Agriculture, Career/Professional, Photography

North Dakota Spring Wheat Tour

Last week I took a break from my normal office views and headed to North Dakota for the annual hard red spring wheat and durum quality tour. Every year around this time, folks from around the wheat industry (millers, traders, farmers, researchers, government officials and media) spend three days driving different routes around the state surveying this year’s crop and estimating the yield. There is a similar tour for winter wheat in Kansas that I went to back in 2015, but this was the first time I was able to join the tour in North Dakota. You can read the summary I wrote about the tour here.

Considering I’ve spent quite a few of my weekends this summer inside at work preparing to launch our new website, getting to spend a week in my jeans and boots, walking through wheat fields and enjoying being away from the city was EXACTLY what I needed.

By far, the highlight of the trip was visiting two of my favorite farmers, David and Aileen Clough, who hosted lunch on their farm for some of the cars on the tour. David spent twelve years serving on the North Dakota Wheat Commission and was one its representatives on the U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Board of Directors (my organization). Aileen traveled to most of USW’s events with David, so I’ve gotten to know them during my time here. David recently retired off of the board earlier this summer so I was so excited for the chance to see them again and visit their farm. David and Aileen are two of the kindest people I’ve ever met and just another reason why I personally think working for farmers is one of the most rewarding jobs there is.

I had only been to North Dakota one other time, and when I did, I spent most of my time in conference rooms in Fargo. One of the perks of going on a work trip like this is that you really get a chance to see a lot of the state. One evening during our stay in Bismarck, we had some time to explore Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park and enjoy some beautiful views.

And of course, I couldn’t visit North Dakota at this time of year with my camera and NOT request that we stop so I could take some pictures of the sunflowers. They just make me so happy!

Thanks for a great week North Dakota!

Agriculture, Kansas, Photography

{2017} Kansas Wheat Harvest

“Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness.” -Thomas Jefferson

I have heard this quote many times before, but since I came across it again a few weeks ago, it has really stuck with me.

Happiness, yes. Tom was certainly right about that one.

No matter what is going on during my day, month or season, so much of who I am is rooted in agriculture and the happiness that it brings me is an anchor that I can rely on. I know I probably sound like a broken record, but I strongly believe that a job and your life’s work shouldn’t just be an 8 to 5 that pays the bills.

Over the past couple of days I have been back in Kansas to attend the National Festival of Breads (more on that in a future blogpost), and I had the chance to accompany the Kansas Wheat Commission and their baking contest finalists on a farm tour during the start of wheat harvest.

Everyone knows my happy place is in the Blue Mountains, but I think a Kansas farm with dirt beneath me and blue skies above comes in close second.

In my mind there are few things more beautiful than amber waves of grain, and that afternoon was just the medicine that I didn’t know I needed.

Thanks to the Kejr family for hosting us.

Enjoy!

Cheers!

Agriculture, Oregon, Photography

Feeding Cows with Dad

There are fewer things that I love more than being home with my family in Oregon doing everyday things, and there are even fewer things that I love more than seeing my family happy.

My parents have always dreamed of having property and cows, and of a farmhouse that they could call their forever home.

Once they found what they wanted there were a few frustrating years before it all came together, so when it finally happened it was that much sweeter.

It was a bit overwhelming at first when I came home. I was walking into a completely different place than where I grew up, but with every room and little detail that they showed me, it became more and more clear to me. This home is perfect for them.

I might take pictures someday of the house, maybe even on this trip.

But I knew even before I came home, that the first thing my camera lens would focus on were my dad and those beloved cows.

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In case you are wondering, these “Oreo” cows are the breed “Bue Lingo.”

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Breakfast time.

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I am only slightly upset that my family finally got cows AFTER I left home…

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This barn cat came with the property. My dad has renamed it “Talks a Lot.” It follows him EVERYWHERE, and well, never stops talking.

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This is what a very happy, new farmer looks like.

Cheers!

Agriculture, Friendship, Kansas

Quality of Wheat, Quality of Life.

