Farm Work Ethic, Productivity, and the Power of the List

Growing up on a farm teaches the most powerful work ethics. There is no way you can be a successful farmer and not be a hard worker. Farming is so dependent on weather, and accomplishing many things in a certain order, by each season and on time. If the crops are not planted on time you have little to harvest. If you cultivate too early you could kill the budding plants. If you wait too long after planting, the crops are too big and will be full of weeds resulting in a poor harvest, and I could go on and on.qz1-5img_20140401_0003_new

The saying that you have to make hay while the sun is shining is a real farm motto, not just a nice cliché with bigger meaning. Literally if you don’t make hay while the sun is shining, you get moldy useless grass instead of nice hay to feed to the animals. To get everything done you had to have a good plan and sometimes it meant that you had to work late into the night after getting up before dawn. Eating and sleeping had to wait many times to get the job done. After a long day like that, there was no better feeling of satisfaction than the accomplishment of getting the job done, and no better sleep than after a hard day of work.

qz1-5img_20140401_0003_new1You cannot be a procrastinator and be a farmer.  If the weather is right and it is the right time of year, there is something that must be done that day. You learn this at a young age on the farm. The rocks have to be picked, the cows fed, the gardens planted and the fences mended. There is nobody more productive than a farmer. But you also get to pet the cats and have the dog accompany you out to the fields, and maybe even ride your horse to go mending fences instead of taking the tractor or the farm pickup.

You get to feed the chickens and play in the tall fields of hay. There were so many wonderful things about the farm, but the best thing that helped me through college and law school and in all of my jobs, was the work ethic that I had learned. It was not a problem for me to work late and to get projects done long before they were due. I did not procrastinate because I learned you had to get things done, and to get things done you had to have a plan.img_20140318_0076_new

Many times I heard my parents list off the things that had to be done the next day, and they also maintained a list for everything to be done each week. If they did not have a paper list, they had a mental list and they followed it. The work ethic learned from my parents and having a plan or list of things that needs to be accomplished leads to great productivity. It is something I have tried to pass on to our kids and I have used to be successful all of my life.

From an early age I taught my kids that hard work and a good plan always pays off, whether it is hard work at school or on a team or just at home.  I tried to make it clear that just because something is not due right away, there is a certain comfort in knowing it is done early. 54bProcrastination equals stress and sometimes equals failure.  With the kids, and especially with their technology, one could easily get a glitch that causes a last minute project to be deleted or lost in cyberspace. I have tried to teach them to get things done early so that there is plenty of time to fix problems, and also that with a good plan or list they will can accomplish anything.

I live by my to-do lists. Without a good list little gets accomplished. Before the weekends especially, soon the weekend is gone without much accomplished if I don’t have a good plan. Some of the things on the list are fun things like kayak around and explore a certain area of the lake, and there is other stuff, like clean my kitchen cupboards and wash windows before the fall weather sets in.

There is no greater feeling than to cross things off of a list and feel the accomplishment of getting things done. My husband sometimes cringes when he sees my lists, but has to admit that we get a lot done when we follow them. If we have a home weekend project, we make sure we 54chave all the supplies picked up by Friday, so we don’t have to spend our project day buying the supplies. There is no better way to get a lot done.

My lists used to be kept on paper. Now I have most lists in the notes section of my phone. I have work lists, and lists of fun places we want to visit. I have lists of projects that need to be done around the house, and wish lists of remodeling projects to be done in the next couple of years. I have garden lists, and boat and outdoor building projects. I have a list of the things that need to be done during the week and the weekend project lists. I have work lists and lists of goals to accomplish. I don’t need to follow them exactly, and I can be flexible with when things are accomplished. I have a real satisfaction in having the plans, and when I find myself with extra time, I can consult the lists to take on a project or sometimes the lists can wait and I do whatever I’m feeling called to, like going on a bike ride.

