| TheFencePost.com

Mother Nature continues to hit ag hard in 2020

This year has been hard on so many people. COVID-19 has brought on loss of life, loss of jobs, loss of security, loss of peace and other unimaginable hardships.

Increased poverty, homelessness, civil unrest, race wars, destruction of property, riots, food supply disruptions, empty grocery store shelves, school shut downs, businesses closed forever, and the list seems to go on and on.

I would like to think there is hope just around the corner, but as we near closer to the election, I fear the ugliness will only continue to escalate.

Agriculture has been impacted by this novel coronavirus in countless ways, as well. As we grapple with the same troubling news and disruptions as the rest of society, many farmers and ranchers are also dealing with the ramifications of Mother Nature’s blows.

From wildfires to hurricanes to wind storms, the devastation due to extreme weather events has been severe. My thoughts and prayers are with those impacted by these horrific scenarios.

In Iowa, a severe “derecho” storm blew across the state, destroying crops, grain bins, homes, buildings and more.

According to World Grain, “The storm unleashed winds of over 100 miles per hour, equivalent to an F1 tornado. Some have described it as an inland hurricane. The Iowa Department of Agriculture estimates more than 57 million bushels of permanently licensed grain storage was seriously damaged or destroyed.”

Hurricane Laura is also impacting the southern United States, putting both crops and livestock at risk.

The Poultry Site reports, “Laura made landfall early on August 27 as a Category 4 storm packing winds of 150 mph in the small town of Cameron, Louisiana, the National Hurricane Center said. It rapidly weakened to a Category 1 storm and then a tropical storm by afternoon.”

Reuters adds, “U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to head to the Gulf Coast to survey the damage. The storm was forecast to drop heavy rain over Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky as it headed out to the East Coast, the National Weather Service said.”

In California, where the forest management policy is firmly in the “do not touch camp,” we see annual wildfires that could be mitigated with responsible logging and grazing. However, that’s a blog post for another day.

Policy discussions aside, in California, what is being called a “megafire era” is consuming acres of redwood forests and surrounding farmland as it burns.

According to Reuters, “The fires are far from under control with over 230 strikes in past day sparking new fires after more than 650 in the last 10 days, Cal Fire said. At least seven people have been killed and over 1,400 homes and other structures destroyed. Smoke from fires created unhealthy air quality for a large swath of northern California and drifted as far away as Kansas.”

If you have experienced one of these damaging weather events or others in 2020, know that you’re not alone. Resources are available to help, and the agricultural community wants to rally around you and offer you help, comfort and fellowship as you navigate through this difficult year.

If you know of resources that could help the victims of the hurricanes, wildfires or the derecho storm, please email information to me at amanda.radke@live.com. ❖

“Tough As Nails” TV show celebrates everyday Americans

Does agriculture have a public relations problem?

Perception of who we are in agriculture has been a constant struggle we have faced as more consumers move away from rural communities in favor of urban life.

This problem has escalated in recent years for a multitude of reasons — one, greater efficiencies in the industry have resulted in fewer hands involved in the work of putting food on the table; two, an abundance of food at the grocery stores means people never have to worry about where their next meal will come from; and three, instead of people being able to witness first-hand how food is grown, information derived from social media, activists, politicians and Hollywood has resulted in more confusion than ever before.

As a result, it’s been difficult to find our common ground and our shared values. I’ve always believed, however, if we could sit down with our counterparts, we would find we care about the same things when it comes to purchasing food at the grocery store to feed our families — safety, nutrition, taste, affordability, environment and animal welfare.

Even knowing we share these commonalities, there’s still a great deal of work to be done to make agriculture cool and sexy once again.

The one silver lining of the pandemic has been the “essential workers,” those who provide the goods and services we need to function in our everyday lives, are in the spotlight. All of a sudden, we care more about where our toilet paper, hand sanitizer, meats, dairy, eggs and other products we can’t live without come from. There’s a stronger push to get to know the people behind the products, and the opportunities are great if we can take advantage of this open window to share our stories.

However, in the current political climate, you may want to simply go off the grid, ignore the craziness of the outside world, shut off the mainstream media and just keep working the land and raising the livestock you love.

I totally get it, and I go back and forth from feeling like I need to reach out to our consumers to thinking it’s time for me to shut down and hide away from the world for a bit.

If you need a distraction for a moment, may I suggest a television show that celebrates the hard-working Americans who provide the food, fiber and energy to support our country and the world.

