Spring came a little early for me, as it has the last couple of years. I spent 10 days of January in Haiti, where the average temperature was around 75 degrees during the day and closer to 60 degrees at night. That was in the mountains where our mission team spent most of our time. In the city of Port au Prince, it was even warmer.
I went with a two-gallon freezer bag filled to burst with packages of vegetable seeds to give to my Haitian friend, Brother André, who promptly distributes most of the packets to local farmers and plants the rest in his various and sundry gardens around the village of Ducrabon.
We were in Ducrabon to provide in-service training to school teachers from the 24 villages in our sister parish of Notre Dame de Lourdes. For two days, we worked with more than 100 teachers, some who walked a couple of days to reach us.
The rest of the time, I walked in the countryside, up and down nearby mountainsides, visiting with farmers recovering from last October's Hurricane Matthew. Most of them are hungry, if not starving, having lost nearly all of their October harvest to the hurricane. Without that harvest, the farmers are without food for the dry season of November through February. But even more dire for these farmers, the destroyed crops mean they are without seed to plant in March and April in time for the spring rains.
We have set up a fundraising campaign to establish a seed bank for these farmers. If you wish to contribute, please visit https://www.generosity.com/fundraisers/seeds-of-hope-for-haitian-farmers/. Your donation is tax deductible and greatly appreciated.
October through December is a busy time here as we fill holiday orders for books, calendars and gift subscriptions. When you call our office to place your order, the phone is answered by my wife Susan, Kelly (our half-time employee who performs with aplomb the job of someone working fulltime), or me. Since the bulk of our non-magazine-related business (calendars, books and DVDs) is done during the months leading up to Christmas, I am not able to get away as often as I like to cover events for our television show on RFD-TV. I am making up for that in February and March.
I went up to Rice Lake, Wisconsin, in early February to film Gerald Schmidt and his son and a couple neighbors fell a large white pine with an antique two-man chain saw, load it on a sled using horses and to roll them up, and hauling them with the sled to a landing by the road. Gerald's horses are very well trained, respond well to verbal and line cues and were a pleasure to watch as they pulled the sled up a hill on the trail. The video will air in May and the story with photos is on page 88-91 of the April/May issue.
A couple weeks later, I drove to southern Illinois to visit Bryan Headley, the Singing Blacksmith, in West Salem. Bryan always does a great job on camera, having gained a lot of experience demonstrating blacksmithing for crowds at a variety of events in his area. He's a born teacher and skilled craftsman who also does a nice job talking about the positive impact his Christian faith has had on his life and in his work.
In March, I drove to Tomah, Wis., to videotape Jason Julian using three of his American Belgian Brabant crosses to haul US Cellular equipment from the road to a tower deep in the woods. Jason always impresses me with his relationship with his horses. Away from the horses, he works frenetically, talking at a wild clip and jumping from topic to topic with enthusiasm. But once Jason is with a horse, he slows down and works with deliberate care. I've been lucky enough to film him and his horses several times and was impressed with how they performed by the side of a busy highway, backing up their cargo wagon with precision and responding to Jason's spoken commands.
The shoot gave me the chance to see Billings, Jason's young Brabant cross stallion, in action hooked to a couple of his broodmares. We filmed Jason training Billings to drive over a three-day period a couple years ago, and it was a real pleasure to see how far he had come. The cell tower show will air sometime in June.
As I write this, I am preparing to head to the Reese Brothers Mule Sale in Westmoreland, Tenn., where saddle mules from as many as 25 states are brought to compete the first day and are then sold on the second day at auction. The business is over 90 years old and is in the hands of the fourth generation of Reeses. I can't wait.
After that, I will be in Missouri to film an episode with Homestead Iron. Will Dobkins builds handmade garden tools in his blacksmith shop and has developed a full line of long-handled and short-handled tools that are reminiscent of the American-made tools our grandparents bought years ago.
Then it's off to northwest Ohio to spend a few days with RH contributor Ralph Rice at the lovely home he shares with his wife, Connie. We were originally going to shoot Ralph tapping maple trees and boiling down the sap in his sugar shack, but the ridiculously early spring has put the kibosh on that. Instead, we will talk with him about the new Percheron horse he has been training, shoot him skidding some pine logs he has in mind for a building project and butchering a couple of hogs.
The month ends with me at the Spring Waverly Midwest Horse Sale where we set up a booth, sell subscriptions, books and DVDs, and visit with dozens of friends who stop by. One of my favorite weeks of the year. I can usually get some work done between customers and visitors, and, because it is only about an hour and a half from home, I can sleep in my own bed most nights.
April will be spent getting caught up on all the work that piled up on my desk while I was gone for virtually all of March.
If you have an event or activity you'd like to talk to Joe about, shoot him an email at
or give him a ring. 319-362-3027