Lighting a fire in the D.C. snow | National CommonGround Conference

About 2 weeks ago, I dodged a blizzard and safely arrived home from a whirlwind trip to Washington D.C. for the National CommonGround Conference.

CommonGround is a team of female farmer volunteers who are passionate about having conversations about how food is grown. We are a grassroots effort, funded by America’s soybean and corn farmers to share our personal experiences, science and research to help you sort through myths and misinformation surrounding food and farming.

Lighting a fire in the D.C. snow | National CommonGround Conference

The Kentucky CommonGround volunteers and staff attending the national conference.

We don’t get paid to participate.

No one tells us what we can and can’t say.

We volunteer our time to host events and share personal stories from our farms because we believe that connecting with the people who eat the food we grow is important.

I’ve been volunteering with Kentucky’s CommonGround team since it first began in 2011 but this was my first opportunity to attend the national conference/training. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to finally be able to go!

I’ll be honest, most people in my life thought I was crazy for even going to this conference. I really don’t blame them. I was 30 weeks pregnant and there was a record setting blizzard headed right for D.C.

I could sense what they were thinking: “You’ve been blogging for years, what are you really going to learn?” or “Is this really worth getting snowed into D.C. for?”

I had my doubts too, but luckily my wonderful state coordinator reminded me that attending a training of this caliber at the Smithsonian was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So I ignored my worries and hopped on a plane headed into a snow storm.

I had no idea we were going to light a fire in that D.C. snow.

I wasn’t prepared to be rocked, motivated and recharged in ways I didn’t even know I needed.

I didn’t know that these women and this cause would take root in my heart, in a deeper way than I had ever experienced.

We all had a lot in common.

All of us are family farmers. Most of us are wives. Many of us are mothers.

Every one of us was passionate about sharing how our families grow your food.

Every woman in the room was eager to connect with her non-farming peers, ready to answer their questions about food and farming.

Being surrounded by women who were so much like me was a surreal feeling.

Lighting a fire in the D.C. snow | National CommonGround Conference

Alicia and Katie, having blogging farm mom friends like these two is such a blessing!

At meals we swapped stories about raising our kids around agriculture and commiserated with each other over the challenges of being self-employed.

During a breakout session, we shared tips on answering food questions from that one relative we all have who still hasn’t caught on that Dr. Oz is a quack!

We laughed together, cried together and grew together as women united in the common goal of pouring our hearts and souls into sharing the story of American agriculture.

For as much as we had in common, we were also dramatically different.

Some were blogging rock stars, with thousands of online followers and fans.

Some barely used a facebook profile, but were known throughout their local communities as the best person to reach out to when you have a question about food or farming.

There were women who were amazing writers, natural born teachers, all-star farm tour guides and those who could strike up a conversation with anyone at a trade show.

No matter what the audience/occasion, there was a woman there who was perfectly suited to use it to share the story of American agriculture.

I watched in awe as my new friends showed off their talents, making things I’ve struggled with for years look so easy.

I carefully considered the way I approach blog posts, online conversations and in-person discussions with the people who eat the food my family raises and tried to soak up as many tips as I could to make these interactions more meaningful.

These women lit a fire in my heart and I left refreshed, recharged and eager to rededicate myself to sharing the stories of family farms like mine. 

Lighting a fire in the D.C. snow | National CommonGround Conference

So what does that mean for you, my lovely readers? There’s going to be some exciting changes around here!

Now that I have a new network of 60+ new farming friends, I’ll be sharing their expertise to help you learn even more about how food is grown.

When I talk about how we raise our show pigs on our small farm, I’ll also be able to share with you how my friends Val and Alicia are caring for their pigs on their large farms.

When its time to talk about milk, corn, soybeans, sheep or wheat, I’ll have the perfect friends to call on to help me make sure I’m sharing the most accurate information with you!

Also, after all these years, I’m finally launching a facebook page for this blog.

I’ve had readers requesting it for a while, but honestly, I was worried I’d neglect the page because the Celeste Comm and restaurant pages keep me so busy.

Thanks to some tips from those blogging rock stars I mentioned earlier, I’m going to give it a shot and hopefully we can all connect even more!

I’ll be sharing my latest posts, as well as posts and videos from my farming friends’ blogs.

I hope you’ll give it a like and share the posts that connect with you.

A Farm Mom's PerspectiveFor more information about CommonGround, check out our website. Its a fantastic resource for answering common food questions! We’re on facebook, instagram and youtube too!

The truth about FFA and agriculture education

The truth about FFA and agriculture educationToday an article from the animal rights extremist group PETA has been making the rounds online, calling FFA “lame” and saying all sorts of horrible things about the National FFA Organization (formerly known as the Future Farmers of America).

(I won’t be linking to the PETA article because I’m not going to help them spread their propaganda and slander. If you’re dying to read it for yourself, head to your favorite search engine and I’m sure it won’t be hard to find). 

I have blogged about FFA several times. I’m very open about the fact that FFA changed my life in more positive ways than any other organization or extracurricular activity I participated in. Today, I’m honored to call the Kentucky FFA Association a client and to tell the story of the amazing students who make up their membership.

So today when I read the article from PETA, I was overwhelmed with pity for the author.

Somehow this young lady was so caught up in her own world of extremism that she missed out on all the amazing opportunities FFA and agriculture education provide for students.