The reverse list is a special and powerful type of list. I am not sure exactly where I learned it, but it was sometime in college. The reverse list is where you write down a goal you want to accomplish, and then you work backwards to show the steps you would have to take to get there. In the 1980’s while working as a nurse I decided I would like to be a lawyer. I wrote down on the paper: I am a lawyer. I stared at it for quite a while before giving myself permission to z3dreverse list it. I thought for a while and wrote, take the Bar exam, and continued with graduate from law school, attend law school, gain admission to a law school and so on backwards until I had the very first step of what it would take, which was buy the books to study for the entrance exam to law school called the LSAT.

I put down the pen and stared at it. The one thing that was clear was this list would take hard work, but as I learned on the farm, hard work pays off and I was committed to go forward with the list. I have used the reverse list many times and it allows for full introspection, and breaks down a goal that seems unattainable into smaller steps, laying out a plan to achieve that goal.

It is good to have thoughts, goals and dreams, but once those goals are written they gain a power of their own. There is real power in the list. Even if the list is just a weekend project list, the act of writing it down creates the goal and the work ethic creates the accomplishment of that goal. Good planning, knowing the downside of procrastination, and the work ethics I learned on the farm have been instrumental in my accomplishments. I love my lists and I love the productivity and the sense of accomplishment that comes with striking things off lists.  I thank my farm roots for the productivity, work ethics and the ability of good planning with the power of the list.

Childhood Flower Memories

It is amazing how our human minds work. Our memories can be sparked by little things that trigger past memories and transport us in time.  A song that reminds us of our prom days, a team that was the champion at our high school or a lost love.  A taste, a smell, or a sight conjures up our childhood, or the smell of our Grandma’s big soft hug. For me flowers are a powerful memory from childhood. Dandelions, lilacs, tiger lilies and meadows full of buttercups. I was lucky enough to grow up on a farm, and at a time when life moved slower. We enjoyed the beauty around us, or at least I did, as a carefree child running barefoot through the fields. I can still remember the smells, the warm farm earth on my bare feet and the sun on my face.IMG_2460

Sometimes we loose track of our roots and our history in busy lives. I was recently traveling along the prairie roads from Minneapolis to Fargo on a beautiful sunny spring day. As we went, mile after mile we saw many old farmsteads from the past, now neglected as farms have become larger and consolidated, leaving the stone and brick houses and barns to slowly wither with time. Many were still surrounded by the beautiful lilacs, probably planted by some young woman many years ago who tended her garden and the farm animals, and raised her family on the Minnesota plains. She planted the hardy lilacs to surround her yard, provide a break from the winds and of course provide beauty and color. I could imagine her picking the flowers in the spring and putting them in a mason jar on her farm table. As we drove I could smell lilacs in the air.

It triggered a flood of childhood memories of our own farm. There is no flower that has a more lovely color. Sometimes in a soft light hue and others a deep purple. I would rather have lilacs IMG_2380than roses, and lilacs smell better too. They have a beautiful smell, but part of their beauty is the memories of warm, spring days, and in particular they remind me of my grandma. She would literally pick buckets of lilacs and we would dig in every cupboard scavenging all of the vases in the house to put the aromatic lilacs in every room, including our bedrooms.

I knew when I had my own house I would like my own lilac bushes. When our kids were young, I actually went and dug some at an abandoned farm in Blaine, right before they bulldozed the entire site for a golf course. It was a farmstead from the past that now had to make way for the new golf course. I had those rescued lilacs at our last house, but they were never big enough to pick as many as my grandma did to fill the house with that distinct smell. When we first looked at our current house on the Lake, I was really excited to see many beautiful mature lilac bushes. We have a variety of colors and they are so prolific, I can pick all of the lilacs I want, just like Grandma.

I can still see grandma in her flowery house dresses doing her gardening and tending her raspberries and her flowers. I can still see her and grandpa’s 1960’s blue car, as it drove down our long driveway into our farm yard. They only lived a mile away, so they came frequently. We were all excited to see her, but our dog went particularly crazy when he saw their car, IMG_20140302_0035_NEWbecause she always brought him food scraps. He could not wait for her to get out of the car, and he would practically knock her down, as she unwrapped the neatly folded peach crate papers to reveal the scraps of fat and meat she brought for him.

