Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Former melon thief now gives 'em away

I knew the voice instantly. When I picked up the phone Monday afternoon, it was like stepping back in time.

The voice belonged to Frank Harkenrider, former mayor of Hermiston, the town where I cut my teeth as a reporter and editor back in the early 1990s. And it was that tie to that place and that time that sent Harkenrider to my phone yesterday.

Harkenrider, or "Harkie" as he's affectionately known around Hermiston, was preparing to make his annual pilgrimage to Portland to promote his beloved hometown and its beloved signature crop, the Hermiston watermelon. At 82, Harkenrider is something of a rarity in the city that celebrates its centennial this year. Harkenrider is a native, born and raised in the community where he spent more than four decades on the city council and followed in his father's footsteps and served 10 years as mayor.

Harkie and a contingent of folks from the community will be passing out watermelons in Portland at noon on Friday. He wanted to know if the Capital Press was interested and wanted to know if I could help spread the word.

Harkenrider seemed to think I could do that because his wife had seen a copy of something I had posted on the Internet about Hermiston watermelons. I'm assuming that was a blog post, Blogriculture: Watermelon worth the price, on the topic I wrote about Hermiston melons last year. It seems that little essay has made the rounds around town. I blame my mom for that. OK, so someone probably found it by searching for "Hermiston watermelon" on Google, but it's more fun to blame mom.

So, I asked Harkenrider about the plans for this melon giveaway and got the details that became a story on the Capital Press website.

This year, there is more than fun and promotion in the giveaway. There's a political message in the promotion for Gov. Ted Kulongoski and those who thwarted a bill to tap into more Columbia River water to aid farmers and others in the area as part of what has been called the Oasis Project.

"Really, what we're trying to do is promote this whole area," Harkenrider said, not just Hermiston." It takes water to grow these products."

And the people who grow those products have donated a portion of their production to make watermelon, cantaloupe and potatoes available at noon Friday in Pioneer Courthouse Square to anyone who shows up and can haul away their booty, for as long as the produce will hold out. Which isn't likely to be long. Harkenrider credited the Hermiston Watermelon Association, which includes Bellinger Farms, Walker Farms, Pollock Farms and Walchli Farms, for supplying the melons and Bud-Rich Potato for providing the spuds that make the event possible.

It's been at least 15 years since I've interviewed Harkenrider for a news story, but I knew I could count on him for a colorful quote. He didn't disappoint. Harkenrider was telling me about the high quality cantaloupe coming out of the area this summer, which he confessed is a personal favorite going back to childhood.

"Of course, I used to swipe them as a kid," Harkenrider said.

Whatever harm Harkenrider may have done to farmers' profits as a child, he has spent a lifetime making up for it by promoting his hometown and the agriculture products grown around it that have provided the cornerstone for the region's economy.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Please pass the gooseberry marmalade

I’m concerned about the younger generations. I am at an age which did allow me to have Pop Tarts for breakfast and gummy worms for dessert, but I am old enough to remember eating mince-meat pie.

In the pioneer days, creativity was the secret to happy days at the homestead. Can you remember a photo prior to 1940 where someone was smiling? My old family members all had straight lips and glaring eyes in their photos. Perhaps they were assuming that little gadget called a “camera” was just a big hoax.

I shouldn’t talk. I wouldn’t want to see my face whenever I’m forced to learn something new about my computer. Or, perhaps they were glaring because someone forgot to put sugar in the gooseberry jam.

Most pioneers had little to work with. Flour, sugar, vegetables from the garden, and perhaps some meat, were the main resources available. If there were to be smiles at the dinner table, the cook had to be creative.

Mince-meat pie had to be invented during late winter. Meat, flour, sugar, and rum are the primary ingredients. Most are readily available in winter. Had it been summer, the family would probably have preferred an apple pie. I know I would prefer an apple pie.

Some springs, like this one for example, get cold enough to frost every fruit tree on the place. So far, my peach tree is toast, cherries aren’t going to happen, and most likely my apples are at half production at best. During a spring such as this, the pioneer cook had to use what was available.

I remember my grandmother preparing gooseberry pie. When coming to Grandma’s house for breakfast, gooseberry jam was an option. As someone in my mid-thirties, I have no desire to find the recipe for gooseberry anything. How many of these pioneer secrets have been lost? How many people miss their gooseberry jam?

While I was coaching high school basketball, I became frightfully aware of the eating habits of today’s youth. During a state tournament, I announced to the team that we could dine at whatever restaurant they chose one night. I assumed I would get at least one good dinner this way. What restaurant did they choose for their special night out? McDonalds.

If price was no object for high school basketball players and they chose cheap hamburgers, would a pioneer choose mince-meat pie on a buffet line with twelve other options? Or would they give you a straight lip glare as if having a photo taken?

What about horehound candy? I remember helping look for horehound plants to use for this candy. Today’s youth would surely turn up their noses at such a candy, but it was probably for special occasions only for yesterday’s youth. It was tedious and labor intensive to prepare.
In my youth, I used to watch in horror as my grandparents would put a full tablespoon of jam on half a cracker. That used to give me chills. Jam was considered a dessert for many generations. I doubt orange marmalade will be around by 2025. I doubt any marmalade will be around by 2025.

I won’t shed any tears if marmalade, bread pudding, horehound candy, gooseberry jam, and mince-meat pie don’t pass on to the younger generations, but I will miss what they represented. They represented people making the most of what they had, with hopes of bringing a smile to the ones they loved, when life was simpler.

