Bella’s Market and Chicken Zoning

Yesterday I went to Bella’s Market in Limon to do some grocery shopping.

You may remember that Bella’s Market was a chain of eight grocery stores in Eastern Colorado.  Bella’s Market has been failing the communities they serve for years.  The stores had empty shelves and just about no groceries.  Last week they closed three stores.   Perhaps that’s not a big deal because they hardly had any groceries anyway.

I decided to check out Bella’s Market and share some of the pictures with you here, as if you were there, too.


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IMG_0220You can see Bella’s Market is just about empty and devoid of the main perishables- meat, dairy and produce.  It’s shameful.

I’ve already talked about how it’s ironic that Eastern Colorado is a food desert that’s surrounded by farms and that even though Bella’s Market has failed the residents, the farmers have also failed them.  I’ve even gone into details on how Bella’s Market has disproportionately failed the poor of these areas.

I’d like to get on my retail high horse and talk about PDQ’s and top stock.  As you may remember, I worked all of my adult life before children in retail management.  I am a merchandising expert.  PDQ stands for pretty darn quick.  PDQ’s are complete displayers filled with product. They are typically made of cardboard and placed in high traffic areas to facilitate impulse buying and add-on sales.  The stocker simply takes the PDQ out of the box, sets it up and Viola! that merchandise is stocked and displayed pretty darn quickly, hence the name PDQ.  On the right side of the picture above, you can see an example of a PDQ.  While walking through Bella’s I saw several such PDQ’s.  Many were half empty, too.  PDQ’s are not a necessary integral part of the store.  If Bella’s Market wanted to give the illusion that they were stocked, even if it was a facade, they should have gotten rid of all the PDQ’s and worked that merchandise into the aisles.

My next Retail 101 lesson involves topstock.  Topstock is defined as extra merchandise stored visibly on the top of the store level shelves.  Topstock would require an employee on a ladder to safely reach it and bring it down for the customer.  An empty store like Bella’s should not have top stock, which they do all over.  Working the topstock in to the shoppable levels of the store would only facilitate the illusion that Bella’s Market was slightly fuller than it was and wouldn’t do a thing to stock Bella’s with perishable merchandise so desperately needed in the food desert.  Bringing topstock down to shoppable heights would look better and perhaps generate a little bit of sales. Working PDQ’s and top stock into the regular aisles would be a bandaid to mask the problem, but it would have been worth a try.

The Bella’s Market locations in Limon and Stratton have closed now, too.  They were purchased by a grocer in a neighboring town.  Hopefully, the new grocer will serve these community members well.  There still remains the unknown plight of the other Bella’s Market locations and the food desert left in those areas that Bella’s Markets had served.  I hope that better grocers will come to those towns, too.

Going up and down the aisles of Bella’s Market, I saw a only a few dozen eggs and not one piece of poultry for sale.  Some Limon residents, after being dissatisfied with Bella’s Market failing to meet their grocery needs, thought it might be a good idea to raise their own chickens, to eliminate the need to rely on a grocer.  The problem? Chickens are illegal within the city limits of Limon.  Limon is a small little town in rural Eastern Colorado.  Limon is surrounded by farms.  We’re not talking Manhattan, we’re talking Limon, a small town surrounded by square miles of open acreage.  Yet chickens are illegal in Limon.  I have been following the controversy in the local paper for months.  The town officials are unyielding.

No one has connected the dots.  I’ll connect them for you, Limon town lawmakers.
1. Bella’s Market is a disgrace.  While we wish the new owners of the new supermarket in the former Bella’s location every success, there is a possibility that the new store may run into problems, too.  Any store can, even if it was Wal-mart moving in.
2.  We are too dependent on the food distribution system.  We in Lincoln County are surrounded by farms, yet Bella’s Market looked the way it did.
3.  When people try to provide for themselves and bypass the whole system, it is illegal.  Your residents want to take steps to eliminate the need for a supermarket, or at least the need to buy eggs from a supermarket.  Your law has created a roadblock.

 

Not in Limon

Not in Limon

On the other end of town, there is a bright spot, the Limon Community Garden, where the local residents are growing fresh vegetables for themselves. These gardeners do not have to rely on Bella’s Market or long trips to Denver to meet their produce needs.  I suppose Limon will make gardening illegal, too.

