Saturday in the Park, I think it was the Fourth of July

For My Love of Farmer’s Markets & Great Stories

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away there lived a inquisitive girl with an endless imagination. Exploring her surroundings she encountered both friend and stranger. And when faced with an unanswered question she found it much easier to dream up a solution than trek through the woods in search of the truth.

Although this little known phrase may start timeless tales of childhood wonder, and  eventually be followed with the ever so popular “and they lived happily ever after”, life seldom is this clear and simple. Is dreaming up outcomes and making up stories the best way to start solving a problem and achieve that ultimate perfect ending to the story?

Over the last year I had the opportunity to work with a very talented lady on the subject of team building and communication in the work place. The most significant take away for me was the concept of “making up stories”. The concept is pretty simple. When faced with hear say, situations with holes in the details, or the art of reading another’s mind, just stop, open your mouth and ask the clarifying question. Start with the truth instead of your mind’s version of the tale.

Sounds fairly simple.  From my professional life to my to personnel relationships, I find myself constantly reminded not to make up a story. This valuable lesson has come in handy in the classroom as students toss ideas around instead of doing the research and asking the questions. And surprising enough I have discovered for most of us it is easier to make up the story than to actually take the time to form a clarifying sentence. Why is that. Are we just lazy? In a hurry? In need of entertainment? Or just stuck in a cycle of story telling?

Although it can be hurtful and down right frustrating having imagines dancing around in your head that are completely a figment of an outcome created in the space between your ears. It can also be fun. For example, who hasn’t sat at a restaurant and made up the fairytale story of the couple sitting in the neighboring booth? I decided to take this practice to the streets so to speak, and get to the bottom instaed of creating a tale for some unsuspecting stranger.

I love going to Farmer’s Market each week. It makes me happy. The thought of buying fresh goods and creating a culinary gem is truly a joy. After years of attending Templeton Park on Saturday mornings, the location of my favorite vendors and their products are second nature to me. Yet, there is one stand that I have never visited but is totally fascinating. Do I have my story all made up? Guilty as charged.

A single commodity stand with the same gentleman standing behind his table can be found park side come rain or shine. He sells squash and his product is perfectly presented, polished and uniform in size, shape and color. However, his inventory is always very low, sometime less than 15 vegetables. The economist in me just can’t wrap my head around how he can afford to continue to maintain his stand week in and week out. He is a perfect stranger that I insist on writing his biography. So I decided last week to change this pattern.

When I told my mother my plan to set the story straight so to speak, she was concerned that I would be arrested for stalking the poor squash salesman. But I am happy to report my findings and assure no security had to be called.

James DeWelt is a second generation farmer from Atascadero. His parents actually helped start the Farmer’s Market and he felt the need to carry on the family tradition after their passing. He grows one of the finest strands of zucchini. He plants five, 30ft rows which he starts a new batch of squash every three weeks to insure proper pollination. When a plant starts to show sign of age, he will replace with a new baby squash vine. He offers a very competitive price of $3/ pound. And he had clients lined up once the opening bell rang.

After our nice, educational chat, I purchased a pound of this exquisite vegetable. That night as we dined on our fact finding zucchini I couldn’t help but wonder, was it really the best squash I had ever cooked or did it just taste so good because I knew the real story?

We Will … We Will … Rock You #CPAGBROCKS

my grad
My Dad & me June 1989

As we approach June, I recall what I was doing nearly 26 years ago, getting ready to graduate from Cal Poly with a degree in Agriculture Business Management.  Fast forward to 2015 and the degree has changed to Agribusiness. I now sit on the other side of the desk witnessing a fresh crop of students getting ready to hit the work force. From technological advancement to the leading crops produced in our state the playing field has changed in so many ways.  The one thing that hasn’t changed is how important Agribusiness is to not only California, but to the world.

What is Agribusiness you might ask?  Wikipedia defines Agribusiness as the business of agricultural production. The term was coined in 1957 by Goldberg and Davis. It includes agrichemicals, breeding, crop production, distribution, farm machinery, processing, and seed supply, as well as marketing and retail sales. All agents of the food and fiber value chain and those institutions that influence it are part of the agribusiness system.

In Introduction to Agribusiness, taking a lesson from Ag In the Classroom, I would use a loaf of bread to illustrate the industry. Imagine every job that went into producing the product, from the farmer to the retail outlet, one would find sales, marketing, finance, accounting, policy and human resources were occurring. Agribusiness is a complex, broad area of study that represents many specialties and skill sets. But what makes Agribusiness special? Why a unique discipline? Seriously, what is the big deal?

