Raising a Glass to Hop Farmers

As my sister and I traipsed through hop yards, fighting off prickly side-arms (vines) that would leave stinging cuts on our arms and faces and melting under the unrelenting summer sun, we used to joke that this was our great sacrifice to protect beer. That’s right, we were saving the liquid gold that free Americans can enjoy. Or so we said to make the tough days a little more bearable. We were field scouts for a crop consulting company and our main clients were hop growers. I spent three summers sampling sites in hop yards and collecting mite counts. Talk about a dream job. But as I said…we were the first line of defense for enemies to beer. Pesky little pests. Now that I am of legal age, I like to wink back at my younger self when I am enjoying a particularly cold, refreshing brew to show my appreciation for the former toils of my job.

However, it’s high time every person that gathers at a local favorite taproom; every person that pops a top of a cold IPA; every person that clinks bottles lakeside; and every person who has drank beer…raise their glass to farmers.

Without farmers, there is no beer. Without beer, there is no happiness.

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Photo taken at Peddler Brewing in Ballard, Washington.

Beer is made from water, barley, yeast and hops and a variety of other ingredients are used to give certain flavors and aromas to recipes. Hops are one of the critical four elements of beer. Hops contribute bitterness to a beer but can also be used to engage other unique tastes. The use of hops is vital to creating the perfect balance of taste, texture and aroma of your favorite brew. They can be added in various stages of the brewing process to make a unique blend of flavors.

In my home state of Washington, 75% of the total United States hop acreage is grown in the Yakima Valley. With ideal growing conditions, a warmer climate and advantageous irrigation systems, the Yakima Valley provides a haven for hops.  Most hop farms are family-owned and run. The family farms have been passed down from generation to generation. Along with the acreage, farmers have inherited the same drive to grow the highest quality of hops. Every bine, field, cone and harvest are a testament to the hours of dedication and stewardship of growers.

In the face of triple digit temperatures, droughts, and decreasing labor force, hop growers have persevered to provide high crop yields and quality. Farmers also face challenges from threats both large and small. Pests like the two-spotted spider mite and cutworms damage crops. Diseases such as powdery mildew can spread through yards and stunt growth. Hop growers must be vigilant to safeguard the growth of healthy crops.

Consistent high quality hops and the increase of craft breweries have grown to benefit each other. The U.S now has over 4,000 craft breweries, the highest since 1873. A single barrel of craft beer requires one pound of hops. One popular craft brewery in Seattle called Fremont Brewing produced 12,400 barrels in 2013…that’s a lot of hops. Each crop means endless hours of labor, diligence and problem solving. Thanks to our hop farmers, a beer shortage is only a thing of nightmares and scary movies. Tireless work and savvy planning by growers ensure a bright future for beer.

So here I am, raising my glass to the noblest of us all. We thank you.

Cheers to hop farmers everywhere!

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Proud to NOT be a Girl in a Country Song

The other day I was searching for a radio station as I was driving and finally found a country station coming in clear. I heard the song “Girl in a Country Song” by Maddie and Tae. A catchy tune that playfully drew attention to how misconstrued and disrespected women in country music have been represented lately. I had heard it a couple times and have seen the funny music video but I finally started thinking about what they were saying and started to relate to it on a personal level. If you haven’t heard the song I will post the video below.

With this in mind I listened closely to other popular songs that talked about girls. Bottom line, I am proud to NOT be a girl in a country song. I can guarantee the real women engaged in agriculture don’t identify as being “tan-legged Juliets.” Why? because they wear work jeans even in the hottest of weather to walk through fields, feed livestock and ride horses. Which results in some pasty legs that could blind you. I know I am not the only one that wouldn’t be caught dead strutting around in a bikini top, cutoffs and boots. They don’t always have immaculate manicures, in fact most of the time there is dirt under their nails because they aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. Their hair isn’t perfect because no one has time for that when you are getting up before dawn for chores. As comfortable as “painted-on cutoff jeans” sounds, I know I would rather be in my not-so-sexy, worn, work jeans. Can I see a show of hands for ladies that have taken their bra off at the end of the day and had hay fall out? It happens! Life in agriculture is messy and hard. It leaves you with callouses, bruises and tired muscles. However, the knowledge that you accomplished something in your day makes it easy to fall asleep at night. But you never hear about that in any of the songs do you? In addition to the surface level difference between societal perception and reality, there is a deeper component about women in agriculture being missed. It’s their character, dedication, ethic, drive, and lifestyle.

