Dust In My Coffee

Loving my life as a woman in agriculture one sip at a time

Agriculture is everyone’s culture so when we celebrate Ag Day on March 24th everyone is welcome to the table.  Many people picture a barn, a tractor, maybe a field of corn,   vegetables at a Farmer’s Market or farm animals when they think of agriculture.  Agriculture is much more than those of us planting crops and caring for animals to produce food.  Agriculture connects everyone from researchers in the lab to families in the home into one large community.


This is my dad.  He was always in charge of carving the turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.  My dad inspired a love for farming in me leading me to making career choices eventually leading to my role as a woman in agriculture.

When I was growing up the word agriculture was a synonym for farming.  Corn fields surrounded my childhood home with farms nearby even though our home was not on a farm.  I never thought of myself as part of the ag community because I was not a farmer.  In the past decades many farmers and ranchers have come to appreciate the role consumers have with a culture that provides food, fiber and fuel.

gpa ruskamp unloading corn

This is my father-in-law, Francis.  He was a farmer his entire life and loved harvest season.  He would drive a grain truck until he was in his 80’s.  My husband and I live on the farm Francis was raised on.  We have over 100 years of history with cattle and corn on this farm through the Ruskamp family.

Corn is a crop we are able to utilize in Nebraska for a variety of purposes including food for animals and fuel for cars. We grow field corn to feed to our cattle.  Nebraska is also a top state for growing popcorn.  There are numerous gardeners in our state who grow sweet corn to enjoy eating during late summer.  You can read more about the history of corn in Nebraska by clicking here.

isaiah corn 17

There is nothing like the taste of sweet corn fresh from the garden with a little butter and salt on it.  Our grandson is enjoying every kernel on this ear of corn.

Farmers and ranchers have worked hard to offer consumers a wide variety of food choices based on production methods, diet needs, sourcing methods and much more. Some farmers and ranchers are able to direct market the food they raise while many others have products you will find on your grocery store shelves.  My husband and I do not direct market any beef but are just as committed to safety and quality as if we did.


I love visiting with consumers about beef.  I’ve done some store demos for Nebraska Cattlewomen and visited with shoppers through CommonGround.  Farmers and ranchers are committed to excellence in raising cattle and the beef it will become.  You can get more information about beef nutrition, recipes, how beef is raised and more clicking here.

Our life is agriculture because we feed cattle and grow row crops.  Your life is agriculture because you eat food, wear clothes and possibly use ethanol for fuel.  Together, we can work to make sure our families enjoy plenty of food choices while making sure our resources are utilized in a way to build the health of our planet.

If you would like to learn more interesting facts about beef or agriculture with some fun activities for kids you can click on these links here and here.  While the facts can help us understand more about agriculture, it is always the people that matter the most!




Meatballs on Monday are a great way to fuel up at the beginning of your week.  These beef meatballs are a great source of nutrients to help you and your family strengthen your immune system.    One of our family favorite meatball recipes is “Sweet Sour Meatballs” made with lean ground beef and a sweet sour sauce.


Sweet Sour Meatballs

In this recipe you can eat about six meatballs to get 30 grams of protein.  Experts are recommending we eat 30 grams of protein three times a day for optimal health.  There is no better time to make sure you and your family are getting the protein, zinc, iron, B12, B6 and much more from beef.

When our children were young I would make the meatballs and bake them along with potatoes and a vegetable dish.  While the meal baked I would work on other household chores, homework and whatever else could be done during that hour.  Now that we are empty nesters I am more apt to leave the meatballs in a fry pan on the stove to simmer while we make some stir fry broccoli to eat with them.

This meatball recipe can also be used for appetizers.  I’ve put dozens in a crock pot to take to gatherings and normally there are few to none left to take home.  You can also have fun by adding pineapple or some cooked peppers for kabobs.


Family gatherings build fond memories with good food, laughter and games.

I have found beef to play an important role in my family’s health.  My husband and I are in or close to that 60 year old age range and are able to live as actively as we did in our 20’s with no current health concerns.  Our children were raised on beef with rare visits to the doctor.  Most of those were due to minor accidents or sports related injuries.

There are numerous registered dieticians supporting the role of beef in a healthy diet.  If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of beef please take a look at some quality research or comment below and I will be happy to answer your questions!