Obviously, as someone who raises cattle and show pigs on my family farm, the author and I disagree on the issue of raising animals for human consumption. So we can just agree to disagree on that.

What about the thousands of other aspects of FFA?

Here’s the cold hard truth about FFA and agriculture education:

FFA and agriculture education focus on science-based, hands-on learning.

I have no doubt that some of the greatest teachers in the world are agriculture educators. In a world of standardized tests, they still find a way to make hands-on learning the cornerstone of their classrooms.

Agriculture education students learn about plant science in their school’s greenhouses. They build clay models of the complex digestive system of a cow in animal science class.

They learn how to weld and the science behind different types of welding machines. They learn how small engines work, while building and repairing them.

In FFA competitions, students can conduct science experiments and compete in the Agriscience Fair. During this competition, students are not only evaluated on the merit of their experiment but also on their ability to present their findings to the judges. Which brings me to my next point…

The truth about FFA and agriculture education service

FFA teaches public speaking and advocacy skills.

Ask any former agriculture student and I bet they can still remember the time they had to say the FFA Creed in front of their class. For many students, that was their first taste of public speaking. Their agriculture teacher was the first person who taught them how to stand up straight and present a speech, how to persuade a listener or how to present complex information in a way that the audience could understand.

Through FFA competitions (called Career Development Events) such as prepared public speaking, extemporaneous speaking and agriculture issues, members develop real world experience in public speaking/presentations that will benefit them no matter what career path they choose.

FFA prepares students to run a business.

The author of the PETA article makes reference to Supervised Agriculture Experience (SAE) Programs, often called “projects,” that FFA members must participate in. Basically, every member has to have some sort of project that they work on outside of class time to apply the skills they’re learning in the classroom.

My SAE was raising show pigs. My husband’s SAE was working at his family restaurant.

FFA members keep a record of their income and expenses pertaining to the project. They fill out record books detailing how their money was spent and any profits made. These record books even include short answer sections where members discuss what they learned in the project and how they can improve the next year.

When I was in FFA, I never expected that I would someday be self-employed. The experiences and tough lessons I learned on my small SAE project have proven invaluable today as a small business owner. Not a day goes by that I don’t draw on my FFA experience when running my business.

The truth about FFA and agriculture education sae

My husband and I participating in our FFA Supervised Agriculture Experience Programs.

For many FFA members, SAE’s are the foundation of a future career.

My cousin started his landscaping business when he was an FFA member over 10 years ago. Today his business has grown to one of the most well respected landscaping companies in our area. He is able to provide for his family and create jobs for several other people in our community, all through a business that first started as his SAE.

FFA members give back to their communities.

The last line of the FFA motto is “living to serve” so it should be no surprise that community service is an integral part of the FFA experience.

During my 4 years in FFA, I helped my chapter organize food drives, purchase Christmas gifts for needy children, pick up trash along the highway, raise money for a local non-profit that helps adults with special needs, restore rural cemeteries, participate in Relay for Life, raise awareness for local conservation efforts, support rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Katrina and provide a full day of farm tours and agriculture experiences for 3rd grade students.

That was just one chapter, in one rural community.

Every single one of the 7,757 FFA chapters across the country spends their year giving back to their community in numerous ways.

Through my work with the Kentucky FFA Association, I’ve even been able to cover chapters doing community service in communities far away from home during the annual Day of Service at the Kentucky FFA State Convention.

FFA members load up their buses and travel several hours to attend the state FFA convention but also bring their work boots along so that they can serve the Lexington community during their stay. Have you ever heard of any other group of high schoolers taking time out of their summer vacation to serve a community they don’t even live in?

The truth about FFA and agriculture education service

The author of the PETA article wants you to believe that FFA and agriculture education is only about raising livestock for meat.

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

A favorite saying among today’s agriculture teachers is “FFA isn’t cows, sows and plows anymore.”

Today’s agriculture classroom is about biotechnology, conservation and environmental issues, record keeping, public speaking and business principles.

Today’s FFA member spends just as many hours doing community service as they do practicing for any competition.

Today FFA and agriculture education are cultivating the next generation of agriculture leaders through a commitment to hands on learning, personal growth and living a life of service.

Sorry PETA, nothing about that seems “lame” to me.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions reflected in this post do not reflect the opinions of any of my Celeste Communications clients, past or present. Specifically, this post was not commissioned, compensated for or otherwise influenced in anyway by the Kentucky FFA Association or the National FFA Organization. All opinions expressed in this post are my own as a proud former FFA member.

 

5 Things to NEVER say to someone trying to buy a farm

This week marks 1 year since we visited the property we thought would be our forever farm.5 Things you should NEVER say to someone trying to buy their own farm

Every house shopping blog and TV show reminds you not to fall in love with a property, but in this case it was impossible.

The house was set up perfectly for a farm family, with a kitchen window that overlooked the pasture and a full bath connected to the mudroom. There was an old hay barn perfect to convert into a covered facility for treating sick calves and a workshop that would become my office/studio.

We really thought it was meant to be.

Our realtor thought it was destined to be ours.

We were all wrong.

Fast forward to today and we’re still squeezing into our tiny rental house in town, hoping each new farm that gets listed might be the one.

Farm shopping is an emotional roller coaster. Unlike buying a house in a subdivision, there aren’t hundreds of farms to choose from at any given time. Folks who are unfamiliar with farm life often make comments that they assume are helpful, but are actually quite hurtful for a young farm family to hear.