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Posted in The Irony of a Food Desert Surrounded by Farms by with 5 comments.

Bella’s Market and the Rural American Food Desert

You may have heard the big news that Bella’s Market, a chain of eight small grocery stores on the Eastern Prairie of Colorado has closed three of its stores.  This story, first of the empty store shelves and now of the closings, has made all the Denver news outlets.  I am going to weigh in on this, well, because I have all of those Jersey girl opinions.

The closest Bella’s Market to me is the one in Limon, Colorado.  I remember distinctly the last time I was there- it was well over a year ago.  The store shelves were empty then.  The product was front-faced (retail-speak for pulled forward) and spread out to make the store look full.  And that was then.  I hear it has only gotten worse.

In the town of Hugo, Colorado, just 13 miles down the road from Limon, there is an independent supermarket called Osborne’s Supermarket.  Osborne’s is a generational family business.  That family has rural supermarket management in their blood. They do an excellent job.  They are the third generation.  Osborne’s is what it is- it is a small supermarket in a small town.  They’ll never be Wegman’s.  But they carry A LOT of stuff considering that, and even run some decent sales sometimes.  Their prices are not competitive with Sam’s Club, but perhaps nearly the same prices as a “fancy” supermarket chain, maybe like Safeway.  I would like to support their business more than I do, but honestly, their prices are almost double the price of Sam’s.  I am grateful that they are there for me.  I am grateful for the service they provide to this community.  I am grateful that when I do need something in a pinch, they are there for me, and there for me with smiles and great customer service, too.

osbornesaisle

The aisles of Osborne’s Supermarket are always clean and bright and fully stocked.

The Colorado communities of Akron, Gypsum, Haxton, Limon, Stratton, Walden, Wellington, and Wiggins are not as lucky as the folks in Hugo.  These are the 8 communities served by Bella’s Market.  And now Akron, Wiggins and Walden have absolutely no supermarket since Bella’s closed.  They are all small little towns in small little rural farming communities.

I don’t pretend to know what goes into managing a supermarket in a rural community.  I do know that the fine people from Osborne’s have it down to a science and the owner of Bella’s has failed.  Before becoming a wife and mother, I worked all of my adult life in retail management, so I know far more about running a store than your average Joe.  If I had the funds or desire, I still would not know how to operate a supermarket in one of these rural towns.  I’m sure that there are nuances beyond nuances about it.

A food desert is a geographic area where affordable and nutritious food is difficult to obtain.  These communities in Eastern Colorado are textbook definitions of food deserts, yet they are surrounded by farms.

Bella’s Market was so bad that if any halfway decent grocer had come to any of those towns, the new grocer would have the majority of the community’s food dollar.  But no new grocer has come.

Years ago, before kids and Colorado, I sat in on a meeting of my employer’s real estate department.  The company was expanding. They were considering opening additional stores in certain locations.  They had tables, tables of the population amounts within certain radii of the proposed location.  The population data, which had come from the census bureau, was the principle deciding factor of where they would put additional locations.  If other companies use similar criteria, than of course no chain supermarket will ever move to these areas.

I predict that the other five Bella’s Market locations will close shortly.  They may never be replaced.  No other grocer has moved into these towns yet and Bella’s has been failing for years. And years.

