Category Archives: Farming

Wichita: From Wild West to Wild Blue Yonder

Early in Wichita’s history, herds of cattle moving up the Chisholm Trail to the railhead earned the town the nickname of “Cowtown.” So the outdoor, living-history museum that brings that era to life is, quite naturally, called Old Cowtown Museum. It is with a happy jolt of recognition that one first sees the “town.” It is the quintessential street scene of countless Westerns, from movies to TV. It is perfect. And it is real. That is, this is what towns really looked like. In fact, though a few buildings are reproductions, the majority here are actual historic buildings from Wichita’s earlier days. Let me give you a glimpse of what greeted me there:

Each building is filled with wonderful artifacts related to the original purpose of the building, including a music store, funeral parlor, clothier, art gallery, meat market, the inevitable (because vital) blacksmith shop, and more. Costumed interpreters share tales and, in many cases, carry out the tasks of the town, from running the printing press to keeping the jail to making iron implements—and even serving sarsaparilla in the Saloon. An early trading post and the homes of some of the early residents of Wichita are also perfectly preserved.

Wichita was “Cowtown” for a relatively short time—1872–1876—just as the era of the cowboy was relatively short, vividly memorable because of books and movies rather than because of a long history. In fact, by 1876 (the last year Wyatt Earp was the local lawman in Wichita), the cowboy era was pretty much over here. The area became more agrarian—a transition represented here by distance, with a lovely old farmstead about a block after the end of “town.” Fabulously worthwhile place to explore the reality behind the iconic images of the American West. And so much to learn. (Did you know there was more than one Buffalo Bill?)

Not far from the Old Cowtown Museum is the Mid-America All-Indian Center. The “Keeper” statue in the previous post is on the center’s property. The main building is actually only partly a museum, with a considerable percentage of its space set aside as a Kiva, a space where the local Native American population can hold powwows or other cultural celebrations. While the museum section of the center contains some historic items, the stated purpose of the center is to remind visitors that Native Americans are still around. There are photos and biographies of Native Americans in a wide range of fields, from politics to painting. I assumed they would include the splendid prima ballerina, Maria Tallchief, and I found her fairly quickly. However, one new artist I “met” was Wichita resident Blackbear Bosin. There was considerable space dedicated to Blackbear, or Tsate Kongia, who lived from 1921–1980, with displays of artwork (wonderfully evocative paintings that reflect Indian culture—really liked his work), a short movie, photos, and additional information about his life. My favorite quote, from a friend of the artist, was, “Blackbear loved Wichita. Wichita loves Indians. Wichita loved Blackbear Bosin.” It was Bosin who designed the “Keeper of the Plains” statue.

One of the docents at the Indian Center related that during World War II, when Boeing opened their plant here, Native Americans skilled in metal work flooded into the area. As a result, there are now between 60 and 70 different tribes represented in Wichita. As for Indians being good at metal work, the only reason that didn’t surprise me is that I’d previously read about how the Mohawks in New York, being particularly good at working “high steel,” had made major contributions to building New York City’s bridges and skyscrapers. But the Boeing connection leads into the next thing I learned about Wichita.

I won’t go into a lot of details—need to leave something for you to discover when you visit—but suffice it to say, once you start seeing the names of some of the people who lived here in the early days of aviation, it probably won’t surprise you that there is an Aviation Museum in town. The area was ideal for flight, with open land and clear skies. In 1917, Clyde Cessna, a local farmer who taught himself to fly, made the first plane built entirely in Wichita—and then went on to build the airplane brand that bears his name. Soon, Wichita was also home to Lloyd Stearman, E.M. Laird, and Walter Beech. Fellow Kansan Amelia Earhart visited regularly, as did Missourian Charles Lindberg. Even today, aviation dominates the economy of Wichita, with roughly two-thirds of planes in the U.S. being built there.

A couple more museums lie ahead, but next up will be a fun food aside I couldn’t help but notice in Cowtown.

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Filed under Culture, Farming, History, Midwest, Travel

“Smarter Every Day” Looks at Grain Bins

I have long enjoyed the video channel “Smarter Every Day.” It offers insights into how a lot of things work. However, host Destin has now truly endeared himself to me by focusing on farmers — and pointing out just how much farmers need to know to make things work. I already knew about the bins (I cover the invention of corn bins and drying equipment in my book <em>Midwest Maize), and I knew farmers were smart (and most of the farmers I know have multiple degrees, in subjects ranging from monogastric nutrition to economics to agricultural communication), but it’s lovely to see someone else enthusiastic about everything that goes into keeping a farm going — and us fed. What you see here goes on all over the country, with bins filled with corn, beans, wheat, lentils, peas, garbanzos, barley, and more.

Oh — and that “danger” element Destin mentions — farming is considered second only to coal mining, as far as danger. So no one is farming because it’s easy. It can be hard to make a profit, but most of the farmers I know love the land–and love knowing that they are feeding people.

Here’s Destin’s video.

