Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Recapping our family trip to Nashville

My wife, kids, and I made our first family trip up to Nashville last week. It wasn't really a vacation in a classic sense (I was there for a conference), but we had a good time over the two and a half days we were in town. 

After settling into our downtown hotel room late Thursday afternoon, we made the short walk over to Nissan Stadium to attend Nashville SC's match again Atlanta United. For all the soccer my son and I watch on television, it was our family's first time to attend a professional soccer match. We. Had. A. Blast! NSC had to settle for a 2-2 draw after two of their goals were disallowed, but we had too much fun to care about the result.

Friday's conference agenda called for a morning meeting and evening dinner, leaving us with a free afternoon. We ventured to The Row Kitchen & Pub on Lyle Avenue for lunch where we all ordered the Nashville Hot Chicken. It did not disappoint. From there we made the short drive over to Centennial Park and spent an hour touring the Parthenon. After returning to our hotel, we walked a few blocks to get ice cream and cookies at Mattheessen's.

We enjoyed a late lunch Saturday afternoon at Puckett's Grocery & Restaurant on Church Street. The Country Music Hall of Fame was next on our agenda, and I really enjoyed all the different exhibits that walked you through the origins and evolution of country music. After returning to the hotel room for a nap that we all needed, we finished the day eating supper at a little place in the Germantown district called Jack Brown's Beer & Burger Joint. If you ever find yourself there, you can't go wrong with the Dr. Gonzo burger and sweet potato fries.

One day I'd like to go back to Nashville and take in more of the live music scene with my wife, but I'm thankful for the quality time the four of us spent together this past week.

The Parthenon at Centennial Park, Nashville

we enjoyed watching Nashville SC play at Nissan Stadium

inside the rotunda at the Country Music Hall of Fame

the Dr. Gonzo burger at Jack Brown's

life's better with ice cream

Monday, July 5, 2021

A hidden cost of rural broadband

Back in January '09, I was creeping down the information superhighway at 28.8kbps before "upgrading" to 1.5Mbps DSL in 2010. Over a decade later, in late April of this year, our local electric cooperative's Freedom Fiber broadband venture finally made it to our farm in all of its 100Mbps glory. And we could get up to a Gig if we needed it.


Unfortunately though, we have discovered a hidden cost of having rural broadband on the farm.

Because our fiber network has been installed by our electric co-op, the lines are suspended beneath existing electrical lines rather than buried. That's not really a problem until they run too low across your fields.

A couple of tractors pulling hay equipment confirmed today what our eyes have been telling us for the past several weeks: there are two fiber lines crossing one of our hay fields that aren't high enough for all of our equipment to pass under. Thankfully, the equipment we had in the field today did just clear the lines, but we'll be out of luck if something doesn't change by the time Spring silage harvest rolls around.

these fiber internet lines are a few feet higher than my truck...but only a few inches higher than a tractor

The good thing about these lines belonging to our local electrical co-op rather than a big national company is that they'll work with you to solve the problem. I reached out to them this afternoon and have been told a crew will be coming to look at options within the next few days. Hopefully we can find a solution that doesn't involve having a pole sunk in the middle of the field, but we can deal with it if that's what it takes. Losing a few square yards of  hay or silage production around a utility pole is much better than losing a ten-foot swath the whole width of the field due to low hanging lines, and it's a price worth paying if that's what it takes to keep the broadband we've waited so long for.

UPDATE: The problem was fixed (without adding a pole!) less than 24 hours after I reported it. As I mentioned, that’s the benefit of doing business with a local company.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Kayaking on Bear Creek

I loaded my kids and kayak in the truck after finishing the early morning farm chores Saturday and made the hour-long drive up to Bear Creek Canoe Run outfitters in Hackleburg. We had an 8:30am reservation to rent two kayaks and have them shuttle us to the Mill Creek ramp on Bear Creek near the intersection of state highways 172 and 241. We spent the next four hours paddling and floating down the creek and having a grand old time enjoying both light rapids and smooth, slow moving water. 

This was my fourth time to float down Bear Creek. The first was in the summer of 2015 when a group from our church went down in canoes. Once was enough for my wife, but my son and I really enjoyed it. The two of us have made it an annual trip each summer since 2019 and included my daughter for the first time this year. She loved it and is already looking forward to the next opportunity to make the run.

If you are looking for a place to canoe or kayak in northwest Alabama, this section of Bear Creek is definitely worth considering. As I said, we put in at Mill Creek and spent four hours on the water until BCCR picked us up at Rock Quarry Branch off of Hwy 172 some 6-7 miles downstream. Most of the rapids are on the first half of the run before Factory Falls (a mandatory portage point), and there are long stretches past the falls that are so calm I nearly dozed off while drifting downstream. The scenery is gorgeous throughout. The creek runs through private property so you can't get out and venture beyond the stream bed, but there are a few small sandbars you can moor against if you need to stretch your legs or jump in for a swim. BCCR is the only rental and shuttle service in the area, but you can DIY the trip if you and your family/friends have your own boats and can self-shuttle. You can get more information about conditions and access points here and here.

What are your favorite spots to kayak, canoe, or float in northwest Alabama? Do you know of good stretches of the Buttahatchee or Luxapalila with good access points in and out? Let me hear from you!

Friday, July 2, 2021

An early July farm update

Hey, folks! The calendar has turned from June to July, the humidity seems to ratchet up by the day, and we are in full-blown "Summertime Mode" on the farm. Let me take a moment to share with you where we stand on our dairy herd and forage crops.