Every day including Monday is a great day to enjoy beef and meatballs!  Here is the recipe for my Sweet Sour Meatballs:

Sweet Sour Meatballs 

Meatball Mixture

2 lbs. lean ground beef

1 cup bread slices cubed

1 tsp thyme

½ tsp salt

½ cup water

Place ground beef in large mixing bowl, break apart, sprinkle thyme and salt over the hamburger. In a separate bowl mix water with breadcrumbs adding moistened bread to the hamburger mixture.  Mix well, form into golf ball shapes using a melon or large cookie scoop. Heat in a large frying pan over medium heat until browned on all sides.  Transfer to 9×13 baking dish for baking or leave in frying pan for stove top simmering.


2/3 cup water

2/3 cup vinegar

2/3 cup brown sugar

1 T mustard

1 T flour

Whisk ingredients as listed.  Pour over meatballs in baking dish and bake for one hour at 350 degrees.  If using stove top method pour sauce over meatballs in large frying pan and allow to simmer over low heat until sauce is thickened.


magdeline meatball

              My aunt, Magdeline Svec, is enjoying a sample of my meatball recipe during a recent visit by Jon Vonderford from Pure Nebraska.  The episode airs March 25 on KOLN-TV.




My dad had large hands.  He told me they were good for milking cows.  Every time my dad talked about his childhood he spoke with fondness about life on the farm and how his big hands were good for milking cows.  Perhaps my own love for farming grew through those stories or maybe it’s just in my DNA.  I’ve been thinking about my dad a lot this week as I recall his passing nearly two years ago and how his hands and heart shaped my life.

babyJoan dad

My dad carried this photo of me in his wallet for many years.

Dad was a hard worker.  He was always working with his hands from his early days as a mechanic to running a business repairing drywall tools.  From overhauling diesel motors to putting tiny screws in repaired tapers, rollers and finishers, dad’s rough and calloused hands worked diligently to get the job done.


We often teased dad about his office.  He told us he knew where everything was.  Notice the Rolodex of contacts he had!

There were eight of us in our family.  I am the oldest of six kids and we were a very active bunch.  One of my favorite family activities was going to the annual Father’s Day picnic held every summer by my mom’s side of the family.  We traveled to parks at different locations all over Nebraska.  Our drive home often added more excitement when one of us six kids would holler out about the steam rolling out from under the hood of the station wagon.   Fortunately, dad could repair broken hoses and once used some scrap barbed wire to tie up an exhaust pipe.  Dad’s hands were known to fix about anything to the point of being a type of MacGyver with duct tape for every household emergencies.


This is a typical Father’s Day picnic with dad carrying a plate and tables covered with food.

I remember my dad’s hands on the steering wheel when he taught me to drive.  One afternoon I was driving the family car and the brakes went out.  I looked quickly to the right and to the left as I approached a busy intersection.  Seeing no traffic I allowed myself to coast right through.   Dad must have been daydreaming as he suddenly put his hand on the wheel, looked quickly both directions and allowed me to continue driving.  If I wouldn’t have known what to do I am certain dad would have cranked the steering wheel whatever way would have helped us.  The brakes were repaired.

Dad did very little cooking when I was growing up and I never heard him complain about any of mom’s cooking.  One job dad had was carving the turkey and I can picture him standing in the corner of the kitchen with the electric knife trimming away all the white meat and saving the bones for my husband, Steve, to clean up later.  Dad also helped to peel large amounts of potatoes for holiday gatherings.  I can see him standing at the sink with his large hands holding the peeler in one hand and a potato in the other.


Sometimes my dad would order a hamburger late at night from a bar/lounge not far from where we lived.  The burgers were very large, wrapped in a wax paper covering and always included a dill pickle spear.   I can see my dad sitting at the end of the table with that hamburger still looking big in his large hands.  I can still smell those burgers.

My dad was a prayer warrior.  I remember seeing him kneeling by his bed with his arms stretched out and hands folded as he said his prayers.  Dad had very arthritic hips but it never stopped him from kneeling by his bed or during mass.  Dad would hold the rosary in his hand teasing my mom and I that he had already rounded the bend (started the first mystery) while we were still in the first few beads of prayers.

clem rosary

Alzheimer’s did not take away my dads ability to pray.  We also noticed he would also make the sign of the cross before he would eat while living in skilled care.

There are numerous memories of watching my dad draw pictures of items he was going to build.  Dad had lots of ideas and dreams.  A pencil always looked so small in his hands yet he could draw the finest details of a bus converted into a motor home.   I’m not sure if my siblings were excited about seeing those dreams come true.  The motor home didn’t happen but we did have a really cool blue conversion van that took us on a vacation to Montana one summer.

