Friday, February 10, 2017

My husband fails at Valentines Day

We've been married 27 years now and I have come to accept that my husband Randy will always fail at Valentines Day. He kind of sucks on birthdays and anniversaries too. He will march right by the aisles full of hearts, bears, roses, and balloons.  He will turn a deaf ear to every diamond store commercial. He won't make any complicated romantic dates. February 14th will arrive, he will look surprised,  turn toward me, and say, "Happy Valentines day! Love you!" That is the extent of his romantic plans. You know what? I'm okay with that. In every other way, he is a good husband and father. He is loyal and dedicated to his family. He just doesn't show his love in the way society thinks is romantic.

Randy and I climbed to the top of Beacon rock this year!

Let's change the idea of what is romantic. To me, romantic is the small things. I love that Randy will take me to see the buttercups blooming, or bring home an interesting rock because he knows I would like it. Romantic is library and lunch dates, like the ones when we were first married. It is road trips together, even if it's just to get parts. It is combine rides and watching the sun go down. It's holding hands and taking walks. Romantic is also the big stuff, like supporting my dreams even when it's hard. When I was working towards my degree, there were a lot of late nights and several times I wanted to quit. Randy always told me, "this is important, don't give up." I think his never ending love and devotion is better than diamonds, chocolates, or giant teddy bears.

Monday, January 16, 2017

I Couldn't Understand the Sacrifice

When we were newly married, we moved out to the farm. It was a big move in many ways. Physically, I left behind family and friends to move out to the middle of nowhere. It was a bigger move emotionally and culturally. All my life I had lived in cities where 40-hour weeks and paid vacations were the norm. The closest I had been to a farm was watching Green Acres on tv.

My new husband had explained to me, "It will be long hours and sacrifice."
I nodded my head like I understood.

Only another farm wife can understand when I say he was gone, a lot. He would leave in the morning before the sun came up and come home after it went down. He would work through lunch, and many times through dinner too. I would keep something warm for him and worry. It seemed like never ending days of him coming home just long enough to eat, shower, and sleep.  I brought out lunches, just so I could see him.  I would jump at a chance to bring him parts, or bring him a bottle of water, because he was never home. I would ask him, "What are you doing?" He would reply, "Just working".

I supported him, but I didn't understand.

He would bundle up and go to work, even when a blizzard raged outside. The roads were barely visible and the weather was so cold. "Why do you risk yourself? Stay home!" I pleaded. He would just reply, "It needs to be done." He would leave with a shovel in his pickup, so he could dig himself out when he got stuck in the deep snow. Somehow, he made it to work and back home, and he would be chilled and tired. Sometimes, sadness would droop his shoulders, and I would find out an animal was sick or a calf died.

I comforted him, but I didn't understand.

He worked weekends and holidays. He missed birthdays, school events, and sometimes it seemed whole summers. I would let the kids stay up late just so they could throw their arms around him and wish him a goodnight.  I know he was exhausted, but he always would talk and play with the kids in the brief moments between work and sleep.

I loved him, but I still couldn't understand.

What I couldn’t understand was the sacrifice. How he could sacrifice years of our marriage, and watching his children grow up? I couldn’t understand how he could sacrifice his own time, his body, and his life with us for ‘just working’. Any vacations we took had to be planned around seeding and harvesting and the needs of the cows. His time with the kids was spent in brief moments and punctuated by his exhaustion. This wasn't a tv sitcom with canned laughter in the background.

I pretended that I understood, but I couldn’t.

Over the years, my children grew up and moved out. My helping out changed to working for the farm. The fields would need weeded, and I didn't think twice about giving up my weekend. If the weeds got out of control, the field would suffer for years. I might work through lunch or come home late, because I just wanted a few more rounds done.

I started to understand.

I would help with the cows in the winter, after they were brought in from pasture. I was there when young heifers struggled to deliver their first calf. I was there when it was born too early and just couldn't make it. I helped to bottle feed calves that were too weak and sick, and sometimes they didn't make it either.

Suddenly, I understood the sacrifice. I understood that in the worst weather, the animals needed us the most. I understood that the worst days for me, were bad days for the farm too. I’ve seen crops that were flattened by storms, and I understood the drive to bring in the crops before the rains. I’ve lived the heartache of replanting every acre and still not sure if there would be a crop.

I finally, truly understood the need to do things right, because this isn't just a job. It's not 40 hours a week. I finally understood that the work you put into a farm is what you get out of it. I understood what it meant to work hard to support your family waiting at home. I understood how hard it was to do another round, knowing it would delay being with everyone I love and care about. I understood the need to finish the field.

