Women in Ag: Jennifer Dewey

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Women in Ag: Jennifer Dewey

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Last week we had the joy of our friend and resident UAS expert, Chad Colby of AgTechTalk, visit us here in nowhere's land North Dakota. And of course, he brought along his UAS or Unmanned Aerial Systems. Chad has always been a techie at heart and UAS have allowed Chad to merge his love of agriculture and technology. Chad has enjoyed speaking to growers and companies all over the country about Unmanned Aerial Systems and is one of the most respected and well-versed individuals in the field.


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One of the major reasons Chad has become so outspoken on the topic is simply due to the lack of knowledge there is out there on UAS. Chad presents the facts on his blog, AgTechTalk. He claims, as of right now, the facts are simple. "If an individual or company flies any unmanned aircraft for commercial use, it's against the law. Period. You can use an umanned aicraft for non-commercial or private use."


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More and more UAS is becoming the buzzword in Agriculture. We've attended several meetings already this fall with UAS demos and information. UAS is not only giving farmer's a unique look at their crops and livestock, they are also going to become a huge part of our economy, especially in Agriculture. The economic benefit  UAS in agriculture alone is estimated at adding 2 billion to our economy according to the Association for Unmanned Vehicles & Systems International report in March of 2013.


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Chad shares a short list of benefits of UAS on his website: 

  • Improved data collection about plants, soils & growing conditions.
  • Costs savings due to greater precision of inputs & reduced labor
  • Increased asset management
  • More timely decision making
  • Better ability to monitor plant and livestock health.

Whether or not you are on board with UAS, one thing is for sure, it gives farmers a whole new perspective. Luckily, while Chad was here we were just beginning soybean harvest. And thanks to UAS, we got to witness soybean harvest from the air. The images that came from the GoPro attached to the drone, as you can see, were pretty incredible. 


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For more information about UAS or attending one of Chad's classes, visit his site AgTechTalk or you can follow Chad on Twitter where he regularly shares photos and videos from his latest UAS outings. 



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Often times those of us blogging about agriculture get criticized for continuing the stigma of “romanticizing” the farm life. The truth is, sometimes we do romanticize farm life. Want to know why we do it? We do it because if you don’t find that shiny silver lining in the small things in farm life… well, your life would be pretty darn miserable from time to time.


Let me tell you something… those of you who are far removed from the farm life, the rural life, the ranch life… It is hard. Sometimes living the farm life hits you square in the gut, right where it hurts. Sometimes things happen that are like an ice pick straight to the heart.


Bad things happen.  It rains when you don’t want it to, it doesn’t rain when you want it to. The wind blows 100 mph when you don’t want it to breaking and snapping corn stalks. Mother Nature is unpredictable and relentless. She can yield cruel and devastating consequences for farmers and ranchers alike. Crops burn up, get flooded, are ruined in hail storms. If you raise animals, calves can die, cows can become injured, predators can kill animals. It can break a farmer's heart to pieces to experience the loss.


Equipment breaks down and much like your car, it is costly to fix. Even worse, equipment that is necessary to harvest crops catches fires and burns to the ground in the field.  With rising prices of land, high feed costs, and operating costs on a continual rise, farmers extend their credit with the bank well beyond what they can ever pay back. Some may even be forced to file bankruptcy.


Across the entire nation, on a day to day basis, you are bound to find some farmer out there having the day from hell.

So, we do what anyone else does… We find the silver lining. We find comic relief. You know those things where sometimes all you can do is laugh because if you don’t laugh, you will cry..? We have those moments too.

So what is the silver lining…?


The silver living is realizing the intricate beauties of the wide open spaces all around us.

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The silver lining is continuing on a family legacy and teaching our children the value of hard work and perseverance.

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The silver lining is realizing how far you have come from when you started with nothing.

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The silver lining is remembering the hard times you’ve been through, how you weathered it through, and this too shall pass.

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For some, maybe the silver lining is the fact you’ve got a forever partner by your side that together you share the same work, hope, and dreams.

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It’s the memories of those silver lining moments that remain forever engraved upon on brains. It’s the passion we have for those silver lining moments that get us out of bed in the morning and give us strength to face another day.


There are so many silver linings to be found in life on the farm.


What is your silver lining? 


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Throughout the year I have been sharing all about our flax crop here at Agriculture.com.


The time finally came to harvest our flax. You may recall on the last update, we talked about how to tell if the flax seed is mature. Seed is produced in what is called a boll or small round capsule. A full boll can have up to 10 seeds but typically averages around six to eight. Every bloom that is produced will become a boll with seeds. As the flax matures, it will turn from a green color to a yellow color. The seeds inside the bolls start white and as they mature turn brownish yellow. Flax is ususally deemed fully mature when 90 percent of the bolls turn brown and the stems turn yellow. 




