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?

Is being a work at home mom really worth it?

The past two months have been stressful, to say the least.pinterest image

Lorelei came down with bronchitis, our extended family faced an unforeseen and heartbreaking tragedy and we all got a dose of the stomach virus.

In the midst of it all, I had Valentine’s Day and wedding Etsy orders to ship, five custom birthday invitations to design and two huge newsletters on tight deadlines for agriculture clients.

Its times like this that make me question being a “work at home mom.”

Times when I’m running on fumes and barely have time to eat, let alone work or sleep.

Times when meeting deadline means working until 2 a.m. and dosing off in the recliner during 7 a.m. episodes of The Cat in the Hat.

Being a work at home mom (WAHM) is hard. Very hard.

If anyone tells you otherwise they’re lying to you and themselves.

Being a WAHM means choosing between blow drying your hair or using that extra 15 minutes of nap time to work.

It means becoming best friends with your crockpot and keeping frozen pizzas on hand for days when a client has a crisis.

Its learning to type while holding a sleeping baby and wearing out the springs on your desk chair from using it as a rocker.

While other moms enjoy a glass of wine after their kids are in bed, I’m brewing a fresh pot of coffee so I can go back to work.

Its responding to emails from your phone while waiting on your stubborn toddler to finish eating her peas.

Being a mom is a huge lesson in patience. Being a WAHM takes it to a new level.

Before she could even crawl, Lorelei started emptying and “reorganizing” my desk drawers.

A month ago she grabbed my sketchbook and scribbled all over a sketch I was going to send a client that evening.

I still have to make sure that sticky notes stay out of her reach or she’ll peel them off of my desk and hide them in her toy boxes.

So often I find myself whispering “this is her house just as much as its your office” and summoning every ounce of patience I posses to keep from overreacting.

It usually works. When it doesn’t, there’s the overwhelming and all too familiar feeling of “mom guilt.”

You see, “mom guilt” and I are on a first name basis.

When things are stressful, the “mom guilt” kicks in and I feel like I’m not giving enough of my attention to my daughter or my husband (let alone housework!)

Then “small business owner guilt” kicks in and I feel like I’m not giving enough to my clients. (Yes, “small business owner guilt” is a thing, ask anyone who owns their own business!)

Next thing I know, I’ve eaten half a sleeve of Thin Mints and I’ve beaten myself up so much that I wonder if its even worth it.

So this post is for me, and every other WAHM asking herself the same question.

This is your reminder: Yes, it is worth it.

It might not always feel like its worth it.

It might not always look like its worth it.

It will be hard and exhausting and your friends probably won’t understand but it WILL be worth it.

Because at the end of the day, being a WAHM is making me the best mom I can be.

Being a WAHM means I can clear my work schedule to spend an entire day with our family.

It means that my daughter won’t see a stereotype of what a “working mom” looks like. She’ll watch me curl my hair and slide on my heels for a client event one day and then see me crank out a huge design project in my t-shirt and yoga pants the next.

She sees me make the most of every spare moment. Whether that means squeezing in reading a book while photo files copy or having a mini-dance party while exporting videos.

She is watching her father and I work as a team in every possible way, from folding laundry to managing a business.

I’m teaching my daughter that if you have two dreams, they are both worth fighting for.

I’m showing her that being a woman and a mother doesn’t make you any less of an entrepreneur.

Maybe most importantly of all, I’m teaching her to be her own kind of mom.

There will always be “mom guilt.”

There will always be generations that don’t understand your choices and friends who lead completely different lives.

There’s no right answer. No perfect formula. What works for one mom won’t work for another.

This is the kind of mom I was meant to be. Its time I start reminding myself of that.

 

Why we bring our kids to agriculture conferences

This time of year is known as “conference season” for many of us in the agriculture industry.

If you’ve spent any time at agriculture conferences, you’ll notice one thing is different from a lot of other conventions and trade shows – there are children, and lots of them.

Lorelei and I at the 2014 Ky. Pork Producers Annual Meeting.

Lorelei and I at the 2014 Ky. Pork Producers Annual Meeting.

96% of American farms are family owned and operated.

Farm families are known for doing everything as a family, from harvesting crops to feeding livestock. Attending conferences is no different.

