Get the Gate

Cows through gate

Get the Gate
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“Get the gate.”

There are other words that conjure up anxiety for me, but none in the same way as this phrase declared from the driver’s seat of an old feed pickup or from atop a horse about to take off for a mile in the other direction and return with 100 cows that I’ve been instructed not to let miss that open gate and head for the deep and ominous patch of trees further down the fence line.

Get the gate. It seems simple enough if in your imagination you are picturing a white picket fence on neat hinges with a little latch. Easy.

We don’t have those here at the EV Ranch. No. What we do have is miles and miles of barbed wire fence line, much of it built 80 years ago, held up by old cedar and steel fence posts driven into the hard clay of the Badlands. And through the years, it’s been stretched and re-stretched, patched and stapled, trampled by wild elk and escaped by fence-crawling cattle that couldn’t be held by elephant fence so why do we even try…

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And in the corners and on the flats, in the mud puddles and next to the trees there are the gates. Gates that have also been stretched and re-stretched so tight that I swear Hulk himself would grunt when trying to release the wire loop connecting one post to the other.

But my dad never did. Nope. He would just walk over there and pop that thing open like it was a toothpick connected to a string and we would move on with our lives. Which made me believe that my noodle arms and I were fully capable of opening it the next time we came across it.

But the whole “moving on with our lives” thing took a little longer with me in charge of the gates while Dad watched me flail, struggle, grunt, sweat and bleed before he opened the pickup door and put me out of my misery and I sheepishly returned to the passenger seat, my self-worth as a ranch kid sinking like my heart.

Oh, there are some gates on this place that are in dire need of work, making them easy to open. But you never really know what you’re going to get when you’re out there alone. Or worse yet, when the men in your life are watching you from the other side of the windshield.

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I’m sweating just thinking about it actually. And I’m thinking about it today because my husband and I had a recent discussion regarding the gate next to our house put there to keep the cows out.

I got it open, but couldn’t get it closed and so I accused him of stretching it too tight after I pushed and pulled and cussed the thing before finally giving up, marching to the house crafting a speech in my head about equal access, equal rights and calculating the costs of buying those fancy metal gate closers for every gate on this place. Or at least some rope.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” my darling husband calmly replied after I delivered my address. “That’s one of the easy ones.”

I guess if I want to take matters into my own hands out here, I’ve got to… well… take matters in my own hands.

If you need me, I’ll be at the fleet store loading up my cart.

Closing Gate

The Rancher’s Wife Mic Drop

Gramma and Grampa

Grandma Edie and Grampa Pete

If a rancher invented cussing, a rancher’s wife invented the walkaway mic drop
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The first time I heard my dad swear was when he was standing in the horse trailer at a high school rodeo in New Salem while my horse was standing on his foot.

Or maybe it was that time the bulls got out and bringing them back with only the help of an 11-year-old was going about as swimmingly as you can imagine.

Wait, no, I think it was the time he stepped off a young horse to open a gate and that horse began his slow and methodical side pass toward home, leaving the reigns just out of Dad’s reach.

Well, I can’t remember exactly, but my dad doesn’t swear much — so when he did, it made an impression on me. It meant a brief loss of the positive nature he exuded that fooled us all into believing we were going to be all right out there chasing bulls out of brush patch after tick-infested brush patch.

But mostly it was the string of words he chose to stitch together when it all finally did come spitting out, slowly and with utter, exasperated passion in a sort of poetic way that only a frustrated rancher could pull off.

Anyway, it just sinks in the point that being a cowboy is glamorous and everything, until it’s time to do cowboy things. I think it was likely a rancher who invented cussing. He was probably working on broken equipment.

And it was the rancher’s wife who invented the walkaway mic drop. Because the rancher’s wife is often times a rancher, too, unless you’re my mom who steps about as far into the calf pen as the porch outside her house and only gets her hands as dirty as they can get while planting geraniums, which is probably one of the reasons they’re still married, honestly.

My dad’s parents, however, worked side by side on the Veeder ranch during a time when the stakes were a bit higher on this place. And so it wasn’t always as romantic as their once-a-year trip down to the river to go catfishing.

