I wish I could meet each one of you personally, but even technology can't let me do that. But I can reach you with words. Jim Mintert, director of the Purdue University Center for Commercial Agriculture, posed questions of this year's class of Master Farmers at the panel discussion portion of the program that made me think as well.
First and foremost, what was it that made them successful – in other words, what is the biggest key to success?
Over and over again, as the mic went down the row, the same words came out – you have to have passion. Perhaps Jan Heckaman, Argos, captured it best: "It's not enough to like what you do, you have to have a passion for it. You have to love what you do!"
There is no question that they have followed that philosophy all the way to a successful business and family operation – their passion is cows and family.
So what is my passion? I like to write. I always have. I wrote children's stories when I was 10 years old, although no one but my mom ever saw one. I even illustrated them, and my mom laughed at my drawings of dairy cows. They're one of my passions too, Mike and Jan Heckaman!
My cows back then looked like pillows with sticks for legs and a stick for a neck, with a rope for a tail. Come to think of it, if I drew one today, it would look like that yet. I don't draw, I write.
So many people ask me the same question. "How do you write so many stories? Every other story has your name on it. How do you do it?"
One person scared me lately though. "I don't read your stories, I just count them. You write 15 to 30 each month."
I'll take his word for the count, but I'd feel better if he just read one now and then.
There is no secret. My ability to write is a God-given gift, pure and simple. If there's anything close to a secret, it's coming up with ideas. What interests me? What puzzles me? What will interest my readers? Then I follow those ideas to stories.
Don't ask me to change a spark plug. I can't do it. It's cheaper for me to hire someone to fix my garden tractor than for me to do it, because I will mess something else up in the process and cost myself more than if I just hired it done in the first place.
The other point several Master Farmers made is that you need mentors; people you look up to and model yourself after. I've been lucky. I've had several, from my high school ag teacher, Jim Cummings, who about fainted when I said in my meek voice "I want to be a farm broadcaster like Harry Martin," to the late Tom Budd, who hired me, to Carl Eiche, retired senior editor who still lives in Frankfort, to Frank Holdmeyer, my boss for many years, to Holly Spangler, my current boss, just over half my age, who is fearless, whether it's climbing a grain bin for the best shot, standing on the cab of a pickup truck to get a better view of the crowd at Farm Progress demonstrations, or chasing after a story.
In the end, the answer is simple. My passion is writing. I like to express my thoughts and see if others agree or disagree. I really don't care which you do, as long as my words stimulate your thinking.
If I've done that, I've done my job. Hopefully, you're thinking about your passion right now!