Life man. It sure throws you some twists and turns. After an insanely busy couple of weeks, some of it expected and some it not… my goal is to get caught up on the blog with a few posts this week, because not only do I enjoy sharing my adventures with you (Hi Mom and Grammy!), but this also is my way of journaling. Right before I left on my trip I posted this graphic on social media. As usual, my life over the past few weeks was right on target.

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So first up, my trip to Kansas, May 20 to 27…

“Quality” is a general characteristic that I think most people would agree is hard to define. We determine quality based on what we value, or more simply on what our needs are, and those variables are obviously going to vary from person to person. With quality usually comes discussions on consistency, efficiency and impact. And then there is the question of the value of quality versus quantity.

My trip to Kansas was all about quality.

I traveled out to Kansas to join one of my colleagues in leading the Overseas Varietal Analysis (OVA) Hard Red Winter (HRW) Wheat Quality Summit. My organization invited overseas wheat customers from five countries (Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Israel and Nigeria), who have participated in our OVA programming to travel to Kansas to discuss HRW quality directly with wheat breeders, public researchers, grain handlers and farmers. These customers represented some of the largest milling and baking companies in their respective markets. We were also joined by three of our USW overseas technical staff who were accompanying the customers on the trip.

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The HRW Quality Summit group at the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center.
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Two of my fellow USW colleagues from Nigeria and Korea.

In the United States, there are six distinct classes of wheat grown, each one providing different baking qualities important for different products. So while you might use the same all-purpose flour for everything you cook at home, the products we enjoy from the store or bakery are going to vary in the class of wheat that was used to make it based on characteristics such as texture, protein content, moisture, color and weight. Without going into a huge lesson, the challenge is that quality targets are not the only thing to focus on. The breeders develop different varieties for each wheat class that also focus on yield, disease and drought resistance, and more, and that process takes many years. In grain handling, there are also processes in transportation that impact the overall quality and export process. And then the farmers have the task of choosing the variety that are best for their farm and growing practices.

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K-State Research and Extension wheat field day in Hays, KS.

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K-State Research and Extension wheat field day in Hays, KS.
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K-State Research and Extension wheat field day in Hays, KS.
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K-State Research and Extension wheat field day in Hays, KS.

Like I said, quality is important. If you want to read more about the Summit and my work click the link below for an article I wrote. (Psst..it’s the second story down.)

Overseas Customers Discuss Need for Stability and Consistency in HRW Wheat Quality

So as I thought about the importance of quality and how we each define it in a different way, I thought about the rest of my trip and my life in general.

It’s so easy to focus on the negative and as hard as we try we often spend too much of our valuable time focused on things that don’t matter in the long run. I don’t know if I am just plain lucky, but the amount of QUALITY people in my life, in every place that I have lived, is humbling. These people love and accept me, and make me always want to be a better person. My “me” time while in Kansas for work was pretty short, but it never takes long for me to be reminded why I will forever be so thankful for my QUALITY time living there.

It’s hard sometimes living in a new city, with a new job and having to make new friends. I want that instant gratification of the QUALITY of life that I have built before, and in my impatience, forget that like breeding and growing QUALITY wheat, some things in life take time,  and trial and error.

During my vacation part of the trip I was able to FINALLY meet my best friend Leah’s new little one, Robin Michele. That look you see on my face below is pure joy! I had to wait two months before I got to hold her, and all the pictures and text messages in the world were just not enough for me.

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Instagram Caption: Finally got to meet and cuddle with baby Robin Michele. She is such a sweetheart, I wasn’t very good at sharing.
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Kyla and Baby Robin

I also got to spend some QUALITY time with friends and enjoying the place that I called home for six years. My old co-worker Jodi invited me and our friend Jancey out to her home for dinner. Her little girl #outlawainsley was born while Jodi and I worked together, and I had a wonderful evening flying a kite, “hopping through the onions,” eating “puppies” (puppy chow) and throwing rocks down a dirt road. My friends Kyla and Nathan came up for the weekend to visit which included walking through and seeing all of the new construction on K-State’s campus and a reminiscing night out in Aggieville. The real champ of week though, was my friend Brandi, who let me crash on her futon for a few nights until I could check into my hotel for work. We watched way too many episodes of Grey’s (she finally got me addicted), drank a decent amount of wine and were obnoxious as can be watching The Bachelorette premiere together.

