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Kansas Kontact Volume 44 - Issue Number 3 Kansas Farmers Union 115 E. Marlin, Suite 108 McPherson KS 67460 620-241-6630 kansasfarmersunion.org


Mary Howell membership kfu.mary@gmail.com Kami VanCampen office manager kfu.kamiv@gmail.com Mercedes Taylor-Puckett grants



Donn Teske President dteske@bluevalley.net

Nick Levendofsky Vice President Herb Bartel Treasurer Kami VanCampen Secretary Donn Teske President



Nick Levendofsky Vice President



David Heiens Abilene Lavern Potuzak Agenda Matt Ubel Onaga SOUTH DISTRICT

Herb Bartel Hillsboro Linda Hessman Dodge City Jason Schmidt Newton

On The Cover

The cover photo, featuring a Summer Fun Farm Tour participant, was taken by Tom Parker at Green Thumbs Up Produce, a small-scale vegetable farm owned and operated by two young growers, Austin Reynolds and John Edmonds. Beside leaf vegetables and 30 to 40 varieties of tomatoes, the two produce specialty colored peppers, berries, peaches, green beans, radishes, pumpkins, decorative gourds and cucumbers, among others on their Leavenworth County farms. Photo credit: Tom Parker

2 Kansas Kontact | NOVEMBER 2016

KFU’s delegation to the 2016 NFU Fly-In included Kristina and Jeff Kindle, MRA agent, Concordia; NFU Beginning Farmer Institute participant Zach Teske, Wamego; KFU President Donn Teske, Wheaton; KFU board member Matt Ubel, Wheaton; Sean Gatewood, Topeka; and Dr. Don Stull, Lawrence.

National Farmers Union Fly-In 2016 The annual National Farmers Union Washington D.C. Fly-In is the very definition of grassroots politics. This three-day event draws Farmers Union members from states as far as Alaska and Hawaii to meet with top officials of the USDA and, more importantly, their elected state representatives. The goal of these meetings is to remind those in D.C. of the issues their farming and rural constituents face back home. This year’s event took place September 12-14. “Family farmers and ranchers are the best advocates we have for agriculture, and NFU’s annual legislative fly-in is an important part of our ongoing grassroots advocacy efforts,” said NFU President Roger Johnson. “We emphasize to our members the importance of having open dialogue and building relationships with their elected officials in order to have their viewpoints represented in food and farm policy discussions.” The three-day event began with a briefing at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). NFU members heard from USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, USDA Chief Economist Robert Johansson, Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Jason Weller and USDA Risk Management Agency Administrator Brandon Willis. President Johnson and NFU government relations representatives also provided remarks. NFU members met with lawmakers over the following days to advocate for legislative priorities that will affect their operations and communities, including: Farm Bill programs and the farm safety net, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Renewable Fuel Standard and corporate consolidation in agriculture.

President’s report We’ve done a lot in KFU since our last issue of the Kontact. One of our best was an event series I’m pretty darn proud of, we partnered up with the Kansas Farmer Veterans Coalition and a whole host of other supporters and sponsors to conduct the Summer Fun Farm tour series, 3 tours in August aimed toward offering veterans considering entering farming and beginning farmers an opportunity to experience all kinds of different kinds of agriculture, from conventional to a sheep dairy. It was a great way for all to learn from the tours and from each other. All were well attended and had great reviews! We had a great team out in DC at Fly-in and it went really well. We seldom have enough from Kansas attending Fly-In to be spit up into 2 teams, this year there was. Matt Ubel was the team leader of the second team and all reports were that he did great! Proud of the kid. Son Zach had applied to and was accepted into the BFI program (Beginning Farmers Institute) and as such participated in meetings in DC at the same time as my board meetings and then participated in the Fly-In with us. Felt good having him walking into the hill offices covering my back. Last year daughter Steph was in that role, this year Zach. Another wonderful opportunity that arose immediately following Fly In was to

