Featured

Try Agriculture

If you really want to learn how to trust God: try agriculture.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck that which is planted.

— Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

If you really want to learn how to trust God: try agriculture. Nothing has humbled me more or tested my faith more greatly than these last two years — loving a farmer and working the family trade.

Here’s the thing about agriculture: I don’t care what kind of money you have, what kind of skills you possess, or the number of years under your belt. When it comes to raising crops or raising livestock, you’re at the mercy of God.

Diseases, droughts, predators and pests, wind storms, hail storms, flooding, and piss-poor yields… the list never ends. And I have seen the very best fall and fail to these acts of God.

When your entire livelihood is tied up in the ground and your prayers, you have to lean in hard to God. You have to hit your knees and trust He’ll bring you through it. You have to trust the sick calves and the abandoned fields and the frozen blossoms won’t be your end. That even if you lose it all, He will provide.

And if you really want to learn how to trust God: try agriculture. Because nothing has brought me more joy or greater faith than these last two years– loving a farmer and working the family trade.

Here’s the thing about agriculture: I don’t care how broke you are, how clueless you are about what you’re doing, or how new you are to playing the game. When it comes to raising crops or raising livestock, you’re fully in the grace of God.

That first tinge of green, newborn calves on wobbly legs, nurturing rains, corn taller than you can reach, dewy mountain pastures, rolling fields of grain, heavy boughs laden with fruit… the list never ends. I’ve seen the least of us blessed beyond measure by acts of God.

When your livelihood is tied up in the ground and your prayers, you have to thank God, hard. You have to raise up your hands and sing your praises. You have appreciate the bumper crops and fattened livestock and know they’re each such a blessing. You have to trust that what you gave to Him in faith, He will continue to multiply.

If you really want to learn how to trust God: try agriculture.

A Tale of Two Roosters

What I am preparing to tell you is the most epic love story to ever happen to our little farm. It began with two adorable little chicks last spring who I bought from a local breeder. I was chasing exotic and exciting breeds, having already established a good laying flock of common and heritage breed hens.

In my quest for variety, I picked out two teeny tiny little bantam chicks and brought home with me. For you non-chicken folk, bantams (or bantys) are like the midget breeds of chickens. Although not quite a tea cup (those would be Seramas), bantams are usually only about a half the size of your traditional chickens. Now, I picked out one turken bantam (aka naked necks) and one frizzle. So.. not only did I have a half naked chicken, because as the name suggests their necks are completely naked, but I also had a chick whose adult feathers, instead of laying flat, would curl upwards and away from his body to make a giant fluffy mess. Oh, and they’re MINIATURE! Does it get any cuter than that?

My handsome Turken, who is too shy (or maybe too cold) to show you his pretty naked neck.
And Mr. Frizzle, who’s haircut I cannot possibly do justice.

Well times goes by and is often the case with your favorite chickens, time and time again they turn out to boys. Again, for you non-chicken-keepers, males are a three-way mix of undesirable traits it most cases.

  1. They don’t lay eggs or provide you anything of substance besides noise.
  2. They can be outright nasty little jerks, chasing after and attacking you with their spars or beating up the girls.
  3. You generally cannot have two roosters without a large number of hens, or lots of space.

Now I bought exotic chickens, so I wasn’t exactly expecting laying chickens to begin with. But I was worried about having two roosters sharing my hens and a space. Because they were so small, they were together in a separate pen and I resigned to keeping them together until they began to fight, and then rehoming whichever was a meaner chicken.

However, before they reached maturity, a friend of mine got me a couple of Midnight Majesty Maran chicks in late summer. I had been chasing marans earlier in the spring when I got my other chicks for the incredibly dark, chocolatey eggs, but had given up when I couldn’t find any. She snagged me a couple when they got me a late shipment into her feed store, and although I was excited I had no idea where to put them. Chickens bully other chicks that are smaller them relentlessly, often to death. The other full-sized hens I had bought in the spring were now way too old and way too large for me to add these chicks in with them, and I didn’t have another coop because my “chick coop” was being used by the boys. Fearfully, and on a whim, I tried placing the new chicks in with the adolescent roosters as they were decently close in size.

