Sunday, August 24, 2014

Asking the right questions . . .

Lately the topic of conversation when I run into people is "how is school going?".  Which is not a good question for me, because one of my many character flaws include constant negative conversations with myself. My brain runs constantly and mostly with a tape of what hasn't gotten done, projects that need planned, students that have not been helped, IEP's that have not been read and papers that have not been graded. This dialog is backed up with thoughts of the failure students, communities and the world might have if I don't accomplish everything that runs in my head.

Unfortunately, because of the way my brain works my answers are usually NEGATIVE, to the people who ask this. I always walk away feeling terrible about my answer. My other character flaw, is my constant negative conversations with other people.  I just don't feel like the to do list gets done, if you talk constantly about everything that is going right and all the many accomplishments that have already happened.

I feel my NEGATIVE conversations are so overwhelming I am surprised anyone has ever eaten lunch with me in the teachers lounge.

We are a week and half into school after my three year hiatus.  I challenge you unless you really want to hear the projects and things I need to pull off to ask me "what is going right in your classroom/shop?".

I will now share with you the long list of things going right in the S-E-M east wing.

- I have fantastic students that are on the edge of their seats to learn. The insightful questions they ask and their want to know more is outstanding.

- We are only eight days into school and have a great start in learning about business structures, scientific method, land management, range management, and welding history and safety.

- I am teaching distance learning for the first time in my life.  I am giving several students that wouldn't have the opportunity to learn about Agriculture Education otherwise. I feel good about that.

- The distance learners are working hard to learn over a big screen television a very hands on curriculum.  I think they may be surprised about how hands on it is. That make me smile.

- I have an extremely supportive group of parents that are helping make some special projects happen, that I wouldn't have the time to do without their expertise and extra assistance.

- My 78 year old buddy Dietrich Meyer is back to assist me in making this group of students industry acceptable welders.  He came to meet the students and they already respect and appreciate his caring personality and expertise. They really like that his grip is so strong that when he turns the torch off, they can't turn it back on. That makes them smile.

- A dad has offered to get us metal to practice welding with at a reduced rate and cut to size, delivered both ways. I know fellow welding instructors be jealous.

- The first annual labor auction has been planned and will take place on Tuesday night. With everything going on I forgot to tell them I would be their auctioneer. I wonder what their reaction will be? Should I tell them before Tuesday night?

The biggest challenge I had as school started is a group of students that have done well and really enjoy range judging.  As a graduate of The Ohio State University I have not studied range judging because we have pastures not range.  The only plants I know are the ones that happened to also grow in Ohio and were in a Weeds class I took in the Spring of 2000.  I started the Range unit anyway. The students have been extremely patient.  In fact, they have also been above and beyond helpful.  They have personally collected almost 70 plants.  If they can't identify the plant, they text a picture to a man on the weed board in the county to identify it.

Every morning since school has started someone has showed up with a range plant, I think that kind of learning is admirable.  I couldn't be more proud. Not everyone gets flowers everyday at work!

Beautiful - I know metal and range plants! What else could a girl ask for?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Ohio Pedicures, Dairy Farms, Strip Malls all lead to Nebraska

We traveled back to Ohio last week to see our friends and family before school starts and the fall runs of cattle start coming in. My Mother In Law gave me a birthday gift and offered to babysit so that I could go and get a pedicure at the place she frequents.

I've only had a handful of pedicures in my life.  Mostly because I find it awkward to make small talk with someone as they scrub dead skin off my feet and dig toe jam out of my nails.  Obviously I am the only one who feels this way, because the line was out the door with women waiting to have this said experience.  I had already called a half a dozen people to see if someone would join me.  I thought maybe if I could talk to someone else it would be more fun. I was apparently the only one on vacation, as everyone was working. All my friends are hard workers.

After seeing two women who were there together for the experience almost brake out in a fight over some local political issue - I almost left.  The only thing stopping me was that Jake had dropped me off.

It wasn't long and a nice Asian man called my name and my feet were soaking.  I then find myself looking out a window where less than 12 years ago there was a Dairy Farm. I could picture the Dairy and Mr. Ety as if it was yesterday. Jake introduced me to him just before his farm sale.  Jake waited that day to purchase an old scale cover from a Fairbanks and Morse scale that will soon be a conversation starter and decorative piece for our basement here in Nebraska.