We harvested our flax with a combine (or harvester) with a draper header. A draper header uses a soft canvas-style rolling platform belt (draper) to catch crop. The crop is conveyed on the belt from both ends of the header to the middle, where a third draper pushes it into the feeder house. Draper headers are an alternative to auger-style headers which typically use a large auger which feeds crop to the center where it will enter the combine’s feeder house.


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Draper headers have gained favor as a tool to harvest a wide range of crops over a variety of different terrains. I will say my husband and father-in-law are pretty sold on the versatility of this header. 


According to their various manufacturers, "they’re able to feed larger volumes of material evenly into combines, resulting in increased combine capacity and more acres harvested per day. And when the cut portion of the crop can be fed evenly into the combine, this also helps improve residue distribution, reduce grain losses and minimize wear and tear on belts and drivelines within the combine itself." 


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The flax yielded fairly well despite several growing challenges and some weather challenges. It was certainly exciting to bring a crop of the past back to the farm and I don't think any of us were more proud than Grandpa. At 88 years young, he delighted in seeing a crop he used to grow come back. I got the chance to sit in the tractor with him while he ran the grain cart as he told me stories about how he used to grow and harvest flax. 

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Flax is an important crop to North Dakota with nearly 95 percent of the nation's flax grown solely in the state. During recent years, the United States has been a net importer of flaxseed as the value and market for flaxseed as a healthy food continues to develop.  




As research continues to support flaxseed as a healthy choice for heart health as well as reduced cancer risk, it will be interesting to see if this trend continues and if more farms become interested in bringing flax back. At present, the only flax breeding and genetics program in the U.S. is at the North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station.  In fact, the program at NDSU is one of only three in the entire United States.


To read more about our season growing flax, visit these articles: 



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October is coming up and that means Halloween is right around the corner. Now I love Halloween. I love the pumpkins and the awesome decorations and the costumes. But you know what I don’t like? Being scared. I hate the fear that surrounds Halloween. I know some of you may enjoy walking around in a corn maze and re-enacting a scene from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But that ain’t for me. I like going into situations informed, knowing what could potentially happen. I don’t enjoy purposefully subjecting myself to being scared. And I am sure many of you don’t either.


So why on Earth is it any different when it comes to our food? Every single day in this country, we are bombarded with fear. It has become more and more apparent to me that sensationalism must sell. I mean how else are these people still making money hand over first? Celebrities across the board regularly use the most outlandish examples in order to feed this need for fear. AND PEOPLE EAT IT UP. Hook, line, and sinker. Need some examples?




Dr. Oz recently has been all over the news, internet, and television talking about this “new” herbicide put out by Dow called Enlist Duo. His latest example involves an illustration of how spraying pesticides works. In the example, he uses feathers blown by a fan. This blog by Weed Control Freaks does a great job of addressing the fact that hey, when we spray pesticides, it is NOT AT ALL like spraying feathers. It is calculated, it is precise, and when presented with the facts. It isn’t something that needs to be scary at all.




Jamie Oliver went on ABC two years ago and poured straight ammonia into ground beef and essentially told us “this is what your meat processor is doing”. We all know the story. From one sensationalized headline, close to 1,000 peoples lives were changed in an instant. They were laid off from their jobs and whole businesses were forced to close. And people are still cheering this as a win? Meat processing plants use ammonia hydroxide. It is a gas, not a liquid that is sometimes used in our foods in order to elevate the pH present. Elevating the pH does not allow bacteria to live and thrive on the surfaces of our food. In the meat industry, this step is called pathogen intervention. It’s one simple step our industry can take to DRAMATICALLY reduce harmful bacterias such as E. coli.




The Food Babe is another popular online sensation who regularly uses fear to bring her followers and readers closer. One week it is that Starbucks is giving us cancer through our Pumpkin Spiced Lattes while another week it is that our microwave is slowly killing us. While places like Time magazine have come back at us about how our pumpkin spiced lattes are nothing to fear. Look up the “chemical makeup” of an egg or a banana and tell me if you can pronounce everything in there. Our food themselves are made up all sorts of different compounds.


The worst part about this whole thing is that the people we apparently trust are KNOWINGLY feeding us this fear. Recently Dr. Oz sat in front of a congressional panel, Senator Claire McCaskill “I don’t get why you need to say this stuff because you know its not true.” And Dr. Oz even ADMITS to lying. Even pop-culture outlets like Buzzfeed were reporting “Oz many times acknowledged products he told viewers to use are not scientifically supported and don’t have the research to be presented as fact.”


