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A good laugh, if you can get it

Agriculture.com Staff 07/13/2006 @ 7:55am

Chris Schumacher, owner/editor/head janitor of the Volga Tribune read in silence as I watched nervously. In his hand was a spoof letter I had written to Mel Kloster, my county extension agent, asking Mel how to rid my corn field of the cattails, ducks, and power boats it contained. The weather that year had been a tad wet, to say the least.

"Yeah, I'll publish this," said Chris after a few moments. "You got any more?"

I allowed that I had maybe one or two other ideas.

"Keep them coming," said Chris. "What do you want to call it?"

I told him that I had no thoughts on the subject, having never done such a thing before.

"What about using the letter's salutation, 'Dear county agent guy'?" he asked.

Fine by me I said, and a newspaper column was born.

That scene took place ten years ago and is as good an excuse as any to pause and peruse the waters that have passed through the culvert.

Back when I started this silly writing thing, my only goal was to produce some light entertainment for our little local weekly. That quickly changed when one of the state's larger dailies asked if they could also carry my column.

I said yes of course, and my eyes were opened to the possibility of becoming syndicated. I contacted several national newspaper syndicators and was told that my stuff was "too regional." It did me no good to point out that that's what a publisher once said about "To Kill A Mockingbird."

So I set to the task of becoming self-syndicated. I soon discovered two things: like farming, self-syndication is full of frustration; like farming, newspapering don't pay much.

One editor I approached said that I was better than their current columnist. "But he's local," said the editor, "Plus he does it for free." The implication seemed to be that I should also do it for free or perhaps even underbid their local guy. No, thanks, I said; I already had a job (dairy farming) where the pay was sometimes less than nothing.

As my confidence grew I began to submit some of my stuff to the nation's premier farm magazines, and have been lucky enough to be published by several of them. I hate to drop names, but if you farm you may want to be Successful, or Progressive, or perhaps read a Journal.

The best part about penning a weekly column is the feedback. We have gotten a lot of nice comments from a lot of nice folks, including a doctor who said, "I feel like I know your family as well as you do!"

A teenaged FFA member told me that her family has made a ritual of reading my column aloud at the supper table, then using it as fodder for their suppertime conversation. An Iowa high school English class once formed a fan club in my honor and invited me to come speak to them. I was quite honored to do so, and was also quite impressed by the pizza-sized chocolate chip cookie they made for me.

But, alas! My family life has suffered from my need to produce humor. I must confess that I have done as O. Henry described in his story "Confessions of a Humorist," that is, skulked behind a door or a couch hoping that a bit of childish drollery would fall from our boys' lips.

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