And because I admired my Grandma Edie so much when I was young and she was still alive, I always lean in when my dad and uncle start sharing stories of their childhood with their mother at the helm.

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Last night, after the last few bites of my mom’s lasagna and a comment about my recent run-in with a cranky cow, the brothers sat back and remembered the time their mother was out helping move a bovine with a similar attitude from the pen below the barn to one in front of the barn.

It sounded like one of those moments where my grandpa passed on his own unique string of cuss words to the next generation as the cow did her best to fight the system and run past the gate and toward members of the happy family yelling and waving sorting sticks.

And then that cow turned on my grandma, chasing after her as she ran for her life toward the fence while my grandpa yelled at her, “Run toward the gate!”

And the part where their mother continued her climb over the fence and, without a word and without looking back, walked straight through the barnyard and up the hill into the house, leaving her husband standing there with only his foot in his mouth and stick in his hand, will forever be etched into the memories of her two sons.

And that, my friends, is what you call a mic drop that will live on in history…

What the cat knows…

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What the cat knows
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When we were growing up, we had a house cat.

I shouldn’t say “we,” really, because that cat was all my little sister’s, except that my big sister named her Belly, after one of her favorite mid-’90s girl grunge bands and I got the heroic ranch kid privilege of rescuing her as a tiny abandoned kitten from underneath my grandma’s deck while my 5-year-old sister clenched her small, nervous fists under her chin and waited for her turn to hold her.

And so the runty calico cat with the weird name came to be ours and stayed through the entirety of my little sister’s childhood. And she was a typical cat in all the ways cats are cats.

She did her own thing. She waited at the door to go out and then would immediately climb up the screen, tearing it to shreds and driving my mother crazy. In an effort to try to deter this habit, we were given permission to use our squirt guns in the house. But only on the cat clinging to the screen door, of course.

But Belly didn’t care. She knew how to get our attention. She knew how to get what she wanted. And what she wanted was to sleep in my little sister’s bed every night.

After she was tucked in, if my dad forgot to leave the door open a crack, the cat would sit out there pathetically whining until the little kid version of my sister, with her wild hair, leaky eyes and big heart, would let her in. Every night for 13 years until my sister left home and left that cat behind.

Belly didn’t live a year without my sister in the house. My little sister was her person. And in a different life I’d be the type of skeptic that doesn’t believe in those sorts of bonds, except I watched that cat come and get my little sister before she gave birth to both sets of her kittens in that house that raised us all, which is an uncommon behavior for any animal, especially an independent cat.

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I’ve seen it with my dad and his horses, too. And I’ve had it with my old dog Hondo, who always slept on the floor on my side of the bed, even though he was technically my husband’s hunting lab. My mom has a cat now that will only sit on her lap — that is until the few times a year my uncle from Texas arrives, and then that cat’s all his. It’s as if she’s saying, “Oh, there you are. I’ve been waiting for you.”

Yes, I think we choose them, and then they choose us, because maybe they just know better.

Last week I brought my two young daughters to Dickinson, N.D., to sign the paperwork to adopt a big, orange house cat from an animal rescue. As I write, I’m not sure why I felt compelled to do such a crazy thing. Maybe it was that heroic ranch kid rescue gene in me, but the last thing I need is another wild creature in these walls.

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And Lord knows there are plenty of cats for giveaway out here in rural North Dakota, except I saw him in a photo all curled up in that cage and I made a decision. Oh, I used the “we need a mouser” excuse on my husband, but this big orange cat is clearly a lover, not a fighter and my husband knows it.

Time will tell us what this cat knows.

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Shifting winds of confidence…

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Shifting winds of confidence
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Some days, if the wind is just right and I’m the proper amount of sleep-deprived, I can convince myself that I’m a rock-star cowgirl who has this work, ranching, cattle and kid-raising situation under control.

