A few days ago I was struck by an insatiable urge to take pictures every single day. “I don’t shoot enough,” I thought to myself. “I need to take more pictures.” “And not just any pictures,” I leveled, “SQUARE pictures!” Because I never take square […]
Month: August 2012
When I first brought her home she was certain she didn’t need me.
They say people gravitate towards animals that resemble them in temperament and she embodied that theory. She was everything I wished I could pretend I wasn’t; stubborn, bossy, aloof, skeptical, and strong willed.
One night, about a week after she’d settled in, she decided to challenge me. As I turned to leave the barnyard after finishing evening chores I heard her hooves. They were fast, loud, and getting louder.
When I turned around she was twenty yards out, head down, tail flagged, and headed my way.
I have no flight reflex. Everything in my being is fight and it always has been. It has lessened slightly with age. I’m wiser now about the situations I get myself into, those that may end in flight or fight, but the innate tendency to choose one over the other is strong and in a split second the fight is always my choice.
I put my head down, puffed out my chest, and headed back at her. “Who the fuck do you think you are?”
All four hooves hit the skids at the same time, splayed out like a cartoon horse, dust billowed up around her legs. I narrowed my glare, she hesitated and then softened. She sighed, licked, chewed, and went back to her hay.
There is an unwritten rule with livestock; she who moves (out of a shared space) first loses. It is, for all intents and purposes, their equivalent of “move your feet, lose your seat” except “seat” is “position on the social hierarchy” and that hierarchy determines the outcome of every aspect of their lives. For that split moment in time both Olive and I had shared that space between us, that quickly closing gap in the paddock, that straight line from me to her, her to me, the one we’d both charged down, and she gave it up first. She lost and she knew it.
She never charged again.
Hay prices have come down a bit. Feed prices seem to have leveled out in recent weeks.
Part of the stabilization in the market (and the down trend in the case of hay and straw) is a more positive forecast for the rest of this growing season. The pro-farmer tour of the grain belt has at least some people hoping that the corn and soy harvests won’t be as bad as we thought and both third and fourth cutting hay are looking very good here right now. (Praise whatever higher power it is you praise, people. Praise it hard.)
But part of it is also the loss of those who have moved first, and perhaps to some extent the speculation about how many more will move before all is said and done.
In some ways this feels, for lack of a better descriptor, icky. I don’t want to see other farmers lose. I don’t want to stare them down.
But right now that’s exactly what has to be done. The charge is over, we’re all standing around a ring of resources — corn, soy, hay — and we’re just waiting to see who will move first; who will sigh, lick, chew, and move off. For every one of us that does there is a greater share left in the ring, a more affordable one; more hope that we’ll come out the other side.
Farming is hard. It’s harder when you have to stand your ground as you watch it bring people down.
Isn’t it funny how you know exactly what you want, where you want to go, how your life should look. Except it never turns out that way. It never looks just like that. And you’re happy anyway. Elated, even.
Isn’t it funny how the world almost always beholds something even better? You round that corner expecting to find something really great, but when you get there it’s breathtakingly incredible instead.
I’ve started this post a million times — okay, maybe not a full million, but close — and I’m still not quite sure how to put the awe that fills my chest into words.
In six short weeks I’ll be boarding a plane with eleven other women. Women whose voices, visions, and spirits take my breath away. After sixteen hours in the air we’ll land in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for a week-long trip that I’m sure will leave me even more speechless than I am right now.
A year ago I thought I knew what my work in agriculture would look like this year. I thought I knew how I could make a difference. I had no idea and for that I’m grateful, because this not knowing? This awe-struck anticipation? It’s the best feeling in the world.
I want to tell you that I know nothing about Ethiopia, that I am not uniquely qualified for any of this, but that I’ll try my best. I’ll try to learn some of at least one of the eighty two languages spoken in the country. I’ll try to understand what the people we meet go through each day. I’ll try to tell their story. I’ll try to make a good impression on behalf of all of you, all of us. I’ll try, because it’s all I know how to do.
I only hope to be able to do both the people we meet along the way and the organization that is kind enough to host me justice.
Because the truth is, a couple of weeks ago, I held roughly the same amount of knowledge about both — and it wasn’t much. I didn’t know that ONE was an advocacy group, that asks only for your voice, not your money to make a difference. I didn’t know that 2/3 of the people in sub-Saharan Africa are employed in Agriculture. I didn’t know that the simple act of ensuring female farmers have the same access to enrichment programs and opportunities as their male counterparts could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by more than 100 million.
And that? If I can be a part of even a small portion of that? There are no words for the joy I feel at the thought.
I’ll be posting here about what will, undoubtedly, be a life-changing journey — one that has already begun and will not end when I’m back on U.S. soil again — but I’d love it if you’d follow the whole group and join us in affecting change, too.
You can learn more about Agriculture in Africa, and the other issues that ONE focuses on at ONE.org. Read the ONE Moms blog, follow ONE Moms on Facebook and Pinterest, follow the ONE Campaign on Twitter, and keep track of the #ONEMoms hashtag.
I’ll be traveling to Ethiopia as an expense-paid guest of the ONE Campaign to report on how American-supported programs are improving and saving lives. ONE is a non-partisan organization that fights extreme poverty and preventable disease by pressing political leaders to support smart programs that do just that. They’re also launching a new initiative to focus specifically on Agriculture, which is where I’m most excited to join in. ONE doesn’t ask for your money, just your voice. It’s something I can get behind and I hope you can, too.
Take this big leap with me?
I don’t remember the last time there was so much anticipation surrounding the release of a crop report. If there’s any credit due to Mother Nature this year, I’d say it’s in how she’s managed to get agriculture outside its usual circles, into the family rooms of suburban families and talked about at the breakfast tables of urban apartments.
I also think, on some primal, faultily optimistic level we wanted the USDA to tell us something entirely contrary to what we already know. We wanted to hear that recent rains would be enough, that all the water hadn’t run off the top. We wanted to hear — in a time when the entire country is struggling — food prices would not be rising and the heart of our country wouldn’t have families losing everything they’ve ever known.
There’s no denying the loss of the fruit crops that froze under late spring frosts, or the lack of hay that’s driving prices so high auction yards are overrun with stock. These things are done, but as long as the corn and soy beans stand in the fields there’s a little bit of each one of us that clings, even if just a little bit, to a glimmer of hope. To the idea, however irrational, that when we drive out there this fall the bushels will add up — even when we know better.
Of course, there’s nothing about the USDA that is designed to feed our blind optimism and unrealistic pipe dreams so the report came in as the report was expected to and only confirmed everything we’d rather not be facing.
The average yield for corn, if realized, will be the lowest we’ve seen since 1995 — just 123 bushels per acre, in a world with more than 1.5 billion more people to feed. We’re expected to get twelve percent less soybean production out of one percent more land — just over 36 bushels per acre. Only winter wheat predictions are up slightly from last month’s report — but little good that will do our livestock producers.
It’s a rough world out there right now. Thank a farmer.