We passed a pair of milestones this past week. Spring finally waltzed in at 11:15 p.m. on March 20. Robins and red-winged blackbirds sing outside my office window. Sandhill cranes, meadowlarks and turkey vultures are back, too.
    This past Tuesday also brought us National Agriculture Day, a time to salute and celebrate the farmers and ranchers who help keep us fed. It’s also a day to acknowledge and thank everyone else involved in U.S. agriculture. Farmers and ranchers don’t work alone.
    I won’t try to list the many contributors, but I will mention people like me and my cohorts at Dairy Star. We try to bring our reader’s words that are not only interesting and entertaining, but also inspiring and useful.
    My own agricultural journey began with my ancestors. My father left the small, family farm in Sweden to begin life anew in the land of opportunity.
    Farming roots run on my mother’s side, too.
    She came from a wee, subsistence farm in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I visited the remains of the place some 30 years ago.
    We saw a hole in the ground that marked the house’s basement. We also saw marks on a nearby boulder, evidence of the matches struck there and used to burn the Thompson family out and get them off that tiny patch of land.
    My father, after losing most of what he had worked long and hard for during the Great Depression, drove away from the little that was left of his construction company in Chicago and rented a dairy farm in northeast Illinois. Back on his feet, he bought a dairy farm in northwest Indiana.
    He moved the family to southwest Wisconsin in 1954. When I wasn’t old enough to read, I began thumbing through the pages of The Prairie Farmer, just as I’d seen my dad do.
    At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I majored in agricultural journalism and earned my bachelor of science degree in agriculture. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of meeting and writing about some of the finest people on the face of the earth.
    My main focus is dairying in southwest Wisconsin and northeast Iowa. But, I’ve also traveled to many states and four Canadian provinces.
    Much of that journeying came when I worked for a publisher that crafted a magazine for an internationally-known farm machinery manufacturer. Those travels let me see firsthand other types of agriculture.  
    Those types of farming included commercially growing onions in New York’s Finger Lakes region. The level land and deep, loose soil along the long, narrow lakes was perfect for the pungent orbs.  
    Moving down the East Coast, I made more than one trip to North Carolina. The Tar Heel State is a big pork producer. It ranks fourth, behind Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota, with a pork industry valued at $1.56 billion.
    One pork producer invited me to join him for lunch. We drove to a gravel-road place whose parking lot was packed with pickup trucks. The waitress asked if I wanted coleslaw with my barbecued pork sandwich.
    When the food arrived, I wondered where the slaw might be. My farmer friend suggested that I lift the top of the bun. Sure enough, there was the coleslaw. I’d never before encountered coleslaw served that way.
    My first view of a cotton field came in the Deep South. My farmer host made a detour down a dirt road that cut through a field. Back by a row of scruffy trees, we got out.
    The farmer told me that the simple, one-room building with an open and sagging porch was once slave quarters. Inside, a distinct sense of uneasiness closed in on me.
    Another assignment took me to the rice fields of Arkansas. Others took me west and into the Lone Star state. I remember driving down a busy highway at San Antonio, Texas and right past The Alamo. It looked so small and unimportant, with cars and trucks whizzing past.
    I fell in love with the Texas Panhandle, the Amarillo area in particular. Maybe it was the openness of the land or the western heritage. On my first trip, I mailed a postcard to my former co-workers at my previous job. The colorful card carried the postmark of Hereford, Texas.
    In Texas, I met my first roadrunner, elf owl and tarantula. I spotted the giant spider rolling across the road behind my rented car as I headed to Brownsville just across the border from Mexico.
    Near Brownsville, scissor-tailed fly catchers filled the trees at a wayside rest area. I pulled into a highway check point. The authorities quickly waved me through.
    My assignment at Brownsville was on a farm that grew kenaf. It’s a crop that grows 10 feet tall, gets chopped, and is used for newsprint and in making car and truck bodies.
    At Yuma, Ariz., I learned how farmers used their tractors and other equipment to craft precise irrigation ditches in the desert. The temperature that January morning was in the 90’s. In the afternoon, I was on a flight to Saskatoon, SK, Canada – temperature 30 degrees below zero. That was a shocking temperature change of 120 degrees in just a few hours.
    Another visit to Canada let me learn how peat moss is harvested. Near Winnipeg, MB, I watched as farm tractors towed large vacuum cleaners. The machines sucked up the moss that had been loosened with machinery and blew it into wagons.
    Trips to California let me see large dairy operations, along with citrus and almond orchards. I also learned how grapes become raisins and tomatoes become catsup.
    One Golden State oddity was the sight of cornfields with palm trees behind them. No, I wasn’t California dreaming.
    Up the Pacific Coast in Oregon, I visited a farm that specialized in growing grass seed. In Washington, I walked the fluffy, deep, volcanic ash soil that made the farmers use tractors equipped with rubber tracks to keep from sinking.
    In Idaho, I learned about a Mormon farmer’s potato business. Down in the High Plains of eastern Colorado, I toured a farm that specializes in dry beans. There was also canola in North Dakota and wheat in Kansas. In the lonely Sand Hills near Valentine, Neb., a family told me the important role their tractors played in feeding the beef cattle each and every winter day.
    Other faces of agriculture that I’ve seen include cranberries, carrots and Christmas trees; trout, tilapia and tobacco. On the livestock side, besides dairy cows, there have been alpacas, bison, chickens, goats, llamas, sheep, turkeys and draft horses, including the Budweiser Clydesdales.
    The list could continue. But, hopefully, by now I’ve made my point: There really is a vast breadth of agriculture. And it touches us all whether we realize it or not every single day.