The food desert keeps the poor poorer.  I can live fine without Bella’s Market, but others aren’t so lucky.  I’m going to explain why the Bella’s Market chain closing is bad news for the poor of Eastern Colorado in particular.
The poor do not have access to the grocery delivery alternatives.  Grocery Express is a company that delivers groceries from Sam’s Club, Wal-mart and King Soopers to some of these Eastern Colorado areas.  Many groceries are available from Amazon and even Wal-mart will now deliver non-perishable groceries free (with a minimum $50 purchase).  Online places don’t take food stamps or WIC checks.  That eliminates the poor’s valuable access to these needed groceries.    The poor are also less likely to be able to order online because many have no credit cards to use to order online.  Not all companies take prepaid cards online.  And even if a company did, the card fees add another expense. (Updated 8/14/14 to reflect that Grocery Express does take food stamp cards.)
The poor may not have a suitable vehicle or any vehicle at all.  There is a difference between having a car that could drive 100 miles each way to the Wal-mart Supercenter and one that you can just take around town.  The poor are the ones who may not be able to afford road trip worthy vehicles.
Even if the poor have a suitable vehicle, do they have the gas money? Even traveling the 13 miles from Limon to Hugo, can they afford that gas, each way?
Living paycheck to paycheck makes stocking up difficult. How can the poor afford to stock up on certain groceries when it’s just not in the budget?  They have to shop more often.  This means more grocery road trips than those who can afford to buy a month or two of groceries at once.
Being stuck in that small little town means having to shop other places. In Limon, for example, besides Bella’s Market, there are a few stores which carry a handful of groceries: ALCO, Dollar General, Loaf’N’Jug and the truck stops.  Besides the latter two being very expensive, none of these places offer very healthy food.  Processed garbage is the only type of groceries that the poor will have access to.

Eastern Colorado is pretty much all farms.  Lincoln County, for example, is bigger than the state of Delaware.  We have about 5000 non-inmate people living in the whole county.  There are a few little towns: Arriba, Genoa, Hugo, Karval and Limon.  About half of the population of Lincoln County is concentrated in the maybe six combined square miles of towns.  The other around 2500 people are spread out, spread out over the farmland.  We have a lot of farms.  A lot of farms which are several-square-miles-big.  How can we be food desert when we are surrounded by farms?  How come I can’t sell meat or wheat to my neighbor?  Why don’t we have orchards or vegetables grown locally?  I know water is scarce, but maybe we can use roof runoff or something.  We shouldn’t be looking for salvation by a supermarket.  We should be able to take care of ourselves as a farming community.  We don’t.  This is so ironic. And sad.  We farmers are no better than the owners of Bella’s Market.  We’ve failed, too.

So what is the solution?  I think we have to look two models and learn from them both: Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and Osborne’s Supermarket.

You may remember that I have written about Lancaster County, Pennsylvania before.  Located in central Pennsylvania, Lancaster County is abound with farmers markets, stores and roadside stands that feature produce, yummy cheeses, jams, pies and such other unique fare. I bet they could get by just about fine without a supermarket, or close to fine at least.  We farmers should imitate them.  This will take generations.

I mentioned Osborne’s Supermarket above.  Osborne’s is the small grocery store in the small town of Hugo.  For a little supermarket, they have a wonderful selection.  They have decent sales and OK prices.  They provide jobs to many town residents.  They can order a lot of items that they don’t stock on the shelf.  Osborne’s has wonderful customer service.  Their store is clean and bright.  They participate in community activities.  Their business seems to always be busy.  They seem proof that successfully running a supermarket in a rural community can be done.  The communities that Bella’s Market served (except Limon) are far enough away from Osborne’s to not be a competitor.  Any potential grocer who is considering serving some of the communities should look to Osborne’s Supermarket as a model.

(I put a chick over my children's names.) My children's artwork hangs on the ceiling of Osborne's Supermarket.

(I put a chick over my children’s names.)
This is a ceiling tile.  My children’s artwork hangs on the ceiling of Osborne’s Supermarket.

I honestly don’t know what the ultimate solution is.  I don’t have the desire (or funds or gumption or skill set) to open up my own supermarket in one of those towns.  If it was an easy proposition, someone would have done it already.  Bella’s Market has failed the communities.  But whose job is it to serve those communities with groceries?


Posted in The Irony of a Food Desert Surrounded by Farms by with 8 comments.

Going Shopping With Kids: Part Two, My Strategies For Going Shopping With Kids

childrenlowes

You may remember that I on Sunday I shared with you how I avoid going shopping with kids.   Now that you see how the amount of shopping that I need to do is greatly reduced from most Americans, I will now share with you some of my strategies for when I actually do have to shop.

