Thursday, October 29, 2009

The American Dream and our Forefathers

I recently checked out a couple of books from the public library with high hopes to learn more about all things rural and agricultural.  It's going to be a big task...I know.  It has already yielded some interesting thoughts that portray the original meaning of the American dream.

The book I have begun reading is "The Law of The Land: Two Hundred Years of American Farmland Policy" by John Opie. The book is a bit older and has definitely lost the new car smell!  But, as with many things in life, I believe there is great value in items from the past.  American culture is so caught up in instant gratification and staying current that we often forget to look right under our nose at what the past has to offer.  I find it this way while choosing books to read.  Many times quality books are passed over simply because of the publish date,  but not this time.  I chose to read an older book and figured it would have some great information regarding the history of our agriculture land laws and  our western expansion.  I was right! Profound thoughts and observations of our nations forefathers shed an interesting light to our rural beginnings and the source point of the infamous American Dream.

The book paints an obvious picture that America was founded on RURAL.  The forefathers of our nation beleived strongly in the powers that land ownership and our ability to work provided to a citizens sense of freedom, character and personal contribution to society.   In fact, this was the American dream for a good portion of the early immigrants that entered the country.  In the book, Opie writes "The ability to buy land was perhaps the greatest attraction of all to the prospective immigrant, particularly in light of the impossibility of doing so in the Old World, even with cash in hand."  The book continues quoting John Wentworth, governor of New Hampshire in 1786, saying "that even the highest wages in the empire, prime working conditions, and full choice employment could not keep people off the farm". 

What!?!  Did I read that correctly?  Couldn't keep people off the farm?  Fast forward to the present and our society has just about done a 180 degree turn.  Rural areas are depopulating at an alarming rate, and why?  It's simple, American's now associate the American Dream with home ownership and high earnings rather than land ownership.  Check out what wikipedia has to say about the American Dream  Sure, home ownership implies owning a small portion of land, but truly is most often associated with an urban or suburban plot of tract housing. 

After my short foray into this great book, I have stumbled upon a new realization that transforming rural America may have promise in promoting our youth to find freedom in land ownership and the bounty it provides both physically and spiritually.  As I scan my personal experiences, the most liberating ones are usually tied to open space and a little room to breath.  Agricultural advocates are actively promoting reconnecting with the urban consumer.  Why not also become a rural advocate by connecting future generations to the ultimate freedom of land ownership?

Drawing from the suburban experience, its difficult to pin point many friends who really connected with the land.  Instead, we were taught to use our intellect to chase down the urban lifestyle and be successful ($$$).  We were indoctrinated by nice homes, fancy cars and luxuries. With continued endorsement of the American dream as earning six figures and having a home with two cars in the garage, how can expect today's youth to learn something different.  Modern life has provided so many distractions and luxuries that we may have lost our way in finding freedom in ownership of our own small kingdom, a good sized piece of land.  For the price of the automobiles we think we need, we could buy a good sized portion of freedom in rural America.

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Local Food and Agritourism: New York Style

This weekend I had the pleasure of meeting up with a friend that is a true blue New York City,  Manhattan resident.  Many times when agriculture and rural folks discuss those "city" people, New York City residents become the quintessential example.  While driving back from another urban experience in Austin this weekend,  I took the opportunity to pick her brain and ask what's really happening with this local food movement in the big city.

The first question I posed centered on whether the local and organic food movement was really that big of a deal in her everyday life and the lives of those around her. In my view, some of the most fervent supporters of the new profood movement seem to reside in NYC and the east, or at least they get the most press coverage! I figured the topic may be the trend of the moment for a large portion of people.  Therefore, the answer surprised me.  She stated that there are definitely a few fanatics she knows of, but does not see a widespread proliferation in her personal network of friends and coworkers.  In fact, she said that most of the people she runs with aren't even able to find the time for grocery shopping and prefer to shop with an online grocery retailer that delivers her items on her schedule. 

