Is it camping season yet?

Mother Nature seems determined to keep us from breaking out the tent. I know, it’s a weak excuse to you four-season campers, but we’re fair weather folk and snow just doesn’t float our boats unless there’s enough to ski.

Sure is pretty, though, especially on all the green foliage.

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Opposites

Packing around two kids means that my camera has become an afterthought but I spent the morning clearing off my card. Here you go: some pictures of the prairie and the mountains.

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Spring?

Spring is officially sprung. The mud in our driveway serves as confirmation.

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Apparently, we had another notable winter. It felt mild compared to the tenacity of Winter’s enduring grip last year. Not that it couldn’t repeat itself still, but April 2, 2018, found us driving through snow drifts on the main highway.

I kept wondering when winter was going to show up in December and January — mainly because I was tired of fielding all the snarky comments from East Coast friends about how it was colder there than here.

Then February hit, and vindication that I still live in a colder state was secured.

In the past five days, temperatures have risen and snow is quickly giving way to mud.

Nonetheless, three days ago, we were walking on a frozen over Lake McDonald. (For some perspective: the lake is the largest in Glacier National Park, measuring roughly 10 miles long, 1 mile wide and 465 feet deep.)

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Take that, East Coast.

Ah, there you are, Winter.

After a string of unseasonably warm and pleasant days that almost had us tricked into thinking we imagined last Winter’s bluster, she’s back.

Took her long enough, too, considering calves have been dropping the past few days, and usually that means nasty weather.

Two to four inches of snow is the scuttlebutt.

Whatever we get we’ll take for moisture our crops will tap into in the spring. In the meantime, burr!

Not that it hasn’t been cold at night. The temperature difference between the calving barn and the air has been enough to create ice crystals on the window. The impending snow forecast spurred me to take a few pictures of it last night. Not that I won’t have plenty of opportunity throughout the winter, but watching the snow swirl outside is making me glad I didn’t procrastinate any longer!

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Slow Season

After another early snow I thought we would miss autumn altogether this year, and it left me feeling frantic. The weather was symbolic for life. Usually the fall is more easy-going, a welcome reprieve from harvest pressure. This year, though, fieldwork continued longer than usual, and I found myself in the middle of helping with some intense projects and saying yes to more projects right in the middle.

All of a sudden I was looking at weeks of not doing things that are important to me because of busy work that really has no bearing on what my priorities are these days.

So I did something unusual. I said no. I finished what I had started and backed out of what I hadn’t gotten going on yet. And then I did something even more unusual — I set a goal of no new commitments through at least the New Year.

That freed me up to do things like go on a drive about with my camera last night.

This church sits north of town and I’ve been trying to make it back to it since taking some family portraits there a few weeks ago. All the windows are gone, except for some shattered glass on the ground, but with a sunset like this one, Mother Nature made her own stained glass.

The half hour I spent there was full of beauty and inspiration and confirmation that this autumn needs to be a season of filling my cup.

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Hello, again

It’s been a long time since I’ve met you here. Sorry about that. I’m hoping like old friends we can pick up where we left off.

The big thing is: I had a baby. A beautiful boy.

I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about him. I was too busy being sick, both physically and emotionally. Even though I was thrilled to find out he was coming, I was terrified after the last go around and spent my mornings trying to swallow my breakfast and my fear I would lose him too.

With Squidget I didn’t really believe she was coming because I was in denial I was even pregnant. With Pipsqueak I didn’t really believe he was coming because it was too good to be true.

But he is here. And growing and happy and just lovely in every way.

Even with that glowing review, the adjustment to a family of four has been more difficult than I imagined. Jared was busy with a flood’s aftermath. And then with seeding. And then with replenishing our entire hay stock. And then with harvest. Squidget has been a typical three year old who is used to running the show. And Pipsqueak has been a baby.

I think we’re mostly through to the other side, thanks to a true village.

So I’m back, picking up pieces of my life that are important to me, including you.

I’ll try not to be a stranger.

Boneyard

It was overcast, threatening rain all day. I really didn’t want to go. But, like usual, I’m glad I did venture up north east this past weekend to a farm boneyard. My only regret is that I only had about an hour and a half of daylight left when I got there.

Waves

It will always hurt, they said, but no one mentioned the second wave.

The one that came when she was supposed to be born. But wasn’t because I had a miscarriage seven months ago.

No one said pictures of newly born babies that have been flooding my Facebook page would knock me low, again. Or that all the online ads catered to me would be for maternity clothes and boxes of developmental toys.

That it would become difficult to get out of bed or make decisions or eat or spend quality time with my toddler.

That I would apologize to my husband because I want another child so badly that I stopped wanting him for him and started wanting him for what he could give me.

That I would feel guilty for all of the above and that comparing my pain to others’ for perspective would only make me feel worse.

I must have sounded more desperate than I thought, because my mother offered me a ticket to Virginia for a mini-vaca after I told her I was struggling.

