A Farm Animal Birthday

As my readers know, Harper turned the big old 1 in April. I am still in denial. It was like someone flipped a switch after her birthday party. She went from wobbling to cruising, her vocabulary expanded, the tumbles got bigger (um, chipped tooth and a whopping goose egg on her head are just 2 examples), and all of a sudden things like mom signing her up for swimming lessons started.

In true Harper fashion, being the little farm girl she is, a farm animal themed party was in store. We couldn’t have just any farm birthday though, it had to be a PINK farm animal theme party. I wanted to share some of the photos and ideas we used at the party for any other farm mommas out there, or if you just want to host a farm theme party! My Silhouette Cameo and I became best friends the month leading up to her party – I did cut outs, HTV, and more with it for the first time ever!

Harper's farm animal themed invites!

Harper’s farm animal themed invites!

Let’s start with the invitations. My friend Mallorie who has an amazing Etsy shop, designed Harper’s birthday party invites for me. I told her I had found adorable pink paisley napkins and to go with a farm animal theme. How cute is that little piglet? And a few days later, she had created this cute custom invite for us! Mallorie is on Facebook too so check her out!

Next, let’s talk decor. As I said, I became very friendly with my Cameo, but I also enlisted the help of Pink Tree Papers from Etsy for cupcake toppers. The rest was up to me!

The adorable cupcake toppers! We had to have cowprint tablecloths and pig cookies too! My mom made pig cookies in honor of Harper's heritage since her Grandpa Marvin ( my dad) was a pig farmer.

The adorable cupcake toppers! We had to have cow-print tablecloths and pig cookies too! My mom made pig cookies in honor of Harper’s heritage since her Grandpa Marvin ( my dad) was a pig farmer.

I printed out all of Harper’s monthly photos that we had taken over the course of her first year, and hung them in between these 2 cute garlands. It was so fun to see the changes. Poor thing was so skinny her first 4 months of life!

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I adore tissue paper garlands – so easy to make! Also…fireplace doors make your legs look awkwardly stubby.

I also made a Happy Birthday Banner for the wall. I realized I forgot to take a photo of the barn welcome sign I made that was hanging outside the front door too. I’ll be putting that in her scrapbook at some point. I made the banner just general – this mom will be reusing it every year there is pink or gold involved.

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My tulle lights I started before Harper was born, and have yet to actually finish them. I used them at her baby shower, in her room, and now for her birthday. If you ever decide to make tulle or rag lights, make sure you find the shortest strand of lights known to man kind. I was using a set that was extra from our wedding.

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I decided to try something new – a time capsule. Can you believe it will be 2033 when she is officially 18? I thought it would be fun to have guests write her a note or memory for her to read when she turns 18. I designed it, printed it out, framed it, and used pink paisley paper for note cards.

time Capsule.

The time capsule for her 18th birthday.

The time capsule all set up.

The time capsule all set up. The pink gingham tablecloth is from  Oriental Trading.

The drink station included cow-print and pink stripped straws. The punch is just “bridal shower punch” – 7up, Hawaiian punch and sherbet. I have 2 of these big punch jars that resemble canning jars, and I use them at every part. Best purchases I have ever made!

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I picked up this cup for Harper at a random Holiday gas station that I stopped at. I had been saving it, and it was perfect for the occasion. She loves normal adult straw cups, and Little Miss Bossy Boots enjoyed the cup at her party.

Harper with her custom cup.

Harper with her special cup. Headband is from Julia Grace Designs. 

The cute bib I made her for her birthday!

The cute bib I made her for her birthday!

We will never speak of the difficulty I had cutting that darn  gold HTV, but her onesie and bib turned out so cute!

Harper with her cow cake, custom onesie and cute little ribbon skirt I all made for her!

Harper with her cow cake, custom onesie and cute little ribbon skirt I all made for her!

And what farm birthday is complete without a cow cake? Okay…I seriously love all of those amazing custom farm birthday cakes. I remember telling Mark, lets just spend the money and get a cute barn cake. I showed him pictures…we were so close to doing it. I was all like, no, I can make cupcakes, and I can do a cow cake. I’ll just buy the pre-made fondant stuff, I can do this. I can do this! I made a tractor cake once. This should be easy. Note – don’t ever attempt fondant for the first time, 11 at night, when your rolling-pin has already been packed in a box for your move. BAD IDEA. Just buy a cake, any cake…it won’t matter 10 years from now, and your sanity will be intact.

