Let the harvest take the stage

barnI typically write my main sugar beet harvest column during the harvest. There wasn’t enough harvest to allow me time to write the column so I am sitting here post-harvest with a few stories.

I met Leo Hart at the beet piler in Warren. Hart is from Watertown, South Dakota and hauled produce for 70 years. Hart still trains horses at age 91 and looks like he’s about 70 years old or less. I interviewed him while standing on the fuel tank of his truck so I couldn’t get a picture as we were very busy. Leo Hart told me that the Guinness Book of World Records shows that the oldest over-the-road truck driver was 101 years-old. It is Hart’s goal to eclipse that record. This was his first year driving sugar beet trucks so he introduced himself as “the oldest rookie you’ll ever meet.” I think he’ll make the record which would be good for both of us as I can see him again. Hart had a recipe for Rhubarb beer and I forgot to get it from him; maybe next year, on the fuel tank, in line at the piler, Leo?

Here’s something I haven’t seen, at least in such great a number, in a long time. Truck drivers are filling the second seat with a child, friend or other family member. Years ago, truckers often brought someone along for at least part of the shift but lately it seemed to occur less frequently. Maybe the tough harvests a few years ago scare people off. That second seat was filled pretty often this year and I thought it was good as some company is nice. It is also a second set of eyes. One of the ladies at the scale brought some company along with her too which I found touching.

Saturday afternoon, the crew of R and R farms indulged themselves in some nostalgia. We all started talking about old trucks, old truckers and old memories from the harvest. It was like a montage of old times and it really made me feel good. When I heard a story, I could emotionally go back in time to the event. It made me feel really good and really young. After my mind came back to October, 2015-sitting in the truck-I soon felt my age.

Here’s something I wanted to say, there were some accidents this year. I have not heard of one accident yet that was the truck driver’s fault. People always talk like beet trucks are so dangerous. The road is divided into two lanes and everyone has a responsibility to occupy their own side. Trucks may seem intimidating but remember that there is a person driving that truck who is being careful and just trying to earn a little money to pay for heating fuel or a child’s braces.

We arrive into a field with such mass that we perform amazing work. We hauled 160 acres of beets in four hours one night. There is such energy and activity when we arrive and then nothing. I heard the Jackson Browne song “Stay” and it paints such a picture in my mind of a solitary janitor cleaning after a rock concert. After all of that energy and work to harvest the beets, we just leave-then a solitary tractor and chisel plow come and clean up. The operator loosens the topsoil and works the crop matter back into the soil. It always seems like he cleans up and shuts the lights off on harvest and sends all home until the next harvest.

Rural Reflections Radio

Rural Reflections RadioHere is this week’s Rural Reflections Radio program,Back to School

Back to school

barnI’ve noticed something in the last few years of high school
graduates; not all of them are rushing off to college. Depending on
the graduate, I would say this is a good thing. Perhaps even a
display of maturity and understanding of delayed gratification.

In the movie, “Fight Club,” the character of Tyler Durden explains
that at various stages of his life, he has asked his father what he
should do. His father gives him all of the standard answers to
include a four-year trip to college. Durden ends up
making soap for a living.

We don’t let 18 year-olds drink alcohol and, until that birthday, they
are not allowed to make legal decisions for themselves. Yet we
expect them to decide what they will do the rest of their life at age
18. A decision of what college major to pursue will include such
expense for tuition, books, etc. that you must be able to back-up
education with a job to pay for it.

My personal path to education should have ended with me as an English
teacher. I have regrets about this but considering the way government
and some parents treat teachers, I am happy to have the regret
instead of the teaching job. I did try college later but made the
decision based upon which place I wanted to play football, it was an
immature decision.

So what to think about the 18 year-old entering the workforce instead
of becoming a freshman? I think it carries a little risk as parents
can only include their children on the family health care account
until age 26. Still, most kids can work a few years and still
graduate by age 26. The people I’ve found the best at their job are
those who have had a variety of jobs prior to or while going to
school. People with this experience know how to make change, how to
communicate, have better empathy and their employers usually correct
many of their childhood habits.

More importantly, avoiding school until you have some perspective may
set you on a path where you develop the strength of your convictions.
If you decided that you will believe in yourself, follow your own
pathway and live with the results then you will be a man or woman of
courage. With this courage, you can choose the path in life,
education, marriage and work that will make you truly happy. A
conscious decision to not follow high school buddies to college may
also show independence. Finally, college is a great party; delaying
this pleasure in lieu of improved perspective seems mature to me.

