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business plans, Entrepreneurship, Facing Fears, Farm, Livestock, Risk, Women in Agriculture

Risk vs. Reward

I came across a quote this week that resonated with me:

Truth bomb.

A couple of years ago, Greg and I accidentally became sheep farmers. Yes, accidentally. (Heaven knows very few would become sheep farmers on purpose!) Our aging, bachelor neighbor was going to be spending the winter in the nursing home. He needed someone to care for his small flock of sheep while he rehabilitated. I volunteered, knowing it would be a great project for the boys and me. Well, it turns out, the shepherd enjoyed the company of his new friends in the nursing home more than the sheep at home, and he chose to live out his days there. Greg and I were now the owners of a flock of sheep.

Somewhere along the way, we decided that if we were going to care for 10 sheep, we might as well have 80. We began creating a business plan and budget for a larger sheep enterprise, which would require larger and more efficient facilities. As we sorted through numbers and projections, it was easy to see the risks involved in taking on something new. To do the project how we really wanted to do it, a loan would be required, and when there is a repayment requirement on the table, more careful consideration is required. That brings up the question: what is your comfort with risk?

I will say, Greg and I both have a high tolerance for risk… Calculated risk, that is. Luckily, as we worked through our plans, we realized there were also rewards to be attained. The rewards were not just financial but also intangible: things like creating opportunities for our children and creating our own enterprise separate from the family farm.

With any decision, there are hazards you may encounter, but there are also great peaks to reach. Each person’s tolerance for risk is different, but never overlook the rewards you may attain. After all, with the greatest risk comes the greatest rewards.

So, how are those sheep doing? This week, thanks to a great builder and concrete contractor and many long hours by Greg and me, we completed our barn and moved the flock from our elderly neighbor’s house to our farm. No longer accidental, we are fully intentional sheep farmers.

Life

Modeling clay

Last week, Greg, the boys, and I were honored to spend time celebrating a new marriage of one of my past students. Surrounded by so many individuals who were influential in my early career, I couldn’t help but be transported back in time.

I stepped into the classroom right out of college. And, when I say right out of college, I mean, right out of college. I graduated Ohio State a couple of quarters early on a Sunday in December, and I started my position less than 24 hours later. I spent three days in the classroom before taking off the end of the week to get married. If you’re going through some life changes, why not do them all at once? Although my undergraduate education and a variety of internships had done a remarkable job of preparing me to teach, it was obvious I still had a lot to learn.

I walked into a less-than-ideal situation. The previous teacher was one of those larger than life legends in the community and across the state. Tragically, he passed away unexpectedly, leaving a void in many hearts and in a classroom he had served for decades. And, now, fresh out of college, I was going to take his position and attempt to win these teenagers over.

I could write volumes about the struggles I faced as the new kid on the block, yet in all honesty, I’ve set many of those challenges to the back of my mind. Last week, back in the midst of the people who supported me and walked alongside me in that period of my life, I didn’t remember the times I ended the day in tears or the frustrations I felt when I didn’t feel like I’d ever make progress. Instead, I remembered the kind words of encouragement from parents and the feelings of gratitude to students who helped me win over their peers. Above all, I felt blessed, for I was reminded of something incredible: each experience we face in life, good or bad, molds us into a stronger person.

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That’s like the expression I once heard someone say: every seven years, we are essentially a new person. All of the cells in our body are replaced by new ones, and we literally are no longer the same person we were seven years ago. I believe the same thing applies to our hearts and minds. Like modeling clay, we are constantly growing and developing into new people. The trick is to allow ourselves to be molded in a positive direction and to never harden our hearts and minds to the people and events we encounter.

I know some of my former students are reading this, and to you, I say thank you. I am grateful for the time we spent together, and I cherish the memories, both good and bad. Although I’m no longer in the classroom, I truly believe because of that experience, I am a better version of myself. While I was the teacher, it was you who were teaching me the virtues of patience, grace, preparedness, and so many others. I may only pray that I, too, helped mold you into the adults you are today.

Experience… it’s the teacher of all things.

Farm, Life, Women in Agriculture

Juxtaposition

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I added the word juxtaposition to my vocabulary in sixth grade art class. Mrs. Dean introduced the concept of contrasting elements occurring in the same space. I can’t tell you which famous artist she used as an example or even the project we created on our own. All I can tell you is I thought the word was one of the coolest I had learned so far, and I felt super-intelligent when I used it in a sentence.