If you Google Food Babe scam, you will find DOZENS of articles calling out the Food Babe, who is a computer scientist by the way, about her regular fear instilling tactics all to make a buck off of her “army”. After the recent pumpkin spiced latte predicament, Kantha Shelke, a food scientist with a background in organic chemistry and spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists had this to say regarding the Food Babe, “This conversation about chemicals in food requires a certain amount of responsibility, which I think some of these elitist writers and bloggers and speakers have somehow forgotten. I think it’s very irresponsible to be ignorant to such a level as to lead others astray and tell them to eat chemical-free food. After all, water and salt are chemicals.”


I may not have a Dr. in front of my name, I don’t regularly get to appear on ABC, and I may not have the hundreds of thousands of followers that the Food Babe does. But I can type into Google something that I hear on the television or the radio and I can find out that spraying chemicals is not anything like blowing feathers with a fan. I can find out what exactly is in my pumpkin spiced latte. How come I can do this stuff but we continually let these Dr. Oz and Food Babes of our society get away with such irresponsible behavior?


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Now I know you may have be one to fall prey to these fears. I get it. I fully well know you are simply trying to do what is right and what is absolutely best for your family. But let me just put something out there. One statistic for you. 100 percent of people die. 100 percent. There will come a time and a day where we will all be gone. And let me tell you, it isn’t going to be because of my pumpkin spiced latte or because I cooked my entire life with my nonstick cookware.


Life is busy, it is complicated. We are bombarded with all these mixed messages about our diet and what’s healthy and what’s not healthy. But just in case no one has ever told you before.. it’s okay to once in a while cook food that comes from a box. It’s okay to enjoy your pumpkin spiced latte once in a while. It’s totally okay to use your microwave to heat your kids a meal because you’ve been at work all day long. IT IS OKAY. Moderation is the key to life. Not fear. Let’s not make our already complicated lives even more complicated by buying into this fear. Let’s not work ourselves to death by trying to avoid the next big scare. Let’s give up this fear addiction. That may mean staying off the internet, not engaging on social media for one day a week, or shutting off the television once in a while. Set yourself free of this fear that seems to plague our society. Let’s remind ourselves that moderation is okay. Setting ourselves free of this fear does one thing… It lets us enjoy the things in life that really matter.

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Since I shared the article several weeks ago about Why I Choose to Eat Gluten, my eyes have been opened to how truly vilified wheat has become. As I shared in that post, I believe as people living in a state that relies on wheat production, it is important we too become advocates for wheat and wheat products.


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In conclusion of wheat harvest, I will be sharing wheat related posts on my social media channels for the next week. I plan on using these images to share some fun facts about wheat., much like the one you see above. You can find these by following me at Prairie Californian on Facebook or finding my handle on Twitter, @PrairieCA all next week. I hope you will share these so that we can put a positive message behind the wheat we grow, instead of the message in books like Wheat Belly


Today I wanted to share some images from our wheat harvest. There is something truly magical about wheat. Spend the evening watching the sun go down over a wheat field as it dances in the wild and you will find yourself falling in love.


Some producers are still finishing up as we experienced rain delays for nearly three weeks. We finished our harvest a little less than two weeks ago. And we wouldn't have gotten done with such speed without the extra help we received from family and friends. Yields on our wheat were good, but the rain delays reduced the quality of our wheat crop. 


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Being an advocate for agriculture, I regularly get into conversations about the current state we find ourselves in right now. The new wave of marketing our food and re-gaining trust in our food system is through encouraging farmers and ranchers to get involved in the conversation. Even people outside of agriculture are pushing for this new wave, as they realize there is a gap between how and where our food is produced and they believe farmer’s faces should fill that gap.




If you look back at our ads in the 40’s and 50’s in this country, it was all about brands. People believed in brands, they supported brands. Often times you didn’t even have to show the product in an ad, as long as it contained the brand name, people knew the brand delivered. People knew the brand meant quality, consistency, trust, and a delicious product.


Today, we keep seeing over and over headlines about our “broken” food system, about how the public’s distrust in our food system increases, and every week a new headline comes out which threatens that trust even more.


The public is buying into and believing celebrities over the people who grow and produce our food, those brands which we used to trust are now labeled as “Big Ag”, foods that don’t come locally are deemed as “unsustainable” and “unhealthy”, and people are believing all sorts of lies without any sort of scientific consensus behind them.



And who is expected to fill the gap and pick up the pieces? The farmers. Suddenly the farmers and ranchers are propelled into the spotlight and expected to change the face of our food. Certainly many have stepped up to the challenge and are making big differences in these conversations. Some are just now joining the table. And others are still trying to figure out what the heck social media does.