A vacation might have refreshed me on the surface but it wouldn’t have solved anything deeper than my farmer’s tan. Instead, I opted to see a therapist.

During my first visit, I realized I never gave myself time to mourn.

The day we found out, we had already made an appointment to pick up a new car the dealership had been holding for us for two weeks. Pinochle club was that night and we needed ugly Christmas sweaters to wear. Christmas festivities and company and a vacation to ring in the new year came next.

By then, everyone — including myself — expected me to be over it, I rationalized, burying the grief.

I didn’t bury it deeply enough, though, and it started to resurface a month or so ago with the flood of baby photos. Then, I found out I (still) am not pregnant and I dissolved.

I’m supposed to be having a baby too.

But she’s not here and I’m exhausted from pretending that someone we love didn’t die just because it’s hard to talk about her. I can’t live in this dark anymore. I can’t miss out on my toddler and my husband and the good things God has blessed us with anymore.

Maybe it was as simple as telling the therapist, a total stranger, all the details, or maybe it was the conversation I had with my husband afterward when he gave me a piece of stained glass as a memorial, or maybe a combination. Whatever it was, I’ve given myself permission to just say it.

So the next time you ask me when we’re planning on giving Squidget a sibling, be prepared to hear the truth.

We’re still recovering from a miscarriage, I’ll say.

I don’t want you to be sad for us. I just want to acknowledge the life we love but never met.

 

 

New Road and an Old Homestead

This weekend, I took off into new-to-me country to take some pictures around a friend’s farm/ranch. The tractor was getting fixed, so the plan morphed to taking some landscape pictures. Seriously looking forward to heading north again during harvest to get some action pictures!

These kinds of pictures are my favorites. Agriculture and the people behind it continue to amaze me. I love telling the story of what they do and their tie to the land that inspires them to do it.

We went to the old homestead and some of the glass windows were still in place. At one time, the homeowners would look out the window at a field. Now, looking in, the encroaching grass was reflected in the window to an empty house. The land remains, and the people remain, but both have changed.

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Where does time go?

One day I won’t be months behind. Today is not that day, but I am catching up on some things — like posting this article I wrote for Montana Magazine about lentils.

We plucked a lentil from our field yesterday to gauge its progress, which reminded me that I had forgotten to post the article here. (The lentils are flowering, by the way, so I had to hurry to post the article before we are harvesting again.)

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LENTIL FLOWERS NORTH OF GILDFORD ON THE FIRST DAY OF SUMMER 2017.

THE MIGHT OF THE LITTLE LENTIL

As wheat prices remain at dismaying lows, a different crop is carrying a growing number of Montana farms through the lean times.

Although lentils have been grown in Montana for more than two decades, the estimated acreage of lentils planted more than doubled from 221,000 acres in 2015 to roughly 500,000 acres in 2016, making Montana the No. 1 U.S. producer.

“That’s a landmark change, that’s a big, big change. A lot of that change is in the Triangle Area,” said Tim McGreevy, CEO of the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council and the American Pulse Association.

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GUNNAR AAGESON IS REFLECTED IN THE WINDOW OF HIS COMBINE WHILE HE CUT LENTILS AT FAIRCHILD FARMS IN 2016.

 

Last year marked the United Nations’ International Year of Pulses, which meant a broad-reaching, aggressive marketing campaign about the crops’ nutritional and agronomical benefits.

“It’s not like these are a new crop, but we have reinvigorated the category,” McGreevy said.

In 2015, producers in the state planted an estimated 773,500 acres of pulse crops –lentils, chickpeas, beans and dry peas. In 2016 that number jumped to nearly 1.1 million, he said.

The campaign has sparked interest among consumers and producers alike.

“And frankly, it’s about time because they’re such a great rotation crop,” McGreevy said.

By adding pulses into a crop rotation, farmers change the traditional every-other-year model in dry-land areas that can’t support crops each year.

Now, farmers are able to produce crops on a field two of every three years – or better.

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LENTILS WORK THEIR WAY INTO THE COMBINE DURING HARVEST 2016.

In Kim Murray’s case, he now produces a crop every year and has for six or so years.

Until Murray introduced chickpeas to his Flat Center Farms in Froid, the farm followed the traditional half-acres-in-production, half-acres-fallow model.

“I really view the fallow acres as a waste, and the way land prices cost anymore, I don’t see how you can let land lay fallow,” he said.

This year, in addition to other pulses, about a third of his acres were planted in lentils.

“It’s by far better than anything else I’m raising,” he said about the prices.

By increasing his farm’s profit, he was able to financially support his son Blake returning home to farm.

“Of course we wanted him to pursue his own dreams, but in the end his dream was to come back to the farm and fortunately it worked out,” Murray said.

The crop has brought other changes, including investment in equipment and bins that are easier from which to load and unload the lentils and other pulses.

Murray said he has seen benefits beside the financial boon that make the investments worthwhile. The soil has captured nitrogen the crops produce and the use of different chemical sprays to knock down weeds has helped reduce weed resistance.

However, the appearance of some root disease and mold has caused Murray to back off the aggressive crop rotation. By adding another crop to his rotation, he will still keep 100 percent of his land in annual production and put at least a year between pulse crops.

At Fairchild Farms north of Gildford, pulse crops have been grown since 1989. This year, owner Mark Aageson decided to grow 100 acres of lentils for the first time to add an additional pulse crop to his rotation and hedge against disease taking hold in his chickpeas.

A new variety of red lentils that is less likely to shell out in inclement weather and withstand spray while in crop, along with high prices, convinced Aageson to turn his interest into action.

The move paid off.

“I’m going to increase my acres four-fold (in 2017), again because of revenue,” he said.

Even if wheat prices go up and lentil prices go down, Aageson said, he plans to continue planting lentils because of their benefits to the soil and his rotation.

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LENTILS ARE FED INTO A COMBINE HEADER DURING HARVEST 2016.

Pulses benefit consumers as well.

As people are more conscious about from where their food comes and its impact on the environment, pulses are booming.

“The times are changing and we happen to be in a time frame now that the food trends are starting to shift more towards plant-based foods and plant-based proteins,” McGreevy said.

Pulses are easy to store and high in protein, iron and fiber. 

They also are a sustainable source of protein, which require little water and little-to-no fertilizer to produce. Pulses add nitrogen and different bacteria than wheat to the soil, which can help mitigate disease pressure.

Lentils aren’t a perfect crop, though.

Besides being more susceptible to disease than other crops, seed costs more than winter wheat seed and pulses are generally more fragile than wheat in adverse weather.

“Is it a little higher risk? Yes, it is. I’m not going to candy coat it,” McGreevy said. “But the trends are in our favor,” he said, adding that world demand and prices are strong.

In addition to the bulk market, there’s a growing market for finished food products, such as lentil chips and gluten-free chickpea pasta

“Especially in Montana now, there’s getting to be more and more first purchasers,” McGreevy said.

Jill and Tyler Streit plan to capitalize on the state’s increased pulse production.

They realized that area producers were reluctant to begin growing pulses because, unlike wheat, farmers can’t truck the crops to town and sell them whenever they want and usually must work with out-of-town buyers.

When they began growing pulses, including lentils, on their own farm they experienced frustration dealing with people from out of town to whom they sold their crop.

So they began purchasing pulses at the elevator they co-own in Chester, Stricks Ag.

“If you can grow it, we’ll find a way to market,” Tyler said.

The contracts are still mainly out of state and even out of country, but working with a local face increased producer confidence.

This fall the Streits planned to increase the role they play in pulse marketing by opening a processing facility that will allow them to clean, tote, bag and size lentils onsite. The facility will add to the local economy and put more money in producers’ pockets, Tyler said.

From a grower’s standpoint, they won’t see as much dockage for different sizes or breakage in the same truck load because Stricks will be able to sort and accordingly market each variation. It will be vertically integrated from the point of production to the point of consumption, Jill said.

Building the new processing facility is financially intimidating. “But we know it’s the right way to go,” Jill said, adding they don’t see the market diminishing anytime soon.

The allure of profit, combined with a strong market and new crop insurance options, is convincing producers to say yes when it comes to trying pulses or increasing their existing acreage.

If a farmer’s winter wheat makes an average yield of 40 bushels an acre, he’ll pull in about $200 an acre. An average yield of lentils is bringing in $450 an acre, McGreevy said.

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A FARMER CHECKS THE RIPENESS OF LENTILS DURING HARVEST 2016.

For Jon Stoner, his lentil crop was the sole reason one of his Stoner and Sons operations near Havre made a profit this year. About one third of his acreage was lentils, Stoner said, but they accounted for 100 percent of his profit.

Despite the burst of popularity and projected strong demand, lentils and other pulses aren’t expected to replace wheat as king in Montana anytime soon, if ever.

“Oh, no, no. I think wheat will be king for a long time. I can’t see our farm going away from wheat and durum for a long time,” Stoner said.

“I raise as much wheat as I ever did,” Murray said.

Wheat, along with pulses, can be grown successfully around the globe and both are important to food security in the face of population growth, McGreevy said.

“It happens to be that right now, pulses have strong demand and pricing and returns to growers,” he said.

Don’t count out wheat in the long-term, though. Pulses need cereal grains in crop rotations to hedge against disease.

“We’re not holding a funeral mass for wheat. It will rise again,” McGreevy said.

If anything, more land will be planted with pulses instead of laying fallow.

“I’m sure my grandkids will be raising pulse crops on this farm one day,” Murray said, adding that’s something that lentils might make financially feasible.

“We all want to pass down our legacy.”