Off-Farm Income

This week we have a special Rural Crime Episode for you.  I am speaking with Philip Clarke, the executive Editor of Farmer's Weekly.  Farmer's Weekly is a publication based in the United Kingdom.

I have been reading so many stories about rural crime in the U.K. that I wanted to speak with somebody who understood the scope and specifics of the issues there better than me.  It seems that three out of every four articles I read about rural crime in the U.K. are published by Farmer's Weekly, so that seemed like a good place to begin my search.

I was very fortunate that Philip was willing to take the time to come on the show.  In the interview we talk about whether or not there really is a large problem with rural crime in the U.K.  We also discuss the specific problems they are facing, we clarify some terms and we discuss the differences between the U.S. and U.K.

You are going to really enjoy this very interesting interview.

Direct download: OFI_1941_Replay_Phillip_Clarke_-_121423_8.04PM.mp3
Category:rural crime -- posted at: 12:30am MDT

Merry Christmas everyone!  I always love creating and recording our Christmas episode for your each year.  However, this year is a little bit different.  This year I have a guest on the show for Christmas who is a person who has done something very compassionate for people who are unbelievably less fortunate than anyone born here in the United States Of America.

You may remember from our rural crime episode #1240 that the final story I covered was about a woman named Caroline Clarin in Fergus Falls, Minnesota who had been helping families to escape Afghanistan and come to the United States.  She has initially been introduced to these families through her work as an agricultural advisor, through the USDA, in Afghanistan.  And of course after being there, meeting these families and seeing the poverty, corruption and violence for herself she was compelled to help them leave.

After covering that first story, I decided to reach out to Caroline and see if she would do an interview to discuss the amazing humanitarian work she had done and was still doing as part of our Christmas episode.  It turned out that the original story I had read mis-represented what had actually happened a little bit.  Today, she is on our show to discuss some of what she learned in Afghanistan, how she helped to get families out, what it was like when she learned the U.S. was pulling out of Afghanistan in August of 2021 and what she is still striving to do.

I cannot imagine anything more Christmasy, regardless of your belief system, than what Caroline did between 2013 and 2021 in helping five families relocate to the U.S. from Afghanistan or what she is still striving to do.  So, Merry Christmas everyone, and her is a heart warming story to help you appreciate just how good we have it in the U.S.

Direct download: OFI_1964_Replay_1264_-_121423_7.08PM.mp3
Category:farming -- posted at: 12:30am MDT

Our guest today is very good at keeping a secret!  At almost the moment that we finished our interview, he ended the call and proposed to his girlfriend!  And, I would not be including this in the show notes if she had not said yes.  Congratulations to the happy couple!

Well, Landon Wenger is certainly laying the foundations for the rest of his life.  At age 19 he has been named as a state winner in Ohio for agricultural sales entrepreneurship proficiency.  This stemmed from him purchasing his own Christmas Tree farm when was just sixteen years of age!  It is called "Wenger's Winter Greens" and he has been steadily planting trees every year so that he has trees to sell every year.

I have always been curious about how this business works with the slow return on investment.  In today's episode Landon will help to break all of that down for us.  He will also talk about his vegetable production business and his time in the FFA.

Direct download: OFI_1939_Replay_843_-_121423_7.45PM.mp3
Category:FFA -- posted at: 12:30am MDT

Today's episode is a "best of" episode.  I interviewed FFA students from all over the U.S. last Christmas about the community service projects they were doing, and I wanted to bring it back to you this year.

Direct download: OFI_1938_Replay_1576_-_121423_7.58PM.mp3
Category:FFA -- posted at: 12:30am MDT

Starting tomorrow and going through the 6th of January, I am running "best of" episodes.  I can do 7 episodes per week, but I need a break! And I am taking one.  I hope you enjoy the memories everyone!


Direct download: OFI_1937__-_121423_7.06PM.mp3
Category:farming -- posted at: 12:30am MDT

Merry Christmas everyone...just a quick check in to say I appreciate you on this most special of holidays!


Direct download: OFI_1936_Christmas_Day_-_121423_7.04PM.mp3
Category:farming -- posted at: 12:30am MDT

Christmas is a very special time of year, and it is really where the community service portion of the FFA can shine.  On today's episode we are going to profile a chapter, Northwestern FFA from West Salem, Ohio, that shines very bright at this time of year by helping to provide much needed supplies for people all around the world.

Joining us today to represent Northwestern FFA is Kade Tegtmeier, the chapter president, and Kate Johnson, a assistant officer.  Both of these students have a passion for agriculture that cannot be contained just by the FFA, so they both continue to be involved in the 4H as well.  Led by their great FFA Advisors Kade and Kate, along with the rest of their chapter, get to provide service every Christmas while at the same time being reminded of how fortunate we all are here in the U.S.

