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Monday, May 19, 2014

Ag Awareness Act to Perform at River City Rodeo and Across America

How many times have you thought to thank a farmer today? Rhonda Ross, the founder of Thank A Farmer ® (TAF), has opened my eyes to reasons to feel gratitude for farmers and ranchers that I never considered. She honors farmers and ranchers as an entertainer and educator. She is bringing her infectious attitude and her creative act right here to my hometown at the River City Rodeo and Stock Show held at Aksarben in Omaha, NE., from September 25th to 28th in 2014.

TAF Magic Show
The TAF Magic show is not your ordinary magic show. Sure, there are fun magic tricks that make you wonder how she pulled them off. The agricultural theme adds a twist to the normal magic show fare while creating a setting for education. Rhonda's entertainment tools, which include juggling, twirling a basketball on a finger or even making music with a turkey baster catch the attention of the youth and adults as the TAF duo weave in facts about how farmers are essential for food, clothing, and much of what we use each day. If you think that you don’t need farmers for a rubber basketball, think again. She explains that some of the contents of rubber are animal byproducts. There are messages that help children become better consumers in her programs. I enjoyed watching her create a corn stalk, but will not give away the magic she performed with it.

Children interact with the act and farm animals. No magic happens without the children shouting the magic words, “Thank a farmer!” How sweet it is to hear that from the mouth of children! Rhonda's act at the River City Rodeo has been very popular and frequently requested. See for yourself by checking out this Thanks A Farmer flyer recap.                

Ag Awareness
Rhonda Ross, TAF founder.
Her educational entertainment makes an impact on the children and adults. Rhonda reports, “One city mother told me that her son came home telling her that there wouldn't be baseball if it weren't for farmers and then listed all the parts, just like I do in the show. She was very impressed how much he learned and remembered.”

A child in Omaha ran up to Rhonda after the program to tell her she was “part farmer.” She asked which part and the child replied that her grandpa was a farmer.

Agricultural education is very important in this modern age as adults and children may have little awareness or misconceptions about where food and other agricultural byproducts come from. “Most kids don't think about where food comes from or what it is, but I've found parents that don't know where food comes from or have ridiculous ideas. Peanuts grow on trees, chicks will hatch from store bought eggs if you incubate them, white eggs are bleached...etc.,” according to the TAF founder.

Thank A Farmer Day®
The TAF Magic Show is one of the ways that the non-profit organization, Thank A Farmer® increases Ag awareness among the general public. Thank A Farmer Day® is another way to help increase children and consumers understanding of the importance of farmers. The activities of those days center on reasons to give thanks to our farmers, ranchers, and producers. In the future, they would like Thank A Farmer Day® to be a nationally recognized day adopted by the federal government and set aside as a day to educate school children.

Ag Educational Booklets
TAF has fun fact booklets available for individual shipment, bulk orders, or downloads. Say the title Fun Farm Facts to Fool Your Family Friends and Other Fine Folks fast five times. It is such a perfect title for young inquisitive minds! I downloaded my own copy. The bold graphics catch the eye and the trivia made me think and in some cases laugh.

The Ross’s efforts are well-received by many of the farmers who have seen the mother and daughter team at work, and on occasion let Rhonda and Joyce know they appreciate the TAF work.

The River City Rodeo is a wonderful opportunity for Rhonda and her mother to reach a lot of city youth as field trips are organized for many of the school children in the area. If they have the funding, they are willing to travel anywhere across America there are city people to reach with their message. They would especially like to present their programs to city children who have never had a chance to see a live farm animal and need individual and corporate donations to help make this possible.

Joyce Rice Ross and the Back Story
Joyce Rice Ross.
It was a “where are they now” moment in my household that led me to Thank A Farmer®. My parents and I were wondering what Joyce Rice who at 17 was named “World Champion Baton Twirler” was doing now, and checked it out on google. She is the mother of Rhonda Ross and a spokesperson for Thank A Farmer®. She grew up on farm in the same community where my grandparents farmed near Greenfield, Iowa. Her family was friends with my paternal grandmother’s brother, Leo Lydon, and his family who lived on a neighboring farm. After speaking to Joyce Rice Ross on the phone for the first time several weeks ago, I felt like I was talking to family.

