Thoughts on summer coming to an end

John Oncken
The corn crop will soon be ready for harvest.

All of a sudden summer is gone – the sun sets before 7 pm; crisp, cool weather is replacing the hot, humid summer; and the autumnal equinox arrived Tuesday, Sept. 22 at 8:30 am. 

A drive through Wisconsin's farming community proves it with the rows of white plastic bags full of silage (hay and corn), and the same for the big bunkers and piles. The soybean leaves are falling and the corn ears are drooping.

The real missing link was summer itself, as all the meetings, farm tours, field days, cattle shows and county and state fairs didn't happen at all. And the local baseball fields, along with Miller Park in Milwaukee, were empty, as will be Camp Randall in Madison and most high school and college football fields this fall.

Many bags of haylage and one bag of corn silage at the Miller Dairy in East Bristol.

Thinking time

Basically losing a year of normal life probably doesn't mean much to young folks, but it's a rather big deal to those of us further up the age ladder who don't have many years to waste. Oh well, I guess that's life.

I'd guess that staying home and away from crowds gave us – me especially – more time to do other things, like think about such non-earth shaking subjects like these:

The smell of kimchi – yuck

Kimchi, for instance. This Korean food was reviewed by Madison food critics as a delicious new addition to some menus, and I can't believe that is possible.

Many years ago, compliments of the US Army, I spent a year in Korea and learned about "social distancing" (like now). I remember so vividly the terrible odor that accompanied most Republic of Korea soldiers and civilians. "That's the smell of kimchi," my more veteran buddies explained. "The Koreans eat this cabbage-based  mixture that's fermented underground in jars and leaves a horrible smell in people's breath."

The dairy barn is mostly gone and the added freestall is weakening.

"If you get too close to the ROK soldiers, their breath will take the crease out of your pants and untie your boot laces, so never get closer than about six feet," they continued.

I didn't give the subject much thought (while keeping my distance) until some months later, when I found myself in charge of the entire South Korean railway system (at age 21, a story I still can't believe) and came in regular contact with ROK soldiers and two Korean families we hired to do our laundry, all who carried the odor of kimchi, in the compound of some 100 men.

Here are some notes gleaned from the internet:

From Wikipedia: "Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish mainly recognized as a spicy fermented cabbage dish globally."

From Quora: "No matter how people want to sugar coat it, it smells relatively bad for some people who are sensitive. It is fermented and even without fermentation there are ingredients such as fish sauce (usually fermented already), crushed raw garlic, or even actual seafood sometimes. Those ingredients themselves cause a pretty strong smell."

From Washington Post: "For this reason, scientists are trying to increase the good bacteria ... and decrease the bad parts, namely the smell so pungent it can take days to work its way out a person's pores."

So, how can kimchi be popular on restaurant menus today? I'd guess the scientists were successful, but I'll never forget my first experience with "keeping a distance."

The chickens are long gone, but chicken house remains, barely.

From earth to earth

As I drive around rural farming areas, I can't help but notice the seemingly large numbers of falling down farm buildings. A friend recently asked, "Why are there so many barns with caved in roofs?"

My answer is simple and one many farmers have explained to me: when the cows are gone, the empty barn begins to crumble. And, of course, cows have been leaving the barns for decades, as dairy farms in Wisconsin have dropped from 130,000 in the 1930s to about 7,000 now. Even if the closed dairy became a hobby farm of part of a bigger operation at some point, it will probably begin to decay.

Someone saved the old dairy buildings.

It's expensive to maintain an empty barn and it takes a lot of work, so in many cases the building ultimately collapses. I guess I see more collapsing buildings while driving slower and just looking than in the days of speeding from farm to farm meeting before the pandemic. Each of these falling buildings has a story of farmers, children and animals and the trials, successes, sadness and happiness of farm life that will never be told. Too  bad.

Consumers finally like farmers 

American consumers do indeed recognize farmers for their hard work and dedication to feeding the world, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought an increase in consumers' understanding of and appreciation for farmers' roles in ensuring community well-being.

The barn has left the cows, but the cows still claim the barnyard.

For the first time in 20 years of Gallup poll tracking, farming and agriculture is best viewed among the 25 sectors assessed. That's according to the results of a recent survey which measured public opinion of US business sectors, as published in Wisconsin Ag Connection.

"In addition to farmers being recognized for their essential role, the Gallup poll shows promise for job growth in the farming and agriculture industry," commented Chad Vincent, CEO of Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin. Hurrah!

John F. Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached at 608-837-7406 or e-mail him at jfodairy2@gmail.com.