The Farmer Who Broke My Twitter Sound Barrier @FarmerHaley

Farmer Mike Haley talks cattle

I’ve talked about how I came to be on Twitter before but what happened after I got on…. not sure I could have anticipated that. Within a few months of being on Twitter, the tweeting agricultural community was clearly as a great source of information for me. I can still remember when I broke the quiet of Twitter that was broken only by an occasional chirp from TweetDeck.

So how did Twitter gain additional sounds? Easy. I read a tweet that made no sense to me just based on what I thought was commonsense. But since it was about cattle, and I really knew nothing about cattle, I really had no idea whether commonsense was the right thing to fall back on. That tweet, which I later found common sense and critical thinking proved accurate in determining I was reading some real BS.

Farmer Mike Haley talks cattleI got that confirmed by going back and forth by direct message with one of the farmers I had been trading tweets now and then. But since our experience levels (& the accompanying vocabulary) were so dramatically different, we finally decided a quick phone call would probably put my questions to rest faster than the never ending direct messages. That farmer, who’s avatar was a cow for the first year he was on Twitter, was Mike Haley or as I knew him at the time @FarmerHaley.

Over the next several months, I learned a decent amount about livestock. That was the summer that Food Inc. came out, and since I knew some of the things said about agriculture didn’t resemble my experience with crop farmers so I had a lot of questions about livestock and meat…. Mike helped me understand his farm & volunteered info about a lot of other farms in his area. I even spent the better part of a day mooing in honor of his birthday as he helped draw attention to the problems dairy farmers were having! And it wasn’t long til I was booking vacation plans to see what this farmer was up to at a big cattle show — once I actually got to NAILE, I really learned a lot!!!

So Mike Haley is one of my social media heroes in large part because as we were getting to know Twitter, we were also extending it into the world of phones, email and visits in real life. He also helped me go well beyond the basics as we tend to have creativity sessions where we start wondering “what if….” and the wildest things happen on social media. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Mike’s a good enough friend he knows exactly what buttons to push…. and, like a brother, only pushes them when I can take it.

Twitter efforts to raise the awareness in farm-related topics, Facebook pages and groups to reach people, and major outreach projects like creating the AgChat Foundation and the FarmerBloggers site all have been among his accomplishments. And although you never know exactly what sort of project is to come next, you can rest assured Mike’s got another great social media idea just waiting to amaze the rest of us.

If you aren’t amazed easily, you may doubt me. But for most of my family and friends, the fact that Mike & his wife Pam actually sell semen and embryos online. I guess I should specify that they are from the family’s cow-calf operation where they have been improving the genetics of the livestock in their herd.But I kind of love throwing that out without the cattle qualifier first. :)Pam & Mike Haley caring for cattle

You can find Mike & Pam Haley (@SimmyFarmGirl), and their incredible cattle, on several places online starting with:

Who helped break that weird social media sphere into conversations that were longer for you? Have you met social media friends in real life? If so, did they live up to your expectations or even exceed them like the Haleys did for me?

I’ve already done a couple of other “social media hero” blog posts…. if you haven’t already seen them, check out what I have to say

The Faces & Futures of America’s Young Farmers & Ranchers

the blogging sessions were a good draw

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I spent this weekend at the American Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers & Ranchers Leadership Conference. The event was theme “Your Voice, Our Story” and was helping people see that there is a big picture, shared story of agriculture that we need more farmers and ranchers telling in their voice. It wasn’t the sort of event where anyone was giving someone talking points, but it the kind of thing where farmers were hearing from various perspectives, learning how people are telling their own story and taking bits and pieces from places to make a customized approach that works well for the various people there.

Dana & Wilson Judice @DanaJudice @HeyHungryPeople

Dana & Wilson Judice @DanaJudice @HeyHungryPeople

I had a chance to do a little work and a little fun. Some of the fun was catching up with the young farmers I already know through social media. And its become a bit of a tradition for me to take photos & post them…. have to admit, I didn’t do as well this time….. I missed photos of a lot of the folks I saw. :(

The photos in the slide show get you a bit of a feel for it though maybe…. but I didn’t get to catch most of the Michigan crowd with the camera during the meetings. Guess I was just having too much time goofin off — really the weekend was awesome!