I’ve compiled a few of the not so helpful comments we’ve received over the past year, along with some I’ve heard from friends who are also in our shoes.

The next time you’re making small talk with someone trying desperately to buy their first farm, I hope these phrases won’t be a part of the conversation.

1. Why can’t you just farm with your parents?

When you ask this question, you’re prying into a very personal and often emotional situation.

In my case, its pretty black and white. My parents have day jobs, the farm is not their sole income. So obviously, if it isn’t supporting their family it can’t support a second family as well.

For many young farm families, however, their parents might be drawing their full income from the farm but have to break the news to their child that there just isn’t enough to go around. For a child who has grown up expecting to be the next generation in the family farm, this can be a heartbreaking and unexpected situation to find yourself in.

You also never know if a farm is struggling to stay afloat. A few years of bad weather or a barn/equipment fire can dramatically change the financial situation of a farm, making it impossible for a child to join the business. When a family’s farm is in jeopardy its not something they want to talk about, and frankly, its none of your business.

2. If it’s taking this long, you need a new realtor.

A realtor can’t just conjure up farms for sale. Generally, farms only go on the market for 2 reasons: a farmer dies and their children have no interest in farming or the farm went bankrupt. Which leaves us in the awkward situation of waiting for people in our own community to die or fail.

In our case, we chose a realtor who has a lot of experience working with farm sales. Since the supply of available farms is so low, we didn’t want our inexperience as buyers to jeopardize the process.

Our realtor is very knowledgeable and has offered us sound advice in some touchy situations (like trying to buy from an estate). She was also very honest with us about the fact that this process could easily take 18 months – 2 years.

3. Just buy a small farm for now and buy a bigger one later.

People are often confused by the fact that we are buying our forever farm in our 20’s. Yes, the average person buys multiple houses over the course of their lifetime but for farm families its a bit different.

When a farm family buys land they invest in it. We’ll build barns, put up fences, add facilities to care for sick animals. We’ll devote a lot of time and resources to improving the soil and grasses to make the best possible food for our livestock.

That’s not the sort of things you can box up and throw in a Uhaul in a few years!

While we might buy additional acreage on down the road, the foundation of our farm will be this purchase. God willing, it will be ours forever.

4. Have you asked [Big Farmer in your Community] if he’d sell some land to you?

In short, no. That’s just not how its done.

You just don’t ask someone to sell off a portion of their livelihood, let alone a farmer whose family has likely been farming that land for multiple generations.

Please for the love of all things holy, NEVER go ask some big farmer in your community to sell land to your nephew/cousin/friend who is trying to buy a farm.

Its incredibly rude and instead of helping your loved one, you’ve now put them in a very awkward situation with someone who they will likely need to have a good relationship with since the farming community is such a tight knit one.

5. You’re being too picky.

This one annoys me most of all. Assuming that because we are young we’re delusional and holding out for the holy grail of farms/houses is just insulting.

When someone shops for a house in a subdivision, their list of “musts” gets to include things like an attached garage or a master suite.

When you’re shopping for a farm, it goes a little more like this: “A minimum of X acres. A house with 3 bedrooms.” The end.

Available farms are so few and far between that we simply can’t put additional parameters on the search. The land becomes almost the only priority. We enter every house not to see if its the perfect one but to evaluate if we can make it work until we can afford to renovate it, since the majority of our budget will be invested in land.

So what should you say?

No one is asking you to fix the situation so don’t bother trying. Your friend is stuck in what probably feels like the longest wait of their life, all they need is your support along the way.

“You guys will be great farmers, the right place will come along before you know it.”

“I’m sorry this is taking so long, I know you’re eager to start farming.”

“I’ll keep an eye out and let you know if I hear of anything available.”

Keep it short and sweet. Show your support and let them know that you believe it will all work out, because there are some days that they need to be reminded that it will.

We have been so blessed to have families and friends who check in often to see how the search is going and remind us that God already knows every acre He will be entrusting us with, He just hasn’t led us to them yet.

We have faith that He’s teaching us something important during this waiting game. While I won’t pretend its fun, I know it will be worth it.

What should you do when you meet a tractor on the road?

What should you do when you meet a tractor on the road?Last week, Aaron mowed down the remnants of our 2015 garden. The dry cornstalks and dead bean bushes had been driving him crazy for weeks and he was thrilled to finally find time to bushhog them down.

Our tractor is housed in a barn about three miles away from our home, so I dropped Aaron off and he drove the tractor and bushhog home.

The majority of the trip is on two-lane back roads but for the first mile he has to drive on a four-lane highway that just happens to be one of the busiest in our county. Since it was a Sunday afternoon, traffic was heavy.

Seeing cars and semi-trucks fly past my husband on our small tractor makes me very nervous. Now that Lorelei’s carseat is forward facing, she could see it too. As we followed behind him in my SUV with hazard lights on (to help alert the other drivers of the slow moving tractor) she yelled “Hey car, slow down that’s my Daddy!”

I’m thankful that we only have to make that trip with the tractor a few times a year. For many of my farming friends, however, moving tractors on busy roads is a daily occurrence.

According to the The National Safety Council about one-third of fatal tractor accidents occur on public roads.

As my crop farming friends begin harvesting this fall, I thought this would be a good time to share some friendly reminders of what you should do when you meet a tractor on the road.

Slow down.

The first thing you should do when you see a tractor ahead of you is slow down.

