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HERd management: From seeds to a garden

Karma Fitzgerald Published on 07 December 2012

Herd Management

As I write this, it is late October. The air is crisp here in southern Idaho. The leaves are waterfalls of color in the backyard and the last of the corn is being harvested to the hum of silage trucks and a bright yellow combine.

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Harvest is my New Year. I always feel a sense of renewal in the fall – more so than at the turn of the calendar year. The journey of the summer growing season has come to an end and now it is time for reflecting on the months past in anticipation of the months to come.

Transition – in all its pain and glory – surrounds my thoughts and my actions this time of year.

I find myself staring at one last fresh-from-the garden tomato. It is the last of the tomatoes I harvested from my father’s garden. Using it never felt right – nor did surrendering it to the compost pile.

Last year, as cancer wrapped its fingers around my father’s spine, he told the doctors he wanted to raise just one more garden. Despite the pain, he did and harvested his usual array of tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers.

He put the extras in canning jars and then settled in for winter wrapped in a warm blanket and a good book. In early spring, when doctors made it clear that another full growing season was out of the question, my dad, the lifelong farmer, planted a tomato seed.

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Tomato

“I just want one more home-grown tomato,” he told me, his voice weak with pain killers and resignation.

He never got to feel the juice of that tomato run down his chin. He died just weeks before the fruits of that seed turned ripe enough to eat. Before he left though, he, his wife and my siblings made sure a nice long row of tomatoes were rooted in the garden.

I planted my own row of tomatoes at my house – but I’m ashamed to admit that once my dad passed, I didn’t have the heart to tend to my garden. It is exactly the opposite of what he would have wanted, but being in the garden using the skills he taught me to care for crops and land was, frankly, too overwhelming.

My stepmom graciously blessed me with the last box of tomatoes from their garden and now this one little tomato is all that’s left of the last seeds my dad planted.

For a few days, I sat around feeling rather sorry for myself. Maybe if I didn’t use that tomato, my dad wouldn’t really be gone. Then I was reminded of something my nephew told me. The persistence, dedication and compassion that encompass a farmer’s soul are also harvested.

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My nephew pointed out that for his mother, a talented nurse, the seeds my dad planted in her have resulted in countless lives saved and improved. Inspired by that thought, my nephew, a Coast Guard base commander, had his staff collect some numbers.

Because of the unconditional love and support my dad instilled in my nephew, he has been involved in the rescue of nearly 3,000 people in his 20 years in the service. Lives that might otherwise have perished.

The seeds a farmer sows are not always for food.

I don’t know that I’ve saved lives like my sister and her son, but I know I’ve made a difference in my world. My dad always told me to give back to the world – to plant new seeds as a way of honoring the life I’ve been given. If I can say “thank you” to this world by sharing some time with the local FFA or 4-H clubs, I’m ensuring my father’s legacy doesn’t end with me.

The roots my dad gave me will continue to grow. That’s legacy.

As for the shriveled-up tomato on my kitchen counter, I harvested a few seeds and I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of a sprout or two.

Anyone that has attended a United Dairymen of Idaho meeting in recent history has met Charlotte Stouder. You might not have realized it, but she was there. Her husband Dr. Bill Stouder – an active member of countless boards and committees in this industry often had a plate of cookies with him. They were probably on the table when you sat down at that UDI meeting. Charlotte always sent cookies.

Both Bill and Charlotte died in 2012, but their children and grandchildren are working to guarantee their legacy in this business lives on.

Bill and Charlotte’s sons are continuing the family business; Stouder Holsteins in Wendell, Idaho, and they continue to raise future dairymen and women.

A handful of those Stouder grandchildren gathered around the dinner table last spring and brainstormed about ways to keep the grandparents memory alive and honor the legacy Bill and Charlotte bestowed their offspring. When Charlotte wasn’t out caring for the calves, she was in the kitchen baking.

Her granddaughter, Shayna Stouder Wilks of Ritzville, Washington, says there were always cookies in the freezer or a cake on the counter. Her grandmother baked for countless church, 4-H, school and, of course, United Dairymen of Idaho functions. Wilks and her cousins collected all of their grandmother’s recipes and put them in a cookbook.

While they expected to sell about 100 copies of the book to close friends and family, sales have topped 300. People who didn’t even know the Stouders have purchased the book, leaving Wilks a bit overwhelmed, but grateful. The cookbook has allowed her to keep in touch with her grandparents through the family’s favorite recipes, but also share the story of their family dairy with strangers.

While she knows the dairy legacy will continue through her own children, life on the farm is so much more than caring for cows. It is also about sharing that passion for quality and care in every aspect of life. Her grandparents believed that and so does she.

That’s the beautiful thing about agriculture. Whether the food is created from a recipe in a book or grown in a field, our legacy will live on. PD

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