Urban Farming

I was born in a small rural town, the 5th generation of a farming family who emigrated from Denmark and were called by Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints leaders to colonize, settle, and build the small town. Most of our neighbors remember seeing me at a few months age riding on the tractor with my dad, or riding in front of him in the saddle on his horse. The value of hard work was instilled early in me, along with an appreciation for the agricultural lifestyle.

When I was four years old, my father was killed in a farming accident. We moved to a small city in Eastern Oregon, and I immediately learned the differences in urban and rural lifestyles. From restrictive toiletry requirements (farm boys go when, where, and how they may), to the complicated interactions with people (animals are wonderful friends), to the loss of available garden food, I was in turmoil. However, proximity to schools, churches, stores, and paved roads was appealing.

A few years later my mother remarried, and we moved to a very remote ranch in northern Nevada. Our electricity came from a generator, we didn’t have a phone, and the nearest town was over 50 miles away. Wild horses and coyotes were very common, and with a corral full of horses and miles of empty land I explored a lot. However, remote distance from schools, churches, stores, and paved roads was problematic.

From this tapestry of experiences, I yearned for the educational, societal, and civic benefits of civilization. However, I also need the fulfillment of hard work, growing my own food, and instilling principles of self-sufficiency in my children. During the house hunting process, while my wife was looking at appliances and floor plans, I was analyzing acreage, soil types, and zoning regulations. We settled in a small town outside of Provo, Utah in a house that sits on 1 acre with animal rights. My goals were basic, and have yielded wonderful results. We gradually have expanded with a small farm outside of town where we raise cattle, horses, sheep, pigs, and bees (bees aren’t really raised, but maintained). Here were my initial goals with the yielded results.

  • Value of money. Parenting today is expensive. Sports, scouting, music lessons, etc. can bankrupt a family. I want my kids to value money, and appreciate how hard it is to earn, and how important it is to manage. When my kids are present for the birth of an animal (including pulling a few lambs and calves as I hold the mother), they go through the process of feeding and raising it, arriving at the selling point is monumental. They carefully guard the money they get from it, and have learned how to invest the money. Whether in CD’s, mutual funds, or more livestock, they appreciate money they have earned. They also pay for their sports, lessons, camps, and part of their school clothing. Seldom do they ask me for money.
  • Value of work. I want the work to be hard. Tilling, weeding, and watering our garden is hard. Picking and canning our fruit is too. Building fence, feeding hay in winter, gathering eggs every day, and doctoring animals stretches kids. Hauling hay usually entails our 7 year old driving the truck and everyone else stacking hay. Enough of this work has kept my kids from playing video games, seldom watching TV, and being unfamiliar with boredom. While hard, they appreciate the time we spend together, and the outcomes we enjoy at nearly every meal that we eat.
  • Appreciation and quality of food. The majority of most of our meals comes from food that we have grown. We raise our own beef, pork, lamb, and chicken. We have fresh eggs from our chickens, vegetables from our garden, and fruit from our orchard. There is pride in growing food, but also a distinct quality. I know the health records of our animals, and know that our vegetables and fruits are free of insecticides and herbicides because our chickens do a wonderful job keeping bugs out of our garden and away from our trees. We allow them to roam, and they love bugs. I don’t have ticks on animals, worms in fruit, or bugs killing plants, only a bunch of full and happy chickens! I have torn out shrubs and planted raspberries, blackberries, josta berries, elder berries, mulberries, currant berries, and strawberries. They’re colorful from a landscape perspective, and they keep my kids playing outside instead of coming in the house for a snack and sitting down to watch TV. I’ve removed many trees, and replaced them with fruit trees. On our 1 acre, we have 28 fruit trees. They shade playhouses and picnic tables, but provide fruit throughout the summer. My kids have picked out the varieties we have, and are proud of them. They also dislike the taste of fast foods, having grown to appreciate the difference in fresh vs. fast food.
  • Active lifestyle. Between the animals, garden, trees, and yard work, my kids stay very active. I give them specific assignments that vary through the seasons during the year. Feeling an ownership in what we produce though results in them taking initiative in working. I’ll often see them finish a job in the garden, and gravitate to a basketball game in the driveway. I firmly believe that their minds function at the activity level of their bodies. And eating fresh foods prepared well by my wonderful chef wife fuels their activity levels.
  • Meaningful involvement with my kids. I love the opportunities for teaching, interaction, and conversation that come through our work together. I find that I need to teach skills, but also encourage innovation and self-confidence. Not every project goes well, but seldom can these learning experiences result in permanent damage. I try to allow freedom to discover, but also the habit to work. I think an agricultural experience on any scale contributes to that. I’m amazed the questions, insights, and perspectives shared with me by my kids as we work together. And when the work is done, they play together, the simple games that they invent. These aren’t scripted and sedentary activities. They run, they laugh, and they think. It’s a joy to watch this, and it keeps me young in body, mind, and spirit.