Direct download: Northwestern_FFA_Episode_1935_-_12623_11.44AM.mp3
Category:FFA -- posted at: 12:30am MDT

Tip Of The Week

Don’t lose money by saving electricity at Christmas

Rural Crime In The U.S.,110407

Across The Pond, Down Under And Up Above


Chalk One Up For The Good Guys

More Places You Can Listen to Off-Farm Income And Matt Brechwald:



Direct download: OFI_1934_Rural_Crime_-_121523_4.44PM.mp3
Category:rural crime -- posted at: 12:30am MDT

Julia McCarthy is a farmer, rancher and freelance writer from Grangeville, Idaho.  Several months back I read an article of hers in a publication about agriculture in my state called Ag Proud Idaho.  The topic caught my eye and I liked the writing, so I invited Julia to be a guest on the show.  Finally, we got the interview done.  

Freelance writing is one of my favorite forms of off-farm income.  It can be done anywhere, and it significantly predates podcasting.  In today's episode Julia talks about her path to becoming a freelance writer, some of the hard lessons she has learned and some tips and tricks of the trade.  If this is something you are considering for your off-farm income, in any topic area, this episode is a must for you!

Direct download: Julia_McCarthy_Episode_1933_-_121223_6.56PM.mp3
Category:farming -- posted at: 12:30am MDT

On tomorrow's Ag Business Episode I am profiling a freelance, agricultural writer.  This is one of my favorite forms of off-farm income.  For today's re-cap episode I went back to episode #1233 and an interview I did with Rachel Gabel of the "The Fence Post Magazine".  In this interview we talked a lot about how freelance writers can get started and be successful, but we did it from the editor's perspective.  I thought this was the perfect tie in for tomorrow's show where we will hear this from a writer's perspective.


Direct download: OFI_1932_Re-Cap_Episode_-_121323_1.38PM.mp3
Category:farming -- posted at: 12:30am MDT

Lillie Cagle is a 2023 National Proficiency Winner in the category of Agricultural Education.  She is also a Tennessee State Officer and a previous guest on this show.  Lillie just appeared on Off-Farm Income in April of 2023 after becoming a state officer.  She had a phenomenal SAE and was doing a ton of good for agriculture.  In just the span of 6 months from being on the show she found herself on the big stage in Indianapolis receiving an National Proficiency Award for her efforts.  I wanted to have her back on the show to tell her congratulations and to hear all about it!

Direct download: Lilly_Cagle_Episode_1931_-_121323_2.25PM.mp3
Category:FFA -- posted at: 12:30am MDT

A quick farm update for all of you today, and a sure fire method for keeping any livestock or dogs from going under your fences.


Direct download: OFI_1930_Tuesday_Episode_-_121423_7.02PM.mp3
Category:farming -- posted at: 12:30am MDT

Teak Barhaug is the past president of the Alaska FFA, a current student at the University Of Alaska - Fairbanks and a former resident of Wyoming.  When Teak's father transferred to Alaska to finish his career in the National Forest Service it came at a bit of a price.  Teak's mother, Kimberly, was a former FFA member, Teak's brother had been involved in the 4h and was progressing into the FFA and Teak had been involved in the 4H and was planning on progressing to the FFA.  However, there was no FFA Chapter in Seward, where they would be attending high school.

So, Teak and his family took it upon themselves to form an FFA Chapter.  This happened with the minimum number of 10 members, and it took off from there.  This escalated all the way to Teak serving as the state president of Alaska.  During Teak's time in high school he worked in the agri-tourism industry, taking groups of tourists into the wilderness to pan for gold and teaching the how.  Today, Teak is studying biology and botany in college and is loving the life he has found in Alaska.

Direct download: Teak_Barhaug_Episode_1929_-_121223_3.30PM.mp3
Category:farming -- posted at: 12:30am MDT

For Information Like Degrees Offered, Annual Costs, Etc., Please Click The Banner Below:

The Agricultural College Episode is designed to profile agricultural trade schools, junior colleges, colleges and universities around the U.S.  This episode is an effort to replicate the conversation that prospective students, parents and ag teachers might have with agricultural schools at trade show like the National FFA Convention.

The University Of Missouri is a large university offering a robust agricultural program, and it also offers a non-resident tuition waiver to students coming from out of state.  I am always excited when I profile a college that makes this offer for out of state students, and Mizzou is on that list!  On today's interview I am speaking with the Director Of Student Recruitment, Kathleen Matz, as well as student ambassador, Grant Norfleet, who just happens to the newly elected, National FFA Secretary.

More Places You Can Listen to Off-Farm Income And Matt Brechwald:




Direct download: University_Of_Missouri_Episode_1928_-_112923_4.47PM.mp3
Category:Agricultural Colleges -- posted at: 12:30am MDT

Tip Of The Week

What if you are attacked with pepper spray?

Rural Crime In The U.S.

Across The Pond, Down Under And Up Above


Chalk One Up For The Good Guys

More Places You Can Listen to Off-Farm Income And Matt Brechwald:



Direct download: OFI_1927_Rural_Crime_-_12923_11.32AM.mp3
Category:rural crime -- posted at: 12:30am MDT

Forrest Pritchard is a regenerative and multi-generational farmer from the Shenandoah Valley of Northern Virginia.  His families roots on the farm go to the mid-1800's, and today he has transformed the look and production of the farm back to something that might resemble how farmsteads operated in that time.