Perhaps the twilight Area between high school and college should be
spent on a personal pursuit of fine arts. A basic appreciation of
great authors,exposure to art and fine movies could all be
accomplished with
a Netflix account, a library card and high-speed internet. If
students could broaden their horizons on their own time, perhaps
their college stay would be shorter. These few years of personal
discovery could also help a young person choose the college major
which they would find fulfilling and still make a buck.

If your adult child is still living in the basement, don’t panic.
They might just need a safe place to make a big decision. If they’re
still there in ten years, go ahead and worry.
Finally, it’s all a personal choice. I hope you make the one that
eventually leads you to more education and happiness.

Rural Reflections Radio

Rural Reflections RadioHere is this week’s Rural Reflections Radio program,Letter to Dave

Letter to Dave

barnDear Dave,

This is going to have to be a quick note; life is busy. I guess life is always busy but I have a new deadline now and I am a creature of old deadlines.

The cattle are gone, Dave. I have been custom-grazing for the Peterson brothers all this summer. There is still grass and alfalfa to eat, however this is a time of the year when pasture needs to recuperate. The grass and legumes need to soak up the sun and send reserves down to the roots of the plant. If the cattle keep eating the plant, it constantly puts its energy to growing instead of preserving its roots for the winter. This, combined with a lack of rain, means pasture season is done here.

This is the transition part of the year, Dave. I identify pretty closely with the cattle but when they leave some of my own identity leaves. Fortunately, the sugar beet season is next. I can see all of my old buds and drink coffee while participating in the largest, coordinated harvest in North America. After that, it is just a matter of plowing snow and building stuff out in the shop. I guess I just move from one aspect of my identity the same as passing from season to season.

You told me that you went on a tractor tour or tractorcade with your Farmall 450. I heard you took the tractor to a steam threshers show out in North Dakota, I hope you got to do a little plowing while you were there. Everyone who has seen the picture of your tractor has been amazed at the work and I’m glad you can enjoy time with your new friend.

I was really happy to be nominated as “Conservationist of the Year” for Pennington County, Dave. I really enjoy the various practices which were part of my nomination. I remember how excited I was when I started building water tanks with “escapements” so that small animals could get out of the tank if they fell into the water. I was so happy the first time I saw my rotational grazing plan and thought how much fun it would be to move the cattle form paddock to paddock. Even a couple of winter’s ago, Bryan Steiger helped me build my shade structures and I was worried that maybe the cattle wouldn’t use them-but they have used them consistently. Anyway, Dave, I am proud but humble at such an award.

Well Dave, that’s about it around here. I have a new position at work which is a little demanding right now so I better go do the work. Tell everyone hello and I look forward to our next visit.
Your little bro’

Rural Reflections Radio

Rural Reflections RadioHere is this weeks Rural Reflections Radio, Relevance


barn“there are worse things than
being alone
but it often takes decades
to realize this
and most often
when you do
it’s too late
and there’s nothing worse
too late”
Charles Bukowski.

I saw a documentary recently about Johnny Cash. I love the music of
Cash and, like most fans, assumed his life must have been rich and
full. In 2002, Cash recorded a son written by Trent Reznor titled,
“Hurt.” Reznor was a young man when he wrote the lyrics and the pain
in the song seemed to come mostly from a place of addiction. When
Cash sang the same lyrics, he was 71 years old and the pain in the
song came mostly from regret at how he spent his life. There must
have been good times in Cash’s life too but the regret he voiced
through Reznor’s lyrics really made me think.

I think one of the driving forces in my life is to be relevant. I
have seen so many people refuse to grow and they end up marooned on
an island of their own making. The way you avoid this is to build
bridges. Bridges are built between people through communication, it’s
like one person has the wood and the other has the nails. If you
don’t combine your resources, the bridge will never get built. Maybe
that is why it is so important to have an effect on other people’s
lives. When you effect someone else’s life, you give them wood. When
they influence your life, they give you nails. When you communicate
and share, you build bridges and stay relevant because you are
needed. The tough part is you then have to need other person, which
makes you vulnerable.