When I shop locally, I call ahead and people bring the items out.  There are less than 5000 non-inmate people in my county and my family is 7 of those.  We stick out.  People know us.
The conversation goes something like this:
“Thank you for calling [insert local business name here].”
“Hi, [insert name of shopowner or worker who has probably known my husband since he was two].  This is Laura [my last name].  I need [a widget].  I have all the kids with me.  I’ll be by in about 15 minutes, but I don’t want to bring all the kids in with me.  They”ll destroy your store.  Is there any way you can bring that out for me?”
“Sure, Laura, I’ll look out for you.  Do you have the minivan today?”
“Yes, I do.”
“OK.  I’ll see you then.”
They watch out for me and bring the item out for me.  This works great for the hardware store, the auto parts store, the pharmacy, even the tractor dealer.  I give them a check.  This is a perfect system because I get the needed item and I don’t bring my kids in and they don’t get kidnapped.

I shop at Sam’s Club.  We are a Sam’s-Club-sized family.  I buy laundry and dishwasher detergents, oatmeal, baking supplies, etc., at Sam’s.  The main reason that I shop at Sam’s and not Costco is because Sam’s has a service called Click’n’Pull. Click’n’Pull lets me select my groceries online and they actually go down the aisles and shop for me.  All I have to do is pick up a cart and pay for it.  Wal-mart offers a similar service, but they do not even let me use it since my zip code is not close enough to their store.  Sam’s Club is usually a better value for us anyway.  Yes, the closest Sam’s Club is 90 miles away, but we usually are making a journey to Colorado Springs or Denver anyway.

I will drive farther if it means less in and outs.  In Colorado Springs, for example, there are maybe five Lowes.  I will drive an extra ten minutes if it means that I can go to one strip mall for all my stops, even if the one location is farther away.  The worse part of shopping with the kids is the in and out of car seats.  If I can go to more than one store in the same strip mall, it’s worth a few extra minutes drive.  And, yes, I am one of those tacky people who take the shopping cart from one store and bring it into the neighboring one.

I am used to people looking at me. From the “You got your hands full” and “I don’t know how you do it” and “Are they twins [or triplets]?” comments to all out stares, I am used to it by now.  People don’t phase me or slow me down any more.  I have never had anyone say an unkind word.  They are mostly just curious.

I have my very own shopping cart etiquette.   I need to find a cart upon arrival and I can’t stand when the cartboy is too efficient and I can’t find a cart at all.  I’ve been known to stalk outgoing shoppers and ask them for their cart.  I put all of my children in the cart for the trip from the car to the actual store.  I’m worried about them getting run over or kidnapped in the parking lot.  And ditto on the return trip.  I have the assistance people load my groceries into my car when we’re done if at all possible.  And if I do bring the cart out myself, I just leave it near where I’m parked.  I know I break all rules by not using the cart corral, but I’d rather you have a scratch on your car than one of my kids get kidnapped while I’m going on a hike to the cart corral.  Oh, and a lot of times, I’ll get a regular cart to go from the van to the store and then get someone to get me a cart with those kid holder things for actual in-store shopping.  I also have it down to an art form of how I arrange the children in the cart.  I try to avoid even having the children walk beside me in the store.  I’ll share more about shopping carts in an upcoming post.

I quit WIC.  We’re certainly still poor enough for WIC.  (WIC stands for Women, Infants and Children, a supplemental nutrition program for children up to the age of five.)  I used to be on WIC.  There were five of us on it.  The groceries were very helpful to us.  I am grateful.  However, in WIC, every participant receives three checks for miscellaneous groceries, so that meant 15 separate checks per month.  The checks are listed as “one dozen eggs, two gallons of milk, 1 jar of peanut butter”, etc.  I would do my marathon shopping and then have to separate the items.  I’d be in line with four children at the time, four children who had had it by then, and separate each WIC check either on the conveyor or into little shopping baskets.  Invariably the cashier I went to had just learned WIC and needed help with it.  It took forever.  It was not unusual for my WIC transactions to take over an hour to be rung up.  Yes, over an hour for maybe $100  worth of milk, dried beans and peanut butter.  Also, the WIC benefit was not worth as much to me as it was costing the taxpayers.  For example, when I bought a gallon of milk, WIC paid the store full price.  If I did need milk and had to pay for it, I’d go through the sales papers and get Wal-mart to price match, so I’d pay a little over half what the government would pay.  Baby formula was the worst.  I would buy Sam’s Club formula which is about a third of the price of Enfamil.  (Now I use organic formula, but that’s another story.)  When the government shut down in the fall and there was a hold on WIC checks, I just never went back.  Kevin said, “WIC is meant to be a little help.  We can’t have a baby every year and keep being on WIC.”  He’s right.  I haven’t gone back.  I am grateful for what I did receive through WIC.  Quitting WIC saves me so, so, SO much time.  It saves the taxpayers money.  And it does not cost me too much to live without those groceries.  I count my blessings that we are able to live fine without WIC.  I know many aren’t so fortunate.  I am grateful that we Americans have the WIC program which helps those who need those precious groceries.