Forrest was not always interested in regenerative, direct to consumer farming.  However, after trying to make it as a commodity based farmer, he went looking for larger profit margins, and this is where he landed.  It helped that this was a manner of farming that offered him the ability to provide service and food to his surrounding community.  He has been at it since the mid 1990's.

Forrest is co-author of the outstanding book, "Start Your Farm", that he wrote with Ellen Polishuk.  I first found out about this book after seeing a quote from it on a social media post discussing the fact that small farmers still choose the commodity based farming model even though their small acreages could never possibly produce a profit on those low margins due to lack of production capability.  This led me to want to know more.  The book is full of great advice, and it is the book I would write if I were ever to sit down to actually do it.  Thankfully, Ellen and Forrest have done it for me, and I can concentrate on podcasting!

Direct download: Forrest_Pritchard_Episode_1926_-_121223_7.17PM.mp3
Category:farming -- posted at: 12:30am MDT

On tomorrow's Ag Business Episode I am speaking with a farmer and author who has written a book about how to start your farm.  I thought this interview that I did with Mara Fielder could bring some real life to the interview I am playing tomorrow.  On tomorrow's show we will talk about timing and things to take into consideration when beginning.  But, in this interview with Mara, we hear it from somebody who was going through it at the time, and it adds a sense of a first hand witness to the situation.


Direct download: OFI_1925_Replay_Of_1155_-_121323_3.44PM.mp3
Category:farming -- posted at: 12:30am MDT

Andrew Pingenot is the Chapter President of the Vinton-Shellsburg FFA Chapter, he is a distributor of high quality animal feeders and he is just a junior in high school.  Farming and raising cattle on his families multi-generational farm in Iowa, Andrew has embraced the family tradition.  As such, when he was 15 years old, he and his father attended the Iowa Beef Expo in an effort to learn more about the products and ideas out there for their beef business.

While at the expo, Andrew picked up a brochure from a company called Best Livestock Equipment because they had a round bale feeder on display that looked to be very high quality.  Andrew had been frustrated with the quick deterioration of the round bale feeder on their farm, so he followed up with a phone call days after the expo.  One thing led to another, and the manufacturer offered Andrew the opportunity to become a distributor for them in his region of Iowa.

Two years later, Andrew has purchased 0ver 10 semi-loads of livestock feeders and has sold them all.  As we conducted the interview he was just finishing selling his 11th semi load!  This is opened Andrew's eyes to the possibilities of business ownership coupled with a farming enterprise.  He is definitely benefiting from this advanced education!

Direct download: Andrew_Pingenot_Episode_1924_-_12923_12.39PM.mp3
Category:FFA -- posted at: 12:30am MDT

Applying for, receiving and working in an Internship was one of the best things I did while I was in college.  And, even though it sounds like everyone does this when you listen to my Ag College Episodes, that is not true.  Many college students allow this opportunity to pass them right by.

On today's episode I really want to encourage students to get involved in internships during the time they are in post-secondary education, whether that be trade school, community college or a four year university.  There are so many reasons that this will benefit you, including:

  • Exposure to industry
  • Determining what career you want
  • Determining what career you do not want
  • Creating a network of industry people
  • Building a resume
  • Learning things and building skills for the future and opportunities that have not even been invented yet
Direct download: OFI_1923_Tuesday_Episode_-_12723_1.20PM.mp3
Category:Agricultural Colleges -- posted at: 12:30am MDT

Pepper Elmore is the Chapter Reporter for the Kremlin FFA in Kremlin, Oklahoma.  Knowing she wanted to be part of the FFA, when it came to join Pepper chose to go to school at Kremlin-Hillsdale, in spite of the fact that it is 45 minutes from her ranch, because her local school did not offer agriculture.  Pepper is well versed in fitting, showing and husbandry of cattle through her families business of raising purebred Simmental Cattle.

Pepper is clearly a goal setter and she thinks long term.  She has already identified the career that she wants to have after college of becoming a dual purpose chiropractor, working on both people and livestock.  She also knows that she wants to run track in college, and she wants that place to be Oklahoma State University.  With so many decisions already made, now it is just down to mapping out the path and following along.  I think Pepper is in perfect position to make this all happen!


Direct download: Pepper_Elmore_Episode_1922_-_12523_1.32PM.mp3
Category:FFA -- posted at: 12:30am MDT

For Information Like Degrees Offered, Annual Costs, Etc., Please Click The Banner Below:

The Agricultural College Episode is designed to profile agricultural trade schools, junior colleges, colleges and universities around the U.S.  This episode is an effort to replicate the conversation that prospective students, parents and ag teachers might have with agricultural schools at trade show like the National FFA Convention.

[caption id="attachment_421413" align="alignright" width="136"] Carragan Fields[/caption]

The University Of Tennessee is located in a medium sized city in East Tennessee and has a diverse agriculture program through the Herbert College Of Agriculture offering a diverse array of opportunities to students.  The University Of Tennessee participates in the Academic Common Market, giving non-resident students from 12 participating states the opportunity to study there at resident tuition rates.

