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Try

December 18, 2010 1 comment

December 18 – Try What do you want to try next year? Is there something you wanted to try in 2010? What happened when you did / didn’t go for it?

I’ve already talked about my big idea for 2011. Jenne and I will be looking into how we can move forward on the jam production portion of that idea this next year. That’s something that will certainly take time and energy, and there are a lot of challenges in the way. Check back next year to see how I fared.

Aside from that, I have some modest personal things to try out. One is exercise more. Well, start exercising, to be honest. When I left college, where I did a fair amount of biking around campus, I weighed around 165. Now, I fluctuate between 190 and 210. Spring and summer I’m more active walking fields and moving seed bags and chemical jugs. In the winter I tend to sit around and attend lots of meetings with donuts and fattening lunches. I tried the gym thing a couple of years ago; that worked for maybe two months. So I’ve been debating buying a bike or a used elliptical trainer. The elliptical has the advantage of being usable year round, the bike has the advantage of being actually fun to use.  I live right on a bike trail, and it goes in such a direction that I could even amuse my coworkers by biking to work a few times a week.

The bike, though, doesn’t help me fight my winter weight gain. Maybe I should just buy a couple months worth of gym membership for the winter, use a little self discipline, and GO. And then get the bike in March.

On the completely frivolous side of things, I want to dabble a bit more seriously with photography. I carry an older point and shoot camera with me at work a lot, and have built up a few years’ worth of photos over at Flickr. Having an iPhone all last season was fun; anytime I wanted a camera I had one in my pocket, albeit a rather limited one. This was fun for use with Twitter, and even for getting second opinions on diagnosing crop problems .

I’m thinking of  getting a more serious camera, and actually paying attention to what I shoot. Half the fun would be figuring out camera jargon; f-stops, shutter speeds, aperture, depth of field, ect. ect. I’ve never done much beyond hit the shutter button on my current camera. I want to continue to shoot a lot of agriculture-related subjects, especially around the home farm. Chicago is a massively photo-rich environment, and I have a long day trip I want to do via Metra and the South Shore Line to the Indiana Dunes that would be fun to use a high-powered camera on.

I think these two things, combined with business research, plus all the normal challenges of my job, is plenty to bite off for next year.

In 5

December 15, 2010 3 comments

This prompt is silly, but what the hell.

December 15 – 5 Minutes Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2010 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2010.

Hey. You missed a fun year. First, your wife is awesome, and she trusts you completely. You probably already knew that, but this year was good reinforcement.

The agriculture growing season was one for the record books. Historically fast planting rate, historically warm growing season, and the most perfect fall in your ten year career. We spent all fall telling ourselves to remember this one, because there wasn’t going to be another one like it anytime soon. Every year is difference, this one was exceptional.

You went on an amazing vacation to Canada. Yes, you left the States! Shocking! You also decided you really should try and travel more, even though it is so damned expensive. Work on that for the next couple of years, okay?

And you really shouldn’t forget Beth. Well, she’ll be along shortly via IM to fill you in, anyway, but she’s become a good friend in the last year. At the very least, your Twitter stream would be a much more boring place without her in it.

Oh, you discovered you like chai tea. With milk, and a bit of sugar. Weird, huh?

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A Berry Good Idea?

December 13, 2010 8 comments

Figures. A day after I complain about not being interested in the #reverb10 prompts, the one for Monday morning is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last year, and especially the last two months.

December 13 – Action When it comes to aspirations, it’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen. What’s your next step?

There’s some background I have to cover before I get to the idea. My wife, Jenne, is unemployed. Well, right now she’s working a seasonal job doing data input. She had this same job last year for a little over a  month, this year they hired her back in October. But it’s going to come to an end before Christmas. She hasn’t had a full time job in a few years, and it’s got to the point now that she’ll send out resume after resume, and not even get a ‘thanks but no thanks’ letter. The black hole, she calls it. If we want her to be employed full time and not sitting around the house going stir crazy 10 months out of the year, we have to start a business ourselves.

She tried the craft fair circuit in Des Moines a few years ago with fabric crafts. That didn’t work out. However, I noticed that the people who always had good sales, and lots of them, were people selling things you could eat or smell. Soaps, baked goods, jelly and jam. Jenne’s been doing a lot of home jam making the past couple of years. Our ‘root cellar’ room in the basement has three shelves covered with different jams, jellies, conserves, and apple sauce.

So that’s idea #1. Commercially produce small-batch jam, and sell it at farmer’s markets and craft fairs. Lots and lots of them in the Chicago area, definitely a better market than Des Moines, and a more interesting product, as well. I remember the lines around the building to sample Clear Creek Orchard’s jams at the Iowa State Fair, I’m sure we could move product.

