a restaurant or whomever has a need for some cornmeal.

Same goes with the meat industry, on platforms such as social media we often praise the producers who are raising the animals, and there are people who stand up to help protect that industry, but it takes more than just an animal producer to get that steak or chicken cordon blue on my plate, much the same as that cornmeal, there are several steps along the way to get that animal from the field to a dinner plate.

We should be rallying the troops to support all aspects of the food chain from start to finish, we need to take care of not just the farmers and the producers, but also the guy or gal working the floor of the packing house, or the person running the flour mill, and don’t forget those truckers, without trucks nothing is going to get shipped around. This worldwide pandemic has taught us a lot about the stability and weaknesses of our food supply chain and we definitely have some things that need to be reworked and or redesigned to further strengthen our supply and demand processes, but furthermore we need to learn to agree that every aspect of the food chain is important, that’s why the term chain fits so well, if you take one link out of that chain, the chain will fail to work as designed.

So again yes, it is important to help support and advocate for the agriculture industry as well as the other industries that are involved with feeding the world. It is important to learn and understand actual facts and not chase down false accusations or misleading information that is driven by someone who has an agenda to push, the only agenda there should be is how to make sure the world can be fed sustainably, responsibly and efficiently. Many farmers, producers, and food processors are ready to talk to you if you have questions, a majority of the food supply chain from start to end are willing to answer your questions, they would much rather provide you with the truth than to have someone spilling out false and harmful information that can lead to others misunderstanding where their food comes from. Don’t be afraid to venture out on your own and do a little research, don’t feel compelled to follow the extreme activist groups, especially if you feel something may not be right or maybe someone is not being up front and truthful to you, its always okay to question what someone tells you, the best way to learn the truth is to simply reach out to those who are in the trenches working day in and day out to help feed us all and then draw your own conclusions of what you believe from your own findings.

I learned a valuable lesson…

As a firefighter I always enjoyed learning from the people that had been on the job for a number of years and had gained knowledge from their own experiences. During the training you could ask questions or you might even ask them to provide you with an example of what they were talking about and the more experienced firefighters could typically answer your question with ease.

When it comes to dealing with mental health I feel I would much rather listen to someone who has been in the darkness verses a person who read about mental illness in a college class they took. I feel that life experiences will provide much more solid advice. Over the past few years I have listened to countless hours of podcasts dealing with mental health and the agriculture industry. It is a pretty common occurrence to hear people say farmers only want to talk to farmers, the general consensus is that farmers feel only another farmer can understand what they are going through. I personally do not agree with that assessment. I could be completely wrong, I mean I often question things my wife tells me and I am going to assume I don’t really need to go into great detail about how far that gets me, right?

So let me explain my observations from my own personal experience before you throw me to the wolves, I want to pass down a little food for thought for you to digest. Last week I was very hard to live with, I had such bad anxiety over something so stupid, yet I let it control me and it made me a hard person to be around, it really was hard for my wife, she did not know what was going on, but she knew something wasn’t right. She never asked me what the problem was and I was too stubborn to reach out for help. About half way through my episode I had made a post on twitter about how I hate the days when mental health can flare up at unexpected times, much the same as an auto-immune disease can. Three or four people reached out to me with some kind words of encouragement, and those words became the light at the end of the tunnel, it was enough to bring me out of this slump. None of those people were firefighters, they were all farmers.

So looking back at last week I thought to myself it wasn’t people that understood firefighting that helped me, it was people from a different walk of life that bailed me out. Maybe helping one another actually has nothing to do with our professions, maybe it’s just that we are all humans, we all feel and hurt and suffer the same no matter what we do for a living. Personally it is easier for me to talk to a complete stranger about my anxiety than it is to tell my wife and family or fellow firefighters, but why is that? According to what I have learned over the past couple of years I should find it easier to talk to a firefighter than a farmer because a firefighter should understand my life more than a farmer would. Maybe it’s just because by nature farmers are naturally caring people, they care for the land, they care for the animals and they care about you and me, but then again firefighters by nature of caring people as well, they care for the sick and injured on a daily basis. I really don’t have any good answers for why, but if you are hurting and not comfortable with talking to someone of the same trade, maybe focus more on finding someone who has been in the darkness and less on what it is they do for a living.