I don’t bring much into the store.  I bring the baby a bottle maybe, but I change the babies’ diapers before we go in.  Nothing grosses me out more than the Wal-mart bathroom changing table, and besides, I need all the cart space for kids and merchandise.

I bribe my kids to be good.  I tell the children that if they’re good, they can go to the playground, eat a cookie, sit in a different spot in the minivan, drink chocolate milk, etc., when we’re done.  Remember, I have a road trip first and usually have an entire day of shopping.  On a “marathon day” of shopping and appointments, we’re usually out of the house 12-14 hours.

I try to avoid the public restroom in stores if it can be helped.  I would rather my kids go on the side of the road than in Wal-mart.

My husband sometimes goes to Dollar General on his way home from work.  I only do a marathon day of shopping about once per month if I can get away with it.  I couple it around doctor appointments and such.  As much as I plan, I usually end up needing something.  Our options are few and far between.  There is a Dollar General about three miles the other way from my husband’s job.  They’re open until ten.  Even though my husband leaves work at 9 p.m., he is able to stop there on his way home.  He picks me up little fill in things there, maybe once every other week.

I will soon share another post here about some of my shopping cart strategies.  As I said, I feel that children are safer riding in carts.  I have using shopping carts for five that are designed for one or two children down to a science.

This was in November 2013   at Wegman's in New Jersey.

This was in November 2013 at Wegman’s in New Jersey.


Posted in Also Known As Logistics and Management in a Large Family, Knowing What to Do to Feel a Little Bit Less Like the Woman in the Shoe by with no comments yet.

Going Shopping With Kids: Part One, How to Avoid Shopping

childrenlowesI recently read a post from another blog about how the author does her grocery shopping with four children four and under.  I decided to copy her idea and share with you how I go shopping with my five five and under.

I am set up for failure.  In addition to having five little ones, I also live very far from real stores.  I’m 75 miles from the closest Wal-mart (but 67 taking 40 miles of the scary dirt roads).  I’m about 85 miles from the east end of Colorado Springs and 100 miles from the east end of Aurora (suburban Denver).  In order to go shopping, it’s a road trip first.  A road trip and littles? that’s a recipe for disaster.

My best strategy for going shopping with children is to avoid it altogether.  I avoid shopping mainly four ways, which I’ll explain here.

I order everything that is economically feasible to do so online.
(Note: I am an Amazon affiliate.) I belong to Amazon Mom and Amazon Prime.  The (now) $99 per year is worth its weight in gold.  Amazon Mom is a free club for moms.  (You can try Amazon Mom out free here.) We get 20% off of diapers and wipes all the time when we Subscribe & Save.  (And I also cloth diaper at home, so I use less disposables than most.)  I can combine the diapers into my monthly order where I can get 20% off of everything else in that shipment.  Amazon is more expensive than the store, but when I get 20% off and don’t pay tax (in the state of Colorado) it comes out the same or cheaper.  I use the Sam’s Club website, which has their prices posted, to figure out and compare unit prices.  I know most things at Sam’s are an OK deal, so it’s a great place to compare to.  I buy toilet paper and paper towels from Amazon and that saves precious trunk space.  There is a new service, called Amazon Prime Pantry, which let’s you fill up a giant box for $5.99 shipping and allows for more variety than the Subscribe and Save items.
I have a Target credit card (which I keep paid off) and use them for their free no-minimum shipping.  I buy some household items from them, like hampers, but I’ve also buy socks and underwear from them, too.  Their prices are comparable to Wal-mart on socks and undies and I get the free shipping with no minimum there.  I also belong to Swagbucks (referral link), so I earn back a percentage of my Target purchases earn back a percentages as Amazon gift cards.  I also just joined TopCashBack (referral link), which seems to work similar to Swagbucks and pays higher.
I buy clothes for the children at the Children’s Place.  Most of the time they have free shipping with no minimum.  They run great sales and their clothes hold up really well.  I don’t buy my kids many new clothes, but most of the time when I do it is from the Children’s Place.  I also use my Swagbucks to earn a percentage back of what I buy from the Children’s Place.
I buy coconut oil, organic baby formula and a lot of other health food store type things at Vitacost.com (referral link).  They frequently have great sales.  I have no problem making their minimum for free shipping.
When I need something, my first stop is the computer.  Lowes, Home Depot, even Sam’s Club, all ship certain things for free.  Free shipping is my best friend.