HOW did we get here? What happened? And will we ever get back to a place where we trust our food companies?


I don’t know. I don’t have the answers. But what I do know is that as this distrust grows, our food system gets safer and safer. Will we ever see a world where our food is 100 percent risk free? No.


But if you really look at the numbers, the food we eat is pretty darn safe. Let’s do some math. The U.S. census bureau reported that in 2010 the population of the U.S. stood at about 308 million. That’s a lot of people. Now you figure, 308 million people eat an average of two meals a day, some three a day but for simplicity’s sake, two meals a day. That is 616 million meals eaten every single day, which equals out to around 225 billion meals consumed in the United States each year. Now out of those 225 billion meals consumed, according to the CDC annual’s estimates, about 48 million illnesses result from food born pathogens, only 127,839 are hospitalized, and only 3,037 deaths each year. Now put that into perspective, I’d have to say that our food is pretty darn safe, wouldn’t you?


Do I want our food system to go back to the way it was in the 1940’s? No. I am proud of the scientific and technological steps we have made to make our food system the best it can be. I am proud of the fact we are taking steps towards transparency in how our food is raised and produced. But in order to fix this distrust and restore our “broken” food system, it’s going to take all of us. And it’s also going to take a little faith: faith in the people who work hard to produce your food from the farmers to the food companies and the distributors.


Let’s start by doing them a favor, rather than putting the blame on them, let’s start a conversation. Let’s stop the mud slinging and using buzzwords like “big ag”, “factory farm”, and “sustainable”. Let’s open our minds to a different perspective and celebrate the fact we have a choice in the food we purchase at the grocery store. Let’s start asking questions rather than making assumptions or believing the next news article you see on your screen. Let’s start digging deeper and I hope that once you start digging deeper, you will re-connect with the beauty that we once had in our food system. You will see that our food system here in the U.S. is pretty dang incredible compared to what it was in the 1940’s. And honestly, at the end of the day, we are plain lucky to be putting food on our table.



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I've written before on my own personal blog, Prairie Californian.com, about this gluten free craze. Gluten has been under attack. Gluten free has now become one of those buzzwords. People hear gluten free and think it’s the newest healthy thing they can do for themselves. I fully acknowledge and understand that some people suffer from celiacs or intolerances to gluten, but I think as the marketing shows, we've taken gluten free a little too far. 


I talk more about what gluten free really means over on my blog. Here I want to talk about four reasons why I choose gluten in my diet. For me, gluten equals wheat. Wheat is one of the four crops we grow on our farm. Wheat works well in our rotation because it is a short season cool grass that does extremely well in our area if met with favorable conditions. Wheat harvest is in full swing this week, so this week, it's all about wheat. Here is why: 


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I support choice.


I support a choice NOT to eat gluten, but I also support a choice TO eat gluten. Or wheat products. I don't believe in vilifying one particular product in our vast food supply. We are very fortunate to have an abundance of choices at our fingertips, whether it be gluten free products or choosing a whole grain product. So many across the globe and even in this country, aren't as fortunate.


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I support crops we grow.


I've talked a lot about our the four crops we grow. Wheat, corn, soybeans, and sunflowers and when I step into the grocery store, I vote with my dollar. I purchase products that we grow here on our farm. I enjoy things like sunflower butter (Sun Butter), sunflower seeds, Dakota Maid flour, breads, corn and soy products. I believe as farmers of the actual product, it is important we actually put our money where our mouth is and support those products we put so much time and hard work into producing. 


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I appreciate the hard work. 


Everyone on our farm works hard. Harvest started this week and my husband and my in-law family have been working long hours to get the wheat cut before we receive more rain. Wheat harvest has been delayed this year due to an abundance of rain in August. Every year is different. Some years we don't get enough rain, some years we get too much. We are thankful to have a beautiful wheat crop this year. But it doesn't just happen like magic. It takes time to plant it all, it takes effort to keep our fields free of weeds and disease, and finally, it takes a whole lot of time and effort to harvest all that wheat and eventually haul it to the elevator. I appreciate the hard work that my own family does, so in turn, I buy wheat products. 



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Wheat is an important crop for our state.


According to the North Dakota Wheat Council, Agriculture is the leading revenue-producing industry in North Dakota with wheat being North Dakota's chief agricultural commodity. North Dakota typically ranks second to Kansas in total wheat production.. North Dakota was the top wheat producing state in 2009 and 2010.
North Dakota is number one in the production of hard red spring and durum. On average, the farmers here grow nearly half of the nation's hard red spring wheat and two-thirds of the durum. Plain and simple, a strong wheat industry is very important to the viability of North Dakota. If corn and soybeans ever fail us, we always have wheat to fall back onto. 