What happened? Well, love blossomed. Next thing I know, these roosters are raising these chicks together! Teaching them to scratch for feed and find treats, and sitting on them at night to keep them warm. I kept waiting for them to grow into they masculinity and spar with each other and the Maran chicks, but it never happened. Those two roosters fell in love and raised a little family together, and I have never seen anything like it.

Here you can see Mr. Frizzle off to the left, watching over his “chicks” (the two black hens) as they are now integrated into the main flock.

We ended up buying a new farm and moving last month (more on that another time), and when we moved we merged the Rooster’s family in with our laying hen flock. It was a fairly seamless transition for everyone, but what is most amazing to me is despite all the new social bonds being made, the little family had remained tight.

In our rush to move we refurbished an old outbuilding on the farm in just two short days, quickly throwing up a run and sealing off any drafty cracks. In my rush I didn’t make a ramp to the roosting bar floor, or nesting boxes. After all, it is only about three feet high and all my hens can make it up there with a hop. However, I completely forgot that frizzles cannot fly, because of the way their wings are shaped. After a couple of nights of poor Mr. Frizzle sleeping on the floor of the coop, it finally dawned on me that he couldn’t get up with everyone else, no matter how hard he tried! (Don’t forget he is a bantam, so he is extra short anyways.)

Don’t worry, I built a ramp the next day and since then the issue has been resolved. But until the ramp was built, when I would go out in the evening to lock the birds up poor Mr. Frizzle would be on the floor by himself. Yet each morning, when I would go to let them out for the day, one or both of his “chicks” would be cuddled on the floor next to him, and sometimes his other rooster partner too. If that isn’t true love, I don’t guess I know what is.

Hemp Bugs: The Truth About Pests and Pesticides

There’s no denying it, hemp is on a roll across the country. However, reading through various articles about the new miracle crop, I keep coming across a false claim — no, an outright LIE — regarding hemp and pesticides. Over and over I have read something to the effect of:

  • Hemp is resistant to pesticides!

OR

  • Hemp is resistant to pests and therefore needs no pesticides!

And let me be the first to tell you, this is absolute bullcrap. This is false information being spread to consumers. Not only does it come from a place of ignorance and prejudice, but I have concerns that consumers who are anti-pesticide are being exposed to pesticides in their hemp products due to misinformation.

Lets start with what I know, what my experience in the field is, and why you should believe me. I work for an aerial applicator company. I am pro-pesticide when used safely, efficiently, and with education — but I also understand there are people who are not comfortable with pesticides in any form, and thats fine! I also work with organic pesticides for about 1/3 of all my applications and can testify that there are organic products which work well, and in fact I rely on some of them more heavily than synthetic prodcts. You need to understand, I am not pushing an agenda here nor am I biased. Although my personal stance may differ, I respect an individual’s choice to choose organic and naturally grown products. However I also believe that consumers deserve to know what they are buying, applying, and consuming, and this lie that hemp is pesticide free violates this belief of mine and really stirs me up.

Now there is a lot to unpack here, and I want to cover as many sides to it as I can. There are four points which I would like to address from my first-hand experience this past year.

  1. Hemp is susceptible to a wide variety of pests.
  2. Hemp is not “resistant” to pesticides – they work very well on it!
  3. What is legal to put on hemp, and the secretive (and illegal) applications being made to it.
  4. Residual pesticides in the ground.

Hemp is susceptible to a wide variety of pests.

This past growing season, I personally saw a variety of harmful pests actively causing crop damages within hemp fields. These included beet webworms, aphids, thrip, and corn earworm. Now these were only the ones I saw within our valley, and did not include other CONFIRMED pests in hemp elsewhere in the country. I have also heard accounts of stem/stalk borers, mites, and gnats, amongst others.* Of course these pests will vary regionally, but make no mistake: there are confirmed pests in hemp, which are known to cause damage to the product. I suspect that as more and more acres are grown across the country, there will be even more pests emerge within or adapt to hemp fields and green houses. I predict corn earworm, aphids, and mites to be the greatest threats across the board, but time will tell.

Damage to a hemp plant from a beet web worm. This was one of the first pests I confirmed in the crop this year. Note the worm towards the top of the picture.
Aphids on a hemp plant. I did not send these in for lab verification as with the beet web worm, but I believe these to be Cannabis aphids.

Hemp is not “resistant” to pesticides – they work very well on it!