Like last weekend when I was helping sort cows into the chute for medicine, for example. I was following the cattle down the alley with a sorting stick yelling “Whoop, whoop, c’mon girls, hya, hya, hya!” feeling strong and capable. When they loaded right into the chute and I grabbed the rope to close the gate, climbed up on the fence for a head count (which we all know is the most important thing, really) and then hopped back down to do it all over again, I had a brief moment where I thought, “Well, this is the life. I can do this. I was made for this.”

But that confidence? Well, it comes in waves. Or, because we’re in North Dakota, more like gusts.

Because just as soon as the wind blows my neckerchief the right way so that I start feeling like the underdog ranch hand in a John Wayne movie finally getting the respect I deserve, the wind shifts and covers me in a nice, authentic layer of dirt and cow poop better known as a reality check.

But I’m nothing if I’m not diverse in my experiences. Sometimes, in the course of two days, I feel like I’m five different people.

Last weekend I started my morning off as snuggly-booger-wiping-Mom, moved on to pony-riding-lesson-Mom in the afternoon

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and then I loaded up my guitar to be a singer-in-the-big-town at night.

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Then I headed home in the dark so I could get up early to be pancake-making-Mom in the morning, cow-chasing-Mom in the afternoon and supper-making-dishwashing-deadline-meeting-bedtime-story-lullaby-singing-Mom in the evening.

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And maybe that’s where the whole problem lies in the first place, now that I think of it. Maybe there are just too many things weighing on my mind for me to properly and swiftly react to the angry, pregnant, half-ton cow lowering her head and running toward me in the sorting pen while my husband tries to find his voice to warn me.

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“Surely she isn’t coming for me?” I wondered to myself in the half a second I had to think about the meaning of my life. “Surely she’ll go around this rock-star cowgirl who has her life under control. Seriously, everyone underestimates my capabilities. I was born to do this. It’s in my blood. If I just wave my hands and yell ‘hya’ and…oh…my…g… RUN!”

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Yeah, some days, if the wind is just right and I’m the proper amount of sleep-deprived, I can convince myself I’m an underestimated rock-star-cowgirl-mom. And some days a 1,300-pound cow rams her giant, angry head into the bony part of my backside, sending me running for my life to the fence line and my husband into near cardiac arrest.

Because, like I said, this whole “under control” thing? Yeah, it comes in gusts.

And the sigh of relief I breathed when I reached that fence? Well, I just hope it shifted the winds and blew someone’s neckerchief the right way.

If you need me, I’ll be folding laundry and sitting on an ice pack.

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How to go sledding with 2 toddlers in only 20 steps

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Husband and I took a break from the never-ending winter last week, dropped the kids at Nana and Papa’s and headed out on a tropical location. How we wound up in Jamaica alone when we were supposed to be in the Dominican with friends is a story for next week.

This week I’m going to leave you with some tips on how to get out the door with two toddlers. It seems simple enough, but all you parents out there know, there are way more than 20 steps, but I only get so much space in the paper. Anyway, when I wrote this, we still had plenty of snow on the ground, but the air was warming up. When we arrived home from our vacation, we found that snow is quickly turning to mud, which means not as many clothes, but plenty more laundry.  Today Edie added a few more steps to the process as she searched for just the right amount of jewelry and the proper hair bow to put under her snow clothes for a trip to help load cattle, adding another thirty or so steps to this process, so really, you know, it’s not an exact science.

Anyway, if you need me I’ll be catching up on that laundry and itching my sunburn.

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How to go sledding with 2 toddlers in only 20 steps
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So you want to go sledding with two toddlers? Here’s how to do it in only 20 steps.

Step 1: Check the weather. Declare to the entire house that it is now above zero and you are all going outside.

Step 2: Tell the 3-year-old to go find her snow gear while you attempt to wipe all the syrup off of the 1-year-old. Respond to 3-year-old’s cries for help because she can’t find her mittens.

Step 3: Try to find the mittens while wondering why in the bleep you can never find the mittens.

Step 4: Pull the 1-year-old out of the pantry that you forgot she could open. Sweep up the sugar she was eating.