Many tractors’ and combines’ top speeds are 20-25 mph. On a highway with a speed limit of 55 mph, this is much slower than you’re probably traveling so make sure to give yourself plenty of time to slow down.

Speed is far too often a factor in roadway accidents. By slowing down, you give yourself time to assess the situation and make safe choices.

Don’t get too close.

Riding 5 feet behind the tractor won’t make it go any faster, I promise, but it seems that many people don’t understand this concept.

You know what happens when you follow too closely behind a tractor? The driver is now focusing on you.

So in addition to operating their machinery (which is much more complicated than driving a car) and paying attention to oncoming traffic, they are now having to keep an eye on you. Instead of focusing on what they should be doing, they’re hoping you don’t get too close and rear end them or the planter, sprayer, grain cart, etc… they are pulling behind them.

You are distracting the tractor driver, so his/her ability to make safe driving decisions is being compromised. Plus, in the event of an accident, your vehicle is too close to the tractor to safely react in time.

Keep a safe distance and keep everyone safe.

NEVER cut in between an escort vehicle and the machinery.

Escort vehicles are normal cars/trucks that drive with their hazard lights on and sometimes flags to alert other motorists to the slow moving machinery in front of them.

They keep a safe distance from the machinery, therefore if you’re behind the escort, YOU are a safe distance behind the machinery.

Escort vehicles also help machinery make safe turns. Since tractors, combines, etc… aren’t able to turn as sharply as a car, an escort will often prevent traffic from passing in the other lane to ensure the machinery can make a wide turn safely.

Don’t pass until it is safe.

Farmers are well aware that being stuck behind a tractor is not fun. As the line of cars backs up behind a tractor, the driver is scanning what’s ahead, looking for a safe place to pull over and let traffic pass.

Sometimes the farmer or escort vehicle can see that there is no traffic coming in the oncoming lanes and will wave you around to pass.

When you do pass farm machinery, make sure you do so cautiously. Its not hard to pass a tractor that’s only going 25 mph. There is no reason that you should hit 70 mph while passing them.

NEVER pass machinery when it is turning!

Farm machinery has to make wide turns. Passing while they’re turning is incredibly dangerous.

Watch for signs of turning like blinkers on the tractor and hand signals from the tractor driver.

Keep in mind that sometimes farm machinery will turn off of the road and directly into a field. Just because you don’t see a driveway or road doesn’t mean that the blinker or hand signal is an error.

Be patient.

This one is likely the most important of all.

Farmers hate having to transport machinery on the road. Its a dangerous and nerve wracking part of their jobs but combines and tractors must be moved from one field to the next.

Like it or not, its a reality.

Driving that tractor is someone’s dad, mom, son or daughter. They’re your neighbors –  your child’s soccer coach, the family a few pews ahead of you in church on Sunday.

They’re trying to do their job and get there safely, just like you. A little patience and courtesy can go a long way in keeping us all safe.

Advice for my daughter’s generation on National Agriculture Day

Read any post on my blog and you’ll quickly realize that I think American agriculture is something worth celebrating.Advice for my daughter's generation on National Agriculture Day

So obviously, I had to do a post for National Agriculture Day!

When many bloggers write about Ag Day, they focus on celebrating all the wonderful things about agriculture today and challenge you to “thank a farmer.”

I’m always up for a pat on the back, who isn’t?

That’s not what this post is about, though.

This post is for the next generation of agriculturalists.

For the ones who’ll be celebrating National Ag Day 10-20 years from now, my daughter’s generation.

The kids who are playing with toy tractors and herding stuffed cattle. Whose favorite playground is a hay barn or a feed bin.

Someday this precious world of agriculture that your parents and grandparents (and maybe even generations before that) have loved and fought for will be yours.

You are the select few who will nurture, cultivate and care for the land and livestock.

With the passing of this baton comes greater challenges than any generation before you has ever known.

Today you are still learning to count, but someday your generation will have to learn how to feed 9 billion people.

You will likely have less farm land available to you, as cities and subdivisions pop up where crops used to grow and cattle used to graze.

Like most farm parents, I wonder if I am preparing you for the great task that will be set before you.

Will you be equipped with the tools to be successful individually in agriculture, let alone as an industry?

So I offer this advice to you; to my daughter, my friends’ children and their entire generation.

– Pour your heart and soul into 4-H and FFA

I firmly believe that 4-H and FFA are the greatest youth organizations in the world.

4-H and FFA are molding the next generation of agriculture to be leaders, advocates and servants. I’ve already written about what 4-H taught me and the impact FFA left on my life.

Whether you learn to give speeches, judge livestock or weld, the experiences you have in 4-H and FFA will better prepare you for a future in agriculture than any elementary or high school class work ever could.

– You will never be finished learning about agriculture

You may have a college degree in agriculture and your whole lifetime of farm experience under your belt, but you are never finished learning.

Agriculture is an ever changing world. There are constantly new technologies, new developments, new production methods.

Don’t be that farmer who refuses to change just because “That’s not how Daddy did it.” I promise, your Daddy and Mama would much prefer you innovate and succeed than slowly go out of business because you are stuck in your ways.

Go to conferences, classes and seminars. Read books and industry magazines. Seek the advice of experts. Research innovations, see if they would be a good fit for your farm and embrace change.

– Fight for agriculture

Share your experiences as an agriculturalist. Whether in person or online or in whatever form of communication your generation uses, find your own way to share your story.