Ok, well that covers the upper income financial sector, but what about the rest?  Here came another shocker. In her own estimation, she and her friends had once decided that a person could not live comfortably on Manhattan Island without making a minimum of 150K per year!  Wow, that's incredible.  In my short life span, that would cover most of the people that I considered well-to-do. With regards to the rural sector of our country, that would just about make you rich! 

So what do these people do with all that money?  My friend let me in on a little secret that the local foodies go nuts over.  It's called Blue Hill Farm. After checking out the website and the menu, I was blown away.  This is the type of agritourism that most rural residents always talk about, or at the most poke fun of!  I can picture it in my mind "those city people will go out to a farm and pay $135 per meal! It's totally ridiculous!"  The key is that upper class urban residents are thirsty to learn, see and taste what fresh food is like and what rural life has to offer.  While I don't foresee most rural people that trying to profiteer from a fresh grown crop or the simplicity inherent in their lives, it is relevant to note that your lifestyle carries a value and possibly even a luxury price tag. 

When people are so busy with their urban lives and corporate jobs that they are unable to take care of the basic necessity of grocery shopping, the slow and steady pace of rural life becomes almost priceless.  Blue Hill Farms seems to be a little opportunisitc for my simple taste, but it validates many of my suspicions.  Much of the local food movement is perpetuated by an elite crowd with expendible income looking to stay "current" on the latest trend.  However, is it reasonable to continue promoting our rural heritage with luxury price tag although it philisophically clashes with the rural value set?  Capatalism says yes, and for a select few, they are reaping the benefits and paying the dividends.  Possibly a middle ground would provide a better future for rural America while staying true to it's roots.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Great Debate: Follow Up Part I

If you browse through my previous post, you'll discover that I recently took part in an invigorating debate with an intelligent urban resident who also happens to be a respected scientist (glaciologist) and researcher. While he may have some big letters behind his name (which, in urban society, is often taken as absolute equivalent to intelligence), I personally have some big core values and good intentions behind mine.  One of those core values is how much rural America means to the urban population.  I may not be a published researcher and might even be labeled as a simple worker bee here in the urban corporate landscape but I do have big intentions to dispel the constant attacks and misinformation being spread about agriculture and rural residents in general.  This reason is precisely why I don't mind going to task over the issues with people.  I think its fun, productive and hopefully fosters education in all parties involved.

So, how about an update on what I've learned in the wake of my Great Debate.  Today I'd like to take his main point that "King Corn" is taking over our country because "Iowa is basically one big corn field" and government subsidies for corn are ruining our national nutrition.

I like facts, so I'm going to use some to punch a hole right in the middle of these theories.  First of all, according to the Colorado Corn Growers on Rural Route radio a couple of weeks ago, Yuma County, Colorado was America's largest corn grower in 2008.  Wow! This this is really convinient since my fiancee's family farm and ranch is in that county and I've got firsthand perspective.  If the statement that Iowa is basically one big monoculture were true, than wouldn't Yuma County look similar?  From my perspective, NO!  Yuma County has a hugely diverse cross section of commodities and has some of the best cattle range in the state.  Sand hills roll for a great majority of the county and promote open space and a huge wildlife population. Slowly the hills die out into huge dry land wheat fields as well as irrigated corn, alfalfa, soybeans, millet, and sorghum fields.  Those are just a couple that I can name off the top of my head.  The point is that its wide open country out there and by no means would register as a top corn producer or monoculture to the normal urban on-looker.

Finally, the main point relates to corn subsidies.  Unfortunately he's got some steam behind his argument since corn is the largest subsidized commodity at 56 Billion dollars in 2006.  However, the true root of the argument remains that corn produces high fructose corn syrup, which is killing Americans because it is so readily available and cheap. No less than 10 seconds after I typed "2009 corn subsidies" into Google, I was reading this a study from Tufts University on corn subsidies.  The best part is that I didn't even have to search for something to prove my point, it was the first link! Follow the link to read the study HERE.

This article has some great numbers and research findings that give great incite into our commodity programs here in the US.  I don't particularly agree with some of the statements about the environment and crops in the article, but the findings are great.  What matters are the facts and numbers derived from both Tufts and the USDA.