Donn Teske

participate in the Farm Aid concert while in DC. Kansas Farmers Union often participates in the farm advocate training and networking that precedes the concert, this year it was just an hour out of DC. Matt Ubel and I stayed for the events and stayed at a friends house. The opening day was Farm Aid day at the USDA auditorium where the premiere viewing of a new Farm Aid sponsored documentary “Attack on the Heartland” was conducted. Our own state director Linda Hessman is featured prominently in the film as well as good friend and advisor Charlie Griffin, recently retired from KSU, who has done more to address rural mental health here in Kansas than any other Kansan. I had the wonderful experience of working with both of these great people while doing my financial crisis response work before my KFU years. Linda and Charlie, as well as a whole bunch of us old war horses, that include Forrest Buhler, Char Henton, Ed Reznicek, Mary Fund, Greg Stephens, and others I’m surely forgetting, have been collaborating (scheming really...) together over the past few months attempting to pro-actively address what I call a looming farm crisis that is really already here. We are the old guard, and no longer have the energy this generation is going to need to advocate for our rural neighbors in need as this progresses. How can we help

rural Kansas help itself? How can the state & national government help? That’s going to be our mission this winter. This also brings us up to what’s happening VERY SHORTLY, our state convention. It looks like Farm Aid will be allowing KFU to show the documentary at our convention on December 8th! The whole afternoon will focus around the lessons experienced in the eighties and then dialog around what needs done now and how do we do it? It’s going to be a very good convention in a really comfortable setting, the Hotel Old-town in Wichita Dec 7 & 8th. The information is in this Kontact, deadline for hotel reservations VERY soon. Please advance register, this will help our staff a bunch in planning numbers. The afternoon of Wednesday, the 7th, will be when we have our annual business meeting and work our policy. We will have a couple of board positions open up this year and needs to be filled. The board of directors are very important for KFU, they give leadership and direction and oversight to the president and staff and have performed remarkably efficiently over the years. We need to maintain that integrity... National convention will be March 5th through 8th in San Diego... Next year it’s in Kansas City at the Crown Center. See you in Wichita!

Farm Aid 2016

NOVEMBER 2016 | Kansas Kontact


2016 KFU State Convention Set for Dec 7-8 in Wichita Kansas Farmers Union, the state’s oldest active general farm organization, will hold its annual convention at the Hotel at Old Town, Wichita, December 7-8, 2016. This year’s theme is Helping Rural Communities Help Themselves. In addition to addressing rural healthcare access and expanding direct marketing opportunities, conference sessions will focus on exploring past and present farm crises to seek proactive strategies to help rural communities thrive despite a tough ag economy. Registration for convention is available online. Early bird registration discounts end on November 25. Grassroots policy development will be Wednesday’s focus. Kansas Farmers Union has a rich history of working to protect and promote the interests of family farmers and ranchers by taking a leadership role in advocating for farming, ranching and agricultural interests across the state. Each year,

members review past policy, propose and debate new issues, and adopt policy for the coming year. Wednesday evening, Pete Lorenz, National Farmers senior grain marketing analyst, will share grain marketing opportunities and National Farmers Union Historian Tom Giessel, Larned, will delve into the history of Farmers Union. Thursday kicks off with the Washington Breakfast featuring Zack Clark, NFU Government Relations Representative, for a report on the year’s developments with the national organization. Sean Gatewood, Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, will discuss the status of Kansas healthcare access and Donna Pearson McClish will share the rapid growth of Wichita’s Common Ground Producers and Growers, Inc. During lunch attendees will hear from Adrian Polansky, state executive director of USDA’s Farm Service Agency in Kansas, and Rod Larew, NFU Senior