Step 5: Marvel at the way your 3-year-old’s body can transform into an instant limp noodle while you attempt to get her rubber band legs into her snow pants. Leave her lying on the rug half-dressed while threatening to cancel Christmas if she doesn’t, literally, straighten up.

Step 6: Start sweating.

Step 7: Locate the 1-year-old in the kitchen. Clean up the 5,000 plastic baggies she has pulled out of the box.

Step 8: Lay the puffy toddler-sized snowsuit out on the floor and attempt to wrangle the wiggly little child’s limbs into each proper compartment.

Step 9: Dig out her little hands and spend the next 45 minutes trying to get them into her mittens. Allow the same time frame for the snow boots.

Step 10: Set that tiny human down on the ground to waddle around. Cry at the cuteness. Also, wonder where you put her beanie.

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Step 11: Start searching for the beanie all over the house, declaring to whoever is in the house with you (which is likely just your children) that it’s the only one she will keep on her head and what the heck could you have possibly done with it, you just had it a second ago for crying out loud!

Step 12: Check on the 3-year-old, who is sitting at her little table fully outfitted in her snow gear and fully invested in a coloring project she has to be convinced to abandon for the sledding hill.

Step 13: Realize you should have taken her to the potty before you started all of this. Continue your search for the missing hat.

Step 14: Give up on the missing hat. Locate smaller, less practical hat and squeeze that on the 1-year-old’s head. Notice that she’s taken off her mittens and one boot’s now laying on the kitchen floor. Repeat Step 9.

Step 15: Hastily pull on your own snow gear as your tiny, puffy humans crowd around you. Hurry now, Momma — each passing second is a second one of them could pull off a mitten.

Step 16: Declare joyfully, “Let’s go!” — and then take the 20-minute waddle–style trip down the steps, past the kitty (stop for a pet) and out the front door.

Step 17: Plop puffy children into sleds and proceed to pull them toward the sledding hill. Continue sweating, as previously indicated in Step 6, while you vow to start a workout program tomorrow.

Step 18: Take three runs down the hill, all while yelling at the dogs to stop licking and jumping on the children. Have the time of your life for approximately 10 to 15 minutes, or the time it takes for someone to lose a boot.

Step 19: Carry one crying, slippery, puffy child on your hip while pulling the other limp noodle child toward home.

Step 20: Undress the children as fast as you can because now you have to pee. Discover that the missing hat was zipped up in the 1-year-old’s puffy snowsuit the whole time. Swear. Sweat. Repeat Steps 1-20 tomorrow.

 

Wilderness Dreams

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Coming Home:Wilderness dreams come back on days like this
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When I was a little girl all wrapped up in the magic of this place, my favorite book of was “My Side of the Mountain,” a story about a boy who finds himself living alone in the wilderness inside of a giant hollowed out tree.

I still have the book buried somewhere in this house, holding all the secrets to adventure like all the books I loved about kids taming horses and dogs and braving wild prairie storms. Forget after school microwave popcorn and “Super Mario Bros.” — I wanted real adventure!

I’m sure I wasn’t unlike most kids at 9 or 10 years old. We all had a little more confidence than we had experience, so maybe it wasn’t unusual that I was convinced I could survive out in the wilderness alone. Without a house. Or a toilet. Or my mom’s cheeseburger chowder. Yeah, there was a time that was my plan.

In the evenings, I would step off the bus and head up the creek behind our house to work on building what I called “secret forts.” In the oaks and brush that grew along the bank, I would I use every muscle in my spindly body to collect and relocate every fallen log within a 200-foot radius to lean against a bent tree, creating a leaky little tent. And when it was complete, I would look around to make sure my little sister hadn’t followed me here, ruining the whole secrecy thing.

And then I would lay down under the flawed “shelter” of 50 logs to think about my next step. Make plans for a door. And a blanket. And rocks for a firepit.

But as the dark crept in, I would decide I wasn’t quite ready to spend the night, emerging to follow the cow trail back toward the house where supper was warm and waiting. For months, this was my daily ritual, and one of my signature childhood memories.