CBS has a new show called, “Tough As Nails,” and a friend alerted me to this really awesome series. This all-new reality competition squares off everyday Americans who get their hands dirty while working long, hard hours to keep the country running. In season one, we get to meet a welder, firefighter, farmer, roofer and Marine Corps veteran, just to name a few.

According to CBS, “These competitors, who consider the calluses on their hands a badge of honor, will be tested for their strength, endurance, life skills, and, most importantly, mental toughness in challenges that take place at real-world job sites.”

“I was inspired to create this show almost a decade ago because of my working-class family of farmers, gold miners, builders and coal miners,” said host Phil Keoghan. “I’m proud of my family and wanted to shine a light on people who are not afraid to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty to do a hard day’s work. Now, more than ever, it is important for all of us to recognize this country’s essential workers: real people in real life who are real tough.”

The show airs every Wednesday night on CBS.

It’s shows like this that are a win-win because it brings rural America and those who work in these important fields to the forefront. When it comes to a public relations campaign for the food, fiber and energy industries, this one gets the job done. Check it out and let me know what you think! ❖

USDA doles out $12.1 million in Farm to School grants

The Made In America movement continues to gain momentum with the Trump Administration’s announcement to award $12.1 million in Farm to School grants.

This is the most awarded since the grant program’s inception, with 159 programs receiving funds.

The Farm to School grants are administered by the USDA, and the goal is to use these funds to bring fresh, local foods into schools, daycares and summer youth programs in the upcoming school year while also supporting economic opportunities for America’s farmers and ranchers.

“USDA’s Farm to School Program is a win-win,” said Brandon Lipps, USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services. “The grants announced today will help build bright futures for our children by connecting them to where their food comes from, while also nourishing the local economy and supporting American agriculture.”

According to a USDA press release, “USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service awarded grants of between $20,000 and $100,000 to projects in 46 states, the District of Columbia and Guam. Grantees represent the wide diversity of partners involved in farm to school efforts, including agricultural producers, tribal nations, non-profits, state agencies, and schools spanning both rural and urban areas.

“To help target funds to high-impact projects, FNS awarded bonus points to applications serving schools with a high population of students eligible for free and reduced-price meals; submitted by or serving tribal nations; and located in or targeting an Opportunity Zone, a census tract designation for low-income communities. In all, the projects will serve more than 7,610 schools and 2.5 million students, more than half of whom are eligible for free or reduced priced meals.”

Examples of how these grants will be used include a mobile farmers market for kids at urban elementary schools in Minnesota; an afterschool summer garden program in California; a marketing campaign to help build relationships between producers and educators in West Virginia; and providing bison and beef to the reservations in South Dakota, just as a few examples.

According to the USDA, “Our mission is to increase food security and reduce hunger by providing children and low-income people access to food, a healthful diet and nutrition education in a way that supports American agriculture and inspires public confidence.”

I think that’s a mission we can all get behind, and in an upcoming blog, I’ll share details about a private initiative that seeks to accomplish this goal, as well.

As a side note, even as USDA works to support the Farm to School movement, there is great uncertainty about what schools will look like in the fall, as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A recent Politico poll of 2,000 voters revealed that 54% of Americans are uncomfortable with reopening K-12 schools in the fall; 58% of those polled said they were uncomfortable with daycare centers reopening; and 48% were uncertain that colleges and universities should reopen.

In May, President Trump tweeted, “Schools in our country should be opened ASAP.”

Time will tell how this will play out state-by-state, but it’s nice knowing that there will be a strong agriculture and food component to these educational institutions once things settle back into a new routine this fall. ❖

Beef is the best medicine

For months, we’ve been asked to stay in our homes, reduce contact with others, avoid touching our faces, wipe down surfaces, wear masks (or don’t wear masks?), shutter businesses, close down schools and more, all in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, as our country seeks to lift some of these restrictions and look ahead to what the “new normal” might be, I have found myself wondering why has diet and nutrition not come into the conversation about how we can protect ourselves from illness?

Now it has, thanks to Nina Teicholz. She has never been afraid to take on the medical and nutritional community and challenge the well-indoctrinated notion that plant-based diets are king and animal fats and proteins are bad.

As the executive director of the Nutrition Coalition, Teicholz recently published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal titled, “A low-carb strategy for fighting the pandemic’s toll.”

This article is the antidote to the activist op-eds which cite meat-eating and animal agriculture as the causes for pandemics like this one. I believe it should be shared far and wide to help educate consumers about the benefits of meat-centered diets.

