Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Family Farming at its Best!

As I get older I find myself stopping and reflecting on the many blessings in my life.  Over the Labor Day weekend I had the great opportunity of working on my family’s farm, helping to harvest corn silage. While I was waiting for loads to haul I couldn’t help but smile and thank God for how blessed we are to have our family and our family farm.  We were able to keep moving with the help of a good family friend who helped us for 2 days when he could’ve been relaxing with his friends.  This weekend both of my younger sisters were home helping do chores, feed calves, milk cows and delivering new calves (we had 3 new calves this weekend!).  My mom was busy with her job in town but still made time to cook meals for us and bake us treats.  My sister in law did the same, making us a delicious meal for supper one night and bringing my niece out to the field to watch her daddy chopping corn.  I love my niece, watching her farm girl personality just get ignited by the activities in the field was amazing.  The girl really loves her farm implements.  My 93 year old grandfather drove out into the field on Labor Day.  Watching him smile with pride and joy as his son and grandson farm the very land he and his father farmed together, well frankly that expression on his face was priceless.  I will always remember Grandpa's smile and his wave as I cruised past him.  I will also remember how proud my dad was to make his dad proud, dad was grinning from ear to ear.   Very few professions are linked with this type of legacy and the connection to the generations past, present and future.  It was so great to see everyone working as a team to accomplish the goals of the day. 

Putting silage into long bags for storage for the year.

I love helping at the farm! Watch me haul silage home!
Another great blessing for the day was the beauty of watching the growing crops being harvested for food and feed for the growing dairy cow herd.  Corn silage is the main ingredient in cow diets.  Not to be confused with corn grain, corn silage is the complete plant (stem/stalk, leaves, and corn grain/cob) chopped up into small bite sized pieces for cows.  My brother and dad did an excellent job to get the corn harvested at the correct moisture, and then set the chopper for the correct cut length.  The result is a feed that smells amazing and will help supply very important nutrients for the cows.  Working with nature is such a blessing: planting seeds and watching them grow through the heat, rain, wind, and storms; reaching full maturity to be harvested for nutrition for cows, which produce milk, a nutritious food for humans; it’s a beautiful cycle. 

During our harvest my brother has been an amazing farmer.  He made sure to take breaks for church and rest on Sunday.  He has been planning ahead to have everything ready for the people helping him.  He also made sure that everyone is well fed and caffeinated. Even through breakdown my brother kept his cool, fixed the broken parts and we kept on moving.  It’s been fun watching my brother grow into a really great farmer, and I am very proud of him.  Family and farming is what it is all about and I am so blessed to have been and still be a part of such a great profession!  97% of all farms are family owned and operated just like ours!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Immigration Reform, a Personal Persepctive.

I am not going to claim to know much about this subject, let me make this clear.  I am not a politician and I do not desire to write laws, but what I do offer is personal experience from an employer’s perspective in agriculture who has employed a vast variety of different types of employees.  In the US we have a long list of “Dirty Jobs” that most of our citizens believe they are “above”.  Like it or not, but many believe that once we head off to college we are “above” menial tasks like cleaning, construction, food service, and agriculture.  I am so blessed that my parents taught us that we were never “above” any of these jobs or tasks.  My father told me “I don’t care what you do in life, you can be a garbage woman for all I care, I just want you to be happy and do it honestly”.  Wise advice from a wise man.  When operating my own dairy farm I led by example, I never sent an employee into a job that I wasn’t willing to do myself.  In fact, most times I was alongside them, working in the heat, cold and mess.  I’m not complaining, I enjoy hard work and getting dirty, I find it very rewarding and so did many of our employees.  This is where my experience as an employer comes into perspective.

My best employees, the ones that really cared about their jobs were the ones that I took the time to talk to and let them know that their job mattered.  What they thought was a menial task such as cleaning the parlor walls, was so much more important than “just cleaning”.  They were a critical part of producing safe and clean milk for consumers.  I’m not inflating their positions either, they were very important to making our farm successful and producing a food we could all be proud of.  Unfortunately these amazing employees were sometimes immigrants with false documents (which we found out after they left) or children of undocumented workers born in the US.  We followed the law when we hired these employees, collected all the paper work, checked social security numbers, and everything checked out.  We paid taxes and FICA on their behalf, dollars that they will never be able to claim in a tax refund because they used a false social security number.  As employers we followed the law and as employees they were just happy to have a job, especially one where they were valued as a part of our team.  My heart aches for these families as they work hard to provide for their children.  Not all immigrant workers are like this, but my personal experience has been nothing but positive.  They are here, just like my ancestors, trying to make a better life for their children. 

As employers we worked hard to make sure that our employees had time with their families.  We encouraged them to take time off to be at their children’s events at school.  Over time I have seen these families become important contributors to our area communities and schools.  I know of several dairy owners that even provide translators to help non English speaking employees get their kids into school and communicate with the teachers and administration.  As employers I know many dairy farmers that struggle to provide a wage for their employees that is not only competitive but also can sustain a family.  That is an incredibly difficult task!  Milk prices ebb and flow so dramatically, it is hard for farmers to even pay themselves a wage that can sustain their own families, but I know for a fact that most will pay their employees well before they pay themselves.  As farmers we are indebted to the valuable people who work for us.  Believe me, finding good people is an almost impossible task.  I have definitely seen my fair share of poor employees; people who didn’t care no matter how much we paid them or how much we respected them, and unfortunately those were mostly non-Hispanic employees.  Those bad apples definitely tested our faith and trust in others.

Regardless, there was still a certain amount of joy that came from being am employer.  It was very rewarding to know that our business was also helping to support other local families.  When we paid them, they were able to buy homes locally, shop downtown and give back to their other family members.  We were able to share culture with each other: language, food and customs.  It was awesome to spend a little time educating our employees and watching them take that education and grow.  Working for us was an opportunity which some used to better themselves and get higher paying jobs in other local businesses, and we were so happy for them.  As a Catholic, we are called to help the less fortunate, and as an employer I saw that role as an opportunity to help those that just needed a lift.  I don’t know what the legal solution is for immigration reform, but we should do whatever we can to help those that want to stay here and work legally, be able to do that.  This isn’t as simple as “sending them all back” and “building a wall”.  We need these people, they are pursuing the American dream, no different than our ancestors.  “Help the less fortunate” ~ it is the right thing to do.