I am in my late forties and I am really only beginning to understand
this human dynamic. I am lucky as I think most people don’t really
realize how important this transfer of human energy is to living a
fulfilled life. The unfortunate truth is that most people only
realize this after they are past the age of retirement. At this
point, no one listens to them. We live in a culture where we only
care what is young and trendy and so we don’t often learn from our
elders. If we gave older folks more time and respect, it might make
life better and we would be energetic enough to enjoy the their
enlightenment they might share. I got lucky when Cash
sang “Hurt” for me. Without this experience, I would still await the
realization as I blithely sailed to my own island.

I did not know Gracie Woods except from what I have read. She seems to
have been a person who possessed a relevance most of us will never
acquire. Gracie was so young but was so relevant to so many people. I
know how she did it however I am touched by the fact.

If you read nothing else then read this paragraph. You don’t become
relevant by kissing babies or shaking hands or getting everyone to
think you’re some great guy. You become relevant by real, sincere
involvement in the lives of other people and allowing them to
positively effect your life. Now is the time when you should learn
this life lesson by whatever means are needed. Don’t wait to learn it
on your own because it may be too late.

Rural Reflections Radio

Rural Reflections RadioHere is this week’s Rural Reflections Radio program, Pre-harvest report

Pre-harvest report

barnI have served you this same written meal several times; a story about
sugar beet harvest. We are still in the pre-pile stage but I think I
have gathered enough to prepare you for the harvest which occurs
October 1st.

a. Pre-harvest versus the harvest

The main harvest of sugar beets has always been called “the
campaign.” This is a pretty simple definition as we begin October 1st
and don’t stop until we complete the task. Pre-pile is a different
animal. Pre-pile exists for as many different reasons as there are
perspectives. Pre-pile exists to give the processing factories
something from which to extract, or it exists so farmers can remove
beets from field headlands which gives them space to move equipment.
It seems like we progressively remove more sugar beets each year
during pre-pile which I suspect is an attempt to avoid the cold,
late-season harvest which has occurred in the past.

B. R and R Bucks

Last year I told you that I received my whole paycheck in “R and R
Farms Bucks” which are redeemable, same as cash, at all participating
“175” convenience stores, of which only one exists. This year’s “R
and R Bucks” are much nicer and look almost like real currency. The
“buck” appears like most dollar bills but lacks a presidential
portrait. Instead, there is what appears to be a scene very similar
to Mt Rushmore however the faces are those of John, Eddy, Mike and
Joe. The bill is of very nice quality and the 175 convenience store
has a lot more to choose from so I am pretty happy. Not as happy as I
would be if I received legal tender but you take the good with the

C. Harvesting beets near Thief River Falls

I saw an article about the sugar beet harvesting near Thief River
Falls. The beet harvest has slowly crept east for some time, now. R
and R Farms harvested near Viking last year and this past summer
hauled from just southwest of Carpenter’s Corner. Valley farmers like
the lighter, sandier ground for times when heavier ground is too wet
to support heavy equipment. I just like hauling from familiar

D. A real conversation

Okay, a portion of what I write about the harvest is simple farce.
There is no such thing as “R and R bucks” and I get paid by check. A
lot of what I write about the harvest is done in good fun which
developed while sitting in a truck following a harvesting up and down
a field. We like to tease each other on the radio a lot and I would
like to share a conversation which recently occurred between Ed
Rosendahl and me. Please remember we are friends, we were just
kidding and no feelings were hurt during the making of the following
conversation. It started off as a discussion about heart attacks and
performing CPR.

Eddy (reflectively)” I suppose if I ever had a heart attack you’d
have to call my wife to see if she really want you to save me!”
Grant (supportively) “Eddy, we know you’d never want any heroic
measures, and you are pretty old”
Eddy (rolls his eyes-at least I think)
Grant “you know, Ed. It probably would be best if you gave me power
of attorney so that I can make these sorts of decisions for you
during the harvest.”
Eddy “I suppose you would want control of the check book too?!”
Grant “I think the family would be comfortable with that, I just
seems like a logical step.”
Eddy “You’d make sure the boys got paid?”
Grant (greedily, eyes narrowing, background darkening) “yes, oh yes.
They would find me fair and kind”
Eddy (hopefully) “but their wives would still have to work?”
Grant “I have always found a productive woman, is a good wife. So,

All in good fun.

Rural Reflections Radio

Rural Reflections RadioHere is this week’s Rural Reflections Radio program, Already Gone