In closing one of my dear farmer friends asked me why I didn’t reach out, I told him I hate feeling like a burden, it’s in a firefighters blood to want to help others, not be the person who needs help, his advice was STOP FEELING LIKE YOU ARE A BURDEN……and reach out next time this happens!! Don’t waste an entire week of your life trying to fix this yourself, ask for some help, it’s what we are all here for no matter what our professions are, we are all here to help one another. I learned I need to practice what I preach, next time I have doubt I need to reach out, and if you think someone is struggling, it’s okay to ask that person if they need to talk or need help, its amazing what a few kind words can do to a soul, a few words may be all a person needs to get back on track.

What is it?

It’s everything I have ever wanted, but it’s more

It’s a warm cup of coffee after working all day in the cold and the rain

It’s that warm feeling when the sun first hits your face after being outside all night trying to save a life

It’s that breath of fresh air when you feel you can no longer breath

It’s that light shining ever so brightly that guides you to safety

It’s that flashing road sign that warns you of danger ahead

It’s that phone call you have been wanting from that long lost friend that brings you joy

It’s what picks up extra chores when you are too tired and weak

It’s what keeps you putting one foot in front of the other

It’s that warm embrace when you get that bad news you hoped you would never hear

It’s something you don’t know how to live without

It’s something you can’t replace with something better

It’s what taught you that’s it’s better to have love and lost than to never have loved at all

It’s that smile that lets you know it will be okay

What is it?

It’s my wife……..

Do you know what triggers your anxiety?

I saw a post on social media from Jason Medows of the Ag State of Mind podcast that asked if you knew what your triggers for anxiety are. At first trying to figure out how to answer the question ramped up some anxiety, how do I compose an answer that makes sense and is coherent yet coveys what I am trying to say without unnecessary rambling on, I mean this is Jason Medows, a future super star in the Agriculture Mental Health arena, now is not the time to sound like a complete idiot, and if my friend Jeff Ditzenberger reads the reply I best have used correct grammar and or spelling or things may get ugly.

The more I thought about the question the more I realized I have never really sat down and thought about my triggers. The answer I responded with was the fact that I have 6 kids and that is probably a large portion of my triggers because with 6 kids something is always going on in our household, often it feels like we bounce from one crisis to the next. One prime example was 2 nights ago my wife and I were sitting peacefully and quietly watching one of her TV shows and our 17 year old daughter came into the room crying. Of course being a parent my anxiety ramps up and my mind instantly goes to the worst case scenario, something bad must have happened. Long story short, my daughter had 3 mice as pets and now she has only 2, I will spare you the gory details of what happened, none the less, not the end of the world, well not to my wife and I anyways.

Yesterday the president announced he wants to force the meat processing facilities to stay open, and of course that stirred up the social media masses. It is already bad enough that social media is very divided on the idea of should we open the country back up or stay closed. It does not take more than a few minutes to realize how ugly and mean people can become while discussing their opinions on what they feel is right or what they want to happen. After about 5 minutes of reading social media I realized that social media is a painful anxiety trigger of mine, maybe not as much of a trigger as dealing with a crying teenager daughter, but pretty close.

It got me thinking about what ever happened to being able to understand that not everyone will agree with you and you are not going to agree with all of them? When did we as a society stop having respect for one another? As I felt myself stating to feel anxious, annoyed and saddened about all I was reading I decided I had enough, I closed my social media apps and redirected my energy to making my wife dinner before she had to remind me a second time that she was hungry. The wife being hungry is also something that can trigger anxiety, luckily I was making her favorite meal so she was able to spare some mercy on my soul.

As it turns out I learned a valuable lesson yesterday, if you are someone that deals with anxiety and you have not taken the time to sit down and think about what your triggers are I highly encourage you to do so. As firefighters we always trained on the basics so that things that could save our lives were second nature to us. While attempting to rescue a victim in the middle of a house fire is not the time to figure out just exactly how your air tank and mask work, you should have known that before you ever stepped foot into that fire.

Same goes for mental health awareness, I have identified that when social media is a powder keg ready to explode it is best for me to just put it away for the rest of the day. It is not the responsibility of everyone else to change their behavior because it might upset me, the responsibility lies on me to recognize the danger and to have a pre plan in place of how I am going to mitigate the danger. Now that I have identified something that triggers my anxiety I am better prepared to avoid the situation in the future.

Lastly if you feel social media is beginning to get you down I encourage you to head over and catch me on twitter, it is money back guaranteed to put a smile on your face and cheer you up, or it may have you shaking your head and wanting to send my wife your condolences.

If you have more questions about mental health and need a good source to turn to check out Jason Medows at https://agstateofmind.com/ Also check out his podcast, they are well worth the time to listen to.

Life is just like Geology –

Geology is the study of pressure and time. That’s all it takes, really. Pressure and time – Red

The above quote is one of my favorite movie quotes that came from the movie Shawshank Redemption.

