Thursday, November 17, 2011

Magazines Over Milk

Very few things get me fired up like a good debate over supply management. Inevitably, the day would come when the debate would be hashed out on the front pages of our national news, rather than over beers with friends & colleagues.

That day has arrived. As the Canadian Wheat Board fate hangs in the throes of parliament, and Prime Minister Harper explores joining APEC, we dairy farmers are being thrust into what may be a pivotal point in history. A point, I fear, we will have very little control and suffer all the consequence. 

Surfing yet another opinion piece in the Globe and Mail, my panic is rising. I am beginning to understand the desperation those Prairie farmers must be feeling as they fight to keep their Wheat Board. (A matter, which being from Ontario, I do not have an opinion.) The media seems unrelenting in their determination to convince Canadians supply management is the thorn in the side of our economic progression. Their pursuit of ideology is not only puzzling but, when paired with their massive reach and the overall lack of consumer understanding in regards to food, it sets me in a state of distress. 

At less than 10 years of age, I vividly recall during NAFTA and GATT that my world, as I knew it, was ending. I equated the threat to supply management as a threat on our home and livelihood. I even lined up friends' homes to keep me off the streets. Yes, streets of the booming village of 800 people where i grew up. Though less dramatic now, at the age of 28, I witness the struggles of farming friends in non-supply managed sectors, and I appreciate the real sense of insecurity that comes with today's global society. Turn on the news; nothing is certain. Not a job. Not your government. Not your food.

Ritz has been vocal, supply management will be protected because farmers want to keep it. While the milk market is primarily domestic and grains exported, there are farmers that wanted the Wheat board also. At the end of the day, the opportunity for greater profits won. Ending supply management may open other trade doors, but make no mistake, the winners will not be consumers. 93% of milk produced is consumed domestically, so the room for competition is small. Additionally, the farmer only receives 10% of the price of a $2 glass of milk, and even still, they are covering the cost of production. What savings might be had will certainly not translate into cheaper grocery store prices. Witness the supermarket price of beef when BSE devastated the beef industry in 2003 as a recent example.

Yet, we've come to measure ourselves against the U.S., where the expectation of more, cheaper food has created a system built on an artificial cost structure. Government subsidization means food is being sold cheaper than it can be produced, creating a global treadmill of nations trying to drive down costs to compete, and eliminating domestic production capacity in the process. If you can't compete, then get out. Possibly, but at what point do you need to ensure your have the ability to feed your own nation?

We've reduced our food producers to campaigning for support on the Toronto nightly news, like the local CUPE chapter. We are in dire straits. Though both important, this isn't your transit system or child's education, this is the very sustenance by which you live.

Sadly, the media only sees the trees. Supply management isn't perfect, but for goodness sake, take a look at what is going on in the broader scope. World population has swelled beyond 7 billion; it's only a matter of time before China and India drive demand, and subsequently prices, so high we will wish we had a national system in place to ensure an affordable, safe food supply for Canadians.

Finally, there is no more entitlement here than in any industry where you work hard for an honest day's pay. When was the last time Andrew Coyne put in an 18 hour day, thawing frozen pipes in the dark, racing the weather to get a crop in or standing in the pit of a parlor on his feet for hours on end. The question no one seems willing to ask in this complex puzzle is how the middleman is doing? But then, it's easier to lay blame to 13,000 farmers than the major corporations taking 90% of the profit in that glass of milk, isn't is. After all, you would hate to lose that advertising revenue in your magazine wouldn't you?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Story About a Pig

It has probably been 23 years since there were pigs on our farm. So, it proved quite entertaining for my family to witness my brother raise a pig this summer. 'Oinkers', as he affectionately became known, was purchased from the local high school. The school runs an agriculture program, complete with a fully-functioning barn and livestock that are cared for by the students. When the students leave in June, the animals do as well. Knowing the teacher, both because he took the class himself and he's a neighbour, my brother offered to take 2 of the pigs.