Faith. Seeing the effects of seasons, weather patterns, and varieties strengthens belief and appreciation in a higher power. Planting a tiny seed that grows into a delicious meal is hard to explain without the principle of faith. I think that agriculture provides the best physical manifestation of the spiritual process of faith.

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Triggers

Recently as Mothers Day was approaching, I was asked what kind of flowers I was getting for my wife. It seems like this is a question that I get around Valentine’s, anniversaries, birthdays, Columbus Day, Cinco de Mayo, Arbor Day, etc. ahhhhhhh!

Flowers for me are an interesting paradox. I love growing them in my yard, love seeing them in the mountains or deserts, in fact I even know the Latin names of many of them. Yet, something about buying them just doesn’t appeal to me. I assumed for many years that the root (no pun intended) for my flower aversion came from either a financial or a safety perspective. Financial because they are terribly overpriced right when we need them most, and they wilt and die quickly, no matter how many little powder packets are sprinkled in the water. An average bouquet costs roughly the same as a rack of ribs, a pack of steaks, or something that can cheerfully be marinated, basted, and grilled. While using a modicum of money is convenient, true value is established when compared to the currency of barbeque, and flowers wilt in comparison.

Safety, because as a product of the early 90’s, I remember the trauma of formal dances complete with cummerbunds, awkward tuxes that have too many weird snaps and buckles, and seemed to always push on my latest sports bruise or broken bone. The misery and fear only was exacerbated by an equally nervous teenage girl trying to pin on a bulky corsage. The pins on those things are huge, roughly the size and sharpness of the bangs of that era which were stiffened and sharpened to ridiculous points with cans and cans of aerosol hairspray. Dodging the bangs would usually result in a jab from a pin, or vice versa dodging a pin would get me impaled by the bangs. Navigating around other perspiring teenagers in a stuffy lunchroom or gymnasium while avoiding sharp objects, to the perpetual beat of screaming cocaine fueled screamers like Vince Neal, Axel Rose, and Bret Michaels was not a calming atmosphere. This certainly caused my discomfort with flowers to blossom.

However, in church on Sunday, one of my great friends brought up in our lesson that he had awakened to the sounds of a flock of birds outside his window that morning. When he spoke of birds in the morning, I thought immediately of fresh spring smells, bright sunshine, and morning tranquility. However, he went on to say that it brought back crushing memories of the morning more than twenty years ago that his young son was killed, and the accompanying pain. He called it a “trigger,” a psychological reminder of a past event. As he was describing it, I realized that my first memory of flowers came from my father’s funeral when I was four years old. Flowers in nature don’t have the same smell as bouquets, arrangements, and decorations. While others may enjoy the aroma of flower arrangements, for me they all smell like a funeral, they are a trigger. There is a sense linked with loss for me, not comfort as with others. They are linked to separation for me, not closeness.

My religious ontology gives me the comfort in knowing my separation is temporary, that I will see my dad again. My friend harbors the same faith and belief. However, we each have “triggers” in our lives that have associations formed from experiential learning opportunities. They are real, they make up our fabric, and they are a profound opportunity to appreciate life and living. Though painful, they humble us and make us appreciate and identify the strength within ourselves to move beyond. My flower trigger helped me appreciate Mother’s Day like never before as I spent time with my wife and my mom. Their support and love meant more to me because of a powerful trigger reminder of how the absence of support and love felt at a previous time in my life. The pain of a trigger item can in turn trigger profound gratitude, happiness, confidence, and strength as we identify and reflect. Perhaps that is what Timothy was talking about in 2 Timothy 1:7 “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

Sincere

Dr. Benjamin Martinez shared the following example that illustrates this dichotomy:

“Of all the kinds and colors of marble, the milky white Carrara is the rarest and most costly.  Sculptors who lived during the Golden Age of Tuscan Sculpture claimed that it was the purest substance God ever created, and they longed for the feel of it beneath their hands.  Any sculptor who was commissioned by a wealthy patron of the arts to create a statue of Carrara marble felt himself to be highly favored.