When I was growing up, all of the Laurent kids tagged a long with my dad to the Kentucky Pork Producers Annual Meeting every year.

We played with the other farm kids shared coloring books and toy tractors. We got excited hearing the ring men hoop and holler at the scholarship auction and cut a rug right along with all the grown ups at the dance.

Today, Lorelei tags along with me when I work at agriculture meetings and conferences throughout the year.

As a mom, I can now see just how wonderful an opportunity my parents gave me by bringing us along to farm conferences.

My non-ag clients are often surprised to learn that I bring my toddler with me to so many events. Since I grew up in ag, I didn’t realize just how unique that was.

So after explaining so many times to non-ag friends and clients, I decided to put it all in one post.

Here’s why we bring our kids to ag conferences:

Learning never ends.

If you had asked 6 year old Celeste who was the world’s leading expert on beef cattle, I wouldn’t have thought twice about my answer: my dad.

Part of that was because I was a child and as far as I was concerned my parents were perfect (except when I was in trouble). The other part was that my dad is an Extension Associate. His job is to help other producers learn how to raise cattle more safely, humanely and efficiently. In my mind, that meant he must know everything!

By attending ag conferences with my dad, I watched him learn.

I watched him ask questions and discuss issues with other farmers. When we came home, I was there to watch him implement new techniques and figure out the best way to apply new technology to our farm.

Networking

Over the years I went to banquets, meetings and livestock events with my dad and made friendships with men and women in all sectors of ag simply because my dad worked with them in some way.

My dad never said “make sure you get to know him, he’ll get you a job someday” or anything like that. Instead, he introduced me to their kids who also showed pigs or we joked about how they were just as obsessed with their favorite team as we were with LSU football.

I never knew that “Mr. Mike” who always goofed off and played with my siblings and I was the director of the Ky Pork Producers and one of the most respected men in Kentucky agriculture. To us, he and his family were just our friends.

Without ever telling me, my parents were teaching me about what networking is really about – forming true friendships and working relationships with people in your industry who you respect and who respect you as a person and your work.

When I graduated college, so many of the people I had first gotten to know at an ag conference were there to offer me career advice, a reference or tell me about a job opportunity. Not because I had spent years sucking up to them but because we were truly family friends.

How to strike up a conversation with anyone.

There’s a lot to be said for knowing how to make polite small talk.

Whether I like it or not, I look like my dad with a ponytail so there was never any denying that I was “Kevin’s daughter.”

This meant that people who hadn’t seen me since I was 4 would often come up and start a conversation with me, assuming that I remembered them as well. I learned from a young age how to politely navigate these awkward conversations and never let the person know that I had no idea who they were!

Guess what? That’s a skill I still use on a regular basis in my professional life.

Getting involved in the political process

In a post this summer, I tallied how many times Lorelei has heard Commissioner James Comer speak in her short life. (We can now add the 2013 Ky State Fair and 2014 Pork Producer’s Annual Meeting to that list).

Many people go their entire lives without ever hearing from their elected officials, let alone talking to them or making their voices heard.

At agriculture conferences, children not only get to hear from elected officials but learn what is happening in Washington and their state capitol and how it affects agriculture.

They get to see the political process in action, not just read about it in a text book.

The importance of giving back

Every ag conference or convention I’ve ever been to has some form of fundraiser to give back. Whether its a scholarship fund, a donation to a non-profit or raising money for a youth organization, its hard to find more generous people than those in agriculture.raffle tickets (2)

Every year, the Kentucky Pork Producers has a scholarship auction to raise money for the scholarships they give every year. As children, we loved coming to the auction and hearing the ring men hoop and holler while the bidding went higher and higher.

When my brother was about 8 years old, some friends let him bid for them on a pottery piggy bank.

He was so proud to be the one casting bids and as the bids went higher he got more and more excited. He ended up winning the piggy bank at the whopping total of $350.

Even as kids, we knew $350 was WAY more than a piggy bank was actually worth.

That night, my parents explained to us that bidders were paying an inflated price because it wasn’t really about what they were buying, it was about supporting another generation of farmers as they pursued a college education.

I think most of my farming friends would agree, agriculture conferences just wouldn’t be the same without the children.

And I, for one, hope that never changes!

