Making Lunches

We visited the farm last weekend to introduce two of my favorite people in the world to wheat harvest. It's a busy, dusty, exhausting, fun time of the year.

The days are usually really long - starting in the morning and reaching until way past sunset as long as the grain is still dry enough to cut. Dad is super efficient when he's harvesting. Actually, he's always super efficient. And everybody has their place in the wheat harvest train.

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Sustainability Spotlight: Local Vegetable Farm

Meet Joe Miller. He and his wife, Chris, are the full-time owners/operators of Miller Farms, a medium-sized vegetable farm in Northern Colorado. Miller Farms consists of 400 acres of vegetables, additional acreage in field corn, and a few more acres of hay.

In addition to farming, a couple of years ago they started to raise cattle for beef – but it’s not much – they originally got into cattle because their kids and grandkids liked to work with them. This sentiment is telling of why Joe is involved in farming at all: his passion is teaching kids and adults where food comes from. He wants to make food affordable.

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Sustainability Spotlight: Community Based Agriculture

Meet Amanda Lindahl. She’s an expert baker, extrovert, wonderful friend, and a passionate gardener. She works for The Giving Grove, a non-profit organization which is part of the Kansas City Community Gardens.

The Giving Grove is a unique subset of American Agriculture – one founded on the principle of helping people grow their own food. Since their inception in 2013, the Giving Grove has partnered with community groups to plant over 145 orchards all over the Kansas City metro, ranging in size from five trees to over 100 trees. The organization provides education, but the responsibility of ongoing maintenance and management of the orchard is the work of the community group partner. These community groups are then the beneficiaries of the (literal) fruits of their labor.

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Sustainability Spotlight: Large-Scale Commodity Farm

If there is one word I could use to describe Lee Scheufler, my father and the co-owner/operator of Scheufler Farms, Inc. it would be efficient.

“I wasn’t going to marry a farmer!” declares Margaret, wife of efficient Lee, my mother and co-owner/operator of Scheufler Farms.

“But my charm overwhelmed her,” Lee jokes with a wink.

Scheufler Farms is a large-scale grain farm in the smack-dab center of Kansas. Lee and Margaret have been married over 30 years and together manage this 100% family farm with only one full-time employee. Their farming philosophy is to run a highly efficient enterprise to capture low cost per unit production.

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Sustainability Spotlight: Industry Perspective

Last December, Marvin showed up on my parents’ doorstep.

Marvin works for ADM (Archer Daniels Midland Company – although nobody ever calls them by their full name) as a marketing agent who procures grain from local farmers.

He and his company want to sustainably source wheat in Central Kansas, but “sustainable” first needs to be defined. Thus ADM is looking for producers willing to share information about their farming practices.  The goal of this  Field to Market program is to determine the most profitable - yet environmentally friendly - way to raise wheat. ADM, in turn, wants to partner with these farms to purchase this sustainably grown grain.

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Sustainability in Agriculture

Farm to Table. Locally Grown. Sustainably Made.

These buzzwords are becoming more than marketing phrases – they are becoming the demands of consumers. Consumers understand now more than ever that climate change isn’t a probability anymore; it’s a reality – and one that needs addressing right now.

Over the course of the next few months, I plan to delve into five perspectives: and industry response to sustainability and an interview with four different types of farmers in this six-part series about Sustainability in Agriculture.

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Every Purchase Matters

We live in a global society. In fact, you're probably using a device right now whose components were manufactured in six of the seven continents on our planet. In our modern society, the surplus harvest in Russia affects the US wheat markets and widespread drought in the Midwest can cause famine in developing nations.

Likewise, the clothes we buy affect everyone from the cotton-growers in Alabama to the seamstress in Bolivia to the CEO behind glass doors.

Every Purchase Matters. This is the mantra of Fair Trade USA, an organization and movement dedicated to identify producers who respect both people and the environment.

You may have noticed many of the products on my site are Fair Trade Certified. If you've never heard of this concept, I want to share with you what brought me to decide to make this a central part of my business model.

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The Next Generation of American Agriculture

My Dad was featured in the Wall Street Journal last month. That's right, I'm basically the daughter of a celebrity.

He and several other farmers in Central Kansas (like my high school classmate Mason!) were interviewed for the article: The Next American Farm Bust is Upon Us. Unfortunately, the tone of the article was less than positive; apparently I wasn't the only one who noticed the piles of grain across my home state last summer and it's not an illusion that the low price of grain is going to force some farmers out of business.

This begs the question: How will American Agriculture respond to this changing climate?

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But Where Does it All Go?

A few months ago I wrote about the volatility of the farming economy - the Invisible Hand of supply, demand, and incentive programs. Today, that picture is more evident than ever as you drive across the plains of Kansas: mounds of grains are piled high outside of elevators that have been at capacity for months. I mentioned the record-breaking yields that farmers have had this year.

Most industries vary their output based on demand. If toy giraffes are all the rage with the age-one-to-three-year-olds this year, you better believe that more toy giraffes are going to saunter off the production line. When the popularity of giraffes wanes, production decreases.

Unlike other types of producers, farmers are much more at the mercy of the elements (rather than demand) to determine their output, and consumption remains relatively stable. So, when output goes up, prices go down and storage overflows.

This begs the question: where does all that extra grain go??

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Volatility

Unpredictability is the name of the game when it comes to farming. Weather, pests, breakdowns, and (perhaps most frustrating), the marketplace.