Not long after my brother lost one of the pigs to pneumonia, the other started breaking out of his pen. My brother would return home to find his piggy out in the field with the cows, and despite his best efforts, Oinkers repeatedly found his way back out to the pasture. There was little doubt in my brother's mind pigs were truly as smart as they say. The character of a lone pig is quite intriguing, and like something out of a Disney movie, Oinkers led the cows to the field in the morning and back to the barn at night.

Some pig! Oinkers supervises the heifers in the pasture.
My niece also grew quite fond of Oinkers. I suppose one pig among many cows is quite memorable at the age of 1 1/ 2. She could tell you what a pig said, nearly as soon as she could 'moo'. In fact, it's quite humourous. She is an agvocate in training; I expect she will never let her teacher tell her class that a pink says 'oink'. She's gleaned this not from books or TV, but from the real pig on her daddy's farm. As a result, she grunts and snorts anytime she sees a picture of or someone mentions pig. It's amazing what a little girl picks up from the farm around her.
Of course, I have been referring to Oinkers in the past tense. Animals come and go on the farm all the time. As farmers, we understand and accept this, but I think we also learn to appreciate each one while they're there. Whether a prized show cow or some, random pig, they are all subject to nature and we have each learned the hard way, how fast they can be taken away. Despite what we read in "Charlotte's Web", I think the fate of most pigs is predetermined. Nevertheless, having a pig was a delight for my family and I would be surprised if there was not a new piggy there by spring!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Food Friday: A Visit to Stonewall Kitchen

Recently, bf and I spent a weekend on the New England coast, including a tour of Boston. We had been talking about going forever, so when Porter offered flights at 50% off, it was time to go!

To my surprise, our first destination was also the home of Stonewall Kitchen. When the weather turned foggy and rainy, a visit only seemed appropriate. After all, there was bound to be lots of samples!

Posing with a scarecrow @StonewalKitchen in York, Maine

After navigating through the packed store, tasting every dip, sauce and spread we could, and enjoying lunch from the kitchen at Stonewall Kitchen, we left with a basket of sauces and more. My haul included:
  • Roasted Peach Whiskey Sauce
  • Artichoke Pesto
  • Vidalia Onion Fig Sauce
  • Champagne Shallot Walnut Dressing
  • A few more Christmas gifts....
Back at home, I couldn't wait to try my new pantry treasures. First up, the Vidalia Onion Fig Sauce and the Champagne Shallot Walnut Dressing. The flavour combinations of both sounded so incredibly complex, I couldn't leave these on the shelf. They certainly didn't disappoint either!

The dressing has proven a great compliment to both spinach and mixed green salads. Topped with some orange slices, sunflower seeds (because I throw them on everything), goat cheese and candied onions, and I had an exquisite salad. 

Next, we rubbed a pork tenderloin with salt and pepper, then roast it on the barbecue, glazing regularly with the Vidalia Onion Fig Sauce. It was so mouthwateringly-juicy, we pulled the entire roast a part and nearly ate it all before it even made it to the plate. 

You can check out Stonewall products here. Do you have any gourmet pantry favourites?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

First Guest Post Ever!

If you know me personnally or from Savvy Homegirl, you know I love good food and good wine! My friend, Allie, recently started this excellent wine blog and I was delighted when she asked if I'd provide a post on my wine touring experience!! Check it out, my first guest post, over at Winegloss today!

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Happy Thanksgiving

In what has become a Thanksgiving tradition, I found myself in the thick of the harvest action this weekend. Whether it's climate change or a blessing from above, unseasonably high temperatures, dry and sunny weather graced Southern Ontario again this Thanksgiving. Perfect weather to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner on the deck also meant perfect weather for combining. There wasn't a combine sitting still Saturday. My brother counted a dozen on the five-mile trip to the elevator. I even found myself behind the wheel of the combine, and later the grain cart, when there weren't enough bodies to be found to keep the combine, grain truck, seed-drill, and sprayer going.