AGB Gala 2014 ~ Student Hosts
AGB Gala 2014 ~ Student Hosts

Agribusiness enables one to not only learn by theory but apply it to an industry. One could even say “Learn by Doing.” Agribusiness is an industry that feeds and clothes the world. An industry that employees millions of people. An industry that is celebrated across our nation at fairs and festivals. An industry that involves generations of families, creates a passion, and connects people.

My blog is my content platform.  Those that read the posts get a glimpse into my mind set and thought process.  Once posted, my words are spread across facebook and LinkedIn with the magical click of a button.  However, the readers are basically my friends and family.  Many who have a similar background, knowledge base and lets face it a love of agriculture.  My reach is narrow in the quest to expand the importance of Agribusiness. Or is it?

The other night I had an epiphany.  What if I started a grassroots quest to spread the importance of Agribusiness.  More specifically, Cal Poly Agribusiness.  I have the skill set, the resources available and students full of content.  What was my call to action, the battle cry? #CPAGBMAKESADIFFERENCE was too long and #CPAGBKICKSASS was inappropriate, thus #CPAGBROCKS was created.

In the final month of spring quarter a group of Senior Project students are launching Thirty Days of AGB Champions across on the Cal Poly Agribusiness social media sites. With the #CPAGBROCKS as our inspiration, our goal is to showcase each and every senior.  Using simple mathematics if every student shares our post our message will spread faster than a juicy Hollywood rumor.  And while you are at it, feel free to use #CPAGBROCKS in any and all posts related to the world of Agribusiness.  As I watch the Class of 2015 cross the stage on June 13th, I can silently sing, We are the Champions.. No time for Losers ‘Cause we are the Champions of the World.

Follow our posts either on facebook Cal Poly Agribusiness Department or blog Cal Poly

bowling wfa 2013
WFA Convention 2013 – Cal Poly Fair Progam

Our State Fair is a Great State Fair Don’t Miss it Don’t Even Be Late

Call it an addiction,  a genetic disorder,  a wild passion, label it any way you would like, but I have a love of agriculture and fairs running through my veins. And well that makes perfect sense to me as my heart beats to a tune of a different drum. I gravitate toward vintage livestock photos, snap countless photos of display ideas, and examine signage, fonts and program themes with the scrutiny of an orthopedic surgeon analyzing  X-rays.  And when I happen to be lucky enough to come across an inspiration, well I capture it.

Combine my heart with my head and that is where life starts to get a little “ranch”. My mind works in a fashion that is different from most.  I live on the corner of math and logic meet creative process and chaos.  Objects are not three-dimensional, but six dimensional.  I see things for what they are now, what they have been and what they could be in the future. The word that I have decided that best describes my true nature is creation.

The final week of senior project we celebrated American agriculture. We visited a farmer’s market, made brunch and dined like a family. We toured a brewery. Experienced the entire process from the grains being unloaded to the bottling line. And finally we visited the Royal Adelaide Showgrounds and learned the deep history of the Royal Adelaide Agriculture Society.  That was a month ago and here I sit still pondering how to express my vision in a blog post.

Harnessing that creative process and narrowing it down to a simple message is a challenge.  I needed a week at Brain Camp.  Time to change my perspective and tackle my dilemma from a different vantage point.  But where do I find the space, time, and that view from above?  And then I stopped and realized for the past three months I have done nothing but capture the little moments of inspiration.  Why not share them.  Sure there is no obvious common thread, but then again, isn’t the common thread my mind’s eye?

As we drove home from our tour of the Great Ocean Road, I looked at Lilly and said “Isn’t all this farm land just beautiful?”  From as far as the eye could see were open fields full of grazing sheep and cattle. We even passed a farmer in his field assisting a cow with her calf.  Hard work, land, nature, well that filled my heart and the many breeds of livestock, vintage farm houses and ratty old signs caused visions of fair exhibits to dance in my head.  So to all of those like minded fair crazies, this blog is a wish for a fabulous 2015 Fair season.



The Art of Competition

Many of us compete in our daily lives.  Some people strive for attention, some for a promotion, and many for the best parking spot at the grocery store.  But the subject of today’s blog is based on formal competitions.  Situations when we actually enter a contest to be ranked or judged for a prize.  