In the end, I'm not arguing that high fructose corn syrup is good for you or that over production of one crop is a good thing.  To be honest, I don't really care as long as Americans and myself have the choice to eat and live our lives how we like.  Therefore, we can only blame ourselves if something goes wrong.  Urban health advocates and modern agriculture opponents need to take a good look at their criticisms before they tell rural agriculturalists what they should be producing.

What do you think?  Leave a comment and join in!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Great Debate

Life comes at you fast.  So does the opportunity to discuss your ideas and issues facing our country and especially agriculture.  This morning over coffee and the breakfast table, I found myself engaged in a debate over production agriculture and our food system.  It was great!  Although it left me worried about what people think and where they get their information, the debate also spurred my involvement and personal investment to get educated on some issues that urban people have with agriculture.  Here's my incite:

The number one issue I continually hear from opponents of our modern food production system is farm subsidies, especially those related to corn production.  Movies like Food Inc and King Corn have conveniently fed this ideal to an urban public such as the person I spoke with this morning.  In fact, this is the manner in which urban consumers are getting their information.  Many people align their beliefs with the agendas pushed by these easily consumable movie formats instead of getting information directly from the source.

Our conversation lasted for a good twenty minutes and it was invigorating.  From corn to pesticides, we ran a gamut of big issues and big grievances towards agriculture.  I heard a range of concerns from the thought that high fructose corn syrup is leading to obesity in poor inner city residents to the theory that our high use of corn is  a leading cause of diabetes.  This person also answered my direct question of "so you don't mind paying more for food" with "no, I think we need to pay more for food that is healthy and sustainable".  He also responded to the fact that "1 in 9 Americans are food insecure" by basically saying that they do not have access to the proper nutritious food and are duped into buying cheetos and the like because it is so cheap.

I try to lead my life in a conservative manner and can immediately see that his and my views on most anything probably would not align.  That's precisely why training myself in learning facts and thinking about ways to circumvent these discussion points with facts and emotion is so important.  Quite frankly, this small discussion provided me with a whole new wave of motivation to learn and advocate for agriculture and why it's important to our country in its current form.

Here's the take away that can apply to everyone in rural and urban areas.  Have an open mind and be courteous to one another when debating these important issues.  If we don't listen, we are unable to hear what we need to learn from each other and where the problems truly lie.  Also, get out there, communicate and advocate what you are passionate about. You'll hear what you need to study up on and maybe even find areas of improvement in how you operate. We need more people to stand up and say "hey Rural America matters and we're doing a great job out here!"  The other side is doing it with mass media initiatives, but that can't match the facts coming from someone working rural every day.

Friday, October 16, 2009

United We Stand

United We Stand.  Divided we fall. This famous line can be attributed to both John Dickenson and Patrick Henry from the late 1700's during the formation of our country, according to Wikipedia.  All Americans of our modern age should be able to remember this phrase's prevalence directly following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  Obviously, the phrases wisdom is important for everyone to think about.

Apply this motto to the Urban / Rural divide and this week's look at the major differences in life urban and life rural.  I'll cut right to the chase since it's Friday.  The main difference here is source versus resource.  A large portion of items and work performed in rural communities creates the source product upon which our entire economy is built. When I hear statements such as "Why does America need agriculture, we can just import everything" from a politically involved Washington DC friend of mine, I get very worried.  Just think about agriculture as a whole.  Mining, forestry and energy extraction all take place in mostly rural areas by rural citizens. Our American economy ceases without a source such as these. We simply cannot live an urban life without these rural exports. This is where the divide begins.

I don't believe that most intelligent people have forgotten how simple everyday products are made, but they have lost touch with where they come from. Possibly its difficult to connect the difference because the great majority of urban careers merely refine resources for further use. Rural source products help provide the base resource for just about anything that takes place in an urban setting.  Most likely, the main difference between the two sets of population lies in the fact that most people live out their city life and completely forget about natural resources as the basis for just about everything. Agricultural food production is obviously the easiest connection for metropolitan citizens to make.  Consumers eat, farmers farm. But, what about mining, forestry and energy extraction.  Does it cross anybody's mind that their shower is heated by natural gas drilling done in a rural setting or that their toothpaste is made from unwanted animal by-products?