Today’s world does not have creativity based on necessity. The electronic age urges you to shut your brain off and consume its entertainment value. Life’s complexities urge you to eat as quickly as possible with little or no effort in the food’s preparation. It is possible to ignore these urges.

However, one urge I can’t ignore is I now use well over half a tablespoon of jam on a cracker. I’m only 34!

Kevin Duling is a wheat farmer and freelance writer from Maupin, Ore. Kevin’s stories will be posted at the Capital Press blog every Friday. Comments are welcomed at kevinddul@aol.com

Copyright, July 2007

Friday, July 27, 2007

House passes its farm bill, now on to the Senate

In case you missed it, the House passed its version of the 2007 Farm Bill today. Read the story here, and look for reaction from West Coast ag folks in the Aug. 3 Capital Press.

If you have comments you'd like to share, drop us an e-mail, and if you include your name and city of residence, we may print them. If you don't want to share all that information, just your opinion, you can do that in comments to this post or using the form at the bottom of the story here. Or if you are commenting on your own blog, let us know in the comments so people can check out what you have to say on this important 5-year legislation.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Ag Media Summit attracts journalists to Kentucky

This year’s Agricultural Media Summit takes place in Kentucky this year: about 500 agricultural media and public relations professionals will gather this weekend in Louisville.

Some of the people who will attend the tour are coming from a long distance, from Canada and Europe. Perhaps the most unique group taking part will be 14 media professionals from the Republic of Mali in western Africa. They have been hosted by the Oklahoma State University during July to learn about the freedom of the press and to help build their media skills.

On Saturday, a couple busloads of visitors will tour the countryside. Among the stops: a tobacco farm, since Kentucky is the most tobacco-dependent state in the U.S. in the area of the percentage of agricultural income tied to the crop. It used 1 percent of the farmland, but is more than 50 percent of the crop receipts for Kentucky’s farmers.

Kentucky harvests 106,000 acres of tobacco each year, with the crop worth as much as $4,000 per acre.

Last year, according to the University of Kentucky’s Cooperative Extension Service, the farm cash receipts for Kentucky farmers totaled $4.1 billion, the second highest on record, and tobacco cash receipts were worth $320 million.

However, tobacco farmers are facing problems that sound similar to other parts of the country: diseases, weather problems including serious drought, and labor shortages. One of the differences it faces compared to other crops is the pressure from the public to get out of producing tobacco because of health concerns on cigarettes contributing to cancer. About 100 counties still remain in tobacco production, however, according to the university who provides valuable production information to producers.

Some of the other places that will be visited during the Ag Media Summit tour are the international headquarters of Alltech, a private animal health company; the Kentucky Horse Park, home to almost 50 different horse breeds; and the Woodford Reserve Distillery, which, according to the tour’s information packet, “is the only distillery that crafts its bourbon in copper pot stills and ages it in unique limestone warehouses.” The oldest section of the distillery dates back to 1838.

It makes sense that any visit to Kentucky would include seeing horses. According to the University of Kentucky “equine continued to be the largest reported commodity with cash receipts exceeding $1 billion for the second consecutive year.”

Denita Wallace, our national sales representative, and I will be attending the Ag Media Summit this year. I hope to blog from the event, share some of the training tips being given to ag journalists, give details of some of the agricultural places we see, and report on any news that comes from the summit.

Stay tuned.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

If you can blog about E. coli, you can blog about anything

California state Sen. Dean Florez has a new blog about food safety. If you are interested in the blog, check it out here.

Look for a story by Capital Press California Editor Bob Krauter, which mentions Florez's new blog, in the Friday, July 27, Capital Press and online Friday at http://www.capitalpress.com/. Bob's story is an updated version of this story published online earlier this week.

Although I have to admit one point of petty jealousy about Florez's blog. He's got almost as many profile views as I do. To be fair, he has been on Blogger a year longer than I have here and he does have more blogs.

But still, I'm not happy about it.

So, check out his blog, but don't look at his profile!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

How dry is it in your area?

In the West, we're used to hot, dry weather in summer.

The high humidity of the last few days has been a topic of conversation for Westerners. By about 7 a.m. today, the humidity was already at 80 percent here on a day that is supposed to climb into the 80s in temperature.

Meanwhile, anyone from the MidWest or southern part of the country just shrugged and said this is nothing. There is a reason other parts of the country attract more tornadoes and bad thunderstorms this time of year: high humidity levels contribute to the weather instability.

The humidity here does not necessarily mean moisture follows, however. Rain has been spotty the last few days from the clouds. Farmers will be of mixed mind when it comes to seeing rain clouds: people are already harvesting in the fields, hay has been cut, and quality of some of the crops has already been affected by moisture last week.

Yet everyone also recognizes there are parts of the West where drought has been becoming a lot more serious. Forest fire smoke is a reminder that there are parts that are suffering a lot of loss to fires started by lightning or humans.

Our newspaper website, www.capitalpress.com, as been carrying extensive stories from our reporters as well as from Associated Press about the fire damage and threats so far.

One of the dramatic graphics that came out last week show what is the drought forecast for the upcoming months, Unfortunately, it shows there are some serious problems in the West, and other parts are expected to worsen.

Let us know what conditions are like in your area: have you received the moisture you need? How dry is it? How is it affecting your crops? What do you think will happen in the next few months? Do you trust these national weather forecasts?

We welcome your feedback.

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Bauman farm create memories for families

GERVAIS, Ore. — An overcast day on July 21 didn’t discourage visitors and customers from Bauman’s Farm and Garden, located near Gervais, Ore.

