Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Sweet as sugar...beets

I went on an awesome tour of the Michigan Sugar beet processing plant in Bay City, Michigan!

I interviewed Elizabeth Taylor, Ag Relations & Communications Manager at Michigan Sugar for the Michigan Grown, Michigan Great podcast I host for the Michigan Ag Council.  (Just how many times can I say Michigan in a sentence?!)  If you'd like to hear it, plus the other 80 + interviews, they are here:  https://michigangrown.org/podcast/

Elizabeth mentioned they had tours, so my friend Julie (Bay City native and willing travel partner) and I immediately booked one.

It was fascinating.  I absolutely love seeing how everything works, and this tour was so interesting!  Like a lot of factories, pictures weren't always allowed, but I did take them where I could.

First, we drove up and saw all the trucks unloading sugar beets. 

They float on water - so debris and rocks and such fall to the bottom - into the plant, where they are washed, cut into hash brown size, and the evaporation and crystallization steps happen.  (For all the details, go here: https://www.michigansugar.com/growing-production/from-seed-to-shelf/)

My favorite part then happened, and we loved it so much, we watched it twice.

The crystallized sugar is spun around in a centrifuge, which spins out all the brown molasses that didn't crystalize.  It was like magic ... it was like brown, in a spinner, then suddenly it was all white, perfect sugar. 

The bagging part of it was also cool, because it was the same exact sugar going into different bags.  Kroger, Meijer, Great Value, Pioneer - we watched them all bagged!  (Jessica, our lovely tour guide, said that people often ask her why the sugar brands have different prices.  She said that for instance Wal Mart buys so much Great Value sugar in bulk, that they get a lower price than another seller who isn't purchasing as much does.)

We got to taste test sugar right off the line, both brown sugar and white.  Funny thing, though I love sugar in food, I don't really love tasting it straight.

I loved the control room where you could see all the amazing technology behind the process, also.  The people working were all friendly and answered our questions, too.

We went to Cream & Sugar, a new ice cream place supplied by Michigan Sugar and Michigan Milk Producers Association.  Julie and I got ice cream flights and it was some fantastic tasting ice cream.

I love a farm tour!  If it ends in eating the product, all the better. 

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Sunday, September 29, 2019

Fall, falling, fallen


It's a - ready for it - rainy fall!  The living in a rain forest life has continued.  It affected our alfalfa harvest, too.  Even though there was no rain in the forecast, it rained plenty on our hay after we cut it.  However, it dried and we managed to get a good fourth cutting.

We're looking to start the corn harvest, but it ... keeps raining!  What an unusual year.  I should stop being surprised, but it's so different from the other years I've lived here.  I watered my flowers twice this year - twice!  Many years I watered them daily.  Now let's imagine that at a farm level.  

When I'm not talking about the rain ... I do a lot of podcasting with different farmers: https://michigangrown.org/podcast/

including with a teff farmer, the owner of a cider mill, a state rep, and a winery owner!  It's really fun talking with everyone and learning about different farms and interesting people.

We're looking forward to corn harvest, the cows are doing well, and we're working and going to the boys' fun activities all the time, as well as hitting Michigan State football games.  It hasn't rained DURING a game yet, so we're happy about that!  And of course, with the weather you do get spectacular skies.  I've seen more rainbows this year than any in my life.


Saturday, August 31, 2019


Two great guys, Burt and Dale, asked me to do social media for AgroExpo, the awesome farm show right in our backyard!  It was and is wonderful working with them.  Here's my press release following the show:

AgroExpo 2019 Promotes Technology, Education, and Networking

ST JOHNS – On August 13 & 14, over 2700 attendees gathered at the fourth annual AgroExpo, the largest agriculture trade show in Michigan. Held at the North Central Research Station in St Johns, the two-day event provided agricultural demonstrations, speakers, and exhibits.

The show focused on providing resources for production farmers. The demonstrations on sprayers, remote soil testing operations, and drones exhibited the latest technology in agriculture. The speakers offered education on current issues like risk management, increasing yields, nutrition, insurance, and estate planning, and listeners were also able to receive CCA and RUP credits. The 130 vendors met with the attendees to highlight their products and services, as well as answer questions.

