Author Archives: Susan Wilkins

Feeling Thankful

Thanks for reminding me what it means to be free, Berlin.

Thanks for reminding me what it means to be free, Berlin.

Somehow this fall I lost an entire month. It could have had something to do with twenty four days that I spent gallivanting around Europe this past month as a McCloy fellow.  All I know is that I left West Virginia when it was green, sunny, and 75 degrees.  The cattle were still happily grazing on the pastures and the corn was standing tall in the fields.  I returned and there were no leaves on the trees, the corn was all gone, and the grass had stopped growing.  A couple days later, it snowed.

It is hard to believe that my fellowship is now over and the holidays are upon us. I learned so much while in Germany and I am grateful for the lessons I was taught there.  This week, as I watch the news celebrating the 25 year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, remember our military on Veterans’ Day, and prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, I am particularly struck by the things I sometimes take for granted.  I have so much to be thankful for.

Before traveling to Germany, I had never fully comprehended the huge impact that the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain had on the people of what was East and West Germany. The more people we talked to, the more we picked up on the fact that time is often divided into two categories – “before the wall came down” and “after the wall came down.”  Small family farms did not exist in East Germany before the wall came down because farms were combined into cooperatives by the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) during the Soviet rule.  Even today, the farms in that part of the country are quite a bit larger than those in West Germany with an average size of 538 acres.  Farms in West Germany, however, were family farms and as land was handed down to generation to generation they became smaller and smaller as each child received a share.  The average farm size in the west today is about 100 acres.

As a fifth generation farmer whose family owns and farms land that has been passed down since the Civil War, it was very humbling to me to hear the stories of people picking a farm up from the ruins and trying to start something new. I will forever remember a comment made in a meeting we had with two staff of a local farm association in East Germany. The younger of the two men grew up under the GDR and clearly remembers the new opportunities available to him as a twenty year old when the wall came down.  He said that democracy today was such a confusing mess because everyone just does what he or she wants to.  The older man looked at him and said, “Yes, but you are free.”

How often do I truly appreciate the fact that I am free? I may not agree with some of the laws our government passes and I may vehemently oppose the direction our country is led in at times, but I am free. And I have never known any other way.  The very recent struggles of the German people humbled me.  As I celebrate Thanksgiving this year, I will offer up a prayer of Thanksgiving not only for being blessed to live the life of a farmer, but to live the life of an American.  Never before have I appreciated what that meant quite so much.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone = Growth

Susan - growth blog

One of my biggest questions – will Germany’s mountains compare to this?

In one week, I will be embarking on one of my biggest adventures to date. I will be traveling from my hills here in West Virginia to Germany and Belgium.  In June, I was notified that I was one of four Americans selected to receive a McCloy Fellowship in Agriculture for a three week intensive study of German agriculture and policy.

In June, those three weeks seemed so far away I thought they would never come. Now, one week away from departure, I am alternating from excitement to anxiety to nervousness.  And at times, borderline panic!

I am reminded of a message I heard many years ago at an FFA Convention – that true growth involves stepping out of your comfort zone. If you want to grow, you have to push yourself to stretch in new directions that might scare or intimidate you.

While I am excited beyond belief to represent the United States as a McCloy, this trip is definitely a little out of my normal comfort zone. But my feelings are completely normal for the growth that will inevitably result.  I can’t wait to come back with a new knowledge and perspective of agriculture to help me be a better farmer and leader.

I have a feeling that when my three weeks are over, I will even be a bit sad to leave; no matter how apprehensive I am feeling right now! If you would like to follow along with the McCloy Fellows on our adventure, check out our blog at

Ice Cream and Agriculture

I always enjoy the State Fair of West Virginia, but probably not for any of the reasons one would think.  Last year, for instance, I didn’t see a single concert, ride any rides, buy a cinnamon bun, or even spend much time in the barns.  No, my State Fair enjoyment centers solely on ice cream.  You see, for the last several years, I have helped a local Ruritan Club sell ice cream in their stand beside the dairy barn.

I like selling ice cream for three main reasons.  First of all, rarely do mean or rude people eat ice cream.  (Perhaps I should include a disclaimer here that this statement is not scientifically proven!)  And, in my experience, if a customer starts out mean or rude when they order, by the time they get an oversized, hand dipped cone of Rocky Road or Moosetracks or Butter Pecan, their rudeness melts away.  My favorite customers are the kids whose eyes light up like its Christmas morning when I hand them a cone.  The second reason I like selling ice cream is the sampling.  After all, a shift lasts between 6 and 7 hours.  A person has to eat something during that time and plus, when a customer asks for a recommendation on ice cream flavors, I need to be able to honestly tell them!

And the third reason is the questions I get to answer.  Being located so near the cattle barns, I’ve answered questions like “What cow in the barn did this ice cream come from?”  “Does the chocolate ice cream come from a brown cow?”  “Is this ice cream made from milk?”  Sometimes the questions can be a little crazy, but it is one more way I can help promote agriculture.  People are often intimidated when they think about being an advocate for this industry, but if you can incorporate it into something you’re already doing, it makes it a lot easier!  Good luck!