The Bauman family promotes that it has been “growing for your family since 1896” and has expanded its business to appeal to entire families. The greenhouse on the farm displays a lot of the plants and particularly hanging baskets for sale, and the staff take time to explain which types of flowers will grow best for customers’ yards.

The family has more than 100 varieties of annuals and perennials, according to its brochure, and also offers to custom plant baskets for buyers.

Connected to the greenhouse is a gift store and bakery, offering baked goods using a lot of the fruit grown on the farm. Fresh fruit and vegetables can also be purchased in the store, along with other products that use Oregon ingredients.

One of the things that stands out is the wide range of berries grown by the Baumans: besides commonly known berries such as blueberries and strawberries, people can also find for sale the gooseberry, Kotata and Logan berries, Sylvan and Tayberries, and Waldo berry. Most of these were developed by crossing other berries, providing unique tastes for berry lovers in this part of the country.

For people who want quieter moments away from the busy store, the Bauman farm also has a well-maintained garden area with many types of flowers and shrubs to attract birds, butterflies — and camera enthusiasts.

One of the reasons Bauman farms is so popular is the learning opportunity for children. Fowl and animals are available to observe and pet, but there is also material — such as a large wooden board in the shape of an apple — with questions about apples on it and flip up answers.

Along the driveway to leave the farm, there are 23 different apple trees planted. A sign explains this and invites people to observe the differences in the apples as they grow through the season.

Parents bring their kids to the farm and many could be heard explaining what the animals and birds are, what are some of their characteristics, what they eat, why they’re important, and most importantly, how the children should treat them on a farm.

In the fall, the family has a pumpkin patch for school and group tours to visit and learn more about the farm.

On the family’s website, the owners explain why they like to involve children on the farm. In the July newsletter, an anecdote is shared.

“My son Austin is 4 this summer and as he grows each summer it becomes more exciting. I can’t wait to share with him all of the fun things that I got to do on the farm growing up that made my summers so memorable. Whether it’s swimming in the river down at Grandma and Grandpa’s house or picking a fresh juicy peach right off the tree on hot summer day.

“But the strangest and most wonderful thing about sharing these experiences with him is that he takes them and makes them his own. While I may have loved eating the peaches, his favorite thing is to head to the cornfield and eat a fresh cob of sweet corn out in the field.

“At Bauman Farms we would love to help you recreate some of those memories you had as a kid or help create new ones with your children,” said the newsletter’s author.

For more information, directions and hours, check out www.baumanfarms.com. The farm is located at 12989 Howell Prairie Road N.E., Gervais, Ore. 97026

(To see a Quicktime movie of photos taken at Bauman's farm, see www.capitalpress.com and click on multimedia on the left hand side.)

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Friday, July 20, 2007

A trip to the city

By Kevin Duling
The gap between urban centers and rural America is narrowing for some and widening for others. I fall into the latter. A commodity broker friend needed to leave town for a few days. He inquired if I could fill in for that time slot. Turned out I was available.

It is commonly a two hour trip from my house to Portland. The first hour being one of farmland turning to forests, then to mountains. The second hour going from mountains to communities, then to cities.

My trip to town came on the Monday evening of Memorial Day. Needless to say, the traffic was a bit heavier than I had anticipated. Traffic came to a grinding halt about an hour from town. This turned out to be the foreshadowing of my week.

I spent the first night at a friend’s house. He was pleased to have some company and politely told me not to worry about the reports of people setting cars on fire, even though it was only a quarter mile away. Besides, every rig but mine would be parked safely inside the estate’s perimeter.

Commodity trading is a scary business. My broker assured me that a monkey could do what I was being asked to do. My eyes still managed to stay open most of the night, running every possible worst case scenario through my mind, visioning my pickup on fire, and the thought of having to sell the farm because of what the monkey at the commodity desk did.

I told myself that traffic would surely not be a problem at 4:30 a.m.. I had to weave my way through a narrow residential area, hoping to find the sign for the freeway entrance. Naturally, a man living next door to my friend decided it was time for work also. He seemed like a nice man when his hand rose as he passed. After some careful thought, perhaps I was going too slowly for him and he wasn’t being nice. Welcome to the city, country boy.

I stopped at a 24-hour fast-food place and was surprised to find myself waiting in line for 10 minutes. How many commodity brokers could this town have? Is there always this many people?

After receiving three phone calls in 30 seconds, the stressors I dreamed about the night before were surfacing. “So easy a monkey could do it,” I snarled. As the day went, I slowly understood the ordering systems and the quote machine.

Two p.m. marked the end of my first day as a substitute commodity broker. Rush hour apparently started at 1:59. Again, I found myself waiting in line. Eventually, I would arrive at my hotel, which would accommodate me for the next two nights.

By day three, I found myself expecting to wait in lines. I waited in traffic lines, restaurant lines, ice cream lines, hotel registration lines, and eventually more traffic lines. Thank God I didn’t have to go to the DMV!

Perhaps this trip was designed to enhance my patience. I didn’t like enhancing my patience; I thought it is fine where it was. I continually wondered how the urban residents managed day after day.

Toward the end of day three, two people called at once and I successfully filled both of their commodity orders flawlessly. “Ooo ooo ooo aaa aaa aaa,” said the monkey. My primal outburst only seemed to bother the lady in the adjacent office, as she scowled looking over her glasses.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on the urbanites who venture out to my neck of the woods to
recreate. They spend 25 percent of their lives waiting in lines. Their patience level is probably far superior to mine. However, I don’t believe the hand gesture I learned will be well received next time someone is in front of me at the post office at home.