Vice President of Public Policy and Communications. The afternoon sessions explore the ‘80s farm crisis and the current ag economy. Farm Aid’s recently released documentary, Homeplace Under Fire, will be shown followed by a farm crisis pro-active response panel discussion and strategy planning featuring Forrest Buhler, Mary Fund, Charlie Griffin, Linda Hessman, and Greg Stephens. USDA GIPSA Administrator Larry Mitchell will offer the keynote, “Reflections of a Texas Plowboy in Washington, D.C. – AAM, NFU and USDA” during Thursday’s banquet. The evening concludes with the annual Kansas Farmers Union Foundation auction. The convention schedule and online registration is available at kansasfarmersunion.org. The form below can also be mailed-in with a check. Group rate rooms at the Hotel at Old Town are available until December 1. REGISTRATION Please note the following before mailing the registration form: Registration and payment must be mailed by Friday, November 25 to receive the early bird rate. Please mail registration form and check to: KFU Convention P.O. Box 1064 McPherson KS 67460 Online registration is available at KansasFarmersUnion.org LODGING Hotel At Old Town First & Mosley, 830 East First, Wichita, KS 67202 To reserve, call 316.267.4800 and refer to GROUP CODE: KFU1216. A room block has been reserved until December 1. Rates are: Queen Single Bed Rooms - $ 9 ​ 5.00 King Single Bed Rooms - $105.00 Queen/Queen Double Rooms - $115.00 King Jacuzzi Suites - $165.00 QUESTIONS Please contact KFU Membership Specialist Mary Howell at 785.562.8726 or kfu.mary@ gmail.com

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NFO-KFU Grain Marketing Agreement Available In the agreement, NFO is responsible for all market development, marketing and selling of the grain, and dealing with buyers and potential buyers, including scheduling deliveries and providing information with respect to the creditworthiness of buyers. NFO will provide management oversight of services with regard to delivery of the grain under the sales agreements, including sales notification to farmers, modifications to the Grain Marketing Agreement, and sales confirmation to buyers. NFO will provide accounting and inventory management services, including invoicing. NFO will make a written detailed statement each month, showing the business done the previous month, and provide those statements to KFU where they will be filed. NFO’s fee for services rendered will be seven (7) cents per bushel of grain sold for KFU members. Two (2) cents per bushel will be collected from the producer when the grain is placed with NFO for sale. KFU will receive one cent for every bushel sold. The remaining six (6) cents will cover NFO’s marketing costs. Proceeds from the sale of grain will be paid directly to the producer by the buyer. NOVEMBER 2016 | Kansas Kontact


Returning to the Land:

Diversification, family, & community lay foundation for success Jay Schwinn was living the American dream as a Merrill Lynch executive when the entire U.S. financial sector imploded in 2008. After being bought out, he called his brother, Joe, asking if he could use a partner on his small vegetable farm outside Leavenworth, Kan. His brother, while apologetic, was firm: no way could they could grow enough vegetables to support the two of them. Fair enough, Jay thought, vegetables are out. But what about something else, something non-vegetative, something that would both complement the farm and enhance its profitability? With a half-formed idea percolating through his head, he booked a flight back to a life he thought he had left behind. Like Schwinn, Don and Loretta Craig, casualties of corporate consolidations, found themselves turning to an agrarian lifestyle that was both familiar and utterly baffling. As they settled into their new lives on a 20-acre hayfield in Basehor, their plans revolved around creating a homestead, not a farm, a distinction based upon an independence from everything they had worked for and believed in. When Ed and Alice Theis founded April Valley Farms in 1956, they had 12 registered Angus females and six bred gilts, plus wheat, corn and hay under cultivation. As the farm expanded and diversified into row crop production, a registered Angus cow operation and a farrow-to-finish swine operation, three of their four sons—Mark, Jerry and Larry—are introducing new technologies that will make the farm more efficient and productive while still adhering to their father’s vision. Their stories and their farms were the focus of the second Summer Fun Farm Tour, sponsored in part by Kansas Farmers Union and the Farmer Veteran Coalition of Kansas. Three tours were planned for August, each comprising three different urban or semirural farms in the greater Kansas City metropolitan area. Afternoon presentations on topics such as the basics of grant-writing, new regulations on food safety for produce growers and business planning followed meals prepared using vegetables and meats supplied by the local producers. There was no cost for the tours. For the Theis family, the secret to the success of April Valley Farms was diversification. In the beginning, though, hogs were the focus, said Mark Theis, who heads up the

swine operation. “Dad set up to market 30 hogs per week,” he said. “I was 14 years old when I learned to drive a truck of hogs to St. Joe, and we went every week. That was dad’s goal.” Hogs, he said, provided a cushion against wildly fluctuating prices. “So you hit the highs, you hit the lows, the good, the bad, the high corn market, the low corn market— it was very unique.” Every step of the operation is tightly managed to run on schedule, and has been since 1979. Sows are weaned on Mondays, bred on weekends, and alternated through a hot nursery to a floor-type pen for 21 days each and finished in a hoop house. “It’s like factory clockwork—boom, boom, boom,” Mark said.