There are three primary classes of pesticides: 1) herbicides to control plants, 2) insecticides/miticides to control insects and arachnids, and 3) fungicides to control various fungi and bacterial diseases. This claim that hemp is resitant to pesticides can go one of two ways.

The first is that hemp is not affected by herbicides, or has a tolerance or resistance to products designed to damage it. Following last year’s planting, there were many people in my area who had issues with volunteer hemp returning from dropped seeds which they needed to eradicate. To do this, they applied herbicides which killed the hemp, thus cleaning out the field for another crop. Because the herbicides eradicated the hemp, one cannot say that hemp is resistant to herbicides.

The second option here is that hemp is resistant to pesticides applied to treat insects, mites, or disease. Because we have already established that hemp does in fact take damage from these insects, you can understand why a grower would apply these products to their hemp field (that is, to control pest populations and mitigate damage to yields and therefore profit). Now, luckily for growers, hemp is NOT resistant to these products either! In fact, I applied a variety of insecticides this past growing season (more on that in a minute), and they worked on the insects they were applied for! I saw reduced populations as well as a reduction in damage to the hemp, indicating that these pesticides worked as intended on the hemp plant.

What is legal to put on hemp, and the secretive (and illegal) applications being made to it.

In my state, there is a relatively short list of pesticides legally approved to apply to hemp crops. Most of these are organic or natural products, and primarily oil-based. Although these essential oils can be incredibly effective, I offer one word of advice to those planning on oiling up their crop to prevent pest: Oils can act as a magnifying glass, eventually burning and killing your hemp plants (aka phytotoxicity). Disclaimer aside, there are next to no products available to treat all the conditions that can afflict this crop. Those that are available work marginally well, but cannot be relied upon for heavy infestations. There are also no herbicides labeled to control the weeds in hemp crops, aside from oil herbicides which, again, work by burning the weeds back.

So instead, what I have observed happening is a massive amount of illegal applications to hemp fields using products not labeled on the crop. Herbicides to combat weeds, insecticides and fungicides to combat pests and disease, and a whole slew of fertilizers which I am certain are not approved for crop use (RAW SEWAGE, anyone?).

The Department of Agriculture in my state is calling this hemp rush the Wild West, in that the number of off-label, illegal applications being made by growers-run-amuck and immeasurable. And if they are already making an illegal application in terms of product, what moral obligation is there to hold true to the approved rates of application? Who is to say these growers aren’t doubling or even tripling the approved rates of product per acre? All I can say on the matter is that illegal and off-label applications are happening, regularly. And if you have concerns about pesticides in your products, I would be certain to buy only from a source who you can confirm isn’t up to these shady self-treatments.

Residual pesticides in the ground.

I’ll only touch briefly on this, because his is more of a labeling strategy than anything. Organic product labeling is overseen by the U.S.D.A, who sets the requirements deciding what is or is not organic. All the information on this can be found in a handy bulletin on the U.S.D.A. website, but the part I want to focus on refers to the ground hemp is grown in.

In order to be certified organic, your organic crop must have been grown in ground for which no pesticides have been used in three or more years. This is because many pesticides (specifically herbicides) can tie up in the ground and persist for a while. Now, I don’t know about your region, but in mine the hemp being grown is primarily going into farm ground…which has previously had pesticides applied to it. This means that very little hemp can truly be labeled “certified organic.” It may have been “organically grown,” which is to say no pesticides were applied to the crop as it grew, but if it is contaminated ground then it cannot be truly organic. Please pay special attention to any “organic” hemp products you may be purchasing, and if in doubt, ask!

* If you’d like me to do another more detailed post regarding pests in hemp and their management options, let me know!

Give Love, Get Love

I love “projects,” and always have since I was little. It all started with a crop duster dad who loved animals, and dedicated time not to just to his pets but also to teaching me about them. How to hold them, how to show them affection, how to read their expressions, how to doctor them. My childhood was filled with helpful tips and tricks to make catching and domesticating even the wildest of critters possible — a Steve Irwin of his own kind, with a heart that couldn’t say no and a love towards those creatures the Lord gave to us that I couldn’t begin to comprehend until I was much older.

Now, as an adult, I find myself constantly bringing home strays, rescuing lost and orphaned babies of all species, and attempting to doctor and save even those which are most unlikely to recover. My track record so far, for 2019?