It never took him long to devour it all, and she would praise him the whole time, what a good dog he was. She always brought something for everybody. In the spring, she brought her galvanized pail full of the lilacs in water, nicely tucked into the back seat, so it would not tip on the ride over. She often brought her homemade donuts along in a dishpan carefully covered with a towel. They were usually still warm. We would snitch donuts from the pan, as they were being brought into the house and we would carefully put all of the lilacs in vases. I can still smell the fresh lilac fragrance as it took over the house.

My mom also loved her flowers on the farm and still loves tending her flowers in their retirement home in the city.  I don’t know how she does it, but she can grow hydrangeas the size of a basketball. When I was very young, she had pots of violets growing in the kitchen window. I still remember their fuzzy leaves and the deep purple colors. She also had a lot of dragon lilies. I cannot see those without thinking of the farm. She had bunches of them in flower beds around IMG_2459the house and the yard, and as I got older I was charged with watering them. I loved the color and the little brown stems waiting for the bees to spread their pollen. I recently planted some around my mailbox, because they invoke so many strong feelings of home and warm summer days on the farm.

As we drove along that road to Fargo, I had a vivid memory of myself as a young child when I saw the meadows full of yellow buttercups. Buttercups have bright yellow, almost glossy leaves and grow in wet lowlands and meadows.   I hadn’t seen those in years. I was instantly transported in time to my childhood.  I remember putting on my rubber boots as a grade school child and walking through the moist meadow, picking the short yellow flowers and bringing some home, where my mom would help me put IMG_2451them in a glass on the kitchen table. They grew so thick in our meadow along our driveway that it looked like a fine carpet of yellow and waxy green. We had meadows full of buttercups on our farm in the spring.

Every child should have beautiful flower memories of warm spring days and lovely scents; of picking dandelions, of running through the meadows free of all cares and playing in the bright sunshine. Of a mom who grows tiger lily’s and keeps violets on the windowsill and a grandmother who brings homemade donuts and fills the house with the scent of beautiful purple lilacs. We were lucky to grow up on a farm, with a loving, but hard working family, but childhood flower memories can be created anywhere for any child. Make time to create beautiful flower memories for the children in your lives. Pass on the beauty to our next generations.


An Austrian Farm Retreat

I was planning our trip around Europe about four years ago when I ran across the website of a working farm in Austria that welcomed guests into their home: Norbert Jordan Hiaslerhof. Built above a dairy barn, the home has been made into a lovely bed and breakfast with private bedrooms and a private bath. It was large but simple, with a balcony on each room to view the mountains and the city below. Having grown up on a farm in central Minnesota I was immediately drawn to it. The farm was located in the mountains above Innsbruck, and provided panoramic views of the city in the daytime and more spectacularly at night.  I had to make it fit into our itinerary. The price was
very reasonable. In hindsight it was one of the least expensive places we stayed in our three week adventure and yet one of the very best in terms of the experience and the beauty.

This is one of those bookings you make knowing it comes with some risk that it may not be exactly what you expected. I have found in planning adventures that these risky spots are almost always better than expected and are rarely a disappointment. It adds to the excitement and anticipation of the adventure when you don’t book the same old hotels and experiences and when you are not sure  what to expect. Going in with the right attitude is always good, and so in the weeks before we went on our adventure, my husband and I kept joking that the room and house will probably smell like cattle and manure, but hey I am used to that having done my share of shoveling and hauling manure when I grew up. Having been many places we also agreed that there are many more smells and things one can endure that are way worse than a barn smell. We decided we would just enjoy the “fresh country air.”

There are a lot of people in this world who would be better off to have to shovel some manure and endure some struggle. It is hard to appreciate simple pleasures and beauty if one has always had things clean and perfect and easy. That artificial perfectness tends to make people picky and not able to roll with the punches and find the happiness in any situation.