We currently have 160 cows in our milking herd after drying off 14 cows at the beginning of this week. We should hold there for a couple of weeks before we dry off any more, and then we'll start freshening a few toward the end of the month. I haven't checked the weekly "dry offs vs calvings" projections to see where we'll bottom out numbers-wise, but I would image around 135 sometime between late August and mid-September. But speaking of bottoming out, milk production has really started its annual summer slide. We could be getting a little more out of the cows, but when you take the high cost of feed and relatively low price for milk into account we're economically better off not pushing them to their highest production potential right now.

On the forage side, we have planted all of our acreage save for our bottomland which is still too wet to do anything with. Silage corn went into the ground a good month later than I had hoped for on account of wet conditions in late April through May, but we got it in and up and fertilized and sprayed. I've spent the past week drilling 100 acres worth of sorghum-sudangrass (sudex), the first of which has already started to emerge. If all goes as planned, we'll cut and chop it all before we begin chopping corn and then harvest it a second time as hay or baleage (and may graze some of it). We aren't planning to hay quite as much bermudagrass this year, but we are in-between the first and second full cutting on our best hay fields. 

Well, it looks like my lunch break is about over and it's time to head back to the dairy. I'll leave y'all with a few recent photos I've taken around the farm. Have a good'un!

drone shot taken from the southwest corner of the farm

drone shot taken at sunset after a rain (dairy barn on right)

good ol' Ms Nosey is still hanging around

our sorghum-sudangrass has started to emerge and will be a key part of our forage program this year

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

In farming and faith, you gotta kill the weeds for the crop to thrive

 A note of readers: I didn't expect to break a ten-month blogging absence by writing about denominational issues, but here we are. You've been warned!

After what seemed like 73 different rain storms kept our farm super-saturated throughout the course of last week, the ground has finally dried up enough to get back into the fields. So, I spent most of my morning preparing spraying equipment and my afternoon applying herbicide to kill the weeds where I'll plant sorghum-sudangrass in a few days. Usually on days such as today I'll pop my earbuds in and switch back and forth between podcast episodes and 90s music, but today was different. The choice du jour: the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting.

Why in the world would I voluntarily listen to a denominational business meeting while I'm working? And why would I continue listening for nearly two hours after I came home?

One thing you should know about me is that I'm a bit of an "organizational nerd." Nope, strike that, I'm a BIG organizational nerd. Discussion of bylaws and resolutions and policy proposals bore many people to tears, but I weirdly enjoy the sausage being made. Granted, some of what I heard today induced a fair amount of eye-rolling, but I appreciate the process. But there was more at stake today for my denominational affiliation than just the process in and of itself.  I'm not going to get into specific issues because there are many others who can explain them far better than I. I'll just say there were a number of questions that needed to be asked and issues that need to be raised, and quite frankly it turned out to be a bit of a mixed bag from my perspective. Some decisions I agreed with, some I disagreed with, and some issues were kicked down the road to be dealt with at a later date. Such is the nature of business at any large membership meeting. But I'm grateful I had the opportunity to listen in real-time as some 14,000 "messengers" discerned how best to advance the gospel in cooperation together without it devolving into a circus. You wouldn't have thought that was possible by reading "Baptist Twitter" over the past couple of months! 

(A quick side note: some of you pastors are awesome follows on social media, but a few of you need to take off the eyepatch...err, blinders...and realize you come across like you don't have an ounce of grace about you. Stand firm in your convictions but be more kind to others because your public witness impacts both our collective witness and that of the flock you've been entrusted to shepherd.)

Revisiting the original question of why I would spend so much of my day listening to all this, it goes beyond my stated nerdery and enjoyment of the process. 

I'm the most junior deacon in a small, rural church. My pastor and several deacons ahead of me would have to pass on the opportunity before I would find myself voting at an SBC meeting on behalf of our church. Even as I studied up on the issues over the past few months I knew I would neither have a vote nor be in a position to influence anyone who would. And whatever decisions were or were not made at the meeting likely would have a negligible effect on how our church goes about our daily ministry. But I firmly believe it's important to know what's going on in the organizations you belong to, especially faith organizations, so you can make informed decisions when/if you are called upon. I might never be asked to speak on behalf of my church family in matters of denominational policy or in the public sphere, but I need to be ready just in case. 

my family and I are members of Fellowship Baptist Church outside Vernon,
where I serve as a deacon and Sunday School director

And let me close with this. I heard two outstanding messages in between the motions and debates and votes. Outgoing SBC president JD Greear gave what I thought was a phenomenal address warning us to get our house in order and not allow the leaven of the Pharisees to thwart the spread of the Gospel...same principle as spraying weeds so the crop will produce a greater harvest. Also, Ronnie Floyd's presentation of the Vision 2025 initiative had me stopping my tractor long enough to sign up for the prayer team.

Yes, the annual meeting has its share of both serious discussion and petty squabbles, but more than anything it highlights how much we accomplish for the Kingdom by working together and just how much work there is yet to do. And now it's my job to pray, to give, and to serve within my local church until everyone from Vernon to Veracruz to Vung Tau have heard the Gospel. It's time to kill the weeds so the crop can thrive.

Tomorrow I'll be back in the field spraying weeds, and sooner or later I'll be back with a standard "here's what's happening on the farm" blog post. 

Thanks for reading, and God bless!