 I raise these questions for one reason: rural and agricultural advocacy.  If you're an urban dweller I appreciate that, so am I (for the time being).  Therefore, please remember that somewhere rural folks are enabling you to live your life in comfort and they deserve to be fairly compensated for their efforts.  The reason you may not realize this is simply a lack of a unified voice.  Farmers, ranchers, energy extractors, miners and foresters all have individual interests they use to provide a voice for rural America. However, if they all ceased to produce and enable the urban life, would you stand or fall?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What's Your Worth

As the second portion to this weeks short series of the major differences I see between urban and rural life, I'd like to focus on what your time is worth.

Hourly rate.  There, I said it.  Urban people are notorious for this little phrase.  I've overheard a great number of people recount stories of astronomical rates charged by big wig lawyers, psychologists and executives.  As a side note, I find it interesting that many people out on the plains actually pronounce "lawyers" by combining the awy into an i.  I'll allow you to do the translation.

Businesses must know what their people's time is worth in order to generate fees, calculate revenue and create projections.  As I've stated, I work for an international design firm and I too have an hourly rate associated with my time and labor.  I know what I get paid and I know what the company charges for my time.  Oddly enough, there is about a 3.5x difference in the two.  It doesn't bother me that my billing rate is much higher than my take home pay and I am thankful to be well employed with a great company.

Nevertheless, what if we were to apply this same principal to agricultural producers.  Is that even a relevant thought?  First of all, I know that it really isn't.  Second of all, why not?  As a farmer or rancher, do you know what your time is worth?  I understand this thought is almost impossible to calculate, but is there something valuable for rural folks to take away from big city business?  Absolutely.

When I stop and think about how much a client is paying for my time, it automatically kicks me in the behind to continue productive and efficient use of my time.  Ag producers and rural citizens might ponder this in context of their daily activities. Yesterday I spoke about a couple of tailgate conversations that I have witnessed turning into an hour long event.  I even argued that this is one of my favorite parts of rural society.  However, if I was to apply that model to business and my hourly rate it simply can't compute. 

I am absolutely advocating folks continue in the rural tradition and take the time to live the good life. But, some urban ideas might be able to help improve it.  Trying to think critically about what my time in corporate America can bring to the table when I  find myself out in fly over country is a useful exercise for me.  Take for example being efficient as possible will leave me more time for my family and property.  This could allow me to maintain it properly so that urban folks feel absolutely comfortable visiting and learning about agriculture if they decided to visit. On the flip side,  I've been told a person can't always run at a break neck pace on the ranch because it will absolutely ruin you later in life. Most likely a good balance between efficient use of time and living the rural life is appropriate.

So, take pride in your work and remember that your time is worth money.  Even if a person doesn't spend the time to calculate an hourly rate, taking pride in a job well done and efficiently can do some good for the soul.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Be a Good Neighbor

This week, I'd like to highlight a couple of thoughts that I believe comprise some of the largest differences between metropolitan (Yes! I thought of a different word for urban) living and its inevitable rural counterpoint.

The first point lies at the heart of rural life on the farm and ranch: meeting and talking with your neighbors. I find beautiful simplicity in this every day occurrence.  In fact, over labor day weekend this September, I was able to witness first hand what good neighbors are. Your mind is probably racing towards a time when one of your neighbors speedily and faithfully came to your rescue in a time of need.  Trust me, I've heard and seen plenty of those times during my visits to rural America.  Country folks are especially known this fact, even among the urban population.  This is one of their most redeeming qualities, friendly and caring. However, that's not the point of my thoughts today.  Instead, I'd like to highlight a small nuace of rural life and what it means to be a good neighbor.