Well we were about half way into our adventure when we found ourselves in Innsbruck. We enjoyed a train and cable ride up to the top of the mountains on the railway built for the Olympics in 1976. The city was lovely, and busy and bustling. It had fine shops to buy things and nice cafes serving delicious light wines with lunch sandwiches made with local sausages and fresh gelato made of the eggs and cream from local dairy farms. The gelato was rich, smooth and came in so many flavors it was difficult to choose.

After lunch we were ready to trek up into the mountains to find our farm retreat for the afternoon and night. We wound around on the narrowest mountain roads we have ever driven on. We drove switch-back after switch-back following our GPS to try to find the farm. In one tiny town, made up of maybe ten houses and a small store, we stopped to regroup and make sure we were still on course. The winding around seemed to go on forever and we wanted to trust our GPS, but we were starting to loose faith. We bought a few items at the store, used the restroom and did our best to read our maps and confirm we were on course. We usually trust our technology, but we also use our common sense and try not to follow it blindly.

The sites were beautiful so we decided that even if we were lost, this was one of the most scenic lost roads we had ever been on and we have had our share of being lost over the years. That sunny September day, we decided that there is no ugliness in the Alps. It was beautiful no matter where you looked.

As we made our way along, we also ran into some road construction on a narrow road in one of the towns and had to back up and take another route. There are not many choices IMG_0045on these towns perched on the edge of the mountains but we did our best. The challenge of the hunt for it added a lot of excitement and fun. It would have been easier and taken less time to stay in the city of Innsbruck, but not nearly as exciting. As we drove up into the mountains to the farm, I was already glad we had made the decision to stay someplace “out of the box” and that was before we even set eyes on it.

As we wound around the last corner and saw our farm retreat, I knew this would be an experience I would have in my fondest memories and would talk about and think about for the rest of my life. There are just some experiences you know you will always cherish. This was one of them. The farmhouse looked like a small Bavarian chalet with a wrap around porch, and with window boxes full of pink, orange and red flowers. The house with the barn underneath was carefully built into the hillside and had clearly been there for many years. This area of the Austrian Alps had very little to no flat land. There were neighbors around but not enough to call it a town; just other farm families carving out a mountain existence.

We checkeIMG_0030d-in by entering the front door of the farm house. The house had two floors. The big double doors of the barn opened on the left of the lower level and you could see the dairy cows in their pens sticking their heads out of the stations to munch on fresh aromatic green hay. They looked clean, cozy and content.   The barn was impeccably clean and had friendly barn cats roaming in-between the cows. The cats came out to rub on your legs for attention and in search of a pet while you visited. The front door of the house was to the right and connected to the barn as one building. The house was two stories high with the bedroom accessed through a wide, highly polished dark wood staircase.

We checked in with the owner who spoke English pretty well as his elderly mother looked on. She spoke no English, but smiled in a friendly manner and reminded him to tell us the time for the home cooked breakfast. As usual I tried to make conversation and a connection with thIMG_0041is family by telling them my farm story and thanking them for sharing their home with us. They were very friendly. We were given our key and off we went. As we got to the top of the stairs, the bedrooms, each with their private bathrooms, were spaced along the wood corridors. The room was amazing. It was large and had dark wood floors and white as white can be linens. The bed

was large and comfortable. One of softest and most luxurious beds we had stayed in while in Europe. Our room had a private balcony overlooking the valleys and Innsbruck. Everything was perfectly clean and there was not even a hint of animal or farm smell. We looked around, relaxed a little, and than went exploring.

It felt a little odd at first, like staying with a long lost relative you had never met, but as we looked around outside in the farm yard and went into the barn we were reassured by our welcoming hosts. He took us into the barn and we talked about his farming operation. It really is nice to have that farming connection. IMG_0035I had to pet the cows and hold the cats, all of which were used to having strangers looking for hometown comfort in a foreign land.   He showed us his operation, including the bulk tank to collect milk and the hay barn above, all of which were connected to the house. A neighbor stopped in to visit and he introduced us and brought out beers stored in the milk house for all of us to share. They like their beer in Austria. The bottle he gave us was way too large for one person, but when in Rome…We drank it down as he continued the tour and talk about his fields built into the mountain sides and how they operate the machinery with the steep conditions. The neighbor spoke little English, but every once in a while would add to the conversation and our host would translate. You could never find two guys as nice as these farmers.