All of these songs make it sound like they have nothing better to do but chase around guys in trucks hoping to slide into their passenger seat or shake it on a tailgate but the truth is women in agriculture are too darn busy. They are getting up at 4:30 in the morning to start the day and not done until the sun is setting. They are  putting themselves through college so they can help their family farms be successful.  They are driving combines during harvest all through the night.  They are spending hours over paperwork, calculating to make sure they can make ends meet. They are scheduling their day around a calf being nursed back to health. They are putting their own homegrown food on the table for their families between running their kids to 4-H meetings and school.

They are farmers, welders, ranchers, agriculturists, teachers, barrel racers, field scouts students, scientists,  viticulturists, supervisors, moms, daughters, sisters.

They are tough. Determined. Relentless. Compassionate. Practical. Humble. Most importantly they are very real.

These are the women who deserve to have songs written about them for growing our food, researching methods of sustainable agriculture, teaching our kids, and carrying on the legacy of powerful women. Perhaps, its a stretch to think someone could put all of this into lyrical art and make it so they have their moment on 92.9 FM but what women agriculturists do deserve is recognition.

I am proud to NOT be a girl in a country song. I am proud to be among the numerous women carrying on the values of agriculture and the country lifestyle.

Here is a look at some real-life women in agriculture.

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Madeline Isaak drives a combine and a tractor for Isaak Brothers 20,000 acre wheat farm in Coulee City, Washington.

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Rylee Suhadolnik spent her summer doing irrigation, weed control, and collecting clusters and data for pest management and crop estimates at Ste. Michelle Vineyards in Prosser, Washington. She is pursuing an agriculture education major with plans to become an FFA advisor.

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Danika Campos works as a lab tech in the spring wheat breeding and genetics lab at Washington State University. She assists with lab maintenance and ongoing lab research. Danika plans to become an agriculture educator after graduation. In between work and school, she spends most of her time hunting and fishing.

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Jessica Wiley is a field scout in Boardman, Oregon. She spends most of her days taking samples and checking for pests and diseases in potato fields. Jessica was raised on a wheat farm and worked alongside her brothers.

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Cheryl Thonney is an ag teacher at Connell High School and serves as an FFA advisor to approximately 65 members. Part of her curriculum is having a hands on activity dissecting a pregnant cow uterus for her animal science class.

 

 

A Letter to My Dad


Dear Dad,

Now that I am older I can reflect back on all the life lessons and important things you have taught me. You have built me, and shaped me to be the person that I am. I appreciate all that you have done for me.

Thank you for loving my mother. Your commitment to your marriage has allowed me see to what loyalty means. Your devotion to one another makes an inspiring marriage many look up to. I know how sacred the vows of marriage are and the value of finding a true partner in this life because of you. You have made her laugh every single day, which brings joy to our whole home. I recognize that a good sense of humor is more important than looks or money. Those will not get a marriage through hard times, but sharing a laugh will.

Thank you for showing me how say “I love you” without necessarily saying the words. It’s getting up before everyone else is awake to put wood on the fire so mom is cozy while she drinks her coffee and does her morning crossword puzzle. It’s checking the oil in the car before I go on a trip then giving me a tutorial on what to do if I get a flat tire. You say “I love you” by attending all of mom’s church events because you know it makes he heart happy. It’s always making sure the fridge is full of mom’s favorite yogurt. You say “I love you” by bringing her a bowl of ice cream without her even asking. It’s in the way you fix a hearty “substantial” breakfast to make sure we start our days off right. Love is said in the little things that show you pay attention, care for everyone’s well-being and want your wife to be happy every day of this life. Today too many women put value on superficial things to determine if their men love them. But thanks to you, I know sometimes love isn’t shown through dozens of roses, expensive jewelry, and extravagant gestures. Love can be shown everyday in the simplest forms.

Thank you for making me work hard. The weekend afternoons spent raking leaves, mowing lawns, hauling brush, gathering wood and gardening seemed like the worst way to spend a day but now I realize sometimes there are tasks in life that simply just need to be done. They aren’t fun, and that’s okay. We need to roll up our sleeves and do it anyway. The early mornings I spent working with my show steers along with the daily chore of feeding/watering livestock taught me responsibility and commitment. A living form depending on me for their health and sustenance is the best lesson on how to be reliable. Not accepting any grade below a ‘A’ in school taught me to set high standards for myself. At the time I thought you were unreasonable but when it came time to apply for scholarships, I couldn’t be more appreciative for teaching me to persevere towards my goals. My investment in my education throughout my life was rewarded by the opportunity to spend four years at my dream college (Go Cougs!)