Kevin Duling is a wheat farmer and freelance writer from Maupin, Ore. Kevin’s stories will be posted at the Capital Press blog every Friday. Comments are welcomed at kevinddul@aol.com.

Copyright July 2007

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Sunset at Baskett Slough

As a rainy day faded away into a colorful sunset, Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge — west of Salem, Ore. — attracted several deer, a flock of backbirds, and many other birds.

The refuge is especially busy during the migration times of the year. Several types of geese, ducks and even swans visit the refuge. While hiking trails are available for people the enjoy a closer view of the wildlife, during certain times of the year some areas are not open to the public.

Besides the birds and deer, people can also find various plants in the refuge, such as the prickly common teasel which can grow to 6 feet tall. First introduced in the 1700s in America, this weed was brought into the area by the early settlers who used it to help them work with carding wool in mills or in their homes.

Unfortunately, while the wool industry faded away in most of the West, the invasive weed did not. It can be found in many areas, far beyond where it was first intended to be grown.

For photographers and nature lovers, Baskett Slough is a great escape to enjoy a summer sunset.

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Oprah and lessons from pets

Today one of the entertainment stories was about how Oprah Winfrey is mourning the loss of her two-year-old golden retriever named Gracie.

The dog has died after choking on a plastic ball that belonged to another of Oprah’s dogs, a 12-year-old cocker spaniel named Sophie.

Oh, sure. It was accidental. Anyone that has more than one pet knows that an older animal is usually very jealous when a new pet joins the family. While the pets may show outwards affection or attempts to get along, there usually is a strong jealousy factor on behalf of the older dog.

They may call this accidental, but remember — it WAS the ball of the older dog, wasn’t it? And it appears she WAS sharing it, right? We all know how well dogs share their toys. Go ahead, tell me this wasn’t a pet conspiracy.

Being a pet owner myself, I do sympathize with Oprah. It always is tough to lose a pet, accidentally or even when a veterinarian advises that a loved pet needs to be “put down” because of age or illness.

Recently, visiting a friend’s place, I heard how their 14-year-old black labrador will probably need to be “put down” soon because of a huge cancer tumor that returned on his side, and a recent stroke that affected his back legs. Looking at his grizzled white face and chin, I realized I have known this dog for most of his life: I had visited him in almost a half dozen places he had moved with his owners during more than a decade. I’ve watched him evolve from a boisterous barking puppy distracted by a bouncing ball to the equivalent of a senior citizen in the dog world as he limped across the yard trying to keep a focused pace with his masters’ steps.

A few days later, on my parents’ farm, I realized old age is hitting our pets there, too. The dog is also more than a decade old and has serious hip and other problems. The elderly farm cat that has become his favorite companion is also experiencing a lot of health problems. During a recent visit by a vet to check a dead calf, the vet glanced at the two limping animals and announced to my family that it was time they should consider “putting down” these two animals. According to him, this should be done before the pets need to suffer another cold winter.

I gave that dog and cat a couple of hugs before leaving the farm, knowing I probably wouldn’t see them again in the next few months before winter — and the inevitable ending of their lives.

I reread the story about Oprah’s dog. When it choked, her security guard and her dog walker tried to save it. When they needed to carry off the dead body, it was on a golf cart. When Oprah wished to share her grief, she used her successful, popular magazine to announce what happened.

On the farms of my friend and my family, their pets will probably face much more modest conclusions to their lives. The owners will be the ones by the side of their pets, no hired staff. The half-ton trucks will probably take the carcass away somewhere, not a golf cart. And there will be no big announcements in flashy magazines.

Oprah said she received some lessons from the death of her dog: In articles about her dog, she said she learned to slow down and catch her breath in life.

Well, actually, I think the bigger lesson in this case was one shouldn’t run with a big plastic ball in your mouth. Or better yet, don’t have a plastic ball in your mouth in the first place.

I thought about what lessons I’ve learned from my many pets over the years. There have been a few.

Never bite a moving vehicle.

Tangling with a porcupine is not fun. And seeking revenge against another porcupine won’t be any funner.

Drinking out of toilets is not always socially acceptable.

Expensive toys are often highly overrated. A cardboard box, a twist tie, or a round plastic container top are much, much more fun.

One can never get enough of catnip in life.

A flea market is no laughing matter if you have fleas.

Being a cat does not always guarantee you will land on your feet.

Not every cat has nine lives, so don’t live like one is still owed.

Never judge your loved ones, always welcome them home like you never thought they’d return, and forgive any misunderstandings immediately. Life is too short to mope.

And finally, it’s better to watch a clothes washing machine from the outside rather than to spin around in Tide.

Actually, I learned this from a friend whose pet experienced a whole wash cycle and still dizzily emerged alive from the ordeal. Cleanest cat in town, although rather woozy for a week or so and hiccupping detergent.

Bet you this will never be a cover story for Oprah’s magazine.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Travel home filled with great sights

Travelling the busy highways and dusty gravel roads of three states and three Canadian provinces within a week to get back to my parents’ farm, I felt blessed.

While it meant so much to see loved ones even for a short period of time, I was fortunate to witness many great sights along the way.

On my final day of travel, early one morning I needed to stop the vehicle as a mother moose led her calf across the road near Elkford, British Columbia. Later, down the road, a young deer buck stood unafraid for a few minutes and stared at me long enough to get several photos.