Campaign and vote for politicians who defend the rights of family farmers. Lobby for legislation that protects the American food supply. Meet with local politicians and school board members. Invite local classes to visit your farm on field trips.

We are fighting today so that we can pass this amazing industry and huge responsibility on to you someday. Carry on the legacy and keep fighting the good fight.

– Even if you don’t return to the farm, stay connected to agriculture

Not every farm kid is destined to be a farmer. That doesn’t mean that the lessons you learned in agriculture won’t be an important part of your daily life.

If you are a parent, teach your children where food comes from and how it is produced.

If you are a teacher, make agriculture a part of your science lessons. If you are a doctor, care for your patients with the same dedication and selflessness that you once cared for your sick livestock.

No matter what, don’t ever forget the hard work and determination that was instilled in you on the farm.

Advice for my daughter’s generation on National Agriculture Day

After all, you, each and every farm kid across the country, are the most important thing we’re raising on our farms.

You are our life’s work. You are our legacy.

As I tuck my little farm girl into bed tonight, I’ll pray that I’m preparing her a little more each day to face the challenge and carry on the tradition for many more National Ag Days to come. If I had to guess, I’d bet your parents are doing the exact same thing.

To the mom who DOESN’T feed her kids organic food

Dear mom at story time, To the mom who DOESN'T feed her kids organic food

I see you stashing that wrapper in your pocket after giving your son a snack.

I see you eying your friend’s kids running around with their Horizon brand boxed milks. I notice your kids’ drinks are in cups.

I overhear your conversation with your friend about her most recent shopping trip.

She had all of her kids with her, one had skipped a nap and she just couldn’t make it out of the store fast enough before the tantrums started.

You commiserated, assured her that every mom goes through this (we really do!) and gave her a hearty pep talk.

Then she says “And to make it all worse, they didn’t have any organic spinach so I didn’t even get everything I needed. What was I supposed to do? Feed my kids that GMO crap?

Being a family farmer, ag college graduate and a mom, that sentence couldn’t help but catch my attention. Forgetting my manners, I turned and looked right at your table.

I saw you squirm, shoving the wrapper from your son’s Kroger brand string cheese further into your pocket, your eyes on the floor as you said, “Yeah… that’s the worst.”

Your friend didn’t notice, but I did. I wanted to give you a hug.

I wanted to introduce myself, spout off my credentials and launch into a huge explanation about why you shouldn’t hide your food wrappers or be ashamed of what you feed your kids.

I wanted to tell you that you aren’t doing anything wrong and your friend isn’t doing anything special, food is food!

But I knew you’d be mortified if your cover was blown and hun, the last thing I wanted to do was make you feel worse.

So tonight I’m writing to you and every other mom out there like you.

Maybe this popped up on your Pinterest feed or your Facebook timeline. Maybe a friend tweeted it to you or a mom in your playgroup shared it.

I hope so, because you need to hear it.

You are doing a good job feeding your kids.

Did you get that?To the mom who DOESN’T feed her kids organic food

YOU…that’s right, YOU with the bags under your eyes.

YOU are doing a good job.

Your kids are healthy. Your kids are growing up strong and happy and well fed and loved.

Because of you!

Because you feed them a balanced diet.

Because you make sure they are eating their fruits and vegetables.

Because you feed them protein to build their muscles and carbs to fuel their energy and somehow get them to eat it!

Because you let them enjoy a treat every now and then but still manage to teach them that they can’t live on ice cream alone.

YOU mama – YOU are doing a good job feeding your kids!

So don’t think for one second that you have done something wrong just because you didn’t buy food with the same labels as your friend.

Here’s the cold hard truth:  When it comes down to it, labels don’t make food healthy.

Science has NEVER proven that organic foods are any more nutritious than non-organic.

Need proof?

How about the Mayo Clinic? Or Harvard Medical School? Or Stanford Medicine?

In fact, this misconception has become so widespread that there are entire websites dedicated to educating people about the facts about organic and non-organic foods.

Like SafeFruitsandVeggies.com, a website run by The Alliance for Food and Farming, a non-profit organization comprised of BOTH organic and conventional farmers.

So mama, let me make something clear to you: its none of my business what you feed your kids. To the mom who DOESN’T feed her kids organic food

If you want to buy organic because you prefer organic farming practices, go right ahead.

If you want to grow all of your own heirloom vegetables in your backyard, knock yourself out.

If you only want to feed your kids beef from organic, grassfed steers with black hides, go for it.

If that particular label is important to you and makes you happy then by all means, do it!

But don’t you dare criticize another mom for choosing to feed her kids food with a different label on it.

Because when we get down to the facts, its just a label and she’s just a mom.

A mom just like you who is working her butt off to do a good job feeding, caring for and loving her kids.

So mama, don’t you hide your food wrappers. Remind yourself that your kids are fed, your kids are loved and YOU are doing a good job!

Guest post: Rare Acts of Kindness to celebrate Rare Disease Day

My sister Anna was born with a very rare genetic disorder called Alagille Syndrome (ALGS). There are only about 8,000 cases of ALGS in the United States and only a couple of hospitals who treat it.

Rare Acts of Kindness to celebrate Rare Disease Day

The Laurent sisters in our Remarkably Rare shirts. (Left to right) Celeste, Anna and Renee

Throughout her life Anna has faced many challenges.