After we finished our beers we let them finish their work and went for a stroll along narrow paths among the fields and along the gravel roads connecting the homes that shared the area. As evening fell, we retreated to our room and shared some wine while the sun was setting. We sat on the balcony for hours watching the sun set and the lights of Innsbruck slowly appear below. The calm beauty was overwhelming.


Kids and the Family Farm

Even though my career took me off of the farm and into the city, I tried to keep my farm roots and connect my own city-raised kids with farm life. Growing up on a farm is a wonderful life for kids. We had kittens and chickens, pigs, cows, dogs, horses and lots of green grass in which to run, and creeks to play in. All of the barns, corn cribs, chickens coops, farm fields and line fences filled with choke cherries, and rock piles – these were our playground. In the summer our bare feet were black on the bottom with ground in dirt that could not be removed even by a long hot bath. We usually Farm_Tractorlooked dirty and we were happy and free.

When we had kids I knew I wanted to give them a taste of that open range and of being able to get dirty and do exploring, so I knew a town size lot would not do. We bought three acres in the northern suburbs of Minneapolis, adjacent to a large preserve. We had heavy woods and a large pond to explore. My kids got dirty, they collected frogs and they loved to climb trees and play in the woods.

We took our kids to the Minnesota zoo for animal time and one of my favorite parts is the farm area with goats to pet and baby animals to hold. But we also took every opportunity to visit my friends and relatives’ farms whenever we could manage it. We took them when they were quite young to a dairy farm during calving season and they actually saw a calf being born. My kids got to bottle feed the calves and they watched the elaborate milking operation. It was a fun visit for them, but I enjoyed getting back to the farm Farm_Sara2more than I had expected. I forgot how calm things are and how relaxed I felt around the animals.

I sat and petted the barn cat while watching my kids bottle feed a little calf. They were hesitant at first, but quickly became very comfortable and seemed to be enjoying the fact that they were helping in the chores that needed to be done. It was not staged for them, this was work that had to be done to feed the animals on the farm and they really had a sense of purpose and accomplishment in getting the job done. It helped that my cousin was very patient with them, and as he handed them a bottle he said we have to feed the calves twice a day so they grow big and strong.

As they would finish he would assign them another job to feed the cats or use the fork to spread hay for the cattle. They fed chickens and they rode the four wheeler to deliver more hay to the pasture. The kids did not want to leave and neither did I. As I petted the animals and watched the cattle being milked and saw the milk being Farm_Bencollected in a bulk tank for transport, I felt a sense of loss for no longer being on the farm. There is such a basic sense of purpose when you have animals dependent upon you for life and you are producing the most basic of healthy food. There’s a lot of work to do, but it seems relaxed and everything is moving at a slower pace. The cows are fed, but they also get a little pet on the head as we pass each one. The cats are picked up and cuddled. It is that extra love that goes into the farmers work.

We visited often to give the kids the appreciation for a simpler time and real things that matter. They were so present in the moment as they helped and enjoyed everything that the farm had to offer. They learned to treat animals well and to share and enjoy the days outside. I miss the farm and especially the animals. The farm is a way of life and a connection that we lose in the city if we are not vigilant. Make the time to be outdoors, to visit the zoo and to visit the farms. Almost everyone knows someone on a farm and
Farm_Saramost farm families love to share their way of life. They now even have farms you can visit for a day or stay overnight. It is actually becoming a tourist thing.