If one prefers machinery to wildlife, a half hour drive away is the largest truck in the world at Sparwood, B.C.: a huge truck that worked at one of the open pit coal mines in the region. The truck became a tourist attraction after the mining company decided this rare truck was too expensive and difficult to maintain for parts.

It’s hard to imagine how such a large truck can toil high up in the mountains. One of my uncles drives a truck — a bit smaller — and tells stories of what it’s like to drive these massive vehicles high in the mountains on foggy winter nights. Barrels of kerosene have straw stuck at the top of them, and then the straw lit on fire. The barrels are placed just enough yards apart for the truckers to be able to see the fires lighting their way up and down the mountain roads.

Such are the challenges for those who deliver coal to an energy-dependent world.

I saw miles and miles of beautiful crops in various stages of ripening, and in particular the colorful patchwork of canola fields that so many prairie farmers are depending on as one of their main cash crops this year.

Some of the last elevators still standing on the prairies remind us of the changing technology and how those elevators once stood as the proud sentinels announcing another small town had been reached.

Storm clouds rose high into the skies and thunder clapped in the distance; late sunsets and almost endless twilight stretched deep into the night, lasting later the further north I traveled. The twilight at my parents’ farm lasted almost three hours’ longer than where I live in Oregon.

Northern lakes beckoned my family to fish: lakes where the water sparkles, loons cry out to each other, and blue herons slowly flap overhead. Coyotes yip from somewhere beyond out sight, blueberries can be found in the underbrush, and best of all, often we are the only humans at the whole lake. Armed with our fishing rods, my father and I spent one relaxing afternoon casting from the shore, Dad’s line arcing across the water as he cast past the lilypads and reeds, and occasionally a Northern Pike could be seen splashing at the end of the hook.

The fishing was good. The next day, my younger brother, Dad and I returned with a boat to the same lake to test deeper waters. Again, we had the lake all to ourselves, as we chatted about fishing, farming and family, or occasionally just quietly sat in the boat and allowed the wind to drift us closer to the shallow fishing spots. All we could hear was the birds in the forest, the squeaking of our reels, and an occasional splash of a fish at the end of our hook.

The week spent at the farm was a time of reflection. Each minute is precious, even the ordinary became extraordinary with the sounds, smells and sights that summer brings to the farm.

The hay had just been cut — the best scent in the whole world.

Rain drops precariously balanced on wheat leaves.

The weather-beaten snow fence along the now abandoned railway near our farm caught the last of the sun’s rays one day and stood out against the ripening wheat crop.

Another fence, another sunset, another day also caught my eye. The fence has gone through so much, but still successfully keeps the cattle where they need to be.

Most of our cattle are gone to summer pastures a few miles away. We have only a couple of heifers at home, waiting for my older brother to transport them to his place soon. Away from the rest of the herd, the two heifers have become almost like inseparable twins — even in the feed bucket.

Each visit home shows how much the community grows older and changes. More deserted farms from neighbors who have retired or passed away. The church could use more maintenance, but it’s hard for the small congregation that now can hold a church service once a year, rather than weekly.

The school my brothers and I attended is now permanently closed, since 2004, and there’s a person living in it by himself. Last year he served some prison time after police discovered he had been growing drugs in the school after it closed. It seems the authorities became suspicious when it was noticed the power bills were higher AFTER the school closed than while students had still attended.

On the farm, I noticed our 300-feet long barn — built in 1939 — is really starting to deteriorate. The barn that had held so many barn dances by the early pioneers in the area when they wished to raise money for a local post office and other services in the community is now badly in need of funds itself. Unfortunately, too much.

I wonder how many people attended dances in this barn over those early years before bales filled the loft instead of dancers. Some of the people who had visited those dances told me they remember there were bands on both ends of the loft, since one band couldn’t play loud enough for the dancers to hear from one end to the other. With guitars, fiddles, accordions and drums, those early bands had so many cowboy boots stomping and high heels spinning, that the memories dance on even decades later for some of these people.

My family now has a sign warning people they can’t go upstairs in the barn anymore. The floor is dangerous in the loft: no longer can anyone even walk across the floor. The loft remains a popular place for bird nests, mice and occasionally stray cats. They keep our dog busy. At 14 years old and with a bad hip, he still believes it's his duty to guard the barn.

Buildings aren’t all that are aging. Visiting relatives and neighbors, with many of them well past retirement age, I noticed the whiter hair, the bit more stooped backs, the slower walking pace. I took time to walk with them a lot: along the country roads, through crops, into the garden patches, and into hilly pastures.

One evening, as I accompanied my father as he checked gopher traps, I gazed up at the silhouette of my father as he walked back towards his half-ton truck. Mosquitoes buzzed around us, coyotes were howling, and a killdeer kept trying to lead us away from her nest. I captured the image with the camera, although I already knew I would carry home that image forever in my mind from that trip.

Driving back the thousand miles or so from the farm, I continued to enjoy the images around me as I crossed provincial, state and country borders: The patchwork of ripening fields, the farm yards and buildings, the small towns and communities that are slowly disappearing but still are home in someone’s heart out there.

At one point, I went off the beaten path. In Washington state, not far from Ritzville, I took the road that leads to the Paha cemetery on top of a hill, then down to Paha Station where farmers delivered their grain.

Paha was a place where a flour mill and other businesses once attracted farmers in the early 1900s. When the mill closed around 1911, this community in the heart of wheat country saw the rest of its town become deserted, until now it has but one family and a few empty or collapsed buildings and an abandoned truck.