The symptoms of ALGS, constant medication and regular doctors visits. Constantly having to explain her disease to teachers and classmates, which is often difficult and embarrassing. Stares from strangers and comments from people who are downright cruel.

It would be easy to dwell on the hard parts of living with a rare disease but Anna won’t allow anyone to pity her.

Instead, she has always found joy in knowing that God made her exactly the way He wanted to, different but still perfect.

When Anna and I began discussing Rare Disease Day, I could tell she wanted to do something big to celebrate. Rare people like Anna make the world a better place every day. I’m honored to let her use my blog to continue to do so. 


Guest post by Anna Laurent

Rare Acts of Kindness to celebrate Rare Disease Day

Anna (left) with some of her friends with ALGS at the 2014 International Symposium for Alagille Syndrome.

It’s Rare Disease Day 2015, everyone!

I’m so excited about the theme this year, Living with a Rare Disease because the focus is on those who provide the love and support necessary for us with a rare disease to get through each day.

These people are the parents, siblings, spouses, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends and more, who are living their life day-by-day with a rare disease patient.

They are present for the lowest of times with their shoulder ready to be cried on and the first to celebrate the smallest of victories with us. (For instance, when my weight finally hit triple digits!)

Rare Acts of Kindness to celebrate Rare Disease Day

Anna’s Racer Band friends are a big part of her support system.

These people don’t have to be involved, yet they choose time and time again to enter into the scary unknown of a rare disease. They possess an inner strength, able to support themselves and others.

My journey with Alagille Syndrome would be very different without the love and encouragement from these people.

As Rare Disease Day drew closer, my sister and I discussed ways we could celebrate.

It was important to us that we do something uplifting, something to celebrate the positive impact left on the world by rare people and those who love them.

So we came up with an idea for a challenge: Rare Acts of Kindness.

On February 28, I challenge you to complete an act of kindness and post a picture afterward with the hashtags #RareActOfKindness and #RareDiseaseDay.

I hope that these Rare Acts of Kindness will serve as a tribute to rare people just like me, as well as those people who support us through the roller coaster of a rare disease.

Let’s flood the internet with Rare Acts of Kindness!


To help you plan your Rare Acts of Kindness, I’ve created some printable cards.

Pass one along when you do your good deed and you’ll help spread the word about #RareActsOfKindness and #RareDiseaseDay!

CLICK HERE to print your Rare Acts of Kindness cards.

Rare Acts of Kindness to celebrate Rare Disease DayP.S. You can purchase the shirts we’re wearing in our sister photo (and many more) at www.remarkablyraredesigns.com

A portion of all proceeds from Remarkably Rare shirts are donated to the Alagille Syndrome Alliance which funds research and provides support for ALGS families like ours.

 

 

The most important lessons 4-H taught me have nothing to do with livestock

It’s no secret that 4-H and FFA are huge parts of my life.The most important lessons 4-H taught me have nothing to do with livestock

These two organizations were integral in teaching me about the agriculture industry. They ignited a passion in me that led me to major in agriculture in college and now work in the ag communications field.

It was 4-H that first exposed me to the livestock showing and judging world. 4-H gave me my first experience with public speaking.

Through 4-H I competed in contests and shows, raised my own animals and won many awards. While I am proud of those accomplishments, I now realize that the most valuable lessons I was learning in 4-H had nothing to do with livestock.

To celebrate National 4-H Week, I’m sharing some of the most important things 4-H taught me.

4-H taught me to travel.

4-H has taken me more places than any other activity in my life.

The most important lessons 4-H taught me have nothing to do with livestock

The 2006 Kentucky 4-H Livestock Judging All-Star Team visited Gettysburg while en route to a judging contest.

My junior and senior years of high school I was a member of the Kentucky 4-H Livestock Judging All-Star Team and represented Kentucky 4-H in contests in Wisconsin, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Indiana.

Each of those trips included 2 days of traveling to the contest and stopping at some of the country’s most well-respected farms and agriculture universities to practice along the way.

I learned how to pack light (though my coach would probably beg to differ). I learned how to connect with farmers when we visited their farms and soak up every ounce of knowledge they shared with us. I learned that sweet tea and Dr. Pepper weren’t readily available north of the Ohio River and that saying “yes mam” to a waitress in Milwaukee will get a strange reaction.

I was exposed to people, places and cultures I’d never had any desire to visit and I never would have on my own. My life is forever impacted by those experiences.

4-H taught me how to teach.

For several years, I competed in the 4-H Demonstration Contest. I became a 12 year old expert on decoupaging and practiced my presentation relentlessly. By the time I was competing on the state level, I’m pretty sure Mod Podge could have let me film an infomercial for them!

To be honest, I don’t remember the last time I used Mod Podge in a craft project but every day I use the skills that the 4-H Demonstration Contest taught me. Whether I’m teaching my daughter how to do something new or showing a small business client a new way to promote their business, I’m using teaching skills first honed in my 4-H demonstration.

4-H taught me to keep records.

I’m sure my dad is laughing as he reads this because I was quite possibly the worst 4-H record keeper of all time. I hated keeping track of my expenses in my show pig project and never completed and entered a record book in a competition, despite my dad’s constant encouragement to do so.

Though I lacked the discipline to apply those skills as a child, I still had to sit through the record book “how to” meeting each year and somehow those lessons sank in!

Today as a small business owner, keeping records is of vital importance. When I first launched Celeste Comm I knew that skipping out on a “record book” wasn’t an option. Luckily I’m much more disciplined than I was at age 12 and had a basic knowledge of record keeping to expand upon as my business grew.