We “home source” a lot of our needs.  We raise our own beef and now pork and probably chickens soon.  We raise our own eggs and goat milk.  We feed our livestock fodder, hay and seeds that mostly come from our own farming endeavors.  I grind my own flour from our own wheat.  Having a freezer full of beef and sacks full of grains eliminates a lot of grocery purchases.

I cook everything I can from scratch.  I use a lot of ingredient substitutes.  Do I need noodles for that recipe?  I have wheat, which I grind, and water so I make them.  Do I need barbecue sauce?  Tomatoes, vinegar onions and spices.  Do I need to make a cake?  I have eggs, sugar, and flour, so I’m good to go.  I keep my staples stocked up.  They are a lot more flexible in what I can make with them.  Wheat, for example, can become farina, bulgar, bread, noodles, gravy, cake, pizza, etc.  Scratch cooking makes me more flexible with the groceries and staples I always have on hand.

I try to menu plan a month at a time to make grocery shopping a once per month event.  This is ideally.  It doesn’t actually happen that way often.

I hope that you can find some of my methods helpful to you.  Can you suggest anything that I missed?

Tomorrow I will post a follow up post about how I actually shop with kids when I can’t avoid it.


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‘Tis the Season


‘Tis the season.

You might be imagining office parties, eggnog, corny Santa hats, crowded shopping malls and yuletide carols.  Actually, here on the prairie, ‘Tis the Season has a whole different meaning.  ‘Tis the season for cutting wheat.

DSCN3502lotp2Let’s talk about wheat and wheat cutting…
Out here most of the farmers grow “Winter Wheat”.  Winter Wheat is wheat planted in the fall that overwinters and is harvested the following summer.  Most farmers leave those wheat fields fallow prior to planting them in September.  They are called “summer fallow”.  Wheat could therefore be thought of as a two-year crop since it takes the farmer two seasons to produce one crop of wheat.  Wheat’s harvest time is variable.  It depends on when it is ready. Wheat is a grass.  It starts off green and then “heads out”, i.e., makes wheat berries, and then dies.  We harvest it dead.  The harvest is usually July Fourthish around here.
There is a science to it.  The wheat berries must not be too wet.  We take a sample to the grain elevator in town.  They run it through their special machine and the machine comes up with moisture rating.  The moisture content must be a certain number or lower before we can harvest it.  If the wheat is too moist, it can get moldy or ignite a fire in the grain bin.  (I don’t really understand how moisture can start a fire either, but that’s what they tell me.)  The wheat must also be harvested at a certain humidity.
Wheat cutting involves using the combine.  A combine is a big big piece of farm equipment that combines a reaper, thresher and winnower. Basically the combine is a harvest machine.  We say “cut” wheat because the combine cuts the stalks of wheat, takes the wheat berries off the stalk and spits the straw back out.
Combines are a part of the culture.  My almost-three year old has a speech problem.  He doesn’t even say verbs yet, but he can say “combine” very clearly and point them out.

Wheat cutting is a race, a race against hail.  Wheat is ready in hail season.  A hail storm can level a wheat field in a New York minute.  After the wheat is ready, the race is on.  We hope the combine doesn’t break down.  We hope that it doesn’t hail.  My husband and all the neighboring farmers work on their own respective fields to get the wheat harvested ASAP.  They get up super early in the morning, get in the field as soon as the humidity is right, and work all day until maybe 11 at night.  Combines have headlights.  They don’t stop for lunch.   They take sandwiches or their wives bring them lunch. And dinner.  And snacks.