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And one outfit change and one nap later…a first birthday party was complete.

-Sara 

 

A Series on Vietnam…Part 5: Looking to the Future

Vietnam is a country of 94 million people. Of that, nearly 70% of the population is 40 and under. That makes for a very young population, that is looking to the future of Vietnam.

The amount of entrepreneurs in Vietnam never ceased to amaze me. From the pop-up shops on corners, to the rows and rows of fresh vegetables and fruits at the market, to the fact that every single house sat on top of a coffee shop, a seamstress shop or a leather shop, you were completely immersed in the commerce of the country. You could hop on a motor scooter for $20 or a quick ride if you were brave enough, and Jeff in our group was brave enough!

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It seemed as everyone was working or operating a business in some shape or form. The towns were always bustling, people were drinking coffee or having lunch with friends and family, and people were making sales in their shops.

The fact that Vietnam does have a very young population means that the country will have to look towards job growth in both public and private sectors. Poverty is a problem in the country. The country has already started to initiate certain workforce programs. We were able to visit one restaurant, called KOTO, that had a really awesome mission. KOTO stand for Know One, Teach One because learning should be passed on and knowledge is meant to be shared. It definitely fit exactly what we were all doing there with MARL. KOTO has two training centers, on in Hanoi and one in Saigon, where they train students in the hospitality industry. The idea is to give students practical, tangible skills and assistance to gain employment in the fast growing restaurant and hotel industries in Vietnam. They learn English as part of their training as well.  The concept was simple – provide the training and it will help uplift them from poverty through skills and employment. We decided as a group to donate a brick for their wall. If you donated a set amount towards their mission, you were able to have an engraved brick go up in their restaurant. So if you ever visit Koto in Hanoi when you are in Vietnam, check for a brick with MARL Class VIII on the wall.

We were also able to visit an art shop where they worked to employ youth either in painting, crafting, sales and business. I purchased a few items while I was there, a cute whimsical painting for Harper’s room of a cow, a chicken and a spotted egg, as well as a silk embroidered scene of Vietnam.

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I talked about how we were able to visit the Reunification palace my last post. The reunification palace was renamed as such to serve as a symbol for the reunification of North and South Vietnam moving forward after the war. The country has moved forward after the war. Their tourism industry is thriving, and understandably slow. The people we encountered at our restaurants, our hotels, and our tour guides were all amazing. They were kind, generous, helpful, and very friendly.

Outside of the reunification palace.

Outside of the reunification palace.

The country is focused on growing their economy through trade. When we visited the TCIT terminal in the Cai Mep port, they talked about growth and how important the TPP agreement was to them. They built to be able to expand and take in more goods as well as ship out more goods. Their utilization was only at about the 65% level, so increased utilization was built into their initial business growth platform because they knew their business would be growing.

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The country does have to work on things like infrastructure – did I mention the electrical is a bit questionable there? And they are in the process of building roadways and a new airport. It just takes a very long time in Vietnam. Corruption within their government entities is a very real issue.

I do believe with such a young population, this country will be an exciting one to follow with where they go with trade, business, and tourism moving forward. The flight is a doozy to get over there, but so, so worth it if you are looking for a place to travel.

My trip to Vietnam was life changing, and one that I don’t think I will ever get to repeat any time soon. The people, the food, the colors, the smells, the scenes…everything was just breath-taking. I don’t think my words could ever do it justice. I hope you enjoyed my series exploring my MARL trip to Vietnam. I am so thankful that the MARL board sent us to this amazing place.  If you are a MN resident, especially a MN farmer, consider applying for the next MARL class. Applications are open through May 17th. 

-Sara

A Letter to my Daughter

Wow baby girl, we made it a year.

Becoming a mother, was something I had prayed, and prayed some more about. You were a hope daddy and I had over the span of 2 years before we finally knew about you. Our faith wavered at times, but we trusted God’s timing and his plan.

