Opinion: Big farms aren’t ‘bad’


Bo Stone, his wife Missy, and his parents jointly own P & S Farms in Rowland, North Carolina. He represents the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance as one of its Faces of Farming and Ranching. Follow our Farmers with Issues series for more perspective from people out in the field.

It’s just before 7:00 a.m. I’m pulling on my boots to step onto the fields of our family farm. The sun is rising, casting a pale glow across the land, making the warming frost sparkle. I love this part of my day. I walk out to the middle of the field and look over my crops.

I am proud of the corn, wheat and soybeans we grow on my 2,300-acre family farm. We grow sweet corn and strawberries to sell at the roadside market and also raise hogs and cows. And I feel good about the role we play…

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What’s the Story on Your Christmas Tree?

Merry Christmas to everyone! I hope you  have all had a wonderful day spending time with friends and family. John Wayne is on television. Mom is reading my new cookbook. Brady, Thomas and Dad are playing with mom’s new iPad (which she will probably never be able to get her hands on). All in all its been a typical Christmas day at the Peek household. 

As I sit here soaking it all in I look at our Christmas tree. To me, its beautiful  but to someone else it might look like a yard sale, grass littered with junk. 

Ornaments are interesting it doesn’t matter if they are old or new it is all about the story behind them. Like that hockey player ornament currently hanging on our tree. 

Brady and Thomas have started giving my mom the most random ornaments they can find. This was last year’s winner, along with a black santa, and Elivs. 

Or that snowflake, looks like a generic snowflake ornament but I clearly remember begging my grandmother to buy it for me one summer at the mall when I was four. Since she is gone it is all the more special. 

Those (in my opinion) ugly looking Santas. I didn’t realize to the other day that they were a set that my parents bought to hang on their tree the first year they were married. Some of the ornaments haven’t made it through their 31 years together, thankfully their marriage has.

Ornaments like my girl scout ornament reminds me a friends and memories from years past.

Billy Button came to me from dad all the way from Frederick, Oaklahoma. Dad went to Oaklahoma to pick up some cotton harvesting equipment and brought Billy Button back. He’s so cute and its all the more special  because dad picked him out. 

So many of our ornaments are homemade, but this snoopy is really made by hand .My grandmother “Mama Clara” helped me make these with her sewing machine. I wish I would have been older and that I could have learned more about sewing from her before she died, but pretty much all I learned I learned from her. 

Some ornaments like this Alabama Farmers Federation was one that is bought, but the story of how we got it is what makes it special. At the annual meeting in 1996 Brady was 4 and I was 5. I  was too bashful to go to get the ornament, Brady wasn’t. He went up to the front of the room and got it and held it in its little box ALL the way home from Mobile. 
This ornament was a purchase from a family vacation in the Bahamas. My mom picked it out. I think it is one of the scariest looking ornaments I have ever seen. But its a little Bohemian Santa Claus that came home on the ship with us and we have so many good memories from that trip its fun to see him come out every December. 

Finally my cute little elf ornament I made in kindergarten. He was made out of a squished coke can. The ornament hung on the tree in the lunchroom for several weeks. I remember being so proud to bring it home to hang on our family’s tree. He was the first of many elementary school ornaments that would be brought home.  

Like I said, our tree is a hodgepodge of ornaments, may not mean much to the average joe, but to me they each have a story. What special ornaments hang our your tree? 

I Smell Like Christmas and Biscuits

This is my third year to work at Cracker Barrel in Athens over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
I work in the gift shop, I can’t tell you how glad I am that I do not work with the food. I usually describe my job as follows: I get to smile and talk to people. If you know me those are two things I do VERY well, maybe a little too well.  Most days I am excited to go to work.
I really like working at Cracker Barrel for the month I work there each year. Especially when my other jobs require me sitting behind a desk most of the time looking at excel spreadsheets or preparing letters.
Like any job there are some days that I wish I didn’t work at Cracker Barrel. Like When they tell me I am working Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve.
Or even worse my freshman year of college on my very first day of work I was informed that I was scheduled to work DURRING the Iron Bowl. It was 2009, we were 11-0 going into the Iron Bowl. I had been to every home game, watched every away game and I was going to miss the biggest game of the year!?!?! Let’s just say I cried about that one when I got to the car.
But other than a few exceptions I love Cracker Barrel! It is not required but I try to greet EVERY single person who comes in, so somedays I do get tired of saying “Hello!!! Welcome to Cracker Barrel!”, and “Welcome In”…
*Random Tangent- for some reason “welcome in” doesn’t sound right if you think about it. I’m not sure that it is gramatically incorrect, but it sounds weird if you think about it (so don’t think about it or judge me).
but a lot of people who come in do not look very happy (this is both customers and fellow employees) so maybe a smiling face is all they need.
On a typical day at the Cracker Barrel there are a number of things I can expect to experience:

  1. Straighten up the toy corner after a mob of rambunctious children have visited it

  2. Answer the phone a few times

  3. Say “Welcome to Cracker Barrel” like a broken record

  4. Clean the windows on the door that seem to make their own finger prints

  5. Be asked what the price is of an item (when the price tag is on the product)

  6. Be told by a customer how many people are in their party (please see hostess)

  7. Wrap presents, presents and more presents (including all shapes and sizes EVEN a rocking chair for one lady)

  8. Be hit on by the older men who come in for breakfast

  9. Accidentially greet someone who you have already greeted once and be reminded “we have been here for a while now” (Is there anything wrong with being welcomed twice? Maybe I am really happy you are here?)

  10. Straighten the toy corner a few more times

But at the end of my shift no matter how crazy the day has been I clock out and walk to the back of the parking lot to my car: smiling, covered in glitter
smelling like
 Like I said, I like my job. Its definitely not something I want to make a career of, but right now it is a nice break from school work. Also working in Athens I see pretty much everyone I know and usually meet and observe some interesting people.
So if you are in Athens, Alabama over the next month, stop in. I’ll be sure to give you a hearty “Welcome to Cracker Barrel!” or an awkward “Welcome In”. You can tell me how many are in your party or that you want a to-go menu, I can’t help you, but like with everyone I will smile and point you in the right direction.

Can We Do This Every Friday?

Last Friday the Auburn University Young Farmers organization went on our fall farm tour. We try to do one every semester to a farm somewhere in the state of Alabama to learn about a different area of production agriculture. Last spring we visited Purcell Farms which does a little bit of everything: cows, golf course, hunts, etc. 

So last Friday morning for our fall farm tour we loaded up three pickup trucks and journeyed about 2 1/2 hours from Auburn to Monroe county. Our first stop was the Frisco City Farmers Cooperative in Frisco City Alabama. Here we met up with Scott Saucer. 

Scott is a grower in the area and I had previously met him through working at the Alabama Young Farmers Leadership Conference, he was our guide for the day. While at the co-op we learned about fertilizer and took a look at their stockyard. 
They sell cattle here every Wednesday. There were not any cattle in the barn on Friday, but there was a random horse. This area years ago raised a lot of hogs, but in recent years like the rest of Alabama people moved away from raising hogs so this stockyard now handles cattle. 

From there we drove to a PhytoGen test plot. PhytoGen is a cotton seed  company.

 Some growers do test plots of different varieties , they grow small plots and when they harvest they keep a close track of how they do and report it back to the copany.  The plot we looked at had three different varieties being grown. Different varieties are used because they have certain characteristics the grower might want (ex. seedling vigor, storm tolerance, fiber quality and yield potential) 

             If you see signs like this while going down the road, it is probably a test plot. 

We also visited a cattle operation on our journey. This producer was a full time cattle farmer. It is calving season so there were several cute calves running around.

One management practice that many cattle farmers use is breeding all their cows at the same time. Cows like humans can be very troublesome when giving birth. If the farmer didn’t control when they were born he would be busy all year watching soon to be mama cows. So it is easier for them all to give birth around the same time. 

The Monroe County Farmers Federation fed us a wonderful lunch of BBQ and fixed us up with literature about peanuts. 

After our bellies were full we traveled to a peanut buying point near Atmore, AL. This particular buying point is the largest in the United States. One of our group members, Mark Philips and his family grows cotton and peanuts in Henry County. He said that their peanuts after harvest go through this buying point. 

Buying points are throughout the southern part of Alabama. After peanuts are harvested they are put in trailers and sent to these buying points where they weigh, clean, dry, inspect, grade and prepare peanuts for storage and shelling. 