Do you remember the story of the wheat harvest in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s (affiliate link) The First Four Years ? Almanzo had started to harvest the wheat.  It was a bumper crop, one to surely get them out of debt.  He worked a few minutes and then realized it was too wet to harvest.  He did other farm work that day.  This wheat crop would solve all of their problems.
About three o’clock Manly came in from the barn and said it was going to rain for sure… The sunshine darkened, and the wind sighed and then fell again as it grew darker yet.  Then the wind rose a little, and it grew lighter, but the light was a greenish color.  Then the storm came,  It rained only a little; then hailstones began to fall, at first scattering slowly, then falling thicker and faster while the stones were larger, some of them as large as hens’ eggs…
In just twenty minutes the storm was over, and when they could see as far as the field, the binder was still there but the wheat was lying flat.  “It’s got the wheat, I guess,” Manly said.  But Laura could not speak…
“And now let’s make some ice cream,” Manly said.  “You stir it up, Laura, and I’ll gather up hailstones for ice to freeze it.”
And just like that, their bumper wheat crop was gone.  This was before crop insurance.  They ended up in more debt and after a few more years of trials ultimately left South Dakota.
120 years later, weather is weather and this can still happen.  This is why wheat cutting is still a race, a race against hail.

Wheat is ready at different times in different parts of the country.  Some farmers hire custom harvesters to cut their wheat. Custom harvesters are teams that travel the country, following the wheat season.  They came with a bunch of combines, grain trucks, grain carts, tractors, camping trailers, etc.  They are usually young single men.  A harvest crew passed through Hugo when we were in town for Mass on Sunday and they had six vehicles total, including two tractor trailers that were towing a combine and a grain trailer.  I didn’t have my camera.

For little farmers like us, wheat harvest is the big thing.  (I don’t really understand why harvesting wheat is a bigger deal than harvesting corn or millet, but I guess I’m just the clueless Jersey girl again.)  You know what they say, when in Lincoln County, do as the Lincoln County farmers.  So I’ve embraced “the season” and get as excited as everyone now, even if I’m just acting.  If I act enough, I’ll believe it. The parrellels between cutting wheat and the Christmas season are amazing.

Just like your families don matching sweaters and take the same annual picture by the Christmas tree, I dress the kids alike-ish and take their annual picture in the combine tire.

Vince was born about ten hours after we took the 2011 pictures.  We did not have a wheat harvest in 2013 because of the drought.

Vince was born about ten hours after we took the 2011 pictures.
We did not have a wheat harvest in 2013 because of the drought.

You may be known to the neighbors.
“Did you see the Johnson family’s house?  They put up 147 strands of lights.” will be a typical comment around the Christmas season.
“Did you know that John Smith got 48 bushel [per acre] by Harris?” is a typical comment here around wheat harvest season.  I should add that Harris has probably been dead for 40 years and everybody but me knows where his field is that John Smith bought 35 years ago.

We have a picnic in the field at least once per year.  You have turkey or ham, manicotti and all the fixings for Christmas dinner.  We have bratwurst or taco salad or some kind of other yummy portable goodness.picnic

You take pictures of the festivities. We take field pictures, too.
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You may here the merry voices of carolers off in the distance, jingle bells and Salvation Army Santas ring their bells.  Late into the night, we hear combines humming miles away.

‘Tis the season.

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Posted in Culture Clashes of a Jersey Girl on the Colorado Prairie, Locally Grown, Wheat and tagged , , , , , , , , by with no comments yet.

Prairie Fourth of July

Photo credit: Kevin The fireworks in Hugo are awesome!

Photo credit: Kevin
The fireworks in Hugo are awesome!

Friday was the Fourth of July.  Hugo, Colorado, the local town, really goes all-out for the Fourth of July.

A relation, who lives in another state, was staying nearby.  She went over to my in-laws to visit.  I love all the relations, so I look forward to seeing them.  My wonderful in-laws invited me over to see her.  My oldest son, SonOne, got up and was then groggy. He was just mushy, just not right. He told me his tummy hurt and sure enough, he had to run.  At least everything ended up in proper places.  I was heartbroken.  We missed the relation’s visit.

