February 18, 2011
News this week:
The U.S. Postal Service will begin the process of closing as many as 2,000 postal offices in March and will review 16,000 more — half of all existing post offices — that are losing money, The Wall Street Journal reports. The new round of closures is in addition to 491 that are already being shuttered.
What will this mean for our rural post office, a tiny white building in the near-dead town of Milton? I headed to Milton to find out. The town is about 10 miles from our farm.
Postmaster Betty is not worried. She gives me the facts (after recognizing me by the volume of mail we get). She has two mail carriers which serve 287 rural mailboxes in the nearby town of Norwich and 104 post office boxes at the Norwich hardware store. (Unfortunately, Norwich’s post office shut down a year or so ago because of a moldy building.) She also serves 138 rural mailboxes in the Milton zip code and 26 boxes in her building.
She’s proud of the vintage post office touches in her building, which used to be a one-bedroom home. The outside was painted just last year, she says. While I’m there, a customer comes in to buy stamps and she answers a phone call or two. We chat about life — everything from the weather to mobile phones to the Internet to recent farm family tragedies.
Betty and her post office are treasures — real-life Americana. I hope she’s right that Milton, Kansas 67106 will survive the cuts. Take a peek:
January 12, 2011
September 16, 2010
Gayla – with her shoulder-length curls and awesome purple cowgirl boots — greeted me when I arrived a the Agriland booth at the Kansas State Fair. I was volunteering for the Kansas Agri-Women, one of several groups that sponsor the booth.
Gayla squeezed my elbow, looked me deeply in the eyes, thanked me for joining and for helping out, then said, “Let’s go find a spot for your purse.” Loved it. She embodied what I admire about many I meet in agriculture — warmth, simplicity, authenticity and always being ready for a hard day’s work, no matter where they are.
She introduced me to a long-time leader of the group — who is still active in the organization at 80 years old. I took over at her station, a scale where kids could be weighed and then compared to a farm commodity. The kids loved hearing they weighed as much as a baby calf (about 75 pounds) or were only a few pounds shy of a bushel of corn (56 pounds). Surprisingly, parents and teachers joined in.
The booth was loaded with other hands-on activities — a combine cab, buckets full of seed, a soil tunnel, even Blossom, the full-sized cow with her squeezable udder. (“Squeeze, don’t pull,” the sign read.)
It was a fun day of answering questions and listening to stories. Gayla’s grandson stopped by. I’m sure the little boy, who was barely walking, has a limited vocabulary, but he exclaimed, “Big. Cow,” when he came upon Blossom. It was the powdered sugar on my funnel cake of an afternoon.
August 22, 2010
You know the moment — that micro-millisecond — when you see something terribly wrong, but before your brain has processed it? We experienced just such a moment a week ago. We were driving home about 9:30 p.m. when we saw our small 1,000-bushel grain bin in the neighbor’s field. It was dark and rainy, so we could only see as far as the headlights.
The devastation was frightening as we made our way through our farmyard. Power lines were down. Our 7000-bushel bin was caved in from the impact of the small bin, which had been blown from its foundation. Our mini-van, which we owned just six weeks, was smashed in on one side – another victim of the flying grain bin. Our cattle shed, which V., his dad and D. rebuilt just two years ago, was obliterated from the straight-line winds that reached 70 mph. V.’s pickup was buried in the rubble. Thankfully, the house had just minor shingle damage. In fact, the power had only been out a short time. If we hadn’t stopped at the grocery store, we would have been smack dab in the middle of it.
We had a restless, restless night as we calmed D. and E. and fretted about what was ahead. The morning light revealed more damage — our 70-year-old red barn was shifted eight inches off its foundation, augers and windows were smashed, and our seed wheat was trapped in the crushed bin.
I shed many tears. We will never replace the large bin. It was put up when V.’s family stored a lot of wheat and milo. The cattle shed’s block foundation, each block poured and laid by V.’s Grandpa, could not be saved. Both our van and the pickup were sure to be total losses.
The next morning and all this week, V. and his dad, Stanley, showed me yet again what it means to be a farm family. It’s OK to look back on your farm’s legacy, as long as it doesn’t keep you from looking forward. You get up, clean up and rebuild. Along the way, you share meals and care for kids, animals and crops. In fact, thanks to our rural electric cooperative and a caring neighbor, we had power restored by 11:30 a.m. — and came in as usual for a large noon meal.
V. says our farm will be better than ever when all is said and done. I know he’s absolutely right. Plus, our kids will have a great story to tell their own kids as they sit in our yet-to-be-built cattle shed.
July 15, 2010
A big deal happened for me this week — I was featured in the “A Conversation With…” feature in the Wichita Eagle’s Sunday business section: http://bit.ly/9750Gz. I was flattered, flabbergasted and flushed. What would we talk about?
The business reporter, Karen Shideler, was interested in my roles as a writer and PR counselor — and that of a farm wife. Karen is a pro and very easy to talk with, so it was a fun conversation. I greatly appreciated her take on my life here on Woolf Farms.