You were put into my arms, and my entire world shifted. A place in my heart that I didn’t even know existed opened up. I fell in love with every single inch of you, from your tiny toes to the head of hair you proceeded to lose in the first weeks of your life. You stayed wide awake almost the entire time of your first day in this world. I guess you didn’t want to sleep when there were so many new faces in the room to study. You stayed that way for the first  few months, and even now a 30 minute nap is all you take most days.

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Baby girl you have stretched my limits to the max, and then stretched them some more. Patience has never been one of my virtues, but you have taught me all about it.

I have rocked you to sleep at night, snuggled you in my arms in my own bed during sleepless nights, and I have snuck in on you after you have fallen fast asleep just to make sure you were still breathing, watching you dream and every once in a while, talk in your sleep.

I have watched you reach milestone after milestone, cheering on every roll, every crawl, every word, every clap, and every single wobbly step.

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I can remember thinking over and over that I was going to be a bad mom, and there are days where my frustration mounts like when you have been told no repeatedly for shaking the microwave cart, and there have been days where you have scared me half to death like crawling up a tote bin and standing up on top of it. There are times where I crawl into bed so exhausted at the end of the day, shaking my head, telling your Dad that I wish I could give you more of my time; that having to work and having school made me feel like I was inadequate. He just holds my hand and tells me what a wonderful Mom I am, and that you know no different.

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You say mama, dada, ball, baba, and uhoh like it is going out of style. Despite our intense efforts, you will only offer us a tractor when and if you want to say it. We’ve worked hard on high-fives, and you sort of have blowing kisses down, but we are pretty sure you like the noise you can make with your hand more than trying to blow a kiss.

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You have an attitude a mile long, and while I was gone to Vietnam, Dad said you perfected tantrum throwing. I guess that was my punishment for leaving you for two weeks. Ignoring you while you lay on the floor and cry when you don’t get your way seems to be the only way to resolve the issue.

I have relished the last few hugs, snuggles, story times, and trips down the slide this week as your last official week as a baby. I honestly don’t know where the time has gone.

You make me want to be a better mom, a stronger woman, and a better example for you. I hope I can teach you things like having a strong work ethic, taking care of your own family first, to not spend money you don’t have, to stand up for yourself, to make exercise a priority, to take pride in what you do, to depend on yourself, and to also realize that inevitably, loving someone will lead to disappointment, but how you deal with that disappointment will say so much more about you than anything else.

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I hope I teach you to find the wonder in a new baby chick and the miracle of life. I hope I can remind you to slow down and enjoy the everyday moments even if it is just a walk to the woods or a ride in the tractor. I hope I show you to always say thank you, to hold the door for someone, and to give the $5 to the man with the sign begging for money without judging if he needs it or not.

I hope I can teach you to chase your dreams, to truly find out what you love to do. I hope you know you will always have roots with us, but I hope I can support you in the choices you make, even when I don’t agree with them. I hope one day, if you want to, you can come back to the farm and we will be able to make it happen if you choose to do so. We all know girls drive tractors better than boys anyways. I hope you bloom where you are planted, and know that life isn’t about things, but moments. I know already with your attitude and smiles, you will light up a room wherever you may land.

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Baby girl at the same time you are teaching me to delight in the simple things like a new, colorful balloon, repeated trips down a slide, or swinging higher. You are teaching me that at the end of the day, I need to depend on me to get us through the day. You are showing me how discovering something new like petting a dog for the first time or feeling the spring grass on our feet can be so, so good for the soul. Smiles can light up a room, and momma needs to smile more. I hope your smile never waivers little girl.

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Know that no matter what, your momma and daddy love you to the moon and back. You will always be our little girl. Don’t you ever grow up.

Happy First Birthday Harper Louise.

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Love, your momma. 