The biggest hurdle to this idea is food safety. I have a lot of research to do to figure out exactly what regulations and testing we need to comply with. The biggest one is that we need a certified commercial kitchen to prepare the jam in. Not exactly sure where I would go to rent one of those. There are some ‘kitchen incubators’ in Chicago and close-in suburbs that rent kitchen space by the hour to small entrepreneurs, but that’s a good 1.5-2 hours away from us. I’m going to be researching this in the coming months, and we’ll get Jenne in a class to get her foodservice sanitation certificate.

Separate but closely related is idea #2. To me, it’s the more exciting one, but certainly the much more challenging one. Let’s grow some of this fruit we want to process ourselves! My family’s home farm is in a rapidly urbanizing (okay, honestly, it’s already urbanized) part of northeast Illinois. It sits on a major state road only a few miles from I-94, and the amount of vehicle traffic the road has these days is staggering. You could not ask for a better location to do value-added agriculture.

My initial plan would be to start with a small planting of raspberries, perhaps an acre’s worth. This is something that I could manage myself part-time, with drafting some help in during harvest season. Taking this idea to the perhaps logical conclusion would include more raspberries, strawberries, rolling in and expanding my mother’s small sweet corn business, a you-pick operation, and a nice building to contain Jenne’s commercial kitchen, storage, and a small retail store front.

This is the pie-in-the-sky idea. The biggest hurdle, and probably the one that is near-impossible to overcome is family (the second being money, but if I can’t overcome the first hurdle, no need worrying about the second). I don’t have any say into the running of the home farm. If it was just my parents, I think we could work something out. But there’s an uncle and an aunt on the farm as well, and another aunt off the farm. When my grandmother passes it’s fairly likely there won’t be a farm anymore…which is another blog entry entirely.

So how am I moving these ideas forward for 2011? As I mentioned earlier, have Jenne get her sanitary certificate. That’s a useful bit of knowledge to have, anyway. Start to research food safety regs for canning. Call around, and see if I can finagle a tour of some of the other small-batch jam makers to see what equipment and processes they use. Find a commercial kitchen we can rent. We could realistically get this idea going by the end of the summer and be selling product before Christmas 2011.

For idea #2, well…Jenne and I have decided to go to the Wisconsin Small Fruit and Vegetable conference in January. It’s closer than the Illinois version that is in Springfield. Again, more knowledge can’t hurt, and I can get some ideas on just how much work I’d be biting off in moving this idea forward. Beyond that, I’m not sure. Have some more difficult conversations with my parents, I suppose. I brought the topic up with my mother, recently, which is good since she will probably see this blog (hi mom!).

So, anyone want to buy some jam?

Community

December 7, 2010 Leave a comment

I took Sunday off from the Reverb prompts, and then yesterday my internet connection at home was down, and I don’t feel like catching up. So, right to today’s prompt.

Prompt: Community.  Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011?

2010 was the year of Twitter, for me. I’ve run a lot of my life online, since I first got on the internet in 1995. Most of my current group of friends are people I met online, or through events that were organized online. It’s something I’m comfortable with.

Twitter is the latest online community tool I’ve used. In the year and a half I’ve been tweeting, I’ve accumulated a pretty diverse crowd of people on my followers list. The #agchat crowd is the largest and the most varied. There’s the communications student with a budding ag comm career, a cattle rancher from California, a local food activist from New York, New York, a Monsanto employee who works with cotton, several dairy farmers (including one who sings about water and poo), and even some fellow agronomists.

That’s just a sampling of the ag tweeps I follow. There’s plenty more. Not to mention all of my current friends who are on Twitter, the people I’ve met at science fiction conventions that I follow, the people I met on Twitter and THEN met at conventions, the people I’ve followed because my friends were following them…the list could go on for a while.

Moving into 2011, I want to continue to grow my Twitter network. Oh, who am I fooling, I’m an addict, and I need my Twitter fix. The list of people I’m following will no doubt continue to grow. One thing I do struggle with is the division between professional and personal content on my Twitter stream. I’ve joked with my wife that I could probably find a job via Twitter at this point. At the same time, I like to joke around and blow off steam. I think this is an issue a lot of people struggle with in this new media environment. ‘Being professional’ often means being completely bland, boring, and uninteresting, and that doesn’t work for me. It’s an issue I’ll continue to think about into the next year.