“Sculpting in marble was neither fast nor easy.  In addition to innate talent, it required both careful analysis and tedious, backbreaking work.  The artist would have to study the block of marble to determine its essential nature.  He would then need to discover the direction of the grain and ascertain the presence of any flaws.  He had to make careful and precise plans and drawings that were in accord with the structure of the marble itself.  Then, with consummate care, he would begin to chip off the superfluous marble, layer by layer, until he revealed the form he had envisioned.

“Any mistake could be disastrous.  If the sculptor went against the grain he could crack the marble; if he struck with a blow with too much force he could mash the crystals beneath the surface, creating holes and ruining the sculpture.  This seldom happened with the greatest of sculptors, who labored with infinite care and supreme sensitivity.  Those with lesser talent and little patience, however, would occasionally be confronted with such a disaster.  Rather than admit their blunder and lose their commission, some would resort to subterfuge.

“Soft, white wax, skillfully applied, could usually disguise the damage.  In outward appearance the sculpture appeared to be flawless and the defect was seldom discovered until well after the work had been accepted and the commission paid.  As the practice became more common, patrons of the arts became more discerning.  They refused to accept a piece of marble statuary until after a careful examination had been made to ensure that it was undamaged and contained no wax-covered flaws.  The highest standard of excellence for works of white Carrara marble came to include the distinction, sine cere, meaning without wax.

“Eventually these two words merged to become a single word, in Spanish “sincera” or in English “sincere” meaning pure, unadulterated, whole, intact, and uninjured.”  When the word was used to refer to marble works of art, the emphasis was on the fundamental wholeness of the statue, not just on its superficial appearance or outward appearance.  The statue was expected to be good, not just to look good.”

From

Establishing a Standard of Excellence for Building a Life of Happiness, Fulfillment, and Spiritual Growth

Elder Richard G. Maynes

Brigham Young University–Idaho Devotional

November 11, 2008

Roadtrips

In the past month I have taken two trips. On one, my son flew with me to Washington DC. The 4 hour flight seemed unbelievably long, uncomfortable, and stressful. My travel office had made great arrangements for travel and lodging, yet travel was still crazy as I navigated the hurry up and wait airport mentality. DC is amazing though, and we literally ran to see all the sites and attractions. The second trip was decided when we noticed that the 4th of July week gave us the best chance of avoiding conflicts with camps of all kinds (ie. sports, scouts, student council, etc.) My brother in law lives in Oklahoma, certainly a place not known as a destination the caliber of Washington DC from a tourist perspective. However, we decided a 2000 mile round trip drive would be feasible. So we loaded the family for an old fashioned road trip, resulting in a fabulous and memorable experience.

The trip was old fashioned in the way that most of us remember getting in the car and going to visit family down long stretches of lonely highways. However, thankfully vehicles have evolved significantly to provide a little more interior room, quite a bit less exterior room, and features like DVD players, better acoustics than 8 track players could have dreamed of, and air conditioning that doesn’t come from rolled down windows.

We even travelled part of the way on historic Route 66, and took opportunities to stop at interesting museums, quaint little towns, and attractions like Dorothy’s House in the land of Oz in Liberal, Kansas, supposedly the real home in the movie the Wizard of Oz. Though we had the DVD player, the majority of the time was spent in conversation and observation. Absent were the sibling fights I remember from my youth, and the time literally flew by. Simple sights like the state Four Corners, old town Albuquerque shops and restaurants, the river walk in Pueblo, Colorado, burger joints in Texas, Royal Gorge in Colorado, or a buffalo reserve in Oklahoma were fascinating rest stops. Even more informal sites like Navajo hogans, Texas cattle ranches, or Kansas feedlots were interesting to see.

Spending over 30 hours driving seems ridiculous to many when flights are so much faster and convenient. However, my appreciation for different areas, experiencing and tasting different cultures, and going much more slowly along the way was fun. My favorite memory from the trip for me though was uninterrupted time spent with my family. We have been to funner places and more exotic destinations. Yet I was reminded of the simplicity of relationships, of details, and of enjoyment. Seeing cousins was enjoyed in Oklahoma as time was spent mainly talking, swimming, and eating. The lack of having to plan, hurry, and spend was therapeutic and relaxing in so many ways.

As the trip wound down, conversation turned to where the next family vacation would be. Notable places like Disneyland that usually come up were absent. Instead, remote locations that would help complete “states visited” lists were discussed. I think the unspoken goal shared was that it once again be slow and simple. Readers, what suggestions do you have that are simple, slow, and make for a great road trip?