I have to say, spending the weekend with a bunch of folks who have decided farming is the life for them and who have the vast majority of their careers to come was a way to get a real charge! The energy was contagious whether we were listening to a speaker or a country band. The future for agriculture will indeed be bright for U.S. agriculture…. these people are dedicated to making that happen on their family farms and more broadly!

If you want to experience some of the awesomeness these folks bring, you can find quite a few of them online. Here’s some of the folks you can learn about:

  • The first tweep for me to meet this weekend was Diana Prichard @diana_prichard. I haven’t read her blog for long but finding it recently, I think she’s got a great perspective to share on Cultivating the Art of Sustenance. She has a CSA with hogs, geese, etc.
  • Brian @DiamondMFarms and Samantha McLerran @McLerranMD were there for Tennessee. Sam’s blog pulls together her life in medicine, at home and on the farm with MommyDocFarmer.
  • I can’t believe I didn’t have a chance to visit Ashlee Wood (darn it) cause I love her blog Across the Branch. How could I not love it? This Georgia girl writes about my part of the world talking about cotton & watermelons as well as other things that she gets into as a mom & nurse. I did have to shout out a big hey across a session when she stood up to say something and mentioned her name. :)
  • Dana and Wilson Judice are celebrating Mardi Gras in South Louisana tonight. Their blog Hey Hungry People talks about the crops they produce like sugar cane and soybeans they are both on Twitter too at @HeyHungryPeople and @DanaJudice.
  • Friends Zach @zjhunn and Anna Hunnicutt @hunnidue from Nebraska grow corn, soybeans and popcorn. Anna blogs on things as varied as teaching toddlers or living the farm life at http://hunnidue.wordpress.com
  • I go to see the family dairy farm of Annie & Jerry Link while I was up there and no doubt I have to do some blogging myself on that, but you would be smart to read Dairy Discovery at SwissLane Farms and follow her Twitter handle @DairyDiscovery that goes with it!
  • Sarah Bedgar Wilson tells her story of being a Farmer on a Mission from North Dakota (where I think 1 in 5 people who farm must blog cause I seem to know a higher number of bloggers from the state than I realized lived there two years ago).
  • Fellow Missourian Brian Marshall doesn’t have a blog that I know about, but he worked with me on this video post about sustainability efforts on his farm in January!
  • Leann & Glen Cope are new neighbors for me though they are from across the state. I had a chance to talk to Leann a bit as we sat in a blogging session. Love that she teaches science! Their blog is http://www.ourfamilyourfarm.com/.
  • Jeff VanderWerff is a fruit and grain farmer who’s produced several videos for his YouTube Channel. He posts to his blog Through the Windshield now & then. His Twitter handle is @agsalesman. (And I really hope to see his wife Alyssa online…. I really think she’s got a lot to share!)
  • I “met” Carla Wardin across a big room as I talked about telling agriculture’s shared story. Her blog Truth or Dairy has been on my blog list for a long time! Love that she & her husband did a total shift from corporate careers to become dairy farmers!
  • Ben LaCross was there of course…. it was his final big event as chairman. He’s a Michigan fruit farmer who shared his family’s recipe for cherry muffins with me :). He tweets as @BenLaCross and he’s got a video on apple harvest on YouTube.
  • Poppy Davis from the USDA did a great convo on transitioning farms and business decisions I hadn’t thought of. She’s best caught on Twitter at @PoppyDavis
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Farmers Helped Me With My Christmas Shopping :)

Christmas shopping

Christmas shopping

Well, the headline may mislead you but I’m okay with that. :)  The Christmas shopping help didn’t come in the form of carrying bags, picking out items, etc but as I started wrapping the gifts that were going to go under trees, I realized several of them started with a seed planted on a farm. I don’t think about it all the time, but maybe a bit more than some of the others. There are plenty of cotton items (go figure huh?) but there were quite a few with other farmers involved too. Give a little thought to these:

  • My nephew Kazu got a sweatshirt from Oxford University and to balance the maturity of that, I also gave him Tickle Me Elmo pajamas! He also got some hot sauce! Thanks to cotton farmers & others in the cotton chain! He tells me the pepper farmers and folks making these made them scorching hot!
  • My nephew Jake got a John Deere thermal shirt. Thanks to cotton farmers & others in the cotton chain AND to the farm equipment peeps!
  • Niece Ayaka got a t-shirt from England’s World Cup team a set of school supplies from Liverpool. Thanks to cotton farmers & others in the cotton chain! And the folks in the hardwoods, pulp and rubber segments! 
  • Niece Nikki got a cute purse/shoulder bag from London. Thanks to cotton farmers & others in the cotton chain!
  • A friend & her family got hand-carved olive wood rosaries from Bethlehem. Thanks to olive farmers & others in the woods & arts chains!
  • Kids who are like nieces will be getting these Paddington Bear books once I get them sent. :)  The hardwood & pulp peeps came through!
  • My brother Ray & sister in law Elizabeth got a tin filled with jute to use as they tie runners in the garden this spring. I don’t think I’ve actually ever met a jute farmer…. I’ve met some farmers who grew hemp but that’s a totally different kind of fiber.

Did you give farm-originated or farm-related presents?

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Lots of Stuff to do on a Family Dairy Farm

making hay - cutting bales open

batting practice to work on his swing

I have to tell you that my visit to Ray-Lin Dairy recently was shaped a lot by Ray’s son, 11-year-old Bryson (remember him from the Flat Stanley series?). It was the weekend so Bryson wasn’t at school. He was at home so he was having what sounded like a bit of a typical day in the life for him, but wasn’t at all typical for kids I know.

Well, I have to admit… that Bryson was enjoying doing some of the things that is familiar….. he slept in a bit, watched some early morning TV, worked on baseball at batting practice and seemed to delight in messing with his little sister. That all seems SO FAMILIAR! (No, I don’t go to batting practice and I mess with my sister a lot less than when I was 11 but I do have nephews).

moving hay in the feed barn

Bryson was also doing the kind of thing that my nieces and nephews do, that I did as a kid… he was lending a hand. It just that lending a hand on a dairy farm can be pretty different than lending a hand at a small house in the city. When I got there, Bryson was dashing off to a shop to find and haul back a really long hose that needed to be run from the water source into one of the pens or corrals. One of the cows was “down” and time was of the essence. Bryson wasn’t totally sure what he needed to be doing some of the time because they don’t have the problem too often, so he was watching his dad to see how he could help and Ray gave him some tasks to do. That seemed familiar but the urgency created by a cow is depending on you seems to change the situation from when I’d help my dad by handing him a wrench while he worked on something.

After batting practice and lunch, Bryson took a relaxation break as Ray went back to giving me a tour and helping me understand the farm. When we were heading back from the manure ponds, Ray said we needed to go back to the feed barn to see how Bryson was doing. See, along the way with the phone calls, was one where Bryson was telling his dad he wanted to go untie bales of hay for feeding. It was a new chore that he was still learning so Ray wanted to be sure Bryson was remembering all the things to think through as he moved bales, got rid of the ties and dropped them to a place where the feed mixers could get it for mixing.

How did you lend a hand growing up? What sort of chores do kids in your family do?

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Finally! My First Visit to a Dairy Farm

cows checking me out

When I headed West for work a few weeks ago, I was thrilled to find out I could take a bit of extra time and visit a couple of friendly farmers in addition to the meetings I needed to attend. With the number of farmers in California that I consider friends, I had to figure out where I’d start on begging for people’s time. Early on, I asked Ray Prock if I could visit RayLinDairy.

Ray’s been a gd friend for a few years already. We’ve visited several cities together. Had some incredible meals along the way — Seattle on the wharf, sushi in Atlanta…. And we always have a mixture of good conversation and big belly laughs. The idea of FINALLY seeing his farm was more than intriguing to me. And while Ray seemed happy to hear I was heading his way, it shocked him that I had never been to a dairy farm.

I wasn’t sure how to “prepare” other than the way I do for most farm visits I make.

  • Shoes that can take the mud if needed
  • Cameras, batteries, monopod/tripod
  • Good map to help me get there (iPad is my standard)
  • Some clothes that have pockets for gadgets

First Impressions

Ray gave me directions and following those & my iPad, I was cruising on up the road and began to wonder if I was in the right place when suddenly the RLD wireless signal prompted my iPad to see if I wanted to connect. I knew then, I had found agnerd central (proven by this Android post by Ray) and was DEFINITELY in the right place! So I turned in and drove up near the barns.