The regimen, as well as carefully controlled artificial insemination and infrastructure improvements, has paid off. The farm has consistently earned premium prices on the hogs, he said. The family has invested in facilities such as a 24-sow farrowing building with a caged nursery, a cattle handling chute equipped with electronic scales, and other infrastructure. The row crop operation is headed by Larry. Due to the size of their operation— they farm land for 48 individuals across several counties in addition to growing corn, soybeans and wheat on their own land— they’ve turned to technology to become more efficient. Grid sampling and yield monitors have allowed them to save money and time, he said. Jerry Theis heads up the cow side of the operation but, in a pinch, everyone helps out as needed. “We’re all responsible in some ways for everything when it’s crunch time,” he said. Having their children and grandchildren assist them has made the farm even more productive, he said. “There’s a spot for every-


body, and everybody’s needed,” he said. The second stop of the morning, Schwinn Produce Farm, is owned by the Schwinn brothers, Jay and Joe. It can best be understood as two separate businesses sharing the same acreage. Standing in the parking lot in front of a picturesque barn, Joe pointed to an area behind the tour participants. “We grew up around 1,800 feet from here,” he said. “When I was five and Jay was eight, we started selling sweet corn and tomatoes on the corner. The new highway wasn’t there so this was the main road. Our first summer we each made $20 to take to the county fair. We thought we were big time.” After Jay went to work at nearby April Valley Farms, Joe kept working the vegetable patch. “It was a 4-H project that just kept going,” he said. He earned a horticulture degree from K-State, built a greenhouse and borrowed money to buy a sprayer, just in time for a drought. It was his introduction to farming on a larger scale. That was in 1991. Since then, a greenhouse and two hoop houses have been added for starting transplants and bedding plants. Most of the produce is sold at the Leavenworth farmers market, which, Joe said, has been a mixed blessing. “The good news is that the Leavenworth farmers market has gotten real good,” he said. “The bad news is that the Leavenworth farmers market has gotten real good. We don’t sell a lot at the farm anymore.” Branching off into pick-your-own strawberries and pumpkins has been successful, but again, not without conflicts—namely, the big barn that dominates the view. The 4,500-square-foot barn was Jay’s idea, based on a similar idea of a friend’s. Named, appropriately, the Barn at Schwinn Produce, the timber frame and wood peg structure is the centerpiece of a wedding venue that includes a small cottage for brides, a photoworthy sunflower patch and an outdoor ceremony area carpeted with turf. More than 80 weddings were held there last year, and this year every weekend is booked including others throughout the week. “The barn’s been very good to us from a business standpoint,” Joe said, “but it’s kind of hurt us from an agricultural standpoint because we can’t do U-pick as much as we’d like to.” The single parking lot, while extensive, isn’t large enough to handle wedding parties and pick-your-own customers simul-

Visit the Summer Fun Farm Tour project page to read coverage, see photos and get resources for all three events: www.kansasfarmersunion.com/projects/farm-tour-series/ 6 Kansas Kontact | NOVEMBER 2016

taneously, so the Schwinns are looking for additional ground for expansion. First, though, Joe would like to see an improvement in the weather. “I’d like to see a May and June where it doesn’t rain every day,” he said. The third stop of the day was at Prairie Garden Farm, owned by Don and Loretta Craig. A long driveway leading to their home skirted a fenced field dotted with chickens. In the center of the field stood a large chicken tractor. The Craigs, both West Point graduates and retired military veterans, were working in the private sector when the stock market crashed. After Don accepted a job offer in Basehor, they began looking for a suitable place to live. For them, the metropolitan area held no allure, nor did its clusters of subdivisions. “I knew I wouldn’t do well living in a subdivision because I wasn’t interested in spraying my dandelions,” Loretta said. Becoming homesteaders wasn’t intentional, but an evolution triggered by a visit to a World War I museum. There, hanging on the wall, was an old poster depicting a woman scattering seeds through a plowed