Growing up in a keenly suburban area, I can not say that our neighbors and neighborhood was unfriendly in any way.  I had many friends from the neighborhood growing up and I observed my mother routinely trade small talk with a good portion of our neighbors.  I'd estimate these average conversations at about 2-4 minutes.  Just enough time to ask how everyone's day or week had been and to exchange some friendly niceties.  Our family watched as people came and went around us, each time becoming friendly with a new family or couple that came into our small world.  I could probably describe myself as having a completely "normal" childhood in a small western city. 

Fast-forward 10 years to my current circumstances living out my life in Dallas, TX.  Since living in Dallas, I have experienced just about all city life has to offer: living at the outer perimeter of suburbia,  taking up residence in a posh high rise at the urban center of Dallas, residing in a small home in an older urban neighborhood as well as observing my fiancee's life in a neighborhood of small acreages lying at the city limits of Dallas. What a change from my small western city.

I currently only know the names of two of my neighbors and could not begin to name most anyone else residing on my street.  I do not overly extend myself to reach out to them because it does not fit within the expected system of urbanity.  Is it a lack of friendliness or good will?  Probably not.  Most likely, it is just the urban mind-set.  I mind my own business and you go about your daily routine.  We each try to be friendly in an effort to be good people but effectively try to stay out of people's lives.  Neighbors make it a point to share a friendly wave and say hello when we are able, but rarely exchange more than a passing glance with one another.  In fact, this an even better situation than existed in the urban high rise where I felt no need to reach out to someone living less than 50 feet down the hall from me.  In fact, I never truly met any of my neighbors while living there.

First and foremost, I can be faulted for some of this behavior.  I'm somewhat shy until you know me, then turn a quick 180 once I've accepted you into the "circle of trust".  But honestly, I'm just doing what urban people do and looking out for my own circumstances.

In stark contrast exists rural America, known for lending a helping hand  (truly an American ideal no matter where you live).  But, that's not the point here.  The difference is in taking the time to share, listen and debate.  I mentioned that I witnessed first hand what a "good neighbor" is over the labor day weekend this september.  You may ask why?  Well, amidst all the action and commotion of trying to band, brand and vaccinate the last set of late calves, a neighbor stopped by in passing.  What did we do? We stopped what we were doing right in our tracks! What!  We've got things to do, tasks to accomplish, daylight is wasting!

The two farmers (my future father-in-law) and their neighbor to the east stopped and chatted.  They took the time to make sure one another's family was doing well, talked a little shop on cattle prices and enjoyed the surprise of a recent infux of moisture.  The neighbor even took time to notice me, address me and ask what I had planned for my life.  Take pause and realize what a wonderful moment this was on an impressionable young man.  Urban life has a hard time grasping the fact that someone living 5 miles away is even considered a neighbor, and this older gentleman took the time to get to know someone standing in the background trying to stay out of the way.

Urban and suburban life does not take time for this simple pleasure.  It does occur in different arenas such as church or ball games, but rarely in passing.  Observing the agricultural community has granted a number of opportunities to watch a simple hello turn into an hour long conversation, the entirety of which I spent concerned over how much fence was left to build.  I've been told that not to take the time for your neighbors is considered rude and should be avoided at all times possible.

Time and human connection is important on a face to face basis.  Metropolitan life is lacking here.  Engaging people is important for any number of social and philosophical reasons.  Interacting with those living directly next to you is a universal need of humanity.  So, if you're a rural person, keep doing what you're doing because these small country scenes are important to the fabric of our nation.  Otherwise, if you're a rural person living the city life, share your upbringing and be a good neighbor.  Take the time to WOW a neighbor by listening, caring and discussing.  Once they are wowed, gently sneak in your rural roots and help them understand with why rural people matter in the modern urban age.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A reason to continue...

Here's a link to a beautiful photo journal about the Great Plains on  After reading the article, take a moment to review some of the comments made by your fellow Americans. It is becoming obvious that there needs to be a vehicle for people to understand one another and quit speaking in bold over generalizations and hate.

