Adele Flynn from Lorain County is the editor of the May 21, 2018 Growing our Generation enewsletter, featuring insights and ideas directly from Ohio’s young farmers and food and agricultural professionals.
Hi, my name is Adele Flynn and I live with my husband, Eric, and three children, Addison (9), Will (7) and Liv (3) on our farm in Wellington, Ohio. I work for Farm Credit Mid-America as an account specialist and Eric and I have a cow/calf operation. Besides the cattle (which take plenty of time on their own), Eric farms full-time with my dad and uncles running about 1,100 acres of cash grain. It is a joy raising my kids in the house and farm where I grew up but it can also be a struggle, working full-time off of the farm and trying to find a balance between it all.
Growing up, besides the crops we also had a dairy farm. I was a little bit different from my school friends. When I was in trouble with my parents, rather than being grounded, I had 4 a.m. milking duty with my dad. Even though having to get up so early was a punishment, he always made it fun and I always left the parlor in a good mood. Our farm, Gordon Farms, was started by grandparents in 1941. The neighbors took bets on how long he would (or more like wouldn’t) last. They had four boys and one girl and ran a very tight ship. Farming was life. My dad and his brothers eventually joined on with my grandpa and expanded when they could. But unlike the other farmers that tried to run this land and failed, they made it.
Fast forward to 2008, Eric and I have been living in South Dakota for three years. Eric has been working on a ranch and I’ve been working at the local bank. We are expecting our first daughter and we start thinking about our future. We can stay in SD, in a town and community that we love, working for a wonderful family (who has become like family to us). Or we can move back to Ohio and Eric can help my dad and two uncles, who at this point are getting older. The biggest difference here is that we will be working toward owning our own farm and continuing my grandfather’s legacy. See, in South Dakota, Eric would always be a hired hand, an employee. Even though we loved it out there, it was a no brainer to come home and raise our children surrounded by family and cousins and start working toward their future. Because when it comes down to it, they are the reason we work so hard and do what we do. My family (grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles and cousins) have worked so hard for this farm, this land. It is important to us to give the fourth and fifth generations and on, a chance to continue that family tradition.
It’s the time of year where I start itching to get into my garden. There are few things better than fresh vegetables that you grew in your backyard. Every year I sit down and try to come up with a master plan and sometimes I follow it. I search every phrase possible on Pinterest to find what others are doing. But more often than not, what helps me most is to look back and use things I learned from previous gardens. For example, last year we planted two different varieties of cucumber. They were excellent but way too much for just our family. They also started taking over the garden. This year I’m going to try something new and make a cucumber trellis and grow one plant. I’m also going to try a no-till garden. Hey, if it works on a field to keep organic matter in the soil, why wouldn’t it be beneficial for my garden? It doesn’t hurt to try! Every year I learn something new, and I’m thankful for my phone, because now I can actually keep a list of the ideas I have for next year, rather than trying to remember them all next spring.
Now that I know what plants work for us (aka: what vegetables and fruit my family will actually eat), rather than scouring Pinterest for garden layouts, I look for DIY ideas on how to make things that will help me in the garden. Whether it’s tomato cages, because some of last year’s tomatoes went crazy and grew so big they pulled the cages we bought out of the soil and tipped over. Or different crafts I can do with the kids, like our project today, making our own plant markers out of bricks. Which brings me to another point, having a garden is such a great way to get the kids involved. In the summer once those beef tomatoes are ready, it’s pretty awesome to have a burger or BLT and be able to say that you grew almost everything used to make it (if I wanted to say we made all of it, I would be more ambitious and make my own flour, but who knows, maybe our wheat was used to make that bread I bought at the store?). The kids get to go through the whole cycle from planting to harvest. They do this with the corn and soybeans we grow too, but there’s something different about doing it in a garden. It really makes you appreciate the food and also appreciate the farmers and workers who grow our food in the months we don’t have the garden. I’m not ashamed to go to work with dirt stained nails, (well, except the time my oldest daughter wanted to do an experiment with black walnuts. I HIGHLY advise against pulling apart walnut husks without gloves! Let’s just say my nails were stained for at least a month!) because I know that my hands are dirty because I am providing for my family. This goes for working with the cattle and on the farm too.
After years of growing a vegetable garden, here are five things I wish I had known from the start:
- Not all weeds are a bad thing. I used to spend countless hours pulling these pesky weeds from the garden. They grew everywhere! And the leaves and stems look like they plump and juicy, so in my mind they were soaking up the precious water that was supposed to be going to my plants. That’s why my tomatoes aren’t as big as I’d like them to be. Then last year, I learned that I was wrong. I came across this article while looking for ways to prevent them. The weed is called purslane and it’s actually a great cover crop that helps the soil retain its moisture. The roots are so shallow they don’t take any of the moisture away from your plants. Last year I left it to grow and my garden did better than it ever has. You can also eat it! Check out the article for more info. I’ve eaten it and it’s pretty good!