Now when my kids call me and ask what I’m doing, I reply, “Just working”.
I think they understand. This is real life. Life isn't easy, but it is worth it.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

I Don't make New Years Resolutions, I make Adventure Goals!

New years resolutions never work. If it was important enough to do, you wouldn't wait until a new year to promise to do it. I make New Year's adventure goals. My goals are things on my bucket list or something I want to learn. Here are my top 5 Adventure goals for this year.

 5.  Add Instagram to my growing social media presence. My TractorJen facebook page is agriculture centered, but I want to share a wider variety of my photography. I suppose Instagram and social media don't sound like adventures, but they are to me. ;)
La Push, Washington 

 4.  Use my Gopro to take more interesting pictures. I received a case and mounts for my Gopro for Christmas and I have some creative ideas for videos. I thrive on thinking outside the box.

I wore my Gopro chest mount as we toured the underground
missile launch control center in Coopertown, ND

 3.  Astrophotography- I love the dark skies we have here and I want to get some milky way pictures. Night photography is more involved than point and shoot, so there are lots of learning opportunities.

Picture of Jupiter through my telescope

 2.  Watch the solar eclipse- Aug 21 has a total solar eclipse crossing the United states.  Washington is not one of the total ecipse states, but I am hoping for good enough weather to see at least a partial eclipse. Maybe a day trip to the John Day fossil beds to record a full eclipse is possible, but unlikely. I am ordering my solar glasses and filters now!

 Get your eclipse glasses here!

 1.  Travel- We love to travel and I have devoted a wall in my house to document our adventures. This year we hope to drive down to Arizona and visit the Titan Missile museum and see a real Saguaro cactus. We also have several other shorter trips in the works. Most trips involve a museum and photgraphy. :)
There is some blank spaces on my wall!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

I am a Farm Hand on a Corporate Farm

My husband and I both work for a corporate farm. This farm uses modern technology, has great big tractors, and has to be carefully managed to ensure financial success. That is only part of the story though. The Adams farm was established in 1897 when Davids Adams' parents, grandparents and uncles all homesteaded land in Eastern Washington state. David was born on the homestead in 1922.

David Adams with his older bother Clarence and his sister Vera

Dryland wheat farming was a struggle and they had to clear sagebrush and rocks, plant wheat and hope there was enough rain to get a crop. There were some lean years, and I often heard stories of how hard his family worked to get by. David passed away in 2014, and everyone misses his presence on the farm.
Adams harvest 1959

Davids' mother Ruth setting up harvest lunch in the field 1959 

Although this is a corporate farm, it still is a family farm and we feel part of the family. My husband has worked off and on for over forty years for the family. I moved here 25 years ago and have raised my family along side theirs. Our children went to the same schools and we celebrated the same milestones together. Just as plants put their roots deep into the soil, living on the farm has given me deeper roots to the land and the community.
Adams harvest 2008
David Adams drove combine until 2013
When I  farm, it's not about the money to me. It's about doing what's best for the land and the farm. I live here, I work here, and I love here. Farming has given me a long term perspective. What I do today can impact things for a long time. I work the ground now, but won't see a crop for two years.   The crop planted in September will be harvested in August the next year. Weeds allowed to grow today will spread seeds for years. I am responsible for the land. I will never own a farm, but I will always love farming.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Facts don't matter, only feelings matter

I have noticed on social media, that people have absolutely no interest in facts or even hearing both sides of the story. I am a middle of the road type person, and I know that there is always two sides to the story. Maybe it comes from being a mom. Ever had a kid running up to you in tears, "Mom! He hit me!" Should I punish the child that hit their bother without asking for the whole story? "Well she bit me first!" (Btw, I solved these fights by making them hug and say they loved each other!)

When I post a side of the story about GMOs  or the Dakota pipeline, I know it is only one side of a story. I am choosing to post the side that people aren't listening to, because it's not about the emotion. I have heard, "I don't care what the facts are, I FEEL these are bad."

So, are these things really bad. Not as much as they are portrayed. People say the evil seed companies control the farmer. Seed should be free. Reality is that farmers will buy the seed that helps them succeed. People say fossil fuels are poison and we have to eliminate our support for them. These are wonderful ideals. I ask, is it even possible? Are these people fossil fuel free? Are they ready to give up their comfy little lives to live fossil free right now? Reality is that right now, fossil fuels are important and providing infrastructure that is modern and safe is important.  I support alternative energy and being energy efficient, but realize change doesn't happen over night.