A Few of my Favorite Things

My life seems to be a whole bunch of shenanigans lately (if you are a Super Troopers fan, feel free to laugh now), and honestly, I’ve had trouble keeping up with everything. There are days where I’m more than just a tad bit overwhelmed from trying to sell our current house, to  renovations at the farm, to Mark spending basically the entire month of March in North Dakota. I just keep telling myself to hang in there, it will all be better soon.
I wanted to share a few items that I either can’t live without right now, or am lusting after, or going this does not fit in the Dave Ramsey budget right now! Favorite Things April 15
1. That’s not my Tractor. So I took the plunge and became an Usborne Books Consultant. If you have never heard of them, you can check out  my online shopping page here. Harper absolutely loves all of their books. That’s not my Tractor is one of her favorites – she loves the bumpy engine and the scratchy seat. We read it all the time! Their books are wonderful – from the colors, the lift-a-flaps, to my favorite farm themed ones, I highly recommend them. Questions about Usborne, don’t hesitate to contact me!
2. Rust-oleum Cabinet Transformations Kit.  We had an awesome solid oak vanity in the upstairs bathroom of the farmhouse, but it needed some TLC. I purchased this kit, and was pleasantly surprised with how easy it was, and how beautiful the cabinet turned out. I can’t wait to show you our after pictures of the bathroom when it is all finished. I even used the Rust-oleum metallic spray paint to upgrade the hardware on the cabinet! I am going to be purchasing the light kit next and I will be painting all the kitchen cabinets in the next 2 months! Good thing we won’t be fully moving in for a while!
3. CamelBak Eddy. I had to throw away my last CamelBak due to mold. Wah Wah. So I purchased a new one in my favorite color – lime green or I think they call the color palm. I love how easy they make hydration, and I have been working hard at more water, less pop! Having an almost 1 year old makes living on caffeine just kind of a necessary evil. Have any of you had issues with mold with the mouth piece on them?
4. Keep Collective Bracelets. Mark’s cousin is hosting a Keep Collective party, and I am seriously lusting after these rose gold/saddle leather bracelets or keepers. I have all my keys, like the arrow one pictured, picked out and sitting in my cart, but I just can’t bring myself to order them and spend the money when I know we could use it towards the farm. They sure are pretty though!
5. Rustic Pendant Light. One fun thing about renovating a house, is you get to pick out fun lights, new faucets, new tile, etc. It is a TON of work, but we are hoping the reward will be worth it. One of the easiest fixes we are doing is swapping out light fixtures. I found this cool looking rustic one, and will be hanging it in my kitchen window above the sink. This one can be used as part of track lighting over an island for example, or can be single mounted in whatever length you want as a pendant. Farm house kitchen here I come!
-Sara 

A Series on Vietnam Part 4: The Vietnam War

The Vietnam War ended on April 30, 1975 when 2 tanks from North Vietnam or the Viet Cong crashed through the gates of what is now known as the Reunification Palace in Saigon.

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One of the tanks that Northern Vietnam or the “Viet Cong” crashed through the gates to end the Vietnam War. 

When we all heard we were going to Vietnam some of our MARL group wondered what it would be like since they grew up in the Vietnam era. Some had family members who had fought in Vietnam.

I was one of those people with family that had fought in Vietnam. Most of my uncles don’t like to talk about it. Some did multiple tours of duty in Vietnam so others with families could go back home. Some lived on sea rations while they were in the jungle. Some ended up with diseases from there. Some lost friends. Some carried out dead bodies from bombings. Some were gunners on a helicopter on the Ho Chi Minh trail, one of the most dangerous jobs during the war. Some haven’t shot a gun since.

Honestly, I don’t know how all my uncles came back alive, or with every body part still attached. They all have scars from it, both emotionally and physically. I have been lucky enough to have one uncle who has opened up about his time during the Vietnam War. Everything from a pet monkey, to owning one of the motorbikes we saw so many of, to being there when they bombed the U.S. embassy. I had always been fascinated by the Vietnam War, partly because it is the only war we have technically ever lost, the animosity our soldiers faced on our own home soil, and because my family had such a presence there. I did a huge report on the Vietnam War in 8th grade – literally about 25 pages worth, which for an 8th grader, the Vietnam War was a pretty heavy topic. I interviewed my uncle in high school about it for another paper. I poured over countless books from Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried to my favorite, Vietnam: Our Story One on One from Gary Gullickson, who if you ever get a chance to meet, which I hope you do – he’s often collecting donations for Vietnam Veterans at Wal-Marts across Southern MN – he is a fantastic guy.