Perspective

A teacher was teaching her class of students when she relayed a story about a cruise ship capsized at sea.

On the ship, there was a couple that managed to make their way to a lifeboat, but then realized there was only space for one.

Although I can’t confirm whether this story actually happened or not, I certainly think we can all learn something from it.

A cruise ship capsized while at sea. On the ship was a couple who, after having made their way to the lifeboat, realized that there was only space for one person left.

At this moment, the man pushed the woman behind him and jumped onto the lifeboat himself.

The lady stood on the sinking ship and shouted one sentence to her husband.
The teacher stopped and asked: “What do you think she shouted?”

Most of the students excitedly answered: “I hate you! I was blind!”

Now, the teacher noticed a boy who was silent throughout, she got him to answer and he replied: “Teacher, I believe she would have shouted – Take care of our child!”

The teacher was surprised, asking: “Have you heard this story before?”

The boy shook his head: “Nope, but that was what my mom told my dad before she died to disease.”

The teacher lamented: “The answer is right.”

The cruise sunk, the man went home and brought up their daughter single-handedly.

Many years later after the death of the man, their daughter found his diary while tidying his belongings.

It turns out that when parents went onto the cruise ship, the mother was already diagnosed with terminal illness. At the critical moment, the father rushed to the only chance of survival.

He wrote in his diary: “How I wished to the bottom of the ocean with you, but for the sake of our daughter, I can only let you lie forever below the sea alone.”

The story is finished. The class was completely silent.

The teacher knows that the student has understood the moral of the story, that of the good and the evil in the world, there are many complications behind them which are hard to understand.

Which is why we should never only focus on the surface and judge others without understanding them first.

Those who like to pay the bill, do so not because they are loaded but because they value friendship above money.

Those who take the initiative at work, do so not because they are stupid but because they understand the concept of responsibility.

Those who apologize first after a fight, do so not because they are wrong but because they value the people around them.

Those who often text you, do so not because they have nothing better to do but because you are in their heart.

One day, all of us will get separated from each other. We will miss our conversations of everything and nothing and the dreams we had. Days, months and years will pass until this contact becomes rare.

One day, our children will see our pictures and ask: “Who are these people?”
And we will smile with invisible tears because a heart is touched with a strong word and you will say: “It was them that I had the best days of my life with.”

Names

The historical instances of changing names is quite interesting. From the aspiring musician Gordon Sumner, who because of his propensity to wear black and yellow attire was given the moniker of Sting. To the young USC football player from Iowa named Marion Morrison, who was asked to take on a more manly name, John Wayne. Few of us readily recognize Norma Jean Mortenson (Marilyn Monroe), or Samuel L. Clements (Mark Twain). Yet in the technology world of today, many of us have monikers or aliases, but do we really know the reasons?

Origins of names can come from a variety of sources. Gratefully, not all parents take the approach of Ron Howard, naming children based on the location of conception. My name comes from an interesting mix of factors, I am told. The cowboy component coming from the great saddle bronc rider Casey Tibbs. The courage of Casey Jones, the train engineer who gave his life for his job (and was named after his birthplace, Cayce, Kentucky). And the athletic reference and cool charisma to the pre-strike out form of Casey at the bat.

Each spring after all of the calves and lambs are born, my kids join me for the annual branding. The scene takes place across ranches throughout the west, just has it has for hundreds of years. Supposedly this dates back to the Spanish conquistadores who marked their animals with three crosses for identification purposes. It’s not a pleasant sight, or smell, as the branding iron is heated and our HP brand is seared on the left hip of the calves for permanent identification.

No, we don’t have a sponsorship with Hewlett Packard. Our brand goes back to Hans Peterson, a convert to the LDS church from Vile, Fyuen, Denmark. He was called to settle the town of Fillmore, Utah and worked hard to support his family on 50 acres of land, a molasses mill, and occasional work as a tinsmith and clothing tailor. I like to think that he left a legacy of faith, hard work, eating, technical skill, and nice clothing for future Petersons. He also was on the city council, the school board, the city recorder, and the town violinist. I am proud of the example, heritage, and Peterson name that he passed to me. And it seems fitting each year that I put his initials on the cows that I am using as a tool to build the same principles of faith and work in my children.