For most people the experience lies in being a competitor, either by challenging a timed event or exceeding the formalized standards of a professional judge.  My children spend their summer days exercising, grooming, and caring for their livestock with the primary goal of, in one person’s opinion, be chosen a winner.

Although I have had my fair shares of prize winning moments, today’s blog will focus on the other side of the coin.  The art of competition begins with the creator or originator. And after a number of years of coordinating everything from llama shows to olive oil judging there are simply five keys to success.

1 – Knowledge

Having perfect knowledge or being an expert of the subject matter is not near as important as knowing how a competition works.  Failure exists when the originator of the contest doesn’t properly plan and prepare.  Preparation on the front end sets the stage for triumphant outcome.  Over the years it always amuses me when I talk about my jobs in the event or competition arena.  One of the most common questions is, “What do you do the rest of the year?”  Trust me it takes many months, sometimes years to develop the fabulous five minutes of fame created for a competition.

2 – Organization

The single most important element is organization.  One must be able to develop a timeline, organize the entries, prepare them for judging, and facilitate the outcome.  Lack of structure will haunt you through the judging process.  As participation increases so must your desire to establish order and simplicity.  Those who loose site of organization will have the ghosts of the disappointed exhibitors howling the hallways for months following the event. 

I sat in as a guest judge during a flight. My ability to judge wine ranks right up there with my knack to play golf. Neither of them do I keep score, I just focus on my highlights!

3 – Expertise

As I noted in the first key to success, you don’t have to be an expert in the field, but you must hire an expert to judge the contest.  Sometimes it may require having an expert on staff to facilitate questions during judging.  For example for the Central Coast Wine Competition we hire a Chief Judge.  He does not judge, but insure that all wines are entered in proper class; wines are presented properly to the judges and resolve any issues the panel may experience.  However, lacking a professional judge can cause a fiasco and outrage that could severely damage or cripple your event. If you are unsure of who is qualified, seek out other similar type events and ask for recommendations.  A few hours searching the internet will pay off in the long run.

 4 & 5 – Awarding & Appreciation

The last two points go hand in hand.  Not only is it extremely important to properly award the contestants, but to recognize them publicly.  There is no greater disappointment than to be recognized a winner, then due to a clerical error have the award recalled.  Proof, proof and double proof your result.  Then share the good news with the world.  In today’s world of social media it should take less than a spilt second to alert your followers of the results.  Not only will you excite your participants, but provide you an opportunity to thank your sponsors and the key people that made the show a success.

So why did I choose this topic.  Well after many hours working competitions it has come to my attention that seldom does one realize what goes into the creation of the contest.  It is emotionally, mentally and sometimes physically exhausting to compete for an award. But stop and think of the people who put on the competition; I can guarantee that they have also had their roller coaster of emotions, thoughts and work.  And what ever amount of time you spent preparing to compete they have spent double, maybe even triple the hours preparing. 

So the next time you are in the contest ring, take a moment and thank the help, appreciate the award (no matter how big or small) and just remember someone put their heart and soul into creating the competition.

“I don’t believe you have to be better than everybody else. I believe you have to be better than you ever thought you could be. ~ Ken Venturi”

