A county agent confab
Voyaging to Arkansas during the dog days of summer might seem counterintuitive. A person should save a trip to Dixie for the dead of one of our howling Dakota winters. During the midst of the long cold, a guy could benefit greatly from visiting an area where “ice fishing” means scooping a cube out of your mint julep.
The next leg of the book tour has us flying to Little Rock to speak at the National Association of County Agricultural Agents convention. This shindig is a major get-together for county agent guys. And gals.
I want to make it clear that I am not now, nor have I ever been, any kind of an agent. Not unless you want to count a brief period during my boyhood when I owned a secret decoder ring that was sent to me by a breakfast cereal manufacturer. Had one of our nation’s spy organizations, upon learning that I owned the decoder ring, asked me to be a secret agent I would had gladly served. But nobody asked.
The organizers of the NACAA convention invited me to speak because they were intrigued by the title of my book, “Dear County Agent Guy.” When asked if I would like to come to Little Rock to address their gathering, it took less than a nanosecond to formulate my answer, which was, “Heck to the yes!”
That was the easy part. Next comes the challenging part, namely, figuring out what to say to a roomful of county agent guys. And gals.
I will begin by explaining to them how the Extension Service – and by extension, its agents – has had a positive influence on me for my entire life.
We were poor when I was growing up on our family dairy farm. But one luxury our parents decided to bestow on their eight children was memberships in our local 4-H club. It probably helped that joining 4-H cost nothing.
My first 4-H project was a Hampshire barrow I called Archie. I gave him this name due to the shape of his back – although to be fair, it wasn’t any more arched than any other hog’s.
The goals of having a 4-H livestock project include keeping track of your animal’s feed costs. I calculated that Archie’s feed costs were zero. Whenever Archie needed feed, I would simply get some from our granary. No money ever changed hands, so how could I report any expense? And what sort of value would I put on all the stale bread, watermelon rinds, coffee grounds and other delectable table scraps that Archie gratefully gobbled?
Archie grew until he became the size of an orca. He was given a red ribbon at Achievement Days, where the swine judge implied that my hog was overdone. How could Archie be overdone when he was still walking around? If anything, he was extremely undercooked.
But the lion’s share of my talk will be about the “guy” part of “Dear County Agent Guy.”
It’s going to be difficult to give Mel Kloster everything he is due. After all, how many county agents would, upon receiving an anonymous letter, recommend that it be published?
Yet that’s exactly what Mel did after reading a spoof letter I had sent him asking how to get rid of the cattails, ducks and power boats that had infested my oversaturated corn fields. This bit of un-county-agent-like advice is what led to this column and, eventually, a book.
Mel was a good county agent guy and a great friend. He had a wry sense of humor and a knack for using pithy phrases to sum up difficult situations.
For instance, after I griped to Mel that I was constantly repairing a corral I had hastily constructed, he remarked, “There’s never time to do it right, but there’s always time to do it over.”
When our two boys were grade schoolers they each had a lamb for their 4-H projects. The lambs got out one day and sunk themselves up to their bellies in a mud hole. I summoned one of our sons, waded into the suctioning muck and pulled a lamb to safety. As I turned to retrieve the second lamb, the first one leaped back into the mud and instantly became re-stuck. The lambs repeated this for several frustrating minutes.
I later told Mel about it and he observed, “The only thing dumber than a sheep is two sheep.”
To this day, I don’t know whether Mel was referring to sheep or to some other species.
My wife and I hope to enjoy our sojourn in The Natural State. And with any luck, we might even find time to do some ice fishing.
If you’d like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His new book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at Workman.com and at booksellers everywhere.