More Places You Can Listen to Off-Farm Income And Matt Brechwald:





Direct download: UT_Knoxville_Episode_1921_-_112823_3.21PM.mp3
Category:Agricultural Colleges -- posted at: 12:30am MDT

Tip Of The Week

Should we throw rural crime prevention to the dogs?

Rural Crime In The U.S.

Across The Pond, Down Under And Up Above


Chalk One Up For The Good Guys


More Places You Can Listen to Off-Farm Income And Matt Brechwald:


Direct download: OFI_1920_Rural_Crime_-_12823_7.58PM.mp3
Category:rural crime -- posted at: 12:30am MDT

Will Meadows is a multi-generational cattle rancher from Alabama and a very successful personality in agricultural social media, posting videos on TikTok, Youtube, Facebook and Instagram.  He is now generating revenue from his social media channels as well as selling bulls for his families farm through his video efforts.

On today's episode we are going to talk about how he has accomplished this in under two years, what his process is, what type of equipment he uses and how he chooses what to talk about.  This is a young man who loves to talk about the life he loves in agriculture, and he has turned that into a business using today's social media technology!

Direct download: Will_Meadows_Episode_1919_-_112723_12.04PM.mp3
Category:farming -- posted at: 12:30am MDT

On today's re-cap episode I want to explore the idea of building your own agricultural communications business.  This is something that can literally be done from anywhere, and my previous guest did exactly that.  Tomorrow's ag business interview involves an young man who is an up and coming cattle rancher and who is making his off-farm income through posting about his farm on social media.

Developing your skills in this area as you advocate can lead to the skills that would allow you to start a communications business just like our re-cap guest, Lyndsey Murphy.

Direct download: OFI_1918_Replay_Of_792_-_12723_10.19AM.mp3
Category:farming -- posted at: 10:45am MDT

Vanessa Trotter is a 2023 National Proficiency Winner in the category of Nursery Operations.  This all began when she was 8 years old.  Her father had just recently purchased his families farm that had been auctioned off when his grandfather passed away 20+ years earlier.  After the purchase he approached Vanessa, the eldest of four children, and told her that she would be going to college in 10 years and it was time to start thinking about how to make some money to pay for that.

This is when TNT Farms was born with a small pumpkin patch that Vanessa tended.  She later sold the pumpkins to customers in her area, and she was hooked.  Since that time Vanessa has grown this business.  Today she has purchased three greenhouses, started selling products at a local farmers market and selling directly off of her farm.

Vanessa is now in college, studying agricultural business, with the hopes of being her own boss in the future.  However, she is going to pass TNT Farms to her siblings for multiple reasons.  Each of the will have an SAE they can move right into when their time in the FFA comes.  Also, it can serve as a revenue source for them to also save for college.  What a great family legacy that Vanessa begin with a simple pumpkin patch.

Direct download: Vanessa_Trotter_Episode_1917_-_12123_12.08PM.mp3
Category:FFA -- posted at: 12:30am MDT

One of the ways that I deal with stress in my life is by writing.  I often write things that nobody ever sees, but it helps me when I get my thoughts on out on paper so having an audience for what I have written is not important.  Last night I had an experience that really made me give thought to things I have been observing in our society that have been bothering me.  It was still on my mind this morning, and I sat down and put it into words.  I have attached the text below for you to read if you wish.  And, aside from the introduction, today's episode is my reading of this article:

I am a consumer.  I buy things that I need, and I buy things that I want.  Sometimes the two overlap and sometimes they do not.

My wife and I recently purchased a new car.  Our stage of life enabled us, for the first time, to purchase exactly what we wanted within the boundaries of our self-imposed, upper limits.  It took 50 years of life and 25 years of marriage for me to reach this point.  Our parameters for this purchase had not changed, but a lifetime of living below our means and building wealth changed the numbers that fit within those parameters.

To us, this vehicle is “fancy”, as described by my wife.  For years she and I have driven what we believed we needed but in very stripped down, utilitarian versions, that reduced the cost of the vehicles.  And, more importantly, reduced the burden on our conscience.  The first ever, brand new pickup, I purchased was in 2003.  I intended to drive it for two decades, and I made it 15 years.

The knowledge that I would drive it for so long motivated me to purchase a version that was “stripped down” of electronic amenities that would surely break and require repair before I was ready to part with the vehicle.  Even in 2003, purchasing a new vehicle with manually controlled windows, a standard transmission and rubber flooring was not possible to do on the showroom floor.  Therefore, in order to get a less expensive and less complicated version of this pickup, I had to special order it and wait for a period of months to receive it.  15 years later, I could hardly remember that waiting period.

It was only when wind started whipping into the door seals and the internal, working components of the heating system failed, that I decided to move on from this pickup.  The sag of the body, and the inability to defrost my windshield created an imminent need for serious work on the pickup.  Looking at all available options, I realized that because of the engine in this vehicle the market for it was very strong in 2018.  Therefore, I chose to purchase another “stripped” down pickup, and to sell the other to a private party.  Today, I am still driving the second, brand new pickup, and second, stripped down pickup, that I have ever purchased.