- Less is more. There have been a few years that I’ve planted too much in too small of a space. I’ve learned that the more space I give the plants, the bigger the plant and the better the fruit or vegetable. It’s also a lot easier to pick when you actually have room to walk in between rows (same goes for pulling the weeds you don’t want in your garden).
- Rotate your plants. Don’t plant the same thing in the same spot year after year. Just like you wouldn’t plant soybeans or corn in the same field every year. (One tip, potatoes and tomatoes are from the same family and susceptible to the same bug, diseases etc.)
- Use soaker hoses. They conserve water by just watering the rows where the plants are, rather than the entire garden or the garden and grass, like I used to do when I couldn’t get the sprinkler set up the right way. It’s also nice due to the fact that you can continue picking the vegetables or weeding while you are watering because it’s direct and not making a muddy mess of everything.
- Mix it up. I make it a goal to try something new every year. It makes it interesting, is educational and introduces the kids to new things. One year it was brussel sprouts I think this year I’m going to try cauliflower and broccoli. The most important thing is to have fun, enjoy the outdoors and enjoy the time with your kids (if you have them).
When I was trying to come up with ideas for this e-newsletter, my co-worker Lauren suggested I write one on meals in the field. I will be the first to admit that with working full-time and three kids that are usually hungry as soon as I get home, I am not the best at cooking traditional, homemade meals that you picture when you think of a farm wife in the kitchen. There are a lot of nights (especially in the winter) where I come home and just don’t have the energy to do it. When it comes to meals in the field, it Is usually leftovers or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chips and a candy bar (sorry Eric). So I didn’t feel right writing an article on something I don’t do (let me mention that Lauren is also a farm wife/mom and she makes awesome meals in the field). Besides reminding me that I am usually a failure when it comes to my wifely cooking duties, Lauren’s suggestion reminded me of something that I actually do right. Drumroll…. my electronic pressure cooker (aka: the Instant Pot). It has become a lifesaver in our household! I’ve only had it a few months and it has already improved our eating habits and saved me tons of time (both cooking and cleaning up). Now this isn’t a product endorsement, in fact I don’t actually have an IP, but a less expensive Mealthy MultiPot. The point is, do some research and buy the one that you think will work best for you. There are a lot of options out there and one place I looked to for help was Pinterest, where I found a ton of reviews.
In case any of you are not Facebook or Pinterest prolific and have yet to join the “pot head” movement (and I don’t mean this in the same context I would have 15 years ago! I’ll explain more later). An Instant Pot (IP) is a fancier/more complex version of our mom or grandma’s pressure cooker that she used for everything from sweet corn to canning (please note, using an IP to can is not recommended). I’m not sure who decided to make a pressure cooker as simple to use as a crock pot, but man are they smart and probably extremely wealthy. The IP has an almost cult-like following on Facebook with some calling themselves Pot Heads. I once joined an IP group and there were so many posts, all day long, that I had to un-follow it because all I saw on my timeline was IP recipes. Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, when pics of awesome food are constantly tempting you, it isn’t very good for your waistline. Let me also say that all of this hype over one simple product isn’t totally unfounded. For example, if you are someone who loves egg salad sandwiches or makes deviled eggs for the holidays, just watch this video. I swear the IP will CHANGE YOUR LIFE!
Like I said before, Facebook and Pinterest are filled with countless recipes, but here are some of my families favorites:
Instant Pot Pizza Pasta — rather than sausage, I used Flynn Cattle beef of course!
Instant Pot Mac and Cheese — warning, for some reason, when I’ve made this, it’s made kind of a mess when opening the quick release. The end result is sooo worth the mess, but be prepared with some paper towels! PS- I usually add some Velveeta cheese to it for extra cheesiness.
Instant Pot Potato Corn Chowder — this will be so good with fresh corn this summer.
Instant Pot Beef Burgundy – – roasts are so fast and tender in the IP!
I had to include a dessert and it’s my oldest’s favorite!
My Farm Bureau story started out like probably a lot of other members in my generation. I grew up with parents who were involved in a community council and sent me to Farm Bureau camp every summer. After a year in college, my husband (who was my boyfriend at the time) made the tough decision to move to South Dakota. Although I regret not finishing college, my life was forever changed by the move because it introduced me to ag banking and my passion to help other farmers. I never would be doing what I am today without that move and I am forever thankful for it. Those years that we lived over 1,000 miles away from family, we really grew up and learned to depend on each other. Although we weren’t involved in Farm Bureau while there, 95 percent of the people who lived there worked in agriculture. It was amazing. I think when we moved back to Ohio after having our first daughter, we realized how much we missed our agricultural community. That’s when we were approached to become involved in the county board of trustees. We were elected onto the board (thanks to my parents volunteering to babysit, Eric and I both could do it) and found our new agricultural community.
