Archive for February, 2016

My blue corduroy time machine

If you’re not aware, this week is celebrated as National FFA Week. Always held in February to coincide with George Washington’s Birthday, FFA chapters across the country are finding creative ways to celebrate – driving tractors to school, dressing up in official dress, or educating younger students about agriculture were all popular when I was in school, and still are today.

Not wanting to be left out of the fun, my workplace is encouraging employees who are former FFA members to bring in their FFA jackets this week and hang them at their desks. I’m really looking forward to seeing the office covered in blue corduroy tomorrow!

I wore the blue jacket for five years (high school plus my freshman year of college, serving as a section president), and pulling it out of my closet this morning brought back a rush of memories.


I remember the very first contest I ever participated in. It was Parliamentary Procedue – the correct way to run a meeting. I was a freshman in high school, had only attended a couple chapter meetings, and I was recruited to serve as the team secretary. We met before and after school for weeks, learning the correct process and determining how we would work together to complete all the necessary motions. We were a well-oiled machine, and we took first place in that event.

That was followed by many, many other contests (or Career Development Events, as they are properly called) over the next four years, some of which we won, some of which we lost, but in all of which we learned something about agriculture, ourselves, and life in general. Rows of shiny pins line the inside of my jacket, awarded for most every activity I participated in. I’ve kept them all.

I credit much of my adult success to my years in 4-H and FFA. The skills I learned from both organizations are things I call upon daily. Public speaking. Record keeping. Developing a plan and carrying it through to completion. Teamwork. Networking. Confidence. Professionalism. All developed while wearing blue corduroy.

In the pockets were various items collected over those years. Programs from banquets. Pens from random hotels and career fairs. A little red arrow, given to me by a good friend for luck before a big election. A few photographs and notes, handwritten in the days before Facebook and texting (now I feel really old… I only predate Facebook by a couple years!).

And that’s where my best memories of FFA lie – in the people I met and remain friends with today.

During my four years of high school, I attended many statewide conferences, contests, and conventions, where I met other FFA members from across the state. Friendships and friendly rivalries developed, and many of those men and women remain my friends today. When I left my small high school (graduating class of 55) for the University of Illinois, I was much less nervous about the transition because I was rooming with several girls I knew from FFA and had FFA friends in many of my classes. And even today, I still run into people at work events who I first met back in high school. Agriculture is a big industry, but truly a small world.

So tonight, I want to say thanks to my trusty blue jacket. Thanks for helping me make so many great memories that will stay with me forever. Thanks for being my suit of armor when I was nervous. Thanks for opening doors to a small town girl and showing me my place in the big, wide, world.

Thanks for helping make me who I am today.




Just a knife?

To you, this knife may not look like much. It may look old, rusty, worn out.

To me, though, it’s so much more.


Look closely and you’ll see the initials “RH” carved into the handle, put there years ago by a man I never met. He was Big C’s great-grandfather, a man he never met either.

I’m not sure how we came to own the knife, but it, like several other pieces of butchering equipment, now belongs to us and is used around this time of year – in fact, just yesterday.

While I certainly enjoy filling my freezer with homegrown pork, days like this satisfy more than just a physical need. They make me feel connected to my family, and agriculture, in a way not much else can.

As I said, we use several pieces of equipment, both large and small, that were used by past generations. Just knowing our grandparents and great-grandparents used the very same tools to do the very same tasks is fascinating to me. It’s also a testament to the quality of the products that were used much more frequently back then because of need, not novelty.

Using a sausage seasoning recipe in my grandpa’s handwriting, that calls for “a little salt,” “a good amount of pepper,” and “sage to taste” makes me think about how he knew exactly what that meant, and makes me wonder if our version tastes like his did.

As I try some freshly-cooked sausage, I think about how it’s truly “farm to fork” and how many farm families were local food before local food was cool. I know the animals we cared for on our farm will help feed not only my family, but families of others as well.

I also think about the fact that butchering is a social activity. There are many jobs to do, but there’s never a shortage of help. Family and friends come together to get the job done and enjoy each other’s company while doing it. While I’m definitely in favor of technology, I do feel that sometimes it causes us to lose the camaraderie of working together for a common goal, something agriculture, and families, are built upon.

So even though it’s old, that knife still has value. It’s still able to be sharpened for use, and a testament to the fact that even though many things have changed and are going to keep changing, there are still valuable lessons to learn from the past.