Do what you can to keep your connections to the farm, the animals and the crops. Have a garden in your backyard or a pot. Let the kids dig in the dirt. Pick berries and go to the apple orchard. Make butter from cream just for fun. It is sad when kids don’t even know where our food comes from or how to grow simple food. When we do these things for our kids we are many times very surprised by how much fun it is for us and how relaxing a day outside on the farm can be. We don’t think of a farm as entertainment, but it is the most entertaining and relaxing day you can spend with your family.









Crazy Fun Cousins

84cI grew up in Buckman, Minnesota in the sixties and seventies, surrounded by great grandparents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and all kinds of cousins. The Buckman/Pierz area was settled by German Catholic farmers. It was a great place to grow up. Our farm was just outside of Buckman. My dad had grown up in Buckman and my mom in Pierz. My dad’s parents lived about a mile away across the fields, and my mother’s family lived a few miles away just south and east of Pierz.

My great grandparents settled in the area when they came from Austria and Germany with their families in the late 1800’s. It was, and still is, a tight knit community where everyone knows everyone else and they socialize mainly through church activities and hunting, fishing and farming interests. We were always surrounded by extended family. If anyone got married or died everyone attended. We went to every church Bazaar and our family social 34elife was mainly visiting and hanging out with relatives.

My dad had only one brother, who was a priest, but he had a cousin, Ray in the area who was like a brother and his kids were close in age and we played with them a lot over the years. My mom was the oldest of a family of six and her dad was from a family of six, and her mom was from a family of ten, so there were a lot of cousins and second cousins and great aunts and uncles and so on. Family reunions were a blast!

27fMy mom had two sisters who were close to her age. In her family they had three girls and then three boys. One of her sister’s, Marilyn, settled in Buckman about two miles away from our farm and the other, Corrine, settled just east of Pierz. Marilyn had seven children, Corrine had five and we had five. The kids spanned in age over about a 15 year or more period, but we usually all played together. We were very good at being inclusive rather than exclusive. As one of the older ones, I remember having big family get togethers and I would almost always be carrying a baby or watching after a younger child. I usually had a little one on my lap and it usually was not my younger brother, but a young cousin.

Everyone got along really well or at least after all of these years, I don’t remember any real 82econflict. I do remember that we stuck together on our outdoor adventures and we watched out for each other and the little ones. Back then our parents did not hover. We were left to run around the farm and play without any supervision. The parents played cards or visited and they expected us to get along, play nice, and not do anything dangerous. We knew the expectations and most often followed the rules.

We sometimes went to parks together and sometimes just got together at each other’s farm or Grandma’s farm. We played ball in the summer and had just enough kids to make it work for fielding. The pitcher and everyone moved in when a little kid went to bat and pitched it slow and we older kids pretended not to catch the ball, so they could run some bases. We went ice skating and built snow forts in the winter, and we sometimes stayed in and played board games like Clue, Operation, Monopoly and Life. We
11cplayed in the hay barns and the corn fields and we climbed trees and we rode bikes. We were outdoor kids.

When we got thirsty and hungry we sometimes snuck into the house and one kid took potatoes chips and another took a bottle or two of pop and we went out to the barn and shared our loot. Sometimes we also took the Ketchup from the refrigerator and used it as dip. Once in a while we took a package of Jell-O and shared the powder out of the box. It was exactly like the old time candy called Pixie sticks. I think that may still be around. Had we asked for the treats, I am sure our parentIMG_3177s would have given them to us and I am sure they knew we were taking them, but sneaking in to take them was a lot more fun and adventurous.

My aunt Marilyn lived closest to us. She originally had an old farm house that was two stories and we loved playing there. When we were young I remember we had Pop It bead fights. Pop it beads were plastic, hand-size beads that connected together to make things. It was really a baby toy but we used them as grenades for Pop It bead fights. If you grew up in the fifties and sixties you have seen them. I am not so sure they still make those, but I still have some that I found for my kids and I kept them because of my fond memories of sitting behind furniture in teams and having a pile of Pop It beads next to us, and throwing them at each other in a Pop It bead war of sorts. This sounds strange, but I have vivid memories of playing that in my aunt’s farm house. I also remember doing Light Bright with my cousins, and then turning off the lights y60r00442ato admire our creation. They also had one of the coolest doll houses. It was made of metal and had rugs and wall paper painted onto the metal. We had doll furniture and dolls to arrange in the dollhouse, and surprisingly that kept us busy for hours in the upstairs play area. Marilyn had the seven children and she had a really fun and loud house. We liked going there.