Fall harvest is my favourite time of year. Golden-brown fields, set against a perfect canvass of red and yellow leaves and a clear, blue sky make every corner look like a page from a magazine. Beyond a doubt, it's stressful. Equipment tends to break and sometimes people tend to not hear all the instructions, but everyone seems to have an air of more optimism about them. The crop is coming off. Grain is going to the elevator.  A years worth of work is coming to fruition.
My niece co-pilots in the combine. Luckily, that paper isn't important anymore.
Despite our best attempts to work straight through the weekend and my mother's stern warning about working on Sunday, He made sure we took a break. The combine broke down long enough Sunday to ensure everyone made it to church, we witnessed the baptism of my cousin's beautiful twin boys, enjoyed an afternoon with family before settling down to relax together at night after milking. By noon today, everyone was back in the field running like clockwork. I set off to catch up with friends, before heading back to the city and another week of travel. It will be at least ten months before I see the harvest fields again, but for now and the coming weeks, it will be engrained in my memory until I make it back to the farm.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Food Friday: Summer Rolls

Dropping mercury across the country this week signaled the end of summer days. My rowing league also wraps up this week. Last night was our last pot luck and tomorrow our last regatta. In the spirit of summer, I brought these 'summer rolls' last night. Until yesterday, I thought veggies wrapped in rice paper rolls and cooled were spring rolls. Searching for cold potluck dishes, I both discovered this idea and learned these are actually called summer rolls. The difference? Deep frying.

The summer rolls were a hit. So much so, one of my teammates asked if I would bring them to their church lunch one day. She even offered to buy the ingredients!

I have made these a few times now, when I have had some time and craved something fresh & crisp. They are excellent with large, cooked shrimp, sesame oil, julienned carrots, cucumber and coriander. Yesterday, I used: fresh basil and chives, julienned carrots, red peppers, avocado and green onion.  

The most common question was where to get rice paper. I have noticed most grocery stores now carry rice paper in their ethnic foods section, near the rice. It comes in round sheets, which you have to soak in luke-warm water (I use a pie plate) for 1-2 minutes, before they're soft enough to work with. Lay them out on a towel, then lay out your ingredients, wrap, slice and enjoy.

To serve later, I soaked a tea towel, placed on top of the rolls (unsliced) and wrapped in plastic. When ready, slice and serve with thai peanut dipping sauce. Enjoy!

Happy Food Friday!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Swag Party

Farm show season is in full swing, and farmers from all over Ontario will descend on Woodstock this week for Canada's Outdoor Farm Show. Farmers love farm shows. There is of course the business side of the show; seeing new equipment and technologies displayed in action. Then, there is also the social aspect where you need multiple days to see a show, because one day is dedicated to just talking to people. As a kid, I hated this when I went to farm shows with my parents. They had to talk to everyone. Today, I'm the exact same!

The other thing you are guaranteed at a farm show is 'free stuff'. Having worked several John Deere trade show booths, I know there are people who come to the show in search of the 'swag'. When I was a high school student, we would head down the Agri-Fair in Chesley, in search of as much free stuff as we could find. After all, why buy pens when you could get them free at the farm show? I'm sure most farmhouses already have enough 'stuff', but it always seemed appropriate to bring home that bag (or 3 inside each other), jam-packed with brochures, pencils, stress balls, fly swatters, peanuts and a meter stick!

At John Deere, we love swag too. Our product launches and expos tend to be loaded with giveaways, and in 5 years, I don't know how many John Deere hats I've been given! Here is the swag I brought home from Indy a few weeks ago.

Finally, right about the time I read about the 'swag party' Strategy magazine recently threw, Agvocacy 2.0 delegates were blogging about the swag they brought home from the conference. So, I immediately got to thinking, what kind of 'swag party' could we throw with all the goodies we bring home from ag shows and conferences? What has been your favourite farm show swag this year?

Monday, August 29, 2011

John Deere's Largest Product Launch in the Ag Division History

Readers who have ever wondered what it is like to be at a corporate product launch got the most real-time coverage ever during this week’s John Deere Product Launch. I spent a day with a group of U.S. and Canadian ag journalists, bloggers, machinery writers and self-proclaimed ‘ag nerds’ as they took in the opening show, demonstrations, and visited with factory managers and John Deere leadership. 
Learning about new John Deere combine cab controlsWhile I was required to stay mum until the products hit the internet Thursday, our media folks were invited to take photos, video, tweet and share everything they saw. Share they did! They pumped out tweets, posts and video as quick as we could cycle the loader on the new 6R’s (4 seconds)!