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I thought I wanted to be alone out there, left to my own survival skills, but it turned out that having company was a nice addition. So eventually I gave in and helped my little sister build her own fort. A much smaller fort. Across the creek. Out of site.

We built a tin-can telephone that stretched from my fort to hers and brought down old chair cushions from the shed, tried to catch frogs and spent our evenings planning our next move — spending the night. But we never did it.

Summer gave way to fall, and the leaves fell and covered the floor of our paradise. We would pull on our beanies and trudge down the freezing creek to clear out the fire ring we weren’t yet brave enough to use. And then the cold set in and the snow came and the neighbor girls called us to go sledding, and our wilderness dream waited on a warmer season.

I can’t help but think about those girls on days like these. Days when the cold sets in, burned casserole from the night before sits waiting for a cleanup on my countertop and the dark, naked trees behind my grown-up house seem to call to me to come out from behind these walls.

Come have an adventure, girl.

I step outside and let the frozen air fill my lungs and bite my cheeks. I step outside and miss my sister. I step outside and I’m alone with a woman who used to be a girl I knew, a girl who thought she could tame coyotes, break unbreakable horses and live alone in the wild.

I step outside to look for her. I know she’s here somewhere, waiting for me to come and play.

Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at https://veederranch.com. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.

Veeder Ranch to be featured on Born to Explore

Born to Explore

Last summer, Richard, from Born to Explore, a travel show on PBS, came to North Dakota. They stopped by the ranch for a little music, a ride, and an attempt at a dinner conversation with us and our two babies.

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My our collection of grills, unfinished house projects, chaotic kitchen and my North Dakota accent make an appearance, but so does the beautiful landscape, our babies, cows and some music on the porch with dad 🙂 It’s a great snapshot of North Dakota and all the reasons this place means so much to us.

Also, I don’t usually wear dangly earrings when we chase cows…but, you know, TV.

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The episode, North Dakota: Where Legends are Born will premiere on PBS stations on Feb. 23 and have multiple repeat broadcasts throughout the year. Check out the preview here and tune in!

Born to Explore #208(P)/North Dakota: Where Legends are Born preview from Born to Explore on Vimeo.

Thanks Richard and crew for a great visit!

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The way my grandpa sees the world

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Theodore Waddell, Gallatin Angus 2001

The way my grandpa sees the world Forum Communications

There’s a print of a painting hanging in a frame beside my bed that reminds me of my Grandpa Bill.

It’s a framed card actually, a watercolor of a rugged landscape, dark blue buttes forming a horizon against a gray and white sky. And below the buttes, in the foreground, the brush stroked green and beige, and then the artist, seemingly with the blunt end of his brush, came back to add a scattering of black dots.

The cattle.

I took the print off the wall tonight to take a closer look as I was crawling into bed and the back of the frame came off to reveal the reverse side of that card and my grandpa’s handwriting.

“This scene looks much like the blue mountains from the hills above your place. Happy Birthday.”

And he was right. If you sit on the top of a hill on our ranch, you will likely see the live version of this scene — a moody sky casting sporadic golden light in the pastures where our cattle graze. And off in distance, as far as you can see, those buttes that cradle our neighbors 10 miles to the north shine blue on us and frame every scene of our lives out here.

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My dad tells a story of when he was a little kid in elementary school. He was coloring a picture of Roy Rogers riding through the mountains on his horse, Trigger.

“Why are you coloring the mountains blue, Gene?” his teacher scolded. “Mountains aren’t blue.”

I always thought that was one of my dad’s sadder stories…

But I don’t think Grandpa Bill had this sort of teacher in his life. And if he did, he didn’t pay her any mind.

And I like this little card with black dot cows because I like to imagine it’s the way my Grandpa Bill sees the world, like a painting waiting to be made and admired. And I’m so glad to know that about him.

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When I was 11 or so, my dad’s mother, Gramma Edie, died on the ranch, leaving the little brown house in the farmyard down the road empty and lonesome. So in the fall and winter, my mom’s parents, during their early years of retirement, would move out here to breathe life into the place.