Vocabulary.com describes juxtaposition like this:

“If a waiter served you a whole fish and a scoop of chocolate ice cream on the same plate, your surprise might be caused by the juxtaposition, or the side-by-side contrast, of the two foods.

Any time unlike things bump up against each other, you can describe it as a juxtaposition. Imagine a funeral mourner telling jokes graveside, and you get the idea — the juxtaposition in this case is between grief and humor. Juxtaposition of two contrasting items is often done deliberately in writing, music, or art — in order to highlight their differences.”

Quite simply, juxtaposition is multiple unlike items coexisting in the same space. It’s been a few years since sixth grade art class, but lately, the concept of juxtaposition has returned to my life. This time, I’m living it.

Rose driving combine.The Loft at Pickwick Place

This fall, I have experienced juxtaposition as different arenas of my life, all with stark contract, have existed at the same time. Take for example the day I drove the combine, only to rush home, take a shower, and head off to our event venue  to meet a prospective bride. Or, the day I helped Greg apply liquid manure, only to volunteer in the boys’ kindergarten classrooms a couple of hours later. I’ve learned to embrace these various experiences and the beautiful picture they paint together. After all, variety is the spice of life.

What about you? Do you love to play in the mud and get dressed up? Do you feel as comfortable as can be in the seat of a tractor or in a seat at the boardroom table? Do you rock out to Van Halen as you’re driving to work but let Bach flow from your fingers when you’re in front of the piano? Enjoy those ebbs and flows. You see, here’s what I’ve learned about juxtaposition: initially, it may be challenging to understand how such dissimilar things can coincide in the same realm. However, just like in art, it is that contrast that adds richness and dimension to our lives and to the lives around us. Be proud to be juxtaposed.

Crops, Facing Fears, Farm, Women in Agriculture

A Healthy Level of Fear

Last week, we planted our soybean test plot.

For most, this isn’t a significant achievement. For me, however, it’s a day I look forward to with equal amounts of worry and thrill. My job is always the same as we set out to accomplish this task: keep the seed from running out of the drill.

If you’re not familiar with test plots, here’s a quick primer. Farmers plant an assortment of corn or soybean varieties in succession, all in the same field. Just like a junior high science experiment, each variety gets the same care. At the end of the growing season, the varieties are harvested and the yields are calculated. A winner is declared, and many farmers will base next year’s planting decisions off of how the varieties stood up to the competition.

As we work to plant the plot, the seed drill or planter is cleaned out between each variety, and the next variety fills it up. The tractor works up and down the field until each variety is planted. In the case of our bean plot, we worked to plant 16 different varieties.

So, about my job: keeping the seed from running out. We fill the drill with a bag of seed, and as it works it way through the seed drill and into the ground, the seed continues flowing down. One side of the drill may empty quicker than the other, but the goal is to reach the end of the field with seed still available, so that particular stand of soybeans has the best potential possible for growth and yield.

Why would I be nervous? Why would I feel a little like I’m stepping I’m about to step on a rollercoaster? Well, this is where I work:

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(Side note: it’s not shown in the picture, but there is a railing behind me that I can hold on, and the platform I’m standing on is similar to a box. While this isn’t recommended for daily riding on the machine; for a short period of time, we do it as safely as possible.)

Pardon the blurry image. Greg took that from inside the tractor, through the dusty window. His job is a little safer; he sits in the tractor seat, buckled in, while GPS auto steer literally drives the machine across the ground at a speed of approximately 8 mph. Meanwhile, I hang on to the drill for dear life, moving seed across the drill as parts start to empty out.

Ok, I admit, I’m being a little dramatic. The task at hand is safe for both of us. Nonetheless, the first couple of times across the field, I do have that small pit in my stomach. It’s a little nerve-wracking and a little exciting, all at the same time. Just like climbing on a rollercoaster.

I realized this year as we worked across the field that there’s such a thing as a healthy level of fear. It’s ok to be slightly scared of doing something new or different, but the trick is to face that fear head on with courage that overshadows whatever you’re scared of at the moment. Fear will always be there, and in manageable doses, it can move you forward.

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So, how did planting the plot go? Everyone survived, and we didn’t run out of seed. We’ve had a nice shower and some sunshine. Soon, we’ll be watching the seeds emerge through the soil, and that anxiety about riding on the back of the drill will be a distant memory until next year.