Across from the terminal, golden sunset beams blending with the rust on the old truck. This truck had probably in the past driven up and down those nearby surrounding hills that produced some of the best wheat harvests in the world. The truck’s owner had probably gazed on landscape similar to what I had enjoyed earlier that evening, pondered the yields of the crops, what moisture conditions were like, and whether any storm clouds in the distance carried rain.

Sitting in Paha, as clouds began to build to the west, I realized it doesn’t matter where you grow up, which farm you call home, or even what era you live in.

Farmers can always relate to other farmers. They will always feel the tie to the land, marvel at nature around them, appreciate long summer days, and compare their jobs to those of others — and realize there are jobs much worse than farming … Like driving a huge coal mine truck up a foggy mountain in winter.

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New features for Blogriculture

We have added a couple of new features to the Blogriculture site for you viewing and interactive pleasure.

We are including links to YouTube videos, via Google, that we hope will mostly include agriculture-related videos. But if you post any farm or ranch-related videos online through your blog, or any online video service, let us know. We'd be happy to share with other folks what farmers and ranchers and doing online.

We've also added a poll to the blog site. We've featured a poll on the capitalpress.com site for years now, but now we have added one on here, just for kicks.

You may also have noticed a couple of blog posts from Kevin Duling. Kevin is sharing stories with us that we will share with you regularly on Fridays here at Blogriculture. Kevin is a wheat farmer and freelance writer from Maupin, Ore.

So that's some of the new stuff we hope you will enjoy.

By the way, loyal readers, if you've been wondering why you haven't seen a post from Elaine Shein, Blogriculture's most prolific poster and executive editor of the Capital Press, it's because she's enjoying some vacation time. She's scheduled to return to the barn later this week, so keep an eye out for more of her insights either later this week or next week.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Acronymaphobia (ACNP)

By Kevin Duling

On my way through town, I thought I would stop by the FSA to see what the PCP was, in case I qualified for an LDP. Turns out there were problems with my CREP and CRP contracts with the NRCS and I now may be in trouble with the CCB. The good news is that I may qualify for an FSFL.

The district manager of FSA informed me that my part of the county may soon qualify for CSP, but we will have to wait because of the ratio of NHEL to HEL. He also noted that next time I sign up for a CCC loan I should use a 697 form in the event of a price drop at the CBOT.

With the current basis between Portland and CBOT, our DCP is turning out to be a joke. He recommended a higher level of CRC coverage to insure better margins on our bottom line for our LLC. We will have to speak to our CPA.

The Fed will meet next week to determine if the GNP is in line with the GDP which may have an effect on our FSFL. The result will be witnessed by watching the DOW or the NASDAQ.

After meeting with the district manager of FSA, another farmer and I decided to grab lunch. We discussed how government is trying to get our private farms to operate like the government. They want us to have similar piles of paperwork, similar safety standards, and many other things leading to increased efficiency.

Realizing I didn’t have many choices but to conform to government regulations, I decided I would start by communicating like the government. This would involve developing acronyms around the farm to decrease communications.

After practicing, it has become easy and like a second language. For example, “Take the TW (trap wagon) out to the W (west) field and fill both tractors with #2HSD (#2 high sulfur diesel), then take T3 (tractor #3) with the ST (springtooth) and work up the N (North) field.”

Like anything new, this system does have some drawbacks. The other day, using our handy cell phones, I received a call from my brother. With his voice fading in and out because of bad cell coverage in our area, he said “K, I need CPR because I’m on the RR and try to contact DEQ.”

That was a serious call. I rushed his direction fearing the worst. For some reason, there had to be a bad accident involving the railroad and my brother needing CPR. The train must have wrecked spilling something bad. Why else would I have to contact DEQ?

After spending 3 hours looking for a train wreck and my brother, I decided to try his house. He was home and just fine. I asked him what that phone call was all about. He said he just needed the car to get to the restroom and I should try not to contact the flu. Our new communication system needs a little work.

After lunch, I needed to stop by the DMV to sign up for a CDL endorsement on my ODL. At the DMV I ran into a friend of mine who works for ODOT and he informed me that OSHA will be out checking on farmers who have employees. Thank goodness we all work for the LLC as managers.

With all these thoughts in my mind, I unfortunately didn’t notice I was doing 75 mph in a 55 until I passed an OSP, who promptly stopped me and asked to see my ODL along with my POI.

Kevin Duling’s stories can be found on the Capital Press Blog every Friday. Duling is a wheat farmer and freelance writer residing in Maupin, Ore. Feedback is welcomed at kevinddul@aol.com.

Copyright July 2007.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Plumb out of luck

By Kevin Duling

I know many city dwellers who marvel at my 1917 farmhouse and tell me their ideas on how they would restore and add to it. My house has a water tower next to it. Thirty-five feet above the ground encased in a large wood structure sits a redwood tub capable of holding 3,000 gallons of water.

Before the well went in, a one mile stretch of pipe with a gas pump was used to fill this giant tub, giving the entire house pressurized running water — no doubt the cat’s meow back in the day. Today, the spoiled brat now occupying the house is having a little trouble with the plumbing.
In the world of plumbing there are three countries: the country of drainage, the country of water supply, and lastly, the country of “You’ve got to be kidding me!” Most of the plumbing in my house falls into the latter.

Plumbing needs a prerequisite of only a second grade education. Bring water in through one pipe, take water out through another. I’m not sure what they taught second graders in 1917, but they were much more advanced than today.