My wife’s new car is a Subaru Outback with a moon roof, heated seats and the enticing “Wilderness Package” that includes a turbo engine, 9 inch lift and off-road capable “X-Mode”.  She would have been just as happy without the “Wilderness Package”.  Even though, this is the first time we have ever been able to purchase “exactly what we want”, I was still thinking long term.  My goal is to purchase her another vehicle in approximately 10 years, but keep this car for myself and my adventures on the rough and rocky dirt roads of Idaho’s public lands where we live.  Therefore, I had it outfitted as capable as possible from the factory.

We will be driving to the mountains soon in search of the perfect Christmas tree.  In idaho, with a little initiative, exercise and sweat you can obtain a beautiful tree for the cost of around $15, and you can make it a family outing at the same time.  I have been cutting my own Christmas Tree from the National Forest since I was in college, and the thought of purchasing one for upwards of $100 from a lot unsettles me.

Of course, our plan is to use the new car to go retrieve this tree, and we will be hauling it back on the roof.  Ironically, this led me to more consumption.  The “Wilderness Package” does not include cross beams for the luggage rack.  So, I had to order them for the car.  After studying prices and reading reviews I went with a set that cost approximately $120 and placed the order.

The location we would travel to for the tree is about a 320 mile round trip from our home.  There are places we could go to that are closer, but after years of hunting Christmas Trees closer to the sprawling metropolis of Boise, we have decided it is worth the drive to go to this area.

We could easily drive my stripped down pickup and never need to purchase the cross beams for the top of the car.  However, at today’s gas prices, we would save approximately $53 by driving the car, which is almost 50% the cost of the cross beams.  Assuming that there will be another use for the crossbeams in the future, possibly one that keeps us from driving the pickup, the purchase seems sensible and likely to ultimately save us money.

Ironically, my own consumption is what led me to give consumption and materialism in the U.S. deeper thought.  On a Sunday evening of the weekend preceding our Christmas Tree hunt I unboxed the cross rails and went about the task of putting them together and fitting them on top of the car.

An issue that can arise with such hardware is a violent wind noise when the vehicle is at speed.  So, after these were mounted, I decided to test drive the vehicle and determine whether not my purchase of an inexpensive set of cross rails was going to lead to this unfortunate side effect.  It did not.

My family and I live on a small farm about three miles from town, and my test drive route took me in that direction.  Ultimately, I wound up on the edge of the small city and noticed our one and only McDonald’s restaurant, open for business.  An iced tea sounded good to me, and I had the $1.69 needed to get one.  So, I proceeded to the drive through.

There were other cars in the drive through line, but there was just one car in front of me, waiting to move up to the ordering console.  I had not gone through a drive through line in a significant amount of time, so I assumed that rewarding my diligent work with this small treat would be a quick affair.

In no time at all there were multiple vehicles in line behind me, and I was trapped and fully committed to this endeavor.  That did not cause me concern.  Having patronized this drive through in the past, I still believed I would be on my way home with the beverage in short order.

After some time of sitting there some sort of internal clock started to alert me to the fact that I should be proceeding through the line but was not.  I began to pay attention to things and saw that nobody was moving.  Not only was I trapped, but I was making no progress and more and more vehicles were lining up behind me.

Sitting there, reluctantly accepting my fate, I looked over at the banner that hangs on the back of the building facing the drive through.  This desperate attempt to procure employees had been there since 2020 when Covid reduced available employees all over the U.S.  This McDonald’s was paying $15/hour as a starting wage to come and work here.  At a standard 40 hour work week, that was a salary of over $30,000/year to cook and serve food at this facility.  Yet the line did not move, and the sign did not come down.

I finally made it to the kiosk where I was not greeted with a “welcome to McDonald’s” or any other such kindness.  No appreciation for my business was given by the voice on the other end, for it was straight to the matter at hand.  “Are you ordering using the app” sternly came out of the speaker.  I replied that I had no such app.  “Okay, what will you have” was the disappointed reply.

Understanding that I was a fortunate person in my vocation, and that this person was likely stressed due to low staffing and in a life stage that caused financial stress, I replied with my friendliest tone, “a large unsweet iced tea please”.  “Is that it” came the reply.  “Yes” I answered.  The voice said “Okay, that will be $1.69” and I sensed a hint of sarcasm in the voice.  He knew what I did not know.  It was going to be a long wait for that iced tea.

For the next 20 minutes I slowly inched forward by only one car length as I watched the car that was at the delivery window sit and idle with no exchange happening between the driver and the McDonald’s employee on the other side.  To pass the time I listened to an audio book and played with the features and technology in this new car, attempting to learn about all of its capabilities.

After an abundance of time had passed the vehicle at the window finally departed.  I never did witness the transaction, so I cannot say whether or not they were served.  Even after its departure there were two vehicles between the window and myself, and I quickly did the math.  The reason behind the employees sarcastic tone of voice suddenly dawned on me.  An iced tea was not worth all this.  Nothing was worth all this.

