A year in review: Your favorite agricultural stories of 2015 (part two) | TheFencePost.com

A year in review: Your favorite agricultural stories of 2015 (part two)

Compiled by Kelly ragan

July

Small-scale farming hits the classroom

By Tyler Silvy

Leslie Trejo probably isn't the first person you'd expect to be digging around in the dirt, learning how to be a small-scale farmer. She's from Los Angeles, a long way in both distance and philosophy from agriculture-centric Weld County, Colorado.

But for Trejo, a University of Northern Colorado senior majoring in environmental sustainability, playing in the mud comes naturally.

"It's awesome," Trejo said. "I was that kid that was just in the mud, making sure I was dirty. I love it."

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"It," for Trejo and a handful of UNC undergraduates, is a new, hands-on summer course called urban farming. "It," involves a 5,000-square-foot greenhouse and three-quarters of an acre of outdoor gardening space in north Greeley on O Street. And "it," it turns out, is a lot more fun that sitting in an air-conditioned classroom.

"It's hands-on," Trejo said by way of explanation. "I absolutely love coming out here and doing something rather than sitting in a classroom."

The urban farming class goes out to the WiseAcres greenhouse on O Street twice per week. There's also 4,000 square feet of planting space on UNC's campus. Students plant and transplant, and they ensure their plants are growing well. It's hard work, even if it isn't "farming" in the traditional sense.

To read the full story online, click here.

August

Nebraska company makes leg braces for dogs

By Mary Jane Bruce

A dog with a knee injury avoids surgery by wearing a leg brace developed by inventor and entrepreneur Ben Blecha. Blecha and his staff make the braces in a cavernous studio space and laboratory located in the small southwest Nebraska town of Benkelman, the same town where Blecha used to ride bikes as child. Blecha chose to leave Denver, Colo., and move to a town of fewer than 1,000 people because he wants to raise his children there.

"I have children and I have an entrepreneurial spirit," said Blecha. "I moved back to Benkelman because I want my children to live the good life that I had. I wanted them to be able to ride their bikes to the swimming pool."

Blecha's dog braces are in use by canine customers in Australia, the U.K. and other places that access his company, HERO, on the Internet. He offers three different lines of braces for dogs with injuries such as tears in the Achilles tendon or tears in the knee ligament, similar to a human ACL injury. When a brace is ordered, Blecha sends a casting kit to the customer's veterinarian who then makes a mold of the dog's leg and returns it to HERO. The cast is used to fabricate a custom leg brace. The brace allows dogs to climb stairs, play and "run like a superhero," without resorting to surgery that can be expensive or dangerous for older dogs or those with health issues.

To read the full story online, click here.

September

Judge issues ruling on bond hearing

By Kelly Ragan

A Logan County judge on Sept. 1 dismissed a $1.4 million bond requirement, eliminating a hurdle in a Sterling family's lawsuit against the Colorado Department of Revenue. About 50 people gathered to protest government overreach in Colorado's conservation easement program Sept. 1 in front of the Logan County Justice Center.

The protest was before a District Court hearing on the constitutionality of the state imposing a $1.4 million bond on the Gentz family to be heard in court. The Gentzes filed a lawsuit in June against the Colorado Department of Revenue for rejecting land appraisal tax credits, without sufficient reason, two years after they had been issued.

Local business owners, other Colorado farmers, family and friends attended the protest. Many held signs decrying government overreach, violation of statute of limitations and fraud.

Conservation easements are essentially an agreement between government and a landowner. The landowner puts their property into conservation, which forever restricts development and ensures the land is used for specific purposes such as farming or wildlife habitat. They are intended to protect the natural, agricultural and scenic value of the land.

To read the full story online, click here.

October

Man raises bees in rural Colorado from his wheelchair

By Kelly Ragan

According to the 2010 census, 59 people reside in the nearly perfect square outline of Kirk, Colo.

In a blink, you'd miss it. There's one grocery store, one auto shop, one church and one school — the same school from which Renny James, 52, graduated and where he later taught.

On June 5, 1979, James' truck flipped and he was thrown from the vehicle. He broke his back, and James has been in a wheelchair ever since.

James grew up with a passion for animals. He loved caring for them and simply being around them. He connected with agriculture too, when he worked on various dairy farms and ranches.

Bees started to fascinate James during his senior year of high school. After the accident, bees became a tangible way to live out his dream. They allowed him to participate in agriculture, and today James cares for bees and harvests honey from his wheelchair in Kirk.

James spent most of his life in rural parts of eastern Colorado though he ventured to Boulder, Colo., when he went to college.

"I wanted to design enclosures for zoos until I found out that took a whole lot of calculus and a whole lot of physics," James said. "So I went the art school rout. I suck at art. I can't draw or paint so it's a good thing I went with photography."

He earned three degrees: biology, art education and photography. He learned about animals and learned about creatively expressing his love for them.

To read the full story online, click here.

November

South Dakota farmer struggles to recover

By Gary Burchfield

Farming is considered one of the country's most dangerous occupations … big machines, moving parts, never enough time, rushing to get finished before it rains … almost every day there are chances for things to go wrong.

So it was Sept. 30 this year on a farm near Colome, S.D., when John Russell, helping a family friend harvest soybeans, was driving a tractor and pulling the grain cart behind the combine when he noticed a bearing on the combine going bad. John signaled to the operator and jumped off his tractor to check the bearing, crawling underneath the combine to look for the part number. He crawled out and told the operator he'd go get their service truck. Then, John crawled back under the combine to re-check the part number.

The combine operator, thinking John was gone, decided to move the combine closer to the field end to make the repairs. When he put the combine in gear, the rear combine wheels ran over John's body.

The 911 call went out immediately and within minutes John was on his way to the hospital in nearby Winner, S.D. Emergency room doctors there knew his injuries were too severe for the smaller hospital and John was transported to Sanford Hospital in Sioux Falls. He was immediately taken into surgery to begin repairing his mutilated mid-section. His injuries included a broken femur, separated pelvis, left arm broken in two places, broken ribs, a punctured lung and internal injuries that included damage to his diaphragm, liver, gall bladder and pancreas.

To read the full story online, click here.

December

Woman elected NC president

By Terri Licking

The Nebraska Cattlemen organization has a new president after the annual board meeting on the last day of its convention in Kearney, Neb., earlier this month. Barb Cooksley of Anselmo, Neb., is the first woman elected NC president, which she describes as "notable, but not a big deal."

Regardless of gender, she added, "People should know that it does not come without a lot of thought, preparation and family support. I handle the reins for one year, but it is the members that run the association. Presidents preside over the meetings, do the interviews and are the face of the Nebraska Cattlemen for one year. I have prepared for this job ever since I took over my Dad's (Art Bush) Nebraska Stockgrower's membership, that was prior to 1988."

The consolidation of the Stockgrower's, the Nebraska Livestock Feeders and the Nebraska Feedlot Council occurred on Aug. 24, 1988, which was the 100th anniversary of the Stockgrower's. In 2013, the NC celebrated its 125th anniversary.

The Bush family farmed and ranched near Hamlet, Neb., between McCook and Imperial. Even after marriage to George Cooksley and moving to the ranch in Custer County five miles west of Anselmo, Barb kept that membership.

Her education as range conservationist has enhanced her preparedness for the tasks on the ranch as well as those she will complete as NC president.

To read the full story online, click here.