My aunt Corrine also lived in a two story farm house, but outside of Pierz, so it was a little 84afarther away. They had a horse before any of us, so that was our first opportunity to become comfortable around horses. She had a fun farm with rolling hills and dairy cows. I distinctly remember being upstairs at Corrine’s house playing with multiple cousins and playing on the bed, which of course got carried away into jumping on the bed and one of us jumped too high and hit the light fixture and broke it and the light bulb. It made a crash to be
sure and we all became very silent waiting for the yell from the parents who were playing 25acards on the main level. It took no time at all for one of the parents to be yelling what was going on up there and of course we gave the standard answer of, “Nothing, the light just broke on its own.”

The parents had their standard laugh and exchanges of those statements of those darn kids and then the standard reply was to tell us to settle down and behave. We played a lot in their hay barn and in the outbuildings which were full of cool old farm stuff. Corrine had an apple tree and was an excellent cook and baker. She was the best! We looked forward to her dinners and her apple pie.

We played and got together at our farm too. We had endless fields and beef cows and lots of outbuildings including a storage shed we referred to as the shendy. We played a game over the top of the shendy called Annie Annie Over where you had teams on each side and the ball was thrown over the top of the shendy. If 24athe team on the other side caught it, they all came running over to the other side to tag out the other team. If we got tired of games we thought of other shenanigans. We climbed in the barns and the silo. Once at our farm we convinced my cousin Karen to climb a knotted tree of ours that was not very high and then to jump down into a large blanket being held around the sides like we had seen firefighters do on TV. There were about ten kids holding around the edge of the blanket, but that blanket never even slowed her down. She hit the ground with a thud. Luckily she had jumped feet first and only had a sprained ankle. Sometimes we tried things we should not have. We played a lot of Kick the Can at our farm and hid in the corn fields around the house. We swung in the barns and we made hay forts. It was a nice place to grow up.

We played at Ray’s farm too. Our cousins there were also close in age and his farm was the most fun. He had chickens of all colors, geese, and turkeys wandering lose in the yard. You could hunt for eggs and play in the corn cribs. Ray’s farmyard was, and still is, full of beautiful flowers.24e

Some of our cousins were almost as close as siblings and even though some of us have left the Buckman/ Pierz area, and are scattered around Minnesota, we remain close. Some of us still go camping together and get together for dinners, parties and family events. We still see each other at funerals and weddings. We make time for family, because family is important.  

Our parents and aunts and uncles taught us to be good people and to value family. They taught us to let everybody play, to be fair and to be nice to the younger, weaker kids. Nothing else would have been tolerated. They taught us to be gracious winners and good losers. They taught us to be polite, respectful and helpful. They taught us that it is OK to explore, but they also taught us to watch out for each other.   These were all great life lessons that are just as important today in our workplaces, in our homes, schools and in our neighborhoods as well as just the right way to live our lives. The world would be a beautiful place if everyone lived by the rules we learned with our cousins. We may not be able to change the entire world, but we can do our best to live by these rules in our daily lives and hopefully set an example for others. Living by these simple rules not only is the right thing to do, but it makes our little part of the world a better place for all.Cousins Galore

Survival of the Fittest

I was channel surfing looking for things to watch on TV, and I came across a show about Preppers. Preppers are people who are preparing themselves for some major disaster, like the complete collapse of government or society, or an environmental disaster that results in needing to survive by going back to the basics of growing their own food and eating whatever animals are available. This particular show was focused on living off the land by hunting, gathering and growing their own food. It piqued my interest, so I watched for a while as they talked on about their preparations. Well it did not take long to realize this was a group of city dwellers who were now trying to guess how they would survive off of the land by growing their own food and hunting and preserving that food.