Teicholz writes, “The coronavirus has added a brutal exclamation point to America’s pervasive ill health. Americans with obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other diet-related diseases are about three times more likely to suffer worsened outcomes from Covid-19, including death.

“Had we flattened the still-rising curves of these conditions, it’s quite possible that our fight against the virus would today look very different. To combat this and future pandemics, we need to talk about not only the masks that go over our mouths, but the food that goes into them.”

Teicholz criticizes the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, saying, “Next month, an expert committee will issue its advisory report on the federal government’s official dietary guidelines for the next five years. First published in 1980, the guidelines are meant to encourage healthy eating, but they have self-evidently failed to stem the ever-rising rates of obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases in the U.S.”

Her suggestion to addressing our nation’s expanding waistline — eat more meat, dairy and eggs.

She says, “Pills and surgery can treat the symptoms of such conditions, but diet-related problems require diet-related solutions. The good news is that changes in diet can start to reverse these conditions in a matter of weeks.

“In one controlled trial at the University of Indiana involving 262 adults with Type 2 diabetes, 56% were able to reverse their diagnosis by following a very low-carbohydrate diet, with support from a mobile app, in just 10 weeks. The results of this continuing study have been sustained for two years, with more than half the study population remaining free of a diabetes diagnosis.”

Yet, despite the growing evidence to support animal proteins in the diet, Teicholz says the federal government’s dietary guidelines stand in the way of making low carb diets a viable option for the 60% of Americans with at least one chronic disease.

She explains, “That’s because the guidelines call for a diet high in grains, with more than 50% of calories coming from carbohydrates. The guidelines aren’t mere advice: They drive the National School Lunch Program, feeding programs for the elderly and the poor, and military food. Many patients learn about the guidelines from their doctors and dietitians.”

To read Teicholz’s entire commentary, go to www.wsj.com/articles/a-low-carb-strategy-for-fighting-the-pandemics-toll-11590811260. This issue isn’t new, and although it might pale in comparison when looking at some larger, much more divisive issues facing our nation right now, I am certain a well-fed and well-nourished America is a more peaceful, content and healthier America.

And to achieve that, it starts with nutrient-dense beef. ❖

Activists want to pick winners and losers in farm aid package

While it’s been devastating to watch the unfolding impact that COVID-19 has had on our nation, an unexpected and not unpleasant side effect has been the quieting of the endless banter about climate change and plant-based diets.

Because it’s become quite clear, during a pandemic, consumers don’t want to buy into virtue signaling. And they certainly don’t want faux products. Nope. They want the real deal, and that’s why we are seeing such a strong demand for meat, dairy and eggs at the grocery store.

How ironic it is that it took a global panic for the fake demand for fake burgers to be truly revealed.

And just as the cattle and climate change link appears to have died down for now, I’m quite certain these fear-mongering, control-grabbing activists won’t be quiet for much longer.

Because let’s face it — the bread and butter of many of these lobbying machines is to prey on people’s emotions and earn donations with the promise of saving dogs and cats. Meanwhile, these well-intentioned donors are duped, and the organizations go back to their real mission of abolishing animal agriculture, eliminating meat, dairy and eggs from the dinner table and force-feeding plant-based diets for all.

During this crisis, I’ve watched as activist groups have quietly introduced legislation that would further deteriorate our freedom to farm and to own property, specifically livestock.

For example, some activist groups have pushed to end animal testing as researchers scramble to find treatment and vaccination plans for COVID-19.

Meanwhile, another activist group is working to ban horse carriage businesses during this time of crisis.

Now, these organizations are looking at you, my friends and fellow livestock producers. They know that they can legislate and litigate you out of business, but their newest trick is to try and take money straight out of your wallet.

Last week, USDA Secretary of Ag Sonny Perdue announced that the Trump Administration would be rolling out a $19 billion farm aid package to help struggling food producers during the COVID-19 crisis.

“During this time of national crisis, President Trump and USDA are standing with our farmers, ranchers, and all citizens to make sure they are taken care of,” said Perdue in a press release. “The American food supply chain had to adapt, and it remains safe, secure, and strong, and we all know that starts with America’s farmers and ranchers. This program will not only provide immediate relief for our farmers and ranchers, but it will also allow for the purchase and distribution of our agricultural abundance to help our fellow Americans in need.”

The program includes two major elements to achieve their goals of protecting food producers and ensuring our nation’s food security.