The nice man was then back with his tool basket to scrub the nastiness off my feet.  I am confident the only reason people sign up for this is because no one wants to clean their own feet.  Last time I had a pedicure this lead to a discussion with the lady next to me about why my feet didn't have as much dead skin to scrape off.  I told her it may be because I wear tube socks and boots year around.

Then the small talk started.  The man was business smart, he wanted to know if I lived in the area.  I am assuming to see if I would be a repeat customer. Smart man. I told him "no, just visiting".

"Where are you from", he says. "Nebraska", I answered.
"NEBRASKA, why are you here?" he almost yells. I then explained that we use to live here.

He began to tell a story about a friend that once moved from Ohio to California and then he didn't like it so he drove back.  He was asking me about the smell in Nebraska.  "What is that smell?", he asked.  "I told him that is the smell of cattle." I sarcastically answer with, "don't you love it!"  He laughed. He asked me "what is the state south of Nebraska, it smells too".  I answered "you mean Kansas". He said, "yes, is that cattle too?".

He then asked "why did you move to Nebraska?".  Which will be Chapter 12 in Jake and I's biography entitled Why The Hell Would You Move To Nebraska?. That will be the title because that is what I really feel like people have been asking us all these years.  I followed this with because there are more cattle than people there and because people don't like "that smell", and it is easier to move away from the people to raise beef.  He smiled.  He said, "but that is really far." I laughed and said "well we didn't move in a Conestoga Wagon and we didn't have to fight off any Indians to get there". With a very straight face he asked, "there are Indians out there".  Then I felt bad for my sarcasm for a second and told him I was joking.

I then changed the subject asking about if he ate beef and what his favorite cuts were.  He was educated about the meat counter, for a consumer.  His favorite cut is the Ribeye. He asked several questions about purchasing freezer beef and if it was cheaper and how big of a freezer he would need.  The small talk had ended and he was now teaching me about Asian cooking.  He asked me about Tripe.  I said, I only know what Tripe is, but I don't know how to cook Tripe.  He explained how he likes to cook it in stir fry.  He explained how his family even cooked the lips.  "Asians don't waste anything", he proudly announced.  I smiled, thinking how proud you would be, to be able to say that about your country's people.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

My first year of 4-H.

I'm a first year 4-H member, my Mom and Dad have been helping me. I have practiced showing my steer at home for hours.  I have worked hard and sewed a skirt, the pillow case I made received a special clover award. learned to spray paint to create a night stand and learned to take trick pictures for photography. I even made some red ribbon cookies that my Grandpa Jim really liked.

However, the week of the fair has left me with a lot of time to watch the older members.  I am very observant and I watch everything.  I walked through the still projects several times.  

The furniture my 4-H counselor made was one of my favorites.  

I watched an older 4-Her and I noticed they hold their shoulder almost just like this with their arm straight when they show their calves . . .

so I am practicing that too. 

I was able to spend a lot of time with my friend Mattie.  We have showed all winter and we have been in the same class, but at the county fair we weren't in the same class. However we both had to say goodbye to our steers at the county fair together.

It has been a great first year in 4-H. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Coaching Livestock Judging - Who Wins?

As a former livestock judging team member, I have known the importance of livestock judging and now that my own daughter is old enough to judge I've taken on a new challenge.  I've been coaching the Dawson County 4-H Livestock team and their season has come to an end at an outstanding program called Premier Animal Science Event (PASE).

They are extremely excited as they finished second overall and placed first overall in oral reasons. As their coach it is so much more than this, the contest marks a notch of growth in their journey as young men and women.  They don't even realize that I have been charting much more then their scores the last few months.  They don't know what it meant to me as a coach when:

- at nine years old a boy walks in, shuts the door and gives his first set of reasons, nervous but determined.

- the first argument broke out over a set of market hogs, when they believed the coach placed them wrong and they finally had the confidence and vocabulary to formulate a convincing (yet unrewarding) discussion to change the placing.

- a young man that had barely spoken directly to me through several judging practices, except to give reasons, looks at me in the eyes, stretches out his hand and gives me a firm handshake, saying "thank you for coaching me".

