Today, I had to run Joe out to the field to start planting corn. I jumped in the tractor and rode a whole 100 yards with him. It's been a long time - probably BC - before children - since that has happened.
Sometimes you just have to sit and tell Mom how it is.
Lindsey from Iowa Food and Family Project interveiwed me a couple of weeks ago. Here are the fruits of her labor.
Spring has sprung at the Shirbrouns
Planting season is quickly approaching and Suzanne Shirbroun of Farmersburg (Clayton County) has a lot on her mind. From finalizing plans for the upcoming growing season to growing their business to plan for the future, the Shirbrouns have no shortage of ‘things to do.’
Suzanne Shirbroun is a CommonGround volunteer and recently visited with Iowa Food & Family Project about her farming family and passion for growing food.
Food & Family: Your farm is certainly a family affair. Tell us about it. Suzanne: My husband, Joe, and I have three sons – Tom, 16, Andrey 14, and Nate 9. We believe in doing chores as a family so our children learn responsibility. The boys have a couple of chicken flocks - egg laying and meat. They also have a couple of beef cows and steers. The boys buy the steers when they weigh about 550 pounds and then sell the steers when they are around 1,300 pounds. The money the kids earn (that's if they even make money after expenses!) goes into their college funds. I was able to finance my college education with the money I earned raising cattle. Tom and Andrey help out planting and harvesting crops. They do some tillage in the spring and fall, run the auger cart tractor in the fall during harvest and help out when we do yield checks for our Pioneer seed customers in the fall.
Joe and I have our farming operation, a Pioneer Hi-Bred seed dealership and a precision agronomy business.
Food & Family: Farming is a dangerous occupation. How does that impact you as a parent? Suzanne: The farm is a wonderful place to raise children but it can also be a dangerous place. For this reason our children are taught to respect farm equipment and animals. Since Nate is only nine, he does not run any farm machinery but he does get to help out with cleaning the cattle feedlot and chicken coups!
Food & Family: Water quality is very important and receives a lot of attention. What steps are you taking to protect the environment? Suzanne: Soil conservation is my dad's passion. I tease him that in a former life he must have been a soil conservation engineer. We implement several conservation techniques on our farm. We use terraces to hold soil in place and slow down water flow. At last count we had over 42 miles of terraces on the land we farm. We use A-frame, broad base and grass back terraces. We also use waterways to control water flow as well as conservation tillage practices. We do not use tillage when planting soybeans into standing corn stalks. Corn planted into soybeans stubble is no tilled as well. For our corn-on-corn acres, we use conservation tillage (at least 30 percent residue) or minimum tillage (at least 60 percent residue). The Conservation Reserve Program is another conservation tool in our toolkit.
Food & Family: How has farming changed since you returned to the farm? Suzanne: We moved back to Iowa and had our first crop in 1999. I believe that one of the biggest changes is that the market outlets for our products has shifted. China has become a more reliable customer. As China's middle class grows, so does the desire for protein, specifically meat. Thus, Iowa farmers will sell more corn, soybean and meat to China.
Food & Family: Is it difficult to get started farming today? Suzanne: Very difficult. My parents invited us back to the farm in 1999. We share equipment and labor with them. By doing this and also having the seed dealership we have been able to become the sixth generation on our family farm.
Food & Family: You mentioned you have a precision agronomy business. What does that mean? Suzanne: Data management is becoming a really big deal. We have farms that have been grid soil sampled since 1993. We have been running a yield monitor with GPS since 1999. We have lots of data and now technology is to the point where we can layer all of the different data samples and analyze what is working and what can be improved upon.
From what we have experienced on our own farm and also from working with our seed customers, we have started a precision agronomy business to help farmers manage their grain farming data as well as analyze and interpret this data. The amount of information flowing at a farmer today is amazing and sometimes another set of eyes can help to interpret this data.
Food & Family: You believe it’s important to share your farm story. What message would you like our readers to remember? Suzanne: While farming has changed a great deal since my great grandfather farmed this land, I want people to know that the underlying principles of farming have remained. Iowa’s farmers are working hard to provide a safe and economical product for you to purchase at the grocery store. We understand that a large portion of today’s population isn’t familiar with today’s agriculture and we invite you to ask questions and come visit us and see for yourself!
Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Son #3 is into the "what did they do in olden times?" phase right now. he question came up how did "olden times people" color Easter eggs? Well after some investigation we came up with some foods to use for colors. Here are the results:
For the blue eggs we chopped a head of red cabbage and boiled it until the pigment came out of the leaves.
At this point #3 headed out the door. This was taking too long for a nine year old boy - especially on one of the first nice days of the year.
I added in some vinegar and salt and let the eggs set in the frig for a couple of hours to get the robin egg blue.
For the pink eggs I wised up and used the juice from canned beets. We added in some vinegar and salts and ended up with some pretty pastel pink eggs.
For the yellow eggs I went way out on a limb and tried turmeric. To start with my house now smells like an Indian restaurant. That isn't necessarily a bad thing but it's something that son #1 does care for and the house is being aired out as I type.
This is a concoction of water, 4 tablespoons of turmeric, salt and vinegar. It only took about 15 minutes to end up with a yellow egg.
I was going to do a coffee/vinegar/salt blend for a brown egg but decided to just stick with the hens' al-natural brown and not mess with Mother Nature.
This was a good experiment but both #3 and I decided that we will stick with store bought food coloring because it is MUCH faster.
I have been practicing Iowa Nice this winter. When Chipolte started releasing the exploding cow infomercials this winter, I chalked it up to corporate ignorance and desperation. I did not give the writers of this internet infomercial the satisfaction of acknowledging it - until now. But, today I came across an article titled Breaking Bad In Iowa, written by Kamyar Enshayan, Director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI). Now, I do take offense to his writing. As an Iowa farmer I refuse to accept being compared to a methamphetamine maker but that is what Enshayan has done.
In his article, Enshayan starts his attack of commodity agriculture by stating that there is no need for stable communities, civic organizations, schools, churches, libraries, or rural businesses. Not only as a corn farmer but as a mom, I completely disagree. We need all of the above in rural America for the quality of life. Living in a rural community, I feel more people volunteer and take part in the community because we all feel the need to support our schools, churches, libraries, and civic organizations because there are fewer of us than in urban areas. In cities and urban area with larger populations not as many individuals need to be volunteers for multiple organizations. It's not out of the ordinary for a rural business owner (and this includes farmers) to be a volunteer firefighter, serve on a church committee, help out at school, and be a 4H leader. In rural America we take care of our own.
The writer continues on how soil erosion has degraded and impaired watersheds. Here are a couple of interesting facts. Soil erosion has decreased by 33% from 1982 to 2007. Conservation farming is continuously increasing. In 2006, conservation tillage was used on 13.9 million acres in Iowa. In 2007, 15.2 million acres of conservation tillage was practiced. In Iowa alone 250,000 acres of wetlands have been re-established. Can Iowa farmers improve? Absolutely! But, with new technology and education we are making great strides to save AND improve our natural resources.
Here is a quote from this article. "Unlike meth, commodity agriculture is legal, legitimized by the USDA and land grant colleges of agriculture, and financed by tax dollars, laundered through corn subsidies and ethanol plants (car wash in Breaking Bad)." Wow, nothing like calling the kettle black Enshayan. I'm pretty sure that I'm financing you, whether I like it or not, with my tax dollars. The world has a growing population and there is a growing need for protein. Corn is an excellent feed source for cattle, hogs, and poultry - all protein dense foods. There are government food subsidies to ensure economical food for the US population. Sure, we could produce our crops without a government payment but the increased food prices in the grocery stores would reflect this. Ethanol plants have brought jobs back into rural Iowa. Hence more consumers and volunteers in rural Iowa towns. Plus, when I fill my family minivan with ethanol I am buying local.
Enshayan does acknowledge in the last paragraph of his article that many Iowa farmers are practicing good agronomy. However, like so many articles showing up in print and social media , Enshayan has taken the low road and sensationalized issues that do need addressing with poor, unrealistic comparisons. Scare tactics are not necessary to educate the US consumer.
I try to keep a positive attitude but it's frustrating when individuals decide to cut me and my occupation down. So, I will now return to my Iowa Nice mode.
Hey! Check out this opportunity at www.Iowafoodandfamily.org! You could spend a day with an Iowa farmer and have all of your burning questions answered about the food you eat.