For example, I was under the house a while ago trying to determine which pipe was hot water and which one was cold in order to stop a leak in the shower. I discovered there were no pipes at all in the area underneath the bathroom. I suppose the rattlesnake and the black widow may have impacted my rate of travel while on my belly under the house, but I had many minutes of surveillance time while I was stuck under the furnace duct.

I did finally find one pipe under the house in the area I hoped was under the bathroom. It was routed through a concrete wall, and then angled down into the ground with the end of it unknown to mankind. I decided I would leave it alone.

You are probably asking, “Why were you under the house trying to fix a leak in the shower?” Keep in mind most of my house falls into the “You’ve got to be kidding me” country of plumbing. Like I said, those weren’t your average second-graders back in 1917.

I am amazed how a five-minute shower leak can take two full weeks of time, plus $400. I’m a little mad about the $400 because the total necessary for the repair was 25 cents. The most discouraging thing was the plumbing store salesman noting, “That’s interesting, I’ve never seen one like this. Did you purchase this overseas?”

Having graduated from a four-year college, I figured I could outdo a second-grader and make this shower leak project easy if it happens again. Access shouldn’t be a problem next time, considering all I have to do is go into the closet and remove the 4x8 sheet of plywood. I’ve also included an escape hatch I can open from under the house in case I’m pursued by a rattlesnake or a big black spider.

I sometimes day dream of having all my plumbing updated with plastic pipes and modern faucets, but my city-dweller friends all tell me to leave this house in its rustic state. They say modern improvements would only dampen their enthusiasm of visiting the ranch. For some reason these friends never seem to call back when I ask for help on these rustic projects.
Apparently, when I was underneath my house stuck under the furnace duct, I must have damaged it, as cold air is flooding through my vent. I can’t imagine furnace projects being any tougher then plumbing. I’m sure it’s at the second grade level too. The air just goes in one hole and out another, right?

Kevin Duling is a wheat farmer and freelance writer from Maupin, Ore. Any comments would be greatly appreciated at kevinddul@aol.com.

© Copyright 2007 by Kevin Duling

Moving forward offers chance to look back

Where were you on April 12, 1995?

I couldn't have answered that question until yesterday. Oh sure, I could have told you were I was living and working at the time, but what I was doing on that day? Not a chance. I have trouble remembering what I did last week. But yesterday I got a reminder of just exactly where I was and what I was doing on that date.

I was wearing body armor and a Kevlar helmet and watching the U.S. Army shoot off their big guns in the Mojave Desert.

I got the reminder thanks to a new tool that we will soon be utilizing here at Capital Press. The Capital Press has joined the Associated Press news cooperative and will have access to more AP stories and photographs. We've already started utilizing the story access for updating our website and getting more timely information into our print edition. Today we got the photo service fully operational. And it's that photo service that reminded me of where I was 12 years ago on that April day.

I was playing around with the search tool we will use to access the AP photo database, plugging in different search terms like agriculture and farming and ranching and looking for various types of livestock. That worked pretty well, so I kept playing. The database is also searchable by things like the name of the photographer too. So I did some searches using the names of friends and colleagues I've worked with over the years at various newspapers. I was, once upon a time, even paid to take photographs for newspaper and have had some photos make the AP wires over the years. So I did a search for my own name, not expecting to find anything, but one image did pop up.

The picture was one I took back in my first month as photo editor of a paper called the Daily Press in Victoville, Calif. I went to the U.S. Army's National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., outside of Barstow in the Mojave Desert. Defense Secretary William J. Perry was Rep. Jerry Lewis flew into the base on Army helicopters to see part of the live fire exercises going on out in the middle of the desert.
I had forgotten all about covering that event. And I had no memory of the photo being picked up by Associated Press. But here, a thousand miles and a dozen years later, seeing that photo brought back vivid memories of the weapons fire, and the helicopters flying in for the dog-and-pony show with the Secretary of Defense, complete with live ammunition.

We will be using Associated Press photos and stories to augment the Capital Press coverage of agriculture news by our staff members and stable of freelance writers around the West. And perhaps, as AP members, some of our stories and photos may get distributed over the AP network to other media outlets on some occasions.

It's a big day for us here at the Capital Press becoming part of the AP network, all with the goal of providing our readers faster and more comprehensive access to agriculture news. A big day in deed. One worth remembering.

Someone should take a picture to remember it by.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

July 4th a blast — literally

The newspapers this morning had several stories about how busy firemen were yesterday extinguishing fires started by fireworks.

It’s not a big surprise. For several days, night and day, fireworks have been blasting off all over the city here.

The air is smoky, and dogs have been barking. While the city had a law banning a lot of fireworks — anything that goes more than 6 feet along the ground or more than a foot in the air — it was obvious that the majority of people ignored that. It appears the majority of the fireworks went beyond those restrictions.

Driving along some streets last night involved taking a few detours: a lot of streets had piles of fireworks lined up in the center of them, and people gathered in streets and front lawns to enjoy the noise, light and adrenalin rush of blowing things up.

The spectators ranged from grandmothers in lawn chairs to young kids excitedly running around while the fireworks blasted. One of the things that stood out was how much this is a family celebration, and an intergenerational event. Instead of trying to fight traffic and crowds at the location of official celebrations, a lot of people gather with friends, relatives and neighbors and enjoy their own traditions.

Of course, such traditions can get a bit pricey. A Portland radio station last week shared the story about how one guy spent his whole $900 paycheck on fireworks. He thought this would impress his wife and friends. His friends, yes. His wife, no. She was especially not impressed when they learned that there are no refunds on fireworks after she marched him back to the place he bought them.