It was a lot of theory as opposed to any type of experience. I don’t want to judge them on how to prepare, but to me as a farm girl from Pierz who grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s, anyone who IMG_1737grew up on the farm will have all of the skills necessary to survive. Our farm was like many others in that area.   We raised chickens, hogs, cattle and crops. We had a large garden and fields for the animal feed. We had some cows for beef and we always had two cows for milk. We made butter from the cream and my mom could make cottage cheese. It was a very self sufficient operation.

One of the things that seemed to be missing in the “Preppers” show was to learn the skills to utilize all of the crops and the animals year round. Granted it was a short show, but growing vegetables is not that hard; preserving vegetables so you have them all year takes some knowledge and practice. My Mom could can any fruits and vegetables. Also, butchering of animals is a learned skill and not wasting IMG_1739takes practice. We ate almost every part of the animals, so there was little waste. We ate the tongue, heart, tail and made head cheese. Yup, don’t ask. It is actually made from parts of the pig head, but it is surprisingly delicious! My kids don’t think so, but being adventurous as they are, they did try it.

Even as kids we had to help butcher chickens and help with the feeding of all animals and giving them medicine. There was not a lot done on the farm without everyone’s help. Grandpa and IMG_1744grandma came over when any big butchering or harvesting was done, and all the kids did what they could to help, depending upon age. Grandma always brought a big batch of homemade donuts, that were fried in lard of course, when she came for anything. We loved them. You probably would die early if you ate too many, because they were fried in lard, but it was worth it. They were delicious!

I have also eaten wild meats of every kind. I saw them eating squirrel on the show Duck Dynasty and had to laugh because we ate squirrel one time to taste it and we quite frequently ate rabbit. Rabbit was a quick growing and quick breeding stock and my grandpa raised them and it was a IMG_1745great source of protein, and they tasted good too.

I was in college when I went to visit a friend and her husband. While I was eating the delicious stew they served, the husband, in a very matter of fact way, announced that the stew was made with wood chuck. The wood chuck had been eating his garden, so he ate the wood chuck. I had no problem eating wood chuck. It was delicious.

In our area people hunted raccoon, deer, bear and every kind of bird.   Many of us also trapped. IMG_1740My brother and I actually had a trap line in the winter that we checked every morning before school. We were in High school at the time. We made some extra money that way and learned some skills. On the farm you learned to fix anything with what you had. You did not run to town for every little nut, bolt or piece of wood. You made due and got the job done. You threw little away and many things were used and reused. We built fence and rode horse. We swung in the barn and learned to watch the weather to know when to cut the hay. We knew how to bake pie with the apples from the trees and make jam from the berries we picked in the fence line. We were good to the animals and we did not kill for pure sport or fun. We used the meat of anything we killed as humanely as possible.

IMG_1741The term “simple farmer” has always bothered me. There is nothing simple about them. These are people with amazing skills and abilities who are constantly finding ways to grow more food for our growing and demanding needs as a population.   In any survival scenario, for the best chance at survival, I would pick the farmers every time.

The Duck Dynasty guys, while entertaining, have nothing on those of us who lived or still live on a working farm in rural Minnesota. The Preppers have some good theories and ideas, and you have to applaud them for trying, but these skills that rural farmers actually lived cannot be duplicated by reading about it or talking about it. The actual hands on experience give those from the farm an instant level of competence and confidence.

Some people may be embarrassed to admit they ate tongue and heart. I have always embracedIMG_1738 my past and appreciate the skills that were handed down to us on the farm. It was a gift that not all are lucky enough to have lived. The diversity and variety of life skills that we have from our experiences on the farm are irreplaceable. We learned our work ethic, confidence in our own abilities, respect for the earth and its bounty and most importantly, problem solving skills. Farmers have been working together as families and neighbors for years to accomplish tasks. There is no group that is better prepared, who could survive and thrive if a disaster occurs, and most importantly, farmers are also the best at looking after their neighbors. These are real people with real skills.