4-H taught me to make different kinds of friends.

If you’ve ever been to a 4-H leadership event, you’ve probably noticed that they sing a lot of silly songs. I’ll be the first to admit that I rolled my eyes nearly every time I was forced to dance and sing “grey squirrel, grey squirrel, shake your bushy tail” at a 4-H event.

The most important lessons 4-H taught me have nothing to do with livestock

Dancing to the 4-H classic “Grey Squirrel” at the 2005 Issues Conference.

There’s something about that collective silliness that made us forget about trying to look cool and actually get to know each other as people, not as kids from different counties or schools.

My 4-H friends were people who had dressed in different styles and came from different backgrounds. They were people I normally wouldn’t have associated with but many of whom I’m still friends with today.

There are plenty of organizations that provide this opportunity for high school kids, but few that give 9-14 year olds a chance to learn this valuable lesson. Before I’d even started high school I had learned to get to know people before forming opinions of them, something I think we can all agree our world needs a little more of.

4-H taught me the importance of having fun.

Before every contest, my 4-H livestock judging coach Dr. Richard Coffey told our team,

“Remember, world peace does not depend on the outcome of this livestock judging contest. Go have fun guys.”

When you’re a 16 year old kid spending your fall eating, sleeping and breathing livestock judging it can be hard to remember that it really is just for fun.

I’m so glad that our coach made sure we didn’t lose sight of that because today none of my teammates are making a living judging livestock. They are a veterinarian, a member of the peace corps, a migrant advocate, elementary school teachers, pharmacists and family farmers.

Whether we won or lost a contest had no real effect on where we are today. The fun and friendships from those trips made much more of an impact on us than any placing cards we we ever turned in.

4-H taught me how to lose.

The 4-H motto is "to make the best better."

The 2006 Kentucky State 4-H Livestock Judging Contest. My team was announced as the high senior team but due to a tabulation error we later found out we actually hadn’t won.

My biggest losses as a teen were all in 4-H contests.

I can still remember the market steer class that I completely busted, keeping me out of a spot on the livestock judging team “Gold Team” that would compete at the North American.

I’ll never forget the knot in my stomach when the best pig I’ve ever shown placed second in her class at the Ky State Fair, despite the fact that everyone ringside was certain she was headed to the Sale of Champions. (I’ve written an entire post about that experience and that pig, here).

I literally spent years chasing goals, only to fall short and go home empty handed. I cried, I got angry and I learned how to move on.

You know what? There’s a lot of losing in life.

I meet prospective clients who eventually choose a different photographer. Brides who go with a different stationary designer. We think we’ve found the perfect farm to buy and then everything falls through. I miss out on moments with my daughter while working and opportunities for my business because I’m a mom.

There is no avoiding losing. Through 4-H I learned how to handle it gracefully, dust myself off, move on and appreciate the wins even more.

4-H taught me that your best can always be better.

The 4-H motto is “to make the best better.”

I had a lot of success in 4-H over the years and I’ve got boxes of plaques and trophies to prove it. When I think back on those awards, I remember always feeling that though for a moment I was the best, I had to continue to get better to stay on top.

You have to keep growing as a judge or showman to continue to be successful in competition.

The same goes in my life today as a small business owner, wife and mother. No matter how good you are, you can always keep growing and improving.

I consider myself very blessed to have spent 10 years learning and growing as a 4-Her.

I was lucky to have amazing volunteers, leaders and agents along the way who invested their time and talents in me. I made dear friends who are still a huge part of my life today.

If your child is considering becoming involved in 4-H, please encourage them to do so. You can learn more about how to get involved on the 4-H website.

Who is really watching you at livestock shows?

Now that I’m a mom, I realize who is really watching the showmen at livestock shows. Who is really watching you at livestock shows? www.celesteharned.com

I watch Lorelei interact with kids 5 or 6 years older than her and try to do everything they do, knowing that they will be the teenagers she’s looking up to when she begins her showing career.

I can’t help but think back to my first time showing my own pigs. When, while watching the senior showmanship class, my dad said, “You see Julie and Hope? You watch everything they do.

So I did, with all the focus an 11 year old kid could muster.

I watched them make laps across the ring, slow and steady, finding the open spaces. I studied the way they penned their pigs and waited for the judge’s cue to bring them back into the ring. I tried to eavesdrop as they answered the judge’s questions.

I was a sponge. If Julie and Hope did it, then that was what I was going to do too.

Chances are, there’s a parent telling his young showman to watch you.

Whether you’re in the show ring, the wash racks or your tack pen, there is always someone watching. As showmen, we bear the great responsibility to represent the best of the agriculture industry and the 4-H and FFA programs.

So now that the show season is beginning, I’d like to offer some advice to you older showmen:

1. Help other showmen.

Help the 9 year old whose pig keeps running away from him make it back to the pen. Share your spray bottle with someone in the makeup ring. It will probably have no effect on the rest of your day but it might just turn theirs around.

2. Participate in the skillathon.

Most shows have a skillathon, quiz bowl or some sort of event that focuses on industry knowledge. Over the years, I’ve noticed more and more of the older showmen skipping out on the skillathon because apparently they are too cool for it. Or worse, they participate but talk and make jokes the whole time.