MachineSync (shown above) was my favourite product launched. Imagine.. combines and grain carts in a field, grain cart driver can see on his screen when the combine is full, pulls within range of the combine and the combine driver takes over control of the tractor to ensure a perfect fill on the grain cart... every time. Not a grain lost. As the Ag Management Solutions group put it, the "tractor - combine square dance becomes that easy". 10 vehicles, 3 miles, 1 integrated solution. Pure innovation.
Beyond the products, the work that goes into Intro is just as impressive for me. The ‘reveal night’ could easily be compared to a circus with 500 hp tractors and combines wheeling circles through a smoke and light show. Months of preparation and weeks of practice come together in a 2 week program, that sees over 5000 people from dealers across Canada, the U.S. and Australia attend. It’s not uncommon for me to feel overwhelmed at least once while watching the show. 
Dealers check out the new John Deere S Series combineThe undertaking is exhausting for those working, yet I believe the effort is worth it. A good Intro gets dealer sales teams excited to go home and share the new products and technology with customers. For me, it’s my favourite event of the year. The 3 day event is also a chance to get caught up with John Deere friends and dealers, often only seen once a year. I’ve been to Denver, Omaha, Cincinnati and now Indianapolis and while the cities blend together, the comradery makes each event memorable. Getting on the bus for 7 am field classes always feels like I accomplished some ‘work-hard, play-hard’ challenge. Finally, instructors feigning energy and excitement over jokes and content they've taught 36+ times is still entertaining.   
If you can't wait for your favourite ag publication to hit the mailbox this week, you can check out some of the links below (if you haven't already)!  

Friday, August 19, 2011

Food Friday: Breakfast for Five (or More!)

My Food Friday debut features a breakfast casserole that my brothers demand every time I am at the farm.
Breakfast casserole

Breakfast has become the most important meal of the day on our farm. Everyone comes into the house after milking cows to sit down together for a bite to eat and a fresh cup of coffee. It's at breakfast when we discuss business, get updates on the day's work and squabble over the latest Kijiji junk deals. <- My brothers have a borderline-unhealthy obsession with Kijiji.

I made this recipe for brunch cooking shows back when I was a Pampered Chef Consultant. Haha "back" makes it seem like it was years ago; it was last year. Anyway, I often tested my 'show recipes' on my family. They rarely complained, but this is the only recipe they continue asking for two years later.

Easy, tasty, and healthy, this breakfast casserole often feeds 6 or more people at our house.

Easy Breakfast Casserole

1 bag of hash browns
12 eggs
1 pkg cream cheese
1 medium onion, diced
1 red or green pepper, diced
* Add vegetables as desired or on hand: mushroom, broccoli, zucchini, spinach
1 cup ham, diced
Citrus basil seasoning, or similar
Chedder cheese, shredded
Salsa (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Hashbrowns packed into pan
1. Spritz or brush oil onto a large pan (stone bar pan, baking sheet with sides or 10x13 pan). Spread hash browns out on the bottom, pressing into all corners of the pan. Sprinkle with seasoning. Bake in oven until golden.

2. In a large bowl, cream the cream cheese. Add eggs and whip until smooth. Add diced vegetables and ham. Combine and pour over hash browns. Sprinkle with seasoning. Replace plan in oven for 30 minutes or until set.

Diced vegetables3. Sprinkle cheese on top while still hot.

Serve immediately with salsa. Makes 8-10 servings. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Some Lessons You Learn the Hard Way - Response to the $25,000 Cow

With Teresa's post about Skinny Bitch  fresh in my mind, I learned a very valuable lesson about agvocacy this week. Namely, know thy enemies.

The scenario was this. editor Andrew Coyne wrote a scathing piece on supply management. You can read it here. Well written, it raises several points against supply management. I actually agree with a few, because I do believe the system has some flaws that dairy farmers need to be attentive to fixing.  However, for the most part, the editor seems to be drawing opinions from reports produced by economists who potentially know very little about supply management.

I disclose right now, I grew up on a dairy farm. In future posts, I can go into why I feel supply management has a place in Canadian agriculture; that is not going to be my focus today.