I have been to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. The memorials on the Mall make you cry no matter what, but I can remember walking it with Mark when we visited with tears running down my face. The same thing happened to me when I walked the traveling wall when it stopped in Cleveland. I am so thankful my uncles are all still here. I am also forever in debt for those that gave their life to protect the freedoms we have in the U.S.

Being able to step foot on the same ground that some of my family did, really put into perspective what they were fighting for, and it was eye-opening to see how Vietnam has thrived since the war.

We noticed a lot of little things in terms of it being a communist country as well as remnants of the War. For instance, in the north, it is called Ho Chi Minh City, but once you get down south, everyone refers to it as Saigon still. There are a lot more Vietnam flags flying in the North than there are in the south. We watched a video about the war while on our bus in which lines like “America and their puppets” “Americans wanted to kill innocent women and children” were part of it. The south is very westernized compared to the north, and you can definitely tell that the south is the economic driving force for northern Vietnam. Even the people in the south were taller, part of which we were told was because they had a more American diet – dairy and meat proteins. We noticed dog tags at certain antique shops, as well as things like canteens, weapons, etc. Old war propaganda war posters could be purchased at various shops as well.

What is left of one of the US Airforce Bases in Vietnam.

What is left of one of the US Air Force bases in Vietnam.

Our tour guide had us sing an ode to Ho Chi Minh in Ho Chi Minh square will in Hanoi. I’m still not sure what that was all about – having 30 Americans sing a song to your communist leader where his body is buried. Some of the group opted out on it. I understand why. It was also a little odd being followed by what we can only assume as undercover military or police force while we were in Ho Chi Minh square. It is a communist country, and they definitely knew we were there.

Ho Chi Minh Square  - this building is where Ho Chi Minh's body is. They open it up every morning and you can stand in line to go view his body.

Ho Chi Minh Square – this building is where Ho Chi Minh’s body is. They open it up every morning and you can stand in line to go view his body.

Standing in Ho Chi Minh Square. You can't cross the yellow line. The guards yelled at a few tourists while we were there.

Standing in Ho Chi Minh Square. You can’t cross the yellow line. The guards yelled at a few tourists while we were there.

We toured the Chu Chi Tunnels that the Viet Cong used to hide from soldiers, bombs, and to kill soldiers as well. I can’t even imagine living in there for days or weeks at an end because the tunnels were so tiny. I crawled through both, and I honestly don’t know how Northern Vietnam soldiers did it. I also understood after seeing the kinds of traps that were set for Southern Vietnam soldiers and allies, why it was so hard to fight this war. It was a big of a scary experience, but one I am glad I went through. We were able to see B-52 bomb craters as part of touring the Chu Chi Tunnel area as well.

Getting ready to crawl through one of the Chu Chi tunnels.

Getting ready to crawl through one of the Chu Chi tunnels.

One of the openings to the tunnels. This opening had been widened so you could see it better.

One of the openings to the tunnels. This opening had been widened so you could see it better.

Travis tried out of the tunnels where they were camouflaged with leaves. Once the board was placed over this head, you had no idea he was even there.

Travis tried out of the tunnels where they were camouflaged with leaves. Once the board was placed over this head, you had no idea he was even there.

An example of one of the traps in the Chu Chi Tunnels area. Painful doesn't even begin to describe this, but also very smart of the Viet Cong.

An example of one of the traps in the Chu Chi Tunnels area. Painful doesn’t even begin to describe this, but also very smart of the Viet Cong.

We were also able to tour the Reunification palace in Saigon. Seeing the underground bunker facility that was used for communications was really interesting. Something as simple as communication that we do so easily now through the Internet, required whole rooms for radio signals. How quickly we take for granted how not that long ago, something like the iPads we all use to communicate with today didn’t exist. The maps on the walls were also pretty eye-opening. Today we rely so heavily on our phones and GPS, that I’m not sure many people even know how to read a map now a days. Good thing my Dad passed that trait on down to me – navigation has been one of my strong suits since I was little. They had mapped out certain bombings, villages, military stations, etc. They had mapped out where the enemy was and where they had advanced. I can’t imagine basically just being in a jungle, and trying to find your way around.

Outside of the reunification palace.

Outside of the reunification palace.

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One of the communication rooms.

