My Passion – Fast Food Farm

WHAT IS YOUR PASSION?   My passion is teaching our youth as well as adults at times about the importance of agriculture.  This time of the year ends my nine months of fulfilling my passion.  My year starts with the beginning of the spring season and ends with the end of the fall season in teaching about “Where Does Your Food Come From?”                                                        

Fast Food Farm sign

At the Fast Food Farm the youth become physically involved in the growing process of their food.

Through hands-on activities they learn how the weather affects the plants, and what happens to the food when it leaves the farm.   They also learn about food nutrition, food preparation, and food processing.

#3 .Harvesting for the Needy - Geans 2

In working with the Ag Science students throughout the school year I have seen them grow in leadership and character to become leaders in our community.   At the Fast Food Farm students learn how to respect the land as they discover how to cultivate and prepare the soil for planting.  

 Throughout the nine months over 5000 students are learning about “Where Does Your Food Come From?”  It is so rewarding to see our youth connect to the soil, plants, animals, and the source of their foods.

Tumbling Along With the Tumbling Tumbleweeds

When you think of a windy Kansas winter day, you may just be able to picture a tumbling tumbleweed or two. I thought I would take a moment to share a few pictures of our most recent tumbleweed blow.

Tumbleweeds caught in the fence.

Tumbleweeds caught in the fence.

I live in the Southwest corner of Kansas where it has been very dry for several years. We haven’t been able to grow much in the way of crops on our non irrigated cropland, but this year we had a small amount of moisture at just the right time for the Russian Thistles to take off and grow into some mighty big weeds. While attached to their roots in the field, they are green and they were about the only green thing growing. Some farmers didn’t do much to disturb them because they were holding the top soil in place during some high wind days. Without something growing on the ground, the top soil likes to take off in the wind and creates dust storms that limit visibility and make breathing outside difficult. When the thistles dry up and a good wind comes along they break away from their roots and begin to tumble across the landscape catching on fence rows, the side of the house or barn, tree rows or anything that gets in their way.

Tumbleweeds everywhere you look!

Tumbleweeds everywhere you look!

We had a strong front come through our corner of the state on December 28th with a north wind that chilled you to the bone. I was heading home after a family Christmas celebration in town when I began to encounter the tumbleweeds racing south across our two lane highway. There were some small ones about the size of a beach ball but many of them were closer in size to a large dog or a small pony! It is almost impossible to dodge them all on a night like that. The best you can hope for is that one of them doesn’t hit you broadside and leave a nasty scratch on your car. I made it home without hitting too many of the blowing thistles. When I pulled into the yard to unload my car, I opened the shed door to put the car in and while I was unloading, the wind whipped about 2 dozen tumbleweeds into the door. I grabbed my gloves(you don’t want to handle the prickly things without gloves) and tossed them back out into the wind. We were fortunate that the wind was just right that night and we didn’t get too many of them hung up around our farm. The neighborhoods on the north end of my small town were not so lucky, they were bombarded with tumbleweeds that blocked streets and alleys, surrounded and covered up vehicles and piled up between houses. The past several days have been spent gathering and carefully burning the weeds. They burn hot and quick so one has to be careful to contain them so that they don’t take off in a gust of wind and light something on fire.

Neighbors work together to burn the tumbleweeds.

Neighbors work together to burn the tumbleweeds.

While they are a nuisance to those of us who have to deal with them annually, people who are passing through and see one will often times stop and try to chase one down and take it home with them. We honor the lowly tumbleweed locally with the Tumbleweed Bazaar, a craft show in the fall. The venue is sometimes decorated with tumbleweeds. Other folks have been known to spray paint the tumbleweeds white and stack and decorate them for a snowman when we are lacking snow. I even attended an event with a western theme where a very creative artist used tumbleweeds and branches to create a horse for their table decor.

Tumbleweed and branches form a horse for a Western themed dinner.

Tumbleweed and branches form a horse for a Western themed dinner.

As irritating as they can be, they do look delicate and lacy and are fascinating to those who don’t have to deal with them on a windy day. So if you are ever visiting Southwest Kansas on a windy day, keep your eyes peeled for the tumbling tumbleweed!

White House Christmas tree from New Jersey

The Wyckoff family of Warren County was honored on August 10th when its 8′ Blue Spruce was named the Grand Champion in the “Tree of the Year Contest.” This award is presented by the National Christmas Tree Association and now this New Jersey tree farm will provide the Christmas tree for this holiday season in the White House Blue Room.

This is the first time a NJ Christmas tree grower has won the national award. This award is a credit to the quality of products grown on this family farm.

The Wyckoff family 172-acre farm is in its 6th and 7th generations. They have about 55 acres of Christmas trees, with about 5,000 trees available for sale this year. Many varieties of evergreen trees are available for the fresh tree market.

Last year this tree farm family donated 100 trees for the “Trees for Troops Campaign,” a charity program that donates live Christmas trees to service members and their families. They also donated 20 trees to the NORWESCAP Family Success Center in Phillipsburg for families facing hard times in that area. (This information was released by the NJ Department of Agriculture.)

Congratulations to this “Jersey Grown” tree farm family!

Matchmaking day

We expect babies – that is, baby lambs – two times per year on our farm. So that means that we need to plan 150 days in advance – twice. Our matchmaking days are September 12 (ironically, my sister’s birthday, and the day my uncle tells people that Honeycrisp apples will be ready from their orchard) and December 25.

So, like clockwork, yesterday the ewes (female sheep) were sorted to be put with the rams (males). In total we chose to expect lambs from 102 ewes this winter. Our other 150 ewes will be exposed this winter for spring lambs.

fall ewes

Red marks on these girls are a chalk mark made in the sorting process. Chalk is easy to see when opening the gate to these animals and washes out in the first rain.

winter lambs

Ewes bred in this cycle will have lambs under the protection of our 98-year old barn in February 2014.

spring lambs

A second round of breeding on Christmas will allow us to expect lambs in May 2014.

FFA Leadership Conference

Pool and LoBiondo

This summer I visited Congressman Frank LoBiondo in Washington, D.C.

When I was on Capitol Hill visiting my congressman in mid-July, I saw several blue and gold jackets – these are the easily recognizable jackets of the FFA (Future Farmers of America) member’s nationwide.

From June 4 through July 21, nearly 1,800 FFA student leaders traveled to DC for a week of in-depth leadership training; identifying and developing their personal strengths as leaders of this very large agricultural education based organization.

Students will also study media and communication skills, high impact community service initiatives, and how to implement these plans back in their local school chapters.

Students also learn their purpose (as FFA members), how to value people, how to take action, and the importance of serving others.

While in DC, FFA members will experience our nation’s history, tour some capitol sites, and meet with legislators.

FFA teachers will also attend the conference, learning how to motivate and help develop their student’s leadership potential and how they can help maximize their local FFA chapters community service initiatives.

To end this conference FFA student leaders take part in a “Day of Service” in the DC area. Last year’s students volunteered and combined 9,500 hours of service for the greater Washington area food pantries.

PA FFA

My son David and granddaughter Caitlyn receiving her Keystone degree from the Pennsylvania FFA

The FFA organization has been part of our family for over 60 years. My husband Owen served as New Jersey state president in 1957. Our four children served as chapter officers and John and David were state officers. Owen and all four of our kids received their American FFA Degrees with Linda going to National regional as a winner in Dairy Foods. Our granddaughters in Pennsylvania are also active in chapter and state FFA programs.

We are very proud of the learning experiences that our family has been a part of through the FFA. Thank you also to the hundreds of advisors for all their years of teaching and leadership training to help the next generation of agricultural based students become the leaders of tomorrow!