The article made me a little angry. The comments from readers seemed to be split down the middle regarding those 'for' and those 'against' supply management. Fueled by some frustration, I was determined to have my say. I commented on a stream related to quality and hormone use.

If you removed supply management, you would be encouraging farmers to produce more milk, so that they can make up the income they've given up in lower price. BST/BGH hormone is used to increase a cow's milk production. Therefore, whether the hormone was legal or not, there would be incentive for a farmer to obtain and use it. Under the current supply management system, there is no incentive to produce excess supply, therefore there is no incentive to use BST.

I also noted the more pressing concern about the possibility of taking away consumers' access to Canadian milk by removing supply management.

Perhaps, you should consider what has happened in the rest of the non-supply managed agriculture industry in Canada. Lower-than-cost-of-production prices have driven so many pork and beef producers out of the industry, and too many regs have closed so many processors you can barely buy a Canadian product. 2 years ago when milk prices were in the basement, U.S. dairy farmers were going bankrupt. You may pay a little more (the gap is relatively small), but you are getting Canadian milk. There are minimal regulations monitoring imported food. Pay less, risk not getting what you think.

Neither paragraph is what I would call a well organized collection of points. Nor, does it necessarily say all I wanted to in response to the article. Even still, it is not writing I am proud of. But, I posted it.

I posted it, expecting a response from some of the users who had already commented and agreed with the article's points.

What I received was quite different. I was shocked to have my comment berated by other farmers. Once again, we have failed ourselves by arguing amongst ourselves in the face of the consumer. If I had been a consumer reading the comments, I would've been thoroughly confused. One user commented they are accessing world markets and being successful (why can't dairy also), while another commented that supply management is preventing them from accessing these same markets and realizing their true potential. Isn't there a contradiction here?

I was totally deflated. I wanted to respond to each comment but was unable out of fear this may turn into a real squabble over the sandbox. So, I gave up. I went to bed frustrated with my own inability to better express myself and for being blindsided by my own team. A national news magazine like Macleans gave us a forum to educate consumers, agvocate for our industry, and unfortunately, some would rather use it to point fingers and lay blame. Canada needs all farmers. Until we, as an industry recognize this and work together, we can not have any hope consumers will understand or support us.  After all, what's bacon without eggs?

Note: Returning to the article today, there have been many more users who provided insightful, considerate comments, which restored my faith in our ability to tell our story. My hat goes off to them.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Custom Work - From the Other Perspective

I recall a conversation between my parents when I was growing up after we bought a combine. They were discussing whether to take on a neighbour's harvest job. My dad commented, "We have to pay for the combine somehow."

Waxing John Deere 9400 combine
My father and youngest brother wax the combine in 1994.
Fast forward fifteen years (if not more). We now farm significantly more land. We are by no means a big operator, but at 1500 acres, we are large in the neighbourhood. We farm 650% more land than we did back when my dad owned a John Deere 9400 and custom work helped pay the bills. We have more help, with both my parents, two brothers and one employee. We are also a lot busier, because there are now four families to support, rather than one.

Ten years ago, we grew hay, corn, wheat and 1-2 fields of soybeans. We also milked 40 cows. Today my family still grows those crops, but significantly more acres spread over more area. We also milk 50+ cows, one brother runs a custom spraying business and the other, a custom baling business. We press our own soybean oil and are actively trying to erect a grain elevator, now that a brand, new shed is complete. IT'S BUSY!

The phone also seems to ring more now with neighbours looking for someone to bale or combine, than it ever did ten years ago. Yesterday alone, one neighbour was here before anyone had even set foot in the barn for morning milking, another had stopped by after breakfast and yet another, called at lunch time.

We are all about helping neighbours. We have some great neighbours, and we work together to get everyone's crops in the ground and hay off the field before it rains. They will drive tractor for us or help unload straw bales, and we'll in turn bale or combine for them. The thing with custom work, there is only one combine or one baler and everyone's crop is ready at the same time. I enjoyed reading's post about haying for the first time, and they realized this exact same thing. They decided to buy their own baler and haybine off Kijiji. My brother would tell them they're brilliant.