- my phone buzzes with a text from a young woman saying "we miss you and wish you were with us before the contest, wish us luck"

- when a young girl says "who invented sheep judging anyway?". I said "judging sheep is biblical".  Then another young woman begins to explain livestock judging and the selection of the best sheep for sacrifices.  Now that is deep!

- when you know the girl that loves the swine industry, wins the swine division.

- when the practices got harder and the test got tougher and the they said give us more, we can do it!

You see it really isn't about judging livestock.  Judging livestock is just a way to get kids together with a common purpose to teach life skills, confidence and thinking on your feet.  Most importantly though, it is a way to build confidence in kids, and that is life changing. The life change happened to them as they took a challenge, worked hard and became successful. That is contagious.  It won't matter where they end up or what they want to do.
This challenge was hard and they achieved success, they now know they can, and so they will. 
I can't wait to see what it is!

Thanks for a great year livestock judgers!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Chipotle - Don't call me irresponsible behind my back. Come to Nebraska!

Dear Chipotle CEO Steve Ells,

I realize you are very busy creating your next ad campaign to sling mud at farmers and ranchers across this great country.  Although I don't have the advertising budget your company has, I do have friends and family who appreciate beef production.

I understand that even though you don't know us and have never met us, you believe that we are irresponsible beef producers.  I would be remiss to not mention that it hurts my feelings that you believe without meeting us or visiting our feedyard that we are irresponsible. I invite you to our feedyard in order to better understand our family business and the beef industry. 

My husband and I have moved over 1000 miles to the middle of this country away from everyone and everything we knew just to raise beef for America.  We have invested every penny we have into a feedyard that was permitted under condition that we met certain environmental requirements in less than four years.  We basically took a deserted feedyard and spent all of our profits now and for the next undetermined amount of years (depending on how many cattle we feed, beef prices, corn prices, etc.) to meet all of the environmental quality standards that the EPA and NDEQ require.  This project's total costs were over $500,000.  Spending that kind of money on an environmental project that returns no profits back to the feedyard, does kind of make me feel irresponsible. However it was not a decision we made, it was one that the government made for us.


Shortly after we started this environmental project and there was no turning back, corn prices were toying with the $7.00 mark, and a drought hit making the supply of cattle in this country low.  This is not comparable in your business as you are able to change the price of your product.  Since you are a CEO I am guessing you would understand your profit margins. What I am wondering is if you can grasp the profitability of beef cattle? Did you know statistics say that a growth hormone implant can decrease production costs by 5-10%? I'll give you an example: last year when we were in the middle of this large environmental project, cattle were losing close to $200.00 per head.  Without technology, losses would have been more than  $220.00 per head.  How many times did you lose money last July selling our beef through your burritos? 

I am just wondering if you were able to serve a product that was proven scientifically safe, over and over, to make 5-10% more money, would you? I would ask if you would serve that same product to keep from losing 5-10%? We all know you never let a burrito leave your restaurant at a loss.  Just like the current "anti American agriculture" campaign that is gaining momentum at virtually no cost to you.  I am sure as you source beef from Australia you will pass that price on to your customer, causing no loss for your company.  

My only hope is that all Americans that support farmers and ranchers will choose another source for their burritos. As you have turned your back on America they too will turn their back on your restaurant. The question for Americans: are we really willing to pay 10-15% more for a burrito utilizing beef from a natural, grassfed steer, when beef from conventionally-raised steers has proven to be as safe or safer, as healthy or healthier, and is more available domestically?  

Janice Wolfinger
4+ Feeders

If you are interested in statistics that have been found through sound science that discuss the amount of beef we would be able to produce with and without hormones, how removing hormones changes Beef's carbon foot print and the choices beef producers offer I recommend this link - Great Plains Livestock Consulting.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

. . . and it all started in the FFA Van

I have two former students that landed phenomenal internships for the summer.  Tiffanie is in Texas with Cargill's Pork Division and Kayla is in Omaha with Monsanto.  I am able to follow a lot of their experiences through Facebook.  I couldn't be more proud.

Last weeks within hours of each other they both posted pictures of their new rides for the summer.

Kayla's new summer ride!

Tiffanie's new SUV for her internship.
It got me thinking about the Agriculture Industry and the reason so many Agriculture Educators are lured from the classroom into the industry.  I will add, neither of these students were pulled from the idea of teaching by expense accounts, trucks, travel (alone), fancy hotels or the many other things the industry offers that the classroom doesn't.

