I am excited to share this piece. I wrote it for Cooperative Producers, Inc.’s June 2014 “Insights” magazine publication. It was recently published, and I think my Omaha friends will find it explains me a great deal.
This doesn’t mean that I didn’t care about agriculture. Two generations of my family have worked at Cooperative Producers, Inc., a place that was affectionately called “sleepy eye” by my kid sister.
Sometimes I would get to the CPI offices and, after I raided the candy dish for butterscotch discs, I would visit Connie near the scale office and watch, wide-eyed, as sample corn was sucked out of large trucks.
When driving with my dad on county roads I would always stare out the window. The crops standing in straight rows would mesmerize me. We would play a game where I would try and identify the crop whizzing by the window. I always guessed corn. But slowly, I began to recognize the different types of growth: milo, soybeans, alfalfa, wheat, seed corn, white corn, and if you were lucky, the elusive popcorn.
I learned what rogueing was, and the differences between center pivots and gravity irrigation.
Don’t let me fool you—I was pretty naïve. I would ask my grandparents about their upbringing on a farm, which fascinated me. I have never seen such shock and utter disbelief on my grandfather’s face as when I asked him how many ears were on one stalk of corn. I guessed four or five. He responded with a matter-of-fact “One…maybe two if you were lucky.”
My friends who were involved in 4-H would look at me like an alien when I informed them that I had never seen a cow give birth or never spent a summer detasseling. I could have not been more removed from agriculture.
After high school, I couldn’t wait to get away from south central Nebraska. Ah yes, the bright lights of a big city beckoned me. I moved to Omaha.
Oh yes, Omaha, a place where the license plates begin with three letters instead of a number. Something strange happened in this new place, however. Overnight, I was changed from a city slicker to a country bumpkin. I was now surrounded by people who generally considered Nebraska to be devoid of life or meaning west of Lincoln.
Despite the fact that I had never operated a tractor or milked a cow, I suddenly became an ambassador for the entire agricultural industry. I was routinely explaining to native Omahans why the price of corn is so important to the price of gasoline or why early spring is my favorite time to drive on I-80 West. (I like watching all of the calves prance around in the fields.)
Last Labor Day weekend, I spent the holiday in Norfolk with friends. On the drive there, I was ecstatic about being able to see an unobstructed horizon. The corn was drying in the fields, and once again I was entranced by row after row of the browning crops. I played the game with the people in the car. “What is that?” I asked, pointing to a field of soybeans. I was met with blank stares. Finally, one of my friends answered “a farm.” I couldn’t believe it.
How could they honestly not know what a soybean looks like? Or what a center-pivot does? Or what “roundup ready” means? I mean, I had my gaffe with the cornstalks, but at least I know alfalfa from milo.
Turns out, my ignorance wasn’t so immense after all. I did know about agriculture. My upbringing and the community I grew up in instilled it in me, a passive participant. I was nurtured in the south central Nebraskan soil, and it has made my roots strong and solid.
So now instead of shunning the agricultural life, I have embraced it. I am now its most tireless advocate, annoying my friends with random facts about types of fertilizer or gasoline production. And even if they ask a dumb question about the number of ears of corn on a single stalk, I promise to only tease them a little bit.
What did you think? Learn anything about agriculture? Random, if you want to learn some basics, CPI has a cool children’s site.