If a truck is brought in and the moisture content is too high, they hook up a blower to the holes in the end of the trailer (as you can see in the picture above) and blow air until they dry out and can be stored. If I remember correctly this buying point handles 70 million tons a year of peanuts. 

Fun Fact: DYK that 50% of all peanuts grown in the United States are grown within a 100 mile radius of Dothan, Alabama? 

From there we traveled to the big city of McCullough, AL to the Frank P Currie Gin. Growing up on a cotton farm I have been to several cotton gins, but it always amazes me to see how they work. 

Cotton is brought in on module trucks. A conveyor belt takes it into the gin. 

 This machine is the gin. It separates the seed from the fiber. 

The seeds here are are separated and fall to the bottom

The cotton is in long fluffy sheet. It is stacked up and this machine bundles it up tight and it is then covered in plastic. 

 Each of these weigh around 300 pounds
The seed and lint is moved by a vacuum system to a warehouse where it is stored. It practically fills up the whole building.
The seed after it has been removed from the cotton. 

Cotton seed is very useful. Many people feed it to cattle. It can be used to make oil as well. This here will be carted off to farms to be used for feed. 
The cotton fiber after it is wrapped is placed in a warehouse and sold. Most cotton now goes overseas especially to China to be made into a variety of things. It could be used to make t-shirts, blue jeans, sheets, or even dollar bills! 
Our farm tour was in my opinion a great success. We all learned a lot (some more than others). It will be interesting to see where we journey to in the spring. Like I told Austin, our president, I wish we could take every Friday off and ride back roads of Alabama and look at and learn about crops. It would be nice, but then again I don’t think our professors would take too kindly to that. 

Sticking My Neck Out There

Today I finally bit the bullet and decided to start a blog. I have been meaning to do one for quite some time now as a way to do ag-vocacy. However there is a time factor, and the question I struggled with do I have anything actually informative or interesting to say? After a few weeks or months I may not post very often when I get busy , and I also may not have anything interesting to say. The beauty of a blog is you have chosen to read my blog, therefore if it isn’t interesting you don’t have to read it. Boom.

This blog will probably consist of a few things:

1)Agriculture- If you know me this will not surprise you. After all I am studying agriculture in college and I grew up on a farm so its been around for my whole life. Also I am excited to announce that I am now a farmer myself!! I’m sure that sounds dorky but I’m proud to be able to tell people I am a farmer. I am planting my first crop this weekend. I am going to have about 40 acres of winter wheat back home in Limestone County. I’m going to be honest since my dad quit row crop farming when I was 13 I am not as familiar with production agriculture as I would have been if he would have continued farming. Therefore I have  A LOT to learn. Thankfully I will have lots of help from my dad, and from my younger brothers Brady and Thomas. I’m going home to plant this weekend so I’m sure there will be some interesting stories and things I learn this weekend. By the end of this ordeal I may be able to write a book. (It may be like an episode of I Love Lucy). From time to time I may write posts about issues facing agriculture or misconceptions that people have about the way our food and fiber is produced.

2) Auburn / College- I am in my third year at Auburn and I absolutely love being here. There is always something interesting happening at school or at home with me and my four roommates. Also my friends and I usually have some great adventures or misadventures depending upon how you look at it, so I’m sure there will be plenty of stories and experiences to share.

3) Food- I love to cook, however I do not have time to cook much. When I find time to cook and come across a really good recipe I might just have to share the recipe instead of posting pics on FB or Twitter because I know that annoys some people seeing pictures food. (I personally like seeing what other people cook and eat)

4) Life – At the age of 21 I’m still growing (hopefully not height wise) but as far as learning and growing with learning life lessons and growing spiritually spiritually. I do on regular occasion dumb things, and also observe others doing dumb things so hopefully you can I can both learn from some of these (sometimes hard) experiences. This is the category I would put placing liquid dish soap in the dishwasher (which thankfully I knew not to do before moving out on my own but you get the idea). I’m also back at the point I was in high school. Trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life is stressful. I only have a  year and a half to figure out where to go next, work, grad school, bum, etc. I just pray a lot about it and we’ll see where I wind up.

Disclaimer: #1 Blog posts may not be limited to these four categories. #2 I am a horrible speller, you’ve been warned. I’m sure there will be a blog on spelling at some point. This may not turn into much but know knows, this highway called life is always an adventure!