It must have been an isolated incident.  SonOne seemed fine after that one specific incident.  We spent the morning hanging out on the couch and reading.  I actually kind of enjoyed hanging out like that, even though I hate when my kids are sick.  We did go to my in-laws where SomeOtherRelations were visiting by then.  I’m glad that I got to see SomeOtherRelations even though I didn’t see the first relation mentioned.  We went home and ate lunch.  My husband went out to the field.  He started cutting wheat.  My children napped.

I took the children to town for the “Free Swim” that they had for the Fourth of July.  They just went in their bathing suits.  (I’m pretty fearful of sunburn, so I make sure all of their shoulders and chests are covered.)  When we got there, the pool appeared closed.  There was lightning in the distance.
Note to Pool People: When you close the pool, put up a sign.  I don’t know how many times I’ve gone and it’s been closed.  A sign would be nice so I don’t have to guess.

We were all dressed up with no place to go and in town.  I took my kids to the playground.  At the playground, I ran into AnotherMother, who was there with her children.  She told me that the pool had closed because of the lightning.  I unbuckled my oldest four kids and let them go play.   I didn’t take the baby out of the van because there were a few drops of rain.  I closed the minivan door to make sure the oldest ones were into the playground area.  (I had my van pulled right up there.  It was not a dangerous situation, FYI.)

I turned around and tried to open the minivan door. Uh-oh.  It was locked.
All the doors were locked.
SonThree was locked in the van.
And so was my phone.

I asked AnotherMother to borrow her phone.  I first called Kevin to see if he had put a spare key anywhere on the outside of the minivan. Nope. Not yet.  We have only had that minivan 11 months.

So I called the Lincoln County Sheriff and explained the situation.
“What’s the call back number?” the dispatcher asked.
“I don’t know.  My phone is locked in the minivan, too.  I borrowed this phone from someone else. I don’t know the number.”
The dispatcher seemed not to get this.

There has been a lot of stories in the news lately of people leaving their babies in cars and then the babies die.   In the middle of all this awareness and campaigns, I had to go lock my baby in the minivan.  Way to go, Laura.  At least SonThree was smiling and seemed pretty happy, content and undisturbed. And at least it wasn’t too hot out. We had cloud cover.

It seemed like an eternity, but it was probably about a minute later when the Hugo Town Marshall Policelady came to break into my minivan.  A Deputy Sheriff Policeman came to help, too.  They were able to quickly open the minivan and SonThree was OK.  Phew.

Thank you so much to the policelady and policeman!  They rescued my son!

After SonThree was back safe in my arms, I called Kevin to tell him everything was OK.  He told me the little bit of rain was just enough rain to make the wheat too wet to cut.  He had to stop.  He was on his way to town in his pickup.

Back into carseats for four blocks, we met at the Lincoln County Fairgrounds.  We ate at the free barbecue there.  My kids had a blast running around.

The original relation was there!  It was so nice to see her!  I’m so happy that I got to see her, even though it was brief.

Kevin parked his pickup near the fence to have a good spot for later.

We left all together and went home.  We got the kids into their pajamas.

We got back to town back to the Fairgrounds.  We brought ice cream, glow sticks and camp chairs and headed back to our pickup which had one of the best spots for fireworks viewing.  We were still in a parking lot, a dark parking lot.  I am paranoid about my children being run over or kidnapped.  Last year we sat in the bleachers which was very hard to see in the dark.  This year, having the children kind of contained in the pickup bed was great!  It really helped me feel confident.  (I really can’t call it tailgating since our tailgate is broken.)

watching fireworks

The baby (SonThree) was in his car seat which was in the stroller which was right next to the pickup.

As a matter of fact, I’m going to call this a mom-top and make mom-tips a thing here on my blog.

Mom Tip Number One: When viewing something crowded and outdoors, keeping young children in a pickup bed keeps them more manageable.  They can’t run around the parking lot if they’re in a pickup bed.  They can also move around enough that they aren’t unnaturally cooped up (like in a stroller).  I recommend this for parades and fireworks and the like.  It’s a win-win.


Posted in A Day In the Life, Also Known As Logistics and Management in a Large Family, Mom Tips by with no comments yet.