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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As I gear up for festival and farmers market season, I thought now is as good a time as ever to share all my secrets.
A common thing people say when looking at my wearable photography shirts is, “I can make that myself.”
I start with my own photographs, which are high enough quality to be manipulated to fit a Montana shape without losing clarity.
Then, the amazing folks at fivehead’s in Havre print the graphics on pre-washed muslin.
Because the shirts need to be washable, the prints are then ironed at a high temperature to set the ink and ensure they won’t bleed or fade.
Once I get them home, they get ironed again before iron-on material gets added. Each print is then hand cut.
At this point the photos are ready to be ironed onto 40-60 cotton-polyester blend shirts.
Then, it’s time for my sister-in-law Becki to work her magic. (I don’t know how to sew … yet … but she does!) She cuts backing for each shirt, chooses thread color and then carefully stitches each photo.
Finally, after going through three people, the shirts are ready for you!
So can you make them?
And yet, no.
Like most things, there’s more to the shirts’ story than meets the eye.
Each shirt is a piece of carefully crafted functional art that showcases this state we love while supporting family and a local business.
[Make sure to check out Etsy and Facebook for summer prints and winter prints (on sale!).]
When I posted photos to Instagram of our branding I used #branding, which of course can mean either branding of livestock or branding of businesses. Many of the likes the photos got were from people in the business of branding business. Which got me thinking about what our branding would be.
There’s the actual brand:
And the work that goes in behind it.
Carefully curating the herd’s bloodlines and breeding schedule:
So that there are calves to even brand:
And the smoke and manure that go with the process:
By the end of the day, though, it’s less about the cows and more about the friendships, the handshakes, the meal served on paper plates and over laughter, and the legacy that are branded on our hearts.
I wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge just to say I had been. I had no idea that a fort existed at its foot, or that there was a huge park, or that it would be so fun to photograph during our recent visit.
Not only did the rain showers hold off for our exploration, but we saw a rainbow — the fourth one of the day!
We also had a blast exploring Napa and Sonoma.
Then, we left the sunshine behind and drove into Tahoe … in a white-out blizzard. I was too busy praying for safety to take any pictures of that!
Alright, everyone. I’ve been working for several months with my sister-in-law to create Montana shirts. I’m excited about the product — a local printer prints my photographs in the shape of the Big Sky state on muslin; I cut and back with iron-on material and iron them onto soft tees; Becki sews them.
Pretty much, they’re like wearing your love of Montana on your sleeve!
People love the cow print, but they don’t love that the tee is white. So … I’m trying to decide between two shades of pink … and I need your help!
This year, unlike any other year of our marriage, there was no fighting over who would write the Christmas letter.
I could not muster the cheer in light of recent events. Yet Jared, in his steady way insisted on focusing on the positive. He’s right (but don’t tell him that).
We spent 2016 pursuing our passions, receiving much love, and enjoying adventures.
So, in the spirit of having a grateful heart, Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year to you all:
One would think since the family pictures were taken in November that this letter would be finding you all in early December because obviously we are well-organized adults. Wrong. We haven’t found a smooth enough road yet to type a letter on. Instead, we have found ourselves blessed with the lifestyle to travel with friends and family to see more friends and family.
With Squidget being a strong-willed, red-headed cowgirl, she hasn’t allowed a dull moment. I am told that stubbornness runs strong in the ginger children and I find I am wearing down when she says, “Daddy, horsie, please.” Although her vocabulary mostly consists of the words “poop” and “undies,” we have also managed to get some ABC’s in there and the numbers 1-5, 8 and the ever-popular 9. Besides studying the English language, Squidget has also been working on mastering the art of potty training. What was going very well hit a hiccup during a two-week vacation to Neigh Grammie’s for Thanksgiving and we reintroduced “adventure undies” to avoid blowouts on the road. Now, all she wants to wear are the adventure variety.
In addition to being Squidget’s chauffeur to and from the park and friends’ houses, Alice has started a new approach to her photography by displaying it on T-shirts and note cards. She started this summer with a stand at the farmers market and has continued with a few craft shows since then. To keep her on her toes, I also call on her to help on the farm, whether it’s driving truck, shoveling grain or moving vehicles.
As for me, I spent most of my time trying to figure out how to get out of work and go play. This year we chased snow to Bend, Oregon, to ski with Dwayne, Ann, Asher and Leonie in endless powder. We hit our other favorite Montana hills too and skied well into March.
In May Aunt Sally came for a visit and joined us on our annual bike trip up Going to the Sun Road. You should try it. Come with us next time. Really. You won’t regret seeing the park via your own sweat power, especially since there are no hoards of tourists blocking the views.
In June, we spent a weekend celebrating my grandparents’ anniversary with cousins galore camping in the Bear Paws. In August, Squidget finally made it to her namesake lake for a long weekend of tenting it. She only kept the campground guests awake one night and they quickly forgave her when they found out it was her birthday.
We also made a trip out to see Knight and Leonie in Washington before they moved and were spoiled by great food and the opportunity to see the ocean from the westernmost corner of the lower 48 states. Knight and Leonie also decided they should try and kill us over the 4th of July by taking a quick, 49-mile hike in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. We may not have seen THE wall but gosh darn it we saw a BIG wall and it was great. (Alice maintains that I should never be allowed to pick the trail if we want to have fun.)
The snow is flying and all three of us have new skis to break in this winter, so Merry Christmas and Happy New Year – we wish to see you and make great memories in the upcoming year!
There was a time I didn’t want children and, when we found out we were expecting, Jared told me to think of her as a puppy because I was so unhappy and I love puppies.
Then there was a time I was in denial until the doctor placed Squidget in my arms and I instantly loved her more than myself.
Then there was a time I was so sorry I hadn’t known how much I would love Squidget but was still unconvinced I wanted another child.
Then there was a time I found peace when God told me I would have a girl named Magnolia.
Then there was a time I loved her before I even became pregnant.
Then there was a time I lost her and never met her.
I know the statistics and I know it’s not my fault. I know these things happen inexplicably other than to say that genetically the pregnancy must have been nonviable, which is what the doctor explained to us as we sat in his office, tears streaming down our faces.
I saw the tiny curl of her attached to me. I saw the stillness, heard the lack of a heartbeat, saw the black that is the blood that surrounds her instead of what is supposed to be embryonic fluid.
I know her soul is gone. My mother-in-law dreamed she’s in heaven with her great-grandparents.
Now there is a time I am her crypt instead of her sanctuary, waiting to officially miscarry and lose what’s left of her in this world, fervently praying that God will bring me closure and peace again.
All I want are answers at a time when answers are impossible to come by. Mentally I understand I might never get answers. Emotionally that doesn’t help. I have to trust in and lean on God. (Not my strong suit.) I rationalize that while God promised me Magnolia, He didn’t promise me how long I would have her.
I thought I understood after Squidget was born how much God loves us to have sent His only son to save us. Now I know I didn’t understand that sacrifice at all.
I try to have a grateful heart, and there is much for which to be grateful, including all the small and great acts of kindness I have received from people — some from people who have no idea what is happening, like the bank teller who dug through a bag of lollipops to find my favorite flavor the day we found out.
It’s been two weeks and I still smile and pretend everything’s okay because I can’t say the words without dissolving into sobs. It’s too exhausting to explain to a world in which she never existed. There’s no process to follow, like when someone who was born dies. There’s no obituary, no funeral, no formal period of grieving. In my mind there should be, so I’m writing this.
As we tell the people closest to us what is happening, I am astounded by how real the statistics have become and how many families have borne the same grief we do. And I now understand how hard it is to talk about, but I am so thankful for those of you who have.
Mamas and papas who have been through a miscarriage, we are not crazy for being devastated. We lost children who we loved. The ones of you who have shared your stories, you are the reason I will get through this too. I see you carrying on, loving, trying again in spite of your pain. And I know I can.