Naturally, these activists have their eyes on this assistance program, and in a letter submitted to U.S. Sens. Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer and U.S. Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Kevin McCarthy, more than 50 organizations, including groups like HSUS, Mercy for Animals and Farm Sanctuary, made their case for determining who should receive payments and who should not.

Specifically, the letter calls on Congress to, “Prohibit industrial animal agriculture operations and corporate parents from receiving any COVID-19 bailout funding. Financial assistance should be directed instead toward independent and small and mid-size farmers producing fruits, vegetables, and other climate-compatible plant-based foods.”

Additionally, the letter calls for the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to be overhauled to include sustainability factors.

Per the letter, USDA should, “invest in public health, food security and small farmers by increasing the accessibility of plant-based foods and addressing food waste. Bailout funds could bolster production and availability of vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains by incentivizing an increase in plant-based options in school meals and government, hospital, and prison procurement programs. Farmers who sell in farmers’ markets could also receive dedicated funds to ensure continued operations. Congress should also direct the USDA to include sustainability in the national dietary guidelines currently being revised, which shape food choices made by millions of Americans each day and guide more than $80 billion in federal spending every year.”

Don’t fall asleep during this pandemic, folks. The activists aren’t shutting down during this crisis, and neither should we. We must continue to fight for our freedoms to farm, to own livestock and to have access to safe, affordable meat, dairy and eggs for all. And we must pushback against regulations, oversight and clear biases that infringe on those liberties. ❖

Safeguard your balance sheet with these tips

Last year was a tough one. I think there were a lot of us who couldn’t wait to move on from 2019 and to begin looking ahead to a brighter 2020. Little did we know that 2020 would be marked with a growing pandemic, a crashing economy, a crippling of the work force, and the never-ending isolation from our social circles, our schools, our churches and our communities.

Combine all that with the fact that it’s been a really challenging couple of years for beef producers, and the COVID-19 crisis is the perfect storm to wreak havoc on our agricultural businesses, our family relationships, our physical health and our emotional wellness.

Yet, cattlemen and women are a resilient bunch. We’ll fight for our liberties, our freedoms, our land, our livestock, our fellow Americans and this beautiful way of life.

Despite our determined attitudes and our desire to fight tooth and nail to protect ourselves from outside forces crushing our livelihoods, the fact of the matter is, our very survival relies upon how well we can cash flow through an emergency — in this case a global pandemic of an unpredictable novel virus.

Now the mainstream media may be blowing things out of proportion or we may have no idea how bad it could really get — either way, we can’t lose site of what’s happening at home if we are to thrive when the dust settles on this crazy situation we are all facing together.

Jack Davis, South Dakota State University Extension crops business management field specialist, recently shared an article titled, “Cash flow is critical,” which included seven ways we can increase our cash flow and weather these difficult storms.

While it might be hard for some to turn things around in our current predicvament, you can bet we will all become sharper with the pen and calculator when this deal is over! His business management checklist, for operating in both strong and volatile economic conditions includes the following:

• Know your numbers: Davis says, “Understand what is making you money and what is not. Compare your financial ratios and expenses.”

• Price risk protection: “Market on your margins, locking in profits when available,” he advises.

• Adapt conservation practices: Davis writes, “Check on conservation programs through NRCS.”

• Reduce direct costs: Davis suggests we use more time evaluating our top direct costs such as fertilizer and seed.

• Cash rent: “It may not be prudent to continue sustaining losses on high cash rent farms,” he says.

• Capital purchases: “Invest in operational efficiency and excellency,” he writes. “You may need to reduce capital purchases.”

• Non-farm cash flows: “Manage time resourcefully,” he adds.

A seasoned producer told me to prepare for an economic crisis or agricultural production hardship to occur every 10 years. During each decade, if you live and prepare for the hard times, especially when times are good, it will provide a better cushion to weather the difficult chapters as they arise. And they will arise!

If COVID-19 has taught me one thing it’s that as we social distance and worry for the future, the best and most important thing we can do is to prepare for the unexpected variables outside of our control by doing our best to manage the things we can control.

Do you have advice for young producers as they navigate the current economic market conditions of this current pandemic? Please, email me at amanda.radke@live.com. I would love to hear from you! ❖

Depression in ag families — It’s okay to talk about it!

I recently spoke at an agricultural meeting on the topic of addressing mental health challenges on the farm or ranch. When the organizers first asked me to present, I wondered, “What the heck could I possibly share with this group on this heavy topic? I’m not a therapist or medical health professional! What value do I have in this arena?”