Here is the original comment that I am very concerned about:

"While these beautiful photos may inspire some to consider other realities then the current one we have, the vast majority of the Great Plains does not look like this. What land that isn't plowed under to flavor your cola is grazed to little nubbins. Most efforts to either restore or preserve intact grassland is met by outright hostility by local residents (who by the way, take pleasure in 'misting' prairie dogs, poaching prairie chickens or simply shooting anything with wings or four legs). Meanwhile, the social circumstances of the great plains are turning downright feudal, as giant ag-businesses enjoy lavish subsidies while employing illegal immigrants for dangerous and menial labor. The only future for people in most of these places is as a large landowner or corporate agricultural supply dealer, that is if you can stay off the meth. Take away the lonely grain elevators and the quaint town halls, and the bulk of the towns look like they were modeled from a frontage road at the Newark airport. I'd love to see great swaths of it return to bison running wild from Calgary to Chihuahua, but the bizarre mix there of religious fundamentalists, property rights & gun 'aficionados' with Jerry Springer family traditions make it unlikely."

How do you even respond?  Well, if you follow the link, you'll find that the authors have done a wonderful job of highlighting some beautiful shots of nature.  But where are the people and why does it matter?

People are what make these spaces livable as well as what make this harsh landscape humane and understandable.  Images such as the young girl carrying a calf are what help to break hardened hearts.  I know this because I grew up urban.  While driving from Loveland CO to Lincoln NE every summer growing up, I would pear out of the car window at the nothing of Eastern Colorado.  When I saw corrals, old windmills and barbed wire fence,  I honestly thought they were by-products of the pioneer age.  It never entered my mind that they were still working facilities.  Even houses that were obviously inhabited could not break the thought of "who could live out here" in my head. It took me spending time (more than stopping at a rural filling station) with these people and observing their lives to initiate a change in my thinking.

The point is, we need more connection with real people.  Whether it be books, youtube, or television, it is imperative to bridge the divide with human emotion, real faces and real families.  Pictures of nature or even livestock only fuel the urban mind set that plainly thinks that rural folks are ruining everything.  If you don't agree, do some online investigation and read the comments posted on any story dealing with the BLM, Ranches, National Parks, agriculture and the like.  Be prepared, you will be appalled.

To round out the post, here's my response to this person's terribly misguided comment:

Dear sir or madam,
I am sorry that you are so misguided and ignorant about the western lifestyle and Great Plains of our nation.  First of all, you might do some good to educate yourself before making such bold and hateful statements.   For instance, most of the western plains have been stricken by drought for much of the past decade which has made it economically difficult for many. Despite this, they are still working to provide you with food everyday.  Also, much of the western great plains is officially designated as a short grass prairie.   Even without livestock, it would look mostly the same because that's how God (or nature) designed it.  In fact, my in-laws run a cattle ranch in an area similar to the sandhills of Nebraska.  They make a good living running cows in grass that is as tall as the hood of pickup some years when the rain allows.  We feel no need to apologize that misguided criminals use farm chemicals to market a detrimental drug mostly to urban users.  All of the people I know hate meth just as much as you do.

Isn't it a blessing to live in a nation where you're not told how much land you can acquire and are allowed to pursue a passion for cultivating land?  Western  landowners are somewhat hostile towards your "conservation" efforts because they have had to observe their neighbors who willingly cooperated with environmental groups and know the people who suffer after all of the urban publicity leaves and another family is stripped of their heritage  They do not need to be lectured by an urban constituency of career academics and environmentalists who "know better".  Farmers and ranchers spend a lifetime learning and caring for their land to conserve it for future generations.  They are the experts of their environment and no amount of book education can compare to a life spent caring for land.

I am saddened by your obvious need to hate these people without ever taking the time to understand them.  Interestingly enough, you resort to using the same hate and ignorance that you so vehemently rebuke.  Thank you for providing me the ammunition needed to continue bridging the gap between your obvious urban existence and those choose not to defend themselves from your ignorance.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Opportunities in Diversification

In my profile, you may have read that I currently work for an international design firm.  What this may not tell you is that I am a landscape architect.  My firm performs land planning and design work on a myriad of projects all over the world.  From time to time, this also includes farms and ranches (usually for wealthy land owners).  In fact, in my 3 years in the professional realm, I have worked on 2 cattle ranches, one in California and one in Uruguay.

