Life Lessons from Maple Syrup

I tried something new this winter. Late last spring, my dad and I were bitten by the maple syrup bug. Someone we knew had made a couple gallons of syrup from trees in his backyard and he made it sound relatively simple: tap the tree, collect the sap and boil it. My dad and I talked about it all summer and fall, and then one evening this winter, we tapped our first maple tree.

Life-Lessons-from-Maple-SyrupThat first little drop of sugar water to hit the bottom of the bucket made me so happy I squealed. I felt like a little girl as I clapped my hands excitedly and pointed. I think it made my dad happy too, but of course, he didn’t squeal. For weeks, I made a daily trek with my empty water jugs up to the mountain to check my trees. On weekends, I boiled the water down in a process that took much longer than I expected.

However, I can now proudly say I have made a gallon of maple syrup that my family will thoroughly enjoy eating over our pancakes and waffles. My little gallon of syrup has made me realize that even in the deadness of winter there is hope for spring ahead. While it might seem that the grass magically turns green overnight after a warm rain, the land actually spends weeks preparing itself for a new season of growth.

As dreary as winter can be sometimes, it makes you appreciate God’s creation so much more when spring finally arrives. Happy Springtime, my friends! May this season be as sweet as maple syrup!

American PALs Cultivate Brazilian Culture

By Brandon Whitt

An extremely early morning awaited the PAL class as we gathered in the hotel lobby to make the trek from São Paulo to the beautiful city of Rio de Janeiro, and the group was anxious to visit another part of the country and take in the rich and diverse culture that awaited us.

Travel always seems much easier to me when done with a group, and this proved true on our journey this particular morning, as we quickly learned our English-speaking skills would be of no help in navigating the completely Portuguese-speaking local airport. Relying heavily on our native Brazilian tour guide, Ray, we made it through check-in, security and of course airport breakfast in a timely manner to arrive at our gate. On the short flight to Rio, I could already see that this city was going to offer some amazing sights for our group.

The view of Rio de Janeiro from Sugar Loaf Mountain

The view of Rio de Janeiro from Sugar Loaf Mountain

Upon arriving in Rio, we loaded a bus to begin our sightseeing journey in and through the city. As was the case throughout most of Brazil, the class divide became very apparent very quickly. Brazil has a very small middle class compared to America; you are either rich or quite poor. In the inner city of Rio, we saw many neighborhoods full of block structures that were used as government housing. We also saw a good deal of construction of infrastructure to prepare for the World Cup later this year and the summer Olympics in 2016. Leaving the downtown area and making our way closer to the coast, we quickly saw the housing improve and businesses that catered to a higher-end lifestyle, as well as the stadium for Carnival. The stadium itself holds more than 70,000 people who have a bird’s-eye view of the dance and float competition that takes place over the four day weekend leading up to Ash Wednesday.

American PALs Cultivate Brazilian Culture - Local Cuisine

Sampling the local cuisine

During our bus journey, we took in the breathtaking view of the harbor and beach down the coast of Rio de Janeiro from the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain. Most likely, if you were to Google the city of Rio, this view is the first image you would see. Seeing this landscape view of the city with my own eyes was absolutely amazing. I have traveled to and seen many beautiful places in the world, but this had to be one of the very best! While indulging in the local cuisine for lunch, we learned about “rooftop roast,” which is a beef roast that has actually been sun-dried up on the rooftop. The outer edge had a crispiness to it like nothing I had ever tasted, only to find the center was as juicy and tender as if it had been slow cooked in a crock pot.

American PALs Cultivate Brazilian Culture - Cristo Redentor StatueAfter lunch we made our way to see the Cristo Redentor, also known as “the big Jesus statue on the hill.” We waited with hundreds of people to board the train that would take us to the top of the hill before climbing a long flight of steps to actually reach the top. Known for keeping watch over the city below, I couldn’t help but ponder just how valuable this monument was to the people who visited it, as hundreds of them posed to have their pictures taken with the statue in the background. I was quickly reminded of just how important Christ is in my own life. I enjoyed having the chance to visit the chapel inside the statue, pausing for a moment to praise God for all of the blessings in my own life and for the opportunity to see a broader vision of how important my job is to not only American families, but also to families all over the world.

The week was a great adventure, and we were constantly reminded of the struggles and turmoil we face within agriculture – how to dispel the doubts, fight the pests, raise the yields to meet an ever increasing demand – and, at the end of the day, how to balance it all and meet the needs of my own family.

Our week in Brazil as 10 PALs encouraged to build a better tomorrow through agriculture was certainly an eye opening experience. Each and every day was valuable in its own way, but having the opportunity to step away and see the rich diversity and culture that Brazil has to offer helped to personally bring the message home of why I choose to farm for a living. Although we live in a world where we seem to face undying scrutiny from activists, relentless weather from Mother Nature and an unsure economy at times, I was reminded that what I do matters, and I will never stop trying to make this world a better place to live.

I have to extend my deepest gratitude to each and every person who helped to make this trip possible. The fine folks of American Farm Bureau, Monsanto and Farm Credit, in my book, went all out to ensure that PAL Class 7 gained a valuable vision of global agriculture and the significant role that each participant plays.

 

Brandon Whitt is a member of PAL Class 7 blogging about his experiences in Brazil with the PAL class. Brandon is an eighth generation row crop, hay and hog farmer from Tennessee.

A Taste of Summer

I have always felt that food was a very emotional subject. There are individuals who get excited when you talk about organic versus conventional, GMOs and water rights. Farmers and ranchers are very passionate and proud of what they do. They should be! Their hard work and sacrifice makes it possible for us to have clothes on our backs and food in our bellies.

A Taste of Summer - California Strawberries 2

Strawberries fresh from California to our ranch in Missouri

However, food is also emotional in a very different way. Close your eyes and think of your grandma’s house, backyard barbecues, family gatherings and holidays. Can you smell the hot rolls grandma made for Sunday dinner? Can you hear the sizzle and smell the smoke rolling off the grill as your best friend challenges you to a game of horseshoes? The sight of the Thanksgiving turkey as you sit down with your loved ones and give thanks for the blessings you have received?  Maybe some of your favorite memories were made as you gathered with your friends and family to enjoy a meal.

Today, I was lucky enough to get a taste of summer: strawberries, fresh off the vines in California. A harbinger of the days to come. Their smell, their taste, takes me straight to the sunny days of June.

A Taste of Summer - Making Hay

View from the tractor while making hay for the cattle during the summer

For me, summer brings days out of my classroom at the local high school and days in the hay fields raking and hauling hay. It means fresh fruits and vegetables out of the garden my husband and I plant together. Enjoying burgers off the grill or ice cream on the porch. I get to spend precious moments swinging in my hammock with my young daughter. My son will spend his days learning the ins and outs of the ranch with his dad and his nights on the baseball field.

Summer is a busy, action packed time of the year on our ranch. It only took one bite of these berries to put me right in the middle of it.