To my great fortune, when the two vehicles in front of me moved forward, it exposed an escape from the drive through.  A second lane to the right of the vehicles was exposed, and I had access that was not impeded in any way.  The decision was quick and involved no debate in my mind.  I pulled into that lane and literally escaped.  I would not enjoy a delicious McDonald’s iced tea that evening, but the taste of freedom more than compensated for the loss as I again listened for wind noise on my way back to the farm.

Within days of the attacks of September 11th, 2001 President George W Bush told Americans to get out and spend money in one of his several addresses to the nation.  He advocated for shopping, going to restaurants and going to movies.

At the time, all I could hear were the instructions to spend, spend, spend and I resented that our elected leader was giving such instructions.  However, looking back today, I can see that our economy is built on consumption and it is like a train speeding down the tracks that has lost its breaks.  All you can do is ride it and try to control it because stopping is impossible.  Ultimately, this train will stop and that stop is likely to be catastrophic.  Nobody wants to be sitting in the engineers seat when that catastrophe occurs.   

George W Bush didn’t want that for our country, and he certainly didn’t want it as we were preparing to go to war or while he was in office.  A catastrophe of that magnitude would have given the terrorists an even larger victory, and the ripple effects could have inspired more terrorist attacks for decades to come.  Our president was a man with no other course of action, and “spend, spend, spend” was the patriotic thing for Americans to do.

As for me and my family, we failed to do our patriot duty as requested by the president.  My wife and I were in our third year of marriage, had owned our first home for under a year and were just building our careers.  We stayed the course of our values, lived below our means and tried to build our future by not panicking and withdrawing our meager retirement savings from the stock market after its free fall, following the attacks.

It has been over 22 years since that event and that request by our president.  It has become apparent to me that we were in the minority, and the bulk of Americans were very willing to “spend, spend, spend”.

I see my experience last night at that McDonald’s drive through as the culmination of this economic philosophy and the willingness of free Americans to participate.  The dozens of people trapped in that drive through, me included, have become numb to the ramifications of this “spend, spend, spend” policy.  We tolerate long lines, poor customer service and mediocre products just for the illusion of convenience or the small dopamine hit that accompanies spending money.

In my 50 years, I have had the misfortune of seeing our society abandon the practice of being discerning consumers for the chaos of “spend, spend, spend.”  And I have seen a complete shift in the balance of power from consumer to producer.  Our people today are so eager to buy, that they tolerate poor customer service and a poor buying experience as merely a source of strain that must be dealt with to get the next material possession.  This is normal for my daughter, but it is detestable to me.

Ironically, this is leading to disaster for the working class that rely on customer service positions for their wages.  Managers and owners of retail establishments once devoted a much larger portion of their time to insuring that the customer experience was pleasurable.  Either intuitively or after careful research, it is apparent that retailers realized that this was no longer necessary.  Customers will still purchase no matter how they are treated, so customer service standards have been abandoned, and those energies have been directed elsewhere.   

This has given rise to self-checkout in grocery stores and restaurants like the very McDonald’s I attempted to patronize.  It has given rise to apps that are transforming food service employees from customer service providers to merely arms length delivery people.  And, it will eventually eliminate these jobs altogether.  If tacit permission is given to businesses to exchange service for efficiency by consumers, they will, of course, make that transition.  What’s worse, the employees who are participating in this transition are actually justifying the elimination of their own positions when they have the power to make themselves more valuable.

Before proceeding I will admit a bias that I have that harkens back to the “good o’l days”.  In the late 1980’s and very early 1990’s I worked at a grocery store for a stretch of just over 3 years.  This was for a local grocery chain that had served the community for several decades.  Side conversations between checkers and baggers at the checkout were prohibited and monitored, and ignoring customers or treating them like a burden could result in your termination.

When I was a bagger speed and efficiency were values that pervaded the store.  We ran from check stand to check stand, bagging groceries in the prescribed manner with great speed.  All the while we made conversation with the customers and showed our gratitude for them shopping there.  For a customer to walk out of the store without a bagger pushing their cart for them, talking with them the entire way and then loading the groceries into their car for them there would almost have to be an argument before the bagger would relent and allow the customer to leave unassisted.

Today, every grocery store has a growing number of self-checkout stations.  I almost always go through self-checkout in order to avoid the irritation that I experience when I am treated poorly at a check stand.  This decision has not been made haphazardly, as I feel a kinship with grocery store employees.  However, the bad experiences now outweigh the positive, and I do my best to not allow my time at the grocery to impact my day in a negative manner.

What abhors me the most about this abandonment of customer service is watching employees contribute to the destruction of their jobs while it happens right in front of them.  And, to some extent, damaging their futures.  After all, when you apply for a better job in the future and you highlight three years of “customer service experience” at a retail establishment on your resume with the hopes that it will tip the scales in your favor, it will do no good for you if your interviewer finds this meaningless because actual customer service has been abandoned in exchange for customers who serve employees by trying to reduce the irritation the employees feel when having to actually serve.