The thought of designing the rural landscape absolutely intrigues me.  I hope to somehow find a niche market in the future to provide design services for production farmers and ranchers that would like to improve upon their grounds and make them more marketable for the general public to visit.  I envision a small design business as the perfect supplement to the angus cow-calf operation that I hope to join in the next couple of years with my in-laws. Because of this, I am actually very excited about the current local food trend and the Know Your Farmer program.  Hopefully this will catch on and I can begin my venture.

One interesting problem that we often have as landscape architects is finding mature trees for the most important nodes in our designs.  We call these specimen trees and these trees usually have a trunk diameter of of greater than 12 inches.  Many times we want certain aspects of our designs to have instant impact.  Planting large mature trees is one of the easiest ways to accomplish this.  Interestingly enough, landscape contractors are always in search of the larger trees and are willing to pay a premium for them.

So, if you are a rural land owner, the possibility of extra income from selling trees to landscape contractors may be a great idea.  New technology enables tree moving companies to move some significantly sized trees.  The installed cost of these monsters can sometimes reach $60,000 as one did on a urban park that we designed in Dallas.  Unfortunately, the actual sale cost of your trees will be much lower, but could easily top $5,000 for a nice straight trunked specimen tree. If you've got a nice wooded lot or some trees that are in the way, consider selling them for a significant profit to your operation.  There are definitely some costs and work involved with getting a tree ready for transplating off of your property, but it may be worth the effort of contacting a local landscape contractor.

Follow the link to see some examples of trees being relocated.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Inspiration in Simplicity

"What better of life than to dream and to do". -Margaret Gehrke

Again I am writing a post directly influenced by the viewing of Ken Burn's film "The National Parks: America's Best Idea."  I have found myself profoundly struck by this documentary and the open spaces it depicts.  I can not help but to be led towards the thought of agriculture and its immense impact upon our national landscape.  Some good, and yes...some bad ( I can't always be one-sided).  However, this post is not meant to shine a negative light, rather an inspirational look into life and our rural selves.

The quote listed at the beginning is insignificant in history.  It does not originate from a great dignitary of our nation nor a pontificate of a foreign land. Rather, this quote belongs to a life long National Park visitor and proud American from Lincoln, Nebraska.  Of all the millions of quotes in the annuls of American history, I was oddly struck by this simple woman's simple words.  Her dream was to visit all of the National Parks and she simply did it. What great solace I find in the act of simplicity. 

Today's realm of career and livelihood possibilities are massively complex and seemingly endless.  Our complex society provides great potential to young adults such as myself.  Potential to grow and expand a career.  Potential to work hard among droves of people in order to earn a spot at the table.  Potential for wealth and power.  However, while entrenched in the madness of achievement it can become challenging to unwind and allow yourself the pleasure of simplicity.  Simple is good.  It is necessary and becomes increasingly difficult to find once you begin the path of a complex adult life.

To me,  it is the simplicity of those who choose to stay rural and tend to their land that sustains our nation's economy and most importantly, our nutrition.  Even while the agricultural world remains abuzz between the merits of production versus organic agriculture, or tackles the complicated nature of biotechnology, it is the realization that we must simply feed and care for our world that drives agriculturalists to perform.

While we grow and steer our lives towards various goals, I think it important to take pause and recognize that there is success and dignity in simplicity. Simplicity exudes strength and builds character. Constant pressure pushes us to produce, achieve, earn and succeed within the parameters of our society.  But, deep within our existence, we grasp for something more simple,  something more rural?

Among my friends, the mere mention of the country lights up a passion for the outdoors and open space.  Speak of agriculture, farms and ranches sparks people's interest while usually leading to an invigorating conversation or story tied directly with a rural experience.  Rural life provides the simplicity these people seek and need for their own personal well being.

