Tag Archives: ranchers

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.

 

Have We Declared War On Work?

Before I delve into my post, I want to give a little background on myself and my family. I grew up on a large cattle ranch in Southern Utah. I am the eighth of nine siblings, all of which grew up working on the ranch alongside my father. My parents raised us to be smart and hard working. All of us graduated with honors, several as valedictorian, and sterling scholar winners. We excelled in athletics and other extracurricular activities. None of us have ever been in jail, tried illegal drugs or been fired from a job. All of my siblings now have families of their own, stable jobs in which they excel or are mothers doing the hardest job of all. My siblings are good and decent contributors to society.

Have We Declared War on Work - Photo 1

My husband and I have five daughters. Our oldest daughter is 10 and our youngest is going on two. The fact that our children are girls hasn’t relieved them of responsibilities on the ranch. Their Dad works them as he would any son, and they have proven themselves as tough and capable of any cowboy twice their age. From the time our girls were conceived, they have been on horseback riding in the saddle riding with me. Upon turning three they get to go on our 10-day cattle drive on their own horse. I am generally close by, but it’s completely up to them to make their horse do exactly what they want them to while moving the cattle. I love to see how much their confidence improves over those 10 days. It is amazing! They have ridden alone before that trip, but never so long and for so many days uninterrupted. It’s 1,200 pounds of horse against 30 pounds of little girl and the little girl wins! Who would have bet on those odds?

Have We Declared War on Work - Photo 2

The thought process around this post came many years ago when speaking to my Dad’s cousin. He had grown up on the ranch with my Dad, but had chosen to go into construction. He had commented on how much he loved watching my girls work right alongside my husband and I. The way he talked about it spurred me into questioning why he didn’t do the same with his own children. He replied, “I am not allowed to take my kids on the job site with me. It is illegal.” He went on, “We have become so afraid of hurting our children, that we are hurting our children!” As the conversation continued he explained to me how he had watched his son grow and not find direction in his life. He was a good and smart kid, but his grades in school suffered, and he didn’t excel like his family knew he was capable. His father was convinced that it was simply because he didn’t know how to work. He hadn’t worked side-by-side with his father in order to learn the skills he needed to really succeed in life. His story didn’t end there, he went on to say, “I just want my son to work alongside me, to learn as I did at my fathers knee. But that will never happen. Politicians were afraid of hurting America’s kids, and now that the kids are ‘safe,’ they have entitlement issues that may be irreversible! We as a society have declared war on work.”

The recent event that brought this conversation to my mind occurred with a group of friends and fellow YF&R Committee members. We were viewing self-made YouTube video’s, asking for feedback and comments. I had done my video on branding in the West. It was full of pictures and live footage of my husband, our girls and I and working the cattle. One comment was that if I posted the video, I needed to be prepared for a bombardment of people saying that my children had no business being on horses and working that young.

Further illustrating the point I will eventually make (a bit of humor if you didn’t catch it), America’s Heartland came to my family’s ranch and did a special episode on our three-day cattle drive. I spoke to the rep from the studio several times explaining that for the first day there would be no vehicle access on the drive. So whatever equipment the cameramen needed would have to be taken on horseback. The trail was not an easy ride and I wanted to make sure they understood that this “shouldn’t be their first rodeo.” They assured me they had “taken riding lessons” and that they would be fine. I had my doubts.

So, the evening before the drive was to begin, I took the cameramen and their head man to the base of the mountain we were to climb. I pointed to the beautiful pink cliffs thousands of feet above us and said, “That’s where we are going. Are you ready?” They had never seen anything like it in their life! They quickly explained that they were not experienced enough riders to handle the unfamiliar horses and their gear, and asked if there was another option. I told them we would put the camera and sound equipment on with my oldest daughter. I could see the wheels turning in the leader’s eyes. I didn’t look very old so how OLD can this oldest daughter possibly be? I explained that she was seven. Those wheels turning again…he’s counting the thousands of dollars he is about to hand over to a seven-year-old…estimating how he could word it on the insurance claim…realizing that he has no other option. He agreed.

Rachel during the drive

We sent our oldest daughter ahead of the cattle up the hill with one cameraman. The rest of the crew stayed behind to follow the cattle up. Our other children were also on horses. Our daughter, Rachel, was three at the time. She rode next to the lead man for America’s Heartland. When we finally arrived at the summit he rode over to talk to me. He said, “You have no idea how many times I wanted to get off, to turn back and walk off that mountain! But every time I got the urge I would just look at your three-year-old daughter riding that big horse all by herself, never afraid, never questioning what she was doing there. She was just herding those cows up the mountain with a big smile on her face.”

And so I ask you. Why would we take that away? Why would we deprive children of such amazing opportunities? Can work be dangerous? Can injuries occur? Absolutely! Do we, as parents, have to be careful and use wisdom? Of course we do! But do I believe that the government has the right to tell me that I can’t take my child to work with me? Not on your life!

Have We Declared War on Work - Photo 3

America’s Heartland went on to do an additional episode on our kids working on the ranch. Their lead man said he was sure he would have viewers who would see our kids riding, and just like he did, they would misjudge the situation. His intent on the mini clip was to open the minds of viewers to our way of life. Help them understand and see that sure, this life is hard and perhaps at times can be risky, but the benefits so far outweigh the risks that it should be a non-issue.

Recently farmers and ranchers won a huge battle with Congress about child labor laws in agriculture. I am grateful every day that my children are still able to to work alongside my husband and I. But often I see my girls working and laughing and wonder if we should have stopped at agricultural child labor. Shouldn’t my Dad’s cousin be able to take his boy to work too? Shouldn’t he, as a parent, be able to decide how best to raise his child?

Some food for thought. Thanks for reading!