Take the juxtaposition of my grocery store employee experience in the 1980’s to my grocery store consumer experience in the 2010’s.  Sometime in the past decade or so, my wife and I began fully participating in consumer rewards programs at places that we must patronize, such as grocery stores.  We don’t allow rewards programs to get us to purchase goods that we do not need, but we take advantage of them at the grocery store because we will be shopping there at some level, no matter what.  With these rewards programs generally comes the requirement that at checkout you enter your phone number so that the purchase is counted towards your balance.

Sometime in 2018 or 2019 I went to our local grocery store which has a program such as this.  This particular location had a bit of construction going on at the front end.  Four self-checkouts had been installed, and two more check stands had been removed to make way for four more.  I was still of the mindset that I should purchase my groceries from an actual person in order to vote with my dollars to preserve the jobs of these folks.

On this day I approached an open check stand and waited in line for a few moments to purchase from and support an employee who needed this job for income.  The checker at this station was a young lady that I estimated to be in her early 20’s, and the bagger (we now call them courtesy clerks) was a young man that I estimated to be in his late teens.  They were fully engaged in a side conversation about a later get together involving co-workers, and I received the overwhelming impression that the young man was hoping to spend time with the cashier away from work.

I only needed one item, and as it made its way down the conveyor belt towards the cashier, I walked up to credit card reader where I would pay for the purchase and enter my rewards number.  I was never greeted by either of the employees, and I was talked to only three times.  The first address I received was from the cashier who asked in an annoyed voice if I had a rewards number.  I diligently entered the number and swiped my credit card like a child trying to please a domineering parent and hoping to avoid an escalation in household tensions.

The side conversation between the cashier and her hopeful suitor went on, and was broken only by the irritating duty to tell me how much money I was required to provide the store in exchange for the item I wanted to purchase.  I made a mental note of that fact nobody was bothering to pay attention to me, ask how my day was going or provide any other standard of customer service.

The third communication was from the “courtesy clerk” who simply asked “do you want a bag?”  By this time I was boiling up inside.  However, I had been verbally abused when I was a grocery clerk, and I certainly did not want to allow my temper to transform me from the once abused to the abuser.  So, I calmly asked “you guys don’t say hello or how is your day anymore?”  Both of them could not have been more shocked at the nerve of a customer to be critical of their performance, and I received a quick, disingenuous “sorry about that”.  For his money, I never did see the courtesy clerk do a bit of work.  The extent of what I witnessed was the question “do you want a bag?”   

Far be it from me to think that I never engaged in a side conversation or got distracted when I held either of these positions as a teenager.  However, as I walked towards the exit door I passed the existing self-checkout machines and the area that was being prepared for even more robots.

The irony of the situation dawned on me at that moment.  There is one thing, and one thing only, that robots will never able to do, and that is provide genuine customer service.  No matter how good the human to machine interface becomes in the future, customers speaking with a robot will always know that the robot is responding to a set of stimuli and what comes back is the product of a computer program or algorithm, i.e. it is not genuine and really means nothing.

The employees at grocery stores or fast food restaurants have the power to put an end to robots replacing their jobs.  If they become so indispensable to customers through the service, conversation and genuineness, customers will not tolerate purchasing from robots.  Then companies would be forced to cease this new direction because customers would demand this by either complaining verbally or shifting their dollars to places that provide excellent customer service.

Until consumers actually prioritize the service they receive when making buying decisions, companies will have no incentive to change directions.  And, employees at this level of the service industry are likely not looking at their jobs as a career.  Rather, they believe that these jobs are merely a means to an end until they move onto something better.  Therefore, whether or not they actually ever do move one, they are not interested in looking at what they do holistically and making changes that will improve their position.  And, their immediate supervisors are not interested in pushing them in this direction because the companies are moving in the direction of automation and it is not in their best interests.  Therefore, there will never be any organizing force that will push employees to improve customer service, at their own best interest, en mass.

As the available working pool that comes up through these jobs is not required to provide customer service, the options for hiring at the next level becomes smaller and smaller.  Soon, this degrading of customer service spreads into more sophisticated postings and it just keeps repeating itself.

The root cause or causes of this degradation goes by many names - consumerism, materialism, consumption, etc.  The causes of this shift to consumerism could be debated for decades with fingers of blame being pointed in all directions.

What is clear, is that this is the world that we now live in.  The days of businesses, “earning your business” have passed us by.  Of course you can find businesses that still do earn your dollars, but we all know that they are the exception, not the rule.  And, we all should pay a little more and put up with a little more inconvenience to support them, lest our world turn exclusively to self-checkout stands and streets clogged with delivery vans from internet purchases.

Americans are no longer discerning consumers.  We want it now, we want it cheap and we want a lot of it.  For that, we are willing to tolerate poor to no customer service, clutter in our homes, debt and a lack of savings as we approach our retirement years.

These are just the manifestations that can be outwardly observed or measured.  Larger and more important than this is the further degradation of our society.  Anger, detachment and irritation are all cumulative.  Americans once came home from their day in aggrieved moods from some major conflict in society only rarely.  Because this did not happen very often, the overall mood of our country was more positive, friendly and helpful.