But then I remembered that every farm family, including my own, has a story. As an ag community, we’ve seen great highs and lows over the years, and when I look back on a really tough 2019, I realized I have plenty to share on this topic.

Take, for example, the calving season of 2019. One late-season April blizzard had us feeling particularly hopeless. The snow was thick. Underneath it was mud. The wind was blowing. The drifts were huge. And there was no way to get a tractor, truck or four-wheeler out to check calving cows without it getting buried in the muck.

After 36 hours of battling the elements with very little sleep, Dad finally said, “We can’t go out there anymore tonight. It’s too dangerous. We’ll see what kind of mess we have in the morning.”

None of us felt good about this call, but when it’s man against Mother Nature, sometimes you have no choice. So we waited, and as I recall that night, we each expressed our emotions — our stress, fatigue, anxiety, depression, anger, etc. — in different ways.

Dad felt defeated. Shoulders slumped, he sat in his armchair feeling like he had let his beloved mama cows down. Even though he had done everything in his power to prepare for the blizzard, the idea of leaving them alone through the night in a deadly blizzard with calves potentially born in that kind of weather was devastating to him. In short, he felt like a failure.

Mom was teary-eyed. She couldn’t help but mention “retirement” over and over again. Ready to start the next chapter where she wouldn’t have to work so hard and she wouldn’t have to see the stress etched in her husband’s face, she was D.O.N.E.

Don’t call her a fair-weather cowgirl — she’s anything but. However, decades of hard work, long days and little time for fun or rest had left her depleted of energy. She was tired, and she longed for peaceful days ahead.

Tyler, my husband, internalizes his stress. His stony silence is the only cue to study as you wonder how he is handling the pressure of difficult times like this. He doesn’t want to burden anyone else with his troubles or worries, but in his quiet demeanor, the wheels are turning as he walks through what he can do to “fix” the problems at hand.

Then there’s me, the vocal one. When I’m sad and stressed, I’m irritable and lash out irrationally. I get angry and say things I don’t mean.

That’s mental health for you though — it doesn’t discriminate by age, race, gender, wealth or location. The impacts of depression can hit even the happiest of families and the highest of the most highest-functioning individuals.

So what can we do if we are experiencing these emotions ourselves or if we are worried about a friend or family member who may be going through a tough time?

Illinois farm wife and behavioral health consultant Adrienne DeSutter offered some advice at a recent press conference held at an American Farm Bureau Federation meeting.

She says signs of loved ones who may be struggling with mental wellness include: changes in a person’s typical behavior; eating or sleeping habits that change; decline in care of self, or farm, or livestock; sudden weight loss or gain; feeling trapped, hopeless or worthless; feeling like a burden; expressing unbearable pain; aggression or irritability; fatigue; withdrawal or isolation from friends and family; or saying goodbye or giving away prized possessions.

So how do we best approach having a conversation with these loved ones? DeSutter says we can point out things you’ve noticed such as, “Haven’t seen you at church/card club/coffee” or “Just wanting to call and see if everything’s okay.” She says it’s important to listen to hear, validate concerns and provide resources.

If you or someone you know needs assistance or help, call Avera Health Ministry’s farm-specific hotline at (800) 691-4336. ❖

Nicely done, beef. You’re still king with consumers

Last year, I publicly spoke out against fake meats for the first time. I had been invited to speak at a producer event in Nebraska, after a packer (that I won’t name) backed out at the last minute.

This packer had been invited to speak at this meeting about their new investment in plant-based protein, and while packers have always invested in protein — operating beef, poultry and pork — this time it felt different.

This investment felt like a slap in the face, but really, do you blame them? Imagine the overhead, the liability, the training, the security and oversight that comes with harvesting an animal from start to finish. It makes sense they would be looking for a protein source that could be mixed in a vat with much less risk and labor needed to get the job done.

As a business person, I get it.

As a beef producer, I wonder what that means for us?

And that’s exactly what I tackled in that first speech and have done many times over ever since. From events like Alltech’s The One to podcasts with small, niche health-conscious audiences, everybody is asking the same question, “What is it about fake meats that has everybody so riled up?”

Here is what I think the crux of the issue is: The industry isn’t afraid of the competition; we have always competed against other proteins in the meat case after all; however, these folks are playing by different rules where mud-slinging is the norm and lying about beef and pork seems to be their model for scaling demand.

And that’s where I think it becomes time for the beef industry to push back.

The Beef Checkoff accomplishes that in an ad campaign now going viral on social media.

In a series of photos and videos featuring delectable cuts of beef, the “Nicely done, beef.” campaign highlights what beef does so well in contrast to some of today’s most popular talking about alternative proteins.