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Wonder

December 4, 2010 3 comments

December 4 – Wonder. How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year? (Author: Jeffrey Davis)

I’m in agriculture. Every year, we plant little seeds, that turn into plants, that turn into grain, that turn into food, fiber, and fuel products. All from a little seed, some sunshine and some rain. If that’s not absolutely amazing and wonder-making, I’m not sure what is.

 

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A Moment in Time

December 3, 2010 1 comment

December 3 – Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors). (Author: Ali Edwards)

A Moment

I’m standing halfway down a mountain at a ski resort, about an hour’s drive north of Montreal, Canada. The fact that I’m here at all is somewhat surprising if you know me. I don’t travel very often, and rarely outside of the midwest. I had never been out of the country before this week in mid September. The entire week had been filled with different experiences and odd moments, and I was having a blast.

Back to that mountain. The end of summer has come to Quebec, and while it is around 70, there is a bit of that fall scent in the air. The trees are beginning to turn red and orange and yellow, and I’m surrounded by them. In fact, I’m standing on a platform halfway up the trunk of a good-sized tree. We’ve spent the last two hours or so pretending to be monkeys on an aerial obstacle course. Mainly for the zip lines, of course. The zip lines are the most fun.

Now I’m looking at the final zip line. It’s long. Really long. Several hundred meters. Maybe a thousand?  I’m not sure, anymore. I have just watched a cute French-Canadian girl clip herself onto the line, and go zooming down, screaming all the way. I can just see her at the base of the line, a little dot, waving at me that she’s clear, so I start to clip on. I’m wearing a simple belt harness (‘these are illegal in the States’ I had joked earlier in the afternoon while putting it on) with two safety lines attached by carabiners to whatever cable I’m closest to. Both of those snap onto the zip line. I’ve also got another device with rollers that will actually hold my weight and speed me down the line. I’ve been wearing a pair of dirty, sweat-stained work gloves; these will allow me to use one of my hands as a crude ‘brake’. Yes, there was definitely a liability waiver signed before we were allowed on the course.

I’m hooked up, so I crouch down, look at the very, very long cable run ahead of me, take a deep breath, and step off.

Zzzzzzzzzzz! The cable starts singing to me instantly. I’m going fast, and picking up speed every second. The breeze feels good; I’ve sweated a bit from the workout the obstacles gave me. I shout, because what else are you supposed to do when you’re suspended by a strap fifty feet in the air and doing forty or fifty mph down a zip line cable?

Seconds later, I’m halfway down. Still shouting, excited and a bit terrified at the same time. It’s time to start braking, so I start squeezing the cable. Unlike some of the shorter zip lines I’ve already done today, I’m moving very fast. It doesn’t take long for the friction to really heat up my gloved hand.  But it’s working. I’m slowing. I can see the landing zone ahead. Squeeze a bit more, feet up, get ready…

THUMP. I hit the landing pad, not too fast. I have no idea how long the run took. Less than a minute, certainly. It felt like an eternity. It felt like it was over in a blink of an eye. I want to do it again.

Look hard, I'm there. This is very near the end, at the bottom of the mountain.

 

A Confession

The moment I just described was not the moment that popped instantly into my head as soon as I read the prompt, this morning. That one is just for me.

 

 

I’m a Writer?

December 2, 2010 4 comments

Day 2 of #reverb10 and here I am with another entry. I’m 100% so far!

December 2Writing.
What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it?

I initially wasn’t going to write to this prompt. I don’t consider myself a writer. The last time I wrote any (really lousy) fiction was over ten years ago. I sometimes write articles for my company’s newsletter about technical agronomy topics like optimum nitrogen use rates (which most of my customers promptly ignore, and go on putting out the same N rate they have for thirty years), tissue testing for micronutrients, and the care and adjustment of corn planter meters. But does that make me a writer? I’ve never really thought so. My friends Maggie and Beth are writers.  John Scalzi‘s a writer. Neil Gaiman? Oh, yeah, definitely a writer. Me? I’m an agronomist.

By the way, don’t tell my alma mater I just linked to Iowa State University, okay? Gotta admit that they have a cool url, though.

But there’s room in my life for writing, even though I’m not a writer, isn’t there? I’m pretty sure there is. So maybe that’s the impediment to my writing: the fact that I don’t think I can do it. I don’t have to consider myself a Writer to be able to sit down for a half hour and sling some words together. I shouldn’t to be intimidated by the fact that I read a lot of bloggers who I think are Doing It Better Than I Ever Could.  So that’s what’s next–taking the viewpoint that I have to offer, and writing it down. It can’t be that hard, can it?

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