Her back story involves my dad’s first cousin Wilma Lydon. The blur of a twirling baton mesmerized a ten-year-old Joyce when she first encountered someone performing following the PTA meeting at her one room schoolhouse. Her desire to try her hand at the baton was boundless. On a visit to her neighbor’s farm, she learned that their eldest daughter Wilma had ordered a baton from a catalog. The other children including Wilma took a small turn with the baton. Joyce was still twirling hours later when it was time to go home. By that time, she had weak arms and shoulder, a hurting elbow, and black and blue marks on the inside of her arms, ribs, and legs. From what I know about sports psychology, this is the mindset of a true champion. It would be a few years before she perfected her routine. In recent years, she has also made the connection that milking the cows on her parent’s farm may have given her an advantage over her opponents as strong hands are critical to this sport.

As an adult, Joyce traveled the world entertaining. At one time, she toured with the Harlem Globetrotters, an exhibition basketball group. Rhonda was just a toddler when she watched the masters of the basketball entertainment in action. When she was handed a basketball, she surprised onlookers by twirling it without having been taught.

It has been a natural extension for Rhonda to carry on the entertaining tradition in a way to honor her farming heritage. Both she and her mother keep their pulse on issues important to the agricultural community. They know how to communicate their message in a way that city people without a farming background will understand.

Mutual Agricultural Heritage
The Bohan Family Farm in Greenfield, Iowa.
I was told that my Great-Grandpa Martin Bernard Lydon said that farming was a good way of life. He farmed near Greenfield, Iowa, and his children carried on the tradition on their respective farms. I have pondered the mutual agricultural heritage of The Ross's and I have in that area of the country. Given my family trips back to the Greenfield Iowa farm and later to town were often around the holidays. I think we probably visited the area at the same time. Perhaps they checked corn as we did on our drives to see if it was “knee high by the fourth of July.” Did our forefathers look up to the sky for signs of heavy dark clouds during a period of visible wilting in the fields? During a rainy period, they would have had to wait for drier soil to plant crops. If they ever passed my grandpa while he was on his tractor, he probably gave him the common “farmer wave” of a raised finger. I hope they both had an abundance of bumper crops and fattened livestock. I am reminded as I review this of how I was told that my Grandpa Bohan said that he did not have to gamble in his later years as he gambled all his years as a farmer. He continued to advocate for farmers after he retired.

Poem about Farm Crises
Rhonda spent countless hours on her grandparent’s farm. Her love and concern for farmers is very evident in her poem “Lost” written while an undergraduate at Iowa State University about the farm crises of the 1980’s. The poem has vivid imagery and is poignantly describes and abandoned farm. It was the first poem by an undergraduate published in Iowa State’s Agriculturalist magazine

Some years ago, I heard someone from town of Harlan, Iowa, tell about the nearby farmers working long, hard hours to harvest the crops during an extended dry period. Despite the myth that Omaha, NE., is not in the middle of a big corn field. I think it would be wonderful to frequently brush shoulders with farmers. Although I am often conscious of the work ethic of farmers, I have not always been mindful of how farmers benefit me in my daily life. I am beginning to see how their labors are needed for virtually every man-made item that surrounds me. I want to pay tribute to the agricultural background that I have on both sides of my family that goes back many generations. Thank you farmers, ranchers, and producers for all your mental and physical labors!

-population-we™ blog post by Barb Brown
© 2014 population-we, LLC 
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  1. Thank You for the wonderful blog! We are all in this together and knowing the importance of our roots as individuals and as a nation gives us a better understanding of ourselves.
    Thank You!

  2. I appreciate your kind words. I love writing a post that connects me with my roots while sharing information about an amazing non-profit!

  3. I wondered what Joyce Rice Ross was doing these days. I also twirled baton in her era and remember her from the late 50's. I also saw her here in Hawaii performing with the Harlem Globtrotters in early 70's. Also having grown up on an Iowa farm (Knoxville)... I'm glad to see that she has combined her love of entertainment and an important message....