Image Courtesy Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, NDSU Library 


Wheat has an important legacy and history here. 

Wheat is a crop we have grown since grandpa was farming. It is a traditional crop for North Dakota here. In fact, for many years, Eureka, South Dakota (which is 30 miles to the south of us) was known as the "wheat capital of the world". It became the funnel into which the wheat fields of the Dakotas emptied. In 1892, when it was the largest primary wheat-shipping point in the world, Eureka was crowded day and night with horses an wagons loaded with sacks of grain. Farmers hauled their wheat, often by ox team, from 75 miles around.  Eureka boasted 42 grain elevators handling 4,000,000 bushels a year. Eureka became the Milwaukee's most profitable station, with earnings of $100,000 a month. Today when you drive into Eureka, the sign still states "wheat capital of the world". Wheat has been and will continue to be a Dakota staple. 


What Crops are Important in Your Area? 

As a consumer, it is important to be aware of what agricultural crops are staples for your area or state. And to ensure that the food choices you are making are indeed supporting those around you. I hope you spend some time Googling what crops are staples in your area and learning more about what makes those crops in your back yard important. 

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So I shared a while back about how we are growing a new crop on the farm... a crop of the past! Flax! And I am sure you all remember when I shared about standing in the ocean... The ocean of flax blooms. In case you missed it, let me remind you of the beauty... 

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Last time we left off on the flax journey... we talked about why we grow flax, what flax is used for, and the history of flax grown across the globe. This update, I would like to talk about how flax grows. 


So how does flax grow? 

Flax is an annual plant that has one main stem. Flax usually grows to a height of about 24 to 36 inches with a tap root that can penetrate to 40 inches if growing conditions are favorable. Flax requires a 50 day vegetative period, 25 day flowering period, and about 35 days to mature. 


Flax is a self-pollinated crop. Individual flowers open the first few hours after sunrise on clear, warm days, and by noon usually the petals will close up. Most varieties will have blue petals but petals may also be different shades of white, purple, or even pink. Once the plants are done blooming, the blooms will fall off and bolls will form. 


Seed is produced in what is called a boll or small round capsule. A full boll can have up to 10 seeds but typically averages around six to eight. Every bloom that is produced will become a boll with seeds. As the flax matures, it will turn from a green color to a yellow color. The seeds inside the bolls start white and as they mature turn brownish yellow. Flax is ususally deemed fully mature when 90 percent of the bolls turn brown and the stems turn yellow. 

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Where Can Flax Be Grown?

Flax does best grown on the same type of land that grows wheat or barley. Poorly drained soils, drought soils, and soils with lots of erosion should be avoided for growing flax. Flax fits well into a small grains rotation and should not be planted more than a one in three year rotation.


The North Central area also has moderate summer temperatures and rainfall which is sufficient flax. Flax yields tend to decrease as precipitation diminishes. Adequate moisture and relatively cool temperatures, particularly during the period from flowering to maturity, seem to increase oil content and quality in flaxseed. 


Our flax is just starting to turn or ripen. The seeds are starting to turn color from white and the stems are starting to turn yellow. Here's what it looks like now! Our next update will be all about harvest! Stay tuned! 


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It's August. We should be combining wheat, but we aren't yet. We started the year out praying it stopped raining and now we've been praying for rain the last couple weeks. We finally got some, we got lucky. Sunflowers are just starting to bloom. It should be another week or so before they are full yellow. Corn is just set to pollinate, you can smell it. Soybeans have still got a long way to go...


It's just another year, farming. And this is just a crop update... At least the pictures are pretty, right? 

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Growing crops is a lot like life. We get so caught up in the NOW. We need rain, we don't need rain, we need sunshine, the crops look good, the crops look bad. 


We go look at them multiple times a week. Always checking, always tracking where they are right now. But once they get out of the ground and have started on a path towards maturity, we often forget how far they've come. We forget the little miracles that were once seeds, seedlings, and how much growth we've experienced in between. 


So today, in the spirit of celebrating where you are right now and where you are going... Don't forget to take a look back on how far you've come. The sometimes seemingly slow progress you've made towards a goal in your life is important. The sometimes endless struggle towards the finish of something in your life is important. 


I hope you look back feeling empowered and full of pride of the things you've accomplished. Much like these crops have grown and still have a long way to go, so do our lives. We are forever growing, changing, and maturing... But we've already come so far. 


Progress is important so enjoy the journey.


And once in a while, take a look back.


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