After taking a few minutes to be sure I had my cameras all organized, I got out and wondered which way to head. It didn’t take long for me to see Ray & Bryson (Ray’s 11-year-old son). There was a problem and while I had no idea what was going on, I knew to stay out of the way. Over time I found out that a cow was in trouble and quick action was needed. I stayed off to the side and watched as Ray & Bryson got things handled…. it was impressive. I

While all this was going on, I slowly noticed that I hadn’t noticed a “smell.” You know we all hear about it. With a lot of cows in a small area, I went in with a mistaken thought that the smell of manure and all those cow burps & farts would be powerful. It really wasn’t even noticeable except when we went back to the manure ponds.

Another stereotype or two….. I’m not sure I heard more than a moo or two. I did have a lot of face-time with the cows though. They kept their eyes on me no matter what!

I have to admit, Ray filled a bit of a stereotype that morning for the first time since I’ve known him “looked like a farmer.” I never have seen him working on the farm, i.e. in his “work clothes,” because when he’s working at meetings, he’s dressed for that work. It wasn’t just the boots and overalls or the fact that he was willing to get dirty to get the job done. I think it was the determination in his eyes to get the job done right. That’s something I’ve seen time and time again in the eyes of farmers I know,  and I saw the gleam in Bryson’s eyes too. :)

Details

I spent quite a few hours with Ray & Bryson and took a million photos and a lot of video so I’ll work up several posts. I am thinking there is one about being a kid on the farm cause Bryson just totally rocks, one maybe about the feed, another where Ray answered questions friends raised and what would a dairy series be without talk of cheese?

Don’t forget, you can always hear straight from Ray on his blog RayLinDairy.com.

Rice Farming Year in Photos — Downloadable 2012 Calendar

9september is rice month

Did you know that September is National Rice Month? Well I was reminded when I got an email about a Delta high school student, Kevin Muzzi, who is teaching first and second grade kids about rice production. You see, Kevin’s family farms rice in Bolivar County, Mississippi, a place I called home for more than a decade. He’s gotten active in helping students in a largely rural & small town area, understand what it takes to produce one of the most familiar grains we have in that area – rice. Just thinking about it makes me crave several cajun dishes (having had shrimp & duck gumbo tonight, I think I’ll be okay). Anyway, Kevin’s giving the students a calendar he made with photos from the family farm for National Rice Month and he (and his mom) sent me these photos that he put on the calendar he’s distributing. They even said we could put the calendar here for you to download! Download Kevin’s Rice Calendar

Thanks Kevin for helping share the story of how rice is grown and some of the facts and figures about this basic food I love so much! If you have questions, we’d be glad to help provide answers!

You may enjoy Wordless or Wordful Wednesday efforts on other blogs too.

The Beauty of Five-Lock Cotton Bolls

5 lock cotton bolls

I took this photo last Friday and thought it was a beautiful shot to share on the blog. I mean to get it up on Wordless Wednesday, but the harried life didn’t let me get it up here in time. Then I had it written and a technical glitch killed it. But I refuse to give in! I really want to share this. :)

The photo is of me holding two five-lock cotton bolls. When I looked at the photo on my phone later I was struck by a few things.

  • Sheer joy — The farmer I was visiting picked these as we walked along his cotton crop. I hopped back in the car and he reached over to hand three of the beauties to me saying “here are some five-lock bolls for ya” with a HUGE smile across his face. We were both thrilled (yes, it was Deltapine cotton).
  • The beauty of five locks? As I started writing this post, I realized I had forgotten to put “lock” in my working cotton dictionary. So let me explain locks for those who may not know what they are looking at. Each of these has five small sections, you can see them here much like cotton balls pulled together. But remember, this is right off the plant. Each lock has several seed in it and the fiber is connected to the seeds. More locks tend to mean higher yield potential in the field. I’d say its similar to finding more 4 bean pods in a soybean field.  (Popular culture aside: counting and locks reminds me of the Sammy Hagar lyrics “one, two, three lock box”)
  • Two such different sizes — The difference in size seemed striking to me. The boll at the top part of the photo is either from the top part of a cotton plant or out toward the end of one of the fruiting branches further down on the plant. The larger boll was further down on the plant and toward the mainstem.
  • The photo itself — I am surprised how good a photo taken on my Blackberry looks when it was taken inside a vehicle! With the black background it looks like I was doing it intentionally when in reality it was a quickly snagged shot between stops in the field at the end of a long day.

What do you notice about the photo?