Remember, there was a time when you didn’t know how to calculate average daily gain, had no idea what was in your pig’s feed and couldn’t tell the difference between a Boston butt and a picnic shoulder. You took the time to learn those things because you knew it would help you to be a more well rounded showman and take better care of your pigs.

You know that learning is important to being a successful in the show ring, set that example for younger showmen.

3. Dress modestly and appropriately.

Ladies, this one mostly for you.

I don’t care if you are the greatest livestock showman to ever live, if your jeans are too tight and your shirts are too low cut people are going to say that’s the only reason you won. Take pride in yourself as a person (and in the example that you are setting for younger showmen) and let your skill in the show ring make a statement, not your clothes.

If you’re interested in a more thorough discussion on this topic, please see my post: How to dress for livestock showmanship.

4. Don’t lose your temper with your animal.

I know first hand how frustrating and embarrassing it is when your animal doesn’t cooperate. (I once had a Ky. State Fair judge joke on the microphone that I should have entered my hog in the pig races instead of the pig show. I was mortified!)

You know what I guarantee won’t make it any better? Losing your temper.

I’ve heard judges tell stories about dismissing showmen from the ring because they weren’t keeping their temper in check. (And I’m glad they did!) No ribbon, banner or buckle is that important, I promise.

5. Remember that you might be the only “hog farmer” some people ever meet.

Whether you’re at the state fair or a county show, you never know when a non-farm person will be watching you work with your animals. You might be the only example of how farmers treat their animals that they ever see. (Making number 4 all the more important!)

If they ask you questions, take them seriously. Give them thoughtful, educational answers. Be friendly. Remember that you probably aren’t an expert on their industry either.

6. Shake the judge’s hand after the show.

I don’t care if you disagreed with every word he spoke and the way he placed every single class. At the end of the show, you thank the judge. Its just the right thing to do.

Someday you might have the privilege of judging a livestock show and you’ll realize how difficult that job really is. When that day comes, you’ll remember which showmen came up to you after to thank you.

Who is really watching you at livestock shows? www.celesteharned.com

There are always younger showmen watching you.

At an ag event last year, someone told me that they had interviewed an FFA member who said that I was her role model. I was obviously very flattered, but I didn’t recognize the girl’s name. After a quick Facebook search, I realized that she had shown pigs and was a participant in one of the workshops I had given at Ky. FFA Convention several years ago.

I hardly knew her, but she knew me.

You never know who is following your example. You never know who is looking up to you.

Hold yourself to a higher standard because the next generation is who’s really watching you at livestock shows.

UPDATE (May 28, 2014):

Several readers have contacted me who feel like I am “publicly shaming” girls in this post’s third point. I have also had many readers (showmen, 4-H/FFA leaders and parents) who have contacted me to thank me for bluntly addressing this issue.

Let me make clear, my choice of words was not intended to “shame” anyone. It was strongly worded to serve as a wake up call to teenage girls that this is how unprofessional and overly sexualized dress in the show ring is viewed by others. I stand by my words wholeheartedly, ladies should “let your skill in the show ring make a statement, not your clothes.”

I directed this at ladies specifically because I have never witnessed (nor heard stories from fellow showmen/judges) about young men dressing immodestly in the show ring.

If you’re interested in a more thorough discussion of how to dress for livestock showmanship, please see this post from my blog archives.

Finding the good moments in a bad day with a toddler

Recently, one of my online mom friends passed along a bit of wisdom that an older lady at her church had given to her.pinterest image buses

“When you are raising small children, there is no such thing as a good day, only good moments. The sooner you accept that, the happier you’ll be.”

Bam! As soon as I read that one it hit me over the head.

I needed that.

I needed someone to tell me that I wasn’t failing and that striving for a “good day” with a 2 year old was ridiculous.

The idea of “good moments,” though, I could really connect with.

Our days were full of good moments:
– Lorelei told me “thanks” without prompting.
– She ate her lunch really well (and it was healthy!)
– We had a dance party to the Frozen soundtrack complete with tutus.

After a few days, I noticed that one of the reoccurring good moments was watching the school buses go by our house.

We live pretty close to a local middle school so every afternoon traffic really picks up on the road in front of our house, complete with school buses. Lorelei has always loved watching the cars go by but school buses take it to a whole new level.

I decided to add a guaranteed “good moment” to our daily routine.

Every day at 1:45 p.m. we go sit on the front porch and watch the buses go by. We watch them pass on their way to the school and then wait for them to load the students and head back past our house as they begin their routes.

Lorelei waves to the drivers and yells “KIDS!!!” when she sees the full bus loads.

We count the six buses that will pass our house and then know that if we wait another 15 minutes or so we’ll see the handicapped bus (and 9 times out of 10 that driver honks at us, which Lorelei loves!)

For the past 7 school days, we’ve spent 30 minutes a day watching the buses go by. That’s 3.5 hours of good moments.

stomped

Being a mom to a two year old is hard.

Running your own business is hard.

Finding a balance between work and family is hard (so hard that I wrote an entire post about it!)

On days (like today) when my toddler skips a nap and a client needs my attention and my husband is working an extra shift, all I really want is a drink that’s hard.

Its easy to look at those days as “bad days” and feel like I failed.

Now I know that there was at least one good moment in every one of those days. (And I’ve yet to have a day that I couldn’t come up with a few more good moments to add to the list).

Would I call it a good day as a whole? Probably not.

Were there enough good moments to make it all O.K.? Definitely.

What were your good moments today?