Dad loved kids.  I don’t remember getting coddled as much as our children, nieces and nephews did.  At about 5 months of age each of the grandchildren became the focus of my dad’s entertainment.  He would hold them in his big hands and make faces, roll them up into a ball and even place them into boxes, baskets or whatever object he could find to get them to giggle or squeal.


Dad is holding two of his granddaughters, Emily and Amy.

When our children became old enough to value money he would give them .75 for every fifty cent piece they brought him.  Our son, Scott, learned he could get quite a few from the bank and really make a haul.  Dad would continually find ways to interact with the kids eventually moving into playing Phase 10 into the wee hours of the night.


We made dad a book for his birthday with pictures from his childhood and all of our family members to help him remember us.  His sister, Stella, reminisces with him.

Dad found it much easier to show affection to the grandchildren than to my siblings and I.  Somehow I always knew he loved me even though he didn’t say it.  Perhaps it was the ease we had talking about the farm, religion and the kids that gave me the sense he loved me.  The conversation that continues to stick in my throat occurred on the last night he had in his home.  I was at one end of the table getting some photos downloaded to a photo center for his new room at an Alzheimer care center.  Dad was at the other end of the table eating supper.  My mom brushed past him and he mentioned something about Joan.  I looked up and asked “Who is Joan?”  Dad looked across the table at me and simply replied “Don’t you know who you are?”  It still brings tears to my eyes knowing how Alzheimer’s likes to toy with the emotions of a caregiver.  I was taking him from his home the next day without his knowledge and he still had some idea of who I was.



Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease.  What disease isn’t?  There is suffering that comes with each disease and our family did the best we could to help our parents and one another through the phases.  We were not prepared for the final phase.

The last trips to visit my dad found him confined to a wheelchair, not eating much and usually looking down at his hands.  I would bend down and peer up at him to get him to smile and look up at me while encouraging him to eat his supper.  Mom was still getting her strength back after fighting breast cancer when she made what would be her last visit to see my dad.

mom dad wood river

My mom gives dad some extra comfort with a warm blanket as he adjusts to his new home.

It was the middle of the day.  Dad was in bed which was very odd for him and he was not responsive.  Mom asked the staff without much success for help.  Three of us live within 150 miles of my folks and two of us were out of state.  My aunt and sister-in-law assisted mom with calling the doctor who then directed a rescue unit to get my dad and bring him to the hospital.

All of my siblings, family and extended family members were caught off guard.  The phone call that night sent us all into a tail spin as we were told dad was nearly gone and most likely wouldn’t make it through the night.   One sister was able to be with my mom as they sat with dad through the night.  Another sister and I made emergency travel plans to get back while three other siblings were working on their travel plans, too.

Our family including siblings, in-laws, nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts and uncles spent several days around the clock with my dad as doctors continued to anticipate his passing at any moment.  Dad spent his final days on the hospice floor of the VA Hospital in Grand Island receiving five star care from the staff.  The staff kept dad comfortable and clean while we sang, prayed, told stories, read scripture, cried and laughed.  Dad gifted us one last time with some very special moments together.  As we said our good-byes we held our daddy’s hands one last time.

joan dad hands

I will love you forever, I will love you always.

by Holly Dunn
I remember daddy’s hands folded silently in prayer
And reachin’ out to hold me, when I had a nightmare
You could read quite a story in the callous’ and lines
Years of work and worry had left their mark behind
I remember daddy’s hands how they held my mama tight
And patted my back for something done right
There are things that I’d forgotten that I loved about the man
But I’ll always remember the love in daddy’s hands
Daddy’s hands were soft and kind when I was cryin’
Daddy’s hands were hard as steel when I’d done wrong
Daddy’s hands weren’t always gentle but I’ve come to understand
There was always love in daddy’s hands
I remember daddy’s hands workin’ ’til they bled
Sacrificed unselfishly just to keep us all fed
If I could do things over, I’d live my life again
And never take for granted the love in daddy’s hands
Daddy’s hands were soft and kind when I was cryin’
Daddy’s hands were hard as steel when I’d done wrong
Daddy’s hands weren’t always gentle but I’ve come to understand
There was always love in daddy’s hands
Daddy’s hands were soft and kind when I was cryin’
Daddy’s hands were hard as steel when I’d done wrong
Daddy’s hands weren’t always gentle but I’ve come to understand
There was always love in daddy’s hands




Connecting.  Something I hope to be a little better at with you throughout 2019!   I chose the word connecting as my one word for 2019.  If you are not familiar with the one word concept I will share some background and the three steps to choosing one word.  I would also like to share with you why connecting has become my one word for this new year.