  • 2 bottle baby calves
  • 2 adopted stray cats, which turned into —->
  • 11 fostered kittens
  • 2 juvenile, 1 infant chipmunks
  • 1 calf with a broken leg
  • 2 baby birds
  • 1 cross-beak rooster
  • 2 more foster kittens (currently)

I simply cannot say no! I will spend hundreds of dollars and countless hours trying to love a critter which I will end up rehoming or releasing, or which I know cannot recover and will lead to heartbreak. Tonight, doctoring my two newest kittens (ridden with eye and respiratory infections and nearly starved to death when I found them) it hit me — I love to love.

All of the sudden I was overwhelmed with this realization that God gave me a heart which needs to give love. When He gave us this Earth and every creature on it to reign over (Genesis 1:28), he molded my heart with a tenderness and passion for those creatures, knowing I would walk a path dedicated to reigning over them with a love I cold not withhold. I love to love, because God crafted me to do so. I love my “projects” so greatly, because they fulfill a portion of what my divine purpose here is. What a beautiful thing it is to realize a calling that God has placed on your life, and for that calling to be such a fulfilling one.

Here’s the thing, however: sometimes, this calling is hard. Sometimes loving this much hurts me more than it fulfills me, and sometimes the only reward is heartbreak. Visiting with God tonight, he helped me understand not just that this was my calling, but what I needed to do to be good at it. When there are days that the chores stack up endlessly, when there are too many messes to clean up, when I lose sleep for feedings and doctoring, when all my hard work means nothing and an animal passes away… when I give so much love that I have no more to give, that is when I need to receive love.

When I pour myself out until there is no more, I need to be refilled and renewed and restrengthened with love — and where else can one receive an unending supply of love than through Jesus? When I have given too much, when I have loved too hard, when my heart has been broken, I can fall back into God’s love and mercy and grace and be revitalized. You see, God never runs out of love, his well cannot run dry and he can know no end. This is what I draw on when I each the end of my rope.

I love each and every critter God has given to us with uncontainable love. I cannot stop trying, no matter how bad the outcome may be. I encourage you to take another look at the calling God has put on your life, with different lenses and perspectives. Pray about it, have conversation about it. God put this passion in you for a reason! To teach you something, to use you for something great, to teach others something with you!

You see, my actions and my passion are just a reflection of God. I do his works through loving animals, and at the end of the day the bottom line is my calling is to love like Jesus does… and I bet if you look hard enough, in one way or another thats your calling too.

The Backstory

I was born into a family of crop dusters. My grandfather started his business over 50 years ago, and still performs aerial applications today. Two of his three sons returned home to join the business as pilots, and last year I made my debut as the representative for third generation — doing field work, not flying.

I have been around agricultural aviation for 22 years now, and the excitement and adrenaline of watching those yellow planes dip under power lines and fly just ten feet above a crop still hits me with full impact every summer. The speed, the precision, and the accuracy is mind boggling, even nine years into the trade.

You see, this was my first job. I started at thirteen, washing airplanes and observation vehicles every day in the summer to earn a little spending money. I eventually left and got a degree in Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, returning home on summer break to chase planes and earn next years’ tuition. When it came time to graduate, I had no idea where to leap in terms of a career. It was with open arms and one heck of a job opportunity that I walked off the graduation stage and into a sweet corn field, signing on to the family’s trade.

I also fell in love with a farmer, born and raised here and just as tied to the soil as I am to the air. We recently became engaged and bought a farm, and are beginning a life together. He’ll plant and raise the crop, I will protect them from pests, and together we will bring in the harvest of a healthy crop.

This blog will be a diary of sorts, full of stories from both my farm at home and the airshow I watch daily at work. I hope to convey a unique and rare perspective about farming, flying, pesticides and crop production, faith and determination, love and growth. If you’re joining me for the ride- hold on. This life flies by about like an air tractor — that is to say, it dives and dips and turns and rolls, and is a roller coaster from start to finish!

I appreciate you being here, and I hope you find as much excitement and wonder as I do in this agricultural world you’re diving into. Oh, and if you’re curious, don’t hesitate to ask! I promise I’ll do my best to explain this world to you, and to teach you all I can about Flying, Farming, and Faith, and the ways in which they intertwine.