Why do you bring your kids to ag conferences? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Farm Mom Favorites: Christmas books for children

pinterestI am completely obsessed with Christmas books. Every year my mom always bought a new Christmas book for us and we’d spend the whole month of December reading through our collection, time and time again.

I knew I wanted to start the same tradition for Lorelei, so last year I searched book stores and scoured the internet until I found the perfect book for her first Christmas.

I asked a few of my blogging farm mom friends to recommend their favorite Christmas books for your little ones. I know I’ll have to add these to our collection over the years!

Celeste Harnedceleste

Kentucky – Blog: A Farm Mom’s Perspective

My all time favorite Christmas book is A Special Place for Santa. In this story, Santa is worried that people are focusing too much on him instead of the true meaning of Christmas. After delivering all of the toys on Christmas, Santa stops at a church so he can be the first person to wish Jesus a happy birthday. He begins to apologize that he is taking the focus off of Jesus when God starts speaking to him and reminding him of how Santa Claus as we know him came to be.

The book focuses on the story of St. Nicholas and the history behind Santa bringing gifts on Christmas. At the end of the story, reminded of all of the good that he does to spread Christmas cheer, Santa gives his gift to the baby Jesus: a list of all the good things people have done over the past year.

Holly Spangler

The Spangler kids.

The Spangler kids.

Illinois – Blog: My Generation

We love Mrs. Wishy Washy’s Christmas. It’s completely silly and every one of my kids adored it as toddlers and preschoolers. The words roll off your tongue – “I’m chilled to the bill, and that’s not nice!” – and the tale of the cow, the pig and the poor old duck sneaking into the Wishy-Washy house and using her pink bathroom to avoid the cold barn washtub is giggle-worthy, every time. We found this Christmas version of the Mrs. Wishy Washy series through our all-time favorite book, Mrs. Wishy Washy’s Farm. They are two great books for every preschool library. “…and no doubt about it, home is best!”

Emily Zweber

The Zweber kids.

The Zweber kids.

Minnesota – Blog: Zweber Farms Blog

My mother has a tradition of buying a new Christmas story book each year. Several years ago, she bought a book titled “Farm Country Christmas Eve.” I loved the story instantly, not knowing that book would lead to me to meet some amazing people. Set in the 1950’s, the story is about a dairy farm family celebrating Christmas Eve. The family must go to the barn to do chores and milk the cows, so that Santa has a chance to visit their house. The children are quick to do their chores and are greeted with simple, but meaningful presents when they are done. Two years ago, I learned that the author of this book, Gordon Fredrickson, was going to be doing readings at our county fair. Tim and I decided to take the boys to go meet the author. We instantly connected with Gordon and his wife Nancy. We learned that they do not live too far from us. I now consider the Fredrickson’s friends. Farm book lovers both young and not so young with enjoy Gordon Fredrickson’s books. He even signs all the books he sells and has free shipping.

Ashton Dawson

The Dawson family: Ashton, her husband John Dockins and their one year old son Kirtley.

The Dawson family: Ashton, her husband John Dockins and their one year old son Kirtley. Photo by Morgan Marie Photography.

Kentucky – Blog: Ashton Oakes Photography and her personal blog, Everyday Farmer’s Wife.

Sharing Christmas books with my son are one of my favorite traditions. Year round. My parents bought Christmas books for me as a child, and continued once my sister was born seven years later. I remember sitting in the big blue recliner, not so big now that I’m adult, with Daddy or Mama reading these books. Then once my sister was born, I would hold her in the big blue recliner reading the same stories. I’m not sure why these memories stick out so much but it made me want to start the same tradition for my own children. Hoping they will enjoy it as much as I did and still do.