Why don't more people do this? According to my brother, you can get anything off Kijiji for a deal, and wouldn't it be better to have the freedom to at least do your hay when it's ready? I was amazed this weekend by the number of people in our area that don't own any equipment. High commodity prices have encouraged "less-than-full-time" farmers to grow wheat and corn, without owning a single piece of equipment to plant or harvest it. Combines are expensive, I get it. What about dairy farmers that don't own a baler though? Is it worth begging your neighbours to the point of irritation, to come help? Good used balers do not cost that much.

John Deere square and round balers
Keeping track of how many bales are made on square baler
 Maybe they also do not want to spend the time to run it or maintain the equipment? Maybe they don't think they can fix it when it breaks? Whatever the reason, it seems to be more popular in our neighbourhood just to call my dad.

This morning, we easily said no when we got a call. Two balers broke yesterday in two, separate, neighbours' fields. Nobody's baling can be done today. It's too humid to bale today anyway. It's also Sunday and the beach is a far better thing to do on Sunday, than fix equipment!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Food Inc. - Time to Weigh In

I just caught the tail end of Food Inc. tonight on PBS. This is probably only the third or fourth time I have seen the 2008 documentary detailing 'corporate farming' and the agri-food industry in the U.S.

The first time I watched it was on a plane, and I was compelled to comment but had no forum do so. I suppose, had I been a good 'agvocate' and didn't have a policy against small talk on airplanes, I would have turned to the person next to me and starting discussing the film's themes and got their feedback. I didn't.

Rather than give an opinion on the film overall, I want to share the feelings and emotions it brings forth each time I've seen it. Bear in mind, I'm of farming background.

Anger - Anger at an industry so focused on profit and money, they've overlooked health. I don't mean farmers, I mean the huge processors who drive this industry. Anger that companies I respect would sue and put their own customers, farmers, out of business.

Disgust - Disgust at what goes on in a meat-packing plant.

Embarrassed - Embarrassed to be disgusted. I know what goes on in a meat packing plant, and feel like it should never be shown publicly. There is no way that can look good. People should be educated, but large plants will never look good. If a meat-packing plant was all rainbows and butterflies, how sadistic would we be as people?

Fear - Fear of meat-packing plants. I always have been from the time I was a little girl, and I accompanied my mom to the butcher shop and saw carcasses hanging in the cooler. I still eat meat. Fear we've fed ourselves into obliteration. Literally. As a university student, I recall reading a study on starch and its high glucose level and (primarily negative) impacts on our body. I am mildly educated, and I believe high fructose corn syrup is one of the worst things you can put in your body. It's in everything and that scares me.

Frustration - Frustration at the blatant one-sidedness that most viewers, who know only which aisle to find the corn pops versus what corn is, will never question. Frustration the agribusinesses weren't permitted to tell their story in a fair manner.

Pride - Pride over the farmer that states: "As long as you want $2 milk, you're going to have a feedlot in your backyard. You have the control. I guarantee farmers will produce what you want."

Hope - Hope that consumers will choose healthier food options with their wallets. It happened in the tobacco industry. Hope that consumers will continue asking more questions about their food. Hope we as an industry will be open to listen, provide answers and calm and internalize their concerns.

Happy - Happy I can watch the film and feel all these things. Happy that concerns like traceability, which our Canadian industry is working hard (and spending money) to implement are highlighted as gaps. If we're going to go to the effort to implement this high system of accountability, then there better be a spotlight pressuring our largest trading partner to do the same.

That's all from me, for now. I'm dying for your feedback on Food Inc. Have you blogged about it? What's your opinion?

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Story About Coming Home

After all they have been through, for the 10 Canadian Armed Forces troops I shared an Air Canada flight with last night, they were finally headed home. Overhearing tidbits of their conversation, I picked up they were en route to Edmonton. I pondered what sort of milk run they were on, since Quebec City and Toronto certainly didn't seem like the best route from Afghanistan to Edmonton. I learned later, some had already been thru Iceland and L.A.. Of course, when you're going home, I suppose any route is okay.