Grandpa traded his Minnesota dock shoes for boots and immersed himself in ranch life. He fixed fences, he rode along to move cattle, he updated that old farmhouse, hung his chaps and hat like a work of art on the entryway and took beautiful photographs, even trying his hand at painting the simple, old, everyday scenes of this place I might not have thought to find extraordinary if it wasn’t for him.

Eventually, my grandparents made the decision to settle into summers in Minnesota and winters in the Arizona sun. In fact, Grandpa Bill is likely reading this to Gramma as they have a cup of coffee and a doughnut hole on their deck.

And he’s probably noticing how the morning light creates a soft glow around his wife’s silver hair and thinking that it would make a lovely photograph or painting.

And every time I take the turn off the highway to head north, toward home, toward those blue buttes, I slow down a bit as I come up over the hill overlooking the gold pastures dotted with cattle and, because of Grandpa, I think the same thing.

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Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at https://veederranch.com. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.

If I’m Being Honest: A Christmas Letter

Coming Home: An honest Christmas letter from my family to yours
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It’s Christmas card season. And while the World Wide Web might make the whole concept a little obsolete these days, I’m still camp Christmas card.

All my friends and family are getting the photo, because we can fake it in the photo.

A Christmas letter? Well, I’m afraid it would read something like this:

Warm winter greetings from the Scofields,

And when I say warm, I don’t mean like the stream of pee that baby Rosie just showered me in right before I plopped her in the tub next to the threenager who didn’t appreciate the “scatter-style poop” Rosie surprised us all with. Not familiar with the term? Come over tomorrow night at bath time because there’s a 90 percent chance it will happen again tomorrow, and so on and so forth, because this is our life now.

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But really, it’s been such a blessing watching our daughters reach and conquer new milestones this year. I think Rosie’s now surpassed some sort of child record of how much Play-Doh a small child can consume and how many stairs she can climb before her parents notice. Her sister Edie changes her outfit 37 to 50 times a day, and survives solely on buttered toast, so we’re thinking that has to be some sort of record, too. We’re so over-the-moon excited to be sharing a home with baby geniuses.

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In other news, one of our family members taught baby Rosie to wink at Thanksgiving, and it’s so cute it’s all my husband and I talk about over late night cereal supper after we get the 3,000 bath toys sanitized and the threenager negotiated out of wearing her mermaid costume to bed.

It’s romantic work, the business of raising small children. So romantic, the two of us are headed to Vegas together in a few weeks so that we might relearn how to talk about something other than bathtub poop. Don’t get too jealous: It’s also a work trip.

But all in all, friends, we have it together at the ranch, really. Just this morning, I walked down the stairs to find my 3-year-old sleeping facedown on the hardwood floor after sneaking out of her room last night, proving she’s stubborn enough to never give in to the fight, but smart enough to know to be quiet. So we’re doing something right.

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Wasn’t the first time…won’t be the last.

Anyway, thank you for your friendship and support this year, and we’re sorry we didn’t make it to more church services/social gatherings/fundraisers/concerts/birthday parties and the grocery store all those times we ran clean out of milk and toilet paper. Also, we’re sorry we’re always late now. Or, erhm, later than we were before kids.

Please don’t give up on us. We’d love to have you over for a visit. But unless you don’t mind a counter full of Goldfish crackers, crusty grapes and craft supplies, maybe call first? If you really don’t mind, then skip the knocking (because naps) and come right on in!

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Peace, Love and I’m eating Edie’s leftover Halloween candy as I write this,

The Scofield Family

Jessie (getting older), Chad (even older), Edie (3 going on 23) & Rosie (1 and holding forever because I’m not sure I’m ready for another baby just yet).

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Banquet in a Field: Telling our food story

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Dad and I had the opportunity to entertain for a unique event in Belfield, ND a few weeks ago for the Banquet in a Field event. Hosted by the Dickinson Area Chamber of Commerce Agricultural Committee, this event was focused on connecting consumers and North Dakota growers and producers. As cattle ranchers we were happy to have the opportunity to help support the idea that we need to find new and interesting ways to tell the story of our food, helping to bridge the gap and break down barriers in our industry.