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Some of the many maps that were up in the bunker portion of the palace.

Some of the many maps that were up in the bunker portion of the palace.

Interesting background of how and why the palace was bombed.

Interesting background of how and why the palace was bombed.

We were told not to go to the Vietnam War museum that is in Ho Chi Minh City by our tour guide. He said, out of respect for you and America, it is very full of propaganda. He definitely recognized that what was being portrayed and said, wasn’t necessarily true, and wasn’t good for the tourist economy that Vietnam now depends on. We were often told, bring more Americans back to visit, and to come back again. They want to show off their beautiful country, and I would go back again given the chance.

This is one of the "jungles" that the Viet Cong would live in underwater for a few days at a time, using the reeds to breathe.

This is one of the “jungles” that the Viet Cong would live in underwater for a few days at a time, using the reeds to breathe.

There are definite remnants of the War throughout Vietnam. However, even being a Communist country, the amount of entrepreneurism and business savvy we encountered kind of counter- acted what we have come to know as Communism, even with the corruption and wage disparity that was present. Their views for the future as a united country are extremely promising, and I never felt unwelcome as an American there. I will talk more about all of that in my next post!

-Sara

A series on Vietnam…Part 3: Agriculture

One of our main reasons for visiting Vietnam was to learn about the agriculture industry in another country. We wanted to know more about how our imports to the country are used, how livestock are raised, what the economic values of certain crops were, and how food was treated overall. At the end of the day, 75% of us in MARL are active producers, so seeing agriculture up close in another country is one of those things that make us all giddy inside.

Rice is one of the main staples of food dishes and the agriculture economy in Vietnam. We were able to visit with a rice farmer, and see first-hand how rice is grown. Luckily for us, since we traveled from North Vietnam to South Vietnam, we were able to see an entire crop’s life cycle from planting to transplanting to harvesting to burning off the fields at the end.

A Vietnamese farmer transplanting rice

A Vietnamese farmer transplanting rice

I never really thought much about the rice I eat until I saw all of the hard labor that these farmers put into their product. At the end of the day the might make $500 a year for their crop, and they might get 2 crops a year in the North, and 3 in the South. They transplant all the rice into perfectly straight rows because when they plant it they just sort of throw it into the field so it seeds itself in clumps. Most still hand harvest all the rice, but some do own a small harvesting machine.

Burned off rice fields after harvest

Burned off rice fields after harvest

Out walking in one of the rice paddies.

Out walking in one of the rice paddies.

We were able to tour a pineapple farm. I knew pineapple grew on bushes, although some in our group thought they grew on trees. Pineapple is hand harvested here as well. I don’t think I would like that job – they are very spikey! We learned that the smaller the pineapple, the sweeter it is. The Pineapple farm is also in the process of diversifying so they have planted passion fruit as well. Passion fruit grows much like our grapes do, on vines utilizing a trellis system. The Passion fruit then hangs down underneath and is picked when ripe. If you haven’t had passion fruit yet, I highly recommend you try it. It is delicious!

Pineapple!

Pineapple!

Passion Fruit Vines

Passion Fruit Vines

When we visited the pineapple farm, we were able to speak with some of the farmers that operate a section of it. The farmers also had honeybees in their yard. It was interesting to see how bees were raised in another country, and another climate. For them, they basically just get a continuous flow of honey at all times, rather than here in Minnesota where we have to let the hive build up enough honey stores to winter them over.

honey bee hive in Vietnam

honeybee hive in Vietnam

We were also able to tour an organic veggie farm where they were using seaweed for their fertilizer. They grow a lot of herbs there, lettuces, chives, and sprouts. They have easy access to seaweed which is known as a fantastic fertilizer full of nutrients for plants. The farmers dig about  4 inches down in the dirt, place the seaweed in and then cover the bed with dirt again. They the plant directly into the bed. We were able to practice watering some of their vegetables…although I’m not sure any of us did a very good job!

lettuce leaves at the organic farm

lettuce leaves at the organic farm

Organic gardens

Organic gardens – some of the netting you see in the back is an attempt to keep birds away

I am thankful for water hoses, sprinklers and irrigation systems!

I am thankful for water hoses, sprinklers and irrigation systems!