Thank you for trying with all of your might to pass on your common sense. And thank you for letting me know when I show a lack of it.
Thank you for being a strict parent. While I was in high school I thought it was ridiculous that I couldn’t date, or have a phone until I was 16. But I was able to mature and grow with positive influences instead of the most vulnerable time in my life being influenced by boys. Also, thank you for always putting a shotgun on the front porch whenever I bring a guy to meet you. The fear of God demands respect.

Thank you for making me be accountable for my own mistakes. My bad grade, my lost assignment, my poor decisions, my misspoken words are just that, MINE. It is my responsibility to make the situation right, suffer the consequences, serve my punishment humbly and find a way to apologize. Not being a helicopter parent swooping in to make excuses was one of the best things you could have ever done for me. Some of the greatest lessons in my life have come from dealing with the consequences of my own actions.

Thank you for being the best father, husband, and hard-working man that you are!

Love,

Your daughter

15 Reasons Why FFA Advisors Are Amazing

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It’s a common known fact among the FFA community that advisors are cut from a different cloth. It is also possible they have a few screws loose. What teacher in their right mind would become involved in an organization that has a habit of turning into more of a lifestyle than a job? Thankfully, those brave few have dedicated countless hours to furthering the education of bright, involved high school students in order to build a better tomorrow. Here are just a few reasons why FFA advisors are amazing:

1. They are just as invested as you are. Your success in a competition, running for an officer position or in the show ring is a victory for them as well. It means the innumerable amount of times they spent listening to you recite the Creed has paid off when you are able to advance to the district competition and they are able to watch with pride.

2. Advisors have impeccable sense of fashion. Official dress is the new black in their minds. It always goes with everything and never clashes. In regards to their own wardrobe, jeans and a plaid shirt is business attire, right?

3. They always know the dirt. No, I’m not referring to soils (but they do know about that). FFA advisors gossip like old women in a hair salon.

4. They see you at your worst and still think you are the best. When you are in tears because the computer deleted half of your State Degree application, they don’t in fact scold you for not saving every couple of minutes. They help you start over and THEN scold you. An advisor never complains when you show up to an event still red in the face and sweating from basketball practice, because they understand you are balancing a lot and appreciate the fact that you are there.

5. They make great references. I personally can’t thank my Ag advisors enough for the amazing letters of recommendation they wrote for scholarships and job applications. Huge shout out to my advisor for only sighing a little bit when I call him up and ask if it is possible to have one ready to go in two days because I didn’t quite realize the due date was so soon.

6. Advisors are experts in decorating. It does not matter if there physically is not any space left on their walls; if you won a plaque or banner, they will find a way to display it. No one really knows the color of paint in their classroom since every inch is covered.

7. They are always prepared. Whether it is the ability to find an extra scarf when you forgot yours, or your car battery died at school. They are always there to save your skin. In the stickiest of situations you run to them.

8. Your advisor probably had your parents in class. Or for all you Ag teacher kids out there like me, your parent had all your friends’ parents in class. Either way, everybody knows everybody so you know better than to try and pull anything. This also makes for a great opportunity to get some dirt on your dad about that senior prank he pulled when he was in high school.

9. They aren’t in it for the money. How do we know that? Because they are not paid nearly enough for the ridiculous amount of overtime and energy they put into making each year the best for members.

10. Boring car rides don’t exist. They somehow manage to make those long van-rides to CDE competitions, livestock judging and state convention the most memorable and filled with laughter. Whether it is bringing up that chapter officer from the other town you have a crush on or pulling pranks on you when you fall asleep, each drive is more fun than the last.

11. They taught you the meaning of hard work. Mostly through the amount of times you had to sweep the shop because you wouldn’t stop talking in class. They believe in hands on experience. Instead of just telling you the proper way to prune an apple tree, they have you do it with your own two hands.

12. They are all still kids at heart. Don’t let that balding head fool you, deep down these old goats have a youthful spirit. Whether it’s occasionally pushing the speed limit in the FFA pickup, giving kid’s bunny ears in pictures or finding the most immature jokes hilarious; advisors aren’t afraid to be silly and have fun with their students.

13. Advisors are protective. Similar to a mama bear, advisors are fiercely loyal and always have your back.

14. They are breaking stereotypes left and right. This is dedicated to all of the women advisors out there who are kickin’ butt and takin’ names! It’s a pretty cool thing to say you were taught how to weld by a GIRL! It is always great to see the looks on those boys’ faces when your advisor is carrying heavy equipment all by herself, instead of waiting around for a guy to do it. They are amazing examples to young women everywhere and are inspiring to all. They are the glue that keeps it all together.