As luck would have it, our flight was over 30 minutes late departing, and by the time we landed, these ten soldiers had ten minutes to make their connection.

They rose with humility and made their way to the front of the plane, thanking us for letting them deplane first. "No, thank you," was the refrain from all the passengers as we clapped for these brave men and woman.

Shortly thereafter, we found ourselves in the same train car as our flight attendants. Curious, I asked if the soldiers would have been flagged in the Air Canada system, thus ensuring their connecting flight would be held.

I was shocked and saddened by her reply;

"The company wouldn't even hold the plane for them. Can you believe it? After all they've been through, they wouldn't let them wait for them." Equally disgusted, she explained to me our pilots, her partner and herself decided to do everything in their power to make sure the soldiers made their last flight.

"At least if they're off, they can run."

The train doors opened and she disappeared before I could thank her.

It's a shame Air Canada is more concerned about on-time departures than these young men and woman getting home to their families after serving their country. People like that flight attendant are the saving grace in this world. She could not do a lot, but she did what she could and as small as it was, I only hope it meant those ten soldiers got to sleep in their own beds last night. Canadian troops board a plane to leave Afghanistan on Sunday, July 17. Photo: Rafiq Maqbool/AP

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Gainer's Adventures at the Farm Show

Gainer decided to get a John Deere education and help out at the Western Canada Farm Progress Show in Regina, Saskatchewan last week.

As it turned out, he was a very busy gopher.

He enjoyed a cold one while taking in the Stanley Cup playoffs with a rival.

He single-handedly saved Regina from environmental disaster when he tackled a hydraulic leak head-on... long live kitty litter.

He's now a LiquiSystems expert and welcome in Australia anytime he wishes to visit.

Learned all about combine optimization from our Solution Specialist.

Gainer ain't afraid of no Gator....

Maybe this gator... 

He's a certified air seeding specialist, thanks to our ConservaPak expert, Al!

Friday, June 10, 2011

No Gnomes Here

I am very fortunate to work with a team of people at John Deere, who are tight-knit and also very good friends. It affords us the opportunity to really have a lot of fun when we are together, and we look forward to meetings and events as a result. I don't think we have anything truly special. It's always the people that make the difference. I heard quoted once; "I won't miss the zoo, but I'll miss the animals." We have great animals.

Speaking of animals, we recently welcomed a new animal to our team, literally.

'Gainer' the gopher, is known to most flat-landers as the mascot for the Saskatchewan Roughriders football team. Like Santa Claus, he has many helpers all over the country, including this Gainer, who grew up in our Canadian manager's golf bag. Last week, Gainer decided to venture out into the world on his own, checking out of the hotel and leaving life in the golf bag behind.

Thus, begins the adventures of Gainer...

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Camping & Disaster Planning

Be Prepared. The Girl Guide motto we try to instill within our energetic, future young ladies through activities, such as camping.

We recently finished up weeks of camping prep with out unit. We cover the basics you would expect, teach our girls how to make a proper bedroll and pack appropriately. We repeat the motto over and over, and we hope they have remembered something and will show up to camp not completely unprepared. Doesn't sound very positive does it? Unfortunately, it seems to be the reality of working with children from low to mid-income, split parent homes. But I digress.

Of course, we also hope we're providing them with an understanding of the importance of being prepared, which, among other skills, they will take with them further in life.

Yet, how can you ever help them prepare for disaster? Flipping through an ag paper today at lunch, I came across this photo from a dried-up rice paddy in the radiactive zone in Japan.

Employees of Fukushima prefecture's agricultural industry department walk on the dried-up rice paddy which was devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Soma, about 50km from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, May 11, 2011. REUTERS / ISSEI KATO PHOTO
It reminded me of an article I read last night about a Saskatchewan farmwoman waiting for the flood. While, in turn, reminded me of a story of a little boy in Joplin, MO, who was hit by a flying toilet in the Joplin tornado and owes his life to a bike helmet. Each story hit home for me in the same way. I am not a mother, but I do have kids. 10 little girls whom I care and want the absolute best for, in addition to my niece, who is as special to me as a daughter. Can you ever teach them what to do? If you could, would they remember?
Passing these thoughts around more in my mind, I realized we do teach them the basics. In case of fire or an accident, we arm them with not only what they need to know, but how they can help specifically as children. Hopefully, what they take away is also an understanding of how to react and make fast decisions in the face of emergency. While we will never have the full, undivided attention (they most fondly recall "Karl with a K", the training prop from their first aid training), perhaps in the face of emergency adrenalin would bring it all back for them.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