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Filed under Agriculture, Corn, Culture, Farming, Food, Thoughts, Uncategorized, Video

Don’t Worry about Roundup

As the author of a book on corn, I get a lot of questions about Roundup. The press and a few renegade lawyers have done their best to vilify this product. But talk to farmers—especially those who have grown up around the product (we’ve been using it for nearly half a century, so that is most farmers)—and you’ll find out that none of them are experiencing health problems. Plus it has no negative impact on the environment (which other products often do). It is, in fact, tremendously safe. One of my favorite little factoids comes from Forbes Magazine: “The acute toxicity of glyphosate is lower than that of table salt.”

So throw out your table salt and keep eating corn ground with Roundup.

If you’re interested, here is the full article from Forbes—written by a cancer epidemiologist—a person whose job is studying and knowing what can hurt you.
The Guardian’s Scare Piece On Glyphosate And Cancer Is Designed To Fuel A Tsunami of Lawsuits.

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Filed under Agriculture, Corn, Farming, Food, Thoughts, Uncategorized

Fair Oaks Farms

In both Midwest Maize and Pigs, Pork and Heartland Hogs, I wrote about Fair Oaks Farms. This is a remarkable operation where the owners not only focus on safe, sustainable food with a low carbon footprint, but also want to educate the public about where food comes from. While my books look at farms of many different sizes, this is among the largest–and yet, they are so forward thinking that their carbon footprint is half that of smaller farms.

In addition to being splendidly effective farmers, they are also exceptional educators.  If you happen to live anywhere near northern Indiana, or if a driving trip will take you through the area, you definitely want to stop here. And know that if you like cheese or ice cream, you can see both being made –and can purchase an abundance of both (though other food is available, as well–but seriously, if you like cheese, this place is amazing).

Here’s a video I found in which the founders talk about their vision for the farm and why they developed it the way they did. Hope you enjoy it. And hope you get to visit.

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Filed under Agriculture, Farming, Food, Heartland Hogs, Midwest, Midwest Maize, pigs, Travel, Video

A Millennial in Minnesota

Continuing to post samples from my favorite farmer video channels, I’m taking you to Minnesota this time—so in the Midwest—and one of the four top corn-producing states in the nation. (All states grow corn, but more than 50 percent of all U.S. corn is grown in Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska and Minnesota.) Contributing to that remarkable abundance of Midwestern corn is fifth-generation farmer Zach Johnson, known on YouTube as the MN Millennial Farmer.

Each of the farmer channels offers something different and has a different focus and approach, while still always including the key elements of family, history, and love for the land. Zach’s approach is more technical, offering explanations of what various tasks involve, what problems farmers run into, how things are taken care of, how equipment works, how to know when crops are ready to harvest, and more (though not all of these in every video). His videos are marked by enthusiasm and humor. And they are a wonderful source of insight into just how much work is involved in farming–but also how rewarding it is for those who love it.

Corn is not the only crop raised on Zach’s family’s farm, but since this blog is called Midwest Maize, I figured I’d offer a video that does show corn being harvested. Every video I watch makes me more grateful for the food I have and for the farmers who make it available.

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Filed under Agriculture, Corn, Farming, Food, Midwest, Video

Welker Farms and the Beauty of Farming

I’ve decided to adopt Montana as part of the Midwest. The type of farming, the love for the land, and the history of families working together to feed the world make it feel similar to what I’ve discovered while traveling around the Midwest. And Montana is a next-door neighbor of the northern Midwest.

On the 100-year-old, family-owned and -operated Welker Farms in northern Montana, this love/land/family combination is made gloriously visible through the efforts of fourth-generation farmer Nick Welker, who, in addition to farming, creates glorious videos that reflect the majesty of the location and of the work. He also creates fun video of rebuilding farm equipment–because keeping things going is a big part of successful farming. But in this video, it’s the epic vision of harvest season on the sprawling Welker property that is recorded. This is a really beautiful piece of work.

If you enjoy eating regularly, it’s good to remember that this is why. Because 80 percent of all crops in the U.S. are grown on family farms. They may be big farms, like this one, but they are operated by a handful of people who love farming and have, in most cases, been doing it for generations.

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Filed under Agriculture, Farming, Food, Video

Farmers Rock

If you’ve read this blog for long, or if you’ve read either of my food history books, you’ll know that I think pretty highly of farmers. They are among those people one would traditionally call “salt of the earth.”

Plus we’d all be mighty hungry without them.

But one thing I love is that a lot of them are also great fun. I’ve posted a number of different videos made by farmers, including several from the Peterson Farm Bros. Some of the videos are specifically about different aspects of farming–but some of them, including several that I’ve posted, are clever, farming-related parodies of popular songs. That’s the case with the video below. But adding to the fun in this particular video is the inclusion of farmers from several other video channels — many of them channels I watch and at least one that I’ve featured here. It also reminds us that the vast majority of our food is raised on family farms.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I have.

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Filed under Agriculture, Farming, Food, Midwest, Uncategorized, Video