I don't have to tell you this past year has been fraught with challenges: the coronovirus pandemic, California wildfires, economic recession, racial justice protests and a political process that seems to only become more partisan and polarized each day. What a mess.
It can be hard to stay positive if you regularly watch the news or read your Facebook feed. Even if you aren’t directly impacted by one of these ongoing crises, you can’t avoid the incessant coverage. When we are inundated with disturbing stories and images, one way we cope is by tuning it out, at least subconsciously. We develop an immunity. And that’s a problem.
I am very lucky. For the most part, my world is relatively unmarked by the current spate of challenges. That is, my business continues pretty much as it had, knock on wood, all of us in my family are mostly healthy, and we have been generally spared from the extreme climactic events happening right now. Without the news telling me of the adversities others are facing, I might not understand just how lucky I am. And because quality news coverage often offers ways for people to help, we can absolve ourselves of survivor's guilt by taking action.
My first job out of college was as a newspaper reporter. My wife, Susan, and I met over 30 years ago when we both worked for a daily paper in Iowa. I think the news is vital. It provides critical information and analyses on important events. Unfortunately, it often advances an ideological agenda. I don't know what Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite would say about today's news coverage but I bet they wouldn't like it. I think they practiced the kind of objective news reporting a lot of us want today. Of course, they did not work in a world of 24-hour-news cycles and celebrity social media influencers.
Growing up, we had three channels in our house — if the weather was clear — and the news was on only a few times a day. In general, most of us got pretty much the same news.
Today, you can get news to fit your political position. If you think one political party is corrupt or failing the American people, you can find a channel that will support that. And if you browse Facebook, you can find plenty of memes and posts that purport to be news and objective facts but often are distortions of the truth if not outright lies. These are aggressively reposted without any investigation of their truthfulness.
On August 10, our state was hit by a derecho that brought 140 mph winds to our city. After 45 minutes, the city of Cedar Rapids had lost between 50 to 75 percent of its tree canopy. Houses were torn in two. Power was out for a week or more. It will be many months before the debris from the storm is cleared away. We had trouble getting news in the weeks after the storm. We had no power except from our generator to run the refrigerator and freezer. We had no cable or broadband internet service. And cellular service was first down completely and only gradually restored during the first couple of weeks after the derecho.
The local newspaper, The Cedar Rapids Gazette, did a heroic job covering the aftermath of the disaster. We read about the hundreds of displaced people, evicted from their unsafe apartment buildings and living in tents on the street. We found out where people could get water, food and emergency supplies. Places to volunteer or donate items were listed in the pages of the paper. We learned we were not alone, that there were people worse off than we were, and that steps were being taken to repair our city.
Before the news arrived on the scene, people engaged in rumor-mongering. Without news to set the record straight, these rumors gained footholds and took the place of facts, becoming hard to root out.
Similarly, much of the news being “reported” and reposted on Facebook and other social media platforms are even worse than rumors. They don't just treat truth casually, they deliberately mislead and misinform to create disharmony, discord and distrust. When we see a Facebook post or listen to a celebrity pundit and don't bother to investigate their veracity, we are ripe for manipulation.
One of the things that keeps me positive during all the bad news in the world, is my job. I get to visit and spend time with a wide variety of people and talk with them about just about anything other than current events. The pandemic has caused me to cancel some trips and postpone a few others, particularly to public events like heritage festivals, fairs and plow days. But I am still able to make it to a lot of others. In this issue we have photos from two wagon trains I was able to join for a couple days— one in Kentucky and the other in Indiana.
I visited a lot of Amish (and a few English) shops and dealers in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania to put together something of a travelogue for this issue. Ralph and Connie Rice welcomed me to their farm where Ralph and his son Jake showed off their new Suffolk Punch draft horses for my camera. And Bryan Dale Headley in southern Illinois spent a day with me in his blacksmith shop to shoot a couple shows to air in November.
Because we lost power plus five of our ten 40-foot fir trees in the August derecho, I decided to cancel a trip I'd been looking forward to, but luckily, I've been able to reschedule it for the end of September. I'll spend a day with Paul Davis in Crossville, Tenn., and we'll talk about training and working with mules; then it's off to Winder, Ga., to see what Gene England has been adding to the 19th Century village he’s been building in his back forty. Then Sam Tacket is going to let me film him logging with horses (or mules, depending on what he has at the time) in the woods at Berea College in Kentucky.
All the cancellations and postponements have played havoc with my RFD-TV show schedule. Because I need to send the network my production schedule sometimes four months in advance, I occasionally get surprised with a cancellation and have to make a late substitution. With the pandemic forcing so many events to be canceled, I've had to do that a lot more often than I like.
By the time you read this, there will be a new movie streaming on Netflix I’m looking forward to watching. It’s called “Kiss the Ground” and tells the story of Ray Archuleta and Gabe Brown and their roles in pioneering the soil health and regenerative agriculture movement. They are co-founders of the regenerative agriculture consulting firm, Understanding Ag and the nonprofit Soil Health Academy.
The 85-minute movie explores key soil health principles, featuring interviews with a wide range of authors, researchers and scientists, including Kristine Nichols, Ph.D., who also serves as a consultant with Understanding Ag. It's thesis proposes that by regenerating the world's soils, humans can rapidly stabilize Earth’s climate, restore lost ecosystems and create abundant food supplies. The film illustrates how, by drawing down atmospheric carbon, many of humankind’s most pressing climate and environmental problems can be solved.
“I hope the movie increases awareness as to how and why all society should come together to work on the 80 percent of the things we can agree on such as loss of biodiversity, water quality and quantity issues, poor farm profitability, the decline of rural America, climate change and human health,” Brown said. “All of these issues and more can be addressed, at least partially, by regenerative ag.”
I really love that quote.
I started this column writing about how lucky I am to be relatively unharmed by most of the crises going on in the country.
I've got a couple sisters-in-law who haven’t been as lucky. Both are Iowa public schoolteachers. They’ve been dealing with the uncertainty of teaching during the pandemic, waiting almost endlessly for directions from the state and district officials on how to prepare. Will they be teaching remotely? How will it work? Will they be conducting socially distant classroom instruction? How will that work? Our governor mandated 50 percent of teaching must be performed face-to-face, in a classroom. For weeks, my sisters-in-law have been scrambling with their colleagues to develop plans that will keep them, their students and the students’ families safe, while also allowing them to teach.
They were just getting a handle on it, coming to terms with doing things differently and looking forward to returning this fall to the profession both love so much.
Then the derecho came.
They both had damage to their homes. One of them is still waiting for repairs to commence. The other will begin teaching several weeks late as every school building in the Cedar Rapids district suffered damage — some of them requiring extensive structural repairs.
All of this during a pandemic when they are trying to stay healthy so they can get back in the classrooms. There are a lot of heroes in this world. Some of them wear uniforms and carry firearms. Some have helmets and fire hoses. Others dress in scrubs with stethoscopes hanging from their necks. I am grateful and humbled by the sacrifice these and other heroes are making every day for the rest of us.
I am proud beyond words of my two sisters-in-law who, by the way, were at my home a couple days after the derecho, helping us cut up and clear the five giant fir trees that had fallen in our yard.
These two women, as well as their six sisters and one brother, were raised right.
As always, if you know of a person, farm, company or event you think we should be covering, either in the magazine or on the television program, let us know. If it is something you, a reader, is interested in, it would probably interest others as well. Shoot me an email at
or give me a ring. 319-362-3027