New this year was the addition of the FFA student competitions. The FFA Crop Management Challenge gave FFA students the chance to plant a plot, plan its growth, present it to the judges, and answer questions. The FFA Tractor Operators Contest featured students demonstrating their knowledge about zero-turn lawnmowers, standard lawnmowers, and a tractor with a trailer, and then maneuvering the machine through a narrow course.

Congratulations to winners Caleb Hackett (Centreville - 1), Micah Sprague (Durand - 2), Dakota Sutter (Chesaning - 3), Colton Schwartz (Centreville – 4), and Garrett Cook (Perry – 5) for the garden tractor competition, Tracy Slieff (Durand - 1), Travis Swift (Cedar Springs - 2), Garret Andrejack (Corunna - 3), Colby Shettler (Byron – 4), and Colin Munsell (Fowlerville – 5) for utility tractor, and Brian Frye (Byron - 1), Daniel Sprague (Durand - 2), and Jonathan Sayles (Bay-Arenac CC - 3), Marc Hendzel (Perry - 4), and Travis Swift (Cedar Springs - 5) for zero-turn. Crop Management Challenge results will be announced at the Great Lakes Crop Summit in January 2020.

“I really enjoyed having the FFA students here this year,” said Dale Ruff, AgroExpo Event Coordinator. “It was a great addition to the show to have first their crop competition, and also their driving competition. The attendees enjoyed watching them, too. Driving that equipment isn’t always as easy as it looks.”

Organizations like the IQhub and the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture provided educational opportunities for children attending the show. The booths featured hands-on activities for kids that were both farm and entertainment-focused.

The crowd of food trucks, the Ford, Chevrolet, and Ram truck test drive opportunities, the flyovers, and the general attitude of the attendees gave the entire show a jovial atmosphere.

“We’re already planning for next year,” said Burt Henry, AgroExpo Industry Relations and Promotions Manager. “We talked to the vendors and the attendees, and we’re always looking at how we can make it more valuable for everyone. We’re really thankful to everyone, including the sponsors, for making it great. With everyone’s input, next year it’s going to be even better.”

The 2020 AgroExpo is scheduled for August 11 & 12.




As for the farm, it's busy as always.  Rain, harvest, things breaking, things getting fixed, heifers getting out, heifers being put back in and spoken to seriously for not listening about getting out, kids in school, construction projects, and action all the time!  

It was one of the best summers of my life.  I'm sad to see it go - but the excitement of fall is here, and all the fun to go along with that!  Soon there will be more rain, harvest, things breaking, things getting fixed ... you get the point.  

I share more pictures and news on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, if you're inclined to use any of those.  

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Hot, dry, amazing July

Wow, what a different type of spring we had.  It rained and rained and rained and ... you get the point.  Since you can't plant a field when it's muddy, we could only plant our corn two days.  One the last week of May and the next - June 19.  We planted a field just this week to sudax, which we'll let the cattle out in to eat after it grows. 

We are very lucky that we have light ground, and not a lot of it, so that we were able to plant.  The devastation of the rain is far-reaching.  The government has declared an emergency, farmers simply haven't been able to plant, and the consequences of this will be felt for a long time.  For instance, crop farmers can't plant, which means they can use the insurance they bought, but they won't be able to make a profit.  Dairy farmers can't plant, but they need to feed their animals, so they need to buy it SOMEWHERE.  Prices will be high, high, high, because demand will be more than supply.

Amazingly, it's already dry.  The creek is low and the corn looks like it could use a shot of rain.  Weather!  What can you do? 

We've been able to do two cuttings of alfalfa, and that went really well.  So, sometimes it cooperates.

It's been doing super well in the sunset category.  Every night we're home we watch it, and it's impossible for me to not take a picture of it. 

Enjoy your hot, dry, and pretty July!


Want to know more about the farm?  Like the page on Facebook, on Twitter @carlashelley, or sign up to get the blog by email - the form is on the right side of the page. 

Friday, June 14, 2019

Michigan Good Food Fund

Have you read your Michigan Dairy Cattle News Summer Issue?  (What?  No?)  Now's the time!  I have an article in here about the Michigan Good Food Fund, which provides financing to food enterprises.  So if you're thinking of starting, expanding, or enhancing a business...here's a good place to start. You can read the issue here

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Rainy May


Have you noticed the rain?  Every day?  For days on end?