Today, we still may not experience a major conflict in our day, but we come home in horribly negative and angry moods more often than ever.  Instead of the cause being a major conflict, it is the cumulative effect of multiple small conflicts or irritations that we experience through the day or the week.  It is the colloquial “death by a thousand cuts”.

This is an increasingly negative cycle.  In the past if you provided service all day at work, you were rewarded by receiving service when you transitioned from service provider to consumer later in the day.  We rewarded each other for our hard work with gratefulness.  However, today we are providing service all day at work only to be made to feel like we must provide service or at least minimize irritation in order to be consumers.  And this can only go on so long before the very same consumer decides to stop providing service in their job, and the cycle repeats itself.

And this is all caused by our incessant need to consume and purchase.  We want “things” so badly, that we are willing to tolerate almost anything to obtain them.  Therefore, as consumers we have removed the incentive of companies to provide customer service.  Gone are the days of speaking with the manager and telling them that you came to spend money but are taking your business elsewhere because of the way you were treated.  Today we just expect the bad service as something we must tolerate to get the thing we want to purchase.

“Spend, spend, spend”, “buy, buy, buy” and “bye-bye-bye” to our quality of life, society and the bonds that hold us all together.

Direct download: OFI_1916_Tuesday_Episode_-_12423_4.19PM.mp3
Category:farming -- posted at: 12:30am MDT

Kendra Downing is a 2023 National Proficiency Winner in the category of Ag Sales - Entrepreneurship.  Growing up as the 4th generation on her families farm she, her sister and her parents were sitting on the front porch one day contemplating what enterprise the kids could start to generate revenue.  The idea of a pumpkin patch was proposed, and it was decided to purse that endeavor.  That was the beginning of the Downing Daughters Pumpkin Patch.

Over time, Kendra and her sister have grown this enterprise to include a corn maze, which started out under an acre and is now 5 acres, all designed by hand with no technological assistance.  In addition to this, they started purchasing products from other farmers in the area to sell in a farm stand that they operate out of an old barn on their grandmother's property.

This all has evolved into a national proficiency award today, but its beginnings were Kendra's FFA Advisor looking at what she was doing and telling her that she was going enter the competition.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Kendra is now in college, studying everything she can get her hands on in the hopes of one day farming full-time with even more, direct to consumer enterprises to share with her community.


Direct download: Kendra_Downing_Episode_1915_-_112923_4.14PM.mp3
Category:FFA -- posted at: 12:30am MDT

For Information Like Degrees Offered, Annual Costs, Etc., Please Click The Banner Below:

[caption id="attachment_421342" align="alignright" width="150"] Wyatt Deemer[/caption][caption id="attachment_421341" align="alignright" width="120"] Morel Jurado[/caption]

The Agricultural College Episode is designed to profile agricultural trade schools, junior colleges, colleges and universities around the U.S.  This episode is an effort to replicate the conversation that prospective students, parents and ag teachers might have with agricultural schools at trade show like the National FFA Convention.

The Nebraska College Of Technical Agriculture (NCTA) is a 2 year college that is part of the University Of Nebraska system.  Focusing exclusively on agriculture and veterinary sciences, this college pulls students from all over the U.S. who have found what they are looking for right in Curtis, Nebraska.


More Places You Can Listen to Off-Farm Income And Matt Brechwald:



Direct download: NCTA_Episode_1914_-_112723_2.01PM.mp3
Category:Agricultural Colleges -- posted at: 12:30am MDT

Tip Of The Week

No cameras? Use the snow.

Rural Crime In The U.S.

Across The Pond, Down Under And Up Above


Chalk One Up For The Good Guys their investigation, detectives identified,trailers from the same victim


More Places You Can Listen to Off-Farm Income And Matt Brechwald:



Direct download: OFI_1913_Rural_Crime_-_12123_7.31PM.mp3
Category:rural crime -- posted at: 12:30am MDT

Lexi Wright is the host of the Farming On Purpose Podcast as well as the owner of the agricultural marketing firm, Wright At The Moment.  She, her husband and their four children are cattle and row crop farmers in Kansas who are finding their way down the winding path of the ultimate lifestyle business.

In today's interview with Lexi we talk a lot about entrepreneurship in agriculture and how she found her pathway.  Lexi also puts out a couple of nuggets of valuable information, such as how to make the social media algorithms work on your behalf to connect you with like minded people and to learn information that will help you in your pursuits.

I found a lot of cross over with this talented podcaster, farmer and entrepreneur.  And, you will too!

Direct download: Lexi_Wright_Episode_1912_-_111723_2.17PM.mp3
Category:farming -- posted at: 12:30am MDT

Machinery Pete, Greg Peterson, has become a household name on farms throughout the U.S.  His passion for tractors and auctions coupled with his vision of a resource for farmers that want to buy and sell used tractors have led him to great heights in agriculture.  He was first on the show back in 2015, and I am running his episode again today to tie in with tomorrow's Ag Business Episode in which I will be profiling an up and coming agricultural podcaster who I have no doubt will rise to great heights as well.

Direct download: OFI_1911_Replay_Of_056_-_113023_6.58PM.mp3
Category:farming -- posted at: 7:13pm MDT