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Instagram caption: “I wouldn’t give a nickel to have it paved in gold. Everything I love is at the end of a dirt road.”
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Flying a kite with Ainsley and Jancey.
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Kyla and I stopped by Smurthwaite, the women’s leadership/scholarship house where we first became friends.
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Instagram caption: I couldn’t imagine going through life without friends who just get it… Who get me, who laugh at the same things, who appreciate a good glass of #wine and obsess over the same ridiculous things
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Besties back in the Ville.

At this point I would end my blog post complaining about the awful time I had trying to get out of Kansas and back home to DC in time to meet my Mom who was flying in to visit and help me move. Out of all of the crazy travel stories, it might be the best one.

But my trip to Kansas also gave me a good reminder lesson on perspective. That week Kansas saw three days of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, and one of the farmers that I met at the Hays Field Day, went home that evening and lost everything on his farm and home just a few hours later. Twice I drove along I-70 near Chapman where one of the tornadoes crossed and saw just a little of the damage it had caused. It angers me when news reports say the “thankfully” a tornado “only hit a rural area,” and seem to forget that those areas are people’s whole livelihood. I only lived there just short of 6 years, but I consider Kansas home just as much as I do Oregon. I love that state so, so much and the people there even more. I’ve complained my fair share, but I would welcome all of my “troubles” over and over again if it meant those people still had their homes to sleep comfortably in.

Quality people, it’s important, worth recognizing and worth being patient for, in all walks of life.

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Thanks to Pat for snapping this picture of me!
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Instagram caption: #Kansas, blue jeans, Romeos and #wheat… These are a few of my favorite things.

Cheers, friends!

I’ll be back tomorrow with another post!

 

 

Agriculture, Career/Professional

Just Wing It: Ag Media Summit

Whether I’m working away on a magazine or hanging out with one of my ag comm friends, my roommates usually are a bit overwhelmed when they see in my “natural element.” I don’t think many would argue when I say we pack a lot of motivation, creativity and passion for what we do into just the right amount of crazy. My roommates may have been a bit more overwhelmed than normal though, if they had been with me on my most recent adventure.

Last week, August 4-7, I had the opportunity to travel to Buffalo, New York to attend the 2013 Ag Media Summit.

This annual conference brings together both professionals and college students in the agricultural communications, journalism and marketing fields for meetings, learning sessions, collaboration and a celebration of our industry. As a student at K-State I was never able to attend, so when my job wanted to send me I was all on board! The mix of people, from every corner of the industry, spanning from bright-eyed students to young professionals to respected trailblazers, make for an interesting and high-energy environment. Never before have I been surrounded by that many people that share my passions for both agriculture and communications. It was great to catch up with friends made from AFA and K-State, share “post grad life” joys and woes with other recent graduates and network with folks that will no doubt, be a part of my career for years to come.

After becoming what you could call a “professional conference attendee” throughout high school and college {which all ranked from mediocre to outstanding,} I was very pleased to walk away actually having learned something valuable and feeling energized. I am a huge believer of continued learning and investing in your education beyond a structured classroom. It challenges us to be better, helps us refocus and in all honestly, keeps us working offensively, instead of playing defense. There were many learning sessions to choose from within the six time blocks and my goal was to balance my time between a variety of topics. My favorite session without a doubt was “Writing Deep Dive: Tools of Originality” featuring Kelly McBride from the Poynter Institute. She takes a very aggressive and strategic approach toward knowing herself as a writer and capitalizing on her creativity. It was refreshing to talk through the shared struggles the writers have and how we can infuse more originality into writing that is redundant and overdone. Previously, I was a bit familiar with the research and teaching that the Poynter Institute does and after Kelly’s session, would definitely encourage to check them out online.