The one word idea is built on personal transformation by focusing on one word throughout the year.  “My One Word” is a book written by Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen.  I initially learned about choosing one word through a Facebook friend.  Then I started seeing more people I follow on twitter talking about choosing one word.  My curiosity grew as I saw more people I respect utilizing this method of self-improvement. As I explored the meaning behind choosing one word I wanted to share with you what I have learned so you, too, have the opportunity to use this interesting technique.

There is a process to picking one word and it starts with thinking about a word that “represents what you most hope God will do in you and focus on it for an entire year.”

Step 1: Think about what kind of person you want to be at the end of this year in a virtue building sort of way.  This is not as much about fitness and health as it is about growing in holiness.

Step 2: When you have an idea of what type of person you’d like to be then identify the characteristics needed to be that person.

Step 3: You might have a long list of characteristics but it’s important to commit to one word.

I chose connecting for my one word because it kept jumping out at me in books I was reading, conversations I was having and relationships I am working to strengthen.  I’ve been thinking about the importance connecting is when building community life, listening to my husband, communicating in a way that transcends language and lifting people up.

As I go through each day my hope is to be aware of how I can grow in connecting with others.  This is not meant to be an easy exercise but rather an opportunity to go out of my comfort zone, to soften my heart all the more to hear the voice of God.

Please stay connected with me as we journey together through 2019.  I would love to hear about your one word for 2019 as well as any experiences, challenges or insights you’d like to share.

“I give you a new commandment: love one another.  As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”  John 13:34


Sometimes connecting is enhanced with technology!



“It’s a good thing you guys are doing here” said the bus driver for a third grade class visiting our farm.  We have a pen pal class from an Omaha school through the Nebraska Farm Bureau Ag Pen Pal Program.  Throughout the year we have been sending letters back and forth learning about one another.   The visit to the farm involves all the senses as the students taste, see, hear, smell and touch farm life.


One of the stations taught the students about the different ingredients used to feed cattle and how each ingredient is carefully weighed and mixed.  They loved taking turns mixing the corn, hay, vitamins, ground ear corn and distiller’s grain.

Steve and I have been ag pen pals for many years.  This is a great program to connect urban kids with farm families.  We have two schools, one in Omaha and one in Newman Grove, we correspond with throughout the year.   The students tell us a little bit about themselves, what they like and questions about our farm.  The questions over the years have ranged from “Do you ever go to the city?” to “Do the cattle live outside?”.  One student from a Lincoln, NE school asked us if we had a CB radio name what would it be.  The student thought it was quite funny when Steve replied “T-bone!”.

Most of the students we correspond with have no direct connection to a farm.  Through the correspondence we are able to provide answers to their questions and tell the story about how cattle are cared for on our feedlot.  We have also provided our current pen pal classes with a picture book to help them see the farm throughout the seasons and what kinds of jobs we do.

penpal bookpage

This is an excerpt from the book showing how we unload ground ear corn and put it on a pile.  The visiting students were able to see how we cut the plastic cover in straight lines across the front as we take payloader bucket fulls to load on the feedtruck.  They could see how we store the ingredients as well as touch, see and smell the feed.

The farm visit takes a lot of time to prepare for.  We line up small animals for a petting zoo from 4-H families in our area.  The students are also served a beef lunch.  This year we ordered t-shirts for them to wear.   Our “Beef gives you ZIP” slogan is a great reminder of the nutritional benefits of eating beef.  Zinc, iron and protein are just a few of ten essential nutrients beef provides!


Steve is serving up the hamburgers with chips, water and ice cream for dessert.  Many of the students came back for seconds on the hamburgers.  We receive comments like “These are the best hamburgers I’ve ever had!” from every class.

The comments from the bus driver reassured me about the value of hosting all ages to visit our farm.  He mentioned the good memory he had of visiting a farm when he was in grade school.  The pen pal program is more than sharing facts and information.  The program helps us build relationships between farmers and our urban friends.  These students will forever have a special place in our hearts and we hope they will have the same for us.


Cleaning the shop, families bringing in small animals and getting food ready are all worth the look of this little girl loving on this rabbit!  The t-shirts say “BEEF, Gives you ZIP, Good 4 me, Good 4 you”.  Many thanks to Nebraska Corn Board, Nebraska Beef Council, Nebraska Soybean Board, Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation and my 4-H families for helping us share the story of agriculture through donations and support!