• “Nicely done, beef. You’ve proven that meat substitutes are just that. Substitutes.”

• “Nicely done, beef.” You’ve always been what’s for dinner.”

• “Nicely done, beef. You’re the only nutritious meal people don’t lie about liking.”

• “Nicely done, beef. You taste like beef with only one ingredient.”

• “Nicely done, beef. You provide the benefits of a protein bar. Without tasting like one.”

• “Nicely done, beef. You give people a reason to use the drooling emoji.”

I wrote about this campaign in 2018 and was excited about it then, but like a fine wine, this one continues to get better with age, succinctly saying exactly what we are all thinking anyway but in a pretty package that’s worth sharing on social media.

Some might not like the snarky approach to these, but considering the onslaught of plant-based, anti-meat rhetoric that we continue to see spewed from the media, celebrities and politicians, I think it’s more than prudent for livestock producers to tell their stories.

As we wade through the good and bad on these discussions, we must remember this — beef, and even pork and chicken, too, have incredible stories to share in regards to nutrition, taste and environment! We can certainly stand on our own merits and perhaps we should stop giving these plant-based companies such a great platform every time we counter their falsehoods.

Oh, and by the way, I’m slated to speak at a conference next week, right after a packer will present on the future of plant-based proteins. I’ll let you know how it goes. Stay tuned.

For information about my agricultural speaking topics, visit www.amandaradke.com. ❖

Therapeutic healing found on the farm

The past year will be cemented in our memories for many reasons; 2019 was a difficult one, marred with the challenges of extreme temperatures, late season blizzards, spring and fall flooding, ongoing trade wars, market uncertainties and the highest rates of farm bankruptcies on record in the last decade.

This year will also be remembered as the time when my open letter to Ellen DeGeneres went viral, prompting a media storm that kept me busy sharing the truth about cattle and climate change and debunking those pesky rumors about cow farts destroying the planet.

The last 12 months are also notable as I released my second children’s book, “Can-Do Cowkids” and am deep in the process of penning two more titles to release in 2020.

We’ll also remember 2019 as the year we drove across the state in a record-breaking cold spell to take bulls to the Black Hills Stock Show. We’ll remember the long detours we had to take to get to town to get around the flooded river roads. And we’ll remember the mud; oh my, there’s been mud! If there was an Olympic sport in running through mud, I would be a gold medalist, of that I’m sure!

But perhaps what we’ll remember most about 2019 is how we are growing our family through foster care. My husband Tyler and I did our 30 hours of training last spring; completed a home study in July; and were officially licensed as foster parents by Aug. 1, 2019. By Aug. 2, we had our first sibling set come to stay with us, and in 2019, we welcomed seven kids into our home and our hearts.

Let me be frank. I don’t share this news to be self-righteous or to somehow earn praise and glory with readers or my followers on social media. I share this because I feel there is a great need in this arena, and by highlighting how we have gotten involved in foster care, it will hopefully spur others to think about filling the void in their own communities.

This help could come in the form of fostering, serving as a Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteer, mentoring youth as they age out of the system or stocking up on essentials like school supplies, tooth brushes and tooth paste and clothes for foster families to help the precious youth who come into their care.

Because the fact of the matter is this — in the United States today, there are 400,000-plus foster youth who are in need of a safe, secure and loving home. They, of course, have experienced great trauma in their lives, not only through neglect or abuse, but also by the sad reality that they have been separated from their families as they become wards of the state.

And I feel the agricultural community is perfectly positioned to help these innocent children. I have found that much healing can be done on the farm. These kids come to our house, and for the first time, they get to see livestock up close. They get to feed them grass through the fence, and they squeal in surprise if a cow’s scratchy tongue touches their chubby little toddler hands.

They absolutely love four-wheeler rides, digging in the sandbox, running wild through mud puddles, playing with the barn cats and the trusty cattle dog and exploring the great outdoors with our own children.

These foster kids also get to learn where their food comes from; they love helping me in the garden. And each child gets a tree planted in their name on our farm. They get to dig the hole and water a tree and be part of our story, even if they are only with us for a short time.

Perhaps most surprising of all is how foster care hasn’t just provided a safe haven for these kids, but it has taught me about what’s most important of all — family, farming, faith, love and grace. This year may have been tough for many reasons, but when we focus on our true priorities, the challenges we face pale in comparison to what really matters. Happy New Year to you all; may your 2020 be very blessed indeed!