Go Ahead, Tell Your Story
This brilliant quote from an English brewer, writer, philanthropist and member of Parliament recently popped up in my Facebook feed. Immediately, I thought of Jennifer Schmitt. She’s a wife, the mother of two, a farmer, a special education consultant, agricultural advocate and an author. She’s also an inspiration.
“Everyone has a different story to tell,” says Jennifer, who lives with her family on a farm near Rockford, Iowa. She also is a member of the Floyd County Fair Board and serves as president of the St. Mary Roseville Board of Education. “If we don’t tell our family stories, they will disappear with us when we are no longer here. If we don’t share stories about our own farms and agriculture operations, someone else will. Telling our own stories provides us an opportunity to share the facts.”
Jennifer says she started blogging to share her family’s farm story and to share her writing with others. 4-H and FFA helped influence her passion for agriculture, as well as taught her leadership and communication skills she uses in all aspects of my life whether it’s on the farm or working with families in her role in education. From the time she was in fourth grade, she has enjoyed writing.
“I had a teacher who spurred me to have a big dream of writing a children’s book at the ripe age of nine,” says Jennifer. “I have been writing in some mode ever since. In college, I wrote for the newspaper. I started my Tails from the Gravel Road blog to share our family’s story.
When I was first debating what to call my blog, I toyed around with ‘Tales from Jersey Avenue’ because that’s where we lived,” adds Jennifer. “The more I played around with the idea, I thought using ‘Tails’ would be a fun twist and a way to tie in our farm stories. I ultimately decided on “Tails from the Gravel Road” because I felt people could relate better to traveling gravel roads.”
Being relatable is key to gaining trust and building relationships with consumers, which is another of Jennifer’s goal.
“You don’t have to wait for the perfect moment or perfect picture to share on social media. Don’t be afraid to share your story because it is YOURS,” says Jennifer, author of the children’s book You Will Do Great Things. “Show your real life. Real life is relatable in my opinion.”
Keeping it real to Jennifer means sharing photos of farmers working in the fields at night or in the wee hours of the morning. She and her husband, Rob, both have off-farm jobs. They also have two daughters, 11-year-old Grace and 8-year-old Ellie.
The Schmitt family raises cattle and a few pigs plus. They also have a hay and crop operation, so their farm chores are done outside normal office hours. Charlotte, a special pig on their farm, and a calf named Bruno have inspired characters for future children’s books.
The family’s mixed herd of beef cattle includes Simmental and Charolais, as well as Angus. They market directly to the consumer, which means they deliver market-weight cattle to the locker. Then the consumer pays the Schmitts for the product and the locker for the processing.
“Our girls are learning about business, marketing, caring for animals, and the value of hard work,” says Jennifer, who grew up on a cow/calf and row crop operation just west of where she now lives. “Grace and Ellie know that chores and farm tasks must be done before the fun and above all, they understand why. They both jump in and help when needed whether it is giving shots to animals, filling waterers or filling the hayloft with hay.”
These every-day moments have inspired Jennifer to share her farm tales through stories and pictures. Her latest book, Tawanda’s Tales, is based on a real childhood experience.
“I shared this story with my mom when I first had it written. She said, ‘Please tell me this is fiction.’ As a mother myself, I understand that she was most concerned with my safety and wellbeing. It’s probably best that she didn’t hear about the ‘adventure’ that took place until years after it happened.”
Curious to learn more about Jennifer’s childhood adventure? Check it out! Tawanda’s Tales is written at a second grade reading level, so it might make a great gift for a special reader on your list.
“I hope that kids will hear a story of a fun adventure on horseback,” says Jennifer. “I hope parents will remember a fun time that they had with a friend, and I hope all readers think about a special friend that they have in their life.”
Jennifer likes to sign her books with “Dream big and huge!” Her advice to farmers who are apprehensive about sharing their family’s story is to just get started. Need a little more inspiration to start telling your story? Follow Jennifer on Instagram or Facebook.
Another way you might share part of your family’s farm story is by giving gifts that you made or produced. Today Jennifer is sharing with us a favorite recipe for homemade apple pie filling that can easily be adapted into an apple crisp. She got this recipe from her cousin, Shannon Bushbaum, who published it in the Sacred Heart School’s cookbook.
“I love this recipe because it’s great for giving as a gift, and it’s a fun way to use apples from our trees,” says Jennifer, who hopes you enjoy this recipe as much as she does! Who knows? Maybe I’ll even be inspired to make it for Christmas. I still have apples from our tree in my refrigerator.
4 1/2c. sugar
1 C. Cornstarch
10 C. Water
2 tsp. Cinnamon
¼ tsp. Nutmeg
½ tsp. Salt
Prepare apples by washing, peeling, coring, and slicing. Pack in pint or quart jars. To pack tighter, hold jar with one hand and pat jar with other. Bring other ingredients to a boil until thick. Pour mixture over apples in jars. Filling to 1” from the rim. Process for 20 minutes in hot water bath or 5 minutes in a pressure cooker at 5 pounds. Makes 8 quarts (16 pints).
Crisp Topping For Canned Pie Filling
½ C. Quick Oatmeal
½ C. Brown Sugar
¼ C. Flour
½ tsp. Cinnamon
Dash of salt
¼ C. Butter or Margarine
1 qt. Canned apple pie filling
Mix ingredients except for pie filling. Place over 1 quart canned pie filling in 10x6x2” baking dish. Bake in 350° oven for 30 minutes or until bubbly and browned. Serve with ice cream.
For gift giving: Layer dry ingredients in quart jar. Give with 1 quart jar of pie filing and recipe copy. Remind to add butter to topping mixture.