Personally, living in the city has given me a unique looking glass through which I gaze upon the simple life as a chersished goal.  Urbanites may think of farmers and ranchers as simpletons.  They may even bestow this sentiment to the majority of those living the rural lifestyle, but shouldn't simplicity be a compliment and source of pride in a complex world?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Getting a Start in Agriculture

Over time, I hope anyone who reads America's Great Divide understands my deep love and admiration for the rural lifestyle.  I think that some people are meant to gaze upon open spaces and work outdoors.  I'm one of those people.  I'm trying to fatten up my bank account with a steady ration of corporate earnings, thrifty spending and Maxwell House instead of Starbucks each morning.  Here's a quick update on that....

Well, I recently passed Dave Ramsey's baby step #1 in my saving account and even managed to double it!  I wouldn't consider myself a stout Dave Ramsey follower, but the guy's got some great advice.  Plus he's on before Rural Route, so that's an added benefit.  I'm steadily gaining a little ground in my 401K and ESOP, but we all know that money doesn't even exist unless you're 60+.  And, if you think it's real right now in your middle ages, good luck with retirement!

So how does that relate to my start in the Cattle business?  Well, that's enough for almost 3 cows on an off day at the auction!  Real cool.  Yes that's sarcasm and I've desperately tried to find the font SARCASM on my windows machine but so far have been thwarted by the Microsoft team.

For those of you who have grown up with agriculture, please count yourself blessed.  For a suburbs kid who wants to get involved with the in-law's ranch, the mere thought of capital investment needed makes me wet my pants daily with fear.  It's actually quite embarrassing and usually frowned upon in corporate America.  For now I'll try and keep my head above water and my eye on the horizon.  After second thought, maybe its the Maxwell House, not the fear.   

On Friday's I'll try and share the images I take to keep myself inspired and moving towards my dream.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Meaning of Boots

What's with cowboy boots?  Well, to a suburban kid coming from the Front Range of Colorado, probably more than you think.  While growing up, if I saw someone wearing a pair of cowboy boots it meant to that the owner was probably from the country and had horses, cattle or farmed.  It kind of meant that you were a "cowboy".  That carried a heavy connotation for this impressionable youngster.  How many other kids do you know that would go to the county fair and rodeo just to go home and play rodeo with your legos?

Yep, that's me.  Cowboys and their footwear meant something to me.  I'm from out west and didn't even own a pair of boots until my sophmore year of college, when I started taking a great many trips to various friends farms and ranches.  In fact the only reason I bought them was my buddy told me "you'll probably need a pair of boots to come out for branding".  Since then, after meeting my fiancee and working on their family ranch, I've owned several pair and I love 'em.

Since moving to Dallas, I've had to rethink my personal definition of what cowboy boots mean. You could say that it was first challenged on an evening at one of my favorite uptown bars. When asked "what kind of boots are those" I quickly turned to find a cute young girl and replied "Uhh, I think they're Tony Lama's". I hadn't paid too much attention to them before.  My boots are one of my favorite things to wear out and said "this guy is living urban but definitely has some country flowing in his veins".

To my surprise, this young girl responsed saying "Oh, well mine are Luccheses." Now enter the devaluation of my definition for cowboy boots.  This girl had nothing to do with a country lifestyle, she was just a fashionista interested in how much my boots cost (pretty cheap at the resale shop and resoled)!  Sadly, I have had to refine my personal definition for boots.

To me boots are tied to "cowboys" and that has always meant agriculture. Boots were part of their garb, even a tool of their trade.  Boots were a validation of sorts that elevated a person's status in my eyes, it meant they were good laborers.  The fact that farming and ranching was ridiculously "hard work" was ingrained in me by all the urban folks around me.  Apparently they had some connection to someone who was involved in agriculture.  I was even reminded of this fact by my grandfather many times when he would recount his childhood on the farm.

Why does it matter?  In all aspects of my life, I really value authenticity.  For many of the people here in Dallas to wear around expensive boots just because the are Texans is funny to me.  They are taking a tool of the livestock tending trade and urbanizing it: making it less authentic.  Isn't this the same with many other aspects of urban life?  Merely trying to grasp at the highlights and customs of rural life while sadly distorting it to fit a fast paced - couped up lifestyle?