Ag Keynote Speaker, Farm, Women in Agriculture

Celebrating women in ag

Today, I had the opportunity to join the women attending the Eastern Ohio Women in Agriculture Conference. I keynoted the event, sharing about Girl Power.

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As women in agriculture, we do play a unique role in the industry. We are the industry runners. We run for parts, run people between farms, run equipment, run food, run kids, run, run, run. We fill the gaps that nobody else does. We are the doers and the dreamers and the bearings that make the wheels go round.

I shared this video today, and it gives me goosebumps every time I watch it. Women in ag are defying stereotypes and creating their own destinies. Women, you rock!

Farm, Women in Agriculture

The million dollar question

It’s the question I get most often in my life, right after, “Mom, are my boots on the right feet?”

“What do you do?”

On the surface, it’s a pretty simple question. After all, it’s a fairly basic get-to-know-someone inquiry.

C_89roIU0AEkH4RFor someone like me, however, it’s a bit more complicated. You see, I’m one of those people who read in to everything. What’s the person looking for? What do they want to know? What’s going to resonate most with them? How much do I share? These questions and more float quickly through my brain, before I throw out a surface-deep answer. Usually, I respond something like, “Greg farms full-time, and I stay at home with our little ones.”

While that’s entirely true, and in of itself is quite enough most days, there’s more. Typically, I refrain from sharing the other bits and pieces, because while I can juggle the tasks before me, I know not everyone is wired the same way. I’m wired to have 13 different things on my plate; each takes up their own space, but at the end of the day, I love how they mesh and mold together.

If I were to tell the full story, I’d tell about four pieces of my life outside of farm wife and mom to two spectacular boys. I’d tell about the businesses and organizations listed here. I’d tell about how I love the life Greg and I are creating. I would tell about how I do get overwhelmed some days, but how I also love the complexity and variety each of these things bring. I’d tell about how there’s no industry quite like American agriculture. I’d tell about how for our life, each of these pieces fits together perfectly in one big picture puzzle.

I’d talk for seemingly hours about the things I’m passionate about. And, then, I’d simply say, “Tell me what sets your heart on fire.”

Family, Farm, Livestock, Parenting

Raising critters and kids

The boys sit at the kitchen counter finishing their breakfast. Outside, the snow gently falls, joining an already white winter-landscape. I begin pulling out the barn clothes: it’s time to pile on the layers and head outside.

We open the outside door to be greeted by a crisp morning breeze. It’s one of those days where the cool air takes your breath away. It takes longer than normal to trudge through the snowdrifts to make it to the barn. Cries of, “Mama, I’m cold!” fade away as we push open the door to check the stock. Those cries are replaced with excited expressions of, “Look! We have more lambs!”


My husband and I both grew up around livestock. Some of our fondest memories revolve around county fair experiences. We credit who we are today with our involvement in 4-H and FFA. We want our boys to develop life skills and leadership by “learning to do.”

Speaking of our boys: they’re four. Yes, plural: “boys.” Yes, they’re both four. Yes, they’re twins. No, I don’t know how I do it. Yes to all the clichés: double trouble, twice the fun, what one doesn’t think of, another one does. No, I could not imagine our life any other way.

IMG_20180118_221757104.jpgThe sheep are a new thing for us. “Learning to do,” right? We jumped in with two feet, purchasing 15 bred ewes late last fall. Purchasing the ewes was an easy decision. We know we don’t have to wait for 4-H for our boys to start developing a work ethic. They’re working on it now, each day as they accompany us to the barn. We’re learning as we go, and we couldn’t be more thankful for those experienced pros answering our countless questions throughout the lambing season.IMG_20180121_145218862

And, wouldn’t you know, it seems like we’re learning as much from two four year-olds as we are from those seasoned shepherds? The four year-olds see everything from a fresh perspective and have a happy-go-lucky attitude that makes my heart melt. My toes may freeze in the sub-zero weather, but they remind me that it’s so much warmer in the barn than outside. A bottle baby may frustrate me, but they tell me that they’re so happy they get to take care of him. I may curse the frozen water under my breath, but they’re busy carrying hay one handful at a time. I stop and pause, realizing how grateful we are to have this calm barn to teach everlasting lessons that will pay off in a crazy world.


The chores are done, and we make our way back to the house. They talk me into hot chocolate as a treat for their hard work. As we sip the warm goodness, I tell them how they are such big helpers and their faces light up with pride. In my mind, I know I could take care of the animals quicker on my own, but in my heart, I know we’re not just raising lambs: we’re raising quality kids, too.