My family recently experienced an agvocacy win.
These wins are rare and special. All too often, a non-farming person’s interest in crops or livestock is limited to a couple hours, maybe some social media interaction or a couple “likes” on Facebook pages.
I’m a volunteer for Ask the Farmers, a group that answers agriculture questions posed in all social media, by email, or on its website and blog at askthefarmers.com.
Agvocacy is intended to dispel myths, misconstrued facts or outright misinformation about agriculture. Sometimes discussions get awfully heated. People can be real jerks when they’re relatively anonymous on the Internet.
Other volunteers can handle ag questions posed in fast-moving social media with far more equanimity than I can.
But I love email questions. For one thing, people usually are serious and friendly in email.
Email also offers the luxury of time. It takes me a while to distill my thoughts, then compose and edit a query or response.
When the group got an email question from a Nebraskan asking Nebraska crop questions, I was excited to have an opportunity to answer.
Omaha resident Leslie Kwasnieski wrote in August: “My husband and I just finished a rather long drive across the state of Nebraska where the only thing we had to talk about was the crops we were passing. It was a wonderful time but we have so many questions!”
They’d taken Highway 2 from northwest to southeast, along the Sandhills, as part of the Nebraska Passport Program. The 2015 program included 80 stops scattered across the state, easily 3,500 miles.
A web search helped Leslie find Ask the Farmers online to ask questions.
She wrote to ask about irrigation practices, corn plant stature and aerial chemical application. I’m no agronomist, and in fact am not a farmer but instead a farmer’s wife, but these are things I can speak about with confidence.
I’m pretty sure Leslie didn’t expect the 1,000-word response. I might be an introvert, but I am sure a wordy introvert.
On Oct. 23 —2½ months and 26 emails later — Leslie and her husband, Mark, pulled into our front yard.
Our corn wasn’t quite dry enough for picking, but my husband’s longtime friend, Kelly Anderson, and his dad, Eddie, were picking corn at their home place north of Loomis, and they were glad to have visitors for the afternoon.
Mark climbed up in the combine with Kelly, and Leslie got in the truck with Eddie. A couple hours later, they traded places.
Kelly and Eddie are great people to visit if you have questions. Their longtime family operation includes crops and a small feedyard. It currently supports three generations of Andersons.
Kelly explained how the cornhead and combine worked, and Eddie talked about the grain leg at the bin site and the cattle in the feedlot.
At the end of the afternoon, the Kwasnieskis came back to our house. We shared a meal and talked crops, cattle, canning, gardening and kids — they have two sweet grandbabies in Omaha.
We agreed to meet up again the following day before they headed home to Omaha for a quick tour of a pasture near Smithfield where my husband’s cows and calves graze for the summer.
Leslie supervises a science lab on a Metro Community College campus and teaches night classes, and Mark works in telecommunications at West Corporation and is also pursuing an IT degree.
Although their jobs are not ag-related, our visitors are not strangers to south-central Nebraska; they visit Crane Meadows or Rowe Sanctuary, or both, each year during crane season. Leslie is a Nebraska Master Naturalist and teaches for that program as well.
They knew where to find answers to questions about nature and wildlife — their curiosity involved the machines and the crops that they saw only as passers-by.
For me, for my husband, and for the Andersons and the Kwasnieskis, this experience was immensely rewarding.
To have people with genuine curiosity and interest in the agriculture in their backyard, to the point of taking two days out of their lives to come see it — what good fortune!
We see this every day, and see the plant-grow-harvest cycle every year.
Showing it to others reinforces how fortunate we are to have the opportunity to grow crops and cattle, and have our children involved in an agriculture background.
Leslie’s point of view
We are so happy to have a contact in the farming world. We had almost as many questions as a chatty 4-year-old and are thrilled to have a contact close enough to visit at harvest or planting time. (Yes, we are planning to come back!)
The things that most impressed Mark were the equipment and how the object of the day was to keep the combine moving, not stopping for more than a second. For me, it was the details, like weighing the grain truck and keeping track of the total amount of corn and its moisture.
Kelly and I also had a discussion about what time to start harvesting in the morning. Things that we had assumed (don’t all farmers start work at 5 a.m.?) turned out to be far more purposeful decisions (like waiting a bit until some of moisture transpires out of the corn and the husks open a bit, allowing it to be more easily harvested), and were based on getting as much corn harvested as possible for the day.
It was great to spend such a beautiful, sunny day harvesting mountains of corn with people that gave so generously of their time and welcomed us into their cornfield.
This Soils and Streams column first appeared in the Nov. 14, 2015, issue of the Kearney Hub.