Aren't all those shades of green beautiful? And that freshly turned dirt...I'm ready to garden now!

Aren’t all those shades of green beautiful? And that freshly turned dirt…I’m ready to garden now!

Fishing is also a large part of agriculture over there. They use a few different net systems – one a hand net, and the other one is a large net that is raised and lowered “mechanically” (speaking loosely on mechanically here) to catch the fish. there are also many fishing boats that go out to the ocean.  There is also a lot of fresh water fish available – basa fish, similar to our cat-fish (and there is a lot of controversy over the industry there) are readily available. There aren’t limits here, and size isn’t part of catch limits either. Some of the fish they would fry to eat were tiny! As I stated before, Oyster farming is also huge down there. It was interesting to see how they were raised vertically in the water.

I'm not really sure how you even eat those tiny guys! I definitely came away with a new appreciation for the laws we have involving fishing in the US!

I’m not really sure how you even eat those tiny guys! I definitely came away with a new appreciation for the laws we have involving fishing in the US!

One of many fishing boats we saw.

One of many fishing boats we saw.

One of our favorite stops, was to a modern hog operation in Vietnam. The owner raises primarily Duroc hogs, and was very interested in what the Duroc’s looked like where we were from. The owner new his data everything from average birth weight to the size of litters to how many head he would keep for replacement versus sell. The hogs were kept in what I would call more of an open confinement system. It reminded me of the hog farm I grew up on as we had an outdoor, open feed lot for our hogs. The manure handling system at this farm, was not something you see at a typical US hog farm. They separate the liquids and solids, and bag the solids for fertilizer. In the US typically hog manure is pumped and spread on the field as one, not separated.

Some of the boars at the hog operation.

Some of the boars at the hog operation.

The manure separating setup.

The manure separating setup.

But, I think the strangest thing we encountered at the hog operation was the tattooing of hogs. From what we gathered through our interpreter, was that he uses the tattoo as a way of marketing his hogs – kind of like showing them off or making them fancy for the market there. By doing so, his competitors and buyers know that they are getting a good hog because the tattoo shows it is one of his hogs and his are prized.

Some of the tattoos this hog featured already.

Some of the tattoos this hog featured already.

Tattooing a pig.

Tattooing a pig.

Agriculture in Vietnam uses a lot of Water Buffalo to plow fields, provide beef and even milk. Not many things are done with a skid loader or a tractor, but with the water buffalo. Water buffalo are an important piece of agriculture in Vietnam because without it, they would have to be working fields completely by hand, and they wouldn’t be providing the beautiful leather hand bags many of us purchased in Vietnam as well.

Water buffalo being used for getting a rice paddy ready for planting.

Water buffalo being used for getting a rice paddy ready for planting.

Yes, I road a Water Buffalo.

Yes, I road a Water Buffalo.

Agriculture looks vastly different over in Vietnam just because so much of it is done by hand. The prices they earn for their products are drastically lower as well, part of this is because of it being a communist country. There isn’t really a free market to help set the price. They have different weather issues so things like grain storage and animal housing look different or operate differently.

That being said, it also looks the same. They don’t get to control the end price of their product, just like many of us here that farm. They care about bettering their operations and are searching out ways to do so. They are also worried about the same things we are – the weather and the prices. Their families work alongside them, just like many of ours do too. Some farms are multi-generational just at our farms are here in the US.

I really appreciate the work, the detail, the dedication every one of the farmers we visited with displayed. They love what they do, just like we do.  Many of them are continuing the family farm, and at the end of the day, you have a lot of respect for everything they do to provide a living for their families.

-Sara 

A Series on Vietnam…Part 2: The People

One question I’ve gotten a lot has been “What was the best part of your trip?” My answer has been easy, the people.

The people we encountered in Vietnam were fantastic. The hospitality we received was over the top everywhere we went. I’m talking about a group of 30 Americans dropping in on homes, farmers working, and more, and they rolled out all the stops to talk with us, make us feel comfortable, and open up their homes to us. Every single place we went we were greeted with tea, smiles, and asked if we needed anything or if everything was up to our satisfaction.

There are a few people who stand out in my mind that we encountered.

The farmer telling us about her rice paddies.