We sure have!  We were able to get about half of our acres in, and that corn popped out of the ground yesterday.  We haven't been able to plant any more, because the fields are so wet.  No one around here has.  My news is full of charts and graphs talking about the lateness of the planting - in the entire Midwest.

No matter how late it gets, we're still going to plant, because we need to feed our animals.  So, let's hope for some more dry days!


The cattle are out on pasture and it is a beautiful sight.  They make lovely neighbors.  The other day our neighbor Dan sent me a picture of his cattle standing at the edge of the fence hanging with our cattle and said "Neighbor-herd" - and it cracked me up.  We are - as the kids say - literally surrounded!


Kris' dad is semi-retiring from dairy farming, and there was a really nice article about their farm, where milking started in 1893.  You can read about the Wardin Brothers Dairy here

On Easter, Kris' mom Joanna (pictured here) gave us a Michigan Milk Producers Association sweatshirt from Jeanne Sandmann, who is a longtime family friend.  Jeanne said that this was hers when she was little!  Sadly, Jeanne passed away recently, and we cherish this vintage gift from her. 


Kris and I attended the 13th Annual Empty Plate Strolling Dinner and Auction, because UDIM and MMPA are part of the Food Bank cause.  I went to the 2019 Women's Power Breakfast with the United Dairy Industry of Michigan, and I did dairy lessons in two kindergarten classes, with three more scheduled this week.  My podcast about farming through the Michigan Ag Council is at https://michigangrown.org/podcast/ - up to 50 now, with some really great stories from all kinds of farmers!

Thanks for reading, as always.  Happy end of May - and happy dry days ahead!

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Hairnets and taste tests - Dairy Communicator meeting

We don't normally dress in matching outfits.

Yesterday was so fun - we had the Michigan Milk Producers Dairy Communicator meeting, and it started with a tour of our Ovid plant!

I looooove a factory tour, and this one even required costumes.  We put on:

rubber boots
safety glasses
ear plugs

and removed all of our jewelry.  Every single bit of it.  Watches and fitbits, too.  We were a dull, exercise-not-tracked bunch.  (What is the point of walking if you can't count your steps?  Might as well lie down.)

We had to wash our hands like surgeons - singing happy birthday twice - and wade through cleanser so we didn't track anything from room to room.

We got to see the GIANT butter churn, which was churning butter and putting it into 55lb boxes with the MMPA label on it.  We saw rooms of processing, the loading docks, the valve room - which looked like something out of a science fiction movie - and more.

It was so impressive to see everything that goes on to process our milk.  We weren't allowed to take pictures inside, but here are some from the outside!

Fellow dairy farmer Jennifer Lewis!
Group photo, trying not to shiver in the cold.

We went to the meeting at AgroLiquid and listened to Kris and then Jim our director of sales.

We are all wrapped up in running our own day-to-day businesses and dealing with the actual obtaining of the milk.  Cropping, animal care, people, calves - so, so many details in running a farm.  Then we saw the actual processing side of it - a GIANT processing plant that gets it to people.  Then we have the sales and marketing side of it - an office that deals with suppliers, customers, market strategies ... basically, it's a huge operation to make, use, and sell food.  It's going on every day for every food and the world is a magical place that this all happens to reliably and safely.  Amazing!

We then did something really fun - a milk taste test!  We had 1% organic, 1% conventional, Lactaid, 2% conventional, whole conventional, and A2 milk, which is a kind of milk that has A2 protein and not A1 protein, so it's marketed as being easy to digest.

It was our job to guess which was which, and this was so fun!  I was not good at guessing them, but I liked all of them.  (I only got Lactaid correct.)  I love milk - apparently all kinds.  It was like a lot of tastings!

Only three people out of the 40-ish there got them all right - and the rest of us were very impressed.

That night I did it with my boys, this time with skim, 2%, whole, and A2 whole.  (We always have skim, 2%, and whole here, but we had some A2 from the meeting.  No one in our family has a problem digesting anything, as far as I can tell.  These kids could eat rocks.)  Fun for the whole family.  Give it a shot at your house and let me know how it goes!

All in all, a super fun day.  We're back on the farm today, doing just one small part in the entire huge process.  No hairnets needed.

Happy Maundy Thursday!

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