My White {Milk} Space

I milked cows for the first time in months recently. Time spent on the farm has become less frequent in recent years, and with the addition to my brother's family I am all to happy to babysit instead of visiting the barn. As I squatted to attach the milking machine, I realized the significance milking cows once had in my life. This was my "white space".

Growing up, I was active in school clubs and 4-H. Many ideas, projects and speeches were born in the barn. I would ponder problems and churn ideas, all-the-while washing, wiping, attaching and dipping. The process of preparing and milking was almost robotic, despite paying attention to each individual cow, and it allowed my mind to wander. I would dash to the milk house to find a pen and scratch my ideas down on the paper towels meant for washing udders. This continued through university, and my paper towel chicken scratch, complete with the distinct aroma of dairy barn, would often accompany me back to Guelph.

It was my version of the bar napkin. Milking cows was my white space time. The mental barriers were down, ideas brewed and ripened, and I came away energized to put them into action. They weren't all good ideas, but they were usually the seed I needed to start nurturing a speech or event into it's final, finished state.

I still find this white space time, but it's even rarer than my farm visits. Sometimes, I'm on an airplane, or I send myself out for coffee, dinner or a drive for no other reason than to think. It takes more effort to do though, and maybe milking cows regularly again would advance my work and life now, as it did for school and extra-curriculars then. It's a concept I've considered since the realization a week ago and I must say, the idea is enticing. Have you reverted back to any past-times lately? How do you incorporate white space into your life?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Try This Serving Option for Cheese Next Time

One of my dealership friends shared this with me today. Here's an idea to serve cheese next time you have a get together, and the cutting board just doesn't scream 'farm' enough for you. I would question the practicality of it, but I guess the LCBO Food & Drink Magazine editors needed some colour on the page. I wonder what emotional reaction they were looking for from readers? 

I can say, I'm darn disappointed I have plans on June 4 & 5, and I won't be traveling to Picton to eat cheese. This sounds like my kind of event!

John Deere tractor and cheese
LCBO Food & Drink Magazine, Early Summer edition

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Savvy Farmgirl... finally

Well, I'm here.

It took some time. 2 years, 6 months + handful of days of blogging and tweeting, before I entered the ag social media circle. Officially. I was always kind of there, since it's hard to not follow your passions. Now, I'm present and accounted for, I guess you could say.

Before now, if you didn't know me, I was Savvy Homegirl. Attempting to blog on my experiences as a single, female homeowner. It was a reasonable attempt. I would give it a C+. When I started, I had big dreams of becoming as famous as Young House Love. Unfortunately, I forgot to take into account my full-time job (complete with regular travel), 3+ hours of volunteering per week and regular weekend visits to friends and family. As of late, I found myself with little to blog about and even less time to do it. I felt I was doing an injustice to Savvy Homegirl. There were no home improvements to tell of, because there was no time to do improvements to start with.

I had long thought about how I would participate in social media in ag. When I started blogging, John Deere didn't even have a Facebook page. I don't know if we would have known how to use it if we did. That's my opinion anyway, since I work there. A lot has changed since then. We not only have Facebook, but we use YouTube on a regular basis and are incorporating SM into nearly every campaign in some fashion.

Participating in a Canadian Agri-Marketing Association (CAMA) webinar a few weeks ago, I was finally pushed over the edge. blogger, Shaun Haney was sharing some insights on SM use by Canadian farmers, and I couldn't wait anymore. My life and my passions are all centered around agriculture. My day-to-day work at John Deere sometimes provides enough post-worthy content on its own, so it was time for Savvy Homegirl to become Savvy Farmgirl.

Do I have high hopes this time? 

Not really. But, I do have a story to tell. Hopefully, you'll decide it's worth listening to.