The farmer telling us about her rice paddies.

One of the first farmers we visited was kind of on a whim. Our bus has pulled over to a rest stop and we asked earlier if we could see some of the rice paddies up close. Our tour guide went across the road and set up and arrangement with one of the women who was transplanting rice to speak with us. In Vietnam, women are some of the hardest workers out there. Women are often seen in the fields versus men. The men are often seen socializing, drinking, or playing games with others as that is often their job – to be social – while women are working.

At first, this woman was embarrassed because she was dirty, and was worried she didn’t look very nice. But as farmers, we all completely understood what it was like to be muddy and in work clothes. She talked to us about her work, and what she did all with a smile on her face. A few of my classmates thought they would try transplanting rice with her. I think it was an art form none of us were cut out for. She had straight lines and was so quick it was unbelievable. Whitney, Ben, and Lona on the other hand definitely struggled a bit. They all said they came away with a new-found appreciation for just how hard that is, even just staying in the bent position for so long while transplanting.

Ben, Whitney and Lona attempting to transplant rice in the paddies.

Ben, Whitney and Lona attempting to transplant rice in the paddies.

Next, was the farm family that our bus dropped in on while touring pineapple fields. We were allowed to go see the fields and tour them, but being that we are a bunch of rural folks for the most part, we wanted to talk with those who were working in the fields. Again, our tour guide went and asked a family up the way if we could talk with them about the pineapple farm we were visiting. They graciously opened their home to us to come visit with them, see their kitchen, ask questions, meet their family, and so much more. They gave us a glimpse into what life was really like for them, and the culture of family that was so important to them.

Our entire group meeting with the Pineapple Farmer and his family.

Our entire group meeting with the Pineapple Farmer and his family.

When one of my classmates asked what was most challenging for them as pineapple farmers, the farmer answered the weather and prices. We all laughed at that answer. We went half-way around the world, and found common ground with them, as that is exactly what we worry about as farmers back home.

They opened up their home to us and offered us all tea.

They opened up their home to us and offered us all tea.

Even though we had a language barrier with the family, we were able to communicate with smiles, gestures and with the power of technology, photos on iPhones! One classmate, Luke, gave one of our Minnesota gifts to the farmer. The farmer reached up and hugged him and even kissed him on the cheek with tears in his eyes! Clearly, this was a pretty special moment for all of us, but I think Luke had the experience of a lifetime with that gesture!

The family hand harvests all the pineapple. The father, has retired and now his sons take care of him and his wife.

The family hand harvests all the pineapple. The father, has retired and now his sons take care of him and his wife.

Finally, I want to talk about our last tour guide, Steven. Steven had quite the story about his Dad and the Vietnam War. One choice by his Dad set the course for their life in Vietnam post-war. Steven often said he asked his Dad why he didn’t go to America to make a better life. He said many times, he would love to come back to the U.S. with us.

Steven got a few of us to try out holding the snake. I was not one of them.

Steven got a few of us to try out holding the snake. I was not one of them.

Steven was an amazing tour guide. He was extremely knowledgeable, extremely gracious, and we had an absolute blast following his pink raccoon around all of our tour sites. We never left anyone behind so his trick must have worked on our big group! Steven worked hard to make sure our every need was met as a group, and dealing with all of us can be quite tricky sometimes! When the request was made to try real, roadside Vietnamese coffee, he found the perfect spot for us and even paid for all of us! Mind you it was only $17 for all of us to have coffee, but what an awesome gesture of hospitality!

Steven was an awesome tour guide!

Steven was an awesome tour guide!

I think what struck me most about Steven was how entrepreneurial he was. He operated as a tour guide for hire and you can follow him on Facebook if you ever visit Vietnam and need a tour guide – I highly recommend him! Plus, he owned real estate that he rented out or would sell at a later date when the prices increased with the growing tourism and economic state of Vietnam.

We received these stand-out encounters with everyone we met from those who rowed us in Sampans to those who greeted us at hotels. We asked, and they delivered. We
loved learning about their culture from their love of family to their work ethic. I want to end this post with some additional photos of the faces we met in Vietnam. I don’t think my snapshots do justice to the people we encountered, but I wanted to share a few just the same.

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-Sara