However it then got me thinking about the school van I was able to pack too much luggage in and all of the students as I headed out for COLT yesterday.  Driving a school van is not like a fancy company truck or SUV.  The liability and stress of driving seven other students is much higher than if I was just driving myself.  The fact that I must coordinate leave times, restroom stops, and destinations to eat with seven other people is more of a challenge than if I was in the industry calling on customers.
Do you hear the BUT coming?

BUT - It all starts in a FFA Van.  Both of the above students and several other ones along the way have learned to be on time, get along with others, travel, explore, and respect the property of others. I am proud of my past students that I have traveled with and the beginning of the journey with my new students. The FFA Van is where it all begins.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Going Back - Education and Influence is More Important Than I Thought

The feedyard is in full swing, and our new record system is becoming my friend. Well kind of. The major portion of the DEQ project is complete.  I was thinking life is about to get a little easier.  Every time I think that, I believe God grins.  My phone started ringing from our community members, people just letting me know the Ag. Teacher at SEM where the girls go to school was taking another job. They were the most subtle phone calls I have ever received.  I told Jake I am unsure if they want me to take the job or just want me to know.

Jake and I have spoke from time to time about me heading back to the classroom. We decided in less a position opened in the girls' school, with no family here it would be impossible.  Jake encourages me to go back to the classroom. I think he thinks this because I relate everything at the feedyard to teaching.  I have been out of the classroom for three years and those three years have been eye opening and not in a good way.  I spent the first 17 years of my life in the Northern Local School District, among some great students.  I then left and spent 4 years at The Ohio State University mostly with other wonderful Agriculture Education students. I then went straight to work as a teacher.  It was not until this year as we continue to search for a crew that is capable of helping us take the feedyard to the next level, that I realized our work force is horrific. As a teacher I was completely unaware of the incredible problem we have with skilled labor in this country. Not only do we have a problem with skill, we apparently have problems with sobriety and attendance also. It is an epidemic. We are in big trouble and if something doesn't change soon our children may be in bigger trouble.

It was clear to me that the only way I could influence these problems is to go back to the classroom. I was unsure about taking the position, I knew if I took the job I would be jumping in with both feet to a situation that is way more than full time. I know my philosophies in education have never aligned with the political officials passing our curriculum mandates and many times have not always lined up with my administrators. But then, there I was at a 4-H livestock judging event with Jacie talking with a school board member.  We started discussing education and what is important and my thoughts and ideas were spot on with what he was saying.  First time ever!  I decided to turn in my resume and then I decided to interview.  Then a few hours after my interview I took a new job as the SEM Ag. Teacher and FFA Advisor.

I am going back to the classroom with a new plan. In fact I am wondering while in my education career why they don't just have teachers manage a fast food restaurant (not in a college town).  I believe a town's fast food restaurant tells a lot about a towns education. I believe we would really better understand society and what is the least we would allow students to leave our classrooms knowing.

We have really just over complicated education.  I have decided that really I would like to be measured not by how many students pass a certain test, but how many are tax paying citizens 5 years out of high school.  I believe students really only need to leave high school with a healthy self esteem and a work ethic.  However I plan on adding a lot of life skills.  By life skills, I mean skills that students can go to someone and say I can do this and a person can afford and will want to pay them to do it.  These life skills also include a financial lesson in savings, spending and planning. Specifically they include, payroll and the worth of an employee, coming to work on time and ready to work, animal movement, care, multiplication, dosages, BQA certification, animal behavior, quality assurance, how electric fence works, the flow of electrons, affordable health care, welding, following directions, being respectful, working independently, recognizing when to remain silent, understanding your paycheck, cash flow, net worth . . .etc.  

Please send your ideas - I am overhauling my lesson plans starting now.  Please send in all the things you were glad someone taught you in high school and the things that you wish someone would have. I am meeting with the community soon to get their ideas.

I am excited to get back to the classroom with a new philosophy and the same intensity.  It's sure to be a wild ride.

To all my former students, please feel free to leave advice for my new students.

A look at my past career:
Reaping One Last Seed
State Officers
My Move to the Real World - Where Attendance is Still a Problem
Career Development Events
FFA Camp