field, her flowing dress patterned with Stars and Stripes. “Sow the seeds of Victory!” the banner proclaimed. “Plant & raise your own vegetables.” It was, Loretta said, something of an epiphany. “I was already disillusioned by the financial crash and by how the corporate system failed us,” she said, “so when I saw that poster about how the U.S. government was trying to empower the average citizen to be selfsufficient, to be responsible for themselves, to be reciprocal to their community, I was like, this is life-changing.” So life-changing, in fact, that Loretta’s immersion into Victory Gardens has made her something of an expert. She now offers presentations to groups and organizations who wish to know more or to incorporate them into their own lifestyles. Victory Gardens were critical on the home front during the two world wars, she said, and their importance hasn’t diminished over the years. They were also more encompassing than their patriotic title suggested. “Our gardens are a little bit of everything,” she said. Vegetables were only a part of the

equation. Meat was a secondary consideration, and while the couple debated adding either sheep or cattle, they ended up with cattle and a sheep dog, followed in short order by chickens. Don had some experience on his grandfather’s farm in upstate New York, and he knew how to drive a tractor, but that was the extent of their farming knowledge. The learning curve was both exhilarating and frustrating. “It’s been like drinking water from a fire hose these past six years,” Loretta said. “We’ve done things wrong, but we’re learning.” “Anything worth doing is worth doing wrong the first time,” Don quipped. This year, the Craigs were awarded a grant through the Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund which will go toward a U-pick blackberry operation. “We’re still as passionate about it as we were six years ago,” Loretta said. “We couldn’t afford to do it without Don’s salary, and we still have to prove that it’s sustainable. But one thing we do now is sit down in the winter to a lot of meals where everything was raised by ourselves. And that is an empowering feeling.”

Top Left: April Valley Farms is a family diversified farming operation raising Registered Angus Cattle, crossbred hogs and crops of wheat, corn, soybeans, and hay in Leavenworth County. Top Right: The Barn at Schwinn Produce Farm is 4500 square feet and accommodates approximately 250 guests. The Leavenworth County farm struggles to balance its U-Pick operation and the barn’s special events. Bottom Left: Loretta Craig supplements the chickens’ pasture-based diet with sprouted grains at Prairie Garden Farm. After the loss of almost thirty chickens in one afternoon by a neighborhood dog, the couple recently replaced poultry netting with wire fence. Bottom Right: Don Craig discusses the value of the farm’s BCS walk-behind tractor. A 2016 Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund grant, will help the Craigs develop a U-Pick blackberry operation. NOVEMBER 2016 | Kansas Kontact




Helping rural communities help themselves




Kansas Farmers Union PO Box 1064 McPherson KS 67460 Return Service Requested

Wednesday, December 7 THROUGH Thursday, December 8 Hotel at Old town, Wichita See Full Agenda and register kansasfarmersunion.org

Early bird Discount ends 11.25 Hotel Group Rate ends 12.1

Attention County Presidents It is time for your annual county meetings Time for: Election of Officers & Selection of Voting Delegates Convention is December 7th & 8th in Wichita If you want Donn or Mary to attend your meeting Please Call - Donn 785-770-0336 or Mary 785-562-8726 Time is getting close!

The Kansas Farmers Union Foundation was created in 1997 as a 501(c)(3) organization supporting education on rural and agricultural issues and providing resources for rural economic and cooperative development. Through the KFU Foundation, Kansas Farmers Union brings important educational and networking opportunities to all Kansans. Examples of this programming include Amazing Grazing, Kansas Beginning Farmers Coalition, Food Hubs and Co-ops, College Conference on Cooperatives, Kansas Family Farms Day, and our work with Farm Aid and the Farmer Veteran Coalition of Kansas. To donate an item to the Kansas Farmers Union Foundation auction, please contact Matt Ubel at 785.844.0419 or t.f.s.ubel@gmail.com

Register now! free online conf. for beginning farmers & ranchers on Dec. 5-8! nfu.org/growing-for-the-future/

Stay Up To Date with KFU The Kontact will Now be Mailed three times per year. Look for the The next Issue In January. Our Monthly E-Newsletter keeps you informed of upcoming events and the latest KFU news. Sign-up at kansasfarmersunion.org