My kids spend time each day feeding and caring for their animals. They seldom ask for money to pay for their needs. From the sale of their animals, they each have bank accounts and investments. They also have meals that come from organic meats that they raised, eggs that they gather, and produce that they grow in our garden and orchard. Fixing fence, digging thistles, and moving animals (which can include watching me get bucked off horses) can be hard work. At least I hope it’s hard work. It has successfully stunted their interest in video games, TV, and other common activities. However, I’m not trying to revert them to the 1800’s agrarian lifestyle in Fillmore. I recognize the same qualities required of Hans Peterson are required of them today, and I hope they feel a connection to those principles that are inherent in their names. I also hope that I leave a legacy with my name that can span generations, distances, and changes. Each of our names has a meaning, do we appreciate it?

Linked Parents, the Chain Conundrum

I grew up on a very large cattle ranch among a most colorful group of cowboys. I quickly became familiar with their ability to communicate in different types of metaphors, mixed metaphors, and mixed up metaphors. I’ll let you decide which type relates to the lesson of the chain.

The story is told of an old cowboy who pulls up to the local hardware store in his beat-up pickup truck, and determinedly marches into the store as fast as his bowed legs can carry him. “Give me the strongest chain you’ve got” he demands to the store clerk. The clerk politely inquires the length, and then measures, cuts, and delivers the chain to the impatient buckaroo. Within the hour, the quiet of the store is broken and filled with the rumble of the old truck, the clicking of run down boot heels on the sidewalk, and a loud rattling sound as the chain is angrily tossed back on the counter. “This chain don’t work” states the old cowboy. “I hooked on with it, and no matter how hard I pushed, it wouldn’t move a thing. It’s not stronger than my rope I tried to push with this morning.”

The chain metaphor and analogy was used to remind me in many situations of the difference between “pushing” and “leading.” When pushed, individual links of a chain go different directions, acting independently, and lacking a common purpose, they serve little use. Yet when pulled by a common purpose, each link lends individual strength that collectively fortifies the chain as a whole. Several times in my life I have found myself pushing, not leading.

Last night, I found myself once again reflecting on the lesson of the chain. I was standing in the corner of the gym at my sons basketball game. You see, I prefer standing near the corner, away from parents who are exerting their own “chain” powers. Some by pushing and shouting at their kids, the referees, and the coaches. Others by quietly complaining and comparing abilities of said kids, referees, and coaches. I’ve determined no one in the stands seems to be happy, and the swell of chain pushers inevitably spills ugly frustrations out on the court to a group of emotional, changing, somewhat insecure teenagers who are trying to figure out how to function as a pulled chain, linking their individual abilities in a cohesive athletic effort. So I choose to stand apart where I have to deal with my own emotions, independent of the commotion in the stands.

Down by 2 points with six seconds to go, my son drove to the basket with a look I’ve seen many times, in various sports from him. He loves last second opportunities. Yet, two players converged, slaps on arms could be heard from across the gym, yet the only whistle was when the ball went out of bounds. Immediately my mind began to fill with thoughts of “Why didn’t he go up stronger? Why didn’t he split the double team better? Could he have pulled up sooner, or jumped a little higher? We’ve been working on the hook shot, why didn’t he use it?” He was despondent, feeling like he had let his coach and team down. You see, Chad is a pleaser. He cares very little what his peers think of him, but he cares tremendously what his coaches, parents, and leaders think of him. He often takes the weight of the world on his skinny shoulders believing because he’s out there, because the ball is in his hands, that he’s responsible for the hopes and ambitions for everyone. I saw his agonizing look first at his coach, who trusted him to be out there. Then to me, his personal rebounder who spends every morning at 5:30 dutifully rebounding shots for him. I realized the links of his chain were being pushed in different directions in his head, and as a parent, the chain was in my hands.

I rushed Chad home to meet his quorum for a temple trip, and the time he was gone helped me really reflect on my actions . I remember being 15, being filled with new found athletic ability, yet feeling new and confusing emotions. I remember trying so hard, yet coaches telling me to “slow down” and hustle. The oxymoron perplexed me and frustrated me. Yet gradually, the game did slow down for me, and the accolades of all-state, all region, academic all state, etc. validated and healed my earlier struggles. It then hit me, like a chain to the side of my head, I was comparing my son to what I’d become, not gently guiding him to discover the strength that lies in the links of his life.

One of my doctoral professors at BYU, Cliff Mayes, teaches that a role is not a “prescribed list of behaviors but rather a repertoire of possibilities upon which one can draw as he finds himself positioned in various situations.” As a slowly learning parent, I am learning I can recognize the individual links in my children, and help position them in the direction that pulls us together in strength and unity. If I try to push towards a prescribed list of behaviors, I find myself facing the same frustration as the old cowboy pushing his chain.