Things have been especially good this year: plenty of rain and sunshine at just the right time. Fortunately (or unfortunately?) it's been good everywhere. The Former Soviet Union and Europe had record-breaking wheat harvests this year. Thus, surpluses abound.

For those of you who've had training in basic economics, you know what happens to price when supply outweighs demand. That's right - price goes down.

That's what's happening right now.

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Rained Out

For all of the technology in modern agriculture - the GPS device in the combine, the weather app on the phone, the wireless electronic truck scale - our food system is still in the hands of Mother Nature.

It's never more apparent how small we humans are in the universe until your game of Pegs and Jokers is interrupted by a tornado warning. There is a false sense of security in having a basement; if a tornado barrels over the house, there's really nowhere to hide.

This is the scary part of being a farmer.

You can plan. You can estimate. You can research and work late nights and get all the planting done on time. But one flood, one hail storm, one extra week without rain can wipe it all away in the blink of an eye. While farming is about knowing how to grow crops in your climate, it's also about business (knowing when to spend money to make money), relationships (you gotta trust people to work with them), and mitigating risk.

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Wheat Harvest

Most people think that Kansas is land-locked. They would be right -- except for June, when seas of golden wheat stretch across the plains. Millions of stalks of grain shift in the hot summer breeze, creating the illusion of waves gently sloshing in the fields of ocean.

I love this time of year.

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Nitrogen Fertilizer, a Comparison

A few weeks ago I wrote about how nitrogren fertilizer is an essential part of farming because it is an essential part of protein, and thus nutrition for humans.

Across farming philosophies - from conventional to progressive to organic to local - the fact that nitrogen is essential to life is an undisputed fact. Beyond that agreement, however, opinions begin to differ regarding exactly what type of fertilizer is best to use.

While I can in  no way compare to a trained agronomist's opinion, I'd like to offer a (very) brief overview of the options farmers have today about what types of nitrogen fertilizer are available and review a few of the pros and cons of each.

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Nitrogen: the Building Block of Building Blocks

Protein.

I've ranted over its popularity in the American diet. I've warned that we're getting way more protein than we need (although so far there's no evidence that this is necessarily harmful). Yet still for most humans on the planet today, lack of protein remains a major source of malnutrition.

Water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink. This pretty accurately describes our relationship with atmospheric nitrogen. There's lots of it, but it's not in a form that is available for plants to use. Nitrogen as fertilizer comes from one of three places: 1) recycled nitrogen, 2) fixed nitrogen, and 3) synthesized nitrogen.

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Farming when the Ground is White and the Temp is Low

I work an 8-to-5-ish job. I have weekends and holidays off, I accrue PTO, and if I'm deathly ill, I have (amazing) coworkers who will step up to cover for me.

This does not describe the life of a small business owner, such as a farmer.

A small business owner works the hours he needs to - meaning 16-hour days during harvest - and takes time for herself when she can. For most farmers, this means that if you want to take a vacation, it's probably going to be in the dead of winter.

So what exactly does a farmer do when the combine is in the shed? Quite a bit, actually.

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Crop Rotation

In case you hadn't noticed, winter is upon us. Snow has blanketed the fields, temperatures have dropped, and the days are short.

So what happens on a farm when the ground is frozen? More than you'd think.

Like all the other seasons, winter is a thread in the tapestry of the life of a farm. While the planting is finished and there are no combines in the field, the soil is not dead.

Although you may think that nothing grows in the winter, this is not necessarily true. My dad follows a precise crop rotation strategy that dictate whether a field lies fallow over the winter or has winter wheat at the beginning of its growth.

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The Harvest Crew

Every year my parents host a post-harvest celebration. They usually go out to a restaurant (that way mom gets to enjoy the time without worrying about cooking) and spend a couple of hours enjoying great company and great food.

The crew has changed over the years. It used to take many more people to get the job done, but with new technology it now takes one combine to do the work of two.

May I introduce you to the current Scheufler Farms harvest crew.

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Milo (Sorghum) Harvest 2015

Scheufler Farms, Inc. Fall Harvest 2015 is officially over. It ended last Friday, when the crew finished in the milo field.

Usually it's the double-crop beans that are last crop standing in the field, but it was a warm, dry fall. Usually the first freeze of the year halts the milo's growth, which causes it to dry more quickly and allow it to be harvested before the last of the beans. The first freeze in Central Kansas came late this year.

Milo, or sorghum, is a lesser-known grain. It certainly has its benefits, however, so I'm excited to introduce you to this commodity crop.

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Fall: Harvest, Planting, and My (Dad's) Happy Place

Fall is a busy time on a Kansas farm. It's the place on the calendar where harvest and planting intersect.

Unlike wheat harvest, which wraps up in less than two weeks, fall harvest lasts from September until all of the crops are harvested. Which, depending on the weather, can be anywhere from November to early January (although that's unusual and not really ideal).

While the rest of the world is thinking about pumpkins and spiced cider, my dad is in the field on every dry day and praying for rain after he's planted the wheat.

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The Modern "Industrial" Family Farm

Farm life. It's quite romantic. Or rather, romanticized.

When I talk to anybody I've ever met who has lived in a city -- or even in a town just miles away from farmland -- I'm often surprised by what they think a farm is. I'm also surprised (and a little concerned) at how little they know about where their food comes from.

Over the next year, I would like to invite you to virtually tour my family's farm. My intent is not to pass judgment or make recommendations, but merely to inform. People need to know. Leaders, politicians, consumers -- we all need to know where our food comes from so we can make thoughtful decisions to make our world better.

Don't write off the American farmer. Please, listen to his story, listen to my story. Listen to our story.

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