The conversations after the Conversation have been just as fun. Two families are planning visits to our farm. I’m meeting with one soon-to-be ag journalist and connected with a colleague, who is also doing ag advocacy, on the ethanol front. Others sent notes detailing fond memories of their grandparents’ farms. This note from retired schoolteacher and farm wife Kay Wulf made my day.
Today’s Americans may be generations removed, but the family farm is still very much embedded in our culture. Let’s keep it that way.
June 30, 2010
Sharing scenes from our 2010 wheat harvest: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqsxVkG7_7c
Cutting began on farmer-son’s 9th birthday, a perfect gift from my farmer, farmer-in-law and Mother Nature. Farmer described this year’s harvest as excellent cutting weather with average yields. We’ll take it. Last year, we flooded out.
For farmers, harvest is stressful, exhausting, hot and rewarding. For those who watch or ride along, it’s a thrill. For my farmer-son, it’s his favorite time of year. He spends all day working with his dad and grandpa, in the combine or wheat truck or making the inevitable machine repairs. They come in about 10 p.m. to eat a full late dinner. Then, off to sleep to do it again the next day — year after year, if you’re lucky. And we are, even with the occasional weather disaster or poor yields. Wheat has been harvested on this family farm for more than 70 years.
June 21, 2010
E. and I ventured back into the Flint Hills last week, as part of the 18th Annual Flint Hills Prairie Wildflower and Pasture tour. More than five buses of photographers and nature lovers were lucky enough to explore private hay meadows and native prairie. The wildflowers were in full bloom, not as a cascade, but a wonderful peek-a-boo of color and shape.
We headed out from Cassoday (population: 130), which E. was delighted to find out is the “prairie chicken capital of the world.” Extension and Conservation experts walked us up and down the meadow, naming every bloom, grass and seed pod. We ended up on a majestic open range near Matfield Green (population: 60). In the Flint Hills, one ranch may consist of hundreds if not thousands of acres. It’s not feasible to fence such an expanse, so cattle roam freely, sometimes across county roads. Guards built into the roads keep cattle from wandering off the ranch. It felt like a prairie safari as we came upon a surprised cattle herd.
It was a beautiful evening and E. got some great shots for the county fair. I was sorry to leave, but will definitely be back. I can’t get enough of those rolling hills.
(Thanks Butler County and Chase County Extensions and Conservation Districts.)
May 31, 2010
I am under no delusions about what happens when livestock leave our farm. However, it’s hard not to become a little attached, especially to those we bottle feed twice a day. So, I name them. Not every one, of course. That would be just plain silly. However, some names just seem to fit. There’s Gladys, our old nanny goat and young Francine, our nanny-t0-be. There’s Butterscotch, our Brahma calf, and his cow, Bossy. Our farm has also been home to Montie, J.T., little Bern, Johnny, Mr. D. and many more.
Now, my farmer-in-law has sent me proof that I’m not crazy — or alone:
“Cows are rarely kept as pets, but giving them pet names could be good for business. Agricultural professors from Newcastle University in England found that dairy cows called by name produce more an average of 68 gallons more milk per year. This tidbit may surprise city folk, but the 516 dairy farmers interviewed for this study were hardly shocked. Ninety-three percent of them agreed that it’s important to get to know each cow as an individual.”
So, bolstered by research, the kids and I have picked Tiki as the name on deck, creature TBD.
March 8, 2010
LaDene has been to all 25 Women in Ag conferences, sponsored by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension. I now know why. I recently attended for the first time and these words come to mind: welcoming, informative, inspirational and motivational.
The conference celebrated the role women play on the farm. However, the conference wasn’t about awards or pats on the back. This was about farm wives, mothers, daughters and grandmothers gathering to share meals and learn from the experts — and each other. Learn we did, about the government’s farm program, marketing strategies, advocating for agriculture, operations and financial management and so much more.
One woman in her 70s was planning for retirement, while seeking advice about how to pay for her mother’s healthcare. Another young farm wife attended with her mother, also a farm wife. One presenter on Medicare and Medicaid shared stories about her own farm life in a remote part of Nebraska — 35 miles to the nearest grocery store. Many studied and asked questions about which government program to enroll in — to protect their operations from the inevitable weather disaster.
I have great admiration for what these women do and manage each day. I play a smaller role on our own farm. However, there was no discussion about who was bigger or better. The conference was about preserving a livelihood and building a legacy for future generations. I’ll definitely go back.
February 23, 2010
I felt quite clever last week. I mistyped the word “farm” and “family” in a story and wrote “farmily.” Thought it was such a cool word, that I tweeted my discovery. Ann Wylie, a leading communications and writing consultant, retweeted me. She has more than 900 followers, so I was now both famous and clever.
A Google search deflated my ego. Urban dictionary listed the word, so somebody, somewhere got there first. No matter. I still love the word.
Farmily is the reason my D. choses to spend every June in the combine with Grandpa, instead of at the baseball field. It’s the reason E.’s recipe box is right at home in the same kitchen in which her grandma and great-grandma cooked, baked, boiled and fried. It’s the reason V. introduced me to his family at a noontime meal, when everyone was in for a break. (I knew I had to marry him when his mom offered me seconds on her out-of-this-world chocolate cake, with home-made fudge frosting and pudding filling.)
A great word. A great way to raise our family.