15. You know what it means when they say “Here by the owl…” It is a symbol of the wisdom and experience they have gained over the years. Each class, each lesson, each moment, they find a way to pass down this invaluable wisdom to members in hopes that those members will pass it down to the next generation. Advisors are always looking to gain new knowledge and never stop striving to learn more. Their service as educators is how they show the love they have for the organization and for members. These owls hold vast expertise and their passion consists of passing down this intelligence to the hungry minds of our youth.

We can’t thank our advisors enough for all that they do. Their dedication to students and agriculture is beyond measure. From the Green hand ceremony until a student’s last FFA banquet, they have managed to give members memories that will last them a lifetime, and lessons they will never forget. Thank you FFA advisors!

Outstanding in your field or out standing in your field?

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Photo courtesy of AG Careers

The opportunities are endless and the future is promising. Agriculture is a large and growing industry that continues to evolve. An issue as a country we face is recruiting the youth of America to pursue ag-related careers. It’s time to open the minds of young students to the path agriculture has to offer. There are over 22 million ag-related careers that are no longer limited to farming. Agriculture acts as the umbrella to a wide variety of categories, branches and fields. Job descriptions include: Agribusiness Management, Agriculture and Natural Resources Communications, Building Construction Management, Agri-Science, Packaging, Horticulture, Floriculture, Food Science, and Fisheries/Wildlife. The advancing technologies and practices involved in agriculture create a demand for innovative minds and hardworking individuals. Agriculture is no longer limited to cows, sows and plows; and long gone are the overall-wearing, pitchfork carrying stereotypes of agriculturists. It has evolved into business, communications, engineering and scientific research. There are roughly 58,000 jobs for food and agricultural science graduates alone.

Let’s talk job security. People need to eat. Every year more people populate this earth. Someone needs to make sure they receive quality food; which translates to a lot of jobs. It is predicted that about 9 billion people will populate the Earth by 2050—a 38% increase from today’s population. The demand for food will also increase, which means the industry must grow as well. Jobs will need to be filled to not only accommodate for the growing production, but also to discover progressive practice and create innovative technology.

We need agriculture engineers, researchers, communicators, educators and businessman, but we simply need farmers too. Sixty percent of farmers are 55 years or older and the number of beginning farms has decreased. We need more young farmers to return home to the farm or start their own legacy. It is absolutely necessary for our country to recruit and support producers. A new generation of farmers is on the horizon. Crop production is an honorable path with incredibly rewarding experiences.

Parents, teachers, counselors…. I urge you to encourage kids and young students to get involved in agriculture clubs, organizations and hobbies. It might be where they find their passion. They could discover that their future resides in agriculture.

Young students…. Look into taking an ag-related class in high school or college. You might be surprised by all there is to learn and explore. Ask adults working in the agriculture industry about their experiences and perhaps you will discover there are opportunities you were not even aware of.

Agriculture is the backbone of this country, be a part of its future.

You Know You’re a Fair Kid When….

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Rylee Suhadolnik at the Yakima Valley Fair & Rodeo

1. You have the habit of writing your name on EVERYTHING. Everyone has the same shovel and shares everything to make sure the barn stays clean. If your name isn’t on it, it might accidentally end up in someone else’s tack. Sharpies are your best friend. You lose one staple gun, and trust me, you will never hear the end of it.

2. You know what tack is. While most think of a sharp pin object, to you it is all your prized possessions. Your tools of the trade to make sure your livestock are happy, healthy and clean.

3. You have learned not judge the outfits worn to do morning herdsman-ship. It’s early, you haven’t had breakfast yet and you have exactly 30 minutes until the judges come around. Sweatpants and cowboy boots go together, right?

4. You learned all about politics early on. It’s a part of life. It’s all about who you know AND what you know.

5. You’ve had a fair fling. Nothing screams real romance like helping each other sweep the barn walkway.

6. Poop doesn’t bother you. You are either scooping it, washing it off, or monitoring it. It’s all about inputs and outputs. You have become immune to the smell of it. In a normal setting, people standing around chatting with manure all over their jeans is considered unsanitary, but at the fair, it’s just a regular day (and most likely unloading day).