My take-away’s from this session:

  • Questions to routinely reflect on: What conditions do I need to be most creative? What have been my most creative moments in life and what outside factors may have influenced that creativity? What works for what I do and what is necessary for my job?
  • Don’t see distractions as negative, see them as preparation. Naturally incorporate them into your routine and don’t feel guilty.
  • Know the difference between the subject and the focus.
  • Every word is on the ladder of abstraction. “Low” is specific. “High” is focus. >Avoid the middle<
  • 6 Tricks of the Trade for Original Ideas {Best advice from the whole session. These really could have been featured in a blog post of their own}
    1. Turn away from the target
    2. Make a list
    3. Do a narrative
    4. Read the signs {literally}
    5. Give our your phone number
    6. Don’t be afraid of your own experience

The other sessions that I attended focused on photography, a public relations overview of John Deere’s {really stinking cool} campaign where they built a life size combine sculpture out of canned food, publishing content across multiple online platforms, and a panel on balancing time management, travel and relationships in your career. Overall, my first AMS was a great experience. I was humbled after many of my entries in the collegiate National Critique and Contest placed very well and proud that so many other K-State entries did fantastic as well. The city of Buffalo was charming and since I didn’t get the chance to visit Niagara Falls, it is definitely on my list to visit again

And if you’ve already took a peek at my pictures below you can see that this group sure knows how to have fun! The welcome party had a Roaring 20’s theme, which anyone who has been following my current obsession with The Great Gatsby, then you know I was just about tickled pink.

Thanks for a great time AMS!

Agriculture, Career/Professional, Kansas

In The Eye of the Beholder…

This summer, as I have started my full time role at my new job, I have hit the ground running, offering support on a really cool project.

Yes, jumping from bale to bale is as much fun as it looks.
Yes, jumping from bale to bale is as much fun as it looks.

We are waiting until National Pork Month in October to share the full details, but many do know that it involves some on-site farm video shoots. I am having a blast traveling around the state, meeting some wonderful farm families and spending some time with my favorite critters. Each family and their farm have their own personality and unique story to share, and I have walked away from each one with boosted sense of purpose for my job and respect for those that I represent.

We are working with a fun-loving, positive thinking and insanely creative, agency team, whom I have really enjoyed getting to know. They are not a agriculture based agency, and really, I think they’d appreciate me saying that “traditional” and “typical” aren’t in their vocabulary either. But they understand consumers and people, and in turn, I have really appreciated their eagerness to learn more about agriculture and their respect for farmers. My job throughout this project, aside from providing direction and support wherever needed, is to photograph and capture the ‘behind the scenes.’ Now I’ll be the first to admit that photography is not the skill that makes me a communicator, but I do enjoy it and even more so, enjoy being the viewer,  especially when its a simple country scene or anything that represents the agricultural life. I believe that agriculture is beautiful, but I also understand that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ which is why something that a member of the agency team said caught me by surprise.

At each of the shoots, we often lost track of the two main camera men and when we would find them someone would inquire about what they could possibly be taking a picture of. Another member of their team would then explain that they could see the opportunity for a good picture when we might not be able to. Understanding this a bit, I was curious of what they thought of their surroundings so I asked one of them later what he thought. His response?

“I could spend all night and day out here. This right here, this is the good stuff.”

It took every bit of self control to not let my jaw drop. He could not have responded better, if I had scripted it myself. Then, to top it off, later that evening the team showed us some of the footage and stills that they have started to work on and instantly I knew, this guy gets it.

My theory is that The Good Stuff is different for everyone and that’s the beauty of it. I have no doubt that this guy’s version of the good stuff is very different than mine, but his comment and the fact that we had this bit in common made me smile. If I wasn’t excited to share this project with you before, I definitely am now!

Here are a few favorite “details” from one of our visits. I honestly could have taken a million and two pictures of just the pigs if I had been there all day!

Enjoy!