The event was a great success, hosting 140 guests at Kessel’s Arrow K Farms, literally placing consumers where it all begins–right in our beautiful North Dakota backyard. The evening was not only a showcase of production agriculture, it was a first-hand look at scenic Western North Dakota.

As guests socialized and enjoyed appetizers made from local ingredients, dad and I played our old standards under the shade of tall cottonwoods that have likely stood as windbreaks for generations. The wheat field in front of us rolled in the much appreciated breeze and I felt fortunate to have my two world’s colliding in this special way.

It was even better that we were invited to the multi-course meal served by a local FFA chapter. My favorite part? The kids came around offering little shot glasses of milk–your choice of chocolate or white.

Below is this week’s column with a little more on the experience, but more about the importance of supporting and energizing efforts to tell our agriculture story. It’s why I do what I do, in a small way “opening the doors” to this place so that you might be able to see how important this land and these animals are to our family and the plates we help fill. Because we all know how food connects us, now let’s connect to our food.

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If we don’t tell our food story, who will?

We sit at kitchen tables, on blankets in the park, around picnic tables at street fairs and on tailgates after a long morning in the field. We crack eggs in our pancake mix while we tell our kids about the time their grandmother baked coffee filters in an early morning batch, her attempt at a legendary April Fool’s joke.

We flip our burgers on shady decks while our friends talk about the time they got lost in Mexico City. We scoop up spoonfuls of peas and choreograph a song and dance routine, complete with a jazz-hand landing to convince our toddler to open her mouth.

We grab a handful of dad’s caramel corn and remember the time spent with him in the kitchen. We’re grateful we paid attention to the recipe so he can live on in the sweet, sticky reminiscence.

No matter where you eat it, food connects us, it reminds us and it’s part of our story. But when was the last time you’ve thought about the story of your food?

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It was a muggy summer evening in western North Dakota and I stood next to my dad under the shade of a grove of tall cottonwood trees along the edge of a beautiful wheat field. We were strumming our guitars and singing about eating watermelon after a summer ballgame as a slow and steady line of community trickled into this farmyard from a makeshift parking lot behind the family shop.

They shook hands, made introductions and wondered what to expect as they walked past beautifully set tables next to grain bins and farm machinery, ready and waiting to celebrate food in a unique way — right where it all starts.

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We hear the phrase “farm-to-table” thrown around these days as a way to make us feel more connected to the food on our plate. On that evening, the Dickinson Area Chamber of Commerce took it a step further by inviting the community to meet directly with a local family who dedicates their life’s work to growing and caring for the land and the food we eat at their first annual Banquet in a Field event.

Over bites of mini cornbread muffins, lentil dip, sunflower toastettes, oven-roasted potatoes, beef picanha and honey apple cake served by kids from the local FFA chapter, a conversation, centered on North Dakota’s agriculture producers, began.

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And so did the celebration. Because our agriculture story is sometimes harder for us to tell than the story behind our grandmother’s recipe for award-winning chili. The fact that North Dakota is the lead producer of the navy and pinto beans it contains? Well, that’s something I know the Kessel family hosting us that evening was proud of.

And we should be, too. Because if we don’t spread the message and help the world understand that a tomato makes ketchup and that big, beautiful wheat field rolling in the breeze that evening is just a step on a long journey to appearing in the pasta you’ll be serving for your best friends as they reminisce about the time you all ran into the ocean naked, who will?

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The Banquet In a Field Events were the idea of CommonGround, a group of women in agriculture who volunteer to engage and outreach with non-ag consumers. It was started by and continues to be supported through the soybean and corn checkoffs. One of the reasons CommonGround created this event was to build stronger connections between North Dakota consumers and the state’s farmers and ranchers.
Because Banquet In A Field was such a success, the Dickinson Area Chamber Of Commerce Ag Committee is already making plans for next year. The event will be a key community resource, going forward, for those who want to learn more about how agriculture impacts their daily lives. Find out more at dickinsonchamber.org/banquet-in-a-field/