7. You realize eyes are on you at all times. Whether it’s the judge in the ring, your adviser/leader, your mom, or the younger kids, someone is always watching you. You learned the valuable lesson of always behaving like you are being watched, even when you don’t think you are. You know to always do the right thing.

8. You know how to stay composed. Even in the face of defeat you know how to keep a smile, and offer a congratulatory handshake to the winner. When the animal that you have spent all year training into a tame pet, goes rodeo-style on you at the fair, you grit your teeth and treat it just the same as you would if it behaved. And every showman knows, once you are in the ring your animal can sense your feelings. Staying calm and collected is the best way to keep your animal docile.

9. If your name is on the stall card, it’s your responsibility. If it poops, you scoop it up. If it’s hungry, you feed it, if it’s thirsty, you water it.

10. You always put your animal before yourself. This goes for needs and beauty. You don’t eat unless your livestock has been fed. You don’t put your show clothes on until you have spent hours beautifying every detail of your animal, right down to the hooves.

11. You have a fair friend. You go all year without seeing this person but as soon as you are reunite, it’s like you were never apart.

12. You have lived on a fair food diet. You consider snow-cones a food group and elephant ears a delicacy.

13. You’re stronger than most kids at your school. Carrying water buckets, feed sacks and pitching straw takes a lot of work. In the words of Luke Bryan “You can’t get these muscles anywhere but a farm.”

14. You know you can lead a steer to water but you can’t make it drink. No matter how desperate you are to keep your animal hydrated in the summer heat, if it doesn’t want to drink, it won’t. But all of us will stand waiting at the water trough anyway because we know how important it is.

15. You have learned to NEVER let go of the halter. Or at least you try and hold onto the halter as long as you absolutely can. If your animal gets spooked and takes off, you are at the end of that roped holding on for dear life.

16. You care about the number on the scale. But it’s not your own. Livestock weigh-in is the moment of truth. You cross your fingers hoping the scale is accurate, and pray your animal makes weight. We all know every pound counts. It determines your weight class and the number on the check at the end of the week.

17. You take the question “Were you raised in a barn?” as a compliment. It’s where you learned the meaning of hard work, discipline, responsibility, determination and leadership.

18. Your show clothes are your best clothes. They are the only clothing you use a hanger for and are perfectly ironed. But inevitably they will get some sort of livestock slobber, snot or manure on them. (Thanks mom for always understanding).

19. You have a collection of ribbons. You have enough to cover a wall but you know the only ones that really matter to you are the purple ribbons. Grand Champion… rolls off the tongue real nice doesn’t it?

20. Crying at the auction is allowed twice. The first time you sell your animal, you have to say goodbye to your buddy. You were really young so your parents most likely found you the tamest pet they could. The first time looking into your projects eyes while the auctioneer rattles of the bidding numbers is a heart breaker. After that first time, you become hardened to the realities of what happens after the sale. The second time tears are allowed is at your last show. You have entered the ring for the last time and can’t help but get a little choked up at the thought of your career as a showman coming to an end. You learned amazing life lessons and the journey from a novice to that moment is a lot to take in.

 

Huge thank you to all of those who help keep local fairs alive and going! An amazing tradition that holds insurmountable life lessons and opportunities. The values and memories made at a local fair are truly treasured.

You Know You Are a Fair Kid When…

Thank You Farmers

“Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bands”- Thomas Jefferson

My parents were always sticklers for making sure my siblings and I had good manners and used the words thank you when it was needed. Fair supporter thank you notes better be in the mail within a couple of days or else. The wise lesson has been engraved in our lives, and I am grateful, for being taught to always be grateful. The words “Thank you” are the easiest way to show appreciation to those who deserve it. It is time we say it to those who deserve more than just words.

There are currently over two million farms in America. These farms provide food for both the U.S and other countries. Today, one farmer is able to feed 155 people, compared to 19 people in 1940. New technology and more efficient practices have given the American farmer the ability to produce more crops on a fixed amount of land. The agriculture industry provides jobs for over 22 million people. 22 MILLION people. It’s a career without steady hours or consistent pay. It’s not really a job at all, it is a lifestyle. A lifestyle of dedication, grit, hard work and integrity. It’s time to give farmers across the country a huge thank you. Thank you for putting food on our tables. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to provide for our families. Thank you for feeding the world.

Here is a video depicting the dedication farmer’s exhibit every day. Courtesy of Youtube and Dodge Ram

Statistics courtesy of:

http://www.americanagriwomen.org/ag-policy-facts

http://www.farmersfeedus.org/fun-farm-facts/

http://www.agday.org/education/careers.php