The Twelve Days of Christmas is based on the song we all know. Kirtley was given this book just a few weeks ago but it’s become my favorite very quick. I don’t keep this book out with the rest for the simple reason I have a one year old boy and I’m afraid he’ll tear pages out. I guess this book would be one of my favorites because of his reaction when we sit down to read it. As each page turns he asked what this animal is or this object. He ooh’s and ahh’s over every page. Taking it all in. The Twelve Days of Christmas is a beautifully illustrated book. Down to each little detail. Nothing is missing. I’ll probably continue to keep this book just out of reach until Kirtley is old enough to take care of it.
The Christmas Story is one of the first Christmas books my mom bought for me. She wrote my name and the year in the cover. She bought several that same year, all a Little Golden Book. This book tells the story of Jesus and his birth. Kirtley thinks the donkey in the book is a cow, so as we turn the pages he moo’s. Then he points asking who is this, pointing to baby Jesus. Occasionally he’ll say baby. All I can think is yes son that is a baby, the most special little baby the world has ever known. I know he’s too young to understand the story of Jesus’ birth, but in the upcoming years he will and this book will become even better.
Photos by Ashton Oakes Dawson of Ashton Oakes Photography

Photos by Ashton Oakes Dawson of Ashton Oakes Photography

Emily Mohn

emily mohn

Emily and her beautiful daughters.

Minnesota – Blog: Sweet Home Minnesota

My favorite children’s book around the holidays was always “The Mitten.” It’s a Ukrainian folktale about a young boy who loses his white mitten in the snow. Different animals in the woods found it and burrowed in to get out of the cold. As a young child I always thought it was so funny how so many animals could fit into one little mitten! I remember my grandma reading it to me mostly, and to this day, at age 28, I can recite this book word for word. THAT’S how much we read it growing up. My family is from Scandinavian decent so the artwork in the book always reminded me of my grandma and her house. In the book, the grandmother is referred to as “Baba” which is polish for “Grandma” This is what all of us grandkids called my grandma so I could relate to the book in that special way too.  My favorite part of the book is at the end, when the boy finds his mitten again, all stretched out from so many animals being in it. He gives it to Baba and she is looking down at it wondering what in the world happened!

One more favorite of mine is “Cajun Night Before Christmas.”A classic Christmas story with a bit of a southern twist. If you can find someone from Louisiana to read this to you, you will enjoy it as much as I do! My dad, who was born and raised in southern Louisiana, bought this for me a few years ago to read to my kids. I do my best, but it sounds so much better with his strong accent. It reminds me of my grandparents from Louisiana who have both passed away and the way they sounded on phone conversations. Imagine a southern drawl with a French kick! It wasn’t always easy to understand them but I LOVED their accent. So, if you’re ever down that way…ask a Cajun to read you this story!

*Note from Celeste: Emily Mohn and I are both Cajun transplants so we’ve always connected over our love of all things Cajun. I grew up reading this book too and absolutely loved it! My sister Renee and I always got a kick out of the fact that two of Santa’s alligators were named Celeste and Renee. I loved that Emily chose it as one of her favorites too!

How do family farmers prepare for winter storms?

A Kentucky beef cattle farmer shares how her family farm prepares for a snow or ice storm. This afternoon, Lorelei and I are headed to the grocery store.

We’ll pick up enough milk and eggs to make it through the weekend and fill the car up with gas just in case the ice/snow that’s predicted really hits us.

We’ll put a spare coat and a few heavy blankets in the trunk of the car, just in case we get stuck somewhere.

That’s it. A shopping trip and a few little errands and we’re ready for winter weather.

For farm families, however, there is so much more that goes into preparing for winter storms.

Every farm family is different, but this is how my family prepares for winter storms on our beef cattle farm.

When the temperature drops below freezing (even if there’s no snow on the ground) our first priority is making sure that our cattle have water.

This photo is a few years old but this is still one of my little brother Daniel's jobs, filling up the water trough.

This photo is a few years old but this is still one of my little brother Daniel’s jobs, filling up the water trough.

On our farm, we use a portable watering system so that the water trough can move from pasture to pasture with the cattle. Unfortunately, the trough and above ground pipes that run to it can freeze easily so when the temperature is below freezing we have to go out and water the cattle by hand.

At least twice a day, we run a hose from a frost-free hydrant and fill up the trough with it, just like you fill up a backyard swimming pool. We make sure that all the cattle come up to drink, which gives us a great opportunity to make sure they aren’t showing any signs of illness.

Many cattle farms in Kentucky have frost-free waterers for their cattle. These are permanent troughs that keep the water warm enough so that it won’t freeze. Even though the trough does most of the work, the farmers still go out and check every waterer daily to make sure that they are functioning properly.

Over the weekend, my dad, sister and brother hauled a load of hay to our farm.