I love the Dakotas and their people. I support Native rights. I support the fight for clean water and decent homes. I support preserving their culture and honoring their past. I support their fight against poverty and drugs.

How many of the protesters that have come in the Standing rock protests will leave after the fight and not worry about these people again? They will leave to fight some other "windmill", because they are fighting evil and it makes them feel good. Meanwhile, people are left feeling angry and divided and the real problems have not been solved.

We all want the world to be a better place. My ideal is that we find some common ground instead of painting everything black and white. Are we really on opposite sides? Do we only look for what divides us, instead of what brings us together? Tearing people apart doesn't build anything. The one thing I love about the Standing Rock protest is that people are standing together.  I just wish it wasn't for an all or none issue.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Five Reasons why Farming is Still Hard

According to my other blog post, Farming is Easy. Although we can all agree that farming is much easier than it was fifty years ago, today's farmings is not without its challenges. These are my top five reasons why farming is still hard.

1. Actually steering.
Even with the modern technology, most farmers still steer their tractors occasionally. According to John Deere, their base system is accurate within 4-8 inches. I have seen it change that much over lunch break. It takes a big chunk of change to switch to full auto steer and most applications aren't worth it. I always steer when doing the edges of the fields, making my turns, and around obstacles. It isn't as easy at is seems. I drive an articulated tractor, which means it pivots in the middle rather than swivels the tires to change direction. That means I have two pivot points to factor in when trying to drive straight. If I turn my wheel to the left to avoid an obstacle on my right, the equipment will initially become closer to obstacle. This may result in a foot long gash in the service truck. Another factor to consider is pitch and roll. Our fields are not flat by any means and trying to run the edges requires constant compensation. My tractor may be leaning to the left, but my equipment may be sliding to the right. Add a concrete post in there and you have some excitement. The last factor I have to include is how far away and wide my equipment is from the tractor. I may run a 70 foot wide harrow and then switch to a 30 foot disk. The pivot points and turning radius are widely different and I still have to maintain an accuracy within inches. For example, if I am coming to edge of the field and I am doing a turn with the seventy foot harrow behind me, with a paved road and a slight downward pitch and a roll to the left, I better not be drunk.

2. Obstacles.
There are many obstacles in the fields and I discovered that everyone frowns upon me running them over. There are two main types of obstacles. Man made obstacles include fences, buildings, concrete posts, wells, corrals, signs, culverts, dams, roads, telephone poles, and high tension power lines. You might get away with flattening a metal fence post, but not flattening a fence that is holding a pasture full of cows. Natural obstacles include trees, rocks, cliffs, ditches bigger than your tractor, rock piles and scab rock. Some of these natural obstacles may change or remain hidden until too late.  One obstacle, the neighbors wheat fields, falls into the middle of manmade and natural. When doing the edges between the two fields, it is important to get as close as possible. Weeds can grow 8 feet tall in a six inch strip between fields, which robs important moisture and nutrients. However if your weeder slides a foot into mature ripening wheat, you will have unhappy relationships with your neighbors. The last obstacle to avoid is a bit more tricky. Vehicles, whether parked or on the roads must be avoided. You can bet your last dollar that someone's insurance company will become involved if you accidentally run over a vehicle, even if you have the right away and your tractor is ten times larger than that Prius.

3. Breakdowns. Even the best maintained equipment suffers breakdowns and failures eventually. Farm equipment is under a lot of stress and any contact with articles under point number two will result in things breaking. There is also the normal wear and tear that requires parts to be replaced. The important factor in breakdowns is too catch the problem as soon as possible. A broken bolt can soon result in losing something important and become much more involved than two wrenches to fix. If things are not easily fixed, it may then result in the painful writing of a very big check to the local equipment dealer.

4. Technology. I may have claimed in my last article that technology makes farming easy. Still true, but it can also make it a pain in the posterior. The most obvious problem is when it isn't working. Our GPS may suddenly drop in accuracy and drive my tractor into the neighbors field. The height sensor for the combine header may suddenly slam the header into the ground and fill it full of dirt and rocks. Those are fun times. There is also the problem of software and hardware upgrades. Recently we had to replace two touch screen monitors, which wasn't a problem until we switched them to the combines. They required an upgrade before they would work with my harvest programming. Its not much fun when the combine drivers are glaring at the person they feel is responsible for holding up the start of harvest. It kind of makes me feel bad sitting in the air conditioned cab while they sweat in the beautiful triple digit weather outside.