While that might bring a chuckle to people, sadly there are dangers that come with fireworks. The newspapers in Oregon today have a story about a four-year-old who died after getting into a closet that had stored fireworks in anticipation of that family’s celebration of July 4: the child, early in the morning, entered the closet alone and somehow lit the fireworks. According to firefighters, the fireworks were still going off when they arrived — too late — to save the child’s life.

And then there are the fires. Firemen talked about how many fires they’ve had to put out, especially in such dry, hot conditions here.

I still find it incredible how many fireworks are purchased and blasted here, for a couple of reasons.

When I was growing up on a farm, fireworks were a very rare, precious sight. They were costly, and it would be considered frivolous to spend money on that when it could be used to purchase farm parts or other input costs.

When my grandfather turned 90, I remember we bought sparklers to put on his cake and we still thought that was a bit excessive.

Secondly, we received less than a dozen inches of precipitation per year, and knew how quickly grassfires could spread. It wasn’t easy to round up precious water — or neighbors — to put out a fire quickly when you’re on the prairies and neighbors live far apart. It’s one thing when a combine sets a field on fire during harvest time. Everyone drops everything and rushes out to help. It’s quite another when someone’s kid set the pasture on fire with fireworks. People still put out the fire, but there will be a lot of grumbling about irresponsibility.

So instead we appreciated the rare times we did see fireworks: those rare times when we traveled 45 to 90 miles to the nearest cities for some special occasion and saw fireworks at the end of the day.

To us, that was a bigger blast than the week of fireworks that has been shooting off here every night.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

How much fruit do you eat each day?

From farm fruit stands, to farmers’ markets, to supermarkets, fresh local fruit is available for sale here in the West.

If you’re from another part of the country, you don’t know what you’re missing: Being so close here to some of these fruit producers, once you bite into some of the juicy, sweet peaches, apricots, nectarines, cherries, blueberries, watermelons and other fruit, you won’t ever want to eat another one of those dry, pulpy fruits that occasionally shows up at the stores in the Plains or Midwest. You might think twice about trying some of those fruits from foreign countries that help supply your shopping cart in the off-season.

The same with vegetables: the closer you can get to the people who produce the food, the fresher the vegetables and tastier they are.

However, how many of us really stop to enjoy the fresh fruits and vegetables as much as we should?

NWCN, the cable television network here in the Pacific Northwest, aired today a story by reporter Tim Robinson from Seattle. He questioned a few members of the public about how many servings of fruits and vegetables they ate per day.

Some answered five, some said two: Some obviously searched to say whatever answer they felt he might want and that sounded right.

But perhaps better questions would have been: what do you eat? What do you consider a serving? What size and amounts of servings are right for you?

Robinson interviewed University of Washington dietician Susan Adams about servings. She noted that people should eat 5-13 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Why the range? It depends on the size of the person. Larger people should consume more servings. She also explained that not all fruit are the same serving size. For example, a large banana might actually be two servings. How big a salad might be will also affect serving size. A glass of juice might have more sugar than fruit content.

Adams shared a valuable rule to follow when figuring out how big or small a serving is: a serving is about the size of a fist. So, for example, a fistful of lettuce would count as a serving. Fruit about the size of a fist — such as an apple — will also serve as a serving.

As the television announcers joked, it’s no longer an apple a day that might keep you healthy — try five apples. Of course, the apple growers would love that.

During this time of year, when a lot of fruits and vegetables are being harvested, this is an ideal time for farmers to encourage the public to consume more of the products.

It’s good business, but it’s also great health advice.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Woman gets ticket for steer's “excessive cow mooing”

Wallee the steer has earned his owner a possible $1,000 ticket for mooing at night — and disturbing her neighbor. (WCCO TV picture)

Occasionally conflicts emerge between neighbors in the countryside when someone doesn’t like the sights, sounds or smells of animal production that occurs nearby.

Farmers and ranchers have been frustrated as they try to settle the concerns of their neighbors but still continue to do what they wish with their land.

Near Hugo, Minn., the conflict went up a notch: Karyl Hylle received a ticket for “excessive cow mooing” from her two-year-old, 900-lb Jersey steer named Wallee and faces a $1,000 fine and could go to jail. It was a neighbor who had filed the nuisance complaint.

To a television reporter from WCCO TV, the neighbor complained how he hasn’t been able to sleep for the past seven months because of the mooing at night.

"It's a deep, loud moo. It sounds like a fog horn," he told reporter James Schugel, who identified the complainer as only Mark.

“The Hugo City Prosecutor says he just wants to resolve this case as quickly as he can. He really doesn't want to prosecute it. He just wants to find some common ground between the neighbors, that they can agree on,” reported WCCO. This includes Hylle moving her steer’s pen further from the neighbor’s place.

While the television crew did the story in a lighter context, noting for example that the steer didn’t moo the whole hour-and-a-half that they visited the place and perhaps it was “camera shy,” this is a serious and sad reflection of what is happening in this country.

Hylle has a legal right in her area to have not only this steer, but more cattle if she wished. The community is quite rural, with pastures around the houses.

Unfortunately, that is what people from the city desire: a nice rural countryside home, but without the realities of what is raised on the farms.

Hylle might be working to resolve the matter with her neighbor, but what’s to stop other people from following Mark’s lead and demanding tickets for nuisance be given to more farmers and ranchers who might be on the fighting fringe areas separating rural and urban lifestyles?

Hopefully other farmers will help support Hylle and ensure this nonsense ends before it sets a serious precedent.

(To see the original story as well as the TV interview with the two neighbors, click here.)

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