FFA…Your Kids…and Self Entertainment

So I am sitting at the South Coast Regional FFA Leadership Reception.  My daughter Kayla Jo is receiving her State FFA degree and being recognized as the regional sheep proficiency winner. Needless to say, this ain’t my first rodeo.  I have sat through this ceremony even before I had children old enough to be in FFA.  Nolan was very fortunate to have not only accomplished the above, but be honored as the state and national FFA sheep proficiency award. Which is pretty incredible and an achievement that I still marvel at today.
For those of you unaware of the FFA, it is a youth organization built around agriculture.  It teaches leadership, organization, and life skills.  My husband Bobby refers to it as the breeding ground for young Republicans.  They are strong in their beliefs, encourage greatness and build a solid foundation of responsibility.  My life has been surrounded by the organization.  From being a member in high school to living with a past state officer in college, as a young person I thought I had a pretty clear grasp of the FFA.  But follow that up with having multiple agriculture teachers in my family and having two of my three kids go through the program …. I guess one could say “I know a little bit about the FFA”.
But I have veered of course of my blog topic.  And that is, is it so bad that I sit here on my iPad writing a blog during this event?  I love my kids.  I support them with all my heart, soul and pocket book.  But if the truth be told some of the parental supporting functions can sometimes take on the excitement of watching paint dry.  Seriously people, if you can honestly say every little league game, girls softball, show ring moment, awards banquet, has been an on the edge of your seat moment than hats off to you.  And then there are the complete opposite events that exhaust your emotions. For example, your son being the high school quarterback and every play you hold your breath praying, he doesn’t get hurt, he is successful in orchestrating the plan or worst yet that he does not fumble the ball.  So how does one survive these life moments, cherish the memories and celebrate their accomplishments?
Well here is my solutions.
1.  If you know it is going to be long event with periods of down time and a few moments of excitement, then take along your own form of entertainment.  Case in point, I have my iPad today!  And I do not feel one ounce of guilt, but very happy that I am finally finding time to write a blog post.
2.  Be the supporter, not the coach.  I try to constantly remind my kids it is suppose to be fun.  I can not tell you how many times we have had tears ringside to sidelines, and I always remind them that they did great and that remember we are suppose to be having fun.  Unless your kids are curing cancer or solving world hunger, it isn’t life altering if they don’t always come out on top.  The college students I teach are well aware of my motto, “If it won’t matter in five years, it doesn’t matter now”. My kids are true competitors.  My gladiator mind set children channel their heart and soul into a passion that is truly remarkable.  Motivation is not an issue, sometimes I feel more like the demotivation cheerleader.  It is suppose to be fun, damn it!
3. Fantasy Island is an ok place to visit, but no one needs to live there full time.  My son can dream up all kinds of goals in his mind.  He has done this since he was born.  The amazing part is most of his fantasies play out almost to script. It is a great gift and I admire his creativity.  However, once again as the mom I need to remind him of reality.  Bringing them back to the real world and pointing out the big picture is important.
4. Finally if all else fails use my solution for most situations.  Just pretend you are starring in your own skit on Saturday Night Live.  It will add humor to the situation and get you through the moment.
(Kayla just received her proficiency award.  I did stop the blog writing long enough to clap, take a photo and cheer her achievement)
Maybe I am way to much a type A person and need to learn to relax for two hours, sit through an event and enjoy the down time.  But, at the fabulous age of 45 I don’t see my core characteristics changing.  And it is not just me. Lilly is sitting her next to me complaining how bored she is, can she play with my iPad, and that she is hungry.  No, you can not have my ipad, you should have brought your own.  Maybe I should have included a fifth suggestion, bring along something to entertain the other siblings who are along for the ride.
Congratulations Kayla Jo… little FFA super star!
By the way Lilly just left to walk around the lobby, I wonder if there is a newly painted wall she can watch dry?

“Learn by Doing”

This weekend in Paso Robles, California the Cal Poly Western Bonanza will be in town.  In it’s 28th year the premier junior livestock show is produced, coordinated and operated solely by a team of college students. With over 460 exhibitors showing close to 1,000 head of livestock, the event does not just come together over night.  With three professors overseeing the process (myself being one of them), the planning of the show covers three classes over the course of a year. The class format consists of upper division students who serve as the management team and work with over 80 of their fellow classmates.  The students are majoring in numerous fields from throughout the college of agriculture, and a few from other colleges on the campus.  Celebrating the foundation by which Cal Poly was built upon,  “Learn by Doing” is the basic foundation of this class.

The students not only learn the obvious proficiencies that it takes to run a livestock show, but develop skills that will extend well into their professional careers.  Organizational and accounting methods from dealing with entries, results, and bookkeeping are obvious learned attributes.  But if one really digs deeper there are so many more life lessons happening over the three day event.

Dealing with the general public and your customer is a hands-on approach to customer service.  Successful businesses build the cornerstone of their sales model with customer service.  Or what about leading a team of your peers in preparing a show ring or gathering sponsorship monies.  Teamwork, leadership and basic management principles come into play.  Salesmanship and marketing are shown in the public relations, merchandise and hospitality committees role in the success of the weekend.  But I think the most important skill learned and more than likely the least noticeable is problem solving.

Anyone who has ever worked in the event business knows that no matter how much you plan and how prepared you are something is bound to go wrong.  How you solve that problem and the speed of which you get back on track is key to the success of the event.  And the day you realize in the world of events that what the public/ consumers perception of the outcome and your expectation are two different perpectives, you will have less anxiety and a better event.

Although on the Cal Poly campus one may hear moans and groans that the “Learn by Doing” philosophy is not applied, I can guarantee you it is alive and well in the hands of 120 Western Bonanza students.

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