5. Fatigue. Its not the 12-16 hour days that make you feel fatigued. It's not a week of long days that causes fatigue. That is just being tired and exhausted. It is the week after week, month after month, year after year that causes fatigue. It is when the job you love, combined with the newest problem of the day, and years of hard work causes one to want to give up. Its when farmers are attacked by people that don't appreciate how much they care for the land and their animals. Its hard to fight that, but I remind myself farming is a lifestyle and not a job. I don't think I could handle a commute where I am not driving the largest vehicle around. Plus I love the views from my cubicle.

Farming still requires hard work, skill, and dedication. Plus it takes a special kind of person to go back  to work the day after they screwed up and broke something. Because in all likelihood, something will go wrong again.
PS: no actual Prius's were hurt in the writing of this blog

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Five Reasons Farming is Easier than 50 years ago

In the last fifty years, things have changed a lot in the farming industry. By 1965 most farms had already converted to mechanization. Tractors and combines were used to till and harvest crops, instead of stables of draft animals. This was an important innovation for farms, but ultimately, farmers worked hard, physical labor as any oldtimer will testify. Technology has made farming a pretty cushy job according to them and here are the top five reasons why.

1. Climate control cabs to keep out the elements.
This was a major comfort upgrade and it became even better when they had reliable air conditioning and heaters. Depending on the time of year, farmers used to freeze, roast, or get eaten alive by mosquitoes. I've heard the most miserable days were running combine with no breeze. The chaff would settle an inch deep and the sweat bees would crawl inside your collar. How can I complain if my air conditioning is running a little warmer than I like? I am breathing clean, mostly cool air, and not being harassed by insects.
I love my cool ride!

2. Hydraulic equipment.
Most tractors and farm equipment didn't have much hydraulics, if any. We still run one set of old school rod weeders that use a lever system to put them in the ground or lift them up. The lever is squeezed to release a pin. I pull the lever down to lift the weeder out of the ground or push it away to put it in the ground. I release the lever and the pin slislides into the gear to hold it in place. It takes all my weight on the lever in order to set the right depth. (This is why I do not diet) Then I have to do it five more times. If I am weeding and it plugs up with big weeds and dirt, the weeds and dirt increase the weight I have to lift. I then clean it out before putting it back in the ground. Modern day weeders lift in and out of the ground with the touch of a button. They fold up for transportation with just a click. Hydraulic equipment is heavenly. Some rod weeders even have hydraulic controlled rods. This eliminates the need for finicky drive lines and the rod speed is easily controlled with hydraulic flow adjustments. If the weeds are big I can bump up the flow and not plug up. Did I mention hydraulic equipment is heavenly?

Each weeder is pulled by two chains, and the frame pulled by cables.
No backing up allowed!
3. Augers on my seed truck.
Filling drills is still a dirty miserable job, but I don't have to do it with a shovel and chute. Fifty years someone had to get in the back of the truck and shovel all the wheat to fill the drills. My seed truck has a hydraulic auger, so I can magically pull a rope and pour wheat into my seed boxes. Seeding requires long hours and I am already tired without the physical labor, thankyouverymuch!

Augers are almost like magic!
4. Horsepower. Tractors these days are big, efficient, and have the horsepower to do any job required. More horsepower means that equipment can be wider and speeds faster. More acres can be covered with less fuel and time. This is especially true in combines. My husband's first combine had a 12 feet wide header and he could walk faster than this combine could run. Harvest took longer, required more combines, and man power. What used to require five combines can now be accomplished with two combines and less time and effort. This reduces the risk of weather damage and driver fatigue.

This guy had it made in the shade!

5. Computer and satellite technology. Computers have dramatically changed farming in the last twenty years. Many tractors have GPS receivers allowing the tractor to steer itself! Rate controllers on equipment allows precision fertilizing, seeding and spraying. This reduces the amount of herbicides and pesticides farmers apply in their fields. On board computers also collect data from the field, which increases efficiency. For example, the GPS data from harvest can indicate the best and worst areas of yield and fertilizer can be custom applied. With completely straight lines and less overlap, my fieldwork looks as good as the veteran farmers.

Half a days work, over 200 acres harrowed.

Many people eschew the methods of the modern day farmer, but as someone that benefits everyday from these changes, I say hallelujah! Fifty years ago a farmer fed 28 people, The modern farmer feeds 155, with much less wear and tear on themselves. I can't imagine how farming will continue to change and improve in the next fifty years, but I am looking forward to it.