I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions. I’m a kind of an outlier, I suppose.
I have this attitude that if lots of people are doing one thing, then I’m going to do something else. But something changed for me this year. Actually, it wasn’t a thing, it was someone’s kindness that changed my attitude for 2020.
Let’s turn the clock back to New Year’s Eve. I was sitting in an Outback Steakhouse in Reading, Pa., with my wife and three kids.
We sat down for a typical family dinner, nothing out of the ordinary.
My kids were carrying on like usual — being loud, shouting jokes. They’re kids, and this is what kids do.
I exhausted myself with the constant "shhhhhhhh’s" to get the boys to settle down, so I tried something new: I decided to play a game with them. I asked them each a question about a state and they had to guess what state I was talking about.
The excitement built whenever they were close to getting an answer. If they got it right, pandemonium!
There were a lot of people in the restaurant, and the one thing that came to my mind was how loud we were. As dinner wound down, one of the couples next to us, an unassuming couple out to dinner for the big night, approached our table. I was expecting the worst:
"Hey pal, you want to control your kids next time." "I’ve never seen or heard kids act like this." "You ruined our dinner, thanks."
But something else happened that I totally didn’t expect. The man came up to me and said that he never saw parents so involved in their kids at a dinner table. It was refreshing for him to see.
His last words before leaving, "Dinner’s on me!"
I mean, how great is that. I never expected anyone to pay for my dinner, let alone give me credit for being a good parent. I’m my toughest critic, and I always think that I must do things better.
It was such a kind gesture from someone I had never met, and it saved me and my wife a few bucks. But it did something deeper: It renewed my faith in people.
This is a tough world we live in, especially when you hear about shootings in Philadelphia, a plane being shot down or another dairy farm going out of business. But for all the bad that’s happening around us, and for all of the negativity around farming these days, you can’t get over kind acts like this.
Good people are still out there. So, if you’re reading this column, whomever the couple was that paid for mine and my family’s dinner on New Year’s Eve at the Outback Steakhouse in Reading, Pa., thank you so much!
Now I have my resolution for 2020, and beyond: To be more kind.
While we’re at it, here are some resolutions from some of my farmer friends:
Shelby Watson-Hampton, Brandywine, Md. "Working on diversifying my investment portfolio," Watson-Hampton says. "I've read several great books lately about women and their wealth that have moved me to be more proactive in saving for retirement. A must, since neither of my ag jobs provides that. I'd highly recommend 'Women with Money: The Judgment-Free Guide to Creating the Joyful, Less Stressed, Purposeful (and, Yes, Rich) Life You Deserve,' and 'Own It: The Power of Women at Work.'
“It's been a while since I've been able to focus on my riding, and I want to work on that and spend more time with my horse. That kind of barn time keeps me sane."
Dave Hunsberger, Happy Hollow Dairy, Mifflintown, Pa. "The new decade will be a new era for us at Happy Hollow Dairy in central Pennsylvania,” says the 2017 Mid-Atlantic Master Farmer. “No milking cows (unless we find a young aspiring couple to rent the dairy facility) for the first season since 1994! Consequently, our approach to crop production will change as well. “We will be shifting our focus away from highly digestible forages and grains required for high milk production to a cash grain enterprise.
"A constant in production agriculture is that I as a producer have very little control over the price received for product. This demands that in order to increase net revenue, we need to look at the cost infrastructure of our enterprise and the productivity of each crop.
"For 2020, my goal is to continue building up my soils as a natural resource. We were able to cut nitrogen applications by a large percentage in 2019 through diverse cover crops and planting green. I have been reading and consulting this past year on ways to energize the soil biome so that it is providing its own fertility without constant inputs. This will mean lower amounts of applied fertility to encourage the relationships between the mycorrhizae and the plant root system. In order to encourage this, I hope to use products that will stabilize the fertility inputs without damaging the existing soil biology.
"I am taking a regenerative approach to profitability on my farm by maximizing no-till and cover crops on my shale hillside acres with only a few judicious fertility applications to supplement. I am also perusing opportunities to have three to four viable cash grain options including wheat, grain sorghum and early maturing soybeans. This will both diversify my farm’s market potential and allow for more diverse cover crop options because of earlier fall harvests.
"Long-term wealth building on my farm will require more soil resiliency that I cannot obtain with only two mono crops grown in succession, such as simple corn and soybean rotations."
Bryan Harnish, Pequea, Pa. "Overall, we are looking to expand our markets for pumpkins and hemp,” Harnish says. “Also, continue with our mission of being good stewards of the land and being an example of agricultural excellence in our community."
Mike Kurek, Delta, Pa. "In the past five years our farm had grown in acreage of crops and also market share of many of these crops,” Kurek says. "With us entering these new markets, we need to better understand them, know when and how to hit the market when it’s hot.
"We have found it’s a lot easier to expand our business when you have a high-quality product that you will stand by, so we preach to our employees that an ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure.
"This is how we raise our crops; it’s much easier to limit the stresses of a crop than try to fix these problems once they are present; damage is done."
Jenny Rhodes, Centreville, Md. The 2019 Mid-Atlantic Master Farmer shared five New Year's Resolutions she will be working toward in 2020:
- "Stay healthy and prosperous like all farmers."
- "Always look for new opportunities to be a more efficient farmer, be the best I can be."
- "Continue to educate myself on new technologies."
- "Work hard to educate the public about my farm and agriculture through social media, such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook."
- "Set a good example for other farmers."