My brother, Bud, and my dad stacking a load of hay in the back of the truck. Photo courtesy of Renee Laurent.

My brother, Bud, and my dad stacking a load of hay in the back of the truck. Photo courtesy of Renee Laurent.

We don’t feed hay regularly during the winter because we have enough have enough grass on our farm for our cattle to graze year round.

Sometimes, there is too much snow for the cattle to graze through so we keep enough hay on hand to make sure that they won’t go hungry.

When this happens, we go out and feed them square hay bales twice a day.

On foot, through the snow, we’ll carry bales to their feed troughs and spread them out for the cattle to eat. Its physical, hard work in the freezing cold that often leaves us sweating and freezing at the same time. (Can you tell this was not my favorite job on the farm?)

Throughout the winter, we also feed our cattle a grain feed that has vitamins and minerals mixed in to make sure they stay on a healthy, balanced diet.

When the weather gets bad, we have to make sure that we keep a close eye out for any signs of illness in our calves.

Cattle are very well suited for winter weather but sometimes they come down with a cold or respiratory ailment just like you or I would.

Before a storm hits, my dad will make sure that he has some basic medications on hand just in case one of the calves gets sick.

We treat any sick calves as soon as possible so that they can start to get better. The last thing we want is for the added stress of a winter storm to add to their sickness!

If a calf is sick, they often won't eat so we watch the whole herd eat and make sure they all have a healthy appetite.

If a calf is getting sick, they usually don’t want to eat. We watch the whole herd eat and make sure they all have a healthy appetite.

During a winter storm, our cattle are our top priority.

Even though I’m not a part of the day to day work on our farm anymore, I still immediately think of our farm whenever the weatherman predicts a winter storm.

As I pick up my groceries today, I’ll be thankful for the many farm families across the country who are preparing to care for their animals through the storm.

I hope you will too.

Help ranchers devastated by Winter Storm Atlas – Tyson to donate $10 per tweet to #RancherRelief

Two weeks ago, South Dakota’s farm and ranch families were devastated when Winter Storm Atlas brought several feet of snow and 70 mile per hour wind gusts upon them with little or no notice.agchat_tweetcast

Thousands of cattle, sheep and horses were buried alive beneath snow drifts or died of exhaustion and exposure while trying to escape the storm’s wrath.

In the days that followed, ranchers trudged through the snow desperately searching for any animals that had managed to survive so that they could give them the food, water and medical attention they desperately needed.

If this is the first you’re hearing about this disaster, please take a few moments to read a blog post by a ranch wife whose family is right in the middle of it all, Jodene Shaw.

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This farm mom says Chipotle’s Scarecrow video attacks family farmers

Over the past year or two, I’ve had many people ask me why I haven’t done a post about Chipotle and their misleading marketing and lies about family farmers.chipotle screenshot

I’ve given each of those people the same response – a family friend once told me that you should never send an email when you’re mad.

You can write the email, but then you should sleep on it, let someone else read it, think about it, etc… but never send it while you’re mad.

The way I see it, writing a blog post when you’re mad is even worse than writing an email. I started writing a Chipotle post several times but each draft was filled with anger and frustration so I decided to to wait until I wasn’t mad anymore.

Today, I decided to stop waiting.

I’m still mad.

No, mad doesn’t really describe it.

I’m hurt.

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Cookies and Milk with the Commissioner of Ag

Last week, Lorelei and I went to “Cookies and Milk with the Commissioner of Agriculture” at LeCows Dairy in Paducah.

LeCows Dairy's Lesa Clark welcomed everyone to their "Cookies and Milk with the Commissioner" event.

LeCows Dairy’s Lesa Clark welcomed everyone to their “Cookies and Milk with the Commissioner” event.

The folks at LeCows Dairy have been giving farm tours for years and love sharing their farm story via their website and facebook, twitter and instagram pages.

When they found out that Commissioner Comer would be stopping by, they invited the whole community to visit their farm, enjoy some cookies and milk and give him a west Kentucky welcome.

Since I’m not from Paducah, I really don’t know any of the other farm families in the county.

When I heard about the event, and that LeCows Dairy’s Lesa Clark and Ellie Waggoner were fellow Commonground volunteers, I jumped at the chance to go experience their farm and meet them.

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