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“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” – Margaret Wolfe Hungerford

Agriculture, Friendship, Kansas

Down at the Farmer’s Market

Saturday’s are my day to sleep in. Unless I’m getting up for a K-State football game or I’m off on some adventure, the world should not expect to see me until at least 10 a.m.

But a few weekends ago my curiosity finally got the best of me. I finally made my way down to the Manhattan Downtown Farmer’s Market. And I drug Nicole, my favorite fellow ‘Eastern-Oregon-native-turned-KStater’ with me {we’ll work on smoother title for her later.}

Farmer’s markets have always intrigued me. I think that fascination partially comes from growing up in a family retail business and the enjoyment of attending random flea markets and antique shops with my family. I think that there’s something admirable about an entrepreneurial spirit and poetic about finding a treasure amongst other people’s trash. Combine that with my passion for agriculture and the fact that there are many hot topics that revolve around farmer’s market, it really is a surprise that this was my first time. When I lived in Wichita and Kansas City each for a summer, I was disappointed that I was never able to make it to either of the ones held in those cities. So once I got a bit more settled into Manhattan being my new long-term home, it went to the top of my “good year” bucket list.

Nicole and I had a great time seeing all of the odds and ends, colors and of course, interesting characters. The market has everything from food and handmade jewelry and paintings to spices and a variety of bees wax products. {Note to self: learn more about bees.} I think my favorite part was the sunflowers and the lady with the table of spices and herbs. I think she could have talked to us for the rest of the day if we had stayed. Now with Nicole and I being a student and recent graduate in agricultural communications, we took a lot of interest in the food aspect of the market. The organic foods and local foods movement {which can be two different things} have  a large stake in farmer’s markets. When it comes to this whole organic business, most know that I have my opinion and respectfully choose to purchase what is referred to as conventional foods. I will say though, that I don’t say that with fighting words prepped and ready to unleash. Right now those are reserved for a certain deli that is making some poor marketing decisions. {Yes, I’m looking at you Panera.} Organic farming has found itself a successful niche market and when it comes down to it, if there is a demand for it and a profit to be made, well then part of me can’t stand in the way of giving the people what they want. And when it comes to actually becoming certified organic as a farmer, it is a long and expensive process, and so , I can summon up some respect for someone who invests hard work and dedication into what they believe in. Remember, he or she is still a farmer, trying to make a living off the land to contribute to the food supply and often resembles the farmers that we carry a flag for, they just choose to go about it a little differently. Now before it starts sounding like I’ve gone soft, I assure you, my opinion to not buy or eat organic food as a consumer and agriculturalist remains the same. Don’t bail on me yet friends. This week the hot article across social media came from Henry Miller’s Forbes article, Is Organic Agriculture Affluent Narcissism?  I agreed with what Miller said and with my friends who shared it and echoed their support. It was refreshing to see the article garner that much attention. But I will rise up to voice my subtle concern that while it was a strong, factual article and did a great job of rallying the troops, I think that at times, its tone might of caused us to lose some of the audience who needed to read it the most. Sorry sir, but calling Whole Foods a “rip-off artist” and practically telling those who choose organic that they might as well be a cult isn’t going to help anyone. It’s a hard position to be in. I too get frustrated when we’re standing with the science in our hands and still it turns into a argument of values and what’s hip, not knowing the whole story and trying to convince others that they aren’t even using the definition of organic correctly. And when someone tries to tell me that we can continue to feed a growing world population on that system, it leaves me just about speechless. But I truly believe we have to be having conversations and sharing the facts on a level that means something to the average consumer, and we can’t give up. Let’s just work on getting them with a bit more kindness instead. I encourage everyone to ask lots of questions and see the whole picture. You can start by listening to Nicole’s interesting perspective over on her blog.

That took us on a bit of a detour, but considering the article came out soon after my visit, I felt like sharing was appropriate. The market didn’t only consist of organic food vendors, which was encouraging. We didn’t end up purchasing anything aside from Nicole’s sample stick of honey, but it was definitely a great experience and an enjoyable morning.

I’m pretty sure we are definitely planning on going back.

– Amanda