Dictionary.com website states: the definition of geology as the science that deals with the dynamics and physical history of the earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the physical, chemical, and biological changes that the earth has undergone or is undergoing.

When I reflect on life and think about the direction of where my life is headed I often think about that quote from Shawshank Redemption, our lives from the day we are born are based around pressure and time.

Pressure: Growing up we are always under pressure, pressure to get our chores done, we have pressure to get good grades, pressure to do well in sports, pressure to go on to college or learn a trade, pressure to do well at your job, pressure to be a good spouse or to be a good parent if you are raising kids, there is pressure to be a good citizen to your community. These are just a few examples of our daily lives that pressure is applied to.

Time: As kids we were always trying to get our homework done on time, trying to get chores done on time, we try to get to bed on time so that we could get up and be ready for school on time. As we got older and gained more responsibilities we try to get meals done on time, get your kids to practice on time, get the kids a bath on time. If you have a boss, that boss expects you to get your work done on time, your spouse may be counting on you to get home on time.

The above examples of pressure and time are things that have molded us into who we have become in our personal lives and those lessons of pressure and time can help direct us in how we want to move forward with our lives. Not all of our experiences of pressure and time were pleasant, but the negative times can be applied to your life to hopefully keep you from having to relive a similar situation of being under pressure that did not make you feel good.

When you feel like you can’t handle the pressure, or you feel you are just running out of time, take some time to sit down with your thoughts. Whether it’s just a few minutes, or if you can spare an entire day, use that time to reflect where you have been, how you got there, and where you want to go. Ask yourself, is this something you can do on your own or is this a situation where you need to ask for help. Remember it is normal to have doubt, and it is okay to reach out and ask for help, and it is most definitely okay to take a few minutes for yourself.

What is a Farmer?

You don’t have to be a farmer to be connected to agriculture, you see every single one of us is more closely related to agriculture than we give credit too. We rely on agriculture several times a day to feed ourselves, feed our families and even feed our pets. Whether you are a vegan, a vegetarian, or a carnivore, we all have a common thread, we all rely on food to keep us going each and every day.

A majority of the population goes to a grocery store to purchase the food that we eat, but have you ever stopped and thought where does all of this come from? Who made this stuff, ever wonder what kind of person would do that?

We generically call those people farmers, but the term farmer means so much more, it can be a profession, it can be a lifestyle, it can be a future dream of a young child standing in a field watching their mother and father work the land to provide them with money, security, a place to grow up, a place they can call home.

The term farmer may not mean someone who grows crops in a field. The term farmer is an umbrella term that is often applied to someone who raises pigs, or sheep, or cattle, or it may be someone who grows wine grapes, and apples or sweet corn, it may very well be the person down the road who grows the lettuce for our salads and sandwiches. 

A farmer can be a husband, a father, and a son or she can be a wife, a mother, and a daughter. These farmers are not all that different than us, it doesn’t take super powers to be a farmer, but you will find that these farmers are passionate, caring, strong, and hardworking much the same as all of us. Farmers feel pain, they worry, they know fear, they suffer, and they morn the loss of a loved, no different than you and I. Farmers take pride in their children, when time allows they love to watch their children’s sports, recitals, band performances in the same way that we enjoy watching our children excel and grow.

Farmers are stewards of the land, caretakers of the earth, farmers are consistently working to improve their land, to be able to do more with less. As the world’s population continues to grow we have placed a big challenge on the farmer of how to produce more food yet at the same time be more environmentally friendly to the earth that we all share and need. We have people who consistently attack the farmers and put their families at risk for them simply trying to provide us with something very vital to our existence. Its no longer a us verses them kind of world. We need to come together and partner with the farmer because frankly without them we will all simply starve to death.

So I ask you that next time you watch your child enjoying an ice cream cone on a warm summer day, maybe take a second to praise the farmer, much the same as we do our nurses and doctors, our firefighters and police officers, our members of the military who all work tirelessly to protect our way of life for our families much the same as our farmers do.

My Royal Flush

In the game of poker the strongest hand you can have is the royal flush, if you are not a poker player a royal flush consists of a Ten, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace all of the same suit, e.g. diamonds, spades, hearts, or clubs. I am not an active card player, but I can tell you when it comes to healing my mental health I now hold a royal flush in my hand.

Back in 2013 I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and I was also diagnosed with Asthma around the same time which forced me to give up my one true passion of firefighting. Giving up firefighting cast me into the darkness of the mental health world, which if any of you have ever been there you know it’s not a fun place to be.

As I was searching for a way to heal myself and get my life back on track I stumbled across the agriculture industry and more so the agriculture podcasts. It’s through these podcasts that my journey to healing myself began. At my lowest point of my mental health crisis I didn’t know where to turn for help, I didn’t know how to fix myself. I was afraid to tell anyone about my problem and how I was feeling, I also felt so alone and isolated, I had no clue that there were other people that had gone through what I was going through, I truly just thought this was something I needed to figure out on my own.

Enter in my Ten of hearts, good old Rob Sharkey. Through Rob’s vast empire of Podcasts and Radio shows, I started to discover that there are others just like me. I would listen to his podcasts and to the people telling their stories and it blew my mind how much I could relate to these people. It was the first time I began to see a sign of hope, maybe there was a way out of this mess.

Along comes my Jack of hearts, Lesley Kelly. Through Rob Sharkey I discovered probably the happiest and most cheerful person I have ever met. Lesley is a walking and talking encyclopedia when it comes to mental health awareness, the work that Lesley is doing to shed light on mental health especially in the agriculture industry is just something that warmed my heart. She has a way of putting a mind at ease that together we can all get through this.

After I had spent some time listening to Rob and Lesley banter back and forth on the podcasts I really started to feel myself turn around, that light at the end of this very dark tunnel called mental health was getting brighter. I reached a plateau where I was feeling better, but I was still not 100 percent right. Not knowing anything about mental health I thought well maybe this is as good as it gets. I thought maybe I will never reach the level of happiness I once had, I was just happy to not be where I was a few months before.

As I am dredging through my day to day routine I meet what I call my Queen of hearts, Mr. Jason Medows. For those of you who don’t know Jason he is the host of the Ag State of Mind podcast. I found his podcast because I saw a social media post that he was going to have Lesley Kelly on as his guest. I knew if his show was good enough for Lesley Kelly to be on it I for sure had to check it out. Folks let me tell you, his podcast is absolutely phenomenal, it is so easy to listen too, it’s informative and it’s structured well. His podcast lit a spark in me that got me excited about life again. Many of Jason’s guests were people that in some form or fashion had dealt with mental health and I found myself really relating to what these people were saying.

Then came along the day that changed my life, it’s the day I met my King of hearts, the one and only Jeff Ditzenberger. Jeff was a guest on the Ag State of Mind podcast, and let me tell you, listening to Jeff speak lit the largest wild fire in my soul that got me headed back to being on top of my game. Jeff’s story moved me so much that I decided to reach out to Jeff. Jeff and I talked a little and found out we both have a ton of stuff in common, both had been volunteer firefighters, both liked the 49ers, both had been in the military, and to tell the truth both pretty darn good looking guys, or at least we seem to think so, I will get back to Jeff in a minute.

Where I came from in Northern California you could join the volunteer fire dept at the age of 16, there were a few restrictions we could not do until we were 18, but for the most part we were allowed to do most things the regular firefighters got to do. One day when I was about 17 years old I responded to a rescue call at the local laundry mat for a 6 year old child that was unresponsive in the back of a van. We arrived and immediately began CPR on this child, the child only weighed 18 pounds due to the mother had been a heavy drug user during the pregnancy. I scooped up the child in my arms and carried it to the waiting ambulance. The child was rushed to the hospital but unfortunately the child did not survive. The local coroner took the child as evidence due to the child had burn marks on his chest, they suspect the mother had tortured the child, this weighed very heavy on my mind especially being I was only 17 years old, it was one of my first exposures to how cruel life can be sometimes.

Well this call has haunted me for over 28 years, after the night that I had first talked to Jeff Ditzenberger I was sitting in my front room reflecting on my life and this vision came to me, it was that little boy and he looked at me and said “Thank you for caring for me”. At this point I just lose it, I am sitting there sobbing almost uncontrollably, but yet I felt this huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders, even though I could not save that kid it meant the world to me that he knew I tried. For the next few days I mulled over what had happened, I wanted to tell Jeff that I felt because of our paths crossing that this kid found me, but would he think I am some sort of weirdo, then I remembered what Jeff said in his podcast with Jason, you have to tell your story, if people don’t like you then so be it. So I messaged Jeff and it turned out he didn’t think I was a complete whack job.

By now I am feeling like the old me, I am happy again, I am feeling better than I have felt in years, I had finally reached a plateau I never thought I would see again and that’s when I met my Ace of Hearts, the final card in my royal flush, a woman that probably needs no introduction, it’s the most amazing Bridgette Readel. As I continued on my journey to cure my mental health I became so fascinated about learning as much as I could about the agricultural industry, and of course I had so many questions. I found Bridgette through social media and had listened to her story on one of the Sharkfarmer shows. I reached out to Bridgette to ask her some questions about agriculture related items. Bridgette was one of the most welcoming people I have ever met, she has taken me under her wing and has always been there to answer my questions, Bridgette is truly a living wealth of agriculture information and she is a wonderful teacher when it comes to educating me on anything I can think of.

So these 5 amazing souls are what I refer to as my royal flush, with what I have learned and gained from these 5 people I now hold the best poker hand a person could have, I am now all in and ready to call life’s bluff.

SWOT Analysis

Back in 2004 I graduated from Bellevue University with a bachelor’s degree in Marketing. Being that it’s been so long since I graduated and I don’t work in the marketing field there is not a lot I remember from my college days in regards to marketing. There is one thing that has stuck with me over all these years that I did learn from studying marketing and that was the S.W.O.T analysis they taught us.

S.W.O.T stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The idea of the S.W.O.T analysis in a business setting is a great way to analyze what you are good at, what you need to improve on, what are some opportunities to help grow your business and lastly what kind of threats could harm your business and potentially cause the business to fail. The beauty of the S.W.O.T analysis is that it can be applied to so much more than just your business, you can apply its principles to your personal life and most recently I even used it to analyze what I need to do for my family because of a nasty virus that caused a nation to come to a screeching halt.

Let’s start out with strengths. In a rural or farm setting ask yourself what are some of your strengths. Strengths can be so many things, maybe you own your land outright, maybe you are debt free, and maybe you are very knowledgeable about the product you are producing. Another strength may be that you have access to good reliable labor, or a large family that you can rely on and trust to help you out around the farm especially should a need arise and you cannot be there to oversee the day to day operations.

Weaknesses, what are some things that maybe you are not so good at? Maybe the soil where you live is not the right type of soil to support whatever it is that you want to grow. You might be really good at farming but you are not good at handling the books and paperwork for the business. Another weakness that is common in the rural communities is access to reliable internet connections which can make it harder to use newer technologies.

Opportunities has a pretty wide scope of what it covers, some opportunities might include living close to someone that has manure that you can use for compost, maybe you are close to a distillery and you have easy access to distiller grains that you can use for feed. Do you have access to a good water source, is there a large body of water close by that you can use? Market share, is the market you entering or working in well established, is there room to grow in this market?

Threats, this one is the one I feel that really needs the most attention and maybe is even the most critical of the four. It’s not easy to foresee the future and therefore that makes it hard to plan for things that could become a threat but like anything the better prepared you are then the easier it may be to circumvent a threat that may arise. Look around your farm, do you have hazardous chemicals, are grain bin entrapments a possibility, what about the crazy weather, is there a potential for vandalism from some of the extreme activist groups? How about government regulation, is there a potential that future government regulation or even de-regulation that might force you to change the way you do business?  Urban sprawl is an ever growing concern for some parts of the country, having to travel further to reach the land you use costs you money and time and that ultimately cuts into your bottom dollar. Is there a potential for your market share to shrink, is there a threat that the cost of animal feed surpasses the amount of profit you can make?

A few times a year I like to take a rainy day and I spread out 4 pieces of paper, one for each category of the S.W.O.T. analysis. I spend a few minutes writing something down on each piece of paper, sometimes I will leave them sit for a day or two because I will typically discover more ideas as I think about the analysis as I go through my daily routine.

After I am satisfied that I have thought of enough ideas I go over what I have written down and I make a new list of items. I first start with the opportunities and I will analyze each item and develop an action plan of how I can accomplish each opportunity and also think about what is the goal I want to achieve with that opportunity. Next I think about the weaknesses and the threats, and just like I did with the opportunities I think of the challenges and obstacles I will need to overcome in order to mitigate my weaknesses and threats. Lastly I go back to my strengths, can I apply or use to my advantage some of the strengths that I listed in the analysis process?

Many times as a firefighter we would go out and pre-plan a building, we would identify how far it was to get water, what kind of obstacles prevent us from getting equipment to the scene, what kind of hazards are present that could be potentially harmful or deadly, and we would look at what are some things that could work to our advantage. In the event of an emergency we could fall back on our preplans to help us quickly resolve the situation we were facing.

Having a pre plan that you develop from an S.W.O.T. analysis will help you circumvent tough situations down the road and it can help guide you in the direction you want to see yourself or your company grow.