I had thought about taking on a leadership role within the county for a few years, however I didn’t want to do it until I knew I had the time to devote to it and do it right. After we had our youngest and knew three kids was enough, I decided to run for president of the board. Since being elected, it has been a whirlwind couple of years that have been very fulfilling. A lot of what I focus on as president is how we can give back, not only to our members but to the community. Giving back can be something as simple as donating time or money to a local food bank, to as complex as hosting events focused on consumer education about agriculture. An example in Lorain County is our annual Brunch with a Farmer. We are able to work with our local community college’s culinary program who prepare the food at their venue, amazing food by the way, that is served by local politicians. We encourage attendees to bring canned goods for donation. We host a safe place for non-farmers to interact and ask questions of farmers, have specific presentations from farmers and then when it’s over, we donate any of the remaining food to our food bank.
This one event gives back in so many ways that you wouldn’t even think about. Just think of how much one county board or YAP group or even member could give back in an entire year. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t discount the time that goes into these events. I know how much man power it takes. I am extremely fortunate to have an excellent group of volunteers that put this event together and make it so successful (including my awesome OD).
I have learned so much from my involvement in Farm Bureau including the importance of getting to know your local legislatures. Many of them are most likely a few generations removed from farming, so it’s important for us to get to know them and share our way of life. It doesn’t matter what side of the line you are on compared to them, we need everyone we can get to support agriculture. Ohio Farm Bureau advocates for us at a level an individual cannot. But it’s the combination of all of our members (and some excellent staff in Columbus), that make us as strong as we are. I encourage you to attend Ag Day at the Capital, a legislative brunch, policy development, annual meeting…anything to see what your Farm Bureau does for you on a state level. It’s really amazing when you see what a difference we can make in Columbus. I wouldn’t be meeting with my congressman or senator multiple times a year if it wasn’t for OFBF and I’ve seen actual results from these meetings.
Remember, we are all in Farm Bureau as paying members because we find some benefit in it. Whether it’s connecting, learning or advocacy (or countless other reasons). There are hundreds of others out there that feel the same way (take the YAP Conference). So if farming or agriculture is important to you, please get more involved in Young Ag Professionals or your county Farm Bureau and help make this organization what you want it to be.
It’s May! The weather is warming up and even better, we are finally done calving! This is a time for celebration! I am finally getting a full night’s sleep (oh wait, I have a 4-year-old who still wakes up almost every night!). This is what I’ve been living the past 2½ months….My husband and I take shifts checking cows and my last check is midnight. This is completely fine and I much prefer it over the 4 a.m. check, however, I’m the type of person who is paranoid that if I go to bed before this, I will sleep through my check. For this reason I usually stay up and watch some TV, do some reading, and play some games on my phone. Then I put on several layers of clothes and boots and I head out to the barns with my spotlight in hand. At the beginning of calving season it’s usually pretty quick. Once we start having calves it’s a different story. I can’t help myself from watching those fuzzy little things run around in all of their cuteness! Then I realize it’s 1 a.m., I’m wide awake and I end up watching TV until I fall asleep. This goes on for two months and by the end I am practically a zombie and I am elated for calving to be over!
In all seriousness, calving season is what we as beef farmers work all year toward. It is when we get to actually see if our breeding choices were right and get a glimpse at what the year ahead may hold. Calving season can be extremely rewarding and it can also be heart breaking. We’ve been through it all in the past 12 years we’ve had our own cattle. Fortunately we’ve had a great year.
But this article isn’t all about calving season; it’s about breaking away into alternative markets. While Eric and I have a show and breeding stock operation, as any producer knows, not every calf is going to be good enough for either. That’s where our custom beef program comes into place. Over the years we’ve built an awesome customer base of freezer beef clients. But as our herd grows so does our need to find alternative markets for our beef. We started our newest endeavor extremely lucky. My sister-in-law’s long time neighbor got a job as a butcher at a popular new restaurant in Cleveland and a light bulb went off. How about we sell our beef there? We made the call and Josh was willing to try our product! It was a really neat feeling to know that your cattle, that you have raised from birth (along with several generations of their dams) are being used to feed so many people. The one downside at this point is that we are not large enough to sustain the whole restaurant and it’s not sustainable for the restaurant to purchase an entire steer when all they need this week is steaks (maybe someday we will be at this level).
Our next break was from a new partnership our county Farm Bureau formed with the local community college and their culinary program. They were looking to use local products in their student-run restaurant. Now we provide steaks when we have them available and all of their ground beef for their burgers.
Our newest venture is selling freezer beef at a local CSA (the owner also happens to be a co-worker of mine). The customers have the convenience to order individual cuts of meat at the same time they purchase their veggies. It’s a one stop shop!
While we’ve been extremely lucky with our existing contacts helping us to break into new markets, the success we’ve had has made us more confident to explore new options for selling our beef. It has opened our eyes and encouraged us